Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cheney Downunder

You can’t get away from the bastards, anywhere! Cheney is coming to town and his main task is to thank Prime Minister John Howard for Canberra's unwavering support through the Iraq War. Cheney downunder

The visit has fired up the old question hereabouts: What future direction do you think the US-Australian alliance should take? I didn’t bother looking at the 131 responses to that question, the Cheney visit is disturbing enough without wading through the views of the ignorant.

Commentators and the populous here are largely locked into a Bush led Republican past. There is little recognition of the changed dynamics already set in place by the Democrat resurgence.

But I was further outraged by the lingering legacy of the Bush/Cheney influence on our Prime Minister. Early in his term, nearly a decade ago, Howard got into hot water for being dumb enough to cast Australia as ‘the deputy sheriff’ of this region.

The implication clearly being that the Bush/Cheney gang has anointed the Howard government their local agents.

The result of that ‘understanding’ is still playing out. Some will recall my coverage of the mess we helped create in the Solomon Islands in 2003. Now a report from the Australian shows how far the deputy is willing to bumble!

AN Australian Vietnam veteran has been charged with a plot to assassinate controversial Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare for a $50,000 bounty allegedly "sponsored by Australia".

The arrest comes amid a simmering brawl between the Solomons Government and Canberra over Mr Sogavare's plans to form an armed police "close personal protection unit". All Solomons police were disarmed in 2003, following the arrival of the Australian-led intervention force to restore peace after years of ethnic-motivated violence.

Okay, so it is just a news report, there is no clear evidence of a plot hatched in Canberra, until you get to the para:

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman last night said he could not comment on the allegations of Australian involvement in sponsoring the alleged assassination plot

Personally I’m willing to overlook Howard’s increasingly outrageous travel expenses and send him off to Washington so Dick can say thanks. We don’t really want the creep here.

But I would also like to see the Congressional foreign relations committees revisit this supposed ‘deputy sheriff’ nonsense and knock it on the head.

If the US can’t trust Bush/Cheney to orchestrate their affairs across the globe they certainly can’t trust Howard and his half arsed conspirators.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

MOOPing along

There is an interesting turnaround on the Australian political scene. With an election due later this year the decade long rule of Howard’s Liberals looks to be heading for the rocks.

The latest indicator is that “the business elite are swinging behind a resurgent Labor Party, with strong corporate interest expected to deliver a sizeable windfall for Kevin Rudd's campaign.

A worried Liberal Party believes Labor and the union movement will have a combined total of $50 million to spend this year - an unprecedented amount to win over voters.”

Business Council of Australia (BCA) chief executive Katie Lahey confirmed business leaders were keen to find out more about Labor's policies and were backing a "strengthened" Opposition. "We are interested in what the policy agenda is," she said. "A lot of the reform issues (pushed by the BCA) are on the table now."

Rather than focus on policies the Liberal Party federal director, Brian Loughnane, claims that while the Liberal Party will spend less than $20million, Labor and the ACTU will spend a combined amount of "at least $50 million".
“This disparity in spending has ... the potential to change the Government of Australia," he told the Young Liberal national convention in Melbourne on Saturday.
“This disparity in spending has ... the potential to change the Government of Australia," he said.

In truth, whatever Labor spend on their campaign the Liberals will match it, even going into debt to do so. But in the process of creating a scare campaign he forgot to mention the contribution from the Australian people.

Total election public funding paid for the 2004 federal election was $41,926,158.91.

At the top of the tree: Liberal Party of Australia $17,956,326.48. Next was the Australian Labor Party $16,710,043.43

The formulae for this disingenuous MOOP (money out of politics) attempt is as follows:

“The amount of election funding payable is calculated by multiplying the number of formal first preference votes received by the rate of payment applicable at the time. This rate is indexed every six months to increases in line with the Consumer Price Index.

The public funding rate from 1 January 2007 to 30 June 2007 is 210.027 cents per eligible vote.”

This is a little deal cobbled together by the major parties some years back. It was meant to take the money out of politics, but instead merely supplements it. But on current figure the Liberals already have a potential $18 million in the chest, as do Labor.

It is peanuts compared to the US probably somewhat comparable on a per capita basis.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Stealth fighters – shock horror

Bush's mercenaries in Iraq

When I got curious about the Iraq contractor situation, a couple of weeks back, it took a lot of digging to get to some facts. Since then the issue has come to life, with no help from me, but gratifying all the same.

It was obviously pushed along a bit by the Blackwater incident which synchronised so dramatically with the SOTU speech.

US Army probing multiple contract frauds in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait operations

My prediction now is that, with the wheels falling off the ‘stealth army' arrangements the contractors are going to become the targets of the administration apologists.

The stories of corruption, by contractors and military personnel alike, had been steadily surfacing over the past few years. KBR have regularly been linked to corruption reports.

But KBR are fairly well protected, it is the contractor companies who don’t have a Vice Presidential protector who will be hammered.

But the way of politics is to attack the weak, and the PR war will target individual workers ‘who are only in it for the money’ or whatever other easy claims that will stick.

But it was the administration who chose to go down the path of a semi-secret private war. It was they who allocated enormous amounts of money to lure the 'greedy workers' in the first place. The Bush Administration cannot deny responsibility for the contractor mess or the privatized war. Right or wrong it was within their stated philosophical position.

It is all very well to punish corrupt contracting companies, but that should not become a diversion from the facts of Bush policy. Indeed, it should not divert from the corruption which occurred in the Republican controlled congress.

Not only did the use of contractors offer the opportunity for a massive government deception on real ‘troop’ numbers in the Middle East, there was the chance to milk the whole treasure trove of contract allocation.

Even that, the contract allocation, was partly privatized under the Halliburton umbrella. Now the balloon is leaking so rapidly it will be just as well focus blame where it rightly belongs – from the top down and not the other way around.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A poke in the blind eye

Still focusing on Australia, but I think with appropriate comparative emphasis.

While John Howard was busy extolling the ‘greatest nation on Earth, Queensland police are threatening strike action and protest marches over the decision to charge a veteran officer with the death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Mulrunji died after being struck while on the floor of a police station on November 19, 2004.. For reasons we can only make a reasonable guess at, the State’s Director of Public Prosecutions found that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley had no charges to face, despite a coronial inquest finding that he landed the fatal blows that killed Mulrunji Doomadgee while the aboriginal man was in custody on Queensland's Palm Island.

