America – what have you done?

If Leo Tolstoy were alive today, instead of creating Anna Karenina he might find writing Donald John Trump more intriguing. I suspect he would again begin with similar memorable words: "Happy presidencies are all alike; every unhappy presidency is unhappy in its own way."

Just beyond its three-month mark, Trump’s presidency is already uniquely unhappy, sad, chaotic, unpredictable, reckless, irrational, erratic, and ignorant. His Republican colleagues find it bewildering and jarring; much of the American electorate find it bitterly discouraging; and the rest of the free world, extremely dangerous.

And even as the Trump saga is being wrapped in words by the media, day after day, hour after hour, it is becoming more grotesque, more astonishing, and more alarming.

Trump is in the midst of a diplomatic firestorm centred on what he did or did not say to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office. His account of it varies depending upon what random thought happens to be traversing his unruly mind when he speaks or tweets.

At first there was denial of the Washington Post report of Trump’s disclosure of intelligence information that could jeopardise a crucial intelligence source, in this instance probably Israel. Like a small child showing off his toys, he even boasted to Lavrov “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

Then, when Trump realized that the truth could no longer be denied, he declared that he had every right to disclose such intelligence, and that his actions were ‘wholly appropriate’. This seemed to fly in the face of the outright denial by National Security Advisor H R McMaster “The President engaged in ‘routine sharing of information’ and nothing more…the story that came out tonight is false. I was in the room, it didn’t happen.” Time will expose the truth, which any sane president ought to know. Even crooked Nixon knew that!

Then there was the sacking of FBI chief James Comey. The story changed by the day. Trump said Comey asked to have dinner with him, a highly improbable scenario. Then Trump said Comey asked him that he keep his job, an implausible tale. Then he said that Comey reassured him three times that he was not under investigation. It is beyond belief that an FBI director would reveal such information even if it were true, which it was not.

Then Trump allegedly asked Comey to wind up the investigation into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn with: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go…He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” General Flynn resigned after being confronted with the fact that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.

While Comey has not commented on Trump’s request, his colleagues know that he is a fastidious note taker and almost certainly has a written record of his encounter with Trump, which will now be revealed at a Senate intelligence committee that has requested that notes of the meeting be out in the open. He has been invited to testify in both open and closed-door hearings. What will Comey say?

Having been described by Trump as a “grandstander” and a “showboat”, that he was "crazy, a real nut job”, and having accused him of incompetence: “Because he wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply, he was not doing a good job.”, Comey is unlikely to be favourably disposed to bailing Trump out. Not satisfied with demeaning Comey publically, Trump took to threatening him via Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”

Alongside this development, the US Justice Department has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into Russia’s influence on last year’s US presidential election. Trump denies any influence.

And this extraordinary saga has emerged in just the last couple of weeks, dwarfing Trump’s previous transgressions! His recent misdemeanours may be the ones that will land him in trouble with the law, or possibly a move to impeach or remove him.

In an opinion piece Fear and loathing inside the beltway in the May 20 edition of The Weekend Australian, conservative commentator Chris Kenny, in an article that is largely defensive of Trump, writes:
…his character was so obviously flawed, policies so contradictory and utterances so impetuous that his promise of much-needed change seemed far too risky…Four months into his presidency, Trump does not seem to have had a single comfortable day in the Oval Office. His self-inflicted problems include: random tweeting that ranges from barbs about television shows and shots at opponents to serious policy announcements and foreign policy posturing; difficulty implementing his agenda, such as his migration controls, caused partly by his previous loose language; and poor selection of staff, from his since-departed national security adviser Michael Flynn to spokesman Sean Spicer, who is often as incoherent as the President he seeks to clarify.”
If a conservative like Kenny thinks this way, is it any surprise that less favourably disposed journalists are so vitriolic in their criticisms of Trump?

This piece could go on and on detailing Trump’s words, deeds, tweets and behaviour since his inauguration, indeed from the time he entered the presidential race. This is not my purpose. You have read about these matters or seen them on TV ad nauseam; you need no reminding. My purpose is to explore what’s behind Trump’s behaviour.

Here is my assessment, my opinion. You may have another viewpoint, which you can express in Comments below.

To me the following seem to be Trump’s underlying personality defects, which evoke his extraordinary behaviour:

Lack of insight
This seems to be the most cogent explanation of his behaviour.

He seems to have little idea of the impact on others of his demeanour, his language, the words he uses, his verbal and non-verbal expressions, his constant use of Twitter, his body language, his use of hand gestures, and his manner of dress and deportment.

He seems not to comprehend that he has become an object of ridicule, a laughing stock the world over in the eyes of journalists, commentators, politicians and the general public.

Have we ever experienced an American President who has been so unfavourably received? His approval ratings in the US are the worst ever for a president so soon after inauguration, and steadily getting worse. And don’t forget this is despite him still attracting a large coterie of fervent supporters, who will seemingly go on supporting him no matter how badly he behaves, no matter how ineffectual he is, no matter how many promises he breaks.

Sadly, lack of insight of this magnitude is virtually incurable. So used has he become to having extravagant accolades heaped upon him by the sycophants with whom he surrounds himself, in his reality TV shows and in his business world, that the lack of them in the rough and tumble world of politics and news reporting is unnerving for him.

For Trump, deprivation of praise and admiration for his words and actions is distressing in itself, but combined with penetrating and persistent questioning from the media, and robust criticism of his behaviour and his decisions, it is all too much for him, causing him to declare publically that “I have never seen more dishonest media, frankly than the political media.” He has repeatedly described media criticism of him as "fake news", labelling the media as the "opposition party".

He insists that he is the subject of “…the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”, and after a special counsel was appointed to explore the involvement of Russia in his election campaign, he protested angrily that “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

Observers see this whingeing about his own predicament as hypocrisy writ large when they reflect on how in the election campaign they saw him repeatedly condemn Hillary Clinton, call her ‘The Devil’, a ‘nasty woman’, ‘a disgrace’, ‘a liar’, and then threatened her with a special counsel to look into her use of a private email server if he were president, going on to insist that she should be in jail, which evoked the ‘Lock her up’ chant from his followers.

As the paragraphs above signal, Trump appears to have a deep-seated paranoia. He fervently believes that people are out to ‘get him’: the media, his opponents, some of his colleagues, and even his staff, whom he accuses of ‘leaking’ against him. As a wise colleague once reminded me; “If it’s true it’s not paranoia”, and certainly it is true that many people are out to get Trump. But the extent to which he believes this is abnormal.

Definitions of paranoia include:
A tendency on the part of an individual toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.

A mental condition characterized by delusions of grandeur or persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically worked into an organized system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder… in which the person loses touch with reality.

Do some of these describe Trump’s behaviour? You be the judge.

Delusions of grandeur
Who could ever forget Trump’s ‘Let’s make America Great Again’? How many times has he adorned his initiatives with words that indicate they will be ‘great’? How often has he insisted that he will ‘drain the Washington swamp’ a mammoth task that no other has attempted, much less achieved? Yet he has vowed that he will.

Delusions of grandeur are related to paranoia. They are a fixed, false belief that one possesses superior qualities such as genius, fame, omnipotence, or wealth. In popular language, this disorder is known as “megalomania,” but is more accurately referred to as “narcissistic personality disorder” if it is a core component of a person’s personality and identity. In such disorders, the person has a greatly out-of-proportion sense of their own worth and value in the world.

Narcissistic personality disorder
Many commentators have labelled Trump as narcissistic; his behaviour fits that description.

The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include: a grandiose sense of importance, a belief that one is special and unique, a requirement for excessive admiration, and a strong sense of entitlement. The narcissist is exploitative, lacks empathy, is arrogant, and is envious and jealous of others.

Trump’s egotistical, bombastic behaviour matches most of these attributes.

Overbearing, punitive, bullying and ruthless behaviour patterns
Trump is an angry man. When he doesn’t get his way, or feels he has been let down, he reacts furiously. Trump is well known for “Your sacked”, not just in his reality TV show, but now with his colleagues and staff, as past-FBI Director Comey knows only too well.

