Catallaxy Files: Tony Thomas for quiet achiever of the year

Here is a hidden treasure, a stockpile of journalistic weapons to fight economic illiterates, communist sympathisers and biased and incompetent journalists. He has been posting on Quadrant on Line for years and I didn’t look often or closely enough to find him. Just as well Connor Court published this book of amazing pieces. There is so much in it – stories from the Communist Youth activities of the 1950s, brushes with Soviet agents in Canberra (courting journalists), climate alarm stories, the feminization of the defence forces and the amount of violence among the First Nation people even before they were “invaded and corrupted”.

“Once, it was common to encounter a Tony Thomas in Australia’s newsrooms. They were the wise and senior hands young reporters were encouraged to admire and emulate …
They’re mostly gone now, the men and women who wore professional honesty and scepticism as their badges of honour, and we’re all the poorer for the banishment of those skills and voices. That is why the essays in this book are so valuable and the man who wrote them a treasure.”
— Roger Franklin, Editor, Quadrant Online.

This book of 45 essays – ranging from purely humorous to politically and socially grave – provides samples of the lifetime’s work of a trained journalist of 60 years’ professional standing. Thomas was a prominent writer for The West Australian (1958-69); The Age as Economics Writer from the Canberra Press Gallery, (1971-79); and BRW Magazine from inception in 1981 to his retirement in 2001, including a decade as Associate Editor. He is currently a prolific contributor to Quadrant Monthly and Quadrant OnLine.
Thomas’ interests, particularly in the political, stem from his early childhood indoctrination into Communism, followed by an adult reaction towards conservatism. Suffice to say he has ink and politics in his veins.

Hal Colebatch reviews Tony’s book.

11 Responses to Tony Thomas for quiet achiever of the year

  1. Chris

    Agreed! I have his books and they are excellent value, as Roger says.

    Both the collection of past essays, and The Pocket Windschuttle.

    Tim Blair’s ‘risky conversational gambit’ piece in a recent Quadrant describes a certain lack of tact which pays off in various and uncertain ways; but Tony Thomas says to himself ‘Tact? We’ll blow that bridge up when we come to it!’

    But I am curious; is this ratbag author himself one of the magnificent, cynical bastards who make the Cat the splendid killing ground for leftist ideas that it is?

  2. Ian Plimer

    Because all my previous publishers had knocked back “Heaven and Earth”, at the suggestion of the late Ray Evans I approached Connor Court. Within 10 minutes they offered a deal and the book became an international best seller. Connor Court are now the only publisher in Australia that publishes non-PC books (often at a financial loss), books critical of the left and books supporting our Western Civilisation. It is absolutely no surprise that Connor Court publish the works of Tony Thomas and we should try to keep this husband/wife team of Anthony/Julie Cappello as the publishing voice in the sea of vulgarity.

    Buy the Tony Thomas book and other eclectica that Connor Court offer.

    Ian Plimer

  3. Tim Neilson

    Ian Plimer
    #2623177, posted on January 30, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the info Ian.

    There’s a lot of great stuff available on the Connor Court site, so I urge all cats to use the free market to the mutual advantage of themselves and a non-PC publisher.

  4. Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades. Love him and love his work.

  5. Chris

    Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades.

    I dispute that he is ‘right wing’. He is both anti-bullshit and anti-communist, which are not the same as ‘right wing’.

  6. JohnA

    Chris #2623216, posted on January 30, 2018, at 4:49 pm

    Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades.

    I dispute that he is ‘right wing’. He is both anti-bullshit and anti-communist, which are not the same as ‘right wing’.

    The expressions “right wing” and “left wing” have been so worn by overuse as to now be meaningless.

    I recommend that they be interred for a couple of hundred years (hopefully in an unmarked grave) and we beg/desire/demand the use of more precise terminology along a spectrum of Liberty such as:

  7. herodotus

    Happy to support Quadrant and Spectator Australia, and will be doing the same for Connor Court. The Ian Plimer struggle to be published, and they way he and Bob Carter (and others) have been treated by the elite commentariat on climate matters has been a clear indication of the bent nature of the media.
    It is such a disaster that our politicians have been captured by the false prophets of climate to such a degree that we now see our power system disintegrating. Heads should roll.

  8. stackja

    Yet one also gets the impression, reading this insider’s account, that the Communist Party, despite elements of farce and Carry On bedroom antics, at times had more real power and influence than any except perhaps its natural enemies on the Right gave it credit for.

    USA and UK did not trust ALP/Communists, only when ASIO was created and Menzies elected did trust trust return. We don’t know what KGB/GRU did. Coal miners strike was the first battle in the war to destroy Australia. Chifley did his best. Evatt and others were of no help.

  9. Nerblnob

    Tagging someone as Right Wing these days is just a method of making sure they are not read or listened to by the very people who would most benefit. A Black Hat.

    I’ve read a lot of TT’s pieces and sometimes I have to kick myself to remember that Australia once had good journalists like this writing in the mainstream daily press.

    Go look at some old facsimiles of The Age or even the Melbourne Sun from the 60s and be shocked at how far they’ve fallen.

  10. Rafe Champion

    stakja, Santamaria and the movement did a herculean job in the 1950s to end communist control in several major unions but the lunatic Evatt pulled the plug before they cleaned out the wharfies and the consortium of building unions and others now the CFMEU which runs the country nowadays.

  11. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    It is a disgrace that under a so-called Liberal Government a quality magazine like Quadrant, which has a long track-record in Australian politics and letters, should have had its very small Australia Council funding axed in recent years, while a plethora of second-rate leftist publications get substantial funding. A few MP’s on Malcolm’s tail about this might help.

    I’m not particularly mounting an argument here for government funding of such publications, merely saying that if such funding is on offer then there should be some level of accountability in the grants made to ensure taxpayer assistance is given to a wider range of opinion than happens at present.

    Don’t give me the argument about Australia Council ‘independence’ here being inviolable. There is clearly a big leftist rort going on with their allocations of this funding, and it should be called out strongly and in the public eye.

    Connor Court are certainly worth supporting too, with personal purchases and library orders (for schools and universities).


At the ABC, Hypocrisy on Stilts

Suppose Quadrant Online were to suggest a certain TV presenter secured her prime-time slot by sleeping with the editor-in-chief. Scandal! Outrage! Misogyny! But when a sleazebag author levels the same groundless smear at a female US diplomat and Donald Trump … silence

sales IIOn January 23 the ABC 7.30’s star Leigh Sales conducted  a reverential interview of American sleaze artist Michael Wolff. He is author of Fire and Fury (see Geoffrey Luck’s Quadrant Online review), a salacious insider account of alleged goings-on at the White House under Donald Trump. Not once did Sales ask any question pertaining to Wolff’s admitted disregard for truth and authorial integrity. Her only interest was in allowing Wolff to vent his anti-Trump bile on her taxpayer-funded platform, for which she is paid some $400,000 a year.

On Friday, January 26, three days after the Sales interview, Wolff was publicly accusing Trump and his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, of having an extramarital affair. Wolff, who didn’t name Haley outright, dropped such blatant hints about the identity of Trump’s alleged lover that her identity could not be in doubt. The “facts” that he cited in the book in an allusion to Trump and Haley’s meetings were wrong. In a word, Wolff is disgusting. So is the ABC and 7.30, for giving this Wolff creature prime-time and unchallenged exposure. Then again, given the ABC’s relentless anti-Trump narrative, what more could viewers expect?

The  sisterhood’s commentariat at the ABC has shown  no interest in Wolff sliming the UN ambassador as a woman who supposedly owes her job to Trump’s casting couch. My search of the ABC today turned up no reference to Wolff’s Trump/Haley sexual fantasy. It is another example of the ABC’s most effective propaganda device of all: news that doesn’t fit the narrative is ignored.

Here’s how the Wolff smear evolved. He was interviewed by HBO’s Bill Maher, a leftist with a gleeful leftist audience :

Maher: I want you to tell me something that people have not noticed in this book. Is there something (there), ‘Why don’t they ask me something about this that I put in there, that they are not talking about?’

Wolff: There is.  But I can’t tell you what it is. (Audience laughter)

Maher: F—k you Mike, teasing us like that (laughter)

Wolff: There is something in the book I was absolutely sure of but it was so incendiary that I just didn’t have the ultimate proof that…

Maher: Considering what he (Trump) has done, was it a woman thing?

Wolff: Well yeah, I didn’t have the blue dress.  [Wolff was referring to Bill Clinton’s ejaculate stain on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress]. (Laughter).

Maher: Was it about a woman?

Wolff: Yes it is, it is someone he is f—king now. (Laughter). You just have to read between the lines.

Maher: What lines? Tell us the lines. You say it is in the book.

