Monthly Archives: August 2018

Air strikes in Syria: a reality check

The US military is strong – but there are limits to what it can achieve in the Mideast. Pictured: an FA-18C Hornet land on the USS George H.W. Bush. Not always the answer: a US drone patrols the skies.
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While talk of a new “coalition of the willing” to tackle the threat posed by the militants of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria has already generated a flurry of activity in Western capitals including Canberra, there are a number of significant obstacles in the region itself to any large-scale military action and even to an expanded campaign of air strikes.

1. Getting Arab states on board

Both Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel have spoken out on the need for neighbouring Arab states to become part of any solution to the crisis represented by the military progress of Islamic State (also known as ISIL or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. However this doesn’t address the disconnect between autocratic leaders and their publics in many of these countries in the wake of the 2011 “Arab Spring”.

In Saudi Arabia, a country where beheading is still part of the penal regime and there is a history of destruction of religious sites that do not conform with the government’s strict reading of Sunni Islam, there are many Saudis keen to support what they see as a just religious war against the godless Assad regime and its Shiite backers in Iran. This has meant that Saudi Arabia is fighting an enemy within on the question. Jordan, another likely Western ally, has also seen internal discontent with the ruling class expressed as support for IS.

Almost every regime in the Arab world already feels its grip on power is fragile. This will temper their enthusiasm for signing up to any initiative that comes out of Washington.

2. The trouble with drones

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has said that IS cannot be defeated unless it is engaged in Syria, however at present neither he nor US President Barack Obama appear to envision a ground offensive in that country. Instead, any strikes are likely to be from the air, notwithstanding the admitted limits of US intelligence-gathering and drone access inside that country.

Even if drones of the low-flying, weapons-carrying type used in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Afghanistan, Yemen and Africa over recent years were to be deployed, this would create new challenges at both the military and political levels. As Fairfax’s Middle East Correspondent Ruth Pollard has reported from the Gaza Strip, a campaign of air strikes in populated areas can result in tremendous human suffering. US politicians have already been told by those living on the ground in Yemen of the radicalising effect on populations of drone strikes that go awry, and public opinion around the world – while rightly outraged and repulsed by the atrocities committed by IS in recent weeks – might also find it difficult to stomach scenes of destruction caused in the countries targeted.

3. Once bitten, twice shy

In all the countries which the US relies upon for support in the Middle East, memories are still raw over the way in which the Obama administration created an expectation that it would strike the Assad regime in Syria, only to step back from the brink.

Saudi Arabia, already dismayed by Mr Obama’s decision to stand aside as protests toppled key US and Saudi ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in 2011, saw the failure to strike Syria and the continuing talks with Iran over its nuclear program as proof that Washington was no longer a reliable partner in the region. One symptom of this relationship breakdown is the decision by Egypt’s current regime and the United Arab Emirates to carry out air strikes of their own in Libya without consulting the US.

For Saudi Arabia in particular, which is financing the Egyptian regime, cooperation with Western powers in Syria and Iraq will raise the question of what it might expect in return on the question of Iran’s nuclear program. Shiite-ruled Iran, the nemesis of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, enjoys huge political influence in Iraq and supports the continued existence of the Assad regime.

4. Beating IS is not the whole story

As was the case in Libya in 2011, Iraq in 2003, and Afghanistan in 2001, there is no question that the US and its allies have the military means to defeat their opponent in a direct confrontation. But what happens next? The overall structure of power in the Middle East has been severely shaken by successive Western interventions and their consequences. Should IS be destroyed and the Assad regime be left standing, many young Sunnis who have watched the daily carnage inflicted by the Syrian military on its own population will feel that there is a double standard at work. The ability of the traditional Sunni elite to manage this anger will be further eroded. There are already strong signs of this problem in Lebanon and Iraq.

There is also alarm both among Arab states and Arab populations at the prospect that military intervention might fuel Kurdish efforts to carve out an independent state of their own across Iraq and Syria. This makes questions such as Canberra’s response to a plea for support from the Kurdish Regional Government a political minefield, at a time when Kurds are increasingly acting independently of Baghdad in areas such as oil sales.

Maher Mughrabi is the Foreign Editor for Fairfax Media

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Black barista Nilson Dos Santos finds work after being refused job at Darlinghurst cafe

All-comers welcome: Nilson Dos Santos at Coco Cubana, where he has found full-time work. Photo: Nick Moir Lights out: the Forbes & Burton cafe, where Mr Dos Santos was refused work, has closed. Photo: Thomas Poberezny-Lynch
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Closed for business: Inside the Forbes & Burton Cafe on Thursday. Photo: Michael Koziol

It’s an outcome that might be called karma. The cafe owner who refused to employ a black man has closed his business; the man he wouldn’t hire has found full-time work.

Nilson Dos Santos, 37, made international news last week when he was denied a job at Darlinghurst cafe Forbes & Burton because he was black.

“My customers are white and they don’t like to have black people making coffee for them,” owner Steven He told him.

Now Mr Dos Santos has found work at a less discriminatory employer, taking a barista job at Taylor Square bar and cafe Coco Cubano. Thursday was his first day and he said he was happy and excited to be back behind the machine.

