Thursday, September 29, 2005

A storm is brewing!

A storm is brewing in Washington, and it just might be bigger than Katrina for the Bush administration.
The origins of this particular storm can be traced back as far as the Florida recount, a time when the optimistic Bush campaign got down to their first major task; to optimize the culture of cronyism available to each new incumbent.
The Office of Personnel Management's Plum Book, published at the start of each presidential Administration, shows that there are more than 3,000 positions a President can fill without consideration for civil service rules.
Determined to control the civil service sector, these posts were to be filled to the maximum with Bush appointees. Appointments made principally on the basis of political loyalty over qualification.
As well as the ‘Browns’, who are now leaving a stain across the administration, are the increasing allegations and indictments against Republican members of Congress and Senate.
In these categories, Rep. Tom Delay (Tex.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), have both been caught up in highly embarrassing ethics scandals recently.
Having taken a certain course, which included controlling the greatest possible control over the USA, Bush’s team now has to wear the fallout. It is not a position of privilege without consequent responsibility.
The driving force behind the administration appears to be a circular argument; power means money, money means power. However, power for its own benefit can only lead to an appearance of corruption.
There is, no doubt, at least among those still tuned into the doings of the body politic, an intense polarization in the country. As many Republicans have observed, it is not really fair to point the finger at Republicans alone. What is really curious is that those commentators often qualify the remark with something like; “the Democrats are as bad – worse – than we are.
Now that sounds too me like a backhanded admission of guilt. We are not talking about a pissing competition here, but real politics. If it is unethical for one it is unethical for all.
But in the end, if it were a pissing competition the smart money would have to be on those who really have the power in their hands. At the moment that is Bush and his team. They say every dog has its day and obviously this works both ways. Bush has free access to the cookie barrel, now it is time to account for the damage.
The question is, will the dykes hold against the probing storm which is already making itself felt in Washington?

Small Beer?

The corruption which seems to be dogging city governments in California is small beer indeed when compared to the antics of Federal officials.
Even so, the breach of trust and misuse of authority for personal gain, at any level of government, strikes at the heart civic responsibility.
In San Diego it was interim mayor, Michael Zucchet and other elected officials peddling their influence at the cost of the wider community. Now, showing no remorse for their actions, those miscreants are considering legal manipulations to get out of a mess of their own making.
In San Francisco, Marcus O. Armstrong, formerly the highest-ranking technology officer in the city’s Department of Building Inspection, made a guilty plea today to public corruption charges. He admitted defrauding San Francisco taxpayers out of more than half a million dollars, and then obstructed justice after his crimes had become the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
This was followed recently by former head of the Department of Building Inspection's one- stop permit program, Augustine Fallay. Abusing his official position, Fallay is said to have lined his pockets by accepting bribes from contractors in exchange for favorable treatment in issuing building permits.
Fallay now faces a new set of 16 charges, including bribery, perjury and insurance fraud, which appear to be related to a scheme to allegedly submit a false $150,000 insurance claim after embers from a nearby fire burned the roof of his Oakland home. It appears the new charges allege Fallay sought out or accepted false bids from contractors for the repair work and then submitted them to First American Specialty Insurance.Regardless of the relative importance of the public officer or monetary values involved, corruption undermines all the fundamentals of public trust.
Certainly these activities impose a range of financial and public safety burdens on communities. More than that, they drive a sense of helpless cynicism which turns people away from their own civic responsibilities.
When far more people seek to engage their interest in trivia such as the Kate Moss scandal, at the cost of scrutiny of our governments, the gates are opened for the inherently corrupt to take over the system.
People don’t need to live and breathe politics. They do need to be aware and to express their concerns rather than shrink away from them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

You heard it here...

Read or listen to an interview with Liberal MP David Clarke polishing his halo.

Racist Slurs - Bullying

Racist slurs, bullying, threatening behaviour, hypocrisy and stupidity are not the preferred traits of our elected politicians. Unfortunately it seems par for the course for some on the religious right of Australian politics.
Well before John Brogden’s ill fated behaviour in Sydney (Australia), leading to his resignation of leader of the opposition in parliament and worse, his executioner, David Clarke had already exposed his own failings.
Clarke, the secretive rabble rouser of the religious right, darling of opus day and all-round head kicker was subject to accusations as far back as December 2004. Accusations of road rage and racists slurs, at the very backdoor of parliament.
A fellow member of the NSW legislative Council (Upper House) and coincidently, fellow Catholic Dr Peter Wong, attempted to raise a road rage incident, in parliament, six months ago.
Dr Wong was prevented, under standing orders, to do so. After a nine-month battle Scarlett Wong, a 22-year-old student, has won the right to have her version of a road rage row with Mr Clarke published in the official record of the NSW Parliament.
In her complaint to the Committee Ms wong charged that Clarke had given a “deliberate incorrect account of events ..."
Ms Wong said she was in her car on Hospital Road (behind Parliament) on December 3 when Mr Clarke suddenly moved his car forward to join the traffic stream and was "almost literally touching my car".
According to Dr Wong’s account Clarke had failed to give way as he was required to under NSW road laws. Ms Wong, a second generation Asian-Australian, shook her head at her passenger and said, "How rude", which prompted Mr Clarke to get out of his car and bang on her window. "I repeated what I said to him. He responded by yelling and shouting, so I wound up my window in fear of agitating him further "As I did this Mr Clarke strode off, and I heard him yelling, 'We do things differently in Australia'," she said.Just to help things along another witness then reprimanded Mr Clarke and then had an argument before the taking a photograph of Mr Clarke's car and numberplate. Clarke has since denied their any racist intent in his language. "It has nothing to do with racism - it has a lot to do with courtesy on our roads. This woman nearly hit me,"
So what are our legislators really thinking when they frame laws? Both the key issues here, road rage and racist language, have been dealt with in the parliament as matter of very serious concern. This concern held by Clarke’s Liberal colleagues as much as the Government.
Clarke was quick to go on the attack against his former leader’s racist comments. But of course, that was merely the ammunition not the primary reason. Clarke is an avowed rightist of the old ‘White Australia Policy’ days. Religion or not he is nothing less than an echo of the countries inglorious past.
Legislations who cannot uphold the laws they help put in place should be stripped of their positions. How can anyone be expected to honour laws which the framers deny themselves?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Faces of Corruption

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a 93-page report entitled Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress, documenting the egregious, unethical and possibly illegal activities of the most tainted Members of Congress. For the first time, CREW has compiled and analyzed all these members’ transgressions in tandem with the federal laws and congressional rules they may have violated.Three California lawmakers are named by the ethics watchdog. A spokesman for one senator says the report is 'pure politics.'

At the same time Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is facing questions from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission about his sale of stock in his family's hospital company one month before its price fell sharply.
During his 11-year Senate tenure, Dr. Frist, a heart surgeon, has worked on many health-related issues, always denying that his HCA interests posed a conflict of interest.
See Frist Stories

It’s not just the Third world
Corruption is a word which American media and politicians generally avoid, unless they are talking about the backward, developing nations. Just to put the record straight, Talking About corruption will be publishing a monthly ‘roll call’ of US official who have been caught up in corruption scandals.

War Crimes

Surely ‘war crimes’ is a redundancy. How could any half intelligent person expect that entering an aggressive war is just another of our normal activities? Sherman said. “War is hell”. Does that mean those who prosecute war are evil? Only the losers, it would seem.
The fascinating part is that our ‘more civilised’ cultures become outraged that some of our own fine fighting men and women might behave badly during a war.
Hello there folks? Is there a nice way to practice the art of aggressive warfare?
We send out kids, hyped up on all the bullshit it takes to get them in the right frame of mind to KILL; we put them in situations which would scare the living crap out of Vic Morrow, then we expect them to be nice.
War is the crime; the drones of war are all implicated, but it is those who command it are the real guilty parties. It goes without saying that OUR side will commit atrocities. So why single out the Calley’s and English’s for special attention?
They are no doubt guilty enough, but they are a sampling of the corruption of war, not its totality.
Calley’s was one of numerous horrifying incidents of the Vietnam War. Incidents sadly retold and re dreamed by those who can never escape the atrocities they were subject to and active in.
There is ample evidence that abuse of prisoners was widespread and that officers weren't adequately trained in how to treat detainees, in Iraq. What was Lynndie England’s special sin that she was among the few signaled out as scapegoats?
Reports say that the military has also reprimanded some higher-ranking officers, and allegations have surfaced of hundreds of other cases of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obviously the rule that the victor writes the history survives. The more powerful will deflect guilt to the weaker. Above it all, the political masters will simply wash their soiled hands while assigning all blame to their obedient warriors.
The people who should be facing war crimes trials are those who instigate these outrageous adventures! In this latest episode that means the Bush administration, Blair’s British Cabinet and his counterparts under Howard in Australia. The list probably goes on, but it is a start. Stop blaming the tools and start blaming those who wield the tools.