Wolff: It is at the end of the book. You just have to…you will know it,  now that I have told you, when you hit that paragraph you are going to say, ‘Bingo!’[i]

The paragraph referred to is necessarily this one:

“By October, however, many on the president’s staff took particular notice of one of the few remaining Trump opportunists: Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador.  Haley – ‘as ambitious as Lucifer’ in the characterization of one member of the senior staff – had concluded that Trump’s tenure  would last, at best , a single term, and that she, with requisite submission, could be his heir apparent. Haley had courted and befriended Ivanka (Trump’s daughter), and Ivanka had brought her into the family circle, where she had become a particular focus of Trump’s attention, and he of hers.”

Wolff adds that Trump “had been spending a notable amount of private time with Haley (below) on Air Force One and was seen to be grooming her for a political future.”

trump haley

Here’s some background on Nimrata (Nikki) Haley. She’s the daughter of an Indian Sikh woman  Raj Randhawa who was one of India’s first female judges, but who was unable to sit on a court because of anti-female hostility.  The family migrated first to Canada and then to  the small town of Bamberg in South Carolina, where they stood out as the only Indians. Nikki’s father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, became a professor  at the  historically black Voorhees College.

Haley’s career began as an accountant and entrepreneur in the family’s clothing business and after activism in community, pro-lifer  and women-in-business lobby groups,  in 2004 she was elected for the first of her three terms in the state lower house. In 2010 she defeated a Democrat to become the state’s  first Indian-American governor, and was re-elected in 2014. Despite her sometimes critical comments about Trump[ii], he nominated her UN Ambassador in January 2017 and she has played an outstanding and outspoken role in advancing American interests. Since her marriage to US Army officer Michael Haley in 1996, she identifies both as Sikh and Christian. They have two children.

I’ve transcribed Haley’s response to Wolff on Politico, which gives a nice character-contrast to Wolff and his fan, Leigh Sales. It also makes a nice contrast to PM Julia Gillard’s 2012 fake anti-misogyny speech against Tony Abbott. That much-lauded speech was, inconveniently, in defence of her Speaker Peter Slipper who had likened women’s genitals to “mussels in a bottle”.

Haley: It (the sex smear) is absolutely not true. It is highly offensive and it is disgusting. It amazes me what people will do and the lies they say for money and power and in politics it is rampant.

Here is a man saying I’ve been spending a lot of time on Air Force One. I have literally been on Air Force One  once and there were several people in the room when I was there.[iii]

He is saying I am talking a lot with the President  in the Oval Office about my political future. I have never talked once to the President about my future and I am never alone with him … If you speak your mind and are strong about it and say what you believe, a small percentage of people resent that and throw rumors and lies to diminish you, not just in politics but in corporate life  and elsewhere …With a small percentage of men, if you just do your job well and are outspoken about it, they resent it and they think the only option is to bring you down.

Interviewer Eliana Johnson:  How do you, as probably the most powerful and outspoken woman in the President’s cabinet, handle those types of rumors? It is a real challenge that strong women face in the workplace.

Haley: I hope other women and men stand up and say this is wrong. I hope the media doesn’t just let this blow up because it is not something that has just happened. As a cabinet member I see it, as a legislator I saw it, as governor I saw it, I see it now. When women work they prioritise, they focus and they believe if you are going to do something, do it right. Others see this as too ambitious or stepping out of line.

The truth is we need to continue to do our job. People see lies for what they are.  Do I like this (smearing)? No.  Is it right? No. Is it going to slow me down? Not at all. It only makes me fight and work harder.

I do it for the sake of other women that are behind me because they should never have to put their heads down and cower out of fear that someone is going to do something to them.

If you are doing the right thing you always win at the end of the day.

We all love America.  You help those in need who are struggling, you lift them up so they can do something for themselves … I am proud of the US and of my parents for how they raised me. It has all come together to make me who I am. I go back to what my Mom said, ‘The best way to appreciate your blessings is to give back’, so I am always giving back. It is what I do, what I enjoy and it has been the honor of a lifetime.”

In terms of identity politics, favored style of the Left, here is a minority-group woman being trashed by Wolff, an old white male,  with evidence-free claims that she has risen to a high executive position by use of extra-marital sex, rather than talent.

Clementine Ford, Anne Summers and the cabals of ABC feminists led by Leigh Sales will surely be calling out this misogyny any moment now.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here.


[i] The US print accounts omit the crude language.


[ii] For example, she told CBS that the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct deserve to be heard. She said Trump had not complained.



[iii] She was referring to a flight from Washington to Long Island in late July.


Inky Wretches’ Inky Retches

According to members of the Fourth Estate, Donald Trump is a fascist or something close to it. As yet unreported is the charge that he roasts puppies over a slow fire, but given the media’s Trump Derangement Syndrome — a virus especially virulent at the ABC — it is only a question of time

mind narrows IIPresident Trump’s “fake news” awards last week inspire me to make some Trump Derangement Awards on our local scene. It was only last night (Jan 23), for starters, that the ABC’s $400,000-plus woman Leigh Sales on 7.30 was fawning over Michael Wolff, author of a hatchet-job book on Trump, Fire and Fury, purporting to be an inside account of the presidency. Sales’ questions were as soft as a week-old puppy’s tummy.

LEIGH SALES: What is Trump like in private? When staff attempt to brief him on issues that he needs to know about, what is he like in those moments?

For heaven’s sake, Ms Sales! The White House says Wolff never got one interview with President Trump. Wolff never claims he did. In a typical obfuscation, he says he has had three hours of conversation with Trump including during the election campaign.

And in terms of the ABC’s impartiality charter, how’s this for a smug, insulting question from Sales about the American President, our most powerful ally in a rapidly-shrinking free world?

LEIGH SALES: How did Trump’s advisers work out what policies he wants and what he wants to do? 

It’s almost beyond belief, except that this is indeed the ABC. Trump is such a total moron, Sales suggests, that he’s just a puppet of nameless advisers. Trump himself, Sales imagines, has had nothing to do with turning the US into an energy superpower, driving home the biggest US tax cuts in 30 years, and sending the Dow Jones soaring 30% in the year to date.

Sales should have taken a look at the trenchant TV interview of Wolff by columnist Meghan McCain[i], who waded in : “You know, Michael, your credibility is being questioned. Trump says the book is full of lies.” When Wolff asked for specifics, McCain rattles off the following list of people: “New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, New York Times’ John Martin, David Brooks, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Tony Blair, Tom Barrack, Kate Walsh, Anna Wintour all denying quotes.” Wolff lamely responded that lots of people hadn’t denied their quotes.

Inside the ABC bubble there seems zero interest in the book’s truthfulness and accuracy. It’s as if Wolff had never said: “Read the book. If it makes sense to you, if it strikes a chord, if it rings true, it is true.” Even key parties in the US liberal media have excoriated Wolff’s tome.  CNN anchor Jake Tapper, for example, said the book “abandoned all standards”.

Credulous Sales is therefore a front-runner for the Trump Derangement Prize, but she has plenty of competitors. When Trump had been in office a bare five weeks, ABC airhead Geraldine Doogue was burbling about Trump and fascism to her interviewee, a totally Trump-deranged London academic Sarah Churchwell:

Doogue: Quote, ‘…a Fascist  is someone whose lust for money and power is combined with such intensity of intolerance towards other races, parties, classes, regions or nations, as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.’  It’s a pretty devastating old quote. You don’t think Trump is a fascist though really?

Churchwell: Yes actually I think he is. I do, I do.

Doogue: Oh you do! OK!

Churchwell:  That description is a very good description. I think Trump is a fascist in the strict sense of the term, a lot more like Mussolini than he is like Hitler.

Doogue (enthusiastically): or Berlusconi, it  is a very interesting comparison actually.”

If we follow the trend to giving prizes to collectives, like the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize going to the now jihadi-infested European Union, and Time’s person-of-the-year going to The Endangered Earth (Planet of the Year, 1988, no kidding), then in such a tradition, the ABC per se would contend for the prize.

If you google “ABC Trump Hitler”, note how seriously the ABC’s talent takes the Trump/Hitler analogy. Sometimes the analogy is raised and then disparaged, followed by a qualifying nudge the other way, as in

Mr Trump is no Roosevelt, nor Marx, nor Hitler, though there are some eerie parallels between the world that has given us soon-to-be President Trump and the period between the wars that gave rise to fascism.

My own variant, which makes equal sense, goes, “Victorian Premier Dan Andrews is no Roosevelt, nor Marx, nor Hitler, though there are some eerie parallels between the world that has given us soon-to-be Premier Dan Andrews and the period between the wars that gave rise to fascism.”

Night after night on the 7pm TV news are pieces-to-air on the past 24 hours’ anti-Trump fluff, no matter how trivial, faked or context-free.

Enough with the shilly-shallying. My Derangement Award goes to journalist Aaron Glantz. You’ve never heard of him? Fair enough, he’s a Californian  investigative reporter who has won a slew of prestigious awards on other topics, doubtless well deserved. But he displayed his drooling derangement in my own fair city of Melbourne as lunch speaker for the Melbourne Press Club.

