Tag Archives: democracy

Australia – May 20, 2022…and beyond.

The Offspring tells me that hashtag #scomonomo is trending on Twitter. That gives me great joy.

For international visitors, or those who have never been on Twitter, ‘scomo’ refers to Scott Morrison, the man who went to Hawaii while Australia burned, the man who justified his absence by remarking that it wasn’t his job to ‘hold the hose’ – i.e. fight those fires like the mostly volunteer fire fighting crews across Australia.

‘no mo’ stands for ‘no more’. As of last night, Scott Morrison is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia. Voters rejected him, and his corrupt coalition government across the length and width of this wonderful country of ours.

The graphic below describes the election result in visual terms. The link below the graphic will take you to one of the simplest and best descriptions of our system that I’ve ever come across:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-22/election-how-labor-anthony-albanese-won/101087904

What makes me even happier than #scomonomo is the way it came about. Australians all over Australia voted for Independents rather than the two, major parties, and there’s a decent chance we’ll end up with 16 – SIXTEEN – independent representatives in the national House of Representatives. And a great majority of them are women.

Women who demand action on climate change.

Women who demand a national integrity commission.

Women who are an integral part of their communities and truly reflect the wants and needs of those communities.

Women who want a decent future for their children.

Woman who are standing up and telling those middle-aged, self-important, ego-driven, white, male, politicians in Canberra that we’re sick of the mess they’ve made of our country.

And one last thing. All these Independents are going to breathe new life back into our democracy because they are not beholden to a ‘party line’. They don’t owe party political faction leaders any allegiance. They are free to vote for or veto policies that do not reflect the people who elected them into office. That is huge.

Here in the West we seem to have forgotten what democracy actually means. It’s not about nationalism, and it’s not about elites. Democracy is about ordinary, every day people having a voice and being heard. it’s also about those people being served by the representatives they elect into office.

Service, a word that’s been forgotten along with ‘integrity’.

The representatives of the people are there to serve us. Not corporations or other vested interested or themselves. They are there to serve the people. Full stop. Period.

Will it actually happen, or do we face yet more broken promises and unfulfilled dreams?

The Australian Labor party will form the new national government of Australia, but they will likely have to consult, and co-operate with, the Independents we-the-people have chosen. If they don’t, they won’t get anything done.

I hope the start of Albo’s [Anthony Albanese, the new Prime Minister of Australia] victory speech is a sign that Labor has learned to serve:

‘…and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.’

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a message from the Indigenous Peoples of Australia to all Australians. It is one of the most beautiful documents I’ve ever read:

‘We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. We call on all sides of politics to support a First Nations Voice to Parliament, so that we can finally have a say on policies and laws that affect us.’

https://ulurustatement.org/

I believe that all Australians need to commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart so that all of us can finally move forward, as a real nation.

I also believe that we, the white Settlers of Australia, need our First Peoples, desperately. They have been here for close to 60,000 years, and what they don’t know about this strange, harsh, beautiful land is not worth knowing. If we give them the respect they deserve, they may teach us how better to live in this land. How better to face the terrible changes yet to come, because make no mistake, even if the whole world were to stop greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we will have to live with the damage already done for generations to come. We will need all the help we can get. From science and our First Peoples.

Finally, after years of inaction, there is hope.

All my love,
Meeks


Myth busting Omicron – or no, we didn’t have to live with the virus.

A lot of conservative governments justify their policies during this pandemic with the mantra that we all have to ‘live with Covid’.

Why? Apparently because we’re all going to get it eventually.

Even a relatively trusted source like Dr John Campbell maintains that ‘everyone will get Omicron’ – supposedly because it’s so contagious. Yet the actual numbers don’t add up, even in the UK.

This is a screenshot I took this morning which shows the total number of people infected with Covid-19 in the UK…since the pandemic began:

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases?areaType=overview&areaName=United%20Kingdom

The comments in red and green are mine. I wanted to see how many people in the UK had not had any of the Covid-19 variants. The number ended up being 50 million.

