Sunday, September 30, 2007

Weekend musing – Life at the coalface

There is nothing like a new project to divert the mind from blogging. Having just taken up a role with a local community service umbrella organisation the poor mind has been focussed on a whole new set of issues.

Well perhaps not entirely new, in essence, but I’ve always had an aversion to getting closer than theory and analysis before. This role, to understand the dynamics properly, requires exposure at the coalface; an enlightening experience. More…

Thursday, September 27, 2007

John follows George on Burma

There has been a clear understanding in Australia that sanctions against Burma’s military regime are not merely useless but potentially counterproductive. Regime’s don’t suffer from sanctions, the people do, and doubly if the regime decides to punish them for driving the interference.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia would not follow the US move in imposing economic sanctions because they "would have absolutely no impact".

Mr Downer argued that China was the only country with a hope of convincing Burma's rulers to speed up moves towards political reform. SMH September 27, 2007 - 6:39AM

Obviously Downer forgot to consult John Howard or Howard had not yet spoken to George.

John Howard has announced targeted Australian financial sanctions against members of Burma's military regime, including a freeze on any funds transfers, in response to a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.” SMH September 27, 2007 - 2:41PM

Bear in mind, ordinary Burmese have little idea of what is really going on (An Australian's experience in Rangoon) but invariably become the pawns in these international power plays.

I would encourage anyone who cares to use Google and acquaint themselves with the reality of the country. World opinion needs to be aroused, but action needs to be cautious. Myanmar is a good place to start. That page also explains why I choose to refer to Burma instead of Myanmar.

"Burmese opposition groups continue to use the name “Burma” since they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country." So your first step in support must be to refer to the country as Burma.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dirt files fail to impress

Intrepid poll watchers are noticing a clear trend in Australia’s faux election campaign; smear campaigns are not making any impact on voter thinking.

Recalling last years US mid-terms, there was furious debate on the value of attack politics. Well at least with this constituency the value seems to be zero.

We are being warned, continually, that it will be a dirty campaign. There has already been the Rudd New York ‘strippergate’, among others.

The latest circulated by some members of the government, charges that one of their ministers is a closet gay. Further it labels said minister’s wife as a ‘beard’; someone who covers for a gay.

Some ‘experts’ are saying the Liberal’s will be running the dirtiest campaign in the country’s history. I guess if they are attacking their own already we might be in for a treat.

On the other hand, the hapless voter doesn’t seem to be taking that particular bait. I guess there is no real point telling people what they already know, that politics is sleazy.

Given politics is my favourite sport I’d like to be able to put up an argument. Unfortunately the smell of power does seem to reek of something more earthy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Weekend musing - The counter terrorist

Maybe it is a male thing, but I am not an enthusiastic consumer. More than that, when I do have to shop or spend, I become a downright pain in the arse. Woe betide the assistant who fails to show any interest in the transaction I’m am forced by circumstances to undertake.

I’m not asking those I deal with to take on any special role in my life, beyond the simple act of paying attention to what they are doing as a process is transacted. Of course front line people aren’t given any real reason to give a flying f*** about customers, so there is often an occasion for minor fireworks. More…

Friday, September 21, 2007

Making economics sexy

HEMLINES this spring and summer will be a little longer than last year's — hovering somewhere between mid-thigh and the knee. By next winter, they are tipped to fall again — to just below the knee.

I’m not getting into the fashion world here, rather trying to find the sexy aspects of economics. The hemline theory has been around for years and the above quote is from last year’s Australian spring.

Heading into spring now, and an election, it seemed a good time to revisit the theory. The basic idea is that hemlines follow economic conditions; the higher the hemlines the worse off the average household. I guess that’s why it was called the depression.

We don’t want to be accused of voyeurism, but with spring weather settling in I would be remiss to avoid undertaking the necessary research. The results so far would not please the voyeur or the economist.

Around 90% of women in my research area are wearing black slacks or pedal pushers. So that is ankle to mid calf I guess. And the ubiquitous black suggests no-one has found anything darker yet.

Those wearing skirts fall into two categories:

The first, the minis, are being sported by the tweenies and teens, whose economics possibly reflect a quite different set of desires.

The other skirt wearers are opting for lengths from just below the knee to mid calf. Generally these women appear to be office workers.

There are several aspects of this theory that attract me. First and foremost, governments really can’t fiddle the figures here, it is an individual expression. So if anyone can direct me to an area of short hemlines my bank manager would be absolutely delighted.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Greedy Bastards Club

Gone boring again… Well I don’t like economics either, but it rules our lives. The more that is revealed lately the more we are seeing those infamous members of The Greedy Bastards Club.

Our economic managers and I include the US, Canada and Britain with the Australians, are not serving us well. Okay, that can be seen as either bloody minded or ‘just stating the bloody obvious', so let’s look at some issues.

Let’s begin with the Australian Subprime Minister and treasurer Peter Costello. I won’t suggest the following writing is my own, but:

“If Costello were running a major Australian company the way he is handling the country's finances, and presenting false accounts qualified by its auditors and the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the way he has done with income from the GST, he would risk being charged in the civil courts by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for deceitful and misleading conduct.” Age


Looking at borrowing, for ordinary Joes, not corporations or national economies There are two interesting terms arising lately, Predatory lenders and liar loans, both signalling members of the Greedy Bastards Club. Some are mortgage related, but the fact is the terms cover the gamut of personal finance.