The Press Club’s president last year was ABCTV newsreader Michael Rowland[ii] and CEO is  Mark Baker, former Age senior editor and former managing editor (National) of Fairfax Media. They organized a session, “Fake News Fightback”, in conjunction with the Walkley Foundation and featuring Glantz and another US journalist, Tonya Mosely, who among other things researches implicit bias in reporting.[iii]

I trotted along on August 29, naively expecting a clash of pro- and anti-Trump views from two dueling protagonists. No way! Both reporters were competing as rabid anti-Trumpers.

Glantz concluded, in all seriousness:

“I worry that America could slip in a fascist direction and you could have police rounding people up in my neighborhood, and throwing them in prison…

“It seems like members of Congress are not at this time inclined to move towards any kind of impeachment or anything like that.

“I don’t know quite how to approach it as a journalist. I say to myself , ‘This guy is going to be president for four years. You can’t kill yourself, they [media employers] are going to need you tomorrow. You need to be available tomorrow and the next day to continue to do your work. Sometimes I think we could all be dead tomorrow, so, anyway…’”

His co-speaker Mosely chided him,

“Oh Aaron, you were supposed to give us something to lighten up!”

The audience gave Glantz’s meltdown respectful sympathy. I didn’t laugh, that would have been like farting in church. I’ve disliked some Australian Prime Ministers — Julia Gillard, for example — but I never considered, in my professional capacity, killing myself over her.

Glantz scored this own-goal for himself, for the  Democrat-fawning media and for his hosts the Press Club, which is supposed to promote fair and balanced reporting, even on Trump.

Assuming Mr Glantz since August has not implemented his suicide, he therefore wins my antipodean Trump Derangement Prize. Readers can see how richly he deserves the award by watching the video below.

  • Community service announcement: Any ABC or Fairfax journalist contemplating suicide over the Trump presidency should contact Lifeline.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays That’s Debatable – Sixty Years in Print, is available here.

[i] Also daughter of 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain

[ii] Currently, Adele Ferguson.

[iii] Glantz is a senior reporter at Reveal, the publishing platform of the San Francisco based Center for Investigative Reporting, whose investigations have sparked congressional hearings, legislative changes and high-level criminal probes in the US.

Mosley is a senior Silicon Valley reporter for public radio station KQED in San Francisco,  and been named Journalist of the Year by the Washington State Association for Justice.


An Old Scrapbook’s Reminder of the Prague Spring

Fifty years ago this month, Alexander Dubček began the ill-fated bid to reform the government of what was then Czechoslovakia. In August, 1968, the experiment was crushed by Soviet tanks. Today, with communism’s apologists still peddling myth and equivalency, a refresher course in tyranny

prague tankI’ve had a couple of non-tourist encounters with Czechs from the Communist era. One I recall well from seven years ago; the other more spectacular encounter was 50 years ago and I have no memory of it whatsoever. Still, it’s detailed in print in The West Australian of June 14, 1969, so it must have happened.[i]

In late 2010, my wife and I were on a slow train from Munich to Prague and got talking to an elderly Czech lady, who gave us her potted life story. She told it all as though it was nothing exceptional. Her husband was arrested in the Communist era for saying something uncomplimentary about the regime and was sentenced to two years hard labor digging out underground coal from seams little more than half a metre thick. On release he couldn’t get a normal job anywhere and in desperation he took work in a uranium mine. After a while the uranium dust gave him cancer and he died, she said.  Their five children also couldn’t get higher educations or jobs because they were tainted by their father’s prison record. Four got out to West Germany and settled there. She’d just been visiting them.

She was talking about the time before the “Prague Spring” of liberalization that began in early 1968 and ended abruptly in late August when the Soviets and their Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian allies invaded with 200,000 troops and 2000 tanks. There was only minor resistance  but 70 Czechs were killed and about 250 wounded. Passive resistance continued well into 1969.     This is the background to my other Czech encounter.

To suppress any vestige of free speech, the Soviets’ first target was the Czech TV, radio and press. Editors were forced to agree to a new ‘temporary’ censorship regime where the media’s prime role was to support the new hard-line Communist leaders. Any dissent led to closure of the media outlet or worse. By April 1969 censorship became total and continued until the ‘Velvet Revolution’ twenty years later, which brought democracy to the republic.

Forty years before our chat with the lady on the train, I had spent an afternoon interviewing a young Czech journalist stuck in Perth a few days on his way back to Prague. At that point the last liberties in the Czech republic were being snuffed out by the pro-Soviet regime.

I was 28, he was 25, and being in the same profession, we had a lot in common.  But he was braver than me by an incalculable amount. He talked with total frankness about the Soviet suppression of the Czech people, and was keen that I should publish what he said. He didn’t care one jot about consequences. I just moved on to writing my next article, about teachers’ union pay claims. But he would have landed in Prague and faced punishment in terms of career, and maybe liberty, for telling truths to the bourgeois press.  Here’s what I wrote:        .

 “Publish all of it!” – Czech journalist

Ales Benda is a 25-year-old Czech  journalist with an athlete’s build, bushy sideboards and a quizzical expression. He is assistant foreign editor of a Prague newspaper Mlada Fronta – at least he thinks he is.

Mr Benda’s English is a pleasant drawl, with ‘plarz’ for ‘plus’ and ‘moof-mends’ for ‘movements’. With his blue pullover and grey slacks, he looks quite Australian except that his lips are red and he wears socks with sandals. He would often frown, screw up his nose and laugh at the same time – an attitude savoring of ‘what the hell’.

To questions about the past and the present he replies volubly: asked about the future he  changes the subject.

He has been held up several days in Perth sorting out a visa hitch, and we talked for a few hours on a back lawn in the weekend. After, I asked, “Is it all right if I publish some of this?”

“Publish all of it,” he said. He gave his amiable chuckle. A contact had already remarked, “Oh boy, when you get back you will get into big trouble.”

This is what he told me. His paper swung from  conservative  to way-out crusading liberalism a few years ago, to the annoyance of the Russians and others.

A few days after the Russians arrived in August 1968, his editor Mr Jelinek got a phone call. “It’s General So-and-So here, we’d like you to come to Soviet headquarters for some discussions.”

“No thanks,” replied the editor. “Our paper is not your paper. Don’t give me orders.” He had been christened “The Trojan Horse” by Moscow newspapers and had nothing to gain from “discussions”.

The same morning an armored car roared into the car park but Mr Jelinek hid successfully in the attic. Three searches later the Russians got tired of hunting Trojan horses.

However, Mr Benda concluded, he had read during his month in Australia that the editor had been sacked, and if that was true his own days as assistant foreign editor were numbered.

On the fatal night in August, he was telephoned at 3.30am about the Russians. He wanted to rush to the paper but was shaking too much to do up his buttons and tie his shoelaces and took half an hour to get dressed.. When he arrived the power had been cut off and they couldn’t use the presses. They had to wait in the dark, with the sound of gunfire coming nearer and nearer.

“At 5.30am there came a little Mongolian with  an automatic rifle. “What do you want here?”  a bloke asked him. He just pointed his rifle. More Russians herded about 60 newspaper people into one room. The Russians were only kids, conscripts,  and they were worn out from three days on the road. Whenever they began to sleep we would wake them up and say: ‘Hey, you are supposed to be guarding us.’ Finally a colonel came down and kicked us out.

“They shut down our paper for three weeks but they didn’t know about  our provincial presses and we put out underground papers there.

“I sneaked between the tanks and got to our printing presses at Brno and was editor there for a few days – though we didn’t even have telephones. The  Russians caught up with us, and our main paper was still closed, so I thought it was a good time to take my annual holiday, and went to London.  I kept ringing day after day to see if the paper was going again. On this Australian trip my boss has told me he will dock every reverse charge from my pay.”

By now the occupation was largely symbolic and the threat was from Czech officials – either collaborators  or those under Russian political pressure.

Inflation was rife. Russian troops would go through the shops spending their accumulated pay, and a soldier  might buy ten pairs of shoes in one hit. Czechs, seeing trouble everywhere, were drawing their money out of the bank and buying a washing machine or fridge that would keep its value. There was quite a bit of black marketeering between troops and Czechs who were not loathe to run their cars on petrol from Russian armored cars.  

His most affecting experience was attending the funeral  of a 16 year old lad shot off his motorcycle  by Russian guards; the most  surprising experience was watching the arguments between Czechs and  bewildered young Russians in tanks. Within a week the army had replaced the youngsters with  occupation troops from East Germany and other tough professionals. No-one argued any more.

“The funniest thing about the business was the invitation we never gave to the Russians to invade us. They’d lined up two blokes to invite them, our minister for communications and someone  from the official Czech newsagency. But when they arrived at Radio Prague the technicians refused to broadcast the message  and the Russians had to come uninvited.