Sorry I Got Caught

A former Long Islands schools chief Frank Tassone pleaded guilty Monday to grand larceny charges for what the state comptroller has called the "most extraordinary theft" from a school system "in American history."
An audit by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi earlier this year found that $11.2 million had been pilfered from the school district between 1996 and 2004, although prosecutors have only been able to charge four people so far with stealing slightly less than $7 million.
The money was allegedly used to pay for flights aboard the Concorde for vacations in England, and mortgage payments for homes in Florida, the Hamptons and Pennsylvania. More than $1 million allegedly was stolen via ATM cash advances and prosecutors said the defendants even had their dry cleaning and cable TV bills picked up by taxpayers.

Admitting that he took millions in taxpayer money to finance a lavish lifestyle that included European jaunts on the supersonic Concorde, Tassone reads an apology to the court; “I will make restitution to the Roslyn schools and I am sorry for my poor judgment."
Now there is a delightful bit of double speak to add to the language of corruption. Here the man was caught with his hand in the cookie barrel, and pleads guilty; to what? Guilty to ‘just borrowing’ the cash for a bit? A loan he fully intends to pay back? Was his ‘poor judgment’ that he forgot to tell the school district that he was just going to borrow their money? Was his poor judgment that he didn’t cover his tracks properly and was caught?
Let’s be honest here! Mr Tassone STOLE millions of dollars in taxpayer money to finance a lavish lifestyle. He pinched, theived, embezzled, purloined the loot. It is common theft.
Surely the victims of public theft deserve their apology to be expressed in real language, not double speak. Mr Tassone is a thief, pure and simple. Nothing glosses over that fact.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Intellegent Creation an Oxymoron

Has the religious right hired a public relations consultant? Perhaps Rove is moonlighting, working his magic to try and give this essential group of Republican moneymen some kind of credibility.
No, not Rove, he wouldn’t come up with anything as dumb as ID. He certainly wouldn’t go to any great lengths to increase their power in opposition to his own.
The problem with Intelligent Design is that it is immediately suspect because of its very promoters. The biblical literalist, at least outside their own tight little world, is an embarrassment to human intelligence.
But let’s at least hear them out, look at what they are on about. One commentator has it that:
For about 150 years Charles Darwin's evolution theory has held sway. But a new American theory, intelligent design, is getting a lot of press as scientists and intellectuals rush to the barricades to dismiss intelligent design as little else than "creationism" rebadged.
Well for a start, this concept is not a theory. Whatever else it might be, and most of the options are cruel in the extreme, it has never been tested in any scientific or intellectual way.
Intelligent design (ID) is the newest, sleekest manifestation of the Christian right’s literal interpretation of the Bible. It essentially asserts that the universe, life and particularly human beings are too complex to have arisen through any sort of natural, undirected processes, and that they therefore must have had a purposeful, intelligent designer. Tim Peppin

Peppin goes on to say:
The bulk of the “evidence” for ID (indeed all of the evidence—only one paper on ID has ever been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, which was quite obscure) comes from attacks on the theory of evolution. It is tacitly assumed that if the theory of evolution can be demonstrated to be false, then intelligent design is the only viable scientific alternative.

… adherents of intelligent design exhibit what Dr Daniel Dennett calls the Philosopher’s Syndrome—mistaking a failure of imagination for an insight into necessity. If evolution is, in fact, a scientifically untenable theory, this does not make intelligent design true. It simply means that we must again search for a testable theory to explain our observations.
That, of course, does not stop those who still see intellect as some sort of commie plot. Debate broke out internationally on August 1 when the US President, George Bush, told reporters he supported combining lessons on evolution with discussion of intelligent design. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," Bush said.
He didn’t go on to explain how you properly teach a half thought out notion which lacks any kind of rational support.
Even poor, long suffering Australians have not escaped this idiocy:
Last month, the Australia’s federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, gave intelligent design ministerial imprimatur, telling the National Press Club he thought parents and schools ought to have the opportunity - if they wished - for students to be exposed to intelligent design and taught about it.
At least 31 states are taking steps to teach alternatives to evolution. A CBS poll last November found 65 percent of Americans favor teaching creationism as well as evolution while 37 percent want creationism taught instead of evolution.
Fifty-five percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, the poll found.
Belief in a higher being, a creator god if you like is a personal position. However, that belief does not preclude acceptance of scientific fact. The two concepts can actually exist mutually, presupposing an intelligent creator.
A curious aspect behind the evangelic assault on the wider community is their essential rejection of their God’s powers and Christian grace. It seems these folks have little real faith in the power and method of their God, and would reject their ‘saviour’ as weak and irrelevant.
Christian zealots are so lacking in essential faith in their God that they seem forced to intervene to re-engineer society in their own image.
Teaching inane, unsupported and unsupportable concepts as fact does both the teacher and the taught a massive disservice.
Teaching should be grounded not in instructing what to think, but in teaching how to think!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Americans Fed on Bullshit

THE US and the Iraqi governments have overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, "feeding the myth" that they are the backbone of the insurgency.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank, based in Washington, also reports that foreign militants — mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — account for fewer than 10 per cent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents. The Age (Australia)

The report by the independent public policy research organisation focuses on the Saudi militants in Iraq, but says that the Saudi involvement in the Iraqi insurgency is overestimated. The biggest number of foreign fighters actually come from Algeria (600 or 20 percent of the 3,000), Syria (550), Yemen (500) and Sudan (450). They believe 350 or around 12 percent of the foreign insurgents are Saudi nationals.

The report came as President Bush said a pullout of US forces would embolden America's enemies, allowing the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden "to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations".
Guardian Unlimited

Not surprisingly, these early reports all come from media sources outside the USA. I wrote of Bush’s ‘nanny state’, and the failure to fully report key information within the US is just another aspect of the mushroom mentality of the Administration.
So what are the US media feeding their mushrooms today, in place of this analysis?

Syria said aims to thwart Iraq democracy
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press”Syria is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters from entering Iraq because it is frightened of efforts to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants them to fail, Iraq's foreign minister says.”

I would suggest, for Americans who want sources of real news, not the tainted propaganda of ‘a country at war’; they should go to and bookmark the following:

Fairfax Digital with online newspapers;
The Sydney Morning Herald and
The Melbourne Age (note, these are subscription services, but free to sign up to.)
ABC Australia’s national broadcaster
Guardian Unlimited Britain
Times Online Britain
BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster
Globe and Mail Canada – Canada

No doubt there are many other sources of timely, balanced world news. These are my favourites and they rarely let me down. Without fail, these outlets carry online news reports far more quickly and thoroughly than any US sources.

Bush's Nanny State

Bush apologists have as much right to speak out as anyone else. What they don’t have is the right to manipulate and rebrand language to their own purpose.

Typical of the current outpourings is:
Common Sense Rules for Compassionate Conservatives By Nathan Tabor of the Lincoln Tribune
"In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Liberal media is full of recriminations about who should have done what, and when, and why the Federal government miserably failed to do its job. Most of the talking heads want to blame President Bush, personally, for just about everything from global warming to the levee failures and the gas shortages.
Implicit in the foregoing discussions is the now nearly universal assumption that the Nanny State is somehow supposed to provide cradle-to-grave security for each and every person, and that we are all rightfully entitled to it."

