Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Divestment" mania comes to Australian National University

Several hundred academics and staff members at Australian National University signed an open letter requesting the school jettison its oil and gas assets, even as the school promises to table the measure, citing the need to keep the school financially stable.

The ANU letter calls on the university to make its fossil fuel assets transparent, as well as ending whatever oil assets the school currently has by 2021.

Activist with Fossil Free, a group associated with the controversial environmentalist Bill McKibben, delivered the letter signed by 450 staff and academics to the school’s vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt.

The University currently has $43 million sunk in fossil fuel assets, according to Fossil Free spokeswoman and ANU student Zoe Neumayer, which would place it among a handful of universities gathering more than $40 million in fossil fuel assets.

Among those rebuking the divestment charge are Harvard University, which has $107.8 million in fossil fuel assets, as well as Yale University, with a lofty oil and coal asset portfolio of $51.09 million.

"(We believe) the ANU needs to divest from fossil fuels in order to properly be a global climate leader," Neumayer told reporters Tuesday, noting also that nearly 82 percent of students voted for divestment

The University Council’s decision to table the open letter comes two years after the school divested shares in 7 mining companies.

ANU moved in 2014 to purge assets from Australia mining companies Santos and Iluka Resources, following calls from independent groups for the school to become more socially responsible.

Officials condemned the move at the time.

"Sadly, no, the universities govern themselves. But I think to suggest that companies like Santos and Iluka, which are both excellent companies, are somehow not ethical investments is a bizarre decision," Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, told reporters.

That was then, this is now.

Schmidt, an astrophysicist who was recently appointed the school’s vice chancellor and an avowed proponent of fighting the advent of man-made global warming — said he still recognizes the school has responsibilities to its faculty and staff.

"The council has to balance both its fiduciary responsibilities to provide the funds for students and staff needs, such as superannuation payments and student scholarships, with that of socially responsible investments," he said.

Schmidt added: "It is a complex issue, and both the council and I welcome the views of staff and students."  He said the school would continue to fight global warming despite ANU’s decision to table requests to divest.


Australians come out in support of Donald Trump

Online polls are not very reliable but Australians are much less puritanical and uptight than are Americans so it seems possible that Trump has broader support in Australia than he has in America

AUSTRALIANS have come out in force to defend billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump and have even called for a like-minded personality to lead our country after warnings that a Trump White House would be bad news for Australia.

An online poll on The Daily Telegraph showed a surprising 71 per cent of respondents answered ‘No (Donald Trump is da man!)’ when asked ‘Are you worried about Trump becoming US President?’  There were more than 32,000 votes cast in the poll.

It came after a number of analysts and commentators suggested a Trump win in the November US presidential election would be dire for Australia.

"The words ‘President Trump’ should give Australians pause," Lowy Institute executive director Dr Michael Fullilove told The Daily Telegraph. "Mr Trump reflects few of the values that have made America great. And judging from his speeches, he fails to see the advantages that flow to his country from being at the centre of the global liberal order."

His sentiments were echoed by Associate Professor Brendon O’Connor from Sydney University’s US Studies Centre who said Trump’s isolationist views were ‘an absolute disaster’.

But the comments from readers came thick and fast and overwhelmingly supported the billionaire. Some Aussie supporters even called for a personality like him to lead the country.

The story struck a chord with US readers and was picked up by a major news aggregator so many were supportive comments were from Americans, but there was no shortage of love from Aussies.

The story saw more than 800 comments posted


Stop comparing Trump with Hitler

AUSTRALIAN Jewish leaders have condemned "deeply offensive" comparisons between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler.

In recent months, a string of media outlets, celebrities and politicians, including talk-show host Glenn Beck and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, have lined up to call Trump the next Hitler.

The billionaire real estate mogul’s unapologetic threats to deport illegal immigrants and put a halt on Muslims entering the US have caused outrage.