“The Russians set up a pro-Soviet TV station in the grounds of their embassy, But the two announcers were hopeless – one was a Prague official who was always sozzled, and one was a lady from the Central Committee who had never been before a TV camera in her life, and we split our sides every time she tried to perform. Then the Russians tried to set up a Czech radio in East Germany, but all the Czechs had ferocious German accents…”

Mr Benda is a graduate in economics, and I got a lecture on the needs of the Czech economy.

First, the Stalinist stress on heavy industry and steel production had harmed the country’s chance in international trade. To make steel, Czechoslovakia imported iron ore thousands of miles from Russia. This made it expensive and it had to be exported at subsidized prices.

 Workers had been given a social status with coal miners and foundry workers on top, then factory workers, and people in consumer industries  came last. The factories got a stranglehold on the government and decisions were all in their favor.

Things like housing were in a dreadful state – you waited ten years in Prague for a flat, and meanwhile had to live under a bridge, or with your parents, who were probably living with their parents, in a little flat. The overcrowding was even sending the divorce rate up. But construction work was almost all for the confounded factories – each one was a little empire in itself. The only solution would be to freeze investment in industry altogether till consumer shortages were overcome.

Heavy industry was not much use to Czechoslovakia in any case. It should be building up the plastics and chemicals industries and using its concentrated manpower on craft-work like glassware, and labor-intensive production like watch-making.

An unpleasant by-product of heavy industry was war equipment. South American juntas were lording it with Czech hardware; both sides used it  in Biafra and both sides used it in Egypt.

“Everywhere in the world you can find a Czech machine-gun,” he lamented. “Business is business, I suppose.”

The country was united against the Russians. But there were violent argument between Czechs about what resistance should be made; whether one should leave the country or not; what constituted collaboration; and whether the government should be   influenced from within or opposed.

“Generally it would be good for you to write this,” he said, “to show that Communists as a whole are not monsters, that they are not worse or better than other people – that they are just people.”

What happened to Ales Benda in Prague? Is he alive or dead? I have no idea.

UPDATE: Do read the comments, where Tony Thomas’ question about Mr Benda’s fate is laid bare — that and the insidious nature of communism. Far from being a disciple of Liberty, he was actually a regime informer. Now readon ….

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here



[i] There is no electronic search possible of The West Australian for the 1960s, owing to some unresolved copyright hassle. It can only be searched via microfiche, which is near-impossibly laborious unless you have a good idea of the date involved. I found the above article only when, for other reasons, I was  leafing through my musty scrapbooks which have followed me around for 60 years.


Sir Porritt’s Island of Climate Criminals

That catastropharians consider themselves so much brighter and more insightful than the knuckle-dragging rest of us is not news, yet the vaulting arrogance of climate cultists can still surprise. Take the deep-green Forum for the Future, which cheerfully anticipates penal colonies for sceptics

fasces IVThe Kerguelen islands are horridly cold and windy specks near the Antarctic, populated by a few score of French scientists and several thousand sheep. But to a leading British green group, Forum for the Future, it has enormous potential as an internationally-run penal colony for global warming sceptics.

The Forum’s founder-director is Jonathon Porritt, 67, Eton- and Oxford-bred Chancellor of Keele University,  adviser to Prince Charles, and Green Party activist. [1] The Forum’s fancy for Kerguelen can be found in its 76-page report “Climate Futures – Responses to Climate Change in 2030”,written in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard, a company which should know better. This scenario, one of five, involves the naughty world  delaying the reduction of emissions, for which we must all suffer. The document even conjures a fictional climate criminal and imagines him being deported to Kerguelen in 2028. He is Jean-Claude Bertillon, leader of the No Climate Change Party in Canada, “convicted of denying the existence of climate change”.

The report actually fantasises three  penal colonies which, from the context, must be for for climate criminals. The other two are Britain’s frosty South Georgia[2]  and the South Island of New Zealand. Written in 2008, the document attempts to show how CO2 emissions will wreck the planet within a couple of decades unless civilisation turns away from the sins of consumerism and economic growth. As we are now almost half-way to the 2030 forecast date it is possible to get a handle on how the Forum’s timeline is working out, and perhaps to gain an inkling of any substance to the report’s assertion that our descendants will look back on us with the same disgust we reserve for the slave-owners of yesteryear.

The   authors — and Porritt himself — long for an eco-catastrophe that would eliminate all public doubts about climate doom.  Their manifesto says,

“Because of a chilling lack of confidence in our leaders … our only hope would be for an isolated, serious pre-taste of climate change to happen soon enough for the political and behavioral response to have a useful impact.”

This is probably wishful thinking, as Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future and chair of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, pointed out:

‘I have occasionally fantasised about a low mortality-count scenario where a Force Six hurricane takes out Miami, but with plenty of warning so the entire  city is evacuated with zero loss of life. The insurance industry in America would collapse because this could be a $50-60 billion climate-related ‘natural’ disaster. The industry wouldn’t be able to cope with that. There would be knock-on pain throughout the global economy, massive, traumatic dislocation. This would act as enough of an injection of physical reality, coupled with financial consequences for leaders to say: ‘Ok, we’ve got it now. This isn’t just about some nasty effects on poor countries: this is devastating for our entire model of progress.’ The response to that would be a negotiated transition towards a very low-carbon global economy that builds increased prosperity for people in more equitable and sustainable ways.’”

The report says its five scenarios are all possible, based on “a review of the current science” and “input from scores of experts.” In all five scenarios global warming and extreme weather are, of course, far worse and more perilous than even the 2007 IPCC report suggested.[3] Here are some of its prescribed green correctives:

Expensive, state-funded information campaigns reinforce the need for changes to lifestyles and aim to keep the mandate for state intervention strong. Inevitably parallels are drawn between this and the authoritarian state propaganda of the twentieth century.

“‘Climate crime’ is a social faux pas everywhere, but in some countries it is a crime to publicly question the existence of anthropogenic climate change or to propose actions that could in some way contribute to climate change.

“It is very rare to come across dissenting voices with any real power, but resistance to overly strong state intervention is occasionally violent. The media in some countries has been permitted to discuss whether the single focus on resolving climate change means that other equally important or inter-linked issues are being ignored.” (Report’s emphasis, not mine)


“in some countries a licence is now required to have children and these are awarded according to a points system. Climate-friendly behaviour means points…

 “It is not unusual for governments to monitor household energy consumption in real time, with warnings sent to homes that exceed their quotas. For example, citizens could be told to turn off certain appliances such as washing machines or kettles or even have them switched off remotely.”

In 2014 Harvard luminary Naomi Oreskes forecast the extinction of all Australians amid climate woes. The Future Forum is more moderate,  envisaging merely the abandonment of waterless central Australia, a “collapse of Australian agriculture”,  and a “particularly toxic” combination of drought and recession.[4]

In what the Forum authors call “alarming reading”, Australia’s Friends of the Earth climate experts predict the disappearance of Arctic summer ice by 2013, “almost a century earlier than suggested by the IPCC”. The actual 2013 minimum was about five million square kilometres of sea ice, and it was a bit more than that last year.

The authors let slip some of the green’s secret tradecraft, in terms of their projected advances in fostering ever-creeping state control under the smokescreen of controlling emissions:

“In most cases this has happened gradually, ratcheting up over time, with citizens surrendering control of their lives piecemeal rather than all at once, as trading regimes, international law, lifestyles and business have responded to the growing environmental crisis. And so in 2030, greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to decline, but the cost to individual liberty has been great.”

One is hardly surprised to find such a green-minded document citing Cuba as a beacon of hope for quality of life. But also Nicaragua and Bhutan?

There is the distinct possibility that non-western development paths could gain greater credence. At one extreme, the development strategies adopted today by Cuba, Bhutan, Nicaragua or Thailand could be the pioneers of future diversity. Here, new priorities, particularly around ‘quality of life’, have sidelined many aspects of traditional western development models.

Here are some snippets from the scenarios.

2009-18: Global depression and harrowing malnutrition are caused by high oil and commodity prices. In 2017,  “authorities (are) warned to prepare for a ‘suicide epidemic’ in the US caused by the Depression.” [Reality: Dow Jones index now at record levels and oil prices relatively low.]

2018: Reunification of Korea with Pyongyang as the capital. [Great work, Kim Jong-un!]

2020:  The year of no winter in the northern hemisphere.
 [Right now, the US and Europe are blanketed by extreme cold and snowfalls].

2022: Oil hits US$400 a barrel [current price: US$60],[5]  making world trade and air travel prohibitively expensive. The carbon price makes carbon “one of the most important and expensive commodities in the world today”. [In reality the carbon futures price has collapsed to about US$8 a tonne. Labor’s Rudd-Gillard carbon price was about $A23.]

2026: NATO has defined breaking the 2020 Beijing Climate Change Agreement as an attack on all its members, to be defended by military force.

2029: Planned permanent settlement of the Antarctic Peninsula, taking people from climate-stressed countries. Styled as the first true global community, its population is projected to be 3.5 million by 2040.