I’ve morphed into an anti finance evangelist lately, which makes it curious that people keep coming to me with stories like; “I can’t afford this car so I’m going to Weasel Bob’s to get a new one. They say it doesn’t matter if your credit is bad…” Or any variation you can think of.

Times are getting tough and credit cards are maxed, so the current thinking is to just look for another way of financing the dream. It’s not a bloody dream, it’s a nightmare! The advertising for ‘easy finance’ is keeping electronic media alive here, and the advertisers will end up sinking with the people they manage to dupe.

Bailing who?

With the escalating debt stress the focus has not once been on bailing the ordinary Joes, but governments are falling over themselves bailing big money. Bear in mind here, it is the corporations and institutions driving retail debt stress.

Central banks are furiously injecting. The Bank of England has doubled the amount of emergency loan money available to commercial banks caught short in the global credit squeeze… Australian Reserve bank has increased its injection activities.

Why? Because the banks have increased the cost of short time, overnight, loans to each other to facilitate the various bank to bank and cross border cash transfers. Because the banks have take the Greedy Bastard route central banks are forced to bail the system out.

The US Fed has gone a step further by cutting the rate. Like Australia, the US is staring down the barrel of inflation. Indeed, I believe the signs are already out there that we have moved into an inflationary trend. Well, guess who benefits from rising prices!

Essential service delivery

This is becoming an odious form of fiscal blackmail; we all need utilities and basic services. In some of our countries these were essentially government instrumentalities, but no longer. Even those essentially publicly owned are cast as independent corporations.

In any other field a badly run corporation would suffer for their failings. If they were remiss in reinvesting in their future needs then tough shit. Not so with those delivering essential services. More and more they can simply increase consumer prices to cover the cost of upgrades.

This is a government/s supported bail out for another group in the Greedy Bastards Club. Just try that art home; fail to provide for your arising needs then get the government to step in and bail you out.

Just a start here; it is a select club for sure, but covers the globe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Humbled on Wild prediction

Okay it was and the team of Prime Minister in extremis and Subprime Minister Peter Costello have survived the day intact. I owe froggy a beer. But hey! Maybe I can equalise on the election outcome.

Coalition members might be encouraged by the latest polling, but they are also aware of the rapidly worsening economic situation.

Despite attempts to cool the economy with a rate hike recently there are clear signs that creeping inflation is well underway.

Just lately I’ve been asked to be advocate in an increasing number of services debt issues. Invariably the contested bills are correct, except that the normal amounts are increasing by up to 40%.

The fact is that price rises are not being announced, but rather introduced by way of billing changes, designed I expect to hide the hard truth. Sounds like more than creeping inflation at that rate, but still signals that it is here.

A new report suggests that reliance on credit cards was masking the true level of household economic stress. It predicted that at least 600,000 households could be under mortgage stress by the end of the year. That is a significant number in a population of 21 million.

It also ignores the number of renters in stress. I’m hoping my new project will give some access to figures which I haven’t been able to see up to now. You can’t see me drooling at the prospect of hard data, but I am.

I can’t see Howard’s government being surviving, always given he actually calls an election. We all live with that fear now as governments become entrenched in more than simply running the country.

There are so many issues stinging voters in this ‘booming’ economy I simply can’t see this government surviving. I’m not convinced the alternative is any more desirable.

APEC Update

I have been waiting for the fallout from the APEC protest confrontations. While bigger political stories have swamped the issue it is starting to filter through now.

Seven protests about police conduct during APEC, ranging from "rudeness to excessive force", were received, the Ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, in Sydney.

I guess the good news is that both sides modified their behaviour, although it was the security authorities who talked up violence and they are the ones being called on to answer now.

Police identification badges was shaping up to be a major issue until:

An investigation into dozens of police not wearing name tags during Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation protests has found there were "real concerns and risks with pin-backed ID tags, which could be used to compromise the safety of officers".

Then I came across - Talk it out – a blogger with better resources than me. While the NSW police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, was pushing the pins argument the erstwhile Talk it Out was studying the photos of the scene.

Have a look at the black patch in the photo. That is the Velcro tape used to attach the ID badge. Police and security identification is one of those trigger issues for me. Even law abiding wimp that I am, that identification goes to the heart of security and policing.

For me the issue became a factor before I headed off to North America half a dozen years ago. I was advocating, here in Port Macquarie, on behalf of a bloke being bullied by local pub thugs (or security personnel). It should be said that some of the thugs were either serving police, former police.

Fortunately the regions licensing sergeant was equally concerned about cowboy approach to venue security in the area. Between us we researched the legislation on identification, to the degree of seeking hypothetical court rulings (none of the victims were likely to face court to prove the position).

What we were finding was that security people were wearing identity badges on their socks, under a jacket, on a belt; anywhere it was obscured. Under NSW law police and security personnel are required under law to wear clear identification where it can be easily seen.

Scipione is facing a bigger test than the one I tried on here. We know private security thugs are a different issue. How can we have faith in official law enforcement if police cannot abide by the same laws they are enforcing?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An axe with Howard’s name on it?

That was a headline in a United Emirates paper reporting on the latest Australian poll to grip us election junkies.

I’m holding back comment on my prediction that John Howard would be rolled this week. The polls would suggest he has drifted into safer waters, but it has been the rule lately that each bit of good news for the PM turns sour overnight.

