Monday, March 31, 2008

Future meets the past

For the relatively fresh political face of Kevin Rudd to confront the dead duck president must have been a little nauseating for most Americans.

I have been reading the transcript of the WH media conference and I’m thinking George W would have made the ‘Son of Sam’ look strong in social leadership credentials.

I’m not gloating here, but the Bush bankruptcy shows up just reading statements such as: “…and he [Rudd] is committed to the same values that I'm committed to: rule of law, human rights, human decency.” Pinocchio territory at its best, you can just see that nose growing.

“There's an interesting moment for all of us to recognize that we can become less dependent, in our case on foreign oil, and at the same time be good stewards of the environment.” Yeah George, sure…

For my cobber D.K. – Redheaded Wisdom – I need to reveal that George W can actually say thank you: “And I want to thank very much the Australian government and the Australian people for their willingness to help a young democracy such as Afghanistan. “

Apart from the consummate piss taking, something Aussies do very well, Rudd was slow and deliberate in his delivery. Rudd has his detractors here, mainly among the media and political elite, but his plodding, determined style sells well when juxtaposed with Bush’s verbal diarrhea. The biggest cringe was the actual WH transcript, complete with typos.

One thing Australians want is a continuation of the bond between our countries. We can be rough on our friends, including the US, Canada, Britain and of course the Kiwis. The list extends far beyond that, reflecting our status as an immigrant country. But the sense of being connected is strong.

Rudd confirmed that in his opening statements: “Our alliance doesn't simply reflect our shared past. Our alliance defines our common future as two of the world's great democracies.” Speaking to Americans he added: “…the reason I'm confident of that is because it's rooted in shared values. We actually take the idea of democracy seriously.”

Meeting Clinton, McCain and Obama

Demonstrating that, Rudd will meet with leading Presidential candidates this week, following speculation over his plans to hold discussions with Republican and Democratic leaders.

He confirmed that he would be holding face-to-face meetings with both Republican nominee in waiting John McCain as well as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - an over the phone meeting will be held with Barack Obama due to his campaign commitments.

Meanwhile the old guard here at home are still trying to find a position on Rudd’s performance. Liberal leader Brendan Nelson says apparent friendship between Rudd George W is a good thing for Australia. But that was qualified with a pathetic explanation that “it did not mean that former Prime Minister John Howard did not have a special relationship with Mr Bush.”

For most of us it is the future now that counts. However how Rudd, relates to bush is marginal, meeting with major presidential candidates is an imperative if we are to maintain a strong relationship. We have some hard traveling to do together now.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Regulation riskier than recession?

That is the summary of a bunch of Australian corporate heads interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald - Riding out the storm. Reading through the various comments I’m appalled that many of these people even attained the lofty positions they currently hold.

Sol Trujillo, Telstra of course is on a hiding to nothing in Australia. The sooner he heads back home the better off this country will be. But there are still the home grown CEOs and a handful of blow ins who simply fail to understand the philosophical and social underpinnings of this country.

Take this little lot:

Wal King, Leighton Holdings, one of our construction giants. “. I was in Davos [at the World Economic Forum] 12 months ago and "subprime" was never mentioned and the mood was pretty upbeat.”

My advice to Wal is to research wider than his little clique. The brewing subprime message has been evident for at least two years o my knowledge. It was discussed around regulars of this blog for at least that long.

John Stewart, National Australia Bank (NAB) - my bank as it happens.I am pleased to say Australia is in a much better position [than the US] because although we have the same problems in the debt markets we still have a strong economy. It is pretty well business as usual for us…”

Mortgage defaults and bankruptcies are ballooning, but the banks are still making profits. Meanwhile customers are churning between banks and other financial institutions trying to find some sort of edge against the increasing cost of surviving. The banks should be pleased they are building the strength of non-bank competitors.

Rob Murray, Lion Nathan – Brewer. “Despite being at the high end of the Reserve Bank's target range, inflation remains relatively low by historical standards. The industrialisation of China and India will undoubtedly continue to provide opportunities for Australian companies.”

One of the booze producers turning out caned alcohol/caffeine products for kids are obviously sampling their own wares. China and India are great customers for our abundant resources, but our financial institutions are still relying on foreign cash. The result is strong budget surpluses and inflation if the government attempts to spend it. That is globalization for you.

As Owen Hegarty, Oxiana a mining company, put it:

“We believe there's presently a disconnect between the financial markets and the fundamentals.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

The legacy of strong leadership

Strong leadership is often a catch cry in politics, a compelling vote grabber. It is also incredibly destructive to political party structures. The thoughts arise as Kevin Rudd wings his way to Washington and the ‘left overs’ of the Howard era bleat in the background.

