Conciliatory Akihito to stand down; Tony Jones blunders on myth of ‘Croatian Six’; Always smile at a crocodile; Jokowi restores tough minister By Hamish McDonald.

Clinton v Trump campaign begins

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton following President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on Wednesday
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton following President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on Wednesday
Credit: AP

And so the presidential race is on, with Hillary Clinton the first woman to be nominated by a major party, and standing against the epitome of everything that feminism has been fighting, the cocksure braggart Donald Trump.

It should be no competition, especially when the latest trove of WikiLeaks communications − embarrassing the Democratic National Committee by revealing bias among its officials against Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders − was quickly traced back to Russian hackers almost certainly working with the Kremlin’s intelligence services.

Vladimir Putin would certainly like to see Trump as the US president. The Republican candidate suggests he will pull back from NATO, make Japan and South Korea provide their own defence, wall off Mexico and withdraw from free trade agreements. Trump has voiced his personal admiration for Putin, and several Trump advisers have been on the Moscow gravy train. He has also revealed that Russians are important investors in his real estate projects.

Of course Putin must be either assuming that Trump means what he says, which is always a shaky assumption, or at least hoping to stoke chaos in the US. Trump himself was unabashed. “She [Clinton] gets rid of 33,000 emails,” he declared. “That gives me a problem. Now, if Russia or China or any other country have those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

And will the leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee be more than a blip in the party’s campaign? As T. A. Frank wrote in Vanity Fair online, the revelation was “as shocking to the world as that of Liberace’s secret attraction to men”.

Sanders himself moved to quell his rowdy supporters at the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia, calling on them to unite behind Clinton to defeat Trump. Sportingly he ordered delegates from his home state, Vermont, to vote for her.

His leftward pressure on party policy will continue, however, and that may actually help against Trump’s isolationist populism. Prospects dwindle for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the contentious trade and investment pact that includes Australia, getting US ratification.

Clinton will get a huge boost from her endorsement by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media tycoon and former long-time Republican mayor of New York. Her choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate was mostly well received, except among the Sanders hardcore socialists, and extends her appeal to middle America. He’s working-class born, made it to Harvard Law School, became a Catholic missionary of the liberation theology stamp in Honduras (where he became fluent in Spanish), then was successively a civil rights lawyer, mayor of racially mixed Richmond, governor of Virginia, and US senator.

It’s a good counter to Trump’s choice of Mike Pence, a literalist Christian noted for his defence of discrimination against gays. And he’s unlikely to overshadow Clinton much. To Vanity Fair’s Frank, he’s “a centrist whom one would call a fiery speaker only if tragedy struck and left the man engulfed in flames”.

1 . Conciliatory Akihito to stand down

Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, gave notice two weeks ago that Emperor Akihito is planning to abdicate because of his failing health at the age of 82, an event that could have profound repercussions as the current government of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe pursues an agenda of turning Japan into a “normal” nation.

There will be no succession crisis, as Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is prepped and ready to assume the chrysanthemum throne, though the next succession could be contentious. Naruhito has no male child, so the line would pass to the son of his younger brother unless, as many younger Japanese advocate, the law is changed to allow female succession.

As Temple University Japan’s Jeff Kingston has noted, Akihito came out of the palace to mingle and show great empathy with victims of Japan’s recent calamities. In addition, he’s done the rounds of Asia to atone for what happened under the rule of his father, Emperor Hirohito. Kingston says, “Emperor Akihito has done more than all of Japan’s postwar politicians combined as an emissary of reconciliation with Asian neighbours over Japan’s imperial aggression and wartime misdeeds.”

In the domestic historical controversy, he has pointedly rebuked the wartime revisionists around Abe, who gained the parliamentary numbers last month to change the post-1945 constitution and its limits on military action. When one Japanese official sought his blessing for a government attempt to make teachers stand and sing the national anthem while facing the flag, Akihito said he thought it should be a matter of individual choice.

At last year’s 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender he quietly rebuked Abe for saying that Japan’s present peace was due to the “sacrifice” of three million Japanese in World War II. The emperor took the opposite view: “Our country today enjoys peace and prosperity, thanks to the ceaseless efforts made by the people of Japan toward recovery from the devastation of the war and toward development, always backed by their earnest desire for the continuation of peace.”

2 . Tony Jones blunders on myth of ‘Croatian Six’

Q&A host Tony Jones has got himself into hot water after, countering a claim by panellist Senator-elect Pauline Hanson that Australia’s terrorism problem started with Muslim immigration, he stated that “in the 1970s there were multiple bombings by Croatian Catholic extremists”.