Even though I have a beer riding on this with kvatch I will still try and sleep well tonight.

Ribbons wearing thin

At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I’m becoming increasingly irritated by the constant demands of charity.

It might just be me, but the ribbons, red noses and other trappings of fund raising tricks seem to be reaching tsunami proportions.

Add to that the phone canvassing and street touts and the charity sector is becoming more demanding than the consumer marketing sectors.

No doubt most if not all are truly worthy causes, and I don't feel all that great politely saying no, but no is now invariably the response.

What really adds insult to injury, with a sort of election campaign on here, is that we rarely see a politician or aspiring politician not sporting a ribbon or other charity symbol.

Therein lies the great hypocrisy; in a country with a booming economy, awash with surplus cash, governments staunchly refuse to use OUR money to fund essential social services.

Research charities are increasingly forced to use their poor resources to try and find ways to drive charity funding; essential community services are forced to rely on volunteers to deliver their services.

In the process ‘corporatised’ service deliverers are trimming services to maximize profits, putting pressure back on the not for profits.

I’m going to find out more about these dynamics in coming weeks, as I take on a project with a local not for profit umbrella outfit. Part of my task will be framing the arguments to squeeze much needed dollars out of various levels of government.

I guess in one way my current feelings about demanding charities can be put to some positive use. It is not the causes I’m opposed to, merely where the bulk of funding comes from.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend musing – economics and elections

Those bloody time zones, no point having a Sunday musing when it’s always another day somewhere else… So we are going weekend which I will post on my Sunday. That is the first disclaimer, the second is that I simply wish I understood economics rather than claim I do.

There is no question among Australia’s major political parties the economics has an enormous influence on election outcomes. John Howard proposes the two "preconditions" for defeat of a government: a weak economy, and perceptions of incompetence.

At the same time The Prime Minister “in extremis” is claiming his government is strong on both these issues. I guess it is a matter of perception. At the moment the governing party is displaying incredible incompetence in the way it manages itself. Not a good sign for the country, but still a matter of perception.

The economy, on the other hand, is an issue of record and its health or otherwise is subjective only in so far as social/economic objectives. For John Howard the economy booming, and to prove it the Federal Government are ‘sitting’ on $17 billion.

This boom, the wealth is not being distributed however; because the broad economy is teetering on the edge of inflation and spending the money, even spent on urgent service delivery such as health, would cause an inflationary trend. That doesn’t sound like a healthy economy to me.

In the living rooms

Loan defaults rose by almost 30 per cent in the last financial year with failures to pay the bills on time up in every Australian state and territory. Nearly 10% of our population is now at the margin, at least on default figures. Then there are the ones like me who avoid the debt and just struggle.

Incomes nationally are growing at an annual rate of six per cent a year, because of better returns from capital gains and shares, but total borrowing was increasing by 15 per cent. This government pushed hard on an aspirational society because they believe if people are in over their heads they work harder.

But working harder increasingly equates to digging a deeper hole, what is the point of owning a McMansion or speed boat or whatever the dream when anyone who might be impressed is treading water along side you? The only winners are the corporations, and I’m not sure what the prize is for them.

Basic Services

Australia had an enviable health system once, based on early intervention to a large degree. Now if I became ill I would have trouble finding a GP. The alternative is the emergency department, with a pup tent, sleeping bag and provisions.

In the last Federal Budget the health system was under funded by some 15%, well the hospital sector at least. We thought the intention was to create an election distraction as state and federal governments fought over responsibilities. The latest news is that the Feds are running scared on spending the available money to fix the health system. It’s there, but as pointed out previously, so is inflation.

So what is so bad about inflation if it delivers services? More to the point, can we really trust corrupt outfits like the IMF and World Bank to make that kind assessment?

The answer to the first is a no brainer; even at a discount higher prices can only benefit those holding the wealth. For everyone else inflation bites even further into shrinking financial resources. For most of us inflation and a rate hike mean the same thing, dipping into reserves or refinancing just to make ends meet.

The second almost comes into conspiracy theory territory – almost. The fact is these and other fiscal control organisations are not overly concerned about the commonweal (the common welfare; the public good). To these organisations wealth generation is not intended to be universal, but purely for club members.

I was fascinated recently with an argument that out Federal treasurer Costello should be looking at his career options. Among those mentioned as near certainties was a posting as a director of the Bank of England. In fact none of the possibilities were with Australian institutions.

It is not especially heartening that those responsible for the welfare of our countries might find their skills more suited to these global umbrellas who owe allegiance to no one beyond their shareholders. The fact is they are already spurning their current shareholders, but I guess we just don’t offer the right level of personal reward.

Former Western Australia Premier and retiring federal MP, Carmen Lawrence, summed it up to a degree. While I don’t accept her assessment that a Rudd government has the answers she said:

"We need to broaden our horizons. It is rare to hear the Prime Minister [Howard] talk about anything but the state of the economy. He seems to think Australians are interested only in 'stuff'. We need a better balance between material gains and the quality of life.”

At every level of government the temptation is for self preservation and self enrichment. Nothing positive can happen, for the rest of us, when politicians are bought and bound by their own personal ‘aspirations’. What we really need is elected representatives who see their constituents as the shareholders, who fight for the people who elect them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A wild prediction

My old buddies out there will be aware of my taste for wild predictions, and a pretty fair batting average as well. So here goes, sometime between today and October 1 Australia will have a new Prime Minister.