“I feel comfortable and [I’m] just really looking forward to a new beginning. I’m very positive about the future,” he said.

Mr Dos Santos is Brazilian but has worked as a barista in Australia for nine years. He was out of full-time work for three months and struggling with bills when he was rejected by the Forbes & Burton cafe. When he told customers what had just happened, some walked out immediately, joined by a member of staff.

Since the news broke, Mr Dos Santos has had about 40 job offers from cafes all over the city.

“I’m really happy to have a new job. I know what it looks like when you don’t have a job,” he said.

Forbes & Burton has now apparently closed and Mr Dos Santos wants to help its former staff members find employment.

“I just felt really, really sad because I keep stopping [to] think about how many people lost their jobs,” he said. “I just broke down and cried because I was really emotional about it.”

Coco Cubano manager Steve Sosah said he was happy to have Mr Dos Santos join his team, which welcomed all-comers.

“Nilson’s got such a great and positive energy,” he said. “It’s all about bringing your own personality to the table, no matter who you are. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.”

Mr Dos Santos is now enjoying a dose of celebrity in the Darlinghurst area. He has been recognised by many people on the street, including an Aboriginal woman who congratulated him for speaking out against discrimination and asked to take him out to lunch.

“I love you, I’m so proud of you,” she told him.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating Mr He’s conduct. Meanwhile, Mr Dos Santos is looking forward to putting the unpleasantness behind him. He will soon move to Paddington to live with his best friend and is content to be back in the job he loves.

“It’s much more than just the coffee – it’s about working with people, having a friendship with them, making them happy,” he said.

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Martin Scorsese to direct Ramones film: report

The Ramones. Johnny, Tommy, Joey and Dee Dee. Photo: Roberta Bayley/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Martin Scorsese: Linked to a Ramones film, but when will he fit it in?
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Movie session timesFull movies coverage

Maybe he just wants to have something to do, but Martin Scorsese has reportedly added to his already full dance card with plans to direct a movie about The Ramones.

According to Billboard, the 71-year-old Scorsese will helm a movie about the seminal New York band who first started performing with a line-up consisting of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone in 1974 (none of them were related; they adopted the surname, and the leather biker jackets, as part of a “gang” identity; all are now dead).

The Ramones were arguably the first genuine punk band, though Johnny Thunders and the rest of the New York Dolls might quibble with that, as could a certain Mr Pop and a few other contenders from Detroit.

At any rate, their 1976 debut album Ramones was the first to take this raucous new form of rock’n’roll to the airwaves. It didn’t make much of a dent on the charts, but it did provide much-needed impetus for English bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, who took punk to the masses the following year.

Scorsese’s feature would, according to Billboard, be released in 2016, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the band’s debut album.

But don’t start pogoing just yet. The report is short on details about the film, noting only that it “is just one of several projects in the works”. Among the others are a documentary, a play and a book.

At first glance, the idea of old man Scorsese directing a film about a bunch of young punks might seem far-fetched, but that is, arguably, pretty much what his entire career has been about: young punks. The period and setting make perfect sense, too, harking back to his breakthrough films Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), both gritty tales of strivers in the tough milieu of a depressed New York City.

The real hurdle in all this is how busy Scorsese is. According to imdb南京夜网, his planned projects over the next two years include an “untitled Bill Clinton documentary” (in post-production), an “untitled HBO/Rock’n’Roll Project” (filming), the Japanese missionary film Silence (in pre-production) and a Frank Sinatra biopic (announced).

He is also attached to three other projects as executive producer. And on top of all this is the mooted TV adaptation of his 2010 film Shutter Island, reported this week.

All of which suggests that if he really is to do a Ramones film, Martin Scorsese has one hell of a blitzkrieg ahead of him.

And when it’s all over, he may just wanna be sedated.

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The strange case of the missing millions that grew

No strings attached: Once in a while a windfall can come from an unexpected source. No strings attached: Once in a while a windfall can come from an unexpected source.
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So rare is it that a government does you a favour unless there’s a vote in it, I just have to tell you about the one time it has.

Yet if anything, it’s been a vote loser.

Remember how Wayne Swan decided to raid savings accounts that had been dormant for three years as a way of pushing the budget into a surplus that never came within cooee of ever happening?

As would be expected, the outrage was palpable. The elderly, those who’d just lost their jobs, exasperated executors of estates, harassed bank tellers and drought-sticken farmers were all victims and forgive me if I’ve left anybody out.

It’s not just piddling amounts involved either. The minimum inactive balance has to be $500 before Canberra scoops it up.

The wonder is he didn’t bother with lost super accounts while he was at it, but in case Joe Hockey is reading this and looking for ideas, better say no more.

But far from being a raid it turns out Swan did savers a favour, quite by accident, I suspect. Nor was it ever the case that somebody’s hard-earned cash was being confiscated, even if it made a good headline.

It’s more like a compulsory loan that can be called in once you notice your money has gone AWOL, all the while the Government hoping you don’t. Swan just shortened the hibernation from seven to three years though it may as well have been three days for the flak he took.