Now I know that the official figures don’t include those who were infected but had only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so I’m going to double the official figure from 18 million to 36 million.

Revised estimate of people infected with Covid-19 variants = 36 million

When you subtract 36M from 68M you get 32M who have never been infected with any of the Covid-19 variants, and that’s after two years and multiple variants, including Omicron B1. Curiously, data from the UK seems to show that 68% of those infected with Omicron have been re-infected. In other words, previous exposure did not give them immunity against the variant.

Why am I banging on about stats and who has or hasn’t been infected in the UK? The answer is simple:

  • I hate grand sweeping generalisations that are not based on actual data and,
  • much of what we do here in Australia seems to reflect the trends happening in the UK… and the conservative government there wants to open up completely, based on the narrative that everyone will get the virus anyway, so they may as well make the best of it.

The truth is a little more nuanced. According to everything I understand about herd immunity, you need to have at least 70% of the total population immune to a virus for the herd immunity effect to kick in. Not just recovered from the infection but actually immune to it.

Why 70%? because that’s roughly the number of immune people you need to stop the virus from being able to replicate – i.e. spread through the community:

Herd immunity ‘ring fences’ the virus

Essentially, people who have already had the infection – and are immune to it – crowd out the new infections, so even if someone is sick and shedding the virus all over the place, that virus is falling on people who are already immune so it can’t replicate. It’s been ring-fenced.

So let’s have a look at the UK. Are they at 70% yet?

No, they’re not. More importantly, immunity gained from earlier variants of the virus doesn’t seem to provide immunity against the current variants.

In other words, having had the virus once does not guarantee you won’t get the virus again, and that means there can be no herd immunity.

The lack of herd immunity means that those who have never had the virus are not protected. Therefore, learning to ‘live with the virus’ has nothing to do with protecting the vulnerable. It is ALL about protecting the economy.

Let me be more specific. The policy of living with the virus is essentially throwing all the vulnerable members of the population under the bus. Some will live, some won’t.

So who are these vulnerable people?

They include all the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers for sure, but they also include those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons – i.e. because the vaccine would have a negative reaction with their particular medication or treatment – or those with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccines are much less effective. But the list also includes those who have been fully vaccinated.

The current crop of vaccines were developed for the earlier variants and are much less effective against Omicron, so in a way, we’re right back at the start of the pandemic when we didn’t have any vaccines at all. Until a vaccine specifically designed to target Omicron and its siblings comes along, even being fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection.

Yes, Omicron et al., may be milder than Delta, but it’s not mild. Calling it ‘mild’ instead of ‘milder’ was a neat bit of spin to justify opening up completely. Only now are we seeing how deadly this ‘mild’ virus actually is.

So why are our governments getting away with this? The answer is rather brutal: right from the start, they told people that “…only the elderly, the disabled or those with ‘co-morbidities’ will die so…don’t panic”.

The nett effect of this messaging has been to make the age groups most likely to spread the virus resent those most likely to die from it.

Why should young, healthy people have to suffer lockdowns and restrictions to save a bunch of people who are probably ‘going to die anyway’?

I believe that question, and the resentment that goes with it, is why conspiracy theories have gained such traction. People don’t want to admit how they feel so they latch onto mad stories about legitimate targets – i.e. governments and large corporations.

To be honest, my trust in governments and large corporations is pretty damn low, but the bottom line is that the people in these age groups want to live with Covid…because they don’t think it will affect them. They believe they are immortal so they don’t consider the possibility that they might have a ‘co-morbidity’ without knowing it. They don’t think about long Covid, and what it could do to the rest of their lives. They just resent having those lives interrupted for the sake of a bunch of people they don’t care about anyway.

Which brings me to a rather painful question: if a majority of people in a democracy want to let people die, is a government justified in giving them what they want?