My best guess is that next Wednesday the Liberal Party of Australia will elect current treasurer to succeed John Howard as Prime Minister. This is despite an apparent endorsement of Howard’s leadership this week.

The fuse on this particular bomb has been fizzing for weeks, held back only by Howard’s clever brand of politicking. However the string of bad polls is set to continue, with another doozy due on Tuesday.

Part of Howard’s strategy was to announce his retirement in the next term, anointing Costello as his replacement. That has already set Costello up as a Clayton’s PM, the Prime Minister you have when you aren’t having a Prime Minister.

None of these ploys has even begun to allay the concerns of the party or the voters. What we are all learning is that the 24 hour rule is king at the moment. Regardless of how dramatic or placating the news on any given day, it is turned on its head by the next day.

Give it a week, and time for Howard’s reality to take hold, the party is not going to be so amenable or intimidated by the clever PM. So there you go, the neck is way out there, but I don’t think the risk of being wrong is so great.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tsunami fears

Back on September 6 there was a media warning here, Next killer tsunami overdue. Over the past few days I’ve received a dozen or more email alerts from the USGS on a series of quakes and aftershocks around Indonesia. You can sign up for the alerts here.

Despite the damage from the quakes the feared tsunamis have not materialised yet. However in the densely inhabited Indonesian archipelago the damage is still heartrending:

(Reuters) - Aftershocks shook Indonesia's Sumatra island on Thursday, a day after an 8.4 magnitude quake, the world's most powerful so far this year, hit an area southwest of Bengkulu killing at least eight people and burying many more under buildings.

There are some incredible tectonic dynamics occurring on this side of the world, the Indo-Australian Plate, actually two plates fused together are beginning to break apart. Across the Indian Ocean a new sea is said to be forming, based on the Rift Valley in Africa and the Middle East.

Scientists say “the region experienced a magnitude 9 quake on average every 500 years. However, smaller quakes could strike every century. "There is no question there will, some day, be a large quake ... if the next one is a magnitude 8, it is already overdue.”

Well the next one was over magnitude 8 and we are watching with trepidation.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Election on hold

Australia’s phantom election campaign powered on through the APEC distraction, but it did signal troubles to come, domestically. Being decent people we waited until the guest left before getting down to family business. More…

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mission Accomplished?

So much for the predictions of violence during APEC; despite constant official warnings the worst most protesters could have delivered is death by laughing. NSW Premier Morris Iemma summed it up with the fateful words: Mission Accomplished!

I can report just one real incident over the whole exercise that anyone would feel unwarranted violence. Four men and a woman spent Saturday night behind bars and faced court where the woman and one man were granted conditional bail One of the detained is accused of throwing a dart at a police officer's head.

Police behaviour is another thing; one photographer took 200 photographs of police without identification. The removal of identification backs up accusations of their unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics.

Eighteen people were arrested on Saturday and four were released without charge. I have asked my local state member, police are a state responsibility, for details on how many were arrested, on what charges, and how that compares with normal weekend arrests. I’m advised the questions will be put at the next sitting of State parliament.

The Violence Count

Jaywalking: An accountant had been pushed to the ground by police officers and them marched away while his "traumatised" 11-year-old son looked on. The guy was held, incommunicado, for 22 hours – for jaywalking!

Images: A freelance photographer was arrested and charged after refusing to stop filming police during the protest.
An American journalist from Getty Images was pushed to the ground and dragged by police.

In the air: A tiny Cessna 337 was buzzed and grounded by when two F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets west of Sydney, flares were launched across its path as it was forced to land at a nearby airstrip. The suburban solicitor pilot was released without charge.

Wedding party? A bride's wedding car was being towed at St Marys, about a 90 minute drive from the restricted precinct. The APEC clearway traps lots of Sydneysiders. Another wedding couple had to request a police escort to their honeymoon. I see that as the wider official violence on the community.

Paula Bronstein, who works for Getty Images, is at the centre of calls for an inquiry after she was pushed to the ground by police.

"It was after we'd been taking shots of this woman being arrested and we were back on the sidewalk and the police started yelling 'get back' and started to push people back into the park.

"Then there was a push - two hands pushing me down really, really, hard and I just went back onto the sidewalk. It came out of nowhere, totally unprovoked," Bronstein said.

"I've done a lot of conflict photography and you really don't see a lot of that kind of unprovoked aggression," she added. SMH

While political events have stemmed the flow of APEC incident reports, there are wider aspects of the social violence wreaked on this country by our authoritarian masters.

Throwing the CBD and parts of Greater Sydney into lockdown for a week caused massive dislocation for many of the 3 million residents. Introducing the trappings of martial law; rooftop and helicopter snipers, identity searches among public transport users and those moving in the vicinity of secure zones, masses of armed personnel, all served to dent the perceptions of a freedom loving populous.

How compliant people are willing to remain will be interesting. Sadly there was a general air of compliance this time but I expect revelations and public discussion to come might change that situation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Howard on the rocks

John Howard is convinced his Liberal/National coalition can go into the upcoming federal election with confidence. The two most important factors are in place, he insists. The economy is in good shape and the government has not been incompetent. On both counts it really depends on who is making the judgement. More…

Monday, September 10, 2007

George misses the point, but maple leaf just bores

I shall return to Canada’s Stephen Harper, mainly because George W is simply far more interesting. APEC showed the best (or worst) from the leaders from the eastern Pacific Rim.