Trump is known for getting his own way. He is combative and belligerent. Those who displease him are removed. His White House staff lives under the cloud of instant dismissal if they do not perform. The poorly performing Press Secretary Sean Spicer must fear coming to work every day.

Even the way he signs and then displays his signature on his Executive Orders, with his sycophantic staff looking on and politely applauding, highlights his arrogant and attention-seeking disposition. In this regard he reminds us of Kim Jong Un and his sycophantic generals clapping their ‘Dear Leader’.

We know too that Trump is a habitual liar. He finds no virtue in sticking to the facts and speaking the truth. Having an honest conversation with him is a challenge both for his staff and the media.

Willful ignorance
Throughout his short presidency, Trump has shown lamentable ignorance.

He is ignorant of legislative processes, which delayed passage of his replacement of Obamacare. He seems to have little idea about how to address his other signature policies: large corporate tax cuts and infrastructure development. As a result the stock market went up in anticipation of action; now it’s down again as nothing is happening. He is not used to negotiating with politicians, despite his boasting about his skill in ‘closing a deal’ – he’s even written a book about it!.

He is ignorant of international politics and diplomacy, and so puts his foot in it regularly. His naive and rude treatment of Angela Merkel is a case in point.

What is more alarming is his disinclination to take expert advice. He finds briefings boring, insisting that he doesn’t need to be briefed every day about the same things, as he is “very smart”. He seems to have a restricted attention span. His staff and colleagues were petrified about what he would do and say on his first overseas trip to sensitive political places. His indiscretion about passing onto the Russian foreign minister sensitive intelligence about ISIS activities scared everyone about what might happen abroad. In the end, although there were some Facebook-worthy visuals, some embarrassing moments with world leaders, and some defiant utterances, there were no grave faux pas. Middle East experts though are unimpressed, and find his new tune on Islam unconvincing.

He is willfully ignorant about climate science, global warming, the need for environmental protection, and is ready to let fossil fuel producers do their worst. He is threatening to pull out of the Paris agreement on global warming.

He is ignorant about the nuances of free trade agreements and has indicated that the US will withdraw from NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. He boasts that he will bring jobs back to America from countries to which they have disappeared. He has no idea of how complicated that is, nor the effects of automation on international job transfer.

For the most powerful man in the world to be so dangerously ignorant, yet so arrogantly assured of the rightness of his own opinion is hazardous for all countries that trade with America, and all the others that will be affected by global warming.

The man is an unsafe ignoramus, who seems to have little or no insight into his condition.

So there it is – my analysis of the personality and behavioural defects that afflict Donald John Trump.

If Leo Tolstoy was to be reborn today and set about writing a play about this man’s presidency, how would it unfold? I suspect that Tolstoy’s portrayal of the bizarre unreality of Trump’s unhappy presidency would evoke an accusation that, as an author, he was guilty of outrageous fabrication - surely no presidency could be this weird!

America – what have you done to us?

To many Americans, Trump behaves like a dangerous out-of-control lunatic. Now though, even some of his own supporters are attacking their Republican representatives at town hall meetings over broken promises, and the media is scratching to find GOP members to talk in defence of Trump.

But he still has millions of devoted followers who dwell on his every word, which will support him until their dying breath.

It is these Americans that have done this to us. Frighteningly, they would likely do it all over again.

What is your opinion?
Let us know in comments below.

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Falling through the cracks

In amongst the budget, responses and ‘expert analysis’, you might have missed the news that so called conservative ‘warrior’ and MP for the seat of Dawson in Central Queensland, George Christensen, recently became a medical tourist to Asia. Christensen, who before the operation weighed in at 176 kilograms, went to Malaysia for an operation to remove 85% of his stomach.

While it is fair to suggest that this website hasn’t been overly friendly to Christensen in the past, he deserves due recognition for attempting to redress a health problem that he claims was due to the politician’s lifestyle of constantly being on the road and rarely eating at home. Like a lot of overweight people Christensen said he had tried “every diet under the sun”. Christensen apparently wants to outlive his grandmother who died at 96; and good luck to him with this ambition. According to the article quoted above, former politician Clive Palmer has also recently lost almost 60kgs in the last eight months.

Regardless of the reason for Christensen’s former weight, the lack of weight loss success with less invasive measures such as diet and exercise suggests there are some elements of an addictive personality resident in the head of George Christensen. He also apparently has the necessary finance available to fund not only ‘every diet under the sun’ but the costs of travelling to Malaysia and undergoing the operation.

It’s lucky in some ways that Christensen isn’t a job seeker and his particular addiction of choice was not to an illicit drug. Turnbull and Morrison’s second budget introduced the concept of drug testing Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients before they are able to receive benefits. Turnbull’s response to Buzzfeed’s question regarding the medical or scientific evidence that demonstrates this scheme would work was interesting
"Well, I think it's pretty obvious that welfare money should not be used to buy drugs, and if you love somebody who is addicted to drugs, if you love somebody whose life is being destroyed by drugs, don't you want to get them off drugs?"
On the face of it, Turnbull has a point. Generally, those who have family members would move heaven and earth to arrange for the affected loved one to come out of the end of a de-tox program as clean. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Christensen is the perfect demonstration that he knows he has a problem, has tried ‘every diet under the sun’ (presumably failed) and ended up taking an irreversible surgical option. In a similar way, taking money off those using illicit drugs will have a probable outcome of increasing petty theft and house breaking rates due to those who can’t pass a drug test ‘falling through the cracks’ by choosing to leave the welfare system. If he really wants to ‘share the love’, Turnbull should be funding de-tox centres and programs to ensure that those with an addictive personality who find themselves using illicit drugs (instead of food, alcohol or tobacco) can be taken through to fix the root cause of the problem – not the claimed anti-social effects of the problem.

The problem is that Turnbull isn’t funding appropriate treatment centres. According to The Greens, fewer than half those who need it, are able to access drug and alcohol treatment. Regardless of your view of The Greens as a political party, their leader Richard De Natalie is a General Practitioner who specialised in drug and alcohol abuse, so he probably has a better idea than you or I how well this country looks after those who ingest illicit drugs.
"It's time to recognise this is a health problem not a law and order one. We have to have an open, honest conversation about this and stop pretending we're winning this war – we're losing and losing fast."
In fact, Turnbull’s new policy is a demonstrated failure. A number of conservative states in the USA have been running drug testing programs for welfare recipients over a number of years. Most of them have been shut down by the Courts as unconstitutional. Time Magazine reported on drug testing welfare recipients in August 2014 quoting examples such as Florida, which tested welfare recipients for four months in 2011 (before it was struck down in court as being unconstitutional) and found that 2.6% of the recipients tested positive to the welfare based drug testing regimen.

As an estimated 8% of the population of Florida were using illicit drugs in that period of time, either the welfare recipients were good at hiding their health issue, they couldn’t afford illicit drugs or generally drug taking behaviour is significantly under-represented in the population of welfare recipients. Regardless, the evidence from the period Florida drug tested welfare recipients clearly demonstrates that conservative legislators aren’t letting the facts interrupt a good ‘druggies on welfare’ story.

There is an alternative to the draconian law and order solution to the ‘drug’ problem. Portugal decriminalised personal possession of drugs in 2001. Those found with drugs are offered support to enter and complete a treatment program.

ABC’s Health Report explained the concept in 2009
Ten years ago Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. Heroin use was out of control and the rate of HIV infections in drug users became a humanitarian crisis. So what did Portugal do? They decriminalised all personal drug use in that country, crack, heroin, LSD, you name it. Drugs are still illegal, but it's no longer a crime to use them. Instead of jail, users and addicts are offered treatment and education.
Also in 2009, Time magazine reported on the results.
in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal's drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.
The German media organisation Der Spiegel reported on the ‘Portugal experiment’ in 2013 (during the time of concern over the Portuguese economy) and concluded
"We haven't found some miracle cure," Goulão says. Still, taking stock after nearly 12 years, his conclusion is, "Decriminalization hasn't made the problem worse."