I believe the answer is no. Once elected, the representatives of any democratic government are bound to protect everyone in that democracy, even those who voted against them or those who may have become a ‘liability’.

Protecting all members of society is the cornerstone of the social contract our parents accepted on our behalf when we were born: we give a select group of people a certain amount of power over us in exchange for the protection of the group. Why else obey laws or pay taxes?

Once that core promise of society is broken, trust dies and society falls apart.

We don’t talk about trust much, but everything in society depends on it. Trust allows us to use bits of paper as ‘money’. Trust allows us to walk around without being in fear of our lives. At its most basic, trust allows us to trust others.

Trust in government and ‘the capitalist system’ has been falling for decades now. I truly fear for the future of Western democracies.

Meeks


Democracy and the Bell Curve

This is the bell curve:

https://www.statisticshowto.datasciencecentral.com/bell-curve/

It’s a statistical concept that says information about everything will create the shape of a bell curve if you can sample all of the population. Here, population is defined as whatever it is that you’re looking at. [Click the link above to read a more precise definition of a bell curve].

Let me give you an example. This is a rough spread of colours. It’s not accurate but bear with me:

Now, if you could ask every single person on earth which was their favourite colour, you’d end up with a smallish number of people at either end of the bell curve choosing black or white. Most people, however, would choose one of the colours in between those two extremes.

These are the people in the middle of that bell curve.

These are the people commonly referred to as the ‘silent majority’. These are the people who ultimately make or break the system of government we call democracy.

Of course, present day democracy isn’t ‘real’ democracy. It’s representational democracy, meaning we elect a tiny elite to do all the voting for a set period of time. We-the-people are lucky if our single vote has any influence on who is elected to vote for us. I

n case it isn’t completely obvious, I loathe representational democracy, and that’s despite living in a country that does it better than most. In Australia’s version, everyone of voting age has to vote, whether they want to or not. In theory at least, our votes can be expressed as a bell curve because the whole population is included in the result – i.e. some rabid right wingers on one side, some rabid left wingers on the other, and everybody else somewhere in the middle.

The net effect of having all those middies voting is that the power of the two extremes is diluted.

In countries that don’t have compulsory voting, the silent majority largely don’t vote. That means the two extremes are the ones who care enough to vote. And that means the power of the extremes is not moderated by ordinary, everyday voters with ordinary, everyday wants and needs.

I have understood the power of the bell curve for over 40 years. It is the reason I believe that representational democracy will, one day, be superseded by a more direct, more democratic voting system. In this barely imaginable future, ordinary people will be allowed to influence the direction of politics in a more meaningful way. Instead of only getting a say once every 4 years, they’ll have the option of voting directly on issues that concern them. Think social media or #auspol but with teeth. No more electing ambitious, professional bastards politicians to do our voting for us!

That’s the upside of direct voting, but there’s a downside as well, two in fact. People who don’t think direct voting is a good idea usually point to ‘populism’ as an example of how real majority rule can go horribly wrong. And they do have a point. While only the extremes get to have their say, direct rule of any sort can only lead to disaster.

But…we’re now smart enough to factor the ‘extremes’ into any direct voting system we devise. For example, let’s say we have a direct voting referendum on something emotional, like say a new flag. We could set up a system whereby a referendum would only pass [and hence become law] if a majority of at least 95% of the total population actually voted, one way or the other. This would ensure that direct voting faithfully reflected the wants and needs of the real majority.

Ah, but what about security, you say.

At the moment, security is the single biggest issue holding us back from direct voting, but I believe that blockchain technology, or something like it, will eventually make direct voting a viable and secure possibility.

I am still playing through all the issues in my head, but I honestly believe that one day, we will be like those ancient Athenians who first came up with the concept of democracy. It does feel weird though to think that it’s already been well over 2,000 years since democracy was first attempted.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were the first to finally get it right?