Federal liberal leaser, Brendan Nelson, is still trying to land a glove on Rudd and still hasn’t come close. Last week he was attacking Rudd for not including Japan on this particular global jaunt. It pays do the homework, he would have know of alternative arrangements for a Japan visit.

This week he is accusing Rudd of taking off on a jolly jaunt while there are issues to deal with at home. Howard’s strong leadership, as do they all, demanded that potential challengers were politically castrated. It also ensured that ministers were kept on a short lead, thus failing to develop essential skills.

Tragically, Howard’s hold over his own state party in NSW also destroyed any real potential for them to become a credible alternative government. The state has arguably the worst administration in its history and it does not have an effective opposition. The state Liberal’s, Howard’s legacy, is fractured by factional hatred.

In this case careless of the ability of his party to win state government, Howard relied on a Christian right wing faction to shore up his own support, a fruitless exercise as history shows. So Howard left behind a federal parliamentary party bereft of talent and a state party so divided it cannot even dream of beating an inept, corrupt incumbent.

From a former Liberal MP, Bruce Baird: “…just last week Scott Morrison, who was eventually chosen to represent the Liberal Party in the seat of Cook, had his membership application rejected by a Liberal Party branch in his own electorate. This rejection is unprecedented in the history of the Liberal Party in Australia. It demonstrates the wider problems facing the NSW Liberals, and we can only hang our heads in shame and hope that this time it is really the low point of the party's factional fighting.

“The NSW Liberal Party is suffering from a deep-rooted, far-reaching and endemic problem. And it is not just a problem for the Liberals. Australia's democracy is at stake. Our Westminster system of government relies on the competitive tension between governments and oppositions to keep executive government accountable and to ensure that Australia's parliaments truly govern for all citizens.”

State Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell recognises the factional wars are hurting the party. "They only become a problem when their factional interests get in the way of the wider organisation's interests. That's clearly been seen this week in a couple of unacceptable episodes. It's why there needs to be reform, but that reform isn't just about structure, it's also about behaviour."

The political pendulum is swinging back to a more progressive position, and there is a strong push for a simply common sense balance in the NSW Liberals. I expect the much needed reforms are going to require some very strong leadership, but hopefully from people who are then willing to step back and let nature take its course.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rudd meets Bush

Having exiled the former Australian PM, John Howard, to the meeting rooms of the US far right Kevin Rudd will be meeting with John’s best friend George this week. The meeting could be, and probably should be, rather edgy – but that is not our Kev’s way.

Incredibly there will be no hiccough in the close relationship between Australia and the US. Rudd is punching way above his weight, but bush must have been well briefed to this diminutive PM with kid gloves. As the pre-event publicity has it the meeting promises all the best bits of a hippie love-in.

Bush is expected to thank Mr Rudd publicly for the peace-keeping efforts Australia has made in East Timor and for its military contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will treat Australia's decision to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq as inevitable and uncontroversial. Thanks George…

Rudd will also be invited to take a role in developing an Asian talkfest on security; a version of APEC focusing on security rather than economics. All non-binding of course, and certainly not likely to involve non-government players, the ones who might have legitimate claims against existing regimes.

Back to Iraq and Afghanistan

The Mandarin speaking Rudd, the former diplomat, has a good handle on Asian affairs. In fact he carries on a tradition of former Labor PM’s who have recognised Australia’s proximity and shared future in the region. In many ways Rudd has taken that tradition to a higher level.

The Middle East and sub-continent are also tied in closely with our national culture, essentially because we were still part of Britain well into the last century. Where Britain engaged Australia engaged. As an immigrant nation we have adopted nationals from many trouble spots.

We will be pulling out of certain aspects of the Iraq conflict; our combat troops will be deployed more usefully in the Pacific region and Afghanistan, though largely as support for stabilization and nation building efforts. Those efforts will continue in Iraq, but without the same sense of conflict.

In many ways John Howard found a natural ally in the extreme conservatism of the Bush regime, and the timing was perfect. But like a binge drinking session Australia woke up with a hangover and a dose of Kev appears to be easing the pain.

As a nation we feel a deep responsibility for our world. As feisty and belligerent we can be personally we feel a deep responsibility limit that to a simple punch up, verbal or otherwise, rather than wholesale slaughter. Well, if the latter is to occur it is only acceptable among consenting players.