George was a study in the inability to comprehend. To be fair, George had a few hundred aides in this masterpiece so we are starting to believe he is a magnet for stupidity. Works for me, given our almost former PM is so attached.

Mr Bush, President Sir etc, obviously had no idea that he was at an economic forum with a focus on Pacific Rim countries. Mr Bush had a message, and a message, and a message… Forget the matter of fitting the agenda.

So what did Mr President first want to talk about? Let’s try:

Iraq, not really on the agenda, but he tried.

War on Terror folks? Sorry Pres, seems no-one gives a rats arse there either.

Iran then, let’s try Iran…. No luck there either.

Then George really reaches into the bag of tricks:

Democracy, let’s promote democracy!!! This is when the emergency medical crews turned out to deal with the mass hysteria among the 21 leaders and their keepers. Bloody democracy! That is a novel idea.

The old Maple Leaf

Then there was Stephen. I recall campaigning against Harper’s conservatives. Partly because they aren’t; even Harper promised that he had no ideology, no fire; I think Harper is safe, but so are condoms. The point being, something gets lost in the translation or lack of it.

Did I say translation? He gave a speech that was boring in two languages - English and French. I have grown to like Harper, well he’s a bloody economist, boring or not I think he tries to think.

I’ve developed a measured admiration for Stephen Harper. Sure he wants to survive politically and is willing to sacrifice bits and pieces to achieve that. But I have a growing feeling that, economically at least, Harper is a pragmatist working hard to maintain a reasonable balance.

Don’t whip me for that. The political reality is that there is not much else. It is better than the attempts of his buddy in DC. Nothing can ever be good enough in politics, but an awareness of economic realities isn’t a bad start.

Most say Howard will lose

APEC was intended to show Howard as a seasoned leader on the world stage, instead it has confirmed Labor’s Kevin Rudd as preferred leader to represent Australia on the world stage. More…

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday Musing - APEC

APEC, the Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, is generally best known for the silly shirts national leaders photographed in; usually that is the only ‘newsworthy’ aspect of the gabfest.

This time, long after regional leaders have left for home, debate will rage over the increasingly authoritarian approach to governing this country. Police have been given unprecedented powers, and equipment; not to defend any terrorism threat but to control citizens. More…

Anniversary and Intentions

Sundays are still coming early here, and I intended to muse on my blogging experience. APEC has steamrolled over my intention, but I will come back to the anniversary next week.

I was jogged the other day when I decided I should do a local back-up of Grub Street. It has been two years now and the statistics really astounded me. The anniversary was September 2 and over those two years we tallied 904 posts and over 350,000 words.

If the system wasn’t opt-in I would be apologising profusely to my visitors. But I can say I cherish the opportunity to get it all off my chest. So when I finish my Sunday Musing the topic will be Apec and its fallout.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Peace reigns among peace lovers

Two police were injured and nine protesters arrested, but organisers of a rally coinciding with today's APEC leaders' meeting largely delivered on their promise of a peaceful protest. Scuffles resulted in injuries to two officers, one of whom was being treated in hospital for head injuries.

Earlier reports where still hyping up the violence aspects of the protest:

Police started forming lines confronting the national Anarchist group. A police officer told his men, "This is the trouble here, these are the ones who are violent."

There were about 30 of the National Anarchists, who described themselves as the New Right, all dressed in black hooded jackets. Some of the group wore dark sunglasses and all had bandanas around their faces.

Earlier still, two men were charged after attempting to join the end of an APEC motorcade. The motorcade had been carrying Chilean officials when police spotted the pair at the end of the procession.

Anti Bush

Despite the competing agendas from the various protest groups, the focus of the protest was obviously POTUS. Not surprising as Sydney has been effectively crippled by Bush’s presence.

Earlier in the week, just prior to going off to meet with Bush, John Howard was out doing his daily exercise walk accompanied but just three security people. Howard might not be the best loved Australian at the moment, but he can still walk freely among mere mortals.

The Sydney lockdown served to demonstrate the insanity surrounding the US Presidency under Bush. So much of this Sydney circus is needless, but dictated by the whims of the US Secret Service or some other secret US organisation.

The NSW Police Commissioner made a helpful slip-up when he berated the Chaser team for risking being shot by snipers. We are not amenable to having snipers on our city rooftops; snipers it seems who are prepared to shoot first and talk later.

Howard has taken us down a track that will end his political demise, my American friends will find a lot of valuable allies in opposition to Bush.

More to come

TV news is revealing a degree of police overkill in response to the protesters. I expect there will be much discussion in the coming days, but some of the images and disclosures have been disturbing.

Not least was a news photographer being thrown to the ground by police. But violence apart the rally at the end of the march was totally surrounded by police, trapping many people not associated with the protest.

A most telling scene was of a young bride fighting back anger as APEC security disrupted her wedding by towing away the wedding cars. Her message was a simple and ironic – “Thanks Bush!” She was not happy.

APEC a Bummer and Chaser does it again

The Chaser comedy team are already facing charges for breaching APEC security in Sydney, so what is one more charge. Just a day after driving their motorcade up to Bush’s doorstep three team members have been detained again.

WHAT do you do when you've been charged by police for entering a restricted "red" zone at an international forum featuring 21 world leaders, embarrassing the Federal Government and the forum's multimillion-dollar security operation?