2030: Waterless Oklahoma has been abandoned. Texas becomes independent [so much for the Civil War of 1861-65].

2030: “The US president launches a re-election campaign with a populist speech entitled ‘What is the Point of the UN?’ after a debate in New York descends into factional chaos.” [Donald Trump last month beat the forecaste by 13 years].

Some predictions in the document are quite good, albeit easy ones. Try these:

2026: Supercomputer Alf-8 correctly predicts general strike in France. [Well, doh!]

2012-30: China is accused of lying and cheating on its emissions pledges.

The document’s part-hidden agenda is propaganda for the lunatic “simplicity movement” in which everyone returns to an idyll of backyard vegetables and disdain for material things, such as cars and toasters. For example, in 2022 “a general retailer in the UK announces that it has sold more wool for home use than manufactured knitwear for the first time in its history.” In other words, won’t it be wonderful when we all have to knit our own clothes.[6] [7]

The  authors also take for another run the failed Club of Rome’s 1972  “Limits to Growth” diagnosis: Prices for raw materials are very high and getting higher, having major impacts on manufacturing processes and the world economy… Proposals have been tabled for commercial mining ventures on the moon… The world is in a deadly race to develop new processes before resources run out completely.”

In a passage  obviously written by academics, the academics become the heroes of the future: “Communications like the ‘world wide internet’ have fragmented. A small group of academics preserve a global network, their dream to ‘re-unite’ the world.”

The report’s best prediction, undoubtedly, is for an upsurge in rent-a-bikes. I counted four of those yellow oBikes on my dog-walking path just this morning.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here


[1] One of his predecessors as Keele Chancellor was Princess Margaret (1962-86).

[2] South Georgia’s national day each September 4 is dedicated to the Patagonian toothfish.

[3] “The scenarios are based on wide research and consultation and a rigorous methodology.”

[4] The 2017 reality: Australia’s winter grain harvest last year was down 40% on 2016, which had smashed records by 30%. World crop production hit a record, thanks partly to higher CO2 levels and mild long-term warming. Wheat production, for example, was at a record 750 million metric tonnes.

[5] In 2008, when the report was written, oil was at US$150 a barrel

[6] I tried knitting during train trips to school at age 14 but my outputs were never successful.

[7] A nest of “simplicity” people currently push the same line at Melbourne University’s Sustainable Society Institute. The green-infested Australian Academy of Science hosted a Fenner conference for zero-growthers in 2014, some of them  advocating 90% cuts to Australia living standards.

* the headline on this article was changed several hours after publication for no better reason than this seemed a better one – rf


The Original Power Couple – Ceaucescus Part Two

George Orwell was prescient about 1984.  The Romanian regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu and wife Elena produced TV sets with two-way transmitters – you watched the TV and it ‘watched’ you, although even they must have know it was overkill, given the legions of flesh-and-blood informers

old nicUnder the Ceaucsecu dictatorship, Romanians’ in the 1970s-80s were forced into abject poverty – only Albania may have been poorer in the Eastern bloc. People’s desperation for food and warmth was coupled with passivity enforced by the dreaded, mysterious Securitate, or secret police. In this essay, a follow-up to one earlier on the Ceaucescu couple’s personal lifestyle, I’ll describe living conditions and then the Securitate operations. These climaxed in the violent Christmas 1989 revolution, apparently faked-up by the Securitate as cover for installing their own people at the top. To this day, no-one knows what really went on.

The Liberty Center Mall in  Bucharest looks like a classy Western shopping mall, with fashion brands, food, a 3D cinema and an ice skating rink. Who would guess it took over the site of one of Ceaucescu’s  feeding stations for the city’s populace, dubbed “Hunger Circuses”.

The circus element was a dome on  each of the five identical feeding complexes, similar to the city’s actual circus building. The dictator finished two, and three more were under way at the time of the Christmas 1989 revolution or coup, which left him riddled with AK47 bullets. Incredibly, his plan involved preventing Bucharest’s population from kitchen-cooking and family meals, in favor of  regimented feeding by the state in  giant soup kitchens, officially called “Agro-Alimentary Complexes”.

On Mondays, for example, everyone’s main meal would be, say, goulash; on Tuesday, cabbage rolls; and Wednesday, bean soup. Food shopping other than at the ‘circuses’ would be extinguished. New apartments wouldn’t need kitchens.

It’s unclear whether any Hunger Circus actually got to operate, or how state-sponsored meals could work during food austerity. As one interviewee recorded, perhaps in hypothetical terms, “You go  there, you take your three little boxes, you go home, you heat them and eat them.  The bad thing is that behind this project there was a terrible idea. Since everything can be found like this, there is no more need for markets for raw products.”

Tony Thomas: The Original Power Couple – Part One

Ceaucescu viewed his subjects like a chicken farmer calculating inputs and outputs. People needed only 3000 calories a day, times the population of 22m. He could reserve the equivalent   total of grains, rice, meat, and eggs for  the population, leaving the rest for export to earn hard currency to pay off foreign debt. Romania had in 1981 defaulted on these US$11 billion debts after the Iranian oil shock of 1979 and Ceaucescu was determined to never again be dictated to by the IMF. He paid off the last foreign debts a couple of months before he was overthrown. He still spent on the military and his wasteful megaprojects such as the world’s biggest administration building, today 90% mothballed.

In practice, he cut food consumption under the pretence of more healthy diets. Only a few months before his execution, Ceaucescu was lying to a Newsweek interviewer that Romanians were among the best-fed on the planet. Shop shelves were full of goods and any empty spaces were just corrections to over-stocking mistakes, he claimed.

He may have half-believed it, as his flunkies sheltered him from the country’s realities of rationing  and hunger. When he travelled, farms were dressed up with fat cows, dense crops and apples wired to branches. On one visit he picked a fat corn cob, discovered it had been installed there, and just shrugged. (In similar vein, Mao Tse-tung’s flunkies even organized giant fans to make fake wheatfields wave when Mao’s train passed by).

The Romanian horror and hypocrisy was summed up in an anonymous letter broadcast by Radio Free Europe:

“I find the children yellow and sleepy, because the kindergarten food is scarce and bad. However the children ask for it so the Party takes care and gives each child a small pill to take away the appetite.” 

Citizens queued from 4am just to get milk when shops opened at 7am. They queued for up to 24 hours in the hope of meat, at best maybe chicken heads, necks  or feet. Retired people and children queued as place-holders while parents worked. Kids were also the eyes and ears of apartment blocks, alerting the tenants to grab their bags the minute a food truck came in view. But there could well be nothing left by the time the shop keepers had taken their first cut, the privileged had jumped the queue, and people hurried in to switch with the placeholders.

Queue dwellers passed the time grumbling about scarcities. It could be hazardous. One man in a butter queue exploded, “The hell with Ceaucescu and everything” and suddenly two men materialized and took him away.

As sociologist Katherine Verdery put it,

“The experience of humiliation, of a destruction of dignity, was common to those who had waited for hours to accomplish (or fail to accomplish) some basic task. Being immobilized for some meagre return, during which time one could not do anything else one might find rewarding, was the ultimate experience of impotence.”[1]

To add to the torments, piped natural gas to apartments had such low pressure that day-time cooking was impossible. Many did their cooking after 11pm or from 4am-7am, when gas pressure was better. Those relying on gas cylinders risked trampling when the replacement-cylinder truck arrived and people stole each others’ tanks. Room heating was another nightmare with indoor temperatures below 10C at home, in shops and at work, with 15,000-20,000 dying annually from cold and hunger. As the 1980s wore on, the regime through fuel austerity imposed a bizarre de-modernisation, with peasants told to use horses rather than tractors and businesses urged to use tricycles for supplies and deliveries. Fridges and washing machines were discouraged, and oil lamps brought back into  use.

To Prime Minister Elena Ceaucescu, people’s distress was of no consequence. Her indoor palace garden of tropical plants involved infra-red heating sufficient for 100 apartments, I was told during a recent visit. In her limo and noticing a queue, she snarled,  “Look at those worms. They’re  like worms on a carrion.”

The Securitate stifled any dissent. From post-war to the early 1960s, the regime  beat and killed opponents. This changed to a less-lethal system of all-pervasive secrecy and fear. A Hungarian-born dissident, Carol Kiraly, said in 1984,  “The atmosphere of terror is beyond description. It permeates every aspect of everyday life. Distrust is so prevalent that no one dares to communicate to anyone.”[2] The Securitate’s operators and informers were invisible to the public and also invisible to fellow operatives. Only those at high Securitate levels knew the bigger picture.

The most sensational disclosure in the book Red Horizons by top-level defector Ion Pacepa was that Ceaucescu organized for opponents to get lethal doses of radiation. Police might pick a man up on a traffic charge and briefly hold him in a cell at the station. No-one  suspected that his cancer death six months later had been organized during that arrest.