The findings tell, according to one senior journalist, Alan Ramsay, “a terrible story of brutish attitudes and the further degradation of public life in this country.”

We have been down the ‘deaths in custody’ trail in great depth in this country. I recall covering a part of a Royal Commission into this dark underside of the Australian system, back in the (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody) back in the 90s.

The issue became a counterpoint to Howard’s glowing summation of the country because the Queensland government was finally forced to find an independent arbitrator. The Palm Island people and aboriginals generally were not going to let it slide.

A few weeks back they appointed highly respected jurist and former NSW chief justice Laurence Street to review the case. Street has now found that evidence against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would most likely result in a conviction. Hurley will now face court.

While the victims of rough policing are rejoicing, while Howard is raving about the greatest country on Earth, the Queensland police are threatening to strike rather than see one of their own face justice.

But it is the justice and the questionable policing that really is in question. One aboriginal activist. Murandoo Yanner, claims Hurley as a mate “a most decent and most likeable bloke”. He adds, Hurley, like him, is just a ‘thug and a mug”. He is quick to point out, that like him, Hurley never walks away from a brawl!

Yanner misses the point, as do the Queensland police; the upholders of the legal system should be above the rough and tumble. It is not their place to react to behaviour but to uphold justice.

Whenever cops, like Hurley, cross the line and break the law to achieve their perceived ends they undermine the process. The law is not the law of the old testament, it cannot be allowed to become ‘rough justice’.

Hurley is nothing more than the presenting issue here. The fact that the police are willing to bully the wider community to cover their transgressions highlights a much wider problem.

While these problems continue Howard has no right to crow his nonsense about greatest nation. A fair an equitable society is the only true measure of that greatness.

As to the police, let them strike. Time and again, when the cops duck for cover crime drops. It is an odd equation, but not hard to prove.

But it goes so much further than police initiated violence, there is also police blindness. While following up on the long running Vancouver pig farm murders today I came across a story involving two people I’d known in BC.

The perspective here is that young native American women were disappearing from Vancouver’s East Side for some years, Bur police failed to see a pattern and look for an answer until nearly 50 women were killed.

I met Sto:lo activist Ernie Crey Ernie once or twice during the 2004 election campaign in Canada and he was everything I had been promised, cool, even tempered and highly intelligent.

In fact I could have easily supported Ernie in a quest for any office in Canada, or simply been happy being a friend. But Ernie was baring a cross that was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

His sister, Dawn Crey’s DNA, was found in January, 2004 at Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm, east of Vancouver.

The other person in this ‘local’ story is Robert Freeman, reporter for the Chilliwack Progress. He, like many involved in the Fraser Valley area of BC, knows Ernie’s story.

Freeman writes – “Crey’s cool under pressure, his ability to articulate complex issues to the media, led to him to become a spokesman for the families of the missing women when Vancouver police were still in denial that a serial killer was on the loose.

It’s hard to imagine Crey confused, angry or isolated.”

“Everyone thinks I’m even-tempered,” he said during a Wednesday interview. “(But) I’m like everyone else, I’m no different than anyone. What’s going on has affected me right down to the core of who I am.” Chilliwack Progress

Now I have the greatest sympathy for anyone living in within shouting distance of BC, but heart must go out to family of victims who were not really recognised as victims for years.

I have a high regard for both these characters, each has given me good reason for that. In that interview Ernie said it all! “What’s going on has affected me right down to the core of who I am.”

Wherever I go in this world, among the few arseholes, the many bland nobodies, I meet a few genuinely incredible people. In Canada Crey and Freeman were among them, and they are the sort of people who inspire me to keep on rabbiting about real issues.

Far to often the law is only concerned with those who matter, for whatever reasons they are. It is largely an economic process and easily sidelines those who don’t carry the clout. It’s not just Australia, Canada or even the US. The mindset that dispossesses is fairly universal.

No John Howard, we will never be the greatest while we tolerate oppression.

For the majority who choose not to engage in freeing all from these kinds of oppressions, think again. Tomorrow it might be you.

Greatest nation on Earth? Give me a break

AUSTRALIA has made its share of mistakes, especially in the treatment of indigenous people, but it is still the greatest nation on Earth, John Howard has declared.

As he welcomed 125 new citizens in the national capital the Prime Minister was upbeat, avowing: "It's a wonderful nation, the greatest on Earth. We think we're pretty good — and we are." We're the best, says PM

Well, if John says so… Although I would really like to see the evidence that supports the hype, if it exists. In my experience Australia has good and bad aspects like every other nation. I would probably put the place somewhere around average.

In his obligatory Australia Day speech, opposition Leader Kevin Rudd was more on the money, saying Australians should "allow ourselves to dream … about what we might become".

I have a problem with the notion of blind patriotism, of ‘country right or wrong’, in fact any blind allegiance. It can only work positively if a country’s leaders and citizens hold on to a deep sense of justice and benevolence; able to allow space for diversity.

Most of the word’s worst evils are perpetrated in the name of patriotism or its closely related religious allegiance. People allow themselves to be blinded by words and notions, openly ignoring harsh realities.

Oh, the people, or most of them, wake up eventually; as from a nightmare usually when they see the results of blind compliance. But the truth is, Australia is not all that far down the patriotism track; but are no doubt blinded by other mechanisms of national insecurity.

The point is, if you are ‘the best’, in any field, the fact is self-evident. If you are the best there is little need to crow about it. If you are the best then it should be a natural and simple thing to reach out to others with kindness and not with accusation and maliciousness,.

I am happy, overseas, to identify myself as Australian. Sure people are inclined to take the piss, to treat Aussies the way Aussie treat others. But at it’s best, and for the most part, it is a friendly and positive experience. But John Howard might be surprised that it is the Kiwis who are generally most admired in our region. Or maybe he does, maybe that is why he would like to merge them into the “greatest nation on Earth”.

Friday, January 26, 2007

January 26

(Blognonymous (Kvatch) set the challenge, here is my blog in verse)


My country's day of celebration

A prison wrought into a nation

Occurs here on this very day

It is Australia, what can I say?