At the moment, Goulão's greatest concern is the Portuguese government's austerity policies in the wake of the euro crisis. Decriminalization is pointless, he says, without being accompanied by prevention programs, drug clinics and social work conducted directly on the streets. Before the euro crisis, Portugal spent €75 million ($98 million) annually on its anti-drug programs. So far, Goulão has only seen a couple million cut from his programs, but if the crisis in the country grows worse, at some point there may no longer be enough money.
Greens leader Richard De Natalie has a personal interest in drug reform and has visited Portugal to assess the effectiveness of the program.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Turnbull and Morrison chose to take the path where behaviour outside what they consider to be acceptable norms is punished severely, rather than assisting the victims to recover from an illness. When you think of it, Turnbull and Morrison’s policy of drug testing welfare recipients is not a new concept. Regardless of the reality, suggesting those on Newstart or Youth Allowance are ‘dole bludgers’ or ‘druggies’ will assist a conservative government to reduce assistance to this disadvantaged group of people in our society without a lot of their core constituency protesting that unemployed or underemployed are getting a raw deal.

It’s a similar concept to the 2014 budget attempt by Hockey to make those under 30 wait six months before they would receive unemployment benefits. There are also parallels to the ‘Basics Card’ (when some people’s welfare benefits are ‘income managed’ and paid directly to a EFTPOS card that cannot be used to obtain cash or purchase a host of items including alcohol, tobacco and gambling products) or labelling refugees as boat people, illegal immigrants, queue jumpers and so on as a justification for the horrific treatment (consisting of detention centres in foreign countries, legal fictions in regards to the Australian border and the actions of the black shirted militaristic ‘Border Force’).

Certainly, Turnbull’s response to the question, ‘why test welfare recipients for drug use?’ was more nuanced than the quote reprinted here – but there is clearly a better way than driving people who are abusing substances underground. It’s telling that George Christensen – presumably a victim of an addiction to a legal substance himself – has called for drug testing for welfare recipients (and politicians) over a number of years.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate for Christensen (who seems to have an addiction to food) and other similarly minded conservatives who have a ‘interesting relationship’ with alcohol to be musing on the axiom there but for the grace of God go I

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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The sheer effrontery of our politicians never ceases to astonish me. To them black can be white, and in an instant white can be black. It is not just the monumental back flip that such a change of language involves that astonishes me, it is the bald-faced nerve they exhibit when they change course to the opposite direction, as if nothing had happened! The 2017 Budget starkly exemplifies this.

So burned into our neural networks are the slogans, the mantras, and the catchphrases of past eras that no change of heart, no change of language, no denial of history can ever erase them. Check your memory of the Abbott epoch to see if I’m right.

You will remember the Coalition’s sarcastic description of Labor’s economic team as being quite unsuited for the complex task of managing the economy during the Global Financial Crisis. It insisted they should stand aside and let the adults, the superior economic brains in the Coalition, the geniuses at economic management, take over. Labor’s team was depicted as kids playing games in a sandpit.

Let’s go back then to the time of the GFC, an emergency that threatened economies the world over.

You will remember that at that time the advice of Treasury Secretary Ken Henry to PM Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan was to provide economic stimulus, (which was plainly Keynesian) and to “go hard, go early, go households”.

They did, with cash handouts and infrastructure projects. The Rudd/Swan response was a spectacular policy success, tarnished only by poor implementation of the so-called ‘Pink Batts’ program by the Department of the Environment, during which the lives of four workers were tragically lost.

You will recall that while the Coalition supported the initial stimulus, although castigating the government for sending cheques overseas and to some deceased people, it reneged on supporting the second tranche – the bulk of the infrastructure stimulus. Prominent in that tranche was Julia Gillard’s ‘Building the Education Revolution’ that involved the construction of new and refurbished school halls, libraries and classrooms, science laboratories and language learning centres, covered outdoor learning areas, shade structures, sporting facilities and other environmental programs.

You will remember the sarcasm that the Coalition heaped on these infrastructure projects, not only criticising elements of them, their suitability and their cost, but pouring contempt on the concept of infrastructure spending, which Tony Abbott and his Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey deemed a waste of money. Malcolm Turnbull too chipped in with his two-penneth. Yet that infrastructure endeavour not only gifted thousands of schools with much-needed amenities and facilities, which now enhance them splendidly, but it also gave local builders work and hardware suppliers business. It kept many a small town going at a time when many businesses were threatened with closure, and many workers were facing unemployment.

Now, in 2017, suddenly Treasurer Scott Morrison tells us that spending on infrastructure is fine as it accumulates ‘Good Debt’. To confirm his newfound belief in the value of infrastructure spending, his Budget features a plethora of such projects: road, rail, airport, hydro, and energy infrastructure, many with timelines stretching into the distant future. While there will be debate about the merits of some and their timing, Labor is not condemning them as a waste of money, as it has always appreciated what Morrison has just awoken to, that infrastructure spending, especially when interest rates are low, is good for the economy.

Here then is the first example of how the Coalition’s economic geniuses, after all their previous scathing condemnation of infrastructure spending, have finally had the scales fall from their eyes, have seen its value, and have endorsed it extravagantly. But have they acknowledged their epiphany? Of course not!

Debt and deficit
Next, let’s reflect on the ‘debt and deficit disaster’. Remember how almost daily newspaper headlines trumpeted: ‘Labor’s financial mismanagement’, ‘Debt spiralling out of control’, ‘Budget in freefall’ and ‘Labor's debt time bomb’. There was even a truck doing the rounds with ‘Labor’s Debt’ festooned on placards.

Joe Hockey was sarcastically indignant about budget ‘blowouts’ and revenue shortfalls. He revelled in lampooning a mining tax that raised no revenue. He insisted that a Labor government would never achieve a budget surplus. “It was not in their DNA”, he asserted. But of course it was in the Coalition’s DNA. It knew what to do. But as we know it didn’t. Year after year it showed it had no idea how to achieve a surplus! Now Morrison thinks he’s found the magic formula.

Scared of a downgrade by the rating agencies, Morrison’s magic formula for a surplus in the 2017 Budget curiously still includes a corporate tax cut for big businesses and multinationals, no longer costing $50 billion, but now $65 billion, still predicated on a mythical trickle down benefit for those at the bottom of the heap. Surprisingly, while he gives with one hand he takes away with the other by imposing a new tax on the five big banks, levied on various types of borrowing that banks use to fund their lending, including corporate bonds and large deposits. Good luck with that one!

Here is Alan Austin’s assessment of Rudd/Swan period in his October 2016 article in Independent Australia: Australia’s debt mismanagement under Turnbull: It’s worse than you think. 
Over the entire period of the first Kevin Rudd Government, debt was added at the rate of $2.85 billion per month. This was required to deal with the early onset of the global meltdown. This rate of borrowing increased slightly through Julia Gillard’s term until the GFC was over in early 2013. Through her last eight months, the gross debt added each month averaged just $1.02 billion. For Labor’s entire duration, the monthly increase averaged $3.06 billion.

Then came the appalling maladministration of Tony Abbott, during which $4.75 billion was added each month, without any justification related to global conditions. This resulted from wasteful spending on a colossal scale and refusal to collect taxes from the rich.
Further on, Austin writes:
Malcolm Turnbull then successfully challenged Tony Abbott for the prime ministership primarily because Abbott had “... not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.”

So what happened thereafter? Did the new regime start to repay the debt, as it had been promising to do for years? Not at all! Further fresh debt was added in Turnbull’s early months at a rate just below Abbott’s figure. That has since blown out disastrously, with more than $8.5 billion borrowed per month over the first four months of this financial year. Turnbull’s total rate has been $4.78 billion per month.

Gross debt is now $450.79 billion. This is $173.4 billion higher than the $277.4 billion Labor left in September 2013, up 62.5%. Net debt has also risen alarmingly. We only have the figures until the end of August, but these reveal a rise of $15.9 billion just since June, up 5.35% in two months to $312.3 billion. This is $137.7 billion above Labor’s $174.6 billion legacy, up 78.9%.
This was written six months ago. The situation is even worse now. The adults, the economic geniuses, have produced the situation reflected in their latest Budget.

