Monthly archives: March, 2019

Power returns to Congress so burden is shared when deciding to go to war

President Barack Obama decided the crisis in Syria, which he called “the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century”, required delay rather than action.
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In asking for the US Congress to approve the bombing of Syria, Mr Obama reset the notion of presidential authority about war powers that had increasingly resided with the executive branch since the end of World War II.

It also represents one of the greatest gambles of his presidency in that he is seeking the approval from a Congress that, at least in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, has fought him at every turn on a wide range of subjects.

Mr Obama’s conviction on Saturday and the moral outrage expressed by Secretary of State John Kerry just a day before suggest they believe, having seen all of the evidence and not simply the declassified portion that lawmakers have seen, that they will win the debate once Congress is fully informed.

White House officials said the President was shifting the burden to members of Congress, who have been long on criticism and short on solutions as he faces a crowded agenda in the fall that includes the implementation of his healthcare law.

The authority of the US Senate and House in matters of war was debated intensely before the second conflict in Iraq. Then senators, Vice President Joe Biden, Mr Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel all became critics of the war who said President George W. Bush had overstepped his authority. Mr Obama’s criticism helped propel his election to the Senate and, eventually, the White House.

In an interview with the Boston Globe in 2007, Mr Obama was asked in what circumstances, if any, a president would have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of- orce authorisation from Congress.

“The president does not have power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Mr Obama said.

His decision marks a rare moment in the last half century when a president unilaterally decided to give some power back.

“It’s quite uncertain what a military strike is going to produce,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. “He really shouldn’t go it alone. It’s wise to bring Congress into it. It gets him much more of a broad consensus.”

Lee Hamilton, a Democrat and former chairman of the US House foreign affairs and intelligence committees, said the decision will help Mr Obama “in the country”.

“You will have the support of the Congress, which shares the burden. It will help him internationally, which will see the country is united,” said Mr Hamilton.

Yet Mr Obama’s words almost undercut the sense of indignation that he and Mr Kerry expressed less than 24 hours before, and at the same time put new pressure on Republicans in Congress, who had been urging military force even as they had taken no responsibility for it with a vote. Professional military officers at the Pentagon were also said to be lukewarm about the mission.

Now the administration has the task of persuading Republicans, especially those who represent a more isolationist and libertarian strain on international affairs, to support a limited military strike.

His decision also puts him more squarely in line with his rhetoric as a US senator and as a presidential candidate in 2008.

“History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorised and supported by the legislative branch,” Mr Obama said in the 2007 Boston Globe interview.


The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Sunday, September 8

  Photo: [email protected]上海夜生活m.auFREE TO AIR
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Underbelly: Squizzy, Nine, 8.30pm

”There’s not a word for what I am,” Squizzy, who is, by his own admission, a ”violent shit of a man”, says. Then he asks: ”You all love me so what does that say about you?” It’s an interesting question and deserves further exploration. Why, indeed, are we so endlessly fascinated by the killing and cruelty of the criminal underclass? Unfortunately, Underbelly: Squizzy does little to shed any light on this question. It’s a curious production that has drifted so far from the original Underbelly that captured our attention completely five years ago as to be almost unrecognisable. In fact, apart from the name, this latest incarnation of the franchise has nothing in common with its beginnings. There is a strange lack of tension in the production, which appears to be set in a theme park version of 1920s Melbourne. Jared Daperis does his best in the central role as the pint-sized psycho but in the end is unable to inject sufficient venom into the character to make Squizzy evil enough to be truly plausible. Ultimately, it all fails to be compel simply because we’re given precious little reason to care one way or the other what happens to Squizzy or those around him.

Ripper Street, Ten, 8.30pm

Despite the at-times stomach-churning gore, and the sleazy setting of the London slums, there’s always a slightly arch and gleeful undercurrent to Ripper Street. It’s there in the Victorian-era forensic technology and also in the cadence and modulation of the language and accents, adding an extra dimension to what is already a very entertaining costume drama. This week sees the introduction of Edoardo Ballerini as Frank Goodnight, a seriously nuts Pinkerton detective who has a fondness for brutal amateur surgery and a big problem with Homer Jackson. Meanwhile, Reid is called on to investigate the killing of an engineer who has dreamed up a revolutionary new ship’s engine. It’s a particularly satisfying episode in a series that has built nicely as time goes on. Happily, a second series is already in preparation.

The Time of Our Lives, ABC1, 8.45pm

The final episode of this cracking family drama series doesn’t disappoint. Benefiting from a stellar home-grown cast and some sharp writing, the quality has been maintained through all 13 episodes with a subtlety that is all too often missing in other efforts.


