Saturday salon 8/4

1. Trump’s Syria strike puts the world on notice

Trump’s launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles to smash a Syrian airfield has put the world on notice. As Trump enters talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, suddenly it is clear that Trump is not going to be isolationist, and no-one can be sure how far he will go, in Syria, the South China Sea, North Korea, or anywhere else..

The biggest question is what comes next? There are Russian troops on the ground. The Syrians and Russians have anti-aircraft weapons capable of bringing American planes down, which have been flying freely to strike ISIS targets.

Obama no doubt erred in 2013 when he declared chemical weapons a red line and then did nothing when the line was crossed. Trump is not known as a person who thinks about the subsequent moves after the next. In this case he is stressing that it’s about chemical weapons, not an attack on the Assad Syrian regime as such.

Simon Jenkins says emotions are not a good basis for foreign policy, and Trump’s missiles will do nothing to resolve the war in Syria. Moreover, he says that the American drone attacks constitute terrorism which also kill civilians.

The Australian Greens have condemned such military adventurism from a clueless president:

    “This type of dangerous and impetuous action is exactly what the Greens have been concerned about since the election of Donald Trump. We are shackled to an ally which has no foresight, no strategy, and a deeply insecure and erratic President…”

According to this report a year ago there had already been 161 chemical attacks in Syria, killing almost 1500 people.

This article says Assad wants to win but his army is depleted and exhausted. He may not now use chemical weapons, but other means are still available.

    “I am reading now that this strike is to make Assad not use chemical weapons any more,” said activist Abdulkafi al Hamdo.

    The message from that, he said, was that the government could “go ahead with using barrel bombs, vacuum rockets, cluster bombs, phosphorus weapons and any kind, just not chemical weapons”.

2. Six degrees of Trump opposition

The Syrian attack might lift Trump’s approval rating, last seen at about 37 per cent. In the long run, though, politics is domestic, and Trump has managed to get just about everyone opposing him.

FiveThirtyEight has identified six groups:

  • The bureaucracy
  • The courts
  • Democrats in Congress
  • The public
  • The media
  • Republicans in Congress.

The last-mentioned is perhaps the most troublesome. The Freedom Caucus within the Republicans are rampantly anti-establishment rather than anti-Trump, so there is no way of winning them over. In the end with his healthcare proposals Trump was talking about doing a deal with the Democrats rather than the Republicans. I wonder whether he will get anything at all done that needs to go through Congress.

3. Mark Latham calls for ‘whites’ and ‘straights’ to take back Australia

You are no doubt aware that Sky News sacked Mark Latham last week for some, shall we say, unkind remarks about a few personalities, who all happened to be women. He’s now taken his Outsiders show to Facebook, as Crikey says, a platform less watched than his previous gig at Sky, where you had to pay for the privilege.

It’s here, if you want to look. I think he’s flanked by Bettina Arndt and Miranda Devine.

Jacqueline Maley says his core brand is misogyny and recommends you don’t tune in.

Kate Kachor reckons Latham is calling for whites and straights to take back Australia.

I think we dodged a bullet when he ran for PM, and has deteriorated markedly since then. I never did buy his “Third Way’ hocus pocus.

4. The housing crisis

The cost of housing is one of the country’s leading economic problems. Having ruled out changes to negative gearing before the election, Malcolm Turnbull has promised to fix the problem in the budget, so should we all relax?

In the larger cities the price of dwellings has continually outperformed inflation. The CM today puts the five-year gain in Sydney at 55%, in Melbourne 30%, and in Brisbane and Adelaide around 20% – that’s dwellings, presumably including units.

The whole issue deserves a more detailed look but ABC Radio National’s Rear Vision program on the subject makes some interesting points.

Firstly, the most serious pressure point is the affordability of rentals for people on low incomes. Social housing provision, after vigorous expansion post WW2 has fallen into decay.

Secondly, in an alternative world, for example The Netherlands, government policy has had to reign in social housing provision. Apparently it was moving into the middle class market, competing with private enterprise in the mainstream. So now public housing is being restricted to those with low incomes.

Thirdly, towards the end, Peter Martin reckons the problem in our big cities is unsolvable. Certainly, he says, we need to eliminate or reduce negative gearing and capital gains, so that investors don’t dominate the market. However, the problem other than that is location rather than supply. People, if they can, will pay high prices so that they can have ready access to the city centre and avoid long commutes.