“We don’t have a revenue problem; only a spending one”: Morrison
For as good an analysis of the Budget as you could wish for, and a scathing assessment of Morrison’s mantra, do read Greg Jericho’s article in The Guardian: Federal budget 2017: the 10 graphs you need to see: 
There was a revenue problem after all!
After nearly a decade of saying the problem was all on the spending side, the 2017-18 budget is where the Liberal party has finally admitted that there is a revenue problem.

The 2017-18 budget estimates that by 2020-21 the budget will be firmly back in surplus, and it does it mostly off the back of government revenue returning to the level it was during the surplus years of the Howard government.

In the 11 years prior to the GFC, when the budget was either in surplus or balance, government revenue averaged 25.1% of GDP. In the nine years since the GFC, the highest it has been is 23.4%, and this year it was just 23.1%.

To give some context, 2% of GDP is around $34bn, so it’s a fair gap. But that gap is about to be reduced.

The budget predicts that by 2019-20 government revenue will reach 25.1% of GDP and in the following year a very healthy 25.4%. The last time we saw revenue at that level was in 2005-06.

To get there the budget anticipates revenue growing over the next 4 years by around 4.4% in real terms. That growth was not uncommon during the mining boom years, but has been reached only once in the past nine years.

And what is the revenue that is growing? Income tax.
In other words – revenue was a problem after all! The economic geniuses were wrong, again.

Morrison has now predicted that the long-wished-for surplus will first appear in 2019/20, four years from now! Let’s see if this prediction, based on very optimistic assumptions, is any better than his other predictions.

There it is. For years, the Coalition boasted about its prowess in economic management and denigrated Labor’s. For years, the Coalition decried infrastructure spending. For years the Coalition trumpeted the ‘debt and deficit disaster’, which it insisted that Labor created and turned into a ‘budget emergency’. For years the Coalition was adamant that it did not have a revenue problem, only a spending one.

Only now, with the 2017 Budget, has the Coalition and its financial geniuses tacitly admitted that infrastructure spending is ‘good debt’, that it has been even less effective at reducing debt and deficit than Labor, that it will not produce a surplus until 2019/20, and then only if its heroic assumptions come true, and that indeed it does have a spending problem, which it intends to solve with higher taxes on everyone.

It’s taken only four years to awaken to the bleeding obvious and back flip spectacularly. That’s real genius!

How much longer will it take these geniuses to wake up to the error of giving large tax cuts to the big end of town? How long will it be before they cotton onto what has been known for decades, namely that such largesse does not and never has trickled down to the masses?

How much longer though will it take for Morrison, Cormann, Turnbull, Abbott, Hockey and Co. to say: “We were wrong, very wrong”?

Don’t hold your breath!

What is your opinion?
Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
100 days of President Trump
Ad astra, 4 May 2017
It feels much longer, doesn’t it? He seems to have been in our face for eons. Of course he has been. As he relentlessly plied his way from rank outsider to winner of the presidential race, there never has been a candidate in recent history that has been thrust at us so disturbingly for so long. There has never …
Peas in a pod
2353NM, 7 May 2017
Amongst the day to day news of who is going to challenge for the dubious honour of leading a political party, stories of government inaction, fires, pestilence and so on, you might have missed the March for Science; held the weekend before Anzac Day in up to 54 countries across the world. As reported on Fairfax websites
Turnbull applauds Obamacare repeal - what's next?
Ad astra, 11 May 2017
First an awkward handshake, having been stood up for three hours in New York by Donald John Trump while he celebrated his great ‘victory’ in the House with the passage of an Obamacare repeal Bill and its replacement with the American Health Care Act, then wearing …

Perceptions are everything

Those who know me are aware that I do a fair bit of travel around my home state for my employer. As my home state is Queensland, a considerable component of that is air travel as, for example, Brisbane to Cairns or Mt Isa is around the same flight time and distance as Brisbane to Melbourne in a 737. (As a side note – it’s actually a bit sad when you and your colleagues at work sit around at lunch time and knowledgably discuss which Queensland airports have the best cafes, or the smaller hire car queues!)

Sitting in yet another regional airport terminal recently waiting for yet another delayed plane got me to thinking about perceptions. Don’t get me wrong, I would much prefer a plane to be late so the ‘issue’ can be fixed. If nothing else, it increases the chances of me as a passenger falling to the ground in a controlled manner at the hoped-for destination where there are things like stairs to get me out of the metal tube, as well as amenities, somewhere to buy a coffee, connections with ground transport and so on. I’m equally happy when the pilot tells me that the landing is going to be delayed due to fog or other aircraft in the area – I’d much rather the pilot being able to see the runway they are planning to use and not hit another plane on the way down.

The other day, the plane was delayed about one and a half hours with no real explanation why the plane was late except ‘an engineering issue’ and ‘late arrival of the operating aircraft’ (after a half hour delay on the way there the previous morning was due to fog) and while most of those waiting had a conversation with someone on the other end of a mobile phone about delays, there was no real anger or adverse comment made by or to those around me in the airport waiting area.

The next morning, I went into the office on the local bus service. The bus was a few minutes late, which caused considerably more adverse comment than the plane delays I had encountered the previous few days. Obviously, there are certainly more buses on the roads in Brisbane than planes owned by both Virgin Australia and Qantas. As a result, there is a greater chance that the bus will be late than the plane. But the perception is that airline delays are forgivable (if not expected) while your local commuter transport service; be it a bus, train or ferry, has to be there on time every time.

Admittedly, keeping a plane in the air probably requires greater technical skill than keeping a bus on the road (although with the state of some Brisbane roads you would wonder how a bus wouldn’t shake itself apart), but in the case of the bus, the delay was only a couple of minutes and even in the worst case, there would have been another bus trundling past sometime in the next 15 to 30 minutes.

Drawing the relative perceptions out a bit more, most public transport delays are in reality safety issues. The service providers don’t make money if their vehicles are sitting in the depot, regardless of the vehicle being a 737, a suburban train or a commuter bus. Yet, if an airline service runs late or is cancelled there is little real concern as there is clearly a safety issue. If a bus or train is cancelled or doesn’t run, it is a competence issue. Just as I would prefer to fall out of the sky in a controlled manner at the pre-planned arrival point, I would prefer not to be on a bus that loses a wheel on the highway at 100kph or a commuter train where the external doors won’t open and shut on command.

It’s the same with Treasurer Morrison’s ‘good’ debt and ‘bad’ debt. It’s a perception thing. At least the Abbott era ‘all debt is bad’ argument seems to have been taken down a dark alley and quietly disposed of, but the current framing of the discussion is not much better.

While Morrison and others call funding welfare payments through debt as ‘bad’, if you were the recipient of a welfare payment funded through debt, you would probably consider it to be ‘good’, as at least you would have some funding to keep body and soul together. If you don’t need welfare payments and have little regard for those who do, you could argue that welfare payments shouldn’t be funded by borrowings (if indeed they are).

By the same token, those who believe that any government funding of infrastructure is a ‘good’ thing will support the government borrowing money to build a 400km (or thereabouts) rail line from the Galilee Basin to Abbott Point in Queensland so that Adani can ship it’s coal out of the country (assuming the mine is ever built). Those who believe that the proposed Galilee Basin mine is too big, greenhouse intense and supporting a dying industry would tell you that the proposed funding of the rail line is ‘bad’ as the money could be better used to fund renewable energy investments or other income producing infrastructure.

As Jessica Irvine points out in the article linked above,
the idea of distinguishing between "good" debt and "bad" debt is silly for several reasons, the primary one being that it's impossible.

If you think for even a moment about how taxes are collected and spent in this country, it's immediately apparent that all taxes get poured into the same bucket, from which they are spend [sic] on different things.

No taxpayer is given the option, when filling out their tax return, to assign a particular dollar of tax to a particular purpose, be it welfare to support fellow Australians or building railways.