“Nanny Culture,” is in fact, well defined as ‘a tendency in government of all levels to unduly protect citizens from their own bad habits.’ More to the point, it is imposed equally by governments across the spectrum, often for their own ends. It is a form of social engineering, and to a degree imposed marketing.
George W left himself wide open to the criticism over the Katrina fiasco. No, he did not cause the hurricane, and yes, other levels of government must carry a measure of responsibility.
However George W painted a bulls eye on his forehead when he virtually told the American people, “don’t you worry about anything, we will protect you!” Why did he make this outrageous promise? The feds took this stance purely to assuage fear, criticism and doubt over his ‘crusades to the holy lands’.
The administration created their own version of the nanny state, raising public expectations far beyond the reasonable; purely ease the way for their own dubious agenda.
This is not a subtle argument over conservative Vs so called liberal values. The criticisms, in the light of the Governments stand, are valid. George W and his cronies failed to deliver on their ridiculous promise.
Observing from the outside, the total lack of basic commonsense in the whole emergency relief affair has been mind blowing. Even before the disaster occurred, those in the know were pointing out that the information on which the Feds were basing their plans was bullshit.
Still the litany came, “Don’t you worry. We will look after you!” With little else to give them optimism, the people clung to this false hope from a government which continued to promote itself as a super guardian.
This is not history, the lesson is from yesterday. George W and his gang need to do more now than to engage in empty rhetoric.
The assumption that the Nanny State is somehow supposed to provide cradle-to-grave security for each and every person, and that we are all rightfully entitled to it is one generated by the Bush administration. Now it is up to them to honour the outrageous promises.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sex Scandal Lives On

To paraphrase F Scott Fitzgerald: The Americans are different than you and me. While I am bemoaning the passing of the good old ‘sex scandal’ tradition here they are in the old US of A still steaming along merrily.
As recently as 2003 the then Governor of Kentucky, the ‘popular for a while’ Paul E. Patton was caught playing footsies with an honest to goodness female. None of this backdoor stuff for him!
While there was some suggestion, never proved, of using his influence to favour his nursing home owner sex kitten, his real crime was getting caught doing the naughty.
I’ll admit Mrs Patton might have had good reason to be pissed off, but the whole voting community of Kentucky? Give me a break, that takes a real leap of double standards.
Are we to believe that this esteemed region of the United States is absolutely beyond reproach in matters sexual?
In a previous carteleblog I suggested that we grown ups were past that level of thinking, but a little bit of a dig about reveals it’s still alive and well in some parts.
Ryan’s ex-wife, "Boston Public" and "Star Trek: Voyager" actress Jeri Ryan, 36, alleged that during their eight-year marriage, Mr. Ryan took her to sex clubs in New York, New Orleans and Paris.
Jeri alleged that she refused Ryan's requests for public sex during the excursions, which included a trip to a New York club "with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling."
While Ryan, a former Goldman Sachs executive, confirmed the trips with the actress, he described them simply as "romantic getaways," denying her claims that he sought public sex.Who knows the truth, and frankly, who cares? Surely that is between the adults involved. As Ryan pointed out, however, it is difficult to argue serious issues when you are being bombarded for information of a sordid personal life.
The real danger, as politicians elsewhere well know, of shoveling this kind of dirt, is that it might come back to haunt you. At the very least it gives some kind of authority to what is essentially irrelevant to the public good.
Besides making all politicians more vulnerable to banal scandal it generates a dangerous ‘tit for tat’ process. Dangerous, given that elected officials tend to mirror the society they represent and few out there are above reproach.
Whether it is a result of popular film and TV culture, the more rabid ‘Christianity’ of the country, Clinton’s loose fly buttons or some other phenomenon, the good old sex scandal is still alive and well. More power to the simple things in life.

Sex scandal has Gone West

They aren’t what they used to be, the good old sex scandal that is. Gone are the salacious titillations of old. The miles of barely revealing, sensational reports which were destined to bring the mighty, crashing down.
It has been a while, given that Clinton’s boorish revelations, in the end, were mere peccadilloes.
Save for those of the Christian right, who still seem able to be driven to incredible heights of arousal by a misplaced cigar, or at least by the retelling, we are, for the most part, past it all.
For those of us old enough, we can only pine for those good old days of Profumo, Rice-Davies and Keeler. The British press had a way with a good sex scandal, dribbling tit bits in such a way as to keep us all on the edge of our seats.
The image of a naked Keeler decorating a piece of Danish modern furniture is still seared on the brain.
In part, the fall from grace of the sex scandal has a lot to do with shifting social mores. Perhaps another aspect, however, is more fundamental, though tied into to the new perspective.
Sex scandals are rarely, in and of themselves, the crime! If there is an element of corruption surrounding the sex scandal, those misdeeds are supposed to be swamped and hidden by our urge for base gratification.
Knowing that the ‘dirty deeds’ are far less lascivious than the superficial presented to us takes off the shine off the scandalous goings on.
Darker Side
In those heady days of memory, of the basically harmless romp, there was of course the love ‘which dare not speak its name.’ Reporting the harmless romp was one thing, but to reveal darker issues like incest, pedophilia, or even gay and lesbian sex was beyond the pale.
Alas now, with innocence torn from us, these are the only aspects we have left, and they are far from salacious or titillating.
Now when a sex scandal raises its ugly head it is often associated with real corruption, of the spirit at the very least, and heinous crime.
I am not referring here to consensual adult sex, regardless of gender mix. It is the abuse of power of adults over the young or the powerless.
There can be no justification for consensual, insofar as those with any measure of power over others have an absolute duty and responsibility of trust.
It is bad enough when it is a relative or friend preying on the young in their midst, far worse when it is an authority figure.
In the end there has to be something said about our society that these issues can be broached, that these foul human beings can be publicly proclaimed.

Hypocrisy the Odd Bedfellow
The City of Spokane is home to some 195,500 residents; there are around 418,000 residents in the metropolitan area. Spokane is located in the heart of the Inland Northwest…
It is also home to a Mayor subject to the modern version of the sex scandal:
“Spokane Mayor Jim West, who championed an anti-gay agenda during his tenure as one of the most powerful Republicans in the Legislature, yesterday admitted to using the trappings of his current office to entice what he thought was a young adult man but denied allegations that he molested two young boys more than 20 years ago.”By CHRIS McGANN AND KATHY MULADYSEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS

The pedophile allegations are, at best, problematic given the time lapse. Even so, despite his dogged defense, West left an electronic trail of using his position to entice young men to fulfill his sexual needs. Now remember, this is the same man who, for cynical political purposes, persecuted gays and lesbians. Shades of J Edgar Hoover and other closet homosexual in power positions.
"On one recent occasion, West offered a man he believed to be an 18-year-old – whom he met online at – gifts, favors and a City Hall internship, Internet dialogues retained by the newspaper reveal. The 18-year-old was actually a forensic computer expert working for the newspaper. Last June, West went on a dinner date with another 18-year-old he met in the same gay chat room. The young man, initially unaware of his date's identity, paid for dinner, and then was allowed to drive West's blue Lexus convertible. The evening ended with consensual sex, the 18-year-old told the newspaper.”A SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

"My private life is my private life, and always has been," the mayor told two Spokesman-Review reporters and a photographer. "There's been a strong wall between my public life and my private life," West said.

No doubt Mr. Mayor. The first defense moves West might have considered were either a defamation suit or privacy. The first is difficult in that while older allegations arte difficult to prove, they are impossible to disprove. The privacy issue had already been dealt with in Washington courts, State of Washington v. Donald T. Townsend 2001. PNWINLANDER
"Donald Townsend believed he was talking in an online chat room with a 13-year-old girl named Amber -- who was actually a Spokane police detective. Townsend made a date with Amber to meet and have sex at a motel, and when he showed up the cops busted him for attempted second-degree rape.
In his appeal, Townsend contended that e-mail and chat room transcripts submitted as evidence against him were illegal, having been obtained against his permission. But the court disagreed, ruling that Townsend implied consent to the recording of his e-mails and dialogues by the detective, since everyone knows that e-mails are designed to be saved, and the chat program (ICQ) warns its users about "unauthorized exposure" before they sign up. So, said the court, Townsend had no legal right to consider the conversations private, the evidence was admissible, and Townsend went to jail.”

So to protect his sordid ‘private’ life from staining his public life, West has turned to the highest authority of all; GOD.
West wrote an e-mail in response to a citizen who sent him a message telling him to resign, pack his luggage and move to San Francisco "where your lifestyle is accepted."
"The e-mail came one week after West appeared before news reporters and said he intends to continue being mayor despite allegations of sexual impropriety during recent years and in the 1970s when he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader.
…In [an] e-mail, West wrote:"I appreciate your comments but like King David in the Bible I will be a better mayor now. I will be more focused and more driven to see this city succeed in all areas. My faith in Jesus Christ and the Lord tell me this will be done.
"This episode has done four good things for me so far and more are on the way.
"... I have stopped a behavior I wanted to stop but couldn't do alone but didn't know how to ask for help to end. Now I'm sleeping better and am more focused on important things, particularly my job."Again, thank you for your concern. God has forgiven me and that's all I need."Signed,James E. West, Mayor, City of Spokane. The Spokesman-Review

More than simply a pathetic, petty tyrant, West symbolizes the reality behind the modern sex scandal. Whether a father, uncle, city mayor, Member of Parliament, judge or President of the United States, power holders preying on the weak is as old as time and is at last being exposed. There can be no justification for the actions of these sad hypocrites. West is doggedly holding on to his position of Mayor, against all opposition. His determination to ‘tough it out’ should be used to highlight, not only his abuse of power, but all who abuse their responsibility as guardians within society.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Curtailing Pell

Catholic Cardinal George Pell, speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, reminds us that he is very much concerned with the political direction of Australia.
More power to him, as George Pell, citizen. If more Australian citizens engaged in political discourse the quality of government would improve immensely.
But George wasn’t speaking as citizen Pell; he was addressing us a Cardinal Pell, head of the Catholic Church in Australia.
I have to say here, I actually agreed with some of his statements on national issues, despite his tendency to right wing views. Well, I agreed on his comments of restraint on Howard’s HR policies.From there we tend to move into the more familiar ground of the religious right, albeit with a bit more delicacy than most. He pushes for the teaching of intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution in schools. This is pretty close to a call for compulsory religious education in what has become a diverse, pluralist society. For religious we can read Christian, and for George that means Catholic.He criticised state school syllabuses for teaching films, magazines, advertisements and even road signs but abandoning great works of English literature, another familiar theme of the religious right. Perhaps the Catholic Church will subsidise putting ‘the great works’ on SMS text messaging.
The reality is the delivery media has changed forever George. Big books just don’t cut the mustard for most kids. That is no reason to suggest that fundamental values cannot still be conveyed through current or future media formats.