36 thoughts on “Saturday salon 8/4”

  1. It is easy to blame the federal government and speculators for the housing affordability problem but I would suggest that they are but a small part of the problem.
    The first thing to note is that the housing affordability problem is more of a land affordability problem than a house affordability problem. 50 years ago the house usually cost a lot more than the land unless the house was in a very desirable area.
    The second thing to note is that developers are expected to do a lot more now than they used to. Then you could buy an unseweraged block of land on a gravel road and expect the government to come along some years later and pay for sealing the road and connecting sewerage.
    The third thing to note is that local councils put restrictions on what can be built. Some of these restrictions may be reasonable but a lot of them are about creating classy suburbs that can be hit with high rates and protecting the value of voters houses.
    Finally, when developers buy land they will do whatever they can to maximize their profits. In general they will make a lot more from either building things that can be sold for a high price or insisting on minimum standards for anything built on land they have sold.

  2. On Syria

    It may be “too little, too late”, and I agree, Brian, that President Obama shouldn’t have announced a “red line” then ignored it’s crossing.

    But I welcome this retaliation against a chemical weapons assault. Distinctions between weapon types should matter. Weapons of mass destruction should be eliminated in the long run.

    The Geneva Conventions on war should apply.
    Very few nations are blameless. Let’s not indulge in footy league table listing of bad guys….. there are too many.

    Fairfax has “the world on edge”. There have been many devastating, murderous landmarks in the Syrian civil war before this; I don’t recall Fairfax judging those as putting the globe on edge.

    Methinks it is the new President they judge, not this action. And if so, they reveal partisan bias unbecoming in a broadsheet. Mr McGeough’s bulletins from USA on the evils of Trump have been relentless. Mr McGeough confidently predicted on election eve that we would be hearing very little more from The Donald after his defeat. His prediction was published in all Fairfax outlets.

    Is Fairfax fearlessly against US foreign policies always, or only under Republican Presidents?

    There is talk of Russian retaliation, and even Russia/US conflict. Apparently the Russians were given some hours’ warning and didn’t activate their air defence systems.

    This is not the blockade of Cuba.
    The Soviets had nuclear weapons in Cuba then, though the Americans didn’t know that at the time.

    I don’t wish to strike a Pollyanna note, but let’s just watch and learn. Mr Assad should stop using chemical weapons.

    And yes: all war is hell.

  3. John, on your first bit, about the cost of land, we live 7km from the GPO in Brissie as the crow flies. We are not sure what price our house would bring but we think the current land valuation represents at least 70% of the price.

  4. Ambigulous, I was and still am favourably disposed to what Trump has done. The man still scares me, however.

    I didn’t sample a full range of opinion, but The Guardian seemed more negative about the missile strikes than Fairfax. The Fin Review tries to publish a range of opinion. I believe Fairfax is due to take a further $30 million out of their costs, so heaven knows what their coverage will look like then.

    BTW, I understand the Tomahawks are low and fast and aren’t able to be countered by anti-aircraft defence.

  5. Yes Brian, he seems unpredictable; I agree that’s worrying.

    Your list of forces opposing Trump is interesting but perhaps to be expected. Power is decentralised in their system: “checks and balances”. No monolithic power, though Pres can act on military and foreign matters without immediate brakes.

    Senate committees seem to work belatedly there (as everywhere I suppose) in oversight/inquisitorial roles.

    bye bye for now,
    Miss Pollyanna

  6. A cynic might say that Trump had to do something to reduce suspicions that he was helped win the presidency by the Russians. What he has done will help him with this problem while driving Assad and his allies closer to the Russians. Sounds like a win win to me with the possibility of speeding up a resolution to the conflict as a bonus for both Trump and his Russian friends if they both play it right.

  7. Ambigulous, I don’t follow American politics closely, but i think there has been a stalemate in Congress since 2013 when the Republicans gained control of the HoR and decided they’d reject anything that came from Obama simply because it was from Obama.

    Now the alt-right of the Republicans and the Democrats seem unlikely to pass anything from Trump because they will find it unacceptable for different but genuinely ideological reasons. So effectively it’s gridlock again.

  8. John, the Syrian conflict is too complicated for me, but Simon Jenkins in the linked article said the only way anyone could win would be if the rebels gave up.

    There was a thought that the Russians would find association with Assad a step too far, and there is a possibility they might organise a general to replace him. However, the US action may have locked the Russians and the Iranians in behind him.

    Seems there are four on the ground actors – Assad and the regime, diverse rebellious groups, ISIS, and the Kurds. Then add in the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Saudis, plus the US and the rest. It’s a mess.