Pacepa wrote that a portable Soviet-sourced radiation device was planted in the Romanian section of Radio Free Europe in Munich. Three directors in succession and several other people there  died of cancers; no other RFE country desk had such a pattern.

After visiting China and North Korea in  1971, Ceaucescu started a personality cult of his own, with his toadies competing to idolize him as the Genius of the Carpathians, a Titan among Titans, the Oak from Scornicesti [his birthplace], All-Knowing Beloved Father, Earthly God, The Oak that Rises Above the Country and even “Prince Charming”.

On 27 January 1987,   the national TV station’s two-hour and only broadcast went:

8:00 P.M. – News;

8:20 P.M. – “We praise the country’s leader!” (Poetry);

8:40 P.M.–“Brilliant theoretician and founder of communism” (Documentary dedicated to the theoretical work of Comrade Nicolae Ceauşescu);

9:00 P.M. – “We salute the supreme commander!” (Performance by the artistic brigades of the army). 10pm: Close.

To his fury, Radio Free Europe (RFE), organised by the CIA and State Department, read out smuggled anonymous letters to expose the realities of local life and the  cult. To catch such authors, he organized a data base of the whole working and non-working populations’ handwriting, gleaned largely from official forms and permits.

Incredibly, the regime had a female agent installed in RFE from 1952 as personal secretary of the central news  director, while the Soviet KGB had a mole there of its own. Ceaucescu in 1977 ordered three PLO mercenaries in Paris to beat RFE desk editor Monica Lovinescu into a ‘living corpse’.  The thugs pretended to be delivering a telegram to her home but had to stop their bloody assault when neighbours appeared.

Another plan against RFE involved  bombs disguised as books and files. In 1981 a massive bomb blast hit the RFE offices, which Stasi files later revealed to be a job paid for by Ceaucescu and implemented by Carlos the Jackal. KGB defector Oleg Kalugin however claimed the inspiration was from his Department K Counter-Intelligence.

How pervasive was the Securitate? Figures supplied to parliament after 1989 involved  39,000 full-timers supported by 486,000 informers and helpers (for example, providing houses for meetings and contacts). The total of 525,000 is one in 42 of the 23 million population, or an astounding one in 30 of adults. The Romanian Communist Party had 3.5 million members, all of whom also had a duty to help the Securitate. Despite some double-counting, this cohort would lower the ratio even further. [3]

I like to imagine Romanian statistics applied to my street of 90 households, maybe 300 adults. That’s ten informers up and down the street, reporting to their handlers on loose talk at the tram stop, park or supermarket, along with all our second-hand neighborly gossip about work, marriage spats and dope usage.

The per population figures compare with one in 62 involved with the Stasi in East Germany, where 93,000 full-timers were supported by 178,000 informers. Assuming similar demographics, that’s one in 44 East German adults. Romania’s system of more unpaid informers per full-time officer was obviously cheaper to run. One agent, Victor Mitran, in 1973 claimed to have inherited from his predecessor 60 informers and 500 collaborators. They were supposed to get into “socialist competition” to increase their pool of informers, leading  to time-wasting and poor quality recruits.

Back to back, the Securitate files stretch 24km, compared with 80km for the Polish regime’s secret police and 100km-plus for Stasi. However, Securitate files in vast numbers went missing during the post-uprising years, with truckloads found burnt and part-buried outside Bucharest.

Securitate people had ample ability to cover their tracks, as about 40% simply kept working after 1989 for a re-branded security department.[4] (The Communist Party itself rebranded as the ruling “Social Democrats”). The courts delayed files’ publication until 1999, a decade later than other Warsaw Pact countries, and further court obstacles arose well into the 2000s. At 2013, the National Council for the Study of the Securitate (CNSAS) had 2.3 million volumes of paper files (70%), microfilm (25%) and audio and video (5%). Opening the files created a hornet’s nest of misinformation, as files were replete with misleading and undigested material. Unlike the German and Polish opening of files, the Romanian authorities covered-up. They allowed CNSAS only about 250 workers, compared with more than 3000 in Germany and 2000 in Poland.

Older people  were prominent in the files  on informers because they had more time to hang around in queues and overhear gossip. Recruiting was also active among schoolchildren, who were educated to higher loyalty to the State than to their own family, whom they informed on. Secrecy extended into the internal Securitate. Agents all had false identities and operated in isolated cells, with only high-ups aware of the larger picture. Hence an agent could waste enormous time trying to recruit someone already working for someone else.

Recruits swore a powerful oath of secrecy. They took pride in becoming “infantry on an invisible front”. Their tasks were   so time-consuming that     real friends  fell away. Agents first got to know a potential informer’s weak spots, like minor theft from the workplace, a bribe, an affair or an illegal abortion in the family.  After shadowing someone all day, they  would be working to midnight writing up  reports.

Few women became outdoor agents because they couldn’t hang around places like bars without attracting attention. Wives of agents had a lonely life. As one put it,   “Never marry one. You never know when he’s coming home, you don’t know where he’s going,  who he is or even what his name is. If he gets very upset with you and grabs your arm, he’ll dislocate your shoulder because he’s in such good physical condition And they have no feelings  at all.” One suspicious wife, not believing her husband’s stories (known in the trade as ‘legends’), followed her man, saw the agent and ruined the recruitment.

Ceaucescu aimed for total surveillance of the population. In the late 1960s one secret police department  monitored hundreds of thousands of concealed microphones. The plan was for 10 million microphones by 1984, with every family to be checked at least once a year. Targets started with Ceaucescu’s fellow politburo members, seeking material for blackmail or enforced loyalty.

He enforced replacement of three million normal home phones with new models: choice of three styles and five colors. Users were unaware  of surveillance wiring sealed into each phone’s bakelite that could be activated at any time. Sockets with further   spy-wiring were installed in other rooms.

George Orwell was prescient about 1984.  The regime produced TV sets with two-way transmitters – you watched the TV and it ‘watched’ what you said.

All typewriters were registered and samples of their types kept centrally for identifying document authors. Renting or lending typewriters was forbidden and machines were checked annually and after any repair.

Westerners whether in business or tourism were prime targets. The Securitate even created “Westernised” meeting places riddled with microphones, cameras and wiretaps.  Not all were successful. The Sole Mio Bar was opened in Bucharest in 1969 but had to shut in a few weeks because too many people – including constructors– gossiped about its peculiarities. An entire hotel was built and staffed for spying on guests, with agents including the 30 cab drivers on the rank and loitering prostitutes.  Hotel lobbies and restaurants were supplied with ceramic ashtrays and vases with mikes activated by pulling out a simple pin.

In 2017 two Securitate chiefs died. The first  in August was Tudor Postelnicu, 86, Securitate head 1978-87, turned Interior Minister 1987-89 under Ceaucescu. He got four years for aggravated murder in 1990, released early on health grounds, was jailed again 1998-99, and was on trial for murder at the time of his death.[5]  In the 1989 overthrow of the regime, he ordered the massacre of Timisaura demonstrators in which 90 died.

The second death in September was of his successor in the Securitate, Iulian Vlad, who headed it during 1989 revolution. He was also 86. At a Politburo meeting on Dec. 17, 1989, Ceausescu berated Vlad, for treason for not stopping the rebellion. Soldiers  had fired blanks at the Bucharest crowds, leading to an outburst from Ceausescu, recorded in the meeting’s official minutes:

“I didn’t think you would shoot with blanks! That is like a rain shower. Those who entered the party building should not leave the building alive. They’ve got to kill the hooligans!”

Elena Ceausescu, who was present, added that the protesters should be locked in the Securitate building’s basement. “Not even one should see the light again,” she said.

In choatic days after the Ceaucescus execution, Vlad  claimed to have switched sides to join the revolutionaries. In the mysterious street fighting, Vlad’s night-time snipers armed with infrared sights were particularly feared. Vlad was sentenced to twelve years in 1991 for ‘favoring genocide’ and ‘aggravated murder’ but amnestied in 1994 under an age provision (60+ years).

The officers and troops had been cut off from genuine information and told that Romania was undergoing a Soviet-backed invasion supported by local ‘terrorists’ wanting to detach Transylvania from the country.  However, not a single “terrorist” was ever brought  to trial.  The most popular theory is that Ceaucescu’s successor and former apparatchik  Ion Iliescu  stage-managed his coup using troops as his unwitting actors against mythical ‘terrorists’. The cost in blood was about 1000 deaths and 2000 wounded in the few days after Ceaucescu’s exit from Bucharest.

Among the horrific incidents was one squad of troops being sent to the basement of the Politburo building by one stairway to deal with pro-Ceaucescu ‘terrorists’. This was immediately after the Ceaucescus flew out by helicopter. Another squad was ordered down the opposite stairway with the same mission. They shot at each other in bloody confusion.