Meeks


Democracy & compulsory voting

I’ve just stumbled across a brilliant article that details how and why Australia became one of the few democracies in the world to practise compulsory voting:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-01/compulsory-voting-federal-election-the-good-bits-of-politics/10825482

To be honest, I had absolutely no idea why we embraced compulsory voting, but I’ve long seen the value of it. Compulsory voting makes representational democracy more democratic. Why? Because the silent majority is forced to make a decision, and that decision dilutes the power of both extremes.

As a member of the silent ‘middle’, I think that’s a Very. Good. Thing. The whole point of democracies is that the majority decide important issues. But if only the far right and the far left care enough to get out there and vote, the winner is always going to be from one of the extremes. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means that ordinary people who just want to survive and get along don’t have a say.

Another thing, which is specifically referred to in that article, is that compulsory voting makes greater choice possible. Instead of only being able to vote for the two or possibly three major parties, compulsory voting gives independents and smaller parties a chance as well. If they get in, their votes have to be won…via compromise, and compromise dilutes the extremes again.

I hope the IPA never get their way and scrap compulsory voting. We do not need extremes. We do not need people to be so polarised that they hate each other. We need compromise and balance and more choices, not less.

Australia’s democracy may be young, but it works. No offence to either the US or the UK, but I wouldn’t want to live in either country at the moment.

cheers

Meeks


Coal Seam Gas – destroying the Great Artesian Basin?

I stumbled on a tweet this morning.

It included this video.

Curious, I watched the video.

Shocked, I took a screenshot and added a bright yellow arrow to highlight the bubble of gas that has just been set alight. What you see under the flames is the water flowing from a bore drilled into the Great Artesian Basin [GAB for short].

This is the complete video:

Why is this so shocking? Because without that bore water, much of the food production in the arid parts of Australia simply would not be possible:

Prior to European occupation, waters of the GAB discharged through mound springs, many in arid South Australia. These springs supported a variety of endemic invertebrates (molluscs, for example), and supported extensive Aboriginal communities and trade routes.[8] After the arrival of Europeans, they enabled early exploration and faster communications between southeastern Australia and Europe via the Australian Overland Telegraph Line.[8] The Great Artesian Basin became an important water supply for cattle stationsirrigation, and livestock and domestic usage, and is a vital life line for rural Australia.[9] To tap it, water wellsare drilled down to a suitable rock layer, where the pressure of the water forces it up, mostly without pumping.

Quote taken from Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Artesian_Basin

By Tentotwo – Basin extent: Geoscience Australia Revised Great Artesian Basin Jurassic-Cretaceous boundaryCoastline, rivers, state borders: Natural Earth dataset, 1:50MShaded relief: Kenneth Townsend, Shaded Relief Archive, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26822532

I know that everything in life is a balancing act between opposite and competing priorities, but destroying Peter to pay Paul is simply insane.

Yes, we do need gas to generate instant electricity until our power generation switches fully to renewables and storage [wind, solar, batteries]. But we also need to eat. If the water goes, so will much of inland Australia.

What makes this all so much worse is that we wouldn’t need to extract coal seam gas from the GAB if our offshore gas hadn’t been sold overseas for peanuts. Industry, AEMO*, and Federal and State governments are all to blame: Industry for not giving a shit about anything except shareholder profits, AEMO for allowing Industry to game the bloody system, and governments for putting short term gains ahead of long term planning.

When are we going to accept that Industry will NEVER self-regulate for the good of society as a whole?

It’s like leaving the door to the hen house wide open and expecting the fox to leave the chickens alone. Really?