It all goes into the same pot.
Irvine goes on to give her perception of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debt
In reality, whether infrastructure spending is good or bad depends entirely on whether it's spent on productivity-enhancing investments, like a much-needed railway which relieves congestion on roads, or wasted on pork barrelling in marginal electorates.

Similarly, spending on education can be either good or bad, depending on whether it goes on things that genuinely enhance learning outcomes, or things that don't, like reducing class sizes beyond a certain point.
If there is a shortfall in the funds available for such work, clearly the government is not charging enough tax, the mechanism it uses to gain money from its citizens.

However, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) would suggest the Australian Government has no debt anyway as it can issue as much money as it needs to pay for all goods and services it consumes. Before celebrating the potential for no taxes should MMT be introduced, The Washington Post (link at the beginning of this paragraph) suggests
This doesn’t mean that taxes are unnecessary. Taxes, in fact, are key to making the whole system work. The need to pay taxes compels people to use the currency printed by the government. Taxes are also sometimes necessary to prevent the economy from overheating. If consumer demand outpaces the supply of available goods, prices will jump, resulting in inflation (where prices rise even as buying power falls). In this case, taxes can tamp down spending and keep prices low.

But if the theory is correct, there is no reason the amount of money the government takes in needs to match up with the amount it spends. Indeed, its followers call for massive tax cuts and deficit spending during recessions.
While a currency issuing government (in our case the federal government – not state or local governments) can issue more currency to fund the difference between income and expenditure, households and business cannot. Households have all their financial eggs in one basket, have beliefs, wants, needs and cultural norms, and make decisions on spending and borrowing according to those criteria. While you may consider borrowing money to go on a holiday is a ‘bad’ choice, your neighbour may decide it is a ‘good’ choice that warrants adding to their debt. Neither you or your neighbour are necessarily right or wrong, you just have different perceptions. However, if a household or business continually spends more than it earns, sooner or later they will face bankruptcy as households and businesses cannot issue currency (unless they want to be convicted of fraud).

Treasurers back to Costello have played with people’s perceptions to make the claim that the government bank account is just like a household bank account claiming that the federal government also needs to be spending less than it earns while conversely offering tax cuts to various groups of people.

Morrison’s claim that there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debt is just another attempt to justify social engineering to benefit the LNP’s core constituency while penalising the less well off. It is perception management, pure and simple. And, as we are talking about perceptions, your value judgement of the government’s ‘good’ debt expenditure is probably different to mine, despite the expenditure coming out of the same ‘bucket of money’ as the ‘bad’ debt we are continually conditioned to despise.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
100 days of President Trump
Ad astra, 4 May 2017
It feels much longer, doesn’t it? He seems to have been in our face for eons. Of course he has been. As he relentlessly plied his way from rank outsider to winner of the presidential race, there never has been a candidate in recent history that has been thrust at us so disturbingly for so long. There has never …
Peas in a pod
2353NM, 7 May 2017
Amongst the day to day news of who is going to challenge for the dubious honour of leading a political party, stories of government inaction, fires, pestilence and so on, you might have missed the March for Science; held the weekend before Anzac Day in up to 54 countries across the world. As reported on Fairfax websites
Turnbull applauds Obamacare repeal - what's next?
Ad astra, 11 May 2017
First an awkward handshake, having been stood up for three hours in New York by Donald John Trump while he celebrated his great ‘victory’ in the House with the passage of an Obamacare repeal Bill and its replacement with the American Health Care Act, then wearing …

Turnbull applauds Obamacare repeal - what's next?

First an awkward handshake, having been stood up for three hours in New York by Donald John Trump while he celebrated his great ‘victory’ in the House with the passage of an Obamacare repeal Bill and its replacement with the American Health Care Act, then wearing a rictus grin that bespoke obsequiousness writ large, our Prime Minister applauded Trump with: ”Well done” and "It's always good to win a vote in the Congress, or the parliament as we call it, I've got to say, it's always satisfying to win a vote when people predict you’re not going to win it too. So keep at it, it's great."

Of course Turnbull apologists, such as Michael Stutchbury on this week’s Insiders, played down Turnbull’s remarks as a reflex response that carried no sinister implications. But Turnbull could have said: “You must be relieved”, or “It’s taken a long while”, or even “Sometimes passing legislation can be difficult”, but no, he congratulated him, as if he had done something praiseworthy.

Tweeter John Wren said it all with this acerbic tweet:

Behaving like a lapdog of the US President is undignified and unworthy of a representative of this nation. Trump’s demeanour is more deserving of the proverbial ‘bird’.

It was not just Turnbull’s obsequiousness that offended, it was his tacit acknowledgement of Trump's 'victory' in destroying healthcare for millions of Americans, as if that was a fine accomplishment.

The changes passed by the House are complicated to describe, but here’s an attempt. What follows are abridged abstracts from an article by Ross Barkan, a journalist who contributes to several US publications, titled: America's healthcare being driven off a cliff by nihilists published in the 5 May issue of The Guardian:
Ryan’s Republican Congress, after trying and failing to hold a vote on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) in March, has rounded up the votes to pass the American Health Care Act, perhaps the worst piece of life-altering legislation to ever see the light of day.

This bill won over a few so-called moderate Republicans because it now includes an amendment that would allow states to waive an ACA rule that forbids charging sick people higher insurance prices, as long as the states set up a special insurance pool for those people. The amount of money allocated for this? A paltry $8bn.

A quick recap: Ryan’s legislation (calling it ‘Donald Trump’s bill’ gives too much credit to a man wholly disinterested in anything that smells of policy) will scrap the ACA’s mandate to buy health insurance, substantially cut Medicaid, and hope somehow this doesn’t cause premiums to skyrocket.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance under a version of the legislation considered in March. The CBO hasn’t had the time to score this bill. Republicans aren’t interested in finding out just how much of a disaster they’re going to inflict on regular people. They have a campaign pledge to fulfill, after all.

Were an alien to wander down to Earth and examine the functionality of American democracy in 2017, it would find an intellectual graveyard.

Lawmakers tasked with carefully considering remarkably complex legislation with the potential to significantly alter the lives of millions of people are instead rushing to vote for a bill that they know almost nothing about and that no outside expert has had the time to seriously assess. This is insanity.

The healthcare bill will funnel $100bn to states over a decade to stabilize what are sure to be markets wracked by chaos, assuming this legislation survives intact to Trump’s desk. Amendments provide another $30bn to states with few strings attached. If somehow all of this money is used just for the high-risk pools, it will come out to $138bn, which sounds impressive enough. But most healthcare researchers believe a competently run national high-risk pool would cost much more.

Factoring in lifetime caps on coverage and longer waiting periods, one 2010 estimate from two conservative health economists found such a pool would cost $150bn-$200bn over a decade. Other recent estimates believe the price tag to be much higher.
If you are keen to study the stark differences between Trump’s and Obama’s Healthcare Bill, read freelance journalist Joanna Walter’s account of them in 4 May issue of The Guardian: Obamacare v the revised Republican healthcare bill: the key differences.

I trust the above account of Trump’s American Healthcare Act is sufficient to appraise you of the devastating affects of repealing Obamacare in favour of this one: millions disenfranchised, and an estimate that many thousands will die as a result. An article in Vox is headed: The GOP plan for Obamacare could kill more people each year than gun homicides, and sub-headed: If 24 million people lose insurance, we'll see more than 24,000 extra deaths per year. The headings tell us plenty, but if you want the gory details, click here.

However, the Senate may prove to be a much bigger hurdle for Trump, who may find his ‘victory’ celebrations premature. Major changes to the Bill are predicted, months of delay are anticipated, and failure to pass ‘Trumpcare’ may be the eventual outcome.

Trump, in his usual careless style, added complexity to an already convoluted debate by saying: “We have failing health care. I shouldn’t say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia. You have better health care than we do.”