As the ABC’s own Chris Masters revealed in a 1991 Four Corners program, and this writer followed up in a 2012 investigation in The Sydney Morning Herald, the wave of apparent Croatian terrorism in that era was the product of a campaign of agent provocateur and “false flag” operations by the former Yugoslav regime’s KGB equivalent, the UDBa.

The most famous case, that of the so-called Croatian Six who each got 15 years’ jail in 1981, was the result of one such operation, with the NSW Police obliging with their then routine verballing of the suspects. The NSW judiciary has consistently refused a full-scale review of the case, which has been likened to Britain’s overturned Birmingham Six and Guildford Four convictions, involving Irish suspects framed for IRA bombings.

A petition calling for Jones to apologise on air has already got several thousand signatures. “Australians of Croatian heritage have had to put up with these unsubstantiated allegations for decades,” says Damir Culic, of the Croatian Communities Council, adding that “the fact that five federal senators accepted Mr Jones’s assertion without question shows how deeply ingrained this malicious falsehood has become within the Australian psyche.”

His community is calling on Malcolm Turnbull to set up a royal commission into the former Yugoslavian intelligence operations in Australia. The third volume of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s official history, written by military historian John Blaxland, is due out in October. It covers the period and is understood to devote several pages to the Croatian Six case. It will be interesting how much ASIO knew and didn’t tell the court.

A former senior legal officer in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ian Cunliffe, who acted as secretary of a multi-agency national security committee including ASIO, has already revealed that relevant evidence about Yugoslav intelligence activity was withheld from the Croatian Six trial.

3 . Always smile at a crocodile

As readers will be aware, Australia has been accused of predatory behaviour towards Timor-Leste about the maritime boundary and oil resources in the Timor Sea. This has taken a new dimension, however, as your columnist found on a visit to Dili this month.

As friends told me, crocodile attacks are occurring more frequently. Big saltwater crocs are even appearing on the waterfront of Dili itself. Some Timorese, jokingly one hopes, accuse the Northern Territory of sending surplus crocodiles over to prevent their country building up its own rival tourism industry.

But the NT model of relocating crocodiles away from human population centres, culling their numbers, and farming captive crocs for skin and meat − and mounting Jaws-style hunts for man-eaters − has not gone down very well among the Timorese.

As my friend Arsenio Ramos-Horta put it: “You don’t eat your grandfather.” In the Timorese creation myth, their island is the remains of a benevolent crocodile, and the animals contain the spirits of ancestors. “When a crocodile kills somebody, it’s often seen as an act of god, an act of punishment,” researcher Karen Edyvane told me. “The person deserved it, or their family had done something that was socially unacceptable.” Talk about blaming the victim.

People feed crocodiles. Edyvane saw one village on the south coast, located mostly within a mangrove tidal area, where children bathed and played close to crocodiles, “calling them like pet pigs”. In Dili, billboards feature friendly cartoon crocodiles. Timor-Leste’s two-battalion army has crocodiles as its live mascots on parade.

In the face of this cultural veneration, Edyvane and co-researchers Brandon Sideleau and Adam Britton, have come up with a non-lethal (at least for the crocs) management plan that involves finding out more about the crocodile population and its habits, educating people how to live safely alongside them, and shifting troublesome animals either far away or into captivity.

The problem with moving saltwater crocodiles, Sideleau said, is that “even if it’s hundreds of kilometres, they’ll come right back”, though putting a magnet on their back while being shifted can help. “About 75 per cent of the time the crocodile will stay put because it kind of scrambles their homing instinct,” he said.

So could Australian crocs invade? It’s possible, Sideleau concedes. Salties can travel 2000 kilometres in the ocean. The Timor Sea is wide and very deep, but oil rig crews in the Timor and Arafura seas have seen some crocodiles roaming way out. “I would be surprised if there weren’t one or two that have done it.” Nonetheless, foreign crocs in Timor-Leste are more likely to be island hoppers from New Guinea, he says.

4 . Jokowi restores tough minister

Indonesia president, Joko Widodo continues to disappoint us on some measures – capital punishment – and surprise favourably with efforts to overthrow the baleful side of the Jakarta political establishment.

Notably, on Wednesday he sacked most of his economic ministers and brought back Sri Mulyani Indrawati from exile at the World Bank to her old role as finance minister.

Indrawati was in the job between 2005 and 2010, achieving much to clean up tax collection and banking, before then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono succumbed to pressure from the corrupt politicians in parliament and sacked her.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 30, 2016 as "Clinton v Trump campaign begins".

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Hamish McDonald is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.

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