Our leader serves the US nation

From his south Pacific station

Okay, before you start to shrug

Thank Howard for being a Bush butt plug!


It's a country that doesn't dwell on thanks

Delights in bashing the Poms and Yanks

And everybody is mate (like pal)

Unless you are aboriginal


Great honour goes to Flannery, Tim

Climate warrior renowned is him

But Howard suffered again I fear

A green ‘Australian of the Year'?


Our bone dry climate has nasty habits

of killing frogs and breeding rabbits

as well as nasty, deadly snakes

good on you Tim, for all our sakes


As rivers languish, dry and bare

We throw 10 billion at them - there!

I guess they'll flow now green with money

What a heartbreak land of milk and honey


As we cling here for our very lives

And flex and grow as history drives

We have come far from convict cell

But where we're headed I can't foretell

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Australia Day thoughts

Friday - January 26, is Australia Day. For most that means taking the opportunity to turn themselves into crispy fried humans (it is summer here) or offering themselves as shark bait of the countries beaches. For a hardy few, mainly commentators of one sort or another, it is all about identifying the ‘culture’ of this big, dry, convict/immigrant settlement.

The place is so far removed from any real civilisation that the need to justify some sort of difference is enormous. So I offer the following, in the spirit of Australia Day and challenge non Australians to spot a difference.

SOME years ago, the anthropologist Ghassan Hage characterised Australia as a "phallic democracy". Phallic democracies indulge in macho boasting about their commitment to democratic values even while they trash those same values. In Hage's terms, phallic democracy is the democracy you have rather than the democracy you live; something that's held up as a symbol of our moral superiority, rather than something that we actually live.
In the same way, we have phallic national values: the values you have, rather than the values you live.

There is a curious double process at work here: as the market has been allowed to run riot over the national social fabric, organising and re-organising social life according to its own designs, the national culture has been subject to ever more heavy-handed attempts to fix what it means to be Australian.

The two processes — an ever freer economy and ever more desperate bids to lock down the national culture — may seem to run counter to one another, but they're really two sides of the same coin. Democracy? We don't walk the walk

Correct me if I’m wrong, but those comments could apply to any number of western societies.

If it looks like a soldier…

After a day of all out war in Baghdad, the story leads with: US-led forces were fighting gunbattles in the heart of Baghdad today in an effort to crush militant hideouts, a day after President George Bush told the US Congress failure in Iraq was not an option.

But further into the story we have more reason to argue that private contractors should be recognised along with military personnel:

Security sources said a small private security helicopter that came down just across the Tigris River during clashes nearby yesterday was forced down after the pilot was shot dead.

Three others aboard the aircraft, which had been guarding a diplomatic convoy on the ground, may have been shot on landing, they said. A fifth person on a second helicopter was also shot dead.

Gunmen opened fire on the motorcade of Iraq's higher education minister on a highway in southern Baghdad today, killing one of his guards and seriously wounding another, the minister said.

Associated Press reported that five Americans were killed in the crash, citing an unnamed U.S. official in Baghdad. The helicopter was operated by private U.S. security company Blackwater. Before Tuesday's crash, at least 22 employees of Blackwater Security Consultants or Blackwater USA had died in Iraq as a result of war-related violence.

However you add it up, these non military personnel are carrying out military type operations in a conflict zone. They are subject to the same dangers as their military counterparts confirming that the real estimate of personnel is closer to 250,000. Those numbers set the framework Congress should be making decisions on; those numbers and the attempt to hide them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush utters the 'C' word

You can’t beat the Australian media for a good headline - Bush utters the 'C' word

Bush butt plug, Aussie PM Howard has also discovered climate change. With an election just months away Howard has reshuffled his cabinet to beef up it’s hard sell options.

So, having finally clued into the potential climate disaster Howard opts for a former merchant banker to take over the environmental portfolio.

Malcolm Turnbull, always high profile before he entered politics, has lately been responsible developing a water policy for this parched nation. So far his ideas seem to be much in line with merchant banking – sell to the highest bidder.

That bodes well for the environment – carbon credits, water credits, forest credits… A bloody merchant bank approach to something as vital as the planet's future?

I was tempted to repeat the ‘c’ word when I learned who got shafted so the merchant banker could be elevated. Amanda Vanstone, the kaleidoscopic and quixotic minister for immigration wasn’t even asked to swallow her sword, it was just shoved down her throat.

Amanda was, no doubt a loose cannon in the government, but one of the few ministers with wide appeal. Amanda might be colourful and unpredictable, but she was also the closest Howard had to an honest minister. I can wish Amanda a pleasant future in London, Paris or wherever her consolation prize takes her. She wouldn’t enjoy opposition anyway.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Private stories

While it does not change the fact that they are the unseen element of this war, I was curious about what they do, and the attitudes of these private contractors in Iraq. There was one surprising revelation from this research, but first off is a return to the story that started me looking at this situation.

The story that started it A sense of the senselessness

A 58-year-old San Antonio man who signed on with a private contractor in Iraq partly to raise money for retirement was killed in a "friendly fire" incident, his family said.

Hector C. Patio was shot by armed guards Saturday morning at a checkpoint outside of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad, his family said.

The Australian Defense Department didn't name the victim of the shooting but described the incident in a statement.
Melissa Norcross, a spokeswoman for KBR Inc., confirmed that an employee was killed at a coalition control point in Baghdad. She did not name the worker. She said the victim was the 96th employee or subcontractor of the Houston-based company to die in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Contractor in it for the troops

A Nebraska man has been memorializing American and coalition troops killed in Iraq by cutting out copper leaves, etching the names on them and attaching the leaves to a copper tree.
In a September 2004 story by The Associated Press, Bill Deane of Papillion explained why he got started on his 7.5-foot-tall memorial: "It makes the war real for me."
But he got to thinking that he wasn't doing enough to help U.S. soldiers.
So the 58-year-old put his sheet metal skills to work for a U.S. contractor and spent the past year in Iraq, bringing cool mechanical breezes to troops who routinely endure temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and more.
Deane never thought he was in much danger because he spent most of his time on installing air conditioning at U.S. bases.