The Catholic Church in Australia and elsewhere is doubtless a powerful body, but it is tainted by its own failings and scandal. That aside, in a secular, democratic country, the church’s political stand is largely irrelevant.
The people, more or less, elect their own representatives, George. They are not appointed from on high and to a greater extent than the narrow church base, they represent the will and aspirations of the country.
More to the point, the Church has failed to give real moral leadership, to uphold its charter to uphold moral values. It is understandably difficult for Pell to separate George the citizen and George the Cardinal. So in effect he must always speak as the church.
So, before the Cardinal launches too far into the political swamp he would do well to put his own house in order!

Latham claimed his first wife was bisexual

I am, I’ve been advised, remiss in failing to refer to the seamy diaries of former Federal opposition leader, Mark Latham. I guess my first ennui would be my first excuse. Not that Latham, as I am observing from afar, has made any great impact on my conciseness, either as opposition leader or as biographer extraordinaire.
Oh well, Mark, duty calls. Here goes nothing…
As wunderkind of the Australian Labor Party and apostle to Gough himself, great things were foreseen for young Mark. Oh, he was a ‘bad boy’; he could get a headline or two, but has he got the right stuff, as our North American friends would put it.
I recall having a laugh with some Canadian friends over Latham’s suggestion that Howard was ‘brown nosing’ Bush. “So what is the difference between a brown nose and a shithead?” One of these guys asked. “It’s just a matter of perspective…”
That is something young Mark seems to have lacked from the outset, perspective. Call me old fashioned, but I was always taught, in politics, ‘don’t explain, and don’t complain!’ I believe more recent sentiments run to – ‘suck it up’ ‘get over it’ or even better in Mark’s case – ‘cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it!’
To be honest, I’ve been hard put to find a scrap of scandal, in the Latham diatribe, worthy of repeating. So what if his wife sees more in the fairer sex, I do to! Who really cares that he and a few of the cool set in parliament passed the bong? As for the ‘who touched up whom’, obviously the weed was second rate because no one seems to have had the same visions as ML.
If Latham thinks he is doing Australia a favour with his literary tantrum, he couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone knows that out political establishment is on the nose. Reinforcing that knowledge does not advance us.
Another of my old fashioned notions is that if you set out to destroy something, at least have a viable replacement in mind. Latham is ready to destroy everything within reach and simply walk away with the pieces left on the floor.  
If anything of value is to come out of this nonsense, the second rate Australian ‘body politic’ would take a long hard look at lifting its game. You, our esteemed leaders and legislators, are a sorry lot!
Latham held out just one ray of promise, a fire in the guts. The technocrats who today call themselves politicians just don’t have it. We need representatives who believe in far more than their own petty, personal advancement.

A New Catholic Pusch

While you are being distracted by the evangelical, ‘happy clappy’ political pusch, into Australian politics, don’t forget that the Catholics where there first.
The messy coup within the NSW Liberal Party, elevating the power of the extreme right, is a timely reminder that elements associated with the Catholic Church are well versed in manipulating the Australian political scene.
Hillsong, Sydney’s largest evangelic meeting, might have the numbers and the money, but it’s David Clarke’s Opus Dei which is wielding the axe. The Catholic Church has been an active, if back room, player in Australian politics for many years.
B A (Bob) Santamaria was a household name to a couple of generations of Australians. Although never elected to any office, Santamaria, through his National Civic Council and the Australian Family Association carried a great deal of influence.
With B A at the wheel, the Catholic Church split the Australian Labor Party, in the 1950’s creating their own, relatively ineffective Democratic Labor Party.
“During the 1940s and early 1950s strong pressures had built up within the labour movement over the activities of communists in the trade unions. The Communist Party was then a united and coherent political unit and a number of its members reached prominent positions in trade unions. This created problems for the ALP because it meant that part of its affiliated membership was under the leadership and influence of another political party. Counter movements were formed within and outside the ALP to fight communism.” History of the Australian Labor Party
Vehemently anticommunist, the Catholic Church under Cardinal Daniel Mannix and others saw incursion into political affairs as their right.
A generation later, and with the aid, or cover, of protestant Evangelicals, Clarke has rebirthed right wing Catholic political activism. In line with much of Opus Dei’s sordid background, Clarke has a long association with the farthest extremes of the right, fascism.
“Twenty-seven years ago David Clarke was photographed at a function organised by a group linked with sympathisers of Ustashi, the notorious far-right Croatian militia group.”
“But on April 10 this year, Mr Clarke attended and was snapped at a similar event - which the author and historian Mark Aarons wrote amounted to a "glorification of April 10, 1941, the day Hitler installed Ante Pavelic and the Ustashi into power as Nazi puppets".
“The function was held at the Croatian Club in Punchbowl - the same place where a meeting of the Liberal Party's newest branch erupted into an all-out brawl last year, prompting the arrival of eight police officers, three patrol cars and even a sniffer dog. Mr Clarke - who says politicians from both sides of politics are seen at such ethnic functions every year - has been forced to defend himself amid further allegations of his political involvement with far right-wing groups.”
Paola Totaro and Robert Wainwright September 8, 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

Again, in line with Opus Dei practice, secrecy and denial have been a hallmark of this episode. Despite that the major parties already control your vote, to a large extent; or perhaps because of this, these extremists must be purged from the parties, or at the very least, checked.
If the major political parties can see fit to take control of much of the process of choosing who will represent us, they have an equal responsibility to protect the electorate from extremists of any kind. The country can cope with the odd Tony Abbott (pun intended). At least, distasteful as he is at times, he is out in the open.
If the churches are to fulfill any meaningful role in this society they should back out of politics and get on with their primary missions. The party bosses have the ability ti fix these problems. If they don’t it will be tears before bedtime for all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's Not All right!

There is a real danger, when attacking extremists, of maligning the whole Christian community. Even if the biblical Christ seems not to have envisioned a ‘Christian Church’, it is a fact of life. More to the point, despite throwaway lines like ‘moral majority’, the vast number of adherents are at worst benign and at best, a positive force in the wider community.
The mainstream church community, and for that matter many who fill the seats at evangelical meetings, are not given to political activism. There is no scriptural warrant for imposed ‘morality’ or religious belief.
The Christian right is well known for its secretive aspect as well as its adoption of otherwise sociable language to camouflage its real intent. As it happens, they are extremists and lack the patience to really maintain the secrecy. Instead the lies pile on top of lies, much as their use of language is a lie.
The long suffering ‘mainstream’ church has been caught in a trap of their own making with these zealots. Indeed, many of the ‘mainstream’ actually believes in true Christian ideals, an inhibiting factor when it comes to taking the fight up to the usurpers of their faith.
Other inhibiting factors have been the fear of driving away seekers by exposing the rotten and corrupt elements inside the church community; and the great fear of schism. Failure to take a stand has had the same result. The extremists aren’t so squeamish. They will happily portray the righteous as corrupt, and just as happily destroy the church for their own twisted ends.
This cancer within the church seems to have its seeds in the particular brand of terrorism from which the USA was wrought. That nation, it seems, can never simply accept that they won that war and their freedom from British rule. The simple, backwoods notions which sustained them through their war for independence and later squabbles has, in itself, become a religion; pasted over the top of the old Christian religion they brought with them to the Americas.
The words, the terminology, particularly of the Old Testament, fit well into the culture of nationalist zealots. The melding of political thoughts and religious notions might require suspending disbelief, but that has never been a problem for extremists anywhere.
Creating a good strong sense of paranoia is the classical method of maintaining the suspension. That is easy to do, just find the most vulnerable in the community and make them victims of hate. Everyone needs someone to despise, it seems.
That is all very well for the USA where mainstream churches would have had an uphill battle anyway. It doesn’t answer for the spread of this malicious cancer to other, more relaxed countries.
Surely, having witnessed the effects of their non action, the mainstream churches need to stir and reclaim their heritage for all our sakes. Perhaps they should be waving the Cross in the face of these usurpers, and drive them off like mythical Draculas. The one thing they seem to fear more than anything else is the presence of a real Christ.
Drive them back to the caves! Pick up those decent if misguided followers and give them something they can really follow with joy, not fear. And save the rest of us from Taliban style Christian theocracies.

