Love, generosity … and competence

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On 1 December 2016, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull spoke in Parliament for about 20 minutes to "to bid farewell to the parliament for another year." These are a few extracts:

As the parliamentary year—and, indeed, 2016—draws to a close, it is important that we come together to look back on what has been another remarkable year for our most remarkable country. The level of discourse between our political parties can be vigorous, fierce and, at times, confronting, but the fact that we can put aside our partisan differences to celebrate the year that was is one of the great features of our democracy. Australians are always most inspired—and perhaps surprised—at those moments of bipartisanship in this House. It is when we are at our best. …

We have witnessed with horror the terrorist attacks in Nice and Orlando, and suicide bombings in many countries … It has made us all the more grateful that we are such a harmonious society with people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds living together in peace. Looking around the world, we know how rare it is, and we must never take it for granted. Australia’s strengths are our freedom, our diversity and our security. Those attributes are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually reinforcing. This is not to say that we do not face challenges; regrettably, we do. …

[W]e must always be aware of what the public expects from its government, from its parliament, from its leaders. Many people are anxious about change or feel that their leaders are not listening, and we should not dismiss their concerns. …

Good leaders explain how change can improve lives, consult as they work to minimise the adverse consequences of change, and implement policies that take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, while ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society are not left behind. … Fairness and inclusion are key features of our national economic plan. …

Everything we do in this place is designed to secure the future of Australians, and we must never forget that …

It makes me so proud, as I know it makes all honourable members proud, to see the way we rally together. We are an egalitarian nation who will each other to succeed, who feel deeply the pain of a friend or neighbour when they are struck by violence or tragedy. So many people shared their stories with me so that I could be a better leader, and each one stays with me. …

Every year, we urge each other to be kinder and gentler in this place. I do not mind being labelled idealistic for hoping that we will be in 2017, but perhaps a more realistic goal is to vow to speak more plainly and with more candour to the Australian people. They are wearied of the political games, the sense that politicians say one thing and could easily mean another and that our promises are throwaway lines with the shelf life of a carton of milk. The Oxford dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’ its international word of the year, but let us do all we can to ensure post-truth politics has no place in Australia. If we promise to be bound by our words, we will be much more careful in choosing them. …

I wish the Australian people, who we represent here and who are uppermost in the minds of all we do, a very happy Christmas, safe and family-filled holidays and a 2017 filled with peace and love—love for our families and friends and, above all, for those who are lonely, isolated or brought low by poverty or illness. Whether we are of any or no faith, this is the Christmas season. The message Jesus brought was one of unconditional love. We will be at our very best when we reach out without judging … to those who most need, especially at this time, our love and our generosity.

One can only pray that Mr Turnbull and his government will move a little closer to governing with " love and generosity"— and perhaps a little competence, as well.

Will Trump nudge the Doomsday Clock?

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Doomsday ClockIn the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (9 December 2016), Seth Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute offers an discomforting, though measured, account of "What Trump means for global catastrophic risk."

"Global catastrophic risks are those that threaten the survival of human civilization. Of all the implications a Trump presidency has for global catastrophic risk—and there are many—the prospect of him ordering the launch of the massive US nuclear arsenal is by far the most worrisome. In the United States, the president has sole authority to launch atomic weapons."

If Trump were to order an unwarranted launch, it could be stopped only by disobedience of military personnel, whom he could then replace.

Aside from planning to either persuade or disobey the president, the only way to avoid nuclear war is to try to avoid the sorts of crises that can prompt nuclear launch. "The United States has long been too dismissive of Moscow’s very legitimate security concerns regarding NATO expansion, missile defense, and other encroachments. … Trump’s unconventional friendliness nonetheless offers a valuable opportunity to rethink US-Russia relations for the better. On the other hand, conciliatory overtures toward Russia could backfire. … Russia could become aggressive."

There is a risk that Trump’s defiance of democratic norms and institutions may make the US government itself becomes authoritarian—and many of hius supporters seem to favour that. "Already, government officials are discussing how best to resist illegal and unethical moves from the inside, and citizens are circulating expert advice on how to thwart creeping authoritarianism."

An authoritarian US government would be a devastating force," Baum says, weilding "overwhelming military and intelligence capabilities to even more disastrous effect."

Trump tends towards an isolationist mercantilism that would have the United States look out for its unenlightened self-interest and nothing more. This would have "important implications for catastrophic risk," that would risk, "putting the world on course for another major war, this time with deadlier weapons." On the other hand, globalization has its own risks of rapid economic destabilisation.

"Climate change will not wipe out human populations as quickly as a nuclear bomb would, but it is wreaking slow-motion havoc that could ultimately be just as devastating. Trump has been all over the map on the subject, variously supporting action to reduce emissions and calling global warming a hoax."

"Just because election-winning politicians have been of a particular mold in the past, doesn’t mean the same kind of leaders will continue to win. Likewise, just because we have avoided global catastrophe so far doesn’t mean we will continue to do so."

Meanwhile The Bookloft‘s photo offers some light relief.

Blue House blues

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South Koreans MPs reflected the national will when 230 of the National Assembly’s 300 members voted yesterday in a secret ballot to impeach the President, Ms Park Geun-hye, on accusations of influence-peddling, abuse of power, dereliction of duty, and other faults.

This victory for opposition parties and independents also relied on dissenters from the ruling Saenuri party to reach the required two-thirds majority. As The Economist notes, "today’s proceedings were remarkably civil and swift. MPs queued to cast their votes; many photographed their marked ballot papers to share on social media with their constituents. The atmosphere outside the National Assembly, where protesters had gathered, was festive in the run-up to the vote."

Blue House

The Constitutional court has six months to decide whether there is sufficient actual evidence of wrongdoing to justify the President’s permanent dismissal, but a prolonged power vacuum would be harmful and a quicker decision is expected. Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn, becomes by law the interim President. If Ms Park is dismissed, there must be a fresh Presidential election within a further two months. The Prime Minister’s role is largely symbolic, real power being with the President. Now Mr Hwang has an opportunity to step up. Ban Ki-moon has been mooted as presidential candidate for the Saenuri, but it is uncertain whether he could be ready if there were an early election.

Meanwhile Ms Park will endure a solitary and wintry residence in the Blue House, Korea’s equivalent of the White House. She has made apologies, but they have not been enough.