Entrenched electronic wizards

A team of technicians from Azbell Electronics, based in Fort Hood, TX, is on active duty in Iraq this year, providing command & control support to the United States Army’s 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), a major subordinate command of the Army’s III Corps.
It was Azbell’s fourth deployment overseas and once again the team is making use of a mobile command & control shelter the company has developed especially for combat support applications.
For Azbell Vice President of Business Development Barry Crum, sending company people to a combat zone for a year is a costly and inconvenient proposition, but sends an important message.

Trucking on

Craig Kramer, 38, is in Iraq as a civilian contractor.
Now in his final stage of training, he will be relocated to a permanent site in the next few days, where he will be a heavy truck driver assigned to a convoy.
Kramer said contractors, unlike military personnel, "don't use heavy artillery," though they do wear bullet-proof vests and helmets.
He said his decision to become a contractor was a financial one.

Not so secure

A Hungarian private security firm employee died in western Baghdad yesterday in an attack on the convoy of the Washington-based not-for-profit National Democratic Institute.

The contractor, who was working for Unity Resources, had been assigned to protect the group. Six Iraqis, one Croatian and one female US employee also died in the attack. The man is the third Hungarian to die in the Iraq war.

But then another issue pops out of the woodwork – a third hidden army and one more troubling.

The third army

The third American army in Iraq is an invisible army, driven not by duty, or greed, but by need. An investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed some of the ugly truth about the sub-contractors that are paid to do the menial work for the bigger U.S. and other military contractors. An international network of such companies has apparently brought thousands of laborers to Iraq. The Tribune reporters found that “subcontractors and brokers routinely seized workers' passports, deceived them about their safety or contract terms and, in at least one case, allegedly tried to force terrified men into Iraq under the threat of cutting off their food and water.” The U.S. military has confirmed that laws banning human trafficking have been violated and has ordered contractors “to return passports that have been illegally confiscated from laborers on U.S. bases.” From Foreign Policy In Focus

Bear in mind that in addition to 100,000 estimated contractors there are these, so far uncounted, sub-contractors and possibly virtual slaves. The tragedy of Iraq just keeps getting worse; the greed of the Coalition leaders and their cronies more blatant.

The public focus has slowly moved to the obvious and painful acceptance of military casualties. Shifting that focus deeper into the Iraq mess won’t be easy, but it would certainly raise the stakes against those who planned, executed and profited from this insane conflict.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The private casualties of Iraq

One of my recent posts on the death of an American civilian contractor by Australian troops (A sense of the senselessness) raised the question of the hidden component of the Iraq conflict. We hear very little about this aspect of the ‘privatized’ war yet the figures suggest it is very significant. After some digging around, with the help of praguetwin I’ve come up with what could be regarded as a conservative tally.

According to insurance claims on file at the U.S. Department of Labor, 770 civilian contractors were killed in Iraq from the war's start in March 2003 through Dec. 31, and 7,761 civilian contractors were injured. The contractors include foreign workers.

The Pentagon has estimated there are 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, doing such jobs as serving meals, guarding convoys and interrogating prisoners.

Colation governments, including the USA, tend to mitigate the presence of contractors with the argument that they are essentially greedy bastards who are in it for the big money. Maybe so, but that only answers why they are there as individuals, not the scope of their presence.

Add the Pentagon’s estimate to the 150,000 military personnel and the on the ground numbers in Iraq come to a tide quarter of a million.

That this Washington Post article is from 2004 merely strengthens the argument that civilian contractors numbers and fatalities should have been recognised all along as a component of the personel executing this conflict, not just the military component.

Line Increasingly Blurred Between Soldiers and Civilian Contractors

While on missions in Iraq last year, 35-year-old Todd Drobnick was attacked by small-arms fire, grenades and makeshift bombs. Yet he continued to go out day after day, until he died in a vehicle crash on his way from one U.S. military base to another. For his loyalty and dedication, he was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Thousands of Americans in Iraq have received such honors, but Drobnick's case was unusual: He wasn't a soldier. He was a private contractor working with a translation company

The article continues:

The occupation could not function without contractors. Construction giants such as Bechtel Inc., Fluor Corp., Parsons Corp. and Perini Corp., are rebuilding the country's infrastructure. Blackwater Security Consulting and Erinys, staffed with former Special Forces fighters, provide security details for occupation personnel. General Dynamics Corp. and Halliburton Inc. subsidiary KBR supply the military with support personnel who handle such diverse duties as repairing tanks and cooking.

Let’s not play semantics here, the simple fact is that at leas 250,000 personnel are on the ground in the Iraq conflict zone, regardless of whether they are bona fide military or privateers. The private aspects of this conflict must be recognised in the overall count.

Civilian contractor casualties can be tracked HERE.

Related (courtesy of Abi): A recent Boston Globe article reported on how companies like Haliburton and others are refusing to honor many claims for injuries suffered by their employees in Iraq. Employees have to go to court for compensation. Link here

Friday, January 19, 2007

Economic predictors

With a federal election later this year the media jockeying is now underway. It is common in Australia for each party to contest the underdog position, essentially to lock in wavering voters. But a couple of headlines this week seemed to be taking that approach to extremes:

Electoral loss will mean death of Liberal Party (The Liberal/National coalition currently govern under John Howard.)

Poll loss the end for ALP, unions (The Australian Labor Party are seeking to break a decade on the opposition benches)

To put these competing claims into perspective, the former Labor leader Kim Beazley says the loser of this year's federal election will struggle to survive as a political force. A bit over the top of course, parties might come and go but the only changes are generally in name not substance.

Part of the problem for the Liberal Party is John Howard’s total dominance for more than a decade, and the extremely conservative direction he has taken the party. In the process Howard has managed to systematically destroy any challengers, always a danger with dominant leadership. Britain’s Labour Party faces the same issue when Blair finally departs.

If the Liberals lose in Canberra they will be out of office in every jurisdiction in the country. But that is not enough reason to call the end of the party. The Australian electorate maintains a fine balance between state and Federal politics, and we would most likely see the Libs picking up state and territory governments.

The upcoming NSW election could be a litmus test in this regard. Labor should win easily, but if the NSW voters sniff a federal win for Labor they might well pre-empt things and dump the state Liberals into power.

Even without stories like: Inflation puts rates fear in Coalition MPs the average voter knows they are getting ready to shaft Howard. With interest rate rises predicted, the emphasis on rises, people are hurting.