Branch Stacking

Political party branch stacking belongs to the ‘rigging the vote’ class of corruption. While it might be unethical, branch stacking is not illegal, although aspects associated with it often are.
Depending on the jurisdiction, illegal aspects are:
  • To enroll members under a false address

  • To enroll, encourage or assist a member to enroll on the electoral roll at an address that is not their principal address.

  • Enrolling minors, or enrolling others without their knowledge or consent. (to be effective this suggests the use of identity fraud.)

  • To pay membership fees to encourage recruits. (Often these are bulk payments and include non-consenting enrollment)

  • To pay membership for a person on the precondition that the member is then obliged to vote in a particular way

The main purpose of branch stacking is to gain sufficient numbers to ensure the outcome of the candidate selection process (preselection). That is, choosing the person who will represent a given party in an electorate (or riding).
Branch stacking is most often associated with factional control within parties or single electorate ego fights. While not exactly in the spirit of democracy these activities are probably as old as the system.
The real concern comes when special interest minority groups move in to take control of broad based political parties. These might be ethnic or commercial interests, or as we are witnessing in Australia, religious zealots or the Christian right.
As the religious right are finding within the NSW Liberal Party, a growing cynicism towards any political involvement leaves some party’s vulnerable to takeover by a zealous few.
Liberal member of the NSW upper house, David Clarke, has shown another sinister aspect of this practice; taking a leaf from the scriptures, he and his backers are adept at practicing Peter’s denial.
Secrecy should be the name of the game, although these clumsy, overzealous practitioners of vote rigging invariably thrust themselves into the limelight. Even though David Clarke’s religious right movement (known as the Uglies) could have succeeded with just a handful; of new conscripts, the whole affair became a rush of blood to the head.
For the normally staid Liberal Party this resulted in riots, guns being brandished and police being called to branch meetings. The preferred secrecy was blown, but the angelic Mr Clarke, despite the glare of publicity, denied all.
Indeed, the denials of the movement reached a ridiculous stage when sympathizer and Australian cabinet minister Tony Abbot, denying that there was any issue at all, claimed that Australia in fact recognised the doctrine of Separation of Church and State. A strange claim from a minister of a government which is constitutionally headed by the Queen – the head of the Anglican Church!
Denial, secrecy and stealth are the watchwords of this movement which would simply not survive full scrutiny by the people. Their actions illustrate the dangers to democracy when a fanatical minority seizes the opportunity to highjack the system.
Whatever the issues and belief being put forward, we should expect and demand that the political establishment act with the highest of ethics. Yes, I know, and water will run up hill! However unless ordinary people start demanding a more ethical approach the situation will only get worse. Don’t care about politics? Then you won’t care to complain when you know longer have any rights at all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Making Arses of Themselves

Australian politicians and media have an enviable record when it comes to telling it as they see it. None of those coy double standards that typify other, comparable, countries.
In Australian politics a prick is a prick, or worse. And an Arse, as the NSW Planning Minister confirmed, is an arse.
The straight shooting Sartor fell foul of all and sundry, not for the first time, for his robust, down to earth tongue. The former Lord Mayor of Sydney had previously berated the current Lord Mayor and Town Hall staff via telephone. His choice epithets, in that instance, had been recorded and played back for all to hear.This time out sartor cut out the middleman, so to speak. He got straight to the point on Koori (Aboriginal) radio to challenge one of their leaders: "I'm glad he wrote this long letter - got him off his backside for a change. He won't like that much, but I should say that to him more. Get off your backside, Mick, and bring your black arse in here to talk to me about it," Mr Sartor said.
In his public apology, Sartor admitting he had "stuffed up" after he told the Aboriginal Housing Company's chairman, Mick Mundine, on radio to "bring his black arse" in to talk about a dispute over the redevelopment of the Block in Redfern, Sydney.
I’ve already referred, in a previous post, to an extremely robust car phone conversation between a former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, and former Australian foreign Affairs Minister Andrew Peacock. The expletive laden conversation is something of a classic of the country’s political culture.
Kennett has felt comfortable using robust, if not plain offensive, language in public discourse. He defended his use of ‘pricks’ by pointing out that William Shakespeare used this word ‘well and often’. Of course Shakespeare was never a member of parliament, but I don't suppose that matters.
Of course, some would say ‘culture’ is hardly the word to describe political language in the wide brown land. Former Federal opposition leader and current federal whiner, Mark Latham, spoke for many of us when he made that comment about Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, being an "arse-licker" and ‘brown-nose’ to the Bush Administration
Of course Johhny Howard has been insulted by far more illustrious and effective people than Latham. Former PM Paul Keating almost made an industry out of adding colour to the otherwise drab PM, the then "...brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition..."
"What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him." Keating told us, among other things:
"I do not want to hear any mealymouthed talk from the Member for Benelong."
"I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot...
However Keating shared his colourful turn of phase with other MPs:
On Wilson "Iron Bar" Tuckey (Liberal head kicker)
"...You stupid foul-mouthed grub." "Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!" "You boxhead you wouldn't know. You are flat out counting past ten."
Keating was even content to vent on some he had a grudging admiration for, such as former Liberal Party Leader and Shadow Treasurer, Andrew Peacock:"...if this gutless spiv, and I refer to him as a gutless spiv..." "...what we have here is an intellectual rust bucket." "We're not interested in the views of painted, perfumed gigolos." "It is the first time the Honourable Gentleman has got out from under the sunlamp."
But dear old Paul did stay within reason. He spoke eloquently to the Redfern Aborigines, and didn’t once allude to ‘black arses.’

Straight talk
There is a real, if perverse value in straight talking. Yes, can be hurtful, although one is not supposed to have feelings and mix in Australian political circles. But more to the point, intentional or accidental, straight talk reveals the underlying realities of the culture.
Sure it would be nice to think that our elected and appointed public officials were doing nothing less than working on behalf of the people they represent. Dreamland! There will always be agendas, hidden or otherwise.
Australian Police forces (force being their preferred word) have been toiling for some years to overcome an often deserved reputation for racism and bigotry. Among the efforts by NSW police is the Aboriginal community liaison officers, a program to help deal with Aboriginal drunkenness and other volatile situations in their communities.The force's uniform services branch chose a one-size-fits-all vest in "high visibility" lime green, with the acronym ACLO on the back to identify these ‘deputies’. Somehow, during the printing of the vests, these letters were rearranged to read ALCO, and then distributed to the communities without inspection.These were vests designed to identify Aboriginal liaison officers sent into dangerous situations - often alcohol-fuelled, potentially violent - had been produced with "ALCO" printed on the rear. (ALCO is an abbreviation for alcoholic) It might have been an innocent error, but still manages to convey, as do the ‘foot in mouth’ comments of politicians and others, otherwise unspoken realites.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Who Runs Your World

Britain’s BBC World Service has initiated an ambitious global survey to gauge perceptions on global leadership. Who Runs Your World? is an ambitious season of programs which turn the spotlight on power: who has it, who wants it, how it's used and how it's changing. From initial surveys sixty-five per cent of the world's population does not believe their country is governed by the will of the people, according to the Gallup International poll of 50,000 people in 68 countries.Politicians are the least trusted leaders in the world, according to one of the biggest ever global polls.Only 11 per cent of people have faith in them - less than for military, religious and business chiefs.This rose to 75 per cent in the former Soviet Union countries. In North America it was 60 per cent. More South Africans held the contrary opinion than any other regional group, with 59 per cent maintaining they were governed by the will of the people, and 34 per cent disagreeing. When all the regions were combined, opinion was almost equally divided on whether national elections were free and fair, 47 per cent saying yes and 48 per cent saying no.Asked what type of people they would like to give more power to in their country, 35 per cent of respondents chose intellectuals, putting them above every other group. Religious leaders came next, on 25 per cent, followed by military leaders, business leaders and journalists, on 20 per cent. National identity remained very strong, the poll found. It ranked highest on the list of what people considered most important, at 32 per cent, followed by religion (21) and local region or city (19).As part of this ambitious project, people are being given a chance to voice their views at Who runs your world?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Corruption and Madison Avenue #2

Political sensitivity to language obviously cuts both ways. While, so called, conservative elements rail against ‘PC’ or politically correct language; they are astute at crafting their own lexicon.
Except for the tragedies spawned by monetarism, the fast footwork of name changes would be funny. For over 20 years we have been subjected to; deregulation, privatisation, labour market reform, user pays, tax reform, cutting government spending, more competition, privatisation, tax reform (Goods and Services Taxes at the checkout) and welfare reform.