Trump this week scored primary victories in three more states, including Florida, forcing rival candidate Marco Rubio to drop out and further increasing his chances of taking the nomination.

It came as Dilbert creator Scott Adams warned that constant comparisons of Trump to Hitler in the media were helping incite violence against the candidate and his supporters and "priming the public to try to kill Trump".

Earlier this month, comedian Louis CK penned a 1400-word letter to fans describing Trump as an "insane bigot" and urging them to "please stop" voting for him.

"It was funny for a little while [but] the guy is Hitler," he wrote.  "And by that I mean that we are being Germany in the ‘30s. Do you think they saw the s*** coming? Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all."

In December, British band Django Django tweeted, "Donald Trump trying to pull a 1933 Hitler but replacing Jews with Muslims. Dangerous times."

Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos added, "I wonder what @realDonaldTrump (hairpiece be upon him) will reveal next in his final solution."

Now NBA star Matt Barnes is the latest high-profile celebrity to make the comparison.  In an Instagram post on Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies player posted a picture of Hitler removing a Trump mask with the caption, "This who you want to run your country?"

Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), said "once again we see celebrities using appalling comparisons to Hitler to attack others".

"There is simply no place for this kind of sickening distortion in our public discourse," he said.

While people were entitled to "strong opinions" on Donald Trump, "Hitler and his genocidal actions should never form part of the discussion about the American presidential elections and no candidate should ever be compared to Hitler", Dr Abramovich said.

Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg also criticised the comparisons.  "Donald Trump has his detractors, and many for good reason, but to compare him with the evil Adolf Hitler responsible as he was for the deaths of millions of innocents is ridiculous in the extreme," he told  "It diminishes the Holocaust and a shameful chapter in the history of the world."

Dr Abramovich said the six million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Third Reich "deserve better and should not be used for political point sloganeering".

"It bears repeating again that these types of historically inaccurate comparisons diminish the profound tragedy of the Holocaust and are deeply offensive to the victims, to survivors and to their families," he said.  "Such ignorant posts only fuel the gross trivialisation of the Holocaust."

Jeremy Jones, Director of International and Community Affairs at the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), said "generally we find it very unhelpful when people make these sorts of historical comparisons".

"One, it doesn’t help people understand the contemporary phenomenon, and two, the historical circumstances [of the Holocaust] had particular and unique features which tend to be brushed under the surface [when such comparisons are made]," he said.

Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), declined to comment on the politics of another country but pointed to the ECAJ’s policy platform, which references "inappropriate Holocaust rhetoric".

The EJAC "recognises that the Holocaust, the Nazi program of genocide, was a unique historical event", "notes that the Holocaust is generally recognised as the benchmark of the most extreme case of human evil" and "deplores the inappropriate use of analogies to the Nazi Genocide in Australian public debate".

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne yesterday described Trump’s popularity as "terrifying and kind of weird", describing the "Donald Trump phenomenon" as a "real problem for the United States".  "It’s terrifying, and I think for the Republican party, if they choose Donald Trump, will find themselves in the wilderness for a very long time," he said, saying the "violence and farcical scenes" at Trump’s rallies made for "uncomfortable viewing".

Conversely, conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said the rise of Trump shone a light on "global disenchantment with mainstream politics".  "I have been warning about this for some time. Unless the major parties respond to the concerns of mainstream people, the public will look elsewhere and a more formidable force will emerge," Mr Bernardi said.


Australia hails 600 days of no asylum-seeker boat arrivals

Australia on Thursday hailed its controversial regime of turning back asylum-seeker boats as a success after 600 days with no vessels arriving, and almost 700 people being repelled since the policy was launched.

Under the hardline measures, asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia by boat are turned back to their country of departure or sent to remote Pacific island camps, where conditions have been criticised with allegations of rape and other abuse.

They are blocked from resettling in Australia even if they are found to be refugees in a policy the conservative government has defended as stopping deaths at sea.