Why, you front up again the next day with another stunt. They were taken away by police after they "drove" through a police line at the APEC forum wearing black cardboard cars bearing Canadian flags and wheels made of paper plates.

One of the shows producers said he wasn’t concerned about the arrests, “we didn’t send in any of the really talented team members.”

Bums on parade

Among other protest events was a "21-bum salute", in which about 50 "Bums for Bush" protesters bared their bottoms in the drizzling rain to symbolise their distaste for the US President.

Police are already pre-empting any suggestions that they would incite violence, but they will need to be clever to hide any actions on their part. No doubt there will be a few protesters who don’t understand the power of peaceful protest

The encouraging part is the level of humour being deployed to sell the message. We are hoping the examples so far will get through to the hot heads. Nothing will show up the excessive paranoia and force as much as a good laugh.

And a special appeal to Vlad Putin. As one of the few leaders at APEC with the cojones, we want to see Vlad do a ‘meet the people’ walk. It’s safe Vlad, well mostly. After recent footage of the Russian President, clad only in his budgie smugglers, I know a few women who would like to get a bit closer.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sydney security bust

The $170 million security net became the butt of a joke when a comedy team cruised through two checkpoints and got within feet of Bush’s hotel in Sydney. It was one thing to get through Australia security but the team were reluctant to take on the heavily armed US security. Video

Just short of their target a team member, dressed as Bin Laden, jumped out of a limo carrying Canadian livery. Eleven have been arrested under special APEC laws, but public opinion is with the TV clowns rather than the official clowns.

One poll asked the simple questions, funny or not funny, 86% say funny, which I guess reflects the general feelings about this invite only circus. Another fence picture shows APEC can’t stop everything.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Those fences again

I announced in an earlier post - Launching ‘Off Broadway’ – an annex to accommodate my overflow material. It will host most of the Australian election 2007 comment, but I’ve since decided it has a role to carry a few picture essays.

With the APEC obscenity well underway in Sydney I have developed a fixation with fences and guns. When I grew up in that beautiful city fences and guns were synonymous with the bad guys, I wonder if anything has changed.

Forget porn, these are the most obscene graphics I’ve ever seen. Well except for seeing our leaders behind bars - see the rest at Fences and guns in Sydney on the annex ‘Off Broadway’.

There are more fun adventures of our various leaders to come, so stay tuned.

Latest news:

Eleven members of a TV comedy team were ‘detained’ in Sydney after conducting a fake motorcade through the city. Chaser team member Chris Taylor told that the motorcade comprised "three cars, a couple of motorbikes, and a lot of crew". "It was a motorcade trying to get into the exclusion zone," he said.

The Chaser convoy had been dressed up to look like an official Canadian motorcade, with Canadian flags attached to the cars and "Canada'' signs visible in the front windscreen.

"No particular reason we chose Canada," said Taylor. "We just thought they'd be a country who the cops wouldn't scrutinise too closely, and who feasibly would only have three cars in their motorcade - as opposed to the 20 or so gas guzzlers that Bush has brought with him."

I can’t show the footage of that particular exercise, but I can recommend their show which aired earlier this week. Watch the videos here

Launching ‘Off Broadway’

Regardless of perceive interest in the thoughts, your correspondent tends to have an eclectic range of opinions scrabbling to be expressed. Having an idle blog space we have decided to create an overflow for those specific events which might bore many, like the upcoming Australian elections.

Wherever I park my sandals I tend to be in one of the far flung provinces of the US Empire. Off Broadway is a sort of ideas overflow page, but the handle refers to views from and about the Roman provinces as opposed to USA Central issues.

So we launch with an update on the Australian election 2007:

Missing the economic margins

While John Howard goes into panic mode George W offers him the kiss of death. I have often claimed elections are all about the economic realities at the margins. Both our illustrious leaders seem to fail to recognise the reality. Read more on Off Broadway

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Get a room?

When Bush flew into Sydney today his best buddy John Howard was at a football presentation. It was left to my local member and Deputy Prime Minister to greet George on the tarmac on an unusually cool and wet spring evening.

The switch did lead to a modicum of speculation about George’s effects on Johnny’s re-election chances. But that all changed when the passionate pair met behind high security fences in the full light of day.

As one squeamish witness put it, this was terminal – get a room – territory. Regardless of what the rest of the world might believe the baseball team owning piss-pot and the Methodist minister are an item.

It is sick making, by any standards….

One early morning comment went along the lines – President Bush has visited two cities in the past two days. One was in total security lockdown, surrounded by wire barricades and armed security personnel, the other was Baghdad.

Security here is my real concern. We keep hearing about ‘reports’ possible’ 'potential violent protest actions'. Among those reports of what might happen authorities say they know who these people are, 26 people in most reports.

We are told these 26 might actually ignore bans on their presence in Sydney!

It is a bit like 911, ‘well we knew they were there but…” BUT as real terrorists won’t accommodate us by creating a reason for authoritarian takeover we had better just get on and do it ourselves…”

"Sydney should brace itself for an unprecedented level of violence during Saturday's APEC protest march, the police riot squad chief warned in court today. The "grave concerns'' of police were aired as they faced off with the Stop Bush Coalition in the Supreme Court this morning over its planned marching route.

A police barrier is to be erected on the proposed march route and the court heard that this route would, in any case, be blocked to the marchers. Police said if their expectations of 20,000 marchers were met, any push against the barrier could result in "crowd crush'' and "horrendous consequences''.

