from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: ‘Democracy in Chains’

cover of the latest Economist

November 3. My husband tells me he doesn’t want to hear about Trump any more. Neither do. I wish he was still just one of the pantheon of narcissistic TV personalities that frequent the front pages of our weekly celebrity gossip magazine, Woman’s Day … old copies that you might pick up in the dentist’s waiting room … the junk pages you flipped over to move on to featured recipes.

For that is where Donald Trump belongs, where he started … in over-the-top gossip magazines.

I hope that after January 20, 2021 Trump can disappear into the background of the world and we will never have to hear from him. Apparently in Australia, about 25% of the population said they had confidence in President Trump trying to do the right thing for world affairs (whereas 87% supported Barack Obama during his presidency). This is very low for our country as usually we support our closest ally.

Within the USA, the trend of the population supporting the standing president has been declining since 2013 when it’s stood at 66% – being favourable support for President Barack Obama. This declining perception of the standing USA president is repeated across the Western World. I wonder to what extent American voters comprehend this.

From Australia, there’s nothing we can do about the unfolding events in the USA. We have two children and four grandchildren living there. This heightens my anxiety. And it is not just Trump and his bombastic ignorance and lies, it is the damage done to the body politic by him and his enablers: the loss of trust in the democratic system; the extent of the gerrymandering going on; the stark racial divide; the erosion of the separation of powers and the weakening of the media.

So, I am thinking about the beautiful passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3:22…about times in our human life. No doubt we are going to be doing some of this in a few days’ time.

(I like the old King James’ bible version. It is worth re-visiting.)

‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;’

They forgot about … ‘A time to be anxious’!

I have been slowly reading People, Power and Profits by Joseph E. Stiglitz (2019). Slowly, because there is much to absorb. This is what I read today. (Page 160 in the Penguin edition, Chapter 8 on Restoring Democracy.)

‘It is becoming clearer that the objective of the Republican Party is a permanent rule of the minority over the majority. This is an imperative for them because the policies for which they had advocated, from regressive taxation (taxing the rich at lower rates than the rest), to cutting back on Social Security and Medicare, and cutting back on government more generally, are anathema to the majority of voters. Republicans have to make sure that the majority doesn’t get control. And if the majority does get control, they have to make sure that it can’t put in place the policies that it would like, and which would advance the interests of the majority. As Nancy Maclean, professor of history at Duke University put it, they have to put “democracy in chains“.

What more can one say about what is at stake in the USA?

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: what to do? Plant trees …

May 2. Have you watched the controversial, free, Youtube movie, Planet of the Humans with Jeff Gibbs, produced by Michael Moore? This 1 hr 40-minute film was obviously made before the arrival of Covid-19. If the pandemic has made you worried, wondering if you are approaching a state of depression, this film will take you there.

Jeff Gibbs is not a human-induced-climate-change denier. This must be said at the beginning. What he does do is look at the story behind the production of some ‘green’ energy:  solar, wind and biomass fuel. And what he finds may surprise you. The reaction from the environmental lobby has been quick to point the many errors in the film with regard to wind and solar but admit the commentary about the burning of biomass is accurate. What Gibbs also says is that overpopulation is the ‘elephant’ in the room: too many humans consuming the world’s finite resources.

We must all admit it is the western world’s wealthy that are the heaviest consumers. And so it goes.

Trump’s administration has extended the USA’s controls on what can be taught to women world-wide by cutting all funding to any NGO that still offers counselling on abortion:

… under Trump, the net has been thrown wider and pulled tighter than ever. Sexual health organisations have said women will die as a consequence, as they pursue dangerous DIY solutions or “back street” abortions instead.

In March (2019), the US extended the gag, stating that any organisation counselling women on abortion and using funds from elsewhere – even from its own government or a donor in another country – will no longer be eligible for any US funding. The diktat applies to all global health organisations. HIV and children’s charities must sign up to the pledge, alongside those running sexual and reproductive health clinics.”

Coming back to the biomass discussion … after seeing forests being cut down for fuel, Gibbs spoke about how animal fats can be turned into biomass – and there was a brief, almost subliminal, clip showing a whole cow being put through a giant mincer. I could not believe what I had just seen. Shocked is an understatement. It appeared that the cow was alive. I know that animals often are not killed by the bolt in abattoirs and so enter the processing stage still alive.