That was enough for Bernie Sanders to chortle on television: “Let us move to a Medicare-for-all system”, and then he tweeted: “Thank you Mr. Trump for admitting that universal health care is the better way to go. I’ll be sure to quote you on the floor of the Senate.” Again, Trump had put his foot in it to the chagrin of his Republican colleagues, who sought quickly to counter any suggestion that America could benefit from an Aussie Medicare system!

Let’s now get to the nub of this piece – ‘what’s next?’

We already know Turnbull’s sensitivity to any suggestion that he would tinker with our Medicare. Remember how outraged he was at Labor’s ‘Mediscare’ during the last election campaign, so much so that it was the centrepiece of his ‘victory’ speech. His complaint sounded like “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Turnbull’s apologists will argue that his New York comments were innocent, if not very prudent throw away lines, but his opponents will have it confirmed in their minds that Turnbull would like to rein in our universal healthcare scheme, which Australians value so much. Words seemingly said in jest often portray a deeper belief.

The cost of Medicare is one that Treasurer Morrison would dearly love to slash. The Medicare freeze they put in place was designed to cut costs by blocking the usual adjustment to Medicare rebates. To remind you of the nature of the freeze, initially from July 2014 and extended to 2020, here are some details from Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Governance, University of Melbourne, in The Conversation:
The extended freeze means GPs and other medical specialists will be reimbursed the same amount for delivering health services in 2020 as they were in 2014. Doctors will pay more for their practices, staff, medical products, utilities and just about anything else that goes into running a medical practice. But the amount paid for medical services will remain static.
Clearly the doctors were and still are the losers, not the Commonwealth. Labor vows it will lift the freeze completely. The recent Budget featured a glacial easing of the freeze over the coming two years, as documented in the Budget Papers
This will commence with General Practitioner (GP) bulk billing incentives from 1 July 2017, to ensure that GPs are incentivised to bulk bill children under the age of 16 and concession card holders.

From 1 July 2018, GP and specialist consultation items will be indexed, increasing the Government’s contribution to the cost of important health care services.

From 1 July 2019, specialist procedure and allied health items will be indexed and from 1 July 2020 certain diagnostic imaging items will be indexed for the first time since 2004.

In addition, the Government will maintain the bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services, including for blood tests, x-rays and scans.
The net outcome is that the Medicare freeze will continue until 2020, gradually easing in the meantime, hardly an enthusiastic endorsement of Medicare by the Coalition.

Because Turnbull is petrified of another Mediscare, the Budget has built in a ‘Medicare Guarantee Fund' in the following terms:
Guaranteeing Medicare
In this Budget the Government is guaranteeing and strengthening Medicare so that all Australians can continue to access timely and affordable health care.

Medicare Guarantee Fund
The Government will establish the Medicare Guarantee Fund to secure the ongoing funding of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme into the future.
The Fund seems to be no more than a holding account from which MBS and PBS costs are covered. How it will be used is not explained in the Budget Papers which simply say: The Government will establish a Medicare Guarantee Fund from 1 July 2017 to secure the ongoing funding of the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, guaranteeing Australians’ access to these services and affordable medicines into the future.

Writing in The Conversation, Michelle Grattan says: Proceeds from part of the Medicare levy plus the amount of other income tax revenue needed to cover the costs will be paid into the fund. It’s more of a gesture than a real “guarantee”, but it reflects how frightened the government still is about last election’s “Mediscare”.

It looks to be no more than a paltry facade to counter any future Mediscare.

If you need any more evidence about the Coalition’s intentions with Medicare, reflect on these ill-fated reforms:
  • a A$7 co-payment for GP, pathology and imaging services that would offset a A$5 reduction in Medicare rebates
  • a ten-minute minimum for standard GP consultations
  • a A$5 reduction in the Medicare rebate for “common GP consultations”.
The Coalition has proclaimed them, in Abbott-speak, as ‘Dead, buried, and cremated’, but anyone who believes that is naive.

Turnbull’s inadvertent, carelessly fashioned comments in New York reflect a deep conviction that Medicare needs pruning. Trump’s American Health Care Act, that Turnbull has seen fit to applaud, would be a horrifying template for our country.

So after Turnbull’s adulation, it is essential to ask ‘What’s next’. Let’s hope that in Turnbull’s mind it’s nothing like ‘Trumpcare’!

Here's that awkward handshake that speaks volumes about Turnbull's fawning attitude to Trump, and Trump's indifference. Here is what body language experts say.

What is your opinion?
Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
The report card
2353NM, 23 April 2017
Former minister and Liberal Party director Andrew Robb recently completed an investigation into the poor performance of the Liberal Party in the 2016 federal election. Yes, they won by a whisker, but losing 14 seats is a drubbing. Former PM Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, writing for the Daily Telegraph has her …
The face of wilful ignorance
Ad astra, 30 April 2017
To whom do you believe I’m referring? There are no prizes for the correct answer!

I’m referring to someone who I believe is guilty of criminal ignorance. His actions have the potential to destroy our civilization, not today or next week, but in the foreseeable future – we don’t know …
100 days of President Trump
Ad astra, 4 May 2017
It feels much longer, doesn’t it? He seems to have been in our face for eons. Of course he has been. As he relentlessly plied his way from rank outsider to winner of the presidential race, there never has been a candidate in recent history that has been thrust at us so disturbingly for so long. There has never …

Peas in a pod

Amongst the day to day news of who is going to challenge for the dubious honour of leading a political party, stories of government inaction, fires, pestilence and so on, you might have missed the March for Science; held the weekend before Anzac Day in up to 54 countries across the world. As reported on Fairfax websites
Thousands of scientists and their supporters, feeling increasingly threatened by the policies of US President Donald Trump, gathered on Saturday in Washington under rainy skies for what they called the March for Science, abandoning a tradition of keeping the sciences out of politics and calling on the public to stand up for scientific enterprise.
And they have cause to be concerned.
Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a "band of climate conspiracy theorists" to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

"They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It's not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. "There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared … Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle."

To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team has said that the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. The transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But some scientists aren't taking any chances.
Sure, there is probably an element of concern about the unknown, however, Trump’s Administration has form in this area. They are the ones that appointed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Scott Pruitt woke up Friday morning as Oklahoma’s attorney general, a post he had used for six years to repeatedly sue the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts to regulate mercury, smog and other forms of pollution. By day’s end, he had been sworn in as the agency’s new leader, setting off a struggle over what the EPA will become in the Trump era.

Pruitt begins what is likely to be a controversial tenure with a clear set of goals. He has been outspoken in his view, widely shared by Republicans, that the EPA zealously overstepped its legal authority under President Barack Obama, saddling the fossil-fuel industry with unnecessary and onerous regulations.
Before you suggest the scientists protesting in Washington DC were the usual ‘ragtag’ bunch of ‘professional protestors’ who are still upset that Trump is the President rather than someone progressive like Senator Bernie Sanders, have a read of this article in The New Yorker. Clearly, they aren’t.

Blogmaster of The Political Sword, Ad Astra recently looked at Trump’s record to date in respect to environmental matters in his own inimitable style. The article is entitled The face of wilful ignorance and is well worth a read if you haven’t already done so.

Turnbull, who has also overseen severe budget cuts to the CSIRO, clearly has similar objectives to Trump. You might remember last year that South Australia had a state-wide blackout after a severe storm caused the physical destruction of some high voltage pylons carrying power from various power generators within the state, which coincided with planned maintenance for one of the interconnectors to the Victorian section of the National Grid. In essence, the South Australian power system ‘shorted out’ to protect itself. South Australia’s power generation facilities are fuelled by gas, wind and solar energy. The last plant using coal, Port Augusta, closed in May 2016.

Turnbull, despite knowing the facts, sheeted the blame for the state-wide blackout to a high usage of renewables.

Despite a number of experts claiming that the use of renewable power was not related to the type of fuel used for generating power (and here), Turnbull came up with a fake connection between the two events. As the sub-editor for a Malcolm Farr article on the politics of climate change in Australia suggested
SOUTH Australia has copped a battering from gale-force winds over the past week. The last thing they needed from Malcolm Turnbull was a load of hot air.
Malcolm Farr observed in the same article
But somehow, in the Prime Minister’s public musings, the impression was it could all be explained by the fact South Australia had 41 per cent renewable energy output.