  9. Brian: Syria is yet another example of countries being formed in the colonial era that put long time enemies within the one set of borders. In the case of Syria:

    Islam in Syria is followed by 90% of the country’s total population: Sunnis make up 74% of the total, mostly of Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman ethnicities. Shias make up the remaining 13%: Alawites are the predominant Shia group, followed by Twelvers and Ismailis.

    Given that Assad is Alawite the country has been dominated by the Shia hence the support he receives from Iran. He also provides provides protection for Christians and other Non-Islamic . The rebels and ISIS are largely Sunni. (The Sunni/Shia conflict has been going on and off since the seventh century.
    Despite being Sunni the Kurds want independence. Turkey does not want Kurdish independence because the Kurds in Turkey are fighting for independence as well.
    Long term peace might be helped if the country was split into 3.

  10. John, that’s logical, but of course unlikely to happen.

    The Kurdistan peoples are mainly in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, with fewer in Syria and I believe some in Armenia. (Map here). The Turks, the Iraqis and the Iranians would get exceedingly agitated if a Kurdish state appeared out of Syria. There’s no telling what they might do.

  11. Brian just correcting one thing – Mark Latham of course has made many sexist and misogynistic statements about women, but I believed what got him sacked from Sky in the end was calling a male high school student ‘gay’.

  12. Mark Lathams version, ( sorry for the length but ) I think it’s important that he had a right of reply.

    Let’s go to the background: on the Outsiders panel show on Sunday 12 March we ran through a series of zany things said on International Women’s Day the previous Wednesday. Five or six items. One of them was the Sydney Boys school prefect video, which had attracted significant media attention. The young men spoke the words of women in trying to help the feminist cause. The first speaker talked about having sex with a man. The video was designed to initially mislead, as only later did it become clear the speakers were quoting women.

    I have spoken to scores of people who have said, upon first viewing of the video they thought the first speaker was speaking as a young gay man. That was my impression too. I made no value judgement about that, and never would. I simply thought it was a matter of fact. I don’t know why some people regard the word ‘gay’ as derogatory. I don’t. I was taught in the ALP in the 1980s to look through race, gender and sexuality as minor genetic/preference variations between people.

    On the day before our show, the SMH ran a letter from the nearby Sydney Girls school students, attacking the ‘male video prefects’ as having no right to make a statement about feminism, saying they had a “toxic male culture” at their school.

    On Outsiders we played the video to highlight that “men can’t win” – if you try to help with a well-intentioned (albeit strange and misleading) video, the feminists will bag you anyway.

    Ross Cameron chipped in to say, words to the effect of, “These young fellas ought to be aware that the girls they are trying to impress will run off with a Western Sydney tradie in a ute.”

    Very funny. In the laughter, I quipped, words to the effect of, “Well, I thought the first one was gay, so it won’t affect him”.

    That’s all.

    All I was saying was that the first speaker wouldn’t be impacted by Ross’s observation. There was no condemnation meant, nor should any have been taken. Indeed, that was the initial outcome.

    The show would have had 30-40,000 viewers, including the ABC Media Watch, Buzzfeed, Fairfax etc gang who always watched, hoping to jump onto slip-ups. No one said a word about my comments until 17 days later, when other matters had arisen via ‘lawfare’. I still don’t know the reaction to all this from the first prefect speaker. Publicly, I have said if he’s upset at all by my words or by the controversy itself, then I apologise.

    This is a feature of the Left’s confected outrage/PC industry: no problem at the time, but if they can delve back into history when a political target is vulnerable for other reasons, they will.

    What happened to me was essentially a stitch up. None of the critics gave a crap about the school prefect. They had long been silent. It was all about closing down my (hopefully effective) critique of their ideology.

    The mere mention of the word “gay” today is enough to have companies harassed and people sacked. The Left has turned it into a demon word, when I believe I have never used it that way.

    True, I am a former Labor leader. I’m not a conservative, I’m a social democrat. And from that perspective, I oppose identity politics as a divisive, segregationist doctrine that weakens social trust and cohesiveness – the basic raw materials of community and the good society. You don’t have to be from the Right to oppose identity politics as an abomination. Peter Baldwin (ex senior minister and ALP Socialist left faction) has raised a critique similar to mine. You don’t have to be from the Right to oppose the extreme Left.

    In summary, that’s what happened. If civility-conservatives think that’s fine, they might as well surrender the country and culture wars to the Identity Left right now. We should all go to the pub and have a Coopers instead.

    They (and others) would be saying, in fact, no one can make an evidence-based quip about another person in the context of a very funny joke and very strange video.

    In hindsight, I would have been better off joining the girls’ school in attacking the male prefects as toxic and calling for them to never speak about gender issues again.

    Now ain’t that sad!!