Some time ago, I read, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (highly recommended) and at one stage Foer says that if abattoirs had glass walls, we humans would NOT allow what goes on there to continue.

Two days ago, I read that Tyson Foods, the mega-producer of meat in the USA (yes, the one that recently lobbied Trump to declare meat production factories as essential facilities) is producing biofuels from ‘beef tallow, pork lard, chicken fat, and cooking grease’ – and no doubt getting subsidies for doing this.

A few days ago, citing his authority under the Defense Production Act, Trump declared in an executive order that “it is important that processors of beef, pork, and poultry (‘meat and poultry’) in the food supply chain continue operating and fulfilling orders to ensure a continued supply of protein for Americans.”

So, they must remain open (and Trump said he would seek to shield the meat plants from legal liabilities …)

After all, Americans must have their meat, and the left-over animal bits and pieces will become bio-fuels for us to feel good about green energy.

Something is wrong in the world if it has come to this.

So, try and forget about Covid-19, about Trump and his bunch of crazies, get out and plant a tree or two.

We have had glorious rain – over 3 days about 3 inches fell (about 75ml). The best Autumn rains for years. So, we drove into the hills above Adelaide to buy some native plant tubestock for our bushland. We were not alone; the place was packed.

Belair State Flora Nursery, South Australia

We bought 20 plants: eremophila, banksias, eucalypts, allocasurinas and acacias. Gardening in South Australia is not a simple matter, as it was in my old home town, Durban, South Africa, where gardens blossomed with little care. Our plants have to be tough to survive dry hot summers and droughts. We are the driest state in the driest continent in the world.

I struggled with getting my head around the native plants in South Australia. Did you know that there are 900 species of eucalypts in Australia? They exist in every corner of this complex country. AND they hybridise and they look similar to the untrained eye. Many plants we have bought, planted and cared for over the years have died, but enough have survived to make a difference to our property.

The soil on our land is alkaline, part of the 700-million-year-old Adelaide Geosyncline complex that once was undersea. The land is bent, crushed and winkled: the soil formed before the first land plants, around the time of snowball earth when multi-cellar algae and bacteria developed. Think about it. It makes our current woes a minor blip in life.

So, it is not too late, nor are we too old, to plant a tree and maybe become vegetarian.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: boredom? Or is it fear?

April 27. I can find things to do, but I am like a grasshopper, unable to settle. Before this virus dominated our lives, I felt time stretched out in such a way there was mental space for me to … to plan … to write another novel … to read serious books … basically, to concentrate. Now I struggle. My mind has shallowed, lost the will to believe in the possibility of normal.

The uncertainty is getting to me – every day we receive unsettling news. One moment the experts say you will get immunity after recovering from Covid-19. Now, they are not sure. Specialists are reporting that the virus is acting in strange ways not registered before – causing unexpected blood clotting behaviour, for example. We read about past pandemics and mutations and realise how vulnerable we are – and how foolish we have been as a species in our factory farming and consumption of wild animals.

And the USA, which is our western world’s mightiest power and democracy is attacking the WHO, stopping payments, and undermining them in other ways. All this in an attempt to distract from Trump’s mistakes. We spend our time ridiculing the most powerful man in the world, but it’s more a time to weep than laugh. How have we come to this? We are living on slippery sand at the end of our lives.

So, who do we trust? Our politicians are severely scrutinised as we assess them for mistakes. World-wide, faith in politicians is at an all-time low.  Currently, in Australia, there is a fierce debate about whether children should return to school this week. Our South Australian Premier says ‘Yes,’ – with care – taking advice from SA Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier.

But the Australian Education Union, SA president, Lara Golding, muddied the waters, saying that their safety was “not considered as important …(teachers) are told that they are essential workers but don’t have the equipment, training or support to manage a health crisis.” It’s a question of who is most vulnerable and it’s a tricky question. We have not had any new cases in South Australia for 5 days but I read this issue as being more of a power wrangle between a Labor Union and a Liberal Premier. No wonder we are confused about the greater good and who to trust.

Many are saying: trust the science. Sure, but across the world there is some confusion of science as well – do we need masks if we have no symptoms? Yes? No? What is the best treatment for severe cases? Ventilate or not? What drugs are recommended for severe cases? Why is it taking so long to assess hydroxychloroquine?

No wonder my sleep pattern is disturbed. Dreams are strange and vivid.

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings” …. Macbeth