Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.
Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.
But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.
Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.
The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.
Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.
In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.
He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:
Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.
Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.
It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.
Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.
And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.
This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.
But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.
Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.
Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.
Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said
The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.
He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.
Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.
Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,
We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.
Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.
What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.
The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.
Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.
It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.
The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.
The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.
Tegan Larin, Monash UniversityThe recent US shootings at massage businesses in Atlanta should ring alarm bells in Australia. Eight people were killed in the attacks, including four Korean women and two Chinese women.
Men are being trained by the prostitution industry. They’re being encouraged and allowed to orgasm to inequality. This has an impact on Asian women who have to deal with these men.
The global sex trade, feminists have argued,
increasingly contributes to the dehumanisation of all Asian women.
Indeed, it has been reported that the Atlanta shooting suspect explained the attacks were a form of vengeance to eliminate the “temptation” for his “sexual addiction”.
Like the US, Australia’s “massage parlours” are associated with the prostitution of Asian women. These venues, outwardly presenting as massage businesses but offering illicit sexual services, make up the majority of brothels in the city I study, Melbourne.
Australia’s commercial sex industry is regulated at the state and territory level, resulting in a patchwork of differing models.
Despite the main purpose of Victoria’s Sex Work Act to “control sex work”, the majority of Victoria’s brothels get around the legislative requirements and controls by operating under the guise of legitimate massage businesses.
Massage businesses are usually considered a general retail premises in most council areas, which do not require a planning permit or registration.
Australia’s sex industry is also heavily reliant on a culture of sexualised racism.
An analysis of online massage parlour advertising conducted as part of my research shows ads commonly feature images of Asian women in suggestive poses. The wording highlights race or ethnicity, with such phrases as “young and beautiful trained girls from Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Malaysia”.
In addition to ads, my research also examined online sex buyer review forums. These typically encourage men to include descriptions of “ethnicity, appearance, breast size”, ratings of the women’s body parts and the “services” received.
These sex buyer reviews not only demean and denigrate women, they also promote the sexualised and racist stereotypes that pervade the industry.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study of sex buyer reviews of Australia’s legal brothels found
that sex buyers actively construct and normalise narratives of sexual violation and violence against women.
This blatant racism, misogyny and male sexual entitlement is not confined to massage parlour owners or their customers. It’s also embedded in Victoria’s Sex Work Regulations.
The updated regulations now allow advertising to reference “race, colour or ethnic origin of the person offering sexual services”. This means that Victoria’s sex industry legally promotes women from minorities as an eroticised “other”.
This normalisation of sexualised racism promoted by the sex trade in Australia may have wider effects.
A Korean-Canadian doctor, Alice Han, for example, recounted to the ABC being asked twice in a span of 12 hours in regional New South Wales whether she was a sex worker.
She said this exemplifies “a pattern of demeaning stereotyping and racial profiling” of Asian women in Australia, and the association of Asian women with prostitution more broadly.
Australia’s sex industry also relies on the migration and trafficking of Asian women for its survival.
Indeed, Australia’s sex industry is rife with modern slavery for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Cases have been found in both legal and illegal brothels, signalling the wholesale failure of prostitution legislation in this country.
This raises questions about the model of total decriminalisation being proposed in Victoria. This model seeks to decriminalise not only those exploited in prostitution but those who profit from them, such as pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers.
Australia is increasingly behind the rest of the world when it comes to approaching prostitution from a gender equality perspective.
Indeed, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has consistently reprimanded Australia for not meeting its requirements to reduce the demand for prostitution.
In order to address the mix of racism, misogyny and men’s sexual entitlement that prostitution is founded on, Australia must adopt a new national framework. The Nordic or “Equality” model offers one path forward — it decriminalises those working in prostitution, but not those who exploit them.
This model, which has garnered support from survivors of prostitution and anti-trafficking organisations around the world, includes robust social services to support those in the sex trade and assist them into transitioning to other industries.
We know prostitution relies on the abuse of the world’s most marginalised women and girls in order to function. It is predominantly Asian and migrant women who suffer on the front lines of Australia’s sex trade.