In his first comments, Mr Turnbull praised emergency workers but appeared to have little sympathy for the casualties of the power failure. The priority was the political attack.

On Thursday morning, Mr Turnbull, speaking to reporters, sprinted through the “immediate cause” of the blackout — “an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets, knocking over towers and lines”.

He then saluted emergency workers, before abruptly getting to his priority with the words, “Now, turning to the issue of renewables …”

“There is no doubt that a heavy reliance on intermittent renewables — by which in South Australia we’re mostly talking about wind, there’s also solar but intermittent renewables — does place very different strains and pressures on a grid, than reliance on traditional base load power, whether it is fossil fuel or of course hydro, which of course as long as the water is in the dam is very reliable as well,” Mr Turnbull said.

“So these intermittent renewables do pose real challenges.”
It was a great story for the usual luddite cheer squad led by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and ‘One Nation’ Senator (elected on 77 personal votes) Malcolm Roberts. Meanwhile, in a part of the world that seems considerably more realistic about climate change, Britain confirmed late in April 2017 that it went for a day without burning coal to generate power, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution. While
Demand for electricity tends to be lower in the spring, when homes and offices turn off their heating and normally do not yet have a need for air-conditioning. It tends to be particularly low on a Friday and during the Easter holiday period.

But the trend away from coal as a source of electricity is structural, officials say, with coal-free days likely to become more common. Since 2012, two-thirds of Britain's coal-fired power generating capacity has been shuttered. Some plants have been converted partially to burn biomass, such as wood pellets. Last year, the share of coal in total power generation dropped to 9 per cent, down from 23 per cent in 2015 and 40 per cent in 2012.

Some countries have already left coal behind in power generation. In Switzerland, Belgium and Norway, "every day is a coal-free day", Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, a coal analyst at the International Energy Agency in Paris, pointed out.
Interestingly, Vermont and Idaho in the USA also routinely don’t consume coal for electricity and California is close behind.

Clearly, Turnbull is as clueless as Trump – and the comparisons in other areas are just as odious. Trump has a ‘Buy American and hire American’ policy which as The New Yorker points out
was nearly entirely one of theatrics and not of substance. He held his talk in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at Snap-on Tools, a firm that buys Chinese and hires Chinese, Argentinian, Brazilian, and Swedish. Seventy per cent of Snap-on’s sales are in the U.S., but many of its plants are in other countries.
Turnbull supports an ‘Australia first’ policy that, according to various sections of the community including the union movement, are ‘a rebrand of a wildly unpopular policy’ that allows those from other countries to work in Australia under the 457 Visa system.

Trump will apparently risk a US Federal Government shut down over the funding for his ‘wall’ between the US and Mexico insisting that
he would “make Mexico pay” for the wall, which is estimated to cost billions.

“Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall,” the president tweeted, without offering a plan or timeline.
Turnbull meanwhile stands by while his Immigration Minister who (illegally in PNG) incarcerates thousands of people in detention camps on foreign soil whilst claiming that Australia has no direct control over the outcomes. Dutton, in the words of Fairfax media ‘stooped to a new low, even as he seeks to impose higher standards on prospective Australian citizens’, by attempting to link an attack on the detention camp on Manus Island (PNG) to an unsubstantiated claim in relation to refugees and a local boy.

Both Trump and Turnbull are independently wealthy men who, for reasons best known to themselves chose to enter politics. Both of them seem to have problems in understanding community expectations and the concept of the greater good. They also seem incapable of taking robust advice for the future good – rather they look for the populist short-term view.

It may appeal to certain sectors of the community to accept unfettered use of coal rather than sustainable alternatives, persecute immigrants who don’t arrive in the country with wads of cash in their pockets and similar views and looks to the majority of citizens. Generally, those who have spent many years researching and developing skills in economics and science will counsel against the short-term view. Instead, they look for evidence that is gained through exhaustive testing and then reviewed by their peers prior to them publishing their assertions.

Over the past few hundred years, science has a demonstrated track record in backing winners – examples include the device that you are using to read this article, (Wi-Fi was developed by the CSIRO). Scientists probably have a better view of what is likely to affect our ability to live and work on this planet in the future than those with a financial interest in industries that may have an unsustainable effect on our shared future. How many people died needlessly in the 50 or thereabouts years that it took for politicians to accept the indisputable scientific findings that smoking tobacco was actually bad for you? The international tobacco lobby is alleged to have used bribes, subsidies, tax revenue, specious arguments and attacks on scientific findings, along with doctored statistics of their own to minimise the case for any regulation or restriction.

Rightly, there seems to be considerable Australian concern regarding the future with Trump in power in the USA, however, Turnbull’s actions in Australia should be generating equal concern. Truly, they are peas in a pod.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
The report card
2353NM, 23 April 2017
Former minister and Liberal Party director Andrew Robb recently completed an investigation into the poor performance of the Liberal Party in the 2016 federal election. Yes, they won by a whisker, but losing 14 seats is a drubbing. Former PM Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, writing for the Daily Telegraph has her …
The face of wilful ignorance
Ad astra, 30 April 2017
To whom do you believe I’m referring? There are no prizes for the correct answer!

I’m referring to someone who I believe is guilty of criminal ignorance. His actions have the potential to destroy our civilization, not today or next week, but in the foreseeable future – we don’t know …
100 days of President Trump
Ad astra, 4 May 2017
It feels much longer, doesn’t it? He seems to have been in our face for eons. Of course he has been. As he relentlessly plied his way from rank outsider to winner of the presidential race, there never has been a candidate in recent history that has been thrust at us so disturbingly for so long. There has never …

100 days of President Trump

It feels much longer, doesn’t it? He seems to have been in our face for eons. Of course he has been. As he relentlessly plied his way from rank outsider to winner of the presidential race, there never has been a candidate in recent history that has been thrust at us so disturbingly for so long. There has never been a presidential runner that has attracted so much attention.

He tells us often: “I won”. We know we are stuck with him for four years, maybe longer, unless something catastrophic overtakes him.

Why should we who live in the Lucky Country care? We care because he occupies the most dominant position in the world: ‘Commander in Chief’ of the most powerful nation on earth, both militarily and economically. We care because the curbs on his enormous power seem too limited for someone like him. We fear what his decisions might mean for us, indeed the whole world.

So how has he performed in his first 100 days as President of the United States of America?

There have been countless commentaries from the ‘experts’. I won’t repeat them here. If you’re inclined to read them, you’ll find some of them here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.  

For what it’s worth, this commentary is by an ordinary Aussie, a retired medical academic with no political affiliations, who has been following politics closely for the last ten years.

Where should I start?

Much of what Trump has said and done seems inexplicable, at times bizarre, sometimes ridiculous. A glimpse at his personality might explain the Trump we have come to know all too well.

It’s not a secret that Donald John Trump is narcissistic and a megalomaniac. He is arrogant, bellicose and belligerent. He relishes power. He craves the capacity to make decisions and have them carried out. He is accustomed to giving orders and exercising authority (‘You’re fired’ is a favourite expression). He enjoys being in control, delights in being successful, and takes pleasure in making money, expanding his territory, and advancing his Trump Empire. For Trump, winning is everything. Just as importantly, Trump craves recognition, even adulation, for what he has accomplished, or believes he has.

In the public domain, he has sought and enjoyed fame, prestige, and admiration for many years. His TV reality show is a perfect forum for him to attract attention, respect, esteem, even veneration. He is billed as a star in his show The Apprentice, which by all accounts is successful.

As well, he has prospered in the world of real estate and has many ‘Trump Towers’ around the world to show for his success. He is a multi-billionaire, although we know little of his financial status and the tax he pays, a carefully guarded secret.

You may think that a reality TV star and successful businessman could be well placed to govern the mightiest nation on the planet. That might have been the case had it not been for his personality traits.

As President, Trump expects the same adulation to which he is accustomed in the business and TV world. It is to him a source of great disappointment, frustration, and at times anger that he has not received the praise he believes he richly deserves.