At the barracks outside Bucharest in the early hours of the morning of December 24, 83  conscripts called “ducklings”, 18  years old, were ordered into three trucks to the international Otopeni airport to block ‘terrorists’ from  flying out with the Ceaucescus and the country’s treasury reserves. The trucks were followed by a routine passenger bus. As they entered the airport checkpoints, the four vehicles  were  riddled by cross-fire from heavy machine guns manned by hidden troops  who had been fed the same anti-terrorist story. The corpses were meant to be secretly disposed of, but 48 bodies were just dumped by forklifts  in the cargo terminal, to be found by workers arriving on Christmas Day.

“Of all the hundreds of speeches [Ceaucescu’s successor] Iliescu made and has made since then,” recalled Cordruta Cruceanu, curator of the national gallery in Bucharest, “the one that sticks in my mind was when he said: ‘In a country like Romania, it was impossible to have a revolution, so it had to be staged.’ That is the closest he has ever come to admitting what almost everybody believes, or knows, to have happened.”

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable, 60 Years in Print, is available here.

[1] Verdery, Katherine:  Secrets and Truth, Ethnography in the Archives of the Romanian Secret Police. Central University Press. Budapest 2014. P59

[2] Ion Pacepa, Red Horizons, Regnery Gateway, Washington DC , 1990 p149

[3] Verdery, Katherine:  op cit. Kindle refce 1417/3945

[4] “The rest are all millionaires through privatisation grabs”. Herta Muellar, The Guardian, 1/12/2012

[5]  The victim was Gheorghe  Ursu,  an engineer, beaten to death in 1985 when critical thoughts were found in  his  diary


The Ceaucescus – The Original Power Couple


Nicolae Ceaucescu and wife Elena were dispatched with extreme prejudice when the Romania people finally rid themselves of a duo so brazen in their greed and tyranny no writer of fiction would have dared invent them. It’s quite a story, not least the gullibility of leaders in the West

nic and elenaBritain’s Islam-friendly politicians, led by London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan, are campaigning to cancel Prime Minister Theresa May’s invitation to President Trump for a State visit in 2018.  Britain has not always been so fussy about who gets a State reception. In the wake of a trip to Bucharest I’ve been researching the Communist-era  dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wife, Elena (left).

They were invited to Britain by Labor Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1978. Callaghan pimped a reluctant Queen Elizabeth to meet them at Victoria Station, and put them up in Buckingham Palace. Ceaucescu even got a ride with Her Majesty in the State landau. They were accompanied by bodyguard General Ion Pacepa, who defected to the West a month later, and a clatter of Household Regiment cavalry. The Queen later described the visit as “the worst three days of my life”. She was  required, among other indignities, to award him the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, subsequently revoked in 1989.

Ceaucescu came ostensibly “to make  firm friends among Western nations”, as the newsreels put it, and to sign a £200-million deal to buy several British Aerospace BAC 1-11 airliners (predecessor to DC9s and B737s) and build scores more in Romania under licence for export to China and the Third World. His actual goal was to open British doors for Romanian secret service men, doubling as technicians, to steal airline, Rolls Royce engine and Harrier jump-jet technology, to be on-sold to Moscow notwithstanding Ceaucescu’s vaunted hostility to Brezhnev.

The airliner deal turned into farce. An entire assembly line was air-freighted to Romania to make six BAC 1-11s a year.  At its peak the Romanians had 4400 skilled workers on the job. But the plane was already obsolete and actual production was no more than one a year. The two nearly finished planes were left to rot and rust after Ceaucescu’s overthrow. He also defaulted on the hard currency required and sought to pay in barter. The first shipload of Romanian strawberries was rotten by the time it reached the wharf.

In Bucharest I joined a tour of the Ceaucescus’ Primaverii or “Spring” residential palace, all of us especially  slack-jawed at the  indoor  tropical garden built on top of a swimming pool, with infra-red heating equivalent to power 100 normal apartments. The pool’s rear walls comprise a million-piece mosaic of pretty fishes that took artists two years to complete. This was just one of his five official residences, 39 guest houses, 21 exclusive apartments in embassies, nine planes, three helicopters and three presidential trains. Plus the couple had a hospital reserved for themselves alone.

In the palace’s bedroom quarters was a silk-upholstered Louis XV style sofa. “Guess who this sofa was for?” asked the guide. Nobody knew. “For the two Labradors that Queen Elizabeth gave the Ceaucescus,” the guide said.

He was  fairly  right. During the official visit to London, Liberal Party leader David Steel gave them one Labrador pup. If the Queen gave the other one, it was kept quiet and unofficial. Ceaucescu decided that as the pups were British, his London ambassador should buy dog biscuits from Sainsbury’s weekly for delivery via the diplomatic bag. As a dog lover, it grieves me that  during the Christmas 1989 overthrow of the Ceaucescus, the two Labs were clubbed to death. (There’s a sanitised version that they went into a fatal decline after their owners were felled).

her maj, nic and elena

Give it to the Royals, those smiles are almost convincing.

The defector Ion Mihai Pacepashocked Western intelligence agencies by disclosing that Romania’s “independent” stance within the Warsaw Pact was largely disinformation to win sympathy and help Romania acquire trade credits and otherwise-forbidden industrial and military technology for itself and Moscow. (To some extent Ceaucescu did some genuine brinkmanship, notably when he condemned the Soviet’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.)

Ceaucescu would set Western companies drooling with the hope of big  orders, encouraging them to pass over swathes of technical data only to welsh on his side of the bargain.  A classic case centred on Romania’s order for Canadian CANDU civil nuclear reactors, which began in 1969 with the lure of 20 possible purchases and ended in 1982 with the Romanians in possession of three quarters of CANDU technology while, in the end, buying only Soviet reactors. In addition, they had conned the Canadians into giving them a $US1billion line of hard-currency credit, which Ceaucescu from the outset diverted towards unrelated purchases.

Pacepa, who’d been in charge of technology, described how half of Romania’s modern industry had been built using stolen blueprints and technology for everything from petrochemicals, films, radial tyres and  dyes to pharmaceuticals, rolling mills, machine tools and diesel engines.

A classic technique was to dangle a large order before half a dozen international bidders and let the negotiations drag on. In the process, bidders would progressively reveal more detailed specifications – for example, a French contender to supply a petrochemical plant brought to Bucharest documentation of a complete plant it had just sold to another buyer. It was child’s play for the secret police to get the documents photographed.

Ceaucescu was the first Communist leader invited to the inner sanctums of Texas Instruments, at a time when TI was the world leader in defence-essential microcircuits. Back home, he bragged, “What has America got out of it? Shit, nothing but  shit.”  He told his technology gatherers they were “soldiers without guns”, keeping  “a broad smile on your face as you look towards the enemy. Let him believe that we like him. Smile with your mouth, and hit him with your brains , with your cleverness.”

It worked a treat. The Queen, reading from her UK government  script,  praised the Ceausescus for their “heroic struggle” and said how much Britain had been impressed “by the resolute stand you have taken to sustain the independence of Romania”. Pope Paul VI  in 1973 also weighed in: “We ask heaven to bless your activity, which we follow with great interest, and we ask you to consider us humble supporters of your policies of independence and sovereignty, which you are executing with such consistency.”

Western leaders, led by de Gaulle, flocked to Bucharest for state visits. President Nixon and the Ceaucescus made two reciprocal trips. President Ford received the couple, himself visiting Bucharest only three weeks after his inauguration. Thanks to Romanian disinformation, they all imagined that Ceaucescu was ‘their’  sort of Communist, one who deserved support with industry know-how.  President Carter  orated that Ceaucescu “has not only brought tremendous progress elena swansto Romania, but also has taken on a role of leadership in the entire international community.” Bamboozled by more Romanian disinformation, Carter even credited Ceaucescu with helping to create the  Helsinki Human Rights declaration –  a leader who used his murderous thugs, including Carlos the Jackal  and outsourced Arab gunmen, to terrorise dissidents at home and abroad.

The Queensland and WA premiers, Bjelke-Petersen and Brian Burke, along with our coal and iron ore producers, fell for the notion that Romania was a prize market and entre to the Eastern bloc. Burke and iron ore magnate Lang Hancock flew a large business party to meet Ceaucescu in the port of Constanta in mid-1987, seeing Romania as a gateway to sales into Eastern Europe. Ceaucescu was non-committal and the party was shocked at the low quality of Romanian railway wagons that he  offered as barter. Nonetheless the Ceaucescus made a trade visit to Canberra, Brisbane and Perth in April 1988, with Elena (above) quite taken with our unique black swans.

The Romanian president was fearful of  assassination, and at one state dinner where Queenslanders engaged in a bit of back-slapping in the foyer, his security squad pulled out their guns. His food-tasters sampled each plate. Ceaucescu’s habit with unwanted morsels was to drop them surreptitiously to the floor and then kick them far down the table.

