“More than 300 years ago a French minister for finance,
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, defined taxation as the art of “so plucking the
goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the
smallest possible amount of hissing,” writes Peter Martin in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Whether through incompetence or indifference, the Australian
Government seems to have designed things so as to maximise the
hissing,” he says, referring to the government’s practice of hounding
families on low incomes who depend on the family tax benefit “like
cheats.”

“Rarely have we entered a new year with such an array of potentially
disruptive political and economic events,” says Australia’s
Doomsayer-in-Residence, Maximillian Walsh, in The Bulletin. But while these range from the possibility of an avian flu pandemic
to a full-blown Middle East crisis centred on Iran’s nuclear
ambitions,” the one that most worries Max Doom is the sharp and continued
fall in the US dollar – “because I put it high on the probability
scale.” Oh, and don’t forget Australia’s 2.5bn trade deficitfor
November – it was “a real shocker” and shows that, despite the
conventional wisdom that the current account deficit doesn’t matter,
“that risk has not been entirely eliminated and monthly trade figures
such as we saw for November are a warning that current account deficits
can matter.” Now slit your wrists.

“Theclimate change denialists are moved more by a reflex
animus towards environmental alarmism which, however legitimate on
other issues, means they’re dwindling to a recalcitrant, crank-riddled
rump,” says Nicholas Gruen inThe Courier-Mail. My
reading on this subject is the same as Bill Clinton’s, he writes:
there’s increasingly little doubt that climate change is “real,
accelerating and caused (perhaps among other things) by human
activities.” Our climate is “full of both destabilising, vicious circles
or ‘positive feedback’ where warming reinforces itself,” and the US and
Australia are the “coalition of the unwilling – having negotiated
favourable Kyoto commitments and then backed out.”

As well as five high-profile cases of mental illness that have
claimed Australian political victims in the past decade, there are
numerous cases each year of politicians and others who work in politics
taking anti-depressant drugs and seeking psychiatric or psychological
help for their illness, writes Greg Barns in The Australian.
“Every medical professional I have spoken to says the same thing: that
depression and politics is not a good mix. When you are suffering
depression, conflict makes it worse. It lowers your self-esteem and
exhausts you physically.” But, says Barns, there are no excuses when
you’re a politician – “delegations have to be met, lunches have to be
hosted, speeches delivered; there’s parliament, cabinet meetings and
deadlines to be met,” not to mention the need to perform capably in
front of the media. “In other words, there is no room for your
depression.”

If you want to understand what’s happening in China, contrast the
development of its economy with that of the US, says Robert Reich in
Prospect. It took America about 100 years to transform their society from one
where most people lived on farms and depended on agriculture for a
living to an economy based on mass production, then moving from
factories into offices, and now into knowledge work. “Now look at
China. It’s making the same transition, from farm to factory to office
tower. But it’s doing it all within the span of a single generation –
in fact, much of it within the last 15 years.” Change on this scale and
at this pace, says Reich, has never been tried before. “The question
that haunts this nation is whether it can change its economy this fast
and remain a stable society.”

The debate that will determine the future of Islam lies within
Islam, between Muslim and Muslim – and more specifically in the
discourse around the “role of women in Islamic societies,” says John Hughes in The Christian Science Monitor.
A recent UN report prepared by Islamic scholars warned that “stunting
the education and advancement of women was a major hindrance to
development” of many Arab economies, and while more women are slowly
seeing their way into Arab politics, the constitution in a place like
Afghanistan can be manipulated to hinder a woman’s role in society. But
it’s important for Westerners to realise that although democracy may
not sweep the Arab world, “freedom” may. And, says Hughes, essential to
that freedom is the “emancipation and empowerment of women.”

With a
hoard of viewers who hang on her every word, “Oprah is huge, powerful,
akin to no one and nothing else,” writes Richard Cohen in The
Washington Post
.
“A mention of anything on her show will make a
millionaire out of a pauper” – as was the case with James Frey, the
drug addict
and criminal turned author, whose memoir, A Million Little Pieces,
turned out to be a little fiction mixed with a little truth. Oprah’s
response to Frey’s lies and deception was that it “retains its
underlying message of redemption.” She is “not only wrong but deluded,”
says Cohen. As her good friend and mentor Doctor Phil would say,
“there is no redemption without honesty,” and here she falls down. “She
finds herself incapable of seeing that she has been twice fooled –
once by Frey, a second time by herself.”

Tony Blair wants to know how to speed up the
efficiency and speed of the British justice system and petty crimes, so how about we
“cut out all that nonsense with the courts” then? muses Magnus Linklater in The Times.
“Justice
is speeded up, the courts are freed from dealing with petty crime, the
community is protected, job sorted,” as Blair would have us believe.
But the idea to take sentencing for minor crimes away from the courts
and into the hands of, say, a police officer, would “turn the founding
principle of the British legal system on its head.” And this is just
the latest example where the “Blair administration has steadily
undermined civil liberties and left an indelible stain on its
reputation.”

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