We have also be subjected to a welter of names for this economic mess, from economic rationalism, to Thatcherism (or Reganism), Neoclassicism, economic liberalism or neo liberalism, neo-conservatism which were transmogrified to globalization and its variants.
So the ground keeps shifting and the appellations retailored to maintain a fresh and acceptable face. For those interested in the real roots of the term:
Economic rationalism is economic policy without social moral consideration, or "the view that commercial activity ... represents a sphere of activity in which moral considerations, beyond the rule of business probity dictated by enlightened self-interest, have no role to play." (Quiggin 1997)
The erroneous conservative label was discussed in the last post, so we won’t revisit that. Anyway, history has a way of riding over thoughts and Katrina has delivered another gift of wordplay.

Refugee or evacuee?
Like a small animal frozen by the glare of the oncoming lights, I get distracted at the worst times. Fortunately I’m not roadkill. Yet!
In the fallout of the hurricane disaster, while most good people were concerning themselves about the plight of the unfortunate victims, others were debating the use of refugee Vs evacuee.
I guess, sociologically, this is an important question. If the result of the disaster put the blowtorch to the belly of American social conscience, the proper descriptive terms are vital.
Associated Press used the word "refugee" to mean people who had been displaced or forced to flee their homes either voluntarily or involuntarily by Hurricane Katrina. Leading the charge against this usage was the Rev. Jesse Jackson; quoted as saying, "It is racist to call American citizens refugees."
Since then there have been a flood of comments one way or the other. Dictionaries and other sources have been worn out getting down to the nitty gritty on this.
For my part, I again refer to the Google news search to find a consensus, of admittedly media driven, current usage. The results, to my eye were rather telling.
Good news stories; those warm, ‘human interest’ pieces invariably relating to ‘nice people’ doing great things, were typically evacuees.
The sensational, ‘what do you expect from the poor – black, hopeless…’, the rapists, murderers and ‘nere do wells’ fell under the term refugees.
Well, I’m sorry Mr Jackson. And I don’t really wish to be insensitive here, but let’s call a spade a spade here. You see, the trouble with sanitizing the language is that you risk hiding the reality.
As much as you might like to portray the dispossed minorities in a positive light, how much more valuable is it to show ‘privileged’ Americans in their true light?
If the poor old wombat was not startled by the light it wouldn’t have become roadkill. Perhaps it’s time for bigots and racists to be caught in the onrushing glare of light from their own four by fours!

Corruption and Madison Avenue #1

I’m still fascinated by the language of scandal and corruption. I apologize up front to the good folk of Madison Avenue; unfortunately I am of an age that the term means more to me than the latter day ‘spin’. The burden of Madison Avenue rests in its being the birthplace of modern ‘language sanitation’. (The thought does occur that the wily Avenue burgers invented ‘spin’ to relieve themselves of the burden.)
Researching the various forms of public misbehaviour around the world shows up just how far the powerful in the US will go to negate their misdeeds with sanitized language.
As far back as Mr Webster the US took of on a different language route, in general terms. Madison Avenue simply added to the discrepancies, as a way of putting the best face on a situation.
For those of us raised in other cultures the language can lead to serious confusion. The US, for example, has changed a perfectly sound political/economic word Liberal from a valuable descriptive term to a pejorative. The basis of Liberalism is well defined, if a little legalistically, as follows:
* an ethical emphasis on the individual as a rights-bearer prior to the existence of any state, community, or society,
* the support of the right of property carried to its economic conclusion, a free-market system,
* the desire for a limited constitutional government to protect individuals' rights from others and from its own expansion, and
* the universal applicability of these above convictions.

Not so in the Great USA: sums it up as well as any: Liberals Suck & Democrats Are Dangerous! Apart from the juvenile sentiments, the site portrays:
"…some of the most guilty liberals in America. Guilty of undermining what makes our country great: traditional family values, a belief in God and Country, and the fact that we are the only nation that has the balls to stand up and fight for what is right and just, and for those who are powerless to do it for themselves. "
The site offers a hate filled tour of “these shameless liberal America haters”.
Hang on, they aren’t liberals! Find your own hateful terms and leave our poor words alone.

The same can be said, of course, for the US use of the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘radical’. By any measure of sociopolitical understanding, the dominant ‘conservatives’, in the USA are in fact radicals. They are not trying to conserve, maintain the status quo or any of those actions common to conservatives. They are trying to radically change the very bases of ‘democratic’ society.

What I find especially telling is that America does not have corruption, it has scandal! (If you doubt me do a search of the two terms on Google news.) Give me a break George! Bribery is corruption! Extortion is corruption! Vote fraud is corruption! A scandal is the scent of corruption, the fallout, the disgrace; not the action!
Simply saying it doesn’t make it so. Manipulating language simple displays ignorance not innocence.

So much to say, so little time… Back soon with more language mangling and corrupt useage.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ram Raiders of the Religious Right

It is well noted phenomenon, driven by pervasive American infotainment, that many countries tend to accept US cultural concepts as their own. Specifically here I refer to the concept of ‘separation of church and state’.
To be fair, it sounds logical enough to apply to any pluralist society. In reality it is a threatened species, endemic to the United States of American. Well, whoever said nothing good could come out of the old harlot?
The religious right, by any of its various labels, has steadily grown to a serious player in the ‘great democracy’. Controlling numbers and cash eagerly sought for increasingly expensive US election campaigns, leaders of the religious right soon worked out their potential to wield real power. As Nixon famously put it, “If you have them by the balls the hearts and minds will follow!”
The religious righ as a phenomenon is not isolated to the USA, simply more entrenched and now more open there. The USA is said to be the most ‘Christian’ country on earth, though I suspect this is open to interpretation. However that faith, whatever it might be, gives these fanatics and zealots more acceptances then elsewhere is the case.
In many countries the movement still practices stealth and secrecy, and for good reason; the majority of people would simply not tolerate the antics of the fanatical movement if it where clear and out in the open.
Wherever they exist the political agenda of the religious right is basically the same, and based on a moral code derived from biblical snippets and evangelical cultural constructs.
That their moral agenda is fraught with socially detrimental elements is a very real concern. That moral values cannot be legislated foreshadows chaotic governance whenever these people gain sufficient power to have their values enacted.
Still their beliefs, no matter how wrong headed, are not really the issue. It is, rather, that they would attempt to impose these beliefs on a wider community by stealth or any other underhanded method at their disposal. To fight for supposed moral ‘rights’ using morally dubious means hints at hidden agendas.
From personal experience, of the evangelical movement, the oft quoted numbers are largely composed of ‘social Christians’ who simply follow the pack and benefit from being part of some kind of family experience.
Independent thought and action is not only discouraged, it is rooted out, often viciously. This is the mark of the fundamentalist, the zealot. “There shall be no other thought than mine!”
Forget notions of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’
At the risk of seeming dramatic, the leaders of the Christian right and their more devoted followers are downright vicious. They will brook no opposition, being willing to totally destroy anyone in the flock (and some outside if it suits their cause) who would stand in their way. The former leader of the NSW Liberal party’s self mutilation [see It’s a Scandal] can be directly attributed to the malicious tactics of the religious right.
I have seen clergy who would attempt to rescue the basic Christian ideals from the evangelical interlopers, only to be driven out of the church, or worse driven to their own destruction. Like visible politics, this is the law of the jungle!
It is doubtful that the religious right will prevail, with signs that their current power trip might have already peaked. It is now over three decades that we have endured the bankrupt political culture of greed and monetarism. It is time for the pendulum to start its return swing.
If we have learned anything through those decades it must be the need for absolute transparency in our public affairs. If our openly elected political leaders owe allegiance to unelected powers, we must be made aware of the facts. If groups who choose not to stand for public ratification want to play a role in policy making, they must do so openly for all to see.
The big problem for religious extremists is that have nearly always functioned in secretive ways, perhaps choosing another scriptural hint and coming ‘…as a thief in the night…’ If they are determined to be secretive then those who oppose them must be all the more vigilant.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What a disaster