Can’t say fairer than that…Which is why Australia will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan; not as belligerents but as moderators.

Now if Rudd was really serious about following the will of the people he would go one step further; he would insist that the US immediately withdraw all their personnel from these conflict zones. But Kev will only go so far.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Terrorism, where are the definitions?

Terrorism is a frightening reality, but then so is the way our political leaders use the term to protect their grip on power. It is difficult to fight a situation that lacks shape and definition, a characteristic of real terrorism but increasingly a characteristic of the term itself.

Our democracies and even marginal democracies have been guilty of cynically employing terrorism to introduce dubious suppression laws and/or strengthen support through creating needless fear.

Terrorism and democracy

The Bush administration, leaders of the great democracy, have also been masters of subverting democracy through its misuse of terrorism, as have some allies. Terrorism has been the justification for questionable laws used to suppress opposition to the government It has justified spying on its own citizens; it has justified a war of greed in which many thousands of young Americans have died.

Worst of all, misuse of the term has created a situation whereby even asking the question, doubting the honesty of the Bush regime became unpatriotic and un-American. That’s great, we give you freedom to keep your mouth shut, follow us without question and re-elect us.

Pakistan of course is only a marginal democracy, so few really question it when Musharaff uses the terror threat to jail political opponents in the lead up to an election. After all, Pakistan is on the front line of terrorism, supposedly keeping them at bay. We can afford to sacrifice the freedoms there to save our sorry arses.

Time to define terrorism

I admit there are people out there better qualified to define terrorism and its meanings, but I’ll jump in here and start at least. One acknowledged problem is that there is no accepted general definition, and perhaps worse, no uniform legal definition of terrorism.

The danger of that is thee is no sound base from which to debate the issues; lack of consistent accepted universal legal definition, with prescribed limitation, ‘the state’ can extend draconian laws at a whim, indefinitely.

A major factor inhibiting any consistent definition of terrorism is that countries invariably find themselves potentially guilty of various acts which come under any reasonable description. So rather than dealing with strict definitions we are restricted to looking at terrorism on the basis of understandings of right and wrong.

Under various names and guises terrorism seems to have existed for millennia, either as a threat or laudable behaviour, depending on which side you are on. I would posit that espionage is a form of terrorism and that nation states such as the USA and Israel were born out of acts of terrorism.

The modern sense of terrorism comes to us from regime de la terreur, the Reign of Terror of the revolutionary government in France from 1793 to 1794. But revolutionary leader, Robespierre, as did Washington, styled their acts of terror as noble and worthy responses.

“Terrorism aims to achieve political or other goals, when direct military victory is not possible.” Encyclopædia Britannica

So terrorism has been described variously as both a tactic and strategy; a crime and a holy duty; a justified reaction to oppression and an inexcusable abomination. Though is now more generally used as a pejorative.

The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological

The problem the US faces with that definition is how unlawful might be defined in respect to their actions. If the Bush regime imposed a reign of terror on Iraq solely to install a ‘democratic’ government, mindless of the ‘collateral damage’ to the civilian population, and without International consent that could well be a terrorist activity. If they did it to gain control of Iraqi oil fields it is a criminal act by any standards.

Faces of Terrorism

There is a real distinction between local/regional and global terrorism, at least so far as the most general definitions. Admittedly regional can flow wider through immigration from, or tourism to, trouble spots. Like disease, easy travel now allows the spread of the terrorist scourge well beyond local targets.

In fact local/regional terrorists will target tourist destinations purely to gain coverage of their cause and activities. Immigration is more problematic, and the ‘Irish Troubles’ are probably still the best case study for that. While the bulk of ‘terror’ activities have been historically confined to the UK associated criminal activities have followed immigration.

This also connects the terrorism Vs criminal aspects of our definitions and again, the US falling short on the action/ rhetoric equation. Criminal activity has been associated, originally, with fund raising and arms buying. The organised crime culture of the US provided a readymade base for these fanatics.

In later years, as political solutions began to take the heat out of the issues, IRA cells at home and abroad turned to selling their wares to other terrorist and criminal groups. Cognizant of these issues, and the terror created within the UK, the US still failed to act against Irish terrorists based on their soil. Only two years ago the US refused to ratify an extradition treaty with the UK for fear that Irish suspects would have to be returned to Britain.

But they are the big boy’s games, the real terror threat if you like. Inspired by the activities of the big blokes young wannabes are causing their own havoc, devoid of any real cause beyond the general dissatisfaction of youth.

The major difference is that these kids are being used in the terror argument to warrant greater controls, when their behaviour is clearly