I have never been a protest marcher, but I have known many from the 60s Vietnam marchers on. Most, historically, have been seriously concerned about avoiding violence rather than creating it. Inevitably it is the authorities who drive the violence and more then ever they have a need to do that now.

If real democracy ever existed it is now in real peril from those who see their positions as power rather than responsibility. The two love birds in Sydney, and I’m not talking about Condie Rice and Canada’s Peter McKay here, represent the last vestiges of the ‘coalition of the willing’. My fear is they want to fuck us all over.

UPDATE: The bad news

The Stop Bush Coalition will not rule out "non-violent civil disobedience'' during Saturday's APEC protests after police won a court battle over the rally's route.

The protesters now risk arrest if they follow their plan to march towards the intersection of George Street and King Street, where police say they will erect a staunch barrier to block their way.

The NSW Supreme Court today granted a Police Commissioner application for an order to prevent the march moving from through Sydney streets.
Stop the War Coalition spokesman Alex Bainbridge said; “We were always under the understanding that these areas were open to the public.”

Bainbridge is right and common law supports that right, but the court took the view that the proposed police action would ensure a violent outcome. So much for rule of law, now we just have rule of the police in Australia.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Send in the clowns

A headline in a weekend paper sent this home into gales of laughter, coinciding as it did with the APEC build up Clowns Without Borders. Well it was funny at the time and intend no slur on the organisation linked.

I started researching, apropos the APEC visiting heads, but found our Australian clowns just too diverting.

Foreign Minister Downer seems to star in the buffoon stakes, and is also described as just a sweet transvestite. It is not uncommon to see images of him in fishnets, cartoon images I should add.

Was also taken by his constant reference to politicising politics:

  • Downer has accused Opposition leader Rudd and his foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland of playing politics
  • Downer says former PM Keating is playing politics
  • Labor playing politics with Haneef case
  • The Beattie Government (Queensland) were playing politics with Anzac Day
  • “They are all out there playing politics, doing Kevin Rudd’s bidding.”
  • Opposition parties in the Senate are going down the time-worn path of playing politics.
  • The [Australian] Democrats are playing politics…

Which all strikes me as rather odd. You wouldn’t attack a butcher for butchering, or a baker for baking; why attack politicians for politicking?

Meanwhile the Canberra Press Gallery have some interesting, if not always imaginative names for some of Downer’s colleagues. (Oddly for an Australian with a strong Canadian connection I have problems with some word use, but I guess you will get the idea.)

PM John Howard is known as ‘The Little C..t’ His official car aptly bears the registration plate ‘C1’.

AG Philip Ruddock is known as ‘The Walking Dead’, and is said to be appropriately translucent.

Leader of the House; Minister for Health and Ageing and all round attack dog, Tony Abbot bears the simple moniker – ‘C..t’

Conservation Minister and merchant banker, Malcolm Turnbull is known as ‘LookAtMe’.

Treasurer Peter Costello is knows as Captain Smirk.

That politic playing Kevin Rudd is often depicted as the cartoon character Tin Tin and the Milky Bar Kid.

The good news is…

As world leaders and the international media congregate in Sydney, the front pages and airwaves abound with horrendous Newspoll figures showing the Coalition is just a couple of months away from extinction.

The poll shows Rudd’s Labor's primary vote soaring to 51 per cent and Howard’s Coalition falling to 37 per cent. Newspoll figures are here

The bad news is that whoever wins nothing much will change. It is hard to blame the US for George Bush when we Australians seem so intent on gaily tripping down the path of virtual dictatorship.

As I understand it, Canada’s PM Stephen Harper, does not visit Grub Street on a regular basis, despite the gems of wisdom he is missing. Harper will be in Sydney this week at the APEC gabfest.

While here Harper will talk with Howard and other Australian leaders about Senate reform. According to one of his drones Harper wants to know “if the Australians can have an accountable and democratic Senate, I'm not sure why Canada can't."

I could save him the trouble on that one. As bad as Canada’s Senate system is it is probably no less democratic or representative than the Australian version. Both, despite the local window dressing, are essentially a party reward system without any real trace of democracy.

The big issue, one gabfests will not even begin to address, is the steady slide from democratic representation to total dominance of the political elites under entrenched two party systems.

The simple fact is that majorities (bearing in mind major parties are the majorities) have a vested interest in maintaining their primacy in the system. They make and approve the laws which ensure diversity of opinion can not exist in out legislatures.

I accept that many American’s feel uncomfortable about the world view of their country, driven by Bush & Co. I would suggest that the issue goes far deeper and is a responsibility we must all bear.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Monday rage - Australia’s police state

I expect many around the world will be thinking, ‘what’s the big drama’. Being touted as ‘Australia's most significant geopolitical event ever’, the APEC forum this week in Sydney is also signalling the most significant loss of the quintessential Aussie spirit.

The unthinkable has happened and our largest city, one of the most strikingly beautiful and laid back cities in the world, has become a police state. Never mind protesters or imagined terrorists, the ordinary Aussie must now overcome their ‘up yours’ attitude to imposed authority.

Sydney is hosting the party, but its citizens are not invited. The message from organisers to Sydneysiders has been clear for months: stay away or, even better, get out of town. All for our own good…

While dignitaries will also an extensive cultural program and a private harbourside fireworks display the city’s residents will be held in check under unprecedented police powers. I know I’d end up in detention, simply because I would become a little testy at the restrictions on movement around the city I love.