Mermaids: The New Evidence, Animal Planet, 7.30pm

You’d think the preposterous twaddle of Finding Bigfoot would be embarrassing enough for Animal Planet and its parent company, Discovery Communications. But no. Discovery has found a whole new barrel bottom to scrape in the form of fake documentaries that are best described as hoaxes. It began with Mermaids: The Body Found, which used fake footage and actors pretending to be scientists to create the impression that mermaids are real and the US government is leading a conspiracy to cover them up. When the program aired in the US last year, so many Americans thought it was real that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement explaining that mermaids don’t exist. But that first cynical exercise gave Animal Planet its highest ratings since its 2006 Steve Irwin memorial, so now we’re getting this sequel. It’s more of the same, with just one small, wordy disclaimer after the closing credits admitting  it’s fake. Last month Discovery also got huge ratings from another fake documentary claiming that Carcharodon megalodon – a giant shark that became extinct 1.5 million years ago – is still terrorising the oceans. It might be tempting to write off these things  as a bit of harmless fun, but they only exacerbate the widespread misunderstanding and suspicion of science.


Annie Hall (1977), ABC1, 12.55am (Monday)

No sooner has the ABC shown the second part of a fascinating documentary about Woody Allen (Sunday, 11.30pm) than it follows up with an Allen classic, Annie Hall. It seems so long ago but there used to be much debate over whether one preferred the six comedies Allen made before Annie Hall or the serious, intense dramas that followed, such as Interiors. Annie Hall is the transitional film, and its internal battle between the gags and insight produces the exquisite tension that is at the heart of Allen’s masterpieces, from Manhattan to Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives. Annie Hall is where he found himself as the artist. Diane Keaton says in the documentary that in real life she loved Allen more than he loved her, but who can dispute that onscreen they make one of the cinema’s greatest romantic pairings. Keaton’s Annie is a ditzy neurotic who falls for a grumpy neurotic (Allen’s Alvy), when all the signs are they should give each other a wide berth. But out of the tangled mess of these New Yorkers’ relationships Allen creates a hilarious, sweet and ever-lasting tribute to the idiotic resilience of humans as they try to find love and fun in a godless, underachieving world.

12 Canoes (2008), ABC1, 1.30pm

After the worldwide success of Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes, de Heer oversaw an internet project featuring 12 stories of the life of the Yolngu people of Ramangini. Using paintings, photographs and documentary footage, and narrated by actor David Gulpilil and others, it is a wonderful insight into the Yolngu people. The stories were later released as a feature-length DVD and are now on the ABC. Happily, the remarkable deHeer-Gulpilil collaboration does not stop there, as next year sees the release of their new film, Charlie’s Country.


The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Land of the rising sons

Demanding: Sir Frank Packer (Lachy Hulme, left) stokes the battle for ascension between sons Clyde (Alexander England, centre) and Kerry (Luke Ford, right).You expect to encounter any number of things on the set of Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story.
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Massive egos, extensive security and nervous network representatives might all be expected around a show portraying the two most powerful media families in Australia. What you don’t count on discovering is love, but it’s there in abundance.

On the day the Guide visits, the three ”Packer” men are presiding over the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. The scenes being shot focus on Sir Frank (Lachy Hulme) and his two sons, Clyde (Alexander England) and Kerry (Luke Ford), though Sir Frank’s wife, Gretel, pervades proceedings.

In the morning the Squadron is doubling for Long Island, where Sir Frank entered his yacht Gretel in the America’s Cup. Later, the boys will film the scene where they scatter mother Gretel’s ashes.

That death proves a starter pistol for a tussle between the three to rule the roost. ”It’s called Power Games and it’s all about power play between the Packers and Murdoch,” England explains, ”but there are power games going on within the Packer unit and it’s kind of ugly.

”We’ve got dad as the No. 1, Clyde No. 2, Kerry a distant [No. 3],” Ford says. ”That’s where the relationship starts. Then the race begins.

”What you see is a father who makes it a battle between his two sons,” England says, ”And one of those sons is probably a little more apt at that than the other – has less of a penchant for kaftans.”

Beyond Sir Frank’s pitting his sons against each other to become his successor, Hulme sees him as a tyrannical, near-abusive father and ”an incredibly insecure, vain, complicated man”. The resulting contest is less of a two-horse race than a three-way street fight for Packer supremacy as a battle with Murdoch rages.

”You’ve got Sir Frank declining as Rupert ascends,” Hulme says. ”The Packers are incredibly passionate, driven, eccentric, smart people. I call them Australia’s first show-business family.”