While the national conversation confronting society’s acceptance of sexual violence is well overdue, we cannot ignore the sexism, misogyny and racism bound up in Australia’s sex trade.
In the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, seven out of 50 Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. This has raised more questions than it has answered about where the Republican Party is going.
It still looks like Trump’s party, but for how long? Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, says Trump’s power over the party will “wane”. He will certainly hope so. The Republican Party of Louisiana has already censured Cassidy for his disloyalty to Trump.
On the other hand, Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s top allies, believes Trump and his supporters are so important to the future of the party that Republicans should nominate his daughter-in-law to replace retiring Senator Richard Burr (who voted to convict).
Some in the party see Trump as a major liability who will only get more toxic. He is the first president since 1932 to oversee the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term. Joe Biden got the highest vote share of any presidential challenger since 1932 in the highest-turnout election since 1900, earning 7 million more votes than Trump.
However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised more of his opponents.
Despite all this, Republicans came within 90,000 votes of winning both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2020. Many Republicans believe Trump is an electoral asset who helped them outperform expectations and narrow the Democrats’ margins nationwide.
Unlike in 2012, there won’t be a Republican Party autopsy of the election defeat. Large numbers of Republicans doubt the outcome of the election, and most of the party’s legislators are unwilling to tell them otherwise.
So what might the future hold?
For now, the two sides are stuck with each other.
These threats have quickly evaporated. The most a new conservative party could achieve is to damage the electoral prospects of Republicans (something Trump might have contemplated in the face of the impeachment threat).
The American electoral system, which is winner-takes-all from top to bottom, is notoriously unforgiving to would-be third parties. Even people who feel alienated from their own parties are better off staying and fighting for power rather than forming a new party, which would never get anywhere near power.
It has been more than 160 years since divisions over slavery destroyed major parties in the United States. The Republican and Democratic parties have survived since the Civil War despite numerous fractures and even violent conflicts.
Congressional outcasts occasionally defect to the other major party. But, more often, members at odds with their party eventually retire and are replaced by new members more closely aligned with its direction. This process is one of the factors leading to the current polarisation of Congress.
Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has become the focus of concerns about right-wing extremism in the Republican Party. Greene has a long history of amplifying dangerous conspiracy theories on social media.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned that “loony lies and conspiracy theories” are “a cancer for the Republican Party and our country”. Greene fired back: “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully. This is why we are losing our country.”
House Democrats moved to strip Greene of her membership of congressional committees after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy refused to discipline her.
But Greene’s central conspiratorial grievance – that Trump was robbed of a rightful victory in the 2020 election – is an article of faith and a politically energising force for much of the Republican base. Trump raised US$255 million dollars off it in the weeks after the election.
Many Republicans in Congress acquiesced to the “stolen election” fantasy, some with the excuse that they are faithfully representing their constituents. Even McConnell waited weeks before acknowledging Biden’s victory.
Republicans who openly acknowledged Biden’s victory and dismissed claims of widespread election fraud faced anger and censure from state party organisations, as well as from Trump himself. Republicans who backed impeachment saw immediate retribution, and will almost certainly have to defeat well-supported primary challengers in the future.
The historical willingness of American conservatives to police extremism has been overstated. It doesn’t matter that Trump and Greene are poison to the larger electorate. Neither election losses nor the stigma of “extremism” are enough to kill right-wing political movements in America.
Accepting the Republican nomination in 1964, Barry Goldwater declared that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice”. Goldwater went on to one of the largest electoral defeats in history, but within 15 years his movement, led by Ronald Reagan, had thoroughly conquered the Republican Party, taken the White House and reshaped American political culture. Trump’s followers have similar ambitions.
No one knows yet what role Trump will play in future Republican politics. His recent attack on McConnell suggests he at least wants to continue to punish Republicans he sees as disloyal. The possibility Trump could run again will make politics awkward for Republicans eager to claim his mantle for their own presidential ambitions.