Then there are the massive transport disruptions commuters have been told to expect - "50 times worse" than the chaos brought by the visit of the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney. Just suck it up? Blink an eye or question an order and a law abiding citizen is now a criminal.

Why the expected protests? APEC, for all its low key past, has been highly effective in promoting free-market philosophies. That represents the forum specific protests, the rest will be ‘police state rage’ as far as I can see.

Background to the Event

APEC has been best known for the silly clothes attending leaders are kitted out with. Before this current outrage the Forum was pretty much a non-event.

The first APEC meeting was held in Canberra's Hyatt Hotel in 1989, in the week the Berlin Wall fell. It was a modest affair - ministers from 12 countries attended along with a couple of hundred delegates. The press centre was a tent and security, by today's standards, was next to non-existent.

The original, and abiding, mission was to promote trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific. Unique among international bodies, it comprises member economies, not nation states. This quirk means, among other things, that China and Taiwan sit side by side at the APEC table.

This is bullshit!

Photographing the wall – cage – protecting APEC visitors is prohibited. NSW Transport Minister John Watkins said that, while requiring tourists to delete photos of the fence might be "over the top", it is necessary.

"There is some concern among police that some of those protesters who are coming ... will look for weak points in the fence," Mr Watkins explained.

We are governed by morons! You can expect my forum rage to increase as the week proceeds.

Oooops, looks like we found a weak point in the fence.

And some more of these illegal pictures of the Great Wall of Sydney

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday musings – Hot topic

Sunday comes early in Australia. We need to be ahead in some things I guess. This Sunday my thoughts have turned to global warming and the mother goddess.

It would seem only the serfs and others without power in this world give a tinker’s damn about global warming. To be honest, we don’t really have any immediate monetary gain from destroying our planet so there isn’t much incentive.

Global warming is well on the agenda and here in the sub tropical, South Pacific we are increasingly aware of the effects. In July alone we experience three ‘east coast lows’ our version of extreme weather. The frequency and scale of these events was unprecedented, as was the widespread coastal flooding.

Except that the rest of us suffer at the same time it is a delight to find those profiting from the destruction they are causing might actually suffer sooner rather than later. A new scientific report says, the huge industrial zone at the heart of the "Made in China" economic miracle could be inundated by sea water as a result of global warming.

I don’t have any issues with the Chinese, but the massive industrial growth in that country is questionable on many counts. So here is the bottom line for China:

“Meteorologists in Guangdong, the coastal province neighbouring Hong Kong which has led China's manufacturing boom, estimate sea levels could rise by 30 centimetres by 2050. That could lead to more than 1200 square kilometres of the province being flooded.

“Worst affected would be the major hubs of Guangzhou, the provincial capital; Zhuhai, which borders Macau; and Foshan, home to a vast range of factories including several of those caught up in the recent safety recall by the US toy company Mattel.” SMH

You can be sure the millions of virtual slave workers in the effected areas have little idea of the looming threat, or could do anything about it if they really knew. You can be sure the industrialists behind it all, Chinese, American or otherwise will ignore the threat, and the danger posed to their workers.

I personally don’t accept the argument that these cultures like China are alone in ignoring the plight of the drones; our developed economies are constantly displaying a total disregard for the well being of the wider community. It is worth reflecting on the fact that our respectable Western cultures are no better than the supposed heathen.


In the spirit of musing, albeit getting out of my depth, I can’t help reflecting on the possibility of the Earth Goddess, Gaia, having her own plan in place to moderate the excesses of the dominate primates.

Out of my depth, as I should add, because I have long since stopped trying to comprehend the religious and mystical, preferring instead the earthly and effable. But patterns still impose themselves and the potential for our earth to not simply heal herself over time, but to target a major problem is a sweet thought.

We, as ‘intelligent’ beings, regularly attempt to treat those various destructive invaders on our own bodies, our animals and plants. I said I was getting out of my depth… I still can’t help musing about Earth as an organism, or part of an organism, might find its own remedial treatments.

…Or perhaps I should just stick to my half arsed understanding of politics, governance and economics.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Clever Country loathes Bush

I’m not bragging with the clever country lead, but the average Australian (and sadly I’m talking pretty average) can find the USA on a map. I suspect there are some coaching methods here that I’ve missed, like flash card beer coasters.

The average bloke here (gender inclusive) also knows who George W Bush is, a fact that his best buddy John Howard might be starting to regret.

According to a newly released survey we Australians feel warmly towards Americans but don’t care much for the country’s leaders or their policies.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy poll showed 69 per cent said Bush caused them to feel unfavourably towards the US, while 63 per cent said American foreign policies had the same effect.

For a start Australians are more worried about global warming than terrorism and they do not think nuclear power or clean coal technology are solutions to it.

A clear majority of 75 per cent said the need to tackle climate change should be Australia's main foreign policy goal but the same proportion stressed the need to protect jobs.

Both goals came in well ahead of the need to combat international terrorism, listed by 38 per cent. 50 per cent of Liberal/National Coalition voters shared this negative view about the impact of Howard's support for Bush on such issues.

I haven’t seen comparable US figures, but expect Americans would refect the Aussie sentiments expressed in the survey. So maybe we aren’t so clever, it’s just the issues are no brainers.