"Tomorrow (Friday) marks 600 days since the last successful people-smuggling venture to our country and the government's absolutely determined to make sure that it stays that way," Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in Canberra.

Since the start of "Operation Sovereign Borders" in September 2013 when the government came to power, 25 boats carrying 698 people had been turned back and "safely returned to their country of departure", Dutton added.

Rights groups have criticised camp conditions while doctors and whistleblowers have said the detention of asylum-seekers, particularly children, has left some struggling with mental health problems.

Amnesty has also called for an independent review into allegations that Australian authorities paid crew on a people-smuggling boat US$30,000 to return 65 asylum-seekers to Indonesia.

The policy has stoked tensions with Jakarta, which warned earlier this month after six Bangladeshi migrants were returned to the eastern Indonesian city of Kupang on a fishing boat that such operations were potentially dangerous.

A group of "potentially illegal immigrants" from Sri Lanka were returned to the South Asian nation in February, the operation's commander Major General Andrew Bottrell added at the press conference.

Bottrell said a further 57 people-smuggling activities were disrupted during this period, preventing 1,900 asylum-seekers from trying to head to Australia, but did not provide further details about where they were from.  He said that "people smuggling networks have been severely degraded".

Under the previous Labor government, at least 1,200 people died trying to reach Australia by boat between 2008 and 2013.

Dutton added he was "very proud" the number of children held in detention had fallen to just 29, and he was working to bring it down further. Detention levels are down from a record number of almost 2,000 children in June 2013.

However, allegations of rape and other abuse at the Nauru camp were raised at a parliamentary inquiry last year. A doctor who assessed inmates at the centre told the hearings living conditions were unsafe and put vulnerable women and children at "considerable" risk.


Australian Education Minister Simon Birmingham unveils sweeping changes to homosexual-support program for schools

THE Safe Schools Coalition program will be overhauled, after a review found "a number of resources" included content not suitable for all children, Education Minister Simon Birmingham says.

Senator Birmingham said the government had ordered several sections of the program be redesigned and all references to external websites, except mental-health support services, be removed.

In response to the review, he said the program would also be restricted to high schools only and require schools to obtain parental consent.

"To further ensure the safety of the official resources generated by the program and also to ensure that it is really mainstreamed alongside of other student wellbeing and anti-bullying programs, we’ll be undertaking actions that will see the official resources of the program moved from the Safe Schools Coalition website to the Safe School hub," he said.

Senator Birmingham said while there was no evidence of "advocacy and activism" in classrooms, he believed some people involved in the program had used it to further political agenda.

He said "advocacy and activism" had no place in the program.

"Just as proselytising is not part of the school chaplaincy program, advocacy must not be part of the Safe School program," he said.

"This is here to help children in their wellbeing in schools and people who might have engaged in the past as presenting themselves as representatives of the program and in doing so speaking about political matters and advocating in those political matters have frankly done themselves and the program an enormous disservice and would be well advised to keep their mouths shut on such matters in future," he said.

The review was ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in response to lobbying by conservative Liberals including George Christensen and Cory Bernadi.

A petition calling for an inquiry into the program was being circulated on Wednesday night and had reportedly garnered as many as 40 signatures, including that of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

It followed a backbench briefing by the author of the review, University of Western Australia emeritus professor Bill Louden, with some in attendance reportedly suggesting it was a "white wash".

Mr Christensen said he was pleased by the government’s response.  "As long as all the stuff the Minister said comes to pass, all of the concern is gutted out of the program," he said.

"I still am yet to see the response from the Safe Schools Coalition because we are talking about fundamentally altering what they have proposed and what they have proposed I think was disastrous for schoolchildren so if they reject what the government’s put forward then the funding will just be suspended, that’s my understanding from my conversation with the Minister."

He said the government changes would ensure it was an "anti-bullying program rather than something that’s bringing in queer theory into classrooms and sexual liberation ideals into classrooms."


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