Welcome back then. 2014 was a lovely year in Melbourne, but damn was it an awful year in a lot of other places. Spectacular aviation disasters bookended and bisected the year. In fact it was probably these disasters which got me off my holiday butt for the first time since 2007 to write a wrap of the year, but as we will see the aviation fatalities statistics are not particularly remarkable. Much more dreadful things happened or came fully to light, as we will also see. (This is part 1. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. And Part 4 is here.)
We began to focus on Boko Haram when they seized an exam hall full of aspirant physicists and sold the Nigerian schoolgirls into slavery. The State, deeply infiltrated by the nutcase insurgents, seemed paralysed in response. Up the coast, a plague raged which had desperately poor people hemorrhaging painfully to death in gutters, untouchable, unaided though all they really needed was logistics and saline drips. Mediaeval atrocities were meted out in a purported Islamic caliphate willy nilly by the other arm of ISIS. (It may be preferable to refer to these nutjobs as Dai’sh (the Arabic acronym) so as to repudiate the brigands’ invocation of Islam. The French are quite diligent in this respect and The Age suggested that this created a particular hatred in the minds of Islamic extremists which has now played out in 2015.)
A young French economist put out a 700 page economics treatise on inequality which unpredictably became in 2014 a number one bestseller on Amazon. Then he declined to receive the Legion d’Honneur. Meanwhile, Earth’s richest 400 people got about $115 billion richer (so that they now have $1.4 trillion, roughly Australia’s 2014 GDP). In fact, the richest 1% of people own nearly half the world’s financial wealth, according to a 2014 report, while the poorest 50% own less than than the richest 85 people. In fact, the richest 1% are set to own more than the other 99% by the end of this year, according to Oxfam. All this became mainstream discussion because of Pikkety. Bill Gates came out and agreed with many of Thomas Pikkety’s theses and conservatives generally felt free publicly to agree that extreme wealth disparity was not entirely idyllic, which seems like a change to me.
Naomi Klein published This Changes Everything, arguing persuasively that tinkering around the edges of the climate change disaster, as we are, is doomed to failure. She’s talking about a revolution. Robert Manne, a former editor of Quadrant and ardent anti-communist, described it in a magazine published by a wealthy property developer as ‘among the most brilliant and important books of recent times‘. It rammed home to me the message that, 20 years into the desultory climate talks we have been having, the spewing of CO2 has only increased annually. All we ever do is argue about how much we might promise to reduce, in the future, the rate of the spew. And then it was, worldwide, the hottest and most CO2 soiled year ever, with the greatest increase in CO2 emissions. Something, no doubt, to do with the fact observed by Vaclav Smil, which rose to prominence last year, that China has in recent times used as much concrete in three years as America did in the 20th century. Last year was the third hottest year for Australia since records began — almost a whole degree hotter than the 1960-1990 average — and the second hottest years since records began in Victoria and NSW. Last year concluded Australia’s hottest ever 24 months.
A US Senate Committee published a report (read it here) on the CIA’s joint venture with Gaddafi, Assad, and Mubarak to torture people between 2002 and 2006. Its 600 pages have been well summarised thus:
“The torture was far more brutal than we thought, and the CIA lied about that. It didn’t work, and they lied about that too. It produced so much bad intel that it most likely impaired our national security, and of course they lied about that as well. They lied to Congress, they lied to the president, and they lied to the media. Despite this, they are still defending their actions.”
Of course the issue in 2014 of the report was good news, since it is rare for regimes engaged in terrible breaches of international law to investigate thoroughly and then publish the detailed report. But as we will see, its contents were bad news from not so long ago, brought to light. So was the fact that it represented a blip on most people’s radars, if they learnt of it at all. And so was the fact that, as far as I can tell from down here at the bottom of the world, nothing changed. Obama said hokily ‘We tortured some folk’, a grotesque sentence even before the addition of ‘It’s important for us not to feel sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had.’ (You see? The victims and the torturers were all the kind of kind and ordinary people that go to folk festivals, together.) Well, I for one feel sanctimonious about those miserable sadistic nobs who trashed the values they purport to police and then spread lies to the media in an entirely successful propaganda campaign. Dick Cheney continues to tell lies in his response to the report.
There was so much terrible, terrible war: South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Dai’sh, extra-judicial executions by drones. So many beheadings and crucifixions, including a couple of westerners, Aussie kids with severed heads. Nice white people doing things like invading, and annexing the neighbours under cover of preposterous propaganda worthy of the Chinese or North Korean regimes. So terribly little talk of peace, and international law and, domestically, the rule of law. The absolute contempt for the most fundamental norms of international law — peaceful resolution of disputes, non-acquisition of sovereignty by conquest, minimum standards for the treatment of captured enemies, the prohibition of torture, non-refoulement — has to be corrosive of the rule of domestic law. I feel relatively safe in saying that that can’t be good. That is all I’m saying in much of what follows because, for example, I wouldn’t have a clue about how happy the people of Crimea are to be back in the bosom of Mother Russia, and am not really sure what I would do if I were Immigration Minister; I just know what I would not be doing. (More — quite a lot actually — to follow in the coming days)