I could go back through the campaign period to give examples, but let’s stick to his first hundred days.

From the day of inauguration he was at odds with the media. His claim that the crowds were the greatest in history was quickly refuted by photos showing Obama’s crowd was much bigger. Not satisfied with objective evidence, he claimed that the photos were ‘fake’, and Kellyanne Conway presented her now infamous ‘alternative facts’ to ‘verify’ Trump’s claim.

This exemplified a pattern of behaviour in Trump. Facts, evidence and reports he did not like were condemned as ‘fake news’, and the media was roundly condemned as unfair, untruthful, even corrupt for promulgating them. The concept of the media holding politicians, even the President, to account for truthfulness is anathema to Trump. Has there ever been a politician who has so frequently and vigorously lampooned the ‘failing’ media for its reporting?

Even as his 100 days approached, he preemptively condemned the media in one of his omnipresent tweets, claiming that it would ‘kill’ his achievements, and at his anniversary rally in Pennsylvania he reinforced this with: “The media should be given "a big, fat, failing grade" over their coverage of my achievements during my first 100 days.

The media obliged by ‘killing’ Trump as he expected. The Guardian described Trump’s early tenure as “100 days of failure”, “a disaster for American democracy”, and referred to the President as a “megalomaniac” and a “serial liar”. If you think this is too harsh, read the catalogue of lies exposed through fact checking by The New York Times in an article: Fact-Checking President Trump Through His First 100 Days.

My first conclusion then is that in his first 100 days his deeply flawed personality has led him into serious error.

He has wrongly accusing the media for doing what it is expected to do: truthfully and accurately report, appraise, and comment on political decisions and actions. He has been angered that the media has not festooned his presidency with praise and admiration for what little he has done, even for flamboyantly signing executive orders, so far his most noticeable activity.

Another personality flaw is his flagrant disregard for facts, figures and evidence. It has been documented that he reads little, and is impatient with his daily briefings from his professional staff on international and domestic matters. He says he is bored with the briefings, does not need to hear them over and again, because he is ‘very smart’. He is said to have a dangerous paucity of background knowledge on a raft of domestic and international matters, which understandably curtails and perverts his thinking and decision-making. He needs all the information and advice he can get, and the capacity and motivation to absorb it, yet eschews it. Accustomed to making business decisions, he believes that this skill transfers seamlessly into governance of a mighty nation. He’s wrong, but he doesn’t know it.

So my next conclusion is that in Trump we have a dangerously ignorant man who feels little need to read, to seek advice, and to learn. His ignorance on matters of science, and in particular his hazardous ignorance about global warming were addressed in The face of willful ignorance.

His ignorance extends to domestic matters, trade, and international diplomacy. He scarcely knows how the Congress and Senate work, even as he vows to ‘drain the Washington swamp’. His ignorance and naiveté is exemplified in his recent astonishing concession: “I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

His bungling in presenting and attempting to have passed his substitute for Obama’s Affordable Care Act demonstrated his ineptitude and ignorance about the processes of parliamentary procedure, and the roadblocks that arise, sometimes surprisingly.

He had little idea of how the ultra-conservative ‘House Freedom Caucus’ would frustrate and eventually block ‘House Republican Bill 1275’ that carries the flamboyant name: the ‘World’s Greatest Healthcare Plan of 2017’. He was not able to meet the Caucus’ radical demands for changes to the Bill, and so in the face of it almost certainly being voted down, House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew it to avoid further embarrassment.

Having learned little, Trump is trying again, but the same opposition is mounting. He told a meeting of the nation’s governors: "Now, I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated." The Clintons certainly knew. Clearly he didn’t know, but should have.

Trump is not used to resistance to his will. He is unaccustomed to the democratic process, does not like it, and makes threats against those who oppose him (‘If you don’t vote for this, you may not get elected to your seat next time’).

My next conclusion is that Trump is ignorant of the processes of his own House and Senate, which Republicans dominate, and does not care for the democratic processes they use to make decisions. He resents having to listen to opponents, and hates not getting his own way.

On the international front he divides people in other nations into good guys and bad hombres. The latter are to be excluded, deported, or bombed out of existence.

On the international front, Trump condemned Obama’s diplomacy, no matter what Obama did.

Now in charge, at the one time he insists that it’s none of America’s business interfering in other places (“Syria is not our responsibility”), yet at another he takes radical action such as when Assad did something he disapproved of, namely attacking his citizens with nerve gases.

My conclusion is that Trump is impetuous, unpredictable and erratic. The combination of ignorance of international diplomacy, an unwillingness to listen to informed advice from experienced diplomats and military men, and a tendency to shoot from the hip and flip-flop on crucial issues, makes him a dangerous leader of the free world, as we have already seen in his handling of the threat from North Korea.

Trump has a reputation for making rash promises, ones it is improbable he will ever keep, even if he wished to. Perhaps the most extravagant is his promise to build a wall across the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants, criminals, drug dealers and rapists! And even more implausibly, to have the Mexicans pay for it!

Even at his 100-day anniversary rally, where once again in campaign mode he ‘felt the love’ of his supporters, he reiterated: “We’ll build the wall people, don’t even worry about it.” Yet it is estimated to cost $21.6 billion and take three years to build. He knows that Mexico will not pay for it; indeed he has asked Congress to approve funding for it, a major sticking point in his legislative agenda. Of course he boasts that Mexico will pay ‘eventually’!

He promised to begin the Obamacare repeal process on his first day in office, but it still languishes in the House. So far he’s accomplished nothing.

He has promised a massive corporate tax cut, from 35% to 15%, but has not revealed how the consequent revenue shortfall of trillions will be covered. It’s trickle down all over again, with tax cuts for the rich but with no guarantee that any benefit will reach lower income earners.

His exaggerated promises are matched by his exaggerated estimate of what he’s accomplished so far. He boasted: “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days”.

Trump seems to think signing thirty executive orders are accomplishments. Many have been anti-science, anti-environment, pro-coal and oil, all of which are intended to undo Obama’s entire climate change agenda including crucial regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. He’s also signed orders to review fuel standards for vehicles, stifle energy development and begin the process of advancing oil drilling in the Arctic. Another order is to review national monuments that were set aside by previous presidents to limit use of public land for historic, cultural, scientific or other reasons. In other words, these orders are designed to dilute or erase all Obama’s attempts to protect the environment.

Some orders have been about border protection, particularly keeping Muslims out, but twice now they have been blocked in the courts by what Trump calls ‘so-called judges’. There’s no joy there for Trump.

My final conclusion is that Trump’s overstated promises are hollow and mostly incapable of realization. Whether he is deluded enough to believe his promises, or cynical enough to promise with no expectation of being able to deliver, is unresolvable for those who cannot fathom his mind.

I could go on and on, but that is enough.

To sum up, my assessment of Trump’s first 100 days is that his fatally flawed personality has led him astray and will continue to do so.

His wilful ignorance about matters scientific, his disregard of the threat of global warming, and his executive orders that reverse all that Obama did to protect the environment, cast him as culpably negligent.

His ignorance of political processes make his legislative efforts look childish, and render most of them fruitless.

His ignorance of international relations, and his reluctance to learn from those with experience, render him not just impotent, but dangerous in a volatile world where reckless leaders threaten destruction or even nuclear catastrophe.

His propensity for manufacturing unachievable promises portrays his untrustworthiness.

His exaggeration about his accomplishments makes him look foolish and naïve, and confirms his reputation as a habitual liar.

The first 100 days of Trump have been disappointing, frustrating and depressing. They have engendered a feeling of uncertainty and hopelessness among concerned Americans and citizens the world over, who are amazed that there were enough US citizens to elect this ignorant, implausible, incompetent and dangerous man to the most powerful position on earth.

Yet many in America still believe he is the one they want in charge despite the calamitous start to his presidency and all the ineptitude, stupidity and unreliability they have seen in his first 100 days.

Who can save us from this?

What's your opinion?
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