  13. Annabel Crabb on Latham:

    There comes a time in every man’s life when he realises that he is not a commercial hit. I would imagine that the hosting of a TV chat show which is out-rated five-fold by ABC2 Bananas In Pyjamas repeats might edge a fellow close to such an epiphany, but each to his own I suppose.

  14. Vale John Clarke, giant of comedy writing and performing; wonderful import from New Zealand as Fred Dagg. Their loss, our gain.

    So many films, TV shows, books, scripts. He flourished in our fair land. He collaborated with clever men and women. Sharp intellect, ear cocked for nonsense, pomposity and the vacuous.

    We will miss your verbal stiletto, Mr Clarke.
    Condolences to all who loved him, numbered in the many thousands.

  15. Just visited the
    John Clarke website.

    All sorts there, including “The Fred Dagg Anthology”, mp3 files.
    You can “make an offer” above AUD$0.00, and download it.

    Bloody priceless.

    Missing him already, and it’s only Monday.

  16. Max Gillies had this to say:

    Gillies believes Clarke’s sudden death has deprived the world of a far grander departure, one maybe not in keeping with Clarke’s nature, but certainly more fitting to his standing in both Australia and New Zealand.

    “If he’d been allowed his timing to go with some more grace, make a more graceful exit … we’d be expecting a state funeral. And then there’d just be this argument between Australia and New Zealand about where the funeral should be.

  17. Max Gillies for once lost for words.
    “If he’d been allowed his timing to go with some more grace, make a more graceful exit …

    Well, as he was a lover of bushland, wildlife, native birds, the great outdoors; I think he made a hell of a graceful exit while walking with his wife and friends, away from the madding crowd.

    Well done, John.
    Gold for NZ, gold for Australia.

  18. Brian, just on the Kurds: They were promised their own homeland prior to the Versailles Conference after the First World War – and then cheated for absolutely no good purpose whatsoever. Some English politicians at the time might have felt their vanity would be offended if they had to change any marks they had put on the map.

    If a Kurdish state did emerge in parts of Syria and Iraq, the United Nations would do diddly-squat to protect it. Look at what happened to the independent Karen state in Myanmar or to Western Sahara, or even Chechnya.

    The Arabs and the Turks would annihilate any Kurdish state – and the rest of the world would just watch on.

  19. Brian

    Ambi, over Easter I’ll try to remember to email you about how to do the link thing.

    Thanks, but I’ll see if I can figure it out.
    Don’t email, enjoy the break!

  20. John, I believe there is going to be a half hour retro of Clarke and Dawe on Monday at 8pm.

    There was a replay of an earlier interview of Clarke by Phillip Adams earlier this week.

    Clarke claimed that he and Dawe loathed each other, but I think he was pulling Phillip’s leg.

  21. There is a small selection of John Clarke pieces on ABC TV iview (catch up) at the moment, too.

  22. BilB quoted:

    “zoot, the electors always get it right.”
    and opined:

    Really?? They elected Abbott!

    Without wishing to commit an infelicitous cricularity, I follow the Principle of Acceptance of Democratic Votes.

    At every Federal election untainted by fraud, the electors get it right.
    Ditto in referenda.
    Ditto at State elections.

    It’s not vox populi, vox dei,
    it’s the sovereign will of free persons, men like me and women like she. We as a populace have never been wrong.

    Foolish, misled, perverse perhaps, but never wrong.

    I prefer to accept a democratic vote I don’t like, rather than to call into question the legitimacy of the process. AEC is as smart as anything. They run a tight ship. They seem vigilant.

    It’s a few of the pollies I don’t trust.

    I accept that Mr Trump has been elected US President. Personally, I don’t like the marchers’ slogans about “not my President”.

    I reckon Mr Trump and Secretary Clinton were both very poor candidates. But it was a choice for US voters to make, not me.

    “Now you’ll think I’m awful!”

  23. “At every Federal election untainted by fraud, the electors get it right.”


  24. Ambiguous: Our electoral commissions do a good job of manipulating electoral boundaries so that the actual results most often reflect the the results of the 2PP vote. However, what we have is not a robust system. Faults include:
    Results are affected by the location of electoral boundaries and the distribution of the voters for particular parties. (Consider the success of the National party despite its minute share of the overall vote.)
    Representation of smaller parties is well below their percentage of the vote.
    The result exaggerates the representation of winners. (Newman got 87% of the seats on less than 50% of the primary votes.)
    For more see this post on an alternative electoral system.

  25. Thanks John.

    BTW, Theresa May has announced a snap poll in UK for early June.

    First big test for her, and for the Corbynistas.

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