Yet isn’t that exactly what all Western governments do? They allow multinational corporations to self-regulate and then go ‘tut tut’ when said corporations engage in shonky business practices.  And let’s not sugar coat reality: the Global Financial Crisis was caused by criminals on Wall Street. Closer to home we have the findings of the Banking Royal Commission. Apparently we have white collar criminals in the ANZ and Commonwealth Bank too. And then, of course, we have the thieves fronting social media and hiding behind the scenes in the ‘ad networks’. They just spy on us and steal our personal data for profit…

In a balanced ecology, you need foxes as well as chickens, but it is the role of government to protect the chickens from the foxes. Western governments are failing, in spectacular fashion. And in the process, democracy itself is under attack as never before. If we don’t stop the rot now, future generations will not be living in a democracy, they’ll be living in a corporate state, as peons**.

Meeks

* The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for operating Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peon


Politics – do we really care?

I’ve always had a problem with ‘-isms’ – communism, socialism, facism, capitalism, republicanism, you name it – because they all seem to miss the point about people. Homo Sapiens doesn’t give a flying fruit bat about politics until things go wrong.

I was a kid in the late Menzies era of Australia [1949-1966], and I remember hearing some adults moan about elections while others moaned about the general apathy of the Australian voter. You see, in Australia, we have compulsory voting…and the times were good.

In fact, by the early 60’s, the populations of the Western world were better off, generally, than they had ever been before. Not quite the age of surplus envisioned by Marx, but close, and some of us really were able to live ‘…from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ That’s what the Age of Aquarius, Flower Power and Free Love were really all about.

Yet, on an individual level, despite the lack of scarcity, we still suffered from greed and envy and other ‘first world’ problems as we see-sawed between co-operation and competition. Because that is how the human animal is made – neither saint nor sinner but a combination of both.

And in a roundabout way, our dual nature is exactly why compulsory voting should be mandatory in all representational democracies. Voters are human and apathetic…and the silent majority doesn’t give a shit. That is why we have to be forced into protecting democracy, because democracy only works if the apathetic majority moderates the extremes on both the Right and the Left.

If I had my way, I would do away with all career politicians entirely. Instead, I would replace them with ordinary people, plucked off the street as for jury duty. These reluctant amateurs would bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the table, but their very reluctance might result in some genuine ‘…government of the people, for the people, by the people’.

Human beings won’t change, ever. That’s why we have to devise better systems to make it possible for this disparate tribe to live together in mutual protection and safety.

Only by understanding and working around our own weaknesses can we avoid going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo.

May 2018 be a better year than 2017.

Meeks


The end of Representational #Democracy?

People tend to talk about our Western systems of government as ‘democracies’, but the reality is that they are only representational democracies.

Why ‘only’?

Because the original Greek definition of democracy was one man, one vote. Of course by that definition, neither slaves nor women could vote, but it was still a pretty amazing concept in a world of Kings, Emperors, Warlords and other hierarchical and dictatorial forms of government. When a civic decision had to be made, everyone would crowd into the plaza and vote with a show of hands. Simple. Direct. And non-scalable. Imagine how big a plaza you’d need for even a small country like say Hungary.

By the time some of the countries of Western Europe decided to give this democray thing a go, they’d already figured out that one man, one vote simply couldn’t work, not for big places like England and France. So they invented a system that allowed their citizens to choose between just a few people for the right to vote. The person who ended up being chosen at the grassroots level would then go up to parliament and vote on their behalf. This is the basis of representational democracy – one person voting in the name of lots of people.

Now representational democracy was a great invention in its time, but the reality has never lived up to the hype because all those representatives ended up being funnelled into parties. Then factions within those parties would compete amongst themselves. Eventually, one person would gain enough power to represent not only the whole faction but also the party. This leader would then go head to head with the leader of the opposing faction until one of them won. Eventually, the leader who won would get to represent and make decisions for…all of us:

we the governed

 

Forgive me for this child’s view of politics, but sometimes we have to remember what’s real and what is merely an aspiration. At the moment, the kind of democracy that gives each man and woman a vote that actually matters is still just a pipe-dream.

Or is it?