”I have been involved in a few Packer stories,” England says. ”The stories keep coming up because they don’t need over-dramatisation. Things actually happen and they’re crazy.”

Off-camera, a noisy seaplane aside, the set is anything but crazy and there isn’t a hint of competition. The respect and affection between these three actors borders on a man crush.

In part, this is no surprise. Producer John Edwards has formed an unofficial ensemble of actors that he draws upon time and again. ”John’s loyal to those of us who put the hard yards in,” Hulme says.

This is Edwards’ fourth series about the Packers in two years and that ensemble has been busy. Hulme played Kerry last year in Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War. England played Tony Greig in Howzat!, then Jamie Packer in Paper Giants: Magazine Wars. Ford is a first-time Packer, but Hulme welcomed him to an expanding club of Kerrys (Rob Carlton, who played Kerry in the two Paper Giants series, being the founding member).

He also shared his extraordinary knowledge of Kerry. Fortuitously so, as Ford finished up his previous project only three days before shooting began, so had little time to prepare. ”I had Lachy,” Ford answers when asked about research. ”I’d give him 300 bucks for his mind. That’s how much an encyclopaedia is worth.”

Not that Hulme didn’t give Ford a bit of a hard time. ”The first couple of days he’d go, ‘Nuh, Kerry wouldn’t do that’; ‘Yep, Kerry’d do that’,” Ford recalls. ”Now he’s either surrendered to the fact that I can’t do it or he thinks I can.”

”It’d be daunting for Luke to come on board,” Hulme says. ”Kerry Packer’s a daunting role full stop, but to be working with the guy who’s just done it! So Luke’s in the crazy-brave mould of individuals.”

Hulme’s extensive research to play Kerry nearly prevented him taking this role.

”I was very resistant to getting involved at all,” he admits. ”The bad aspects of Kerry Packer’s behaviour, the way I played him, that was informed by his father. So I did a lot of reading about Sir Frank when I was getting ready to play Kerry and I didn’t find a lot to recommend Sir Frank Packer as a human being.”

Ultimately he decided to ”man up and figure out how to do it”. ”So it becomes a problem that needs to be solved to play a guy like this. Once I got excited about that, about solving the problem of Frank Packer, then it’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

And he was keen to pass on the torch, metaphorically and literally.

The smoking actor cradles a 24-carat Dupont lighter. ”They gave that to me as my gift at the end of Howzat! because that’s what we used as Kerry’s lighter,” he says. ”So I thought to myself, ‘Since his father Sir Frank was a heavy smoker as well, we’ll get it in there somehow’. So this appears a lot.

”I said to Luke, ‘You should end up with this at the end so it links. It’s the journey of the lighter’. And Luke, with his wicked imagination, decided, well, Sir Frank would never give it to Kerry; Kerry would just take it. That features heavily in one of the last sequences.

”For all the internet nerds out there writing their Packer blog … keep your eye on the lighter.”

Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story, Nine, Sunday, 8.30pm.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

How to tackle anxiety

Almost one in five Australian women have an anxiety disorder. Photo: Gary MedlicottEveryone feels worried or anxious sometimes, but if you often have uncontrollable worries about many different issues, you could have an anxiety disorder.Anxiety disorders are  the most common mental health problem in Australia, affecting 14 per cent of people.
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SymptomsSymptoms of anxiety disorder include feeling on edge, getting tired easily, feeling irritable, having tense muscles, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.Anxiety  can  be associated with illnesses (for example, hyperthyroidism). In that case, you need to treat the underlying problem.

Anxiety is more common in …Women. Although anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, women are more at risk. In Australia, almost one in five women have an anxiety disorder, and about one in 10 men.The most common types  are post-traumatic stress disorder (6per cent of Australians) and social phobia (5 per cent). Other types include generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

When to seek helpIf you have a lot of worries that are out of proportion to the cause a lot of the time, see your doctor or other health professional. Seek treatment sooner rather than later. If left untreated, your symptoms might start to take over  and affect your relationships.

Conventional treatmentsYour doctor is a good first port of call if you need help. They can talk to you about the treatment options, and check whether you have an underlying health problem contributing to your anxiety.

Psychological therapyPsychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, are very effective and are the first choice of treatment. CBT helps you to change the underlying thoughts that cause your anxiety, and to learn more helpfulbehaviours.Your GP might draw up a mental health treatment plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. You can do CBT one-on-one with a health professional, in groups or online.

MedicinesIf you have more severe anxiety, and psychological therapy alone isn’t helping, an antidepressant combined with psychological therapy might help.