Economists calculate that every 0.25 percentage point rise in interest rates takes $2billion out of Australian consumers' pockets. “The problem for the Government, as it prepares to fight an election due in October or November, is that the impact of rate rises is concentrated on the 30 per cent of households - many in marginal seats - that have a mortgage.”

Labor analysis of the 2004 election results showed that the Government's interest-rate scare campaign was most effective in polling booths in electorates with the highest number of mortgage holders.

Financial markets now are starting to give some thought to a nightmare scenario for the Government of another two or three rate rises this year.

I don’t really see the death of either major party, regardless of election results. But I can see the Howard government taking a hiding at the polls, and not before time. It’s just a shame people need that financial hit before they take the hint.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Telltale economics

“THE Australian share market is expected to open higher after a strong lead from Wall Street, and as economists await further signals for the direction of interest rates.” Wall Street tipped to usher in a buoyant Aussie bourse

The big news is that the financial world is getting its rocks off on the Aussie dollar. Great news for the traders, but anus-puckering news for the Howard Government.

The odds of another interest rate rise in Australia this year are firming amid concern over stubborn inflation and wage pressures, creating a headache for the Federal Government as the election approaches.

It would be the fifth since the Coalition, led by John Howard, was re-elected in 2004 on a pledge of keeping interest rates low.

Some reports say inflation remained stubbornly high, making the case for another interest rate rise compelling. Inflation is not only high but accelerating, strengthening the case for the Reserve Bank (RBA) to raise interest rates next month for the fourth time in a year.

Prices increased by 0.3 per cent last month. The rise was the third consecutive month of accelerating inflation and came despite the RBA's 0.25 per cent increase in official interest rates in November to 6.25 per cent. Inflation was 3.8 per cent last year, the survey found.

January 5, futures markets had priced a 28 per cent chance of an interest rate rise into the 30-day bank bill futures for March delivery. That market had yesterday priced in a better than 50 per cent chance.

So it’s a case of good news and bad news. The good news is not just for those market players who look to make a killing, Australian’s who have had enough of Howard’s Liberal/National government should be delighted. The government’s continuing economic woes are a guilt edged guarantee of electoral failure.

So rather than rush out for a mortgage on a bargain basement property, and risk increasing interest rates, I might just go and pour myself another beer.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Drip feed on contractor death

The question in the supplementary notes on my last post - A sense of the senselessness - has been answered in part. I was curious about the fatalities on the private side of this strange semi-privatized war.

The Houston Chronicle reported recently that 95 KBR employees and subcontractors have died while working on US Government contracts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. According to Halliburton, 430 KBR staff have been injured.

Meanwhile information continues to drip out about this Baghdad atality:

A spokeswoman for KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, one of the biggest US contractors in Iraq, said in an email yesterday: "KBR regrets to confirm that a KBR employee … was fatally wounded at a control point manned by coalition forces in Baghdad, Iraq." The company refused to release the man's name or nationality, but he is known to have been an English speaker.

Another report says the KBR contractor was an American citizen of Hispanic birth, aged in his late 30s or early 40s, who spoke English. He had earlier cleared the first checkpoint into the area, where he is believed to have told troops that he had a task at the Australian embassy.

Parent company, Halliburton gets a direct mention of an Australian association in local media reports:

Firepower chief linked to Halliburton

The European head of a mysterious firm that has become one of Australia's largest sporting sponsors has previous links to Halliburton…

Monday, January 15, 2007

A sense of the senselessness

An International - English speaking - contact driver was shot and killed in Baghdad's Green Zone the other day. According to the Australian Defence Force, the driver refused to stop for a routine security search only 200m from the Australian embassy.

When he failed to obey the order Australian soldiers fired on the ‘garbage track' sized vehicle and killed the driver. A coalition soldier at the checkpoint also opened fire, it was reported. But it was unclear whether that person was British or American.

The shooting was carried out under well understood rules of engagement and no one is clear why the KRB employed driver chose to ignore the instruction.

There really isn't much more being revealed in various reports. That the Halliburton subsidiary KRB is named as the contractor is hardly surprising, they are the other US face of this strange conflict.

Having recently travelled through various US airports I certainly had the sense that refusal to comply with various security directives could have serious consequences. At times it was almost surreal with TSA personnel friendly and joking one moment and fully focused and unyielding the next.

To be fair, their sense of purpose was clear when it came to the security related instructions - there was no temptation to play with the situation.

Anyone fool enough to be in Baghdad's Green Zone would be aware that they will get more than simply bounced on by a bunch of overweight airport security people. Baghdad is for keeps, the tension simply too high.

Like many I resent the fact that bad policy and initiatives have created needless tension and paranoia within ‘friendly' countries. I resent it doubly when it all comes down to the cost of doing business. The world has been made unreasonably dangerous in pursuit of the dollar, and those behind it have not even managed to do that well.

Another thought:

There is an AP story doing the rounds: Troop 'Surge' No Boost for Defense Cos.

Bush's plans to raise troop levels deployed to Iraq by 21,000 this year will have little effect on 2007 revenue for defense contractors, Wall Street analysts said Thursday…”

But the contractor issue has me thinking about the corporate role in this war zone. I’ve noted the stream of military casualties figures, they are always the focus. Occasionally we are treated to the wider number of civilian deaths and even stories on individual contractor deaths. I just don’t recall seeing any overall numbers on contractors, apart perhaps, of those caught up in various corruption schemes.

It would be interesting to see, in light of the proposed surge, what the real numbers of personnel (including civilians) are in the conflict zones. It gives a whole new meaning to ‘corporate wars’.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Pitfalls of a booming economy

There have been a few stories around this week about Australia's increase in bankruptcy rates, somewhere around a 15% increase for business. But these snippets paint a more complete picture of a booming economy:

"Australia's booming economy has brought with it a higher cost of living as consumers get a taste of the good life.

The trouble is that many consumers, especially lower income earners, are caught short when external events like drought drive up the cost of food or higher interest rates make mortgage payments harder, said Paul Leroy, who is a registered bankruptcy trustee at Hall Chadwick.

"The overall picture of the last few years is one of increasing pressure on lower income people," Leroy said.

"I don't see anything changing on the horizon that can alleviate that."