Not that your money was probably doing much anyway. Left in the bank it would have been earning little or no interest while being whittled away, perhaps by fees and certainly inflation.

But once embraced by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) lost bank accounts are treated like royalty.

Just be prepared for all to see your particulars on ASIC’s website which, in a rather idiosyncratic interpretation of freedom of information laws, publishes your name, address and how much is there.

For a start the balance is being indexed to inflation quarterly. Since the consumer price index is used – the proper one, not the lower adjusted version the Reserve Bank and a certain geek you know likes to use – the interest rate fluctuates between 2.5 and 3 per cent.

Not bad but here’s the clincher: “No tax is paid on the interest you earn,” as ASIC’s website explaining how to get your money back points out.

Er, why would you want to? Interest at almost 3 per cent government guaranteed and tax free is better than any bank can offer.

There’s an idea. Put any spare cash into an online account (term deposits are explicitly excluded) and leave it alone for three years so it’s whisked off to Canberra.

Oh hang on, you must be wondering how you get it back.

Admittedly there’s some paperwork: You have to go to the bank, building society or credit union armed with an Original Transaction Number (suitably capitalised to prove it’s important) you’ll get wait “up to 28 days” once lodged for your money to materialise.

Still there’s probably less rigmarole than opening the account in the first place.

Anyway, under the new management Treasury is re-considering the whole thing. The banks are tired of being blamed for accounts suddenly disappearing and no doubt would prefer to have the money at their disposal for longer. And since Swan’s change was so misunderstood in the first place, the Government would probably get kudos for reverting back to seven years while helping the banks without appearing to. I can just see him offering it to Clive Palmer’s party as a budget peace offering.

So if you suspect you’ve lost an entire bank account, check should you find it, think twice about reclaiming it just yet.

It couldn’t be in better hands.


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Sydney’s big wet leaves leaves punters a puzzle for Golden Rose dress rehearsal

Unbeaten: Hallowed Crown scores during The Championships at Randwick in April. Photo: Anthony JohnsonHallowed Crown and Scratch Me Lucky might be first-up in Saturday’s Run To The Rose at Rosehill but have proven wet-track form from the sodden Championships meeting in the autumn to recommend them. Paul Perry was conservative when appraising the chances of Scratch Me Lucky, which was runner-up in April’s the Sires’ Produce Stakes, as he starts an ambitious spring campaign. “We go there knowing he handles it, which is an advantage on some of the others in the race,” Perry said.  “He is not 100 per cent wound up for this race, if he was I would be very confident. He has had enough work to run a race. He has had a couple of trials and won his last one at Newcastle on the heavy, but it is as much about getting ready for the seven [furlongs or 1400 metres] of the [Golden] Rose as anything else on Saturday.” Meanwhile, the unbeaten Hallowed Crown, which won the Kindergarten Stakes on the same day as the Sires’, has pleased co-trainer James Cummings after his two trials going into the 1200m group 3 for three-year-olds. “He has done enough and can handle the heavy going, but it is a very tough race,” Cummings said. “History says it takes a very good horse to come out and win it first-up. He is giving away a bit of match fitness to some very smart horses and that could prove crucial because it is going to be run in very testing conditions. “The form he has from the autumn is the right form because he beat Washington Heights at his last start, but we are like everyone else, guessing a bit because of the heavy track.” Unbeaten J.J. Atkins winner Almalad is topweight under the set conditions and penalties, and also top pick in betting for The Run To The Rose, which is the last chance for a couple of high-profile three-year-olds to lift themselves into the Golden Rose. Godolphin has two runners but trainer John O’Shea says Sarajevo, which has to win to assure himself a spot in the Golden Rose, was the best chance for the blue army because he has had a run, whereas Kumaon is first-up. Godolphin’s Ghibellines was scratched on Thursday. Chris Waller has a trio accepted, including Law and Sniper Fire, but is concerned about the wet with Atkins runner-up Brazen Beau, which has similar form references to last year’s Golden Rose winner Zoustar. “He didn’t handle a slow track at his second start and finished out of a place,” Waller said. “And even in his trial last Saturday, Hugh Bowman said ‘only fair’,  so if he’s showing those signs in a trial, it’s normally exaggerated in a race.” It might be left to Scratch Me Lucky to provide a surprise. He had nine runs as a juvenile and although his only win came in a restricted race at Canterbury on a slow track, he has won more than $300,000 in stakes and had group 3 and group 1 seconds on heavy surfaces at Rosehill and Randwick. Perry also has Modoc in the The Run To The Rose, but admits he is not in the same class as his stablemate Scratch Me Lucky, which holds an entry for the Epsom as well as the the Golden Rose, Spring Champion Stakes, Caulfield Guineas and Cox Plate.  “We think Scratch Me [Lucky] is a nice horse that will get over a mile and further, so we have put him in everything,” Perry said. “The Epsom is a race that he might get into with no weight and could be worth a crack. We will know more after Saturday, and then we can build from there, but it always this race then the Rose to start with. I think everyone is in the same boat because of the weather, which has made it tough to get them ready this early in the spring.”
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