The prospect of “Trumpism without Trump” has enticed conservatives and worried liberals ever since the Trump phenomenon began. Republicans have learned to rail against “globalism” and the “deep state”. They are unlikely to return to comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.
Trump has breathed new life into old conservative staples such as law and order and the perils of socialism. But Trump’s relationship with his supporters goes far beyond his political positions, or even the grievances and emotions he harnessed.
Trump’s appeal was based on the perception that he had unique gifts that no politician ever had. He cultivated a media image that made him synonymous, however incorrectly, with business success. His tireless verbal output, whether through Twitter or at endless rallies, created an alternative reality for his followers. Many saw him as chosen by God.
That kind of charismatic magic will be extremely difficult for any career politician to recapture. Republicans may discover that Trumpism is not a political movement but a business model, a model only ever designed for one benefactor.
The first Newspoll of 2021 has the major parties tied at 50-50 on two-party preferred, a one-point gain for Labor since the final 2020 Newspoll in late November. The poll was conducted January 27-30 from a sample of 1,512 people.
Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one point), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one).
63% were satisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s performance (down three) and 33% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +30 points. While this is still very high, analyst Kevin Bonham says it is Morrison’s lowest net approval since April.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of -2, down five points. Morrison led Albanese by 57-29 as better prime minister (60-28 in November).
While much commentary has written off Labor for the next election, a source of hope for the opposition is that while the Coalition has usually been ahead since the COVID crisis began, the two-party-preferred margin has been close.
Morrison’s great approval ratings have not translated into big leads for the Coalition. It is plausible that by the middle of this year COVID will not be a major threat owing to a global vaccination program.
A return to a focus on normal issues could assist Labor in undermining Morrison’s ratings and the Coalition’s slender lead on voting intentions.
Albanese has come under attack from the left owing to Thursday’s reshuffle in which Chris Bowen took the climate change portfolio from Mark Butler.
But the Greens lost a point in Newspoll rather than gaining. With the focus on COVID, climate change appears to have lost salience.
In an Ipsos poll for Nine newspapers, taken before January 25 from a sample of 1,220 people, 48% disagreed with changing Australia Day from January 26, while 28% agreed.
But by 49-41 voters thought it likely Australia Day would be changed within the next ten years.
In a Morgan SMS poll, conducted January 25 from a sample of 1,236 people, 59% thought January 26 should be known as Australia Day, while 41% thought it should be known as Invasion Day.
In an Essential poll conducted in mid-January, 42% (down 20 since January 2020) thought Australia was not doing enough to address climate change, 35% (up 16) thought we were doing enough and 10% (up two) thought we were doing too much.
But there was a slight increase in those thinking climate change was caused by human activity (58%, up two since January 2020), while 32% (steady) thought we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate.
I related on January 20 that Donald Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives over his role in inciting the January 6 riots with his baseless claims of election fraud.
The Senate is tied at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats the majority with her casting vote. But it requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, so 17 Republicans would need to join the Democrats for conviction.
On January 26, a vote was called on whether it was constitutional to try a former president. The Senate ruled it constitutional by 55-45, but just five Republicans joined all Democrats.
That is far short of the 17 required to convict, so Trump is set to be acquitted at the Senate trial that begins February 8.
Only ten of over 200 House Republicans supported impeachment. It is clear the vast majority of Congressional Republicans consider it more important to keep the Trump supporters happy than to hold Trump accountable for the rioters that attacked Congress.
In a late January Monmouth University poll, 56% approved of the House impeaching Trump while 42% disapproved. When asked whether the Senate should convict, support dropped to 52-44.
FiveThirtyEight has started an aggregate of polls to track new President Joe Biden’s ratings. His current ratings are 54.3% approve and 34.6% disapprove for a net approval of +19.7 points.
While Biden’s ratings are better than Trump’s at any stage of his presidency, they are worse on net approval than all presidents prior to Trump this early in their terms.
Prior to Trump, presidents were given a honeymoon even by opposition party supporters, but it is unlikely the 30% or so who believe Biden’s win illegitimate will ever approve of him.