At Brisbane’s Government House, his bizarre requirements included the binding of his toilet seats with soft, sterilised medical bandages. His party to Australia came with his steamer trunks of sterilized pillows, linen,  towels, bathrobes, mats and rugs, all items in sealed vacuum bags. He used a portable laboratory to chemically analyse food and brought his own fare in special containers. Radiation, chemical and biological detectors were installed and sentries manned every entrance to the couple’s suites.

He feared poison powders on his clothes and personal items, especially after rumors that the CIA had attempted that method on Fidel Castro. Hence a dedicated tailoring workshop provided him with 365 fresh suits and shoes per year, with used outfits stamped in colored ink and burnt in a furnace.[1] He also disliked being touched and used alcohol disinfectant after every handshake, including when he shook hands with the Queen. His wife and Prime Minister, Elena, used all state visits to extort costly presents from their hosts. Before their London visit in 1978, according to Pacepa,  she daydreamed about the jewels she would acquire and  “take a look at in the privacy of Buckingham Palace.”

On a West German visit, the couple came away with a Mercedes 600 limo for him, a 450 series for her, a coupe for daughter Zoia, and two Audis for their playboy son, Nicu. Plus they got an 11-metre mobile home and office. None were ever used.

Elena’s most breathtaking grab came in 1975 when she grasped for the luxury yacht owned by King Hussein of Jordan. The king  had welcomed them aboard, and Elena told Pacepa, privately and tearfully, “I want that yacht. I won’t leave without it.”  The king explained next morning that he had already given it to his wife Alia as a love token.  To end the stalemate, he built her a copy in the US. Christened “Friendship”, the yacht  was delivered 15 months later, but she never set foot on it. For their US visit to President Carter in 1978, she set her sights on a full-length mink coat and cape. Carter declined, incurring her hatred as “President Peanut” because he offered only a copy of his book, Why Not the Best?

From hopeful Fifth Avenue jewelers, she acquired a dozen boxes of jewellery, each then worth around USD20,000, which she took back to Bucharest for selection and return. Her ruse was to ‘forget’ about them. It is not clear if the jewelers were ever paid from the Ceaucescus’ USD400m slush fund, or if Fifth Avenue had to write off the expense.[2] She was an enthusiastic promoter of her husband’s 1966 scheme to boost Romania’s population by banning abortion and contraception and generating four children per couple – couples who could barely afford one child. Women were ordered to undergo monthly checks by gynaecologists (dubbed the Menstrual Police) and any pregnancies discovered were tracked through to birth. Hospitals were monitored by secret police and women seeking abortions risked years in gaol along with their helpers. Back-alley abortions proliferated all the same, with mortality reaching ten times the level of neighboring countries. Mothers abandoned babies to horrific state orphanages, where thousands of infants were infected with AIDS. By 1989 abandoned children totaled 170,000, when emerging images of their fetid, chained and loveless conditions shocked the West. Elena had tried to encourage adoptions by lying that she adopted her own first child, Valentin, as an example to the nation. Her arithmetic let her down as Valentin was born in 1948 when Elena was a nobody incapable of inspiring anyone, let alone the nation.

Romania’s first lady — and prime minister, don’t forget — modelled her dynastic ambitions on Isabel Peron, then President of Argentina. “If a whore from a Caracas night club could do it, why not a woman of science?” she asked. A woman of science indeed! She finished her education at the fourth grade. As a teenager, one of her jobs was as a menial in a chemistry lab, where she coveted the scientists’ god-like status. In power, she organized the ghost-writing of her 1975 PhD thesis on “The stereo specific polymerization of the isoprene on the stabilization of synthetic rubber.” Such  erudition elevated her  to the Romanian Academy, and a chemical institute was built especially for her.

She attended scientific conferences, with Romanian scientists as her translators. They ensured that her ignorance went un-noticed. But on one occasion she read one of her own papers.  That seemed safe, but she read “CO2” as “koh-doi” (English-sounding: “Cohtwo”), not knowing to pronounce the “C” and the “O” separately, and inadvertently punning in Romanian to mean a “big tail”. Nevertheless she collected a total of eight foreign scientific honors, including one “earned” by badgering her US hosts for an honorary degree from leading universities. Her efforts ended in a fit of outrage when she offered no more than honorary membership of the Illinois Academy of Science. In Manila the refusal of the main university to honor her threatened a  diplomatic crisis, but President Marcos, with a large donation, changed the university’s mind.

nic's endIn London  Elena demanded membership of the Royal Society. What she got was an honorary doctorate from the  Central London Polytechnical Institute and membership of the Royal Institute for Chemistry. While the Royal Society has lately become a sanctuary and pulpit for catastropharian global warmists, it is re-assuring to know that, once upon a time, standards were upheld. Her ambitions stretched to a Nobel Prize for Chemistry, involving her supposed discoveries and advances in science’s war on cancer.[3] To pave the way she had secret police specialists to amass a portfolio of leading-edge Western research. She took charge of the Romanian Patent Office, and organized for the research to be backdated and patented in her name.

Elena kept up her scientific charade to the last hour of her life. She was tried in Targoviste by a kangaroo court,  and was asked:

“Tell me what you know about the Timosaura genocide, or do you only think about polymers?”

– “You call it a genocide…for 36 deaths?”

“Who writes the scientific papers for you, Elena?

“You should be ashamed of yourself, I am a member of the Academy of Sciences. One cannot speak to me like that, to me.”

Her finest moment was her last – thats her and hubby (above) being led to their executions — with telling her executioners , ‘If you are going to kill us, then out of respect for our love for each other, don’t kill him and make me watch. At least let me die along with my husband.’  The general ordered: “Take her to the wall with him.”

Minutes later, bursts from three AK47s riddled the evil couple. The final indignity was that the helicopter returning to Bucharest was so crowded that one of the firing squad had to use the dictator’s corpse as his seat.

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here


[1]  Elena has a similar 365-day stock but cheated by adding her favorite Parisian and London outfits. Her wardrobe became three times larger than his.

[2] Ceaucescu built this personal fund largely from selling exit permits for Romanian Jews and ethnic Germans. An individual could be priced at up to USD250,000.

[3] She also wanted herself and her husband to win a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to mediate between the PLO and the Israelis. In reality Romanian was supporting the global export of PLO terror.


  1. hwka

    Carpetbaggers, scumbags and opportunists have been amongst us since time began.
    What really sticks in my craw are the fawning bureaucrats , Government “leaders” and even royalty that protect them and ensure their survival and advancement

    • Michael Galak

      This is why Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher deserve our gratitude. Each one of them did not mince their words and call the spade a spade, refusing to be conned into a charade of diplomatic politeness and obsequiousness towards “carpetbaggers, scumbags and opportunists’.

      • Tony Thomas

        Reagan commented that he used the defector Pacepa’s Red Horizons book as his manual when dealing with duplicitous Communist leaders

  2. Geoffrey Luck

    Ceausescu’s pretended independence from Moscow actually allowed him to play a minor but significant part in the diplomatic manoeuvrings between the great powers. I flew to Bucharest to report Richard Nixon’s visit in July 1971 – the first by an American President or a western leader behind what was then the Iron Curtain. Russian tanks were deployed for the visit and drawn up at the border, only fifty miles away. The vist was championed as a smack in the eye for the USSR, and represented as the first step in levering the satellite states away from the Eastern Bloc. It was nothing of the sort, but I was not to know until Kissinger’s revelations in his book about Mao, On China, just what Ceaucescu had been up to and how he was being used on all sides by the powers.

    As Kissinger explained (p.225) “Nixon used the occasion of an around-the-world trip in July 1970 to tell his hosts in Pakistan and Romania that he sought high-level exchanges with Chinese leaders, and they were to free to communicate this to Beijing.” He continued (p.230): “Zhou Enlai sent a parallel message via Romania in January. This message, too we were told, had been “reviewed by Chairman Mao and Lin Piao.” It added an entirely new element: since President Nixon had already visited Belgrade and Bucharest – capitals of Communist countries – he would also be welcome in Beijing.”

    As Kissinger found out in his conversations with the Chinese leaders in November 1973, Ceausescu revelled in the self-importance of a go-between. On page 278, this:

    “Mao: They (the Russians) tried to make peace through Ceausescu of Romania, and they tried to persuade us not to continue the struggle in the ideological field.
    Kissinger: I rmmber he was here.
    Mao/Zhou: That was long ago.
    Zhou: The first time he came to China (said in English).
    Mao: And the second time (Soviet Prime Minister Alexsei Josygin came himself, and that was in 1960. I declared to him that we were going to wage a struggle againsst him for ten thousand years.
    Mao: And this time I made a concession to Kosygin. I said that I orginally said this struggle was going to go on for ten thousand years. On the merit of his come to see me in person, I will cut it down by one thousand years.” [Laughter].

    A personaql note: In the early 1970s Ceausescu was not nearly so nervous. I have several photographs of him with Nixon, taken from six feet away.

    /Users/GCL/Desktop/Nixon-Ceaucescu 2.jpg