Increasing competition to sell credit is also behind the surge in debt levels, said Mr Leroy, adding that he saw a case six months ago of a person with 14 credit cards declaring bankruptcy.

Of the debtors declaring bankruptcy, more than two thirds had incomes of less than $30,000 in the 12 months prior, according to the Profiles of Debtors 2005 from ITSA.

Some 55 per cent of bankrupts were male and 54 per cent were unemployed.

The growing bankruptcies comes as unemployment hovers at 30-year lows.

Confidence about being able to stay employed may be lulling some consumers into thinking they can take on more debt.

"In times like this when anyone who wants a job has one people feel more confident and may take on more debt," CommSec chief equities economist Craig James said.

"People may not factor in rises in interest rates or that they have a job in a sector that is not all that strong."

Economists have said that the latest economic data may point to at least one more interest rate hike this year.

All too often the current economics focuses on the high end of the market. It's these figures that will be directly relevant to the Federal election due later this year. People at the base are hurting. The question is, how deep is the problem, enough to swing the vote? The positive for the Howard government is that like the voters are like those bugs that just go on happily, until they are splattered against the windshield.

Damned weather patterns

Selling off rivers

El Nino cycling

New frog species doomed


Selling off rivers

I wrote recently about Australia's water woes and I'm fascinated that this dry isolated region I've landed in temporarily is constantly at the heart of the issue. I chose Queensland and the arid semi-outback for my respite simply because I'd never experienced it before. It seems though, we are never really isolated from raging controversy.

Latest news is that the Queensland government is going to auction off the nearby Warrego River. "The Warrego is a major tributary of the Darling River, and Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Water Malcolm Turnbull yesterday described it as a volatile river."

Now the Qld government insists that it is not auctioning off the water in the Warrego River but are in fact auctioning ‘access' to the river!. Last time I looked the muddy chain of puddles didn't look like an attractive purchase. But access means the right to grab the river's contents when it does have water in it. Hey, I only report this stuff, I don't split the hairs!


El Nino cycling

The fact is, drought or not, this is a dry country. More than 70% of Australia is too dry to support agriculture, a lot of the remaining 30% is marginal at best. The enemy is El Nino, but Scientific America reports: "The El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific, blamed for severe drought in Australia, is losing intensity and normal rains may return in months, an Australian government climatologist said on Thursday."

"The main drought-affected areas have been through the south and the east (of Australia), and what we typically see during the end of an El Nino is for increased rainfall in those parts of the country," Climate Meteorologist Grant Beard of Australia's Weather Bureau told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.


New frog species doomed

No sooner had Australia's newest frog species been identified than its discoverer warned that the amphibian's existence was threatened by climate change.

The frog, Mixophyes carbinensis (the Carbine Tableland barred frog), lives on or near mountain tops in cool rainforest pockets in far north Queensland. The species could have less than 50 years to live according to researchers.

Conservation biologist Michael Mahony, who helped identify the species, says the frog faced two potential threats: climate change that would not only make life too hot for it, but might also allow a deadly disease to flourish.

"Even with moderate predictions of global warming, its habitat will disappear before 2050," Dr Mahony said.

The rare frog lives 1200m to 1400m above sea level in the Carbine Ranges, inland from the Daintree region. "What we know from the predictions of global climate change and global warming is that the first places that will experience significant change are high altitudes," Mahony said.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Statistics of sick thinking

The current ongoing discussion of MOOP (taking money out of politics) is bound to take a few sidetracks - directly related and otherwise.

My blog-cobber, Abi, supported his marginally outrageous position with statistics, something we tend to do when they appear to favour our point of view. Though, to be fair, I'm sure Abi will have combed the raw data to ensure his stats met the criteria of ‘empirical evidence' of his case.

But I am wary of stats as delivered, pre-digested, by the media. I was sent a fascinating example, today, of just how ludicrous some of the statistical claims can be. I think the story came from Reuters, at least they came up on a Google news search of the headline: Australians among longest living in world.

The fact is, statistically, non-indigenous Australians are all that matters. The article went on to detail the other side as though they were something else again; "poverty, discrimination, substance abuse and poor access to health, are believed to affect the lifespan of these original Australians."

Well bugger me with a fish fork! The Aborigines still don't count as people! Funny thing is, I don't know quite how to express my anger at this so everyone realises I'm sitting here fucking fuming!

Let me explain. Back when I was a young sprog, mid teens, this was the very issue that sucked me into the world of politics. There was a referendum on the books which aimed to have indigenous Australians included (at the very least) in the national census count. A referendum which, if approved, would class Aboriginals as people.

Well against the odds of the Australian referendum system, this one actually passed, and did so convincingly. It still stands as one of the very few to run that near impossible gauntlet. Yet now, half a decade on, statistics can still exclude a whole race of people to make a fairly tenuous point.

I haven't seen the raw figures on this report, but I'm wondering if we Australians can still claim this wondrous longevity if we include the Abos, the boongs or whatever other term we want to use to reduce them back to sub-human. What are we? the longest living group of racists on the planet?

I still regret the day I got involved in giving my fellow countrymen the excuse to ignore the tragedy of ‘the blackfella'. I want my statistics, my politics and my rationalisations to deliver a damn sight more than that!

Monday, January 08, 2007


Well my friend in MA, Abi can give me a hard time over his hardline MOOP; little does he know my other nemesis and ‘fruit of my loins' lives not so far from him. He should tremble because my only daughter is an Avid empiricist.

Even Abi will acknowledge that a dad must be wary or clever familial associates. He might even admit that their outrageous views might carry some cache, or not.

For me the whole discussion of taking ‘Money out Of Politics' feels personal; not only because of my own experiences, but because I know my only daughter and her only brother will call me on my ‘gut reaction' which coincides with the views of Abi.

"Show us the evidence" they will challenge. We know what you think, but prove it!" I'm not really sure where these clever little (ooops, now adult) creatures came up with the idea of evidence based debate, unless it was to thwart clever fatherly type argument.

So if I appear reluctant, Abi my friend, to dive headlong into this issue, it is because I am caught between what is and what if. The what ifs you have kindly supplied, and I will repeat them here.

Here are some ideas:

* If voters want to learn about the candidates' platforms, it's as easy as going to their web sites. I pay under $12 a month for my site. Blogger is free.