Self-helpSelf-help strategies can help you  manage your life better, and get better control of yoursymptoms.Learn about anxiety and how to manage it.Confide in trusted friends and relatives.Ask for help and support when you need it.Learn breathing and muscle-relaxationtechniques. Spend time relaxing and doing things youenjoy.Learn good sleeping habits. Stay active and eat well.Don’t let work take over your life.Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.Cut out illegal drugs.

OutlookThe anxiety symptoms might not disappear  altogether after treatment, but they should be much less of a problem. And the psychological therapy will help you to manage the anxious feelings if they do comeback.The benefits of psychological therapies for anxiety continue for at least 12 months after stopping the therapy, and they could be expected to continue for as long as you apply the skills you have learnt.

Possible complicationsPeople with anxiety disorders sometimes have other mental health issues, such as depression or drug and alcohol problems. It is important to also deal with these  in order to maximise your chances of getting well.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….

Seats with no sense of place

A bustling street in the seat of batman. but why is it called batman?There are 25 MPs retiring at this year’s federal election, including the MPs for Barton, Scullin, Pearce, Rankin, Batman, Hume, O’Connor, Lyne, Gellibrand, Barker, Moore, Hotham, Kingsford Smith, Hinkler and Gilmore. Any ideas where these actually are? No, nor me.
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There is no reason we should know; these are people not places. The Australian Electoral Commission’s guidelines demand geographic anonymity in federal politics. They state, ”In the main, divisions should be named after deceased Australians who have rendered outstanding service to their country.”

MPs are also retiring from the seats of Perth, Mallee, Bendigo, Newcastle and New England. A fairly rudimentary knowledge of Australian geography will locate them for the public as well as give a sense of their general characteristics. But the AEC actively discourages this type of name, which might help voters identify with a seat or find it on a map.

”Locality or place names should generally be avoided,” the guidelines warn. As well as naming seats for historically important figures, names from the original federation should be preserved. Hence Perth, New England, Bendigo and Newcastle have survived, among others. A third group of seats have Aboriginal names, which can be used where they are appropriate. Indi, Kooyong and Corangamite are all doubly protected, being both Aboriginal words and original federal electorates.

Other countries take the opposite view to Australia about naming seats for their location. Guidelines from the Boundary Commission for England state ”the name should normally reflect the main population centre(s) contained in a constituency”. Names across Britain reflect places most people there can identify, such as Bristol South, Kingston and Surbiton, Dundee West, York Central. The New Zealanders and Canadians are with the Brits on this one. Electorate names matter.

Not identifying a location helps perpetuate the gap between the public and federal politics. Many voters simply do not know what seat they are in, so may see their MP in the newspapers or on television, but never know the person is their representative in Parliament. Those with an interest in politics may find MPs a fairly amorphous mass because seat names effectively mean nothing.

Offering names based on geography gives important context to the views and policy interests of MPs. It may be useful to know if an MP represents a capital, provincial, regional or rural seat, or which state they come from.

The name of a random historical figure does not help as much as the name of a town, city or region. Among this year’s retiring MPs are independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. Having been so closely associated over the past few years, they find themselves on opposite sides of the problem, through no fault of their own. The location of Tony Windsor’s seat of New England is fairly guessable while Rob Oakeshott’s neighbouring seat of Lyne could be anywhere. Even knowing who Lyne was will only get you to NSW.

William Lyne was premier of NSW and campaigned for a ”no” vote in the 1898 and 1899 federation referendums. Despite this, he tried to become the country’s first prime minister but failed to gain a parliamentary majority. I only know this because I looked it up.

Similarly, it requires a pretty detailed knowledge of political history to guess Pearce is in Western Australia because it is named after George Pearce, a leading ALP senator in the early years after federation and long-serving minister for defence including for most of World War I. This one I did know. Guessing where Pearce’s neighbouring seat of Perth is probably takes less knowledge. Besides all this, seeing the name Pearce or Lyne or any of the others gives exactly zero help in knowing who these historically important people are.

You either know them or you don’t, and only political anoraks like me will ever drag out a reference book, or Wikipedia, to find out. If officialdom seriously wants to educate the public about worthy Australians, this is not the way. More effective methods and a more fitting tribute might be a statue here and there across Australia, some information in a museum or two and the occasional program about Australian political history on television.

The best that can be said for naming seats after significant Australians is that there is no financial cost, but the price in political alienation may be big.

Dr Joff Lelliott is state director of the political think tank The Australian Fabians (Queensland).

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net….