Job’s for the Boys or cronyism is a common facet of the ‘winner takes all’ approach to electoral success. Along with patronage, the appointment of friends to key positions, regardless of merit, has become an accepted feature of the political game. The corruption, often seen as mild, is the use of public assets for personal ends.
The appointment of friends can have some positive aspects. For example, if there is a proven track record of cooperation and efficiency. It can also lead to waste and mismanagement. In the worst scenario it can lead to outright disaster.
The hapless Michael Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seems to fall into the disaster category.
Only days after Bush had publicly praised him, saying: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," reports emerged that he had padded his resume, lacked real emergency relief experience and owed his job to political cronyism.
Critics have charged that Bush seemed isolated from real-time information and slow to grasp the immensity of the disaster in the days after the storm hit.
Certainly Michael Brown appeared ignorant about the plight of stranded survivors.
That no one could have foreseen the potential for massive disaster is still a matter of fierce debate.
That a person was appointed to head Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was totally unprepared for the job, is outright criminal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Perception Vs Reality

I admire Transparency International, the leading global non-governmental organisation devoted to combating corruption. But please TI, enough with the perceptions and let’s get down to the true picture.My perception from researching the corruption issue is that the wealthy countries tend to use the language of spin to temper the hard edges of corruption reporting. Those countries actually trying to confront the issue tend to call a spade a spade.
In the USA, for example, it is far more common to refer to a scandal as opposed to outright corruption. A scandal can cover any number of socially suspect activities, many of which have no hint of actual corruption.
A congressman can publicly squeeze someone’s bum and cause a scandal. It might reveal rank stupidity but it isn’t corruption. Why then should it be assigned the same term as outright corrupt behaviour, such as vote rigging, influence peddling or similar?
The answer is easy for any savvy politician; soft words reduce the negative perceptions of a charge.
Growing up in Australia, it was easy to believe the country was a world leader in corruption. The country was after all a dumping ground for convicts. The public service descends from military administrators who spurred the ‘Rum Rebellion’ in an effort to maintain their corrupt perks of office.
The real facts, however, are that Australia has been very active in the fight against public sector corruption. A string investigating commissions, into conduct of the public sector, including police, generated seemingly non stop headlines through much of the last half of the 20th century.
It was ‘in your face’ in language and visual images. That is not to say that Australia has beaten corruption. When it comes to perception I expect most of the population is heartily sick of hearing about real corruption, preferring the entertainment value of a good old scandal.
To their credit, many of the Australian jurisdictions created independent commissions to investigate corrupt activities. Some states even have separate bodies to oversee police misbehaviour. This is vital for two reasons:
The first is that even if the public and the politicians are tired of corruption issues, the charters of these organizations oblige them to keep fighting this evil.The second point is that in the sport of politics, corruption allegations are handy way of attacking and bringing down foes. Independent commissions are not, or should not be, answerable to the body politic. They, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion, even if the elected politicians can’t seem to manage transparent honesty.
Even in that rigorous climate slip ups occur and are dealt with swiftly. “A West Australian anti-corruption commissioner who resigned after tipping off a suspect in an investigation may still face criminal charges, following the release of an official misconduct report.” August 26, 2005 The AUSTRALIAN,5744,16394204%5E29277,00.html
Back to TI and the reality plea. No doubt many, if not most, developing economies are a rich mine for corruption. It seems a glaring cop out to focus on those countries in a ‘perceptions’ index when developed countries are, perhaps, merely more sophisticated in executing and hiding corrupt activities.
I hazard that identifying and quantifying corruption is about as difficult as identifying the ‘black economy’. People will offer their perceptions and postulations, but no one is going to put up their hand with hard data.
Even so statistical modeling, particularly computer assisted, is a highly sophisticated art now. Surely, even given the spin and other language difference, a fairly clear picture of ‘real’ corruption can be drawn.
A casual Google news search, using a range of different corruption related search terms shows that the wealthy countries are not really so low on the reality index.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Side Thoughts

The scandal, spurred by the actions of former NSW Opposition Leader, John Brogden, took on a life far beyond the original deeds this week. From bad taste the events turned to near tragedy for Brogden and a revelation of the lengths politicians and media will go to achieve their ends.
There have been, on the other side of the coins, some valuable insights into dealing with accusations, attacks and perhaps even real potential scandal.
The ‘grand old war horse’ of Australian political journalism pulled no punches: “…Brogden, a young man with everything to fight for, couldn't find the courage to fight for his leadership. Instead, overwhelmed with shame and self-pity, he quit. He'd shown himself up as a fool. The Liberals, you'd have to say, are well shot of his ‘leadership’"
Ramsey was not being cruel and heartless; the long time political watcher was simply telling it like it is.
Author and commentator David Marr writes:
“Dragging down your own party leader is a messy business. Backroom plotters know that what incompetence and unpopularity can't on their own achieve, scandal can. Destabilising party opponents by spreading dirt is a very old tactic practiced, at one time or another, by every political faction on earth. But in Australia over the past few decades, it's been the tactic of choice of conservative factions within conservative parties.”

According to Marr, who has written on scandal, including the attempt to falsely blacken the name of an Australian High Court judge; “…There are rules to this ugly game.”

“First, these tactics work best in parties that insist on their devotion to family values. Those who claim the respectable high ground make themselves much more vulnerable to accusations about sex and booze - the sort of stories that show they're human just like the rest of us. The most feared of the moral warriors within the [Australian} Liberal Party are the hardline self-righteous who, despite their professed knowledge of the Bible, forget the lesson of Galatians chapter 6, verse 7 above.

“Second, these tactics don't work unless the leader is already on the slide. Dishing dirt about the private life of a leader riding high in the polls is dangerous. The party stands to suffer far too much collateral damage. The plotters risk their own careers. The press isn't nearly as interested. The scandal card is usually played to hasten the end that's already in sight.
“The crucial third rule is that everything depends on persuading someone in the media - usually a columnist - to take the story seriously, to turn party scuttlebutt into public scandal. This is the point at which the media's responsibility is absolute: to judge - regardless of messenger, motive and surrounding political events - whether there really is a story and whether it justifies turning a spotlight on the private life of a political figure.”

Marr points out that Australians tend to do things a little differently. The UK media, for example, will print any piece of spicy gossip. “In America, questions of "character" - code for Christian virtue - is the media's excuse for prying deeply into politicians' lives."
In Australia, there is a healthy skepticism and distrust of private revelations which lack any real public interest. “…that rationale for scandal mongering doesn't really wash with the Australian public.” Marr adds.
One of the side issues, arising from this affair, is the spread, internationally, of religious based fanatical politics. It is not exactly corruption, although there seems to be a tendency to ignore convention and law if it serves their ends. I expect I will be setting out my thoughts and research in a separate blog, dedicated to dumping on the religious right.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Where is the corruption?

It seems an immutable law that if the public face of a scandal is not necessarily corruption; the dirty deeds are not far below the surface. In the case of the hapless John Brogden those dirty deeds are quickly becoming evident, if not prominent.

The real corruption in this issue is the manipulation of Liberal candidate selection and pre-selection threats by the ‘Christian’ right wing power faction (the Uglies) of the NSW Liberal party. Before NSW voters get too steamed up about their voting preference in future they might consider that the choices have already been made for them, behind the scenes.

John Brogden, his predecessor Kerry Chikarovski and deputy Barry O’Farrel are little more than bunnies in the great power play of the NSW Liberal Party. While the Carr government held supremacy these bunnies were allowed to keep the leadership seats warm, and entertain their fantasies.

Member of the NSW upper house, a committed Catholic, David Clarke, is the mastermind behind the present rise of the Right. Though little known before the Brogden affair, his is a vision, a fanatical vision of complete right-wing dominance of the Liberal Party.

Clarke, a conservative Catholic MP, and his staffer, the federal president of the Young Liberals, Alex Hawke, have formed a powerful bloc in the party's executive and council and it is in a strong position to influence the preselection of sitting members.

Clarke, the zealot, resurrected to crumbling right wing of the party and has astutely molded it to his own vision of Christian goodness. In true Christian fashion Clarke and his Uglies set about stacking branches, including the Young Liberal Movement, with follows who share their own warped views.

This, it should be said, was no clandestine operation. Indeed, riots and police intervention, unheard of events in the staid Liberal Party, became a feature of the push.

The torment of enduring Carr’s evil incumbency and the leadership of his less than fanatical colleagues must have been enormous. Carr’s resignation as Premier opened up the opportunity for the Liberals to stake their claim at last.

Brogden’s recent behaviour was a godsend to the Uglies. He could fall on his own sword without undue help from them, just a small media tweak here and there. But they already had enough to destroy him with a direct assault if that had been needed.

The additional information merely served to display the viciousness of these so called Christians. Brogden had jumped, but they kept hurling rocks down on the crumbling body. Surely revenge played a role in that disgusting spectacle, but there was more to it.