* Newspapers and broadcasters have a responsibility to inform the public, and they should do so as a public service.

* Restrict how much a candidate can spend on an election, including the candidate's own money.

* Restrict the length of campaigns -- weeks, not years.

* Ban political contributions by any entity except individuals.

* Ban political advertising.

* Ban paid lobbying.

I guess, with the foregoing qualifications, I can take these ideas one by one and explore them. No doubt other ideas will be added along the way. Let's see how we go.

If voters want to learn about the candidates' platforms, it's as easy as going to their web sites

Somewhere in the future I can envisage interactive media playing a major role in linking the people to the political, governing process. This is not a matter of cost of information delivery as much the potential accessibility through the medium.

That time is not yet because, ubiquitous as it is becoming, the internet connected home computer is still poorly understood and under utilised by the mass of users.

In fact, from my experience, there is a dreaded fear of the computer and internet taking control of homes - like TV hasn't done that already. There is certainly no broad acceptance that the technology can be harnessed for any positive or productive purpose.

Perhaps in another generation the technology might be sufficiently accepted to the stage that is possible to harness it for greater social/political good. It might, but I have my doubts. Social ignorance is not overcome so easily and will more likely go only so far as needs for entertainment allow.

On top of that argument I would suggest that polling regularly shows that people are simply not engaged enough to go and seek information of a political nature. It will still need to be force fed in some way.

Newspapers and broadcasters have a responsibility to inform the public, and they should do so as a public service.

I would go further on the use of the more traditional and acceptable media delivery methods. The major barrier here is economic, with media companies relying on the regular windfall profits from political campaigns.

Even so, I could envisage a situation where all political advertising was prohibited, replaced by a system controlled by an independent electoral commission. The media would still benefit, but by way of pre-purchased blocks controlled by the commission. The purchased blocks would be matched free by participating media, effectively discounting overall cost by 50%.

The blocks proposed would be sufficient to outline both party policy statements and candidate information and positions. The voters would benefit from having a fair and equal access to the information they need to make a decision.

Any of the other nonsense which is now included in advertising would be relegated to straight editorial and would be required by regulation to allow balance and rebuttal.

I know there are similar provisions at local government level in some places. It works well and serves to create a more even playing field and more thoughtful policy statements.

In some place the requirement for balanced coverage is also in place for all levels of office seekers. Although there is a certain flexibility on the issue of news worthiness. I know during my candidacy in Australia I easily achieved 30% of the media, although my official allocation was 10% in line with my party's previous national vote. We just worked hard on making our media releases interesting and newsworthy.

It does mean politicians need to be far more astute with their communications skills, but then that should be a requirement for the job anyway.

Enough for now - I will deal with the other proposals in future blogs. I guess the main approach for now is to lay out the options and potentials for a MOOP drive. I am not fully convinced that it is ‘doable' but I do support the broad concept as essential to creating something like real democracy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Money out of politics? Pigs might fly

Dear Abi

I was doubtless, a naïve young bloke when I had my first run in with the influence of money in electoral campaigns. Well not so naïve that I didn't understand that contesting an Australian House of Representative seat for a new minor party required miracles more than cash to ensure success.

My main aim was to support a more feasible senate campaign and with a mortgage and a young family money wasn't to be thrown at a windmill tilting exercise willy-nilly.

We chose to go another route, with a colourful people campaign and an expenditure of about $1100.

Don't laugh, the incumbent, a government minister, alleged on the required expenses return that he spent nothing - zero - zilch. The major opposition opponent was said to have spent $200. Thos sums covered tee shirts, buttons and all the other paraphernalia of elections.

So my honest, if miserly expenses statement was quickly picked up by the media. Would I be prosecuted for overspending? Not bloody likely, that might put the spotlight on all those fraudulent returns. But it did create a media buzz for a while.

The point to this story, (my introduction to (MOOP) taking Money Out Of Politics, a subject dear to your heart Abi,) is that the newly elected parliament decided to simply get rid of the annoying expenses reporting provision.

Politicians 1 - Cartledge 0

But it gave me a quick appreciation of how the system really works; those who frame the laws will look after their own interests first.

Some years later - while I was in that Rip Van Winkle land of a growing family and bigger mortgage, the clever Australian legislators came up with a MOOP inspired goldmine; if the people pay for the elections... It is possible that some of those who supported the introduction of publicly funded elections even saw some virtue in the proposed scheme.

But look at the key mechanics of it: Money would be doled out after each election against election expenses claims!

Two things here. First these were the same people who could previously run a campaign with no apparent cost at all. But suddenly campaigns became big ticket items, the bigger the better.

Second, money still had to be raised and spent before it could be claimed. It offered no safeguard against politicians being bought, but it also failed to require that donations were taken off the final sum claimed from the public purse.

Even under this system the major parties consistently rack up major debt in Australia. I would suggest that a second part of any attempt to take money out of politics should be designed and regulated by a fully independent body. I also suggest we all be on the lookout for flying pigs!

But for all that the issue does need a lot more consideration. There are ways, mechanisms which would deliver better results, given all the right circumstances.

Moral and legal

There is a grey cloudy area of political/legal concepts. This is where clear issues of legal social control clash with perceived moral and lifestyle issues. Let’s use road laws as an analogy; it is imperative for example, that drivers be obliged to stick to a clearly defined side of the roadway. If vehicles simply used roads willy-nilly chaos and disaster would ensure. There must be clearly defined road rules.
The idea of road laws is to mitigate against harm being done to other road users, to establish a safe regime for all.
There are areas where road laws tend to deviate from that basic prerogative. While seat belts have been a legal requirement for many years now there are still those who see the requirement as an infringement of personal choice.
Seat belts don’t save other road users from harm, they are a product of a ‘nanny state’ attitude which would seek to save us from ourselves.
Further into the grey area of road laws are the really personal choices of road users. They can be pretty dumb choices; 4X4s as city vehicles for example, road monsters which are never taken off urban roadways.
Now personally I would rather see our urban and suburban centres designed more for pedestrians and public transports, and environmental prerogatives might give that argument a nice ‘moral’ edge. But the fact is that it will not happen until there is sufficient change in social attitudes to make a natural transition.
You simply cannot, effectively, legislate moral issues – no matter how persuasive the arguments might be. Even seat belt laws have a marginal effectiveness.