During the lead up to the recent Australian election, many of the political pundits mentioned that a massive proportion of eligible young voters were not registering to vote. [In Australia, voting is compulsory and anyone 18 and over is supposed to register their name on the electoral roll].

Were these young people merely apathetic? Just not interested in politics? Not interested in politics as we know it? Other?

At 63 I can hardly speak for the young, but as someone who lives on the internet, I can make a few educated guesses:

  1. I don’t think the young are disinterested in politics at all
  2. I think they are merely disinterested in the traditional form of politics taken for granted in the West.

Now let me make a few guesses as to why:

  1. change.org
  2. Facebook [and Tumblr and Twitter and…and….etc]

What does social media have to do with politics? And disaffected youth? Everything.

Todays 18 year olds have grown up having a direct say in the issues they care about – via Facebook et al., and organisations such as change.org and getup [amongs others]. On these platforms, groups form almost organically and as the groups grow, they gain a voice, a voice that is being heard by pollsters and politicians alike. The major parties may deny that they take any notice of online petitions, but no institution is large enough to withstand the fury of a self-righteous group.

So the young have found a platform and those in control are paying attention, and this is happening in real time, day after day. Why on earth would these young voices care about an election that happens only once every 3 – 4 years and does NOT reflect their views?

Make no mistake, in a representational democracy, only voting blocks actually matter. Individual votes matter hardly at all. For example, here in Warrandyte, we are part of the Jaga Jaga electoral area. Jaga Jaga is never mentioned in post election commentary because it is a safe Labor seat, and has been for a very long. Thus, no matter how I vote, my vote has no effect on the outcome of the election because it would take a massive change to turn Jaga Jaga into a swinging electorate. And swinging electorates are the only ones that can really change the final outcome of the election.

So for young people living in Warrandyte who do NOT believe in Labor’s values, voting is essentially pointless, and exactly the same thing applies to Labor voters in a safe Liberal electorate. Yet all these young people have had a taste of what true democracy could be like.

They have made their voices heard on social media and that is the kind of system they want: one person, one vote and each vote counts.

We do not yet have the technology to make online voting, issue by issue, a reality. The internet is simply not secure enough, not yet, but it will be, and when it is, I believe representational democracy will change. It will have to. Brexit and Trump and the [possibility] of a hung parliament here in Australia guarantee it.

We who are governed want to have a say in how we are governed. We want democracy.

cheers

Meeks


A Double Dissolution – the safety net of democracy in Australia

Since the Hockey-Abbott budget came out a few weeks ago, I’ve been wondering what we can do about it …in a democracy. Is it fair to make a fuss when a democratically elected government does something we don’t like?

For me, the simple answer is YES

Why? Because we have a Senate for a reason. The role of the Senate is to ‘moderate’ the decisions of the House of Representatives – i.e. the Abbott government. 

How does the Senate moderate the decisions of the House of Reps? By not passing bills. [A bill has to be passed by both the House of Reps and the Senate in order to become law]. 

Blocking Supply. If the Senate knocks back a House of Reps budget [3 times] the government of the day has the option of calling a Double Dissolution. A Double Dissolution means both Houses of Parliament are dissolved and new elections are held for both houses. 

No government goes for a Double Dissolution lightly as there is no guarantee it will be voted back in, and none of the politians want to lose their seats. 

Usually, the mere threat of a Double Dissolution is enough to force a compromise. In the case of the Hockey-Abbott budget, however, I think we should pressure the smaller parties to make a Double Dissolution inevitable. Voting is a pain, but it is the ONLY tool we voters have to keep politicians in line. If we can get rid of Abbott and his government, we will not only protect our national identity and way of life, we will send a clear message to politicians for decades to come : 

– Don’t break your election promises

– Don’t pick on the most vulnerable in our society

– Do try telling the truth for a change

– And do listen to what the people are actually telling you, even if it disagrees with your ideology

So let’s bring on this Double Dissolution. We really don’t have that much to lose.

cheers

Meeks


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