Barry O’Farrel, long time deputy, rightly saw his opportunity and duty to relace his fallen leader, but he is not an Ugly! O’Farrel is respected by colleagues and no doubt had the numbers. He needed to be persuaded to back off. The Uglies were intent on showing him and others that they would go to any length to take over the party. Even to destroy a life!

Clarke’s Uglies, including the newly ultra-conservative Young Liberals do not represent the aspirations of the people of NSW. I doubt they ever represent the aspirations of good Christians. They are vicious fanatics, intent only on forcing their views on the wider community.

While they might only see virtue in their actions they have blinded themselves to the innate corruption of branch stacking and vote rigging. Inciting violence and hate might be behaviours of the Christian Church through history, but they are in no way acceptable as Christ like behaviour.
It is difficult to rationalize the corrupt with the virtuous, for any purpose or end.

It’s scandalous

It might be a scandal, but is it corruption? The thoughts were provoked by the recent antics of the deposed NSW opposition leader, events which led to his resigning the leadership then attempting suicide.

The first point to consider is that corruption might generate a ‘scandal’ but a ‘scandal’ is not necessarily the result of corrupt actions. Sex related scandals really call for a bit of critical assessment.

The criteria for a broadly sex related scandal depend largely on the social taboos of any given time and place. Taboos, generally aren’t laws, but regulate our sexual conduct, race relations, political institutions, and economic mechanisms just the same.

Even so, there is wide latitude in who can and cannot successfully break these unwritten codes of behaviour.

When taboos are brought into play in the powerful political and corporate world, where the players have a good measure of insulation, they are invariably initiated with specific ulterior motives.

Chief among the underlying motives are diversion and power plays. There is nothing so effective as a trivial, titillating scandal to take peoples minds of unsavoury issues like economics or war.
Power plays can include diversion or operate as stand alone tactics. Few of us are squeaky clean, so there is often a handy store of potential ammunition to use against political and business foes. And don’t think those foes are always in the other camp, the Brogden issue is very much about leadership of the NSW Liberal Party, and has tentacles reaching through to Prime Minister John Howard.

On the retirement of long time NSW Labor Premier, Bob Carr, John Brogden was poised to take his party to government in the next general election. All he needed to do was stay on track, keep his nose clean be seen as a leader. The prospect was obviously too much for him. At an informal celebration of his good fortune Brogden hit the booze and showed his ‘bad boy’ side. His crime? He pinched a journalist’s bum (well at least she was a she), propositioned another and referred to the outgoing premier’s wife as a ‘mail order bride’. Pretty dumb for a future government leader, but hardly a hanging offence.

Still, it was enough for his internal party enemies to take and build into a riveting, headline, career smashing issue.

The question, after the fact, is how long would Brogden lasted at the head of his party anyway? It seems Brogden’s attempt on his own life was spurred by the pending release of further revelations of his ‘sordid past’. His enemies had enough in the bank to do a number on Brogden without his attack of ‘foot in mouth’.

Factions of the NSW Liberal party, rather than be content with the prospect of winning government, is determined to battle it out, further fracturing a splintered party. The prime minister wants his team at the head of the party; the religious right wants their man. They will no doubt all stay in opposition for a few elections yet.

Brogden’s actions were stupid and immature, certainly not the actions of a leader. Even so, they hardly warrant suicide. He is still relatively young and memories are short. There was every chance for the man to come back, as a seasoned warrior, to lead the party at a later date.

It has happened that way for others. Former Victorian (Australia) Premier Jeff Kennett reveled in his reputation as a bad boy. He was dumped from the party leadership and returned to take the prize of premier.

His verbal antics are well demonstrated on the infamous Kennett-Peacock car phone tapes He was robust, forthright and not beyond the odd salacious comment. Like many of the political survivors in this life Jeff Kennett simply let charges of scandal pass him by and focused on his own objectives.

Brogden’s scandal is not about corruption, it is about stupidity. In their own way his fellow party members are demonstrating that it is an infectious stupidity. That their lust for power is so strong that it can drive a man to suicide is still not criminal corruption, but it stinks!

How easy is it to prosecute corruption?

I guess the first problem is “who owns the bulldozer”? If the parties to corruption include powerful government or corporate agents, the ones who own the bulldozer, prosecution is problematic.
The very acts which constitute corruption, including; bribery, extortion, intimidation, can be well complemented by bevies of aggressive lawyers. The general rule, if all else fails, is to stall and create maximum confusion.

Not surprisingly it is the small fish most often successfully prosecuted. The big fish have the resources to avoid the risks of corruption.

Undeniably, there is a major effort by many anticorruption authorities. In the end, their powers are only as good as the laws provided by the legislators. The next question is, who pays the legislators?

A survey of anticorruption laws, on the face of it, suggests clear definitions of corruption and the powers to prosecute. For example, the British Crown Prosecutors Office guidelines seem unequivocal:

“Bribery and corruption are extremely serious offences, which strike at the heart of public confidence in administrative and judicial affairs. This factor alone will weigh heavily when considering the public interest in prosecuting.

“Bribery and attempted bribery (i.e. where there is an offer to bribe, but the offer is not taken up) are common law offences punishable by imprisonment or a fine at large, or both. The category of persons who may be bribed is extensive, including for example, a jury member, a coroner and a member of the armed forces.

“The nature of the office of the person bribed is immaterial as long as it is a public office. It is immaterial if the functions of the person who receives or is offered a reward have no connection with the United Kingdom and are carried out in a country in a country or territory outside the U.K.

“The offence of bribery is also committed by the person who receives the bribe. Receipt of the bribe could also be charged as the common-law offence of misfeasance.”

These guidelines are defined through both common law and legislation. To a degree they are echoed in other jurisdictions. The USA situation is perhaps complicated by their federal system of law, but the outcomes should be similar to the UK.

As to the ability to prosecute, the situation is no doubt similar as well. It is often far easier to prosecute on the basis of ‘umbrella’ charges, such as Interference with commerce by threats or violence ("Hobbs Act" Extortion) or Interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises (The Travel Act), in the USA.

On the other hand the choice of charge might reflect the degree of difficulty in proving one specific over another: Bribery requires "intent to influence" or be influenced (There must be a quid pro quo).
Illegal gratuity requires that it be accepted "for or because of" an official act and can simply be a reward for some future act they will take or have already taken. Ahhhh! Legal mumbo jumbo!
In terms of the extortion, the defendant does not need to induce the giving of the money; he simply has to be a public official. The person who gives the money/gift to the official would be charged with bribery.

The elements of official bribery vary by jurisdiction, but generally are: Giving or receiving a thing of value to influence an official act.

The thing of value is not limited to cash or money. Courts have held that such things as lavish gifts and entertainment, payment of travel and lodging expenses, payment of credit card bills, “loans,” promises of future employment, and interests in businesses can be bribes if they were given or received with the intent to influence or be influenced.

In the USA some state statutes might distinguish between felonies or misdemeanors according to the amount of illegal payment.

Again, these interpretations come from different jurisdictions and simply reflect an overall approach to the issue of official corruption. Each sovereign nation or state has some variation from those outlined.

The fact is what seems to be clear and unequivocal is still subject to a mauling by the legal system, as a recent San Francisco news article illustrates:

Jury's quick decision surprised many (The San Diego Union-Tribune July 20, 2005)
The Monday-morning quarterbacks of the legal world were dissecting the City Hall corruption trial yesterday, second-guessing decisions not to put the councilmen on the stand and marveling at the warp speed of jury verdicts...
… many members of the legal community said they were surprised by the guilty verdicts, and were busy yesterday trading insights and opinions on what went wrong, what tactics might have made a difference and what might be possible grounds for appeal and a motion for a new trial.”

The legal beagles were not particularly interested in the ethical questions of the trial, but simply what were the lessons so that the profession could do better next time. After all, for most the job is getting acquittals. The ethics can look after themselves.

Back in 2002 we were greeted with headlines like: Anti-Bribery Law Takes a Hit.
The story revealed that …a decision by a federal judge in Houston undermined the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, making it difficult for weak and demoralized prosecutors to bring to justice U.S. corporate executives who openly bribe foreign government officials.
The judge in the case ruled that under the law, it is perfectly legal for an executive from a US company to bribe a foreign official to reduce the company's tax burden or customs duties in that country. The clever little loophole distinguishes a class of bribery which the act does not cover. Clever work by corporate America and the lawyers!
Never mind that the thrust of the act, under a UNESCO convention, is intended to outlaw bribery per se.

The fight against corruption and successful prosecutions would have a greater chance of success if the legal and corporate communities showed some ethical will. For that matter many areas of criminal activity would be quickly circumscribed. I guess when there is big money at stake ethics is just too much to ask.