Now you might consider same sex relationships an abomination, be appalled by recreational drug use, be disgusted by church non-attendance – but these are all personal lifestyle issues which exist regardless of your sensitivities.
There are clearly areas in some of these moral questions which do require well defined laws and prohibitions; non-consensual sex (of any variety) and the reckless transmission of disease or drug related activities which harm people and property beyond the user.
It is important to define the limits of effective law making and not stray into areas which cannot and should not be controlled. If nothing else moral based laws simply create a criminal class where there should not really be one. They serve no logical or effective function.

Okay, it is not strictly true to say they serve no effective purpose, but using emotional morality issues to blindside voters has its own ethical problems. Emotional, moral issues have become a cynical election tool capable of diverting voters from the failings of governments seeking re-election.
The ethical failings of governments can involve extremely complex issues, beyond the average voter’s grasp. Throw in one of those ‘hot button’ non-issues easily diverts away from those complexities to easily defined social enemies.
But lawmakers, by definition, make the law and create their own comfortable environment. One of those areas, I’m regularly reminded, is the money which so freely flows in the political arena.
I do intend to get into the argument of taking money out of politics (MOOP) but and looking at some of the moral and ethical issues taxing our political class.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

These labels and diversions…

While the middle-east mess looks more and more like a slow motion runaway train, heading for cataclysmic disaster, we are still playing semantics and short term politics rather than face the truth.

The Iraq war was always a cynical political exercise, devoid of any benefit to the world at large. But greed and irresponsible domestic politics, in a number of countries, has generally been sold as something more high minded.

Scratch the surface, ignore the weak rationalisations and dubious arguments, and we are faced with facts few people really want to be forced to accept – our institutions of government do not serve our (the peoples) interests.

reality-based educator talks about "Insisting on "Victory" in Iraq": The NY Times says the administration knew it's Iraq war policy was a disaster as early as last summer but didn't want to do anything before the midterm elections because it would make it look like the administration didn't have a plan for victory:

The administration only ever had a plan for their own political victory and quick oil money for their corporate buddies. They have even failed in those aims, and are bankrupt of ideas when it comes to solutions for any of the mess they have created.

Iraq is in the hands of an equally self serving bunch, with no loyalty to the western saviors or the people of their own country.

But when their true colours are exposed they can certainly play western politics:

Iraqi authorities have arrested one of the guards at Saddam Hussein's execution as part of a probe into how a film of his hanging was released on the internet, a government spokesman said. AFP

It’s a great game; denial, deflected blame, obfuscation, outright lies. The incredible part is that is so transparent, but we sit in front of that runaway train like rabbits caught in the headlights.

On related issues, Praguetwin comments, “Yep, you are right. It is hard to drive that point home without being labelled a communist or someone calling for class war. Comments - A Happy New Era?

Why do we continue to accept transparent and monstrous lies from our political leaders? Is it really better to just accept the dubious behaviour and dreadful consequences than to recognize the reality? Of course recognizing the reality demands action, and how do you act against the machinery of an entrenched political/ corporate juggernaught?

For a start, we could stop accepting obfuscation and name calling as excuses for real argument. We can stop accepting the lame argument that we don’t have access to the real truth.

At the very least we must reject any elements from discussions which don’t stand up to rigorous argument. It is a bottom up (or at perhaps centre up) approach which demands greater exposure of government and the media.

At worst it means accepting the fact that our public leaders are not nearly good enough, that they are not serving the people. At best, slowly, we might be able to steer to terms of political engagement to a more honest and equitable level.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Happy New Era?

Sticking with the theme of the direction of political and social thinking, Saddam’s dramatic end raises a bunch of issues. But unlike the previous piece on the reality of environmental degradation, this issue is more about the PR, the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of the current western paradigm.

The question has to be asked: How can western leaders fail to capitalize on the end of such a deserving enemy of social equity, of peace and freedom?

The short answer is easy; they drag their various offices – be it President of Prime Minister, down to the level of Saddam!

They simply have to treat human life and the aspirations of the people like last weeks fish scraps in the belief that sufficient people will accept their ‘wise’ leadership.

Headlines like: West must adjust, not retreat Execution a bitter moment, but humanity still needs intervention, are convincing fewer people when they are followed by more realistic revelations.

The fact that the execution of Saddam was carried out by, and celebrated by acknowledged opponents of the western dream (or at least the dream of western leaders) takes the punch out of the PR. It reveals the ‘smoke and mirrors’ for what they really are.

Government on ‘Madison Avenue’ principles is not good enough, and it never was.

The manipulated numbers game which constitutes our ‘democracies’ are not good enough and cannot be covered up forever by PR alone.

Sadly, ‘hip pocket’ economics is still the determining factor. Governments can rely on a good safety margin if the economics are right. But in their inflated image of self-importance, western governments invariably forget even that basic principle.

That, in turn, leads to the other dilemma of politics. Getting rid of one lot most often results in replacing them with more of the same. The system is rigged to ensure that outcome. The system, however it is measured, is stuck in a cyclic pattern of hope and failure.

It is that cycle which must be changed. The driving force is greed, defined perhaps by the 17th and 18th century paradigms. But surely it is time to get past them and deal with the issues of a very different world.

To be honest, I cannot see the way to break this cycle of political/economic grief. Unless ‘the people’ suddenly experience some sort of profound ‘road to Damascus’ there will be no real hope there.

There have been some good efforts in the past. Bill Clinton tried in my opinion. He focused the economics rather than adventurism, at least international adventurism. One of my all time favourites was New Zealand’s David Lange. He told the US, France and every other bully to piss off, and his tiny country still prospered; unlike now with the current government immersed in global economics.

I did not go through my list of worthies, but hope the general concept will suffice. Now the US has another potential champion to consider. With due respects to Hillary (or maybe Bill) I am very impressed by what I’m hearing of Barack Obama.

Obama will be up against the dominant political forces, and there is a question of colour, but the time has surely come. Of course, more to the point, he is up against those who have the power to thwart new ideas as well.

It is time to embrace a new approach, and the change must not be about race or gender. but about resolving some of the core issues confronting our societies. In the end great leadership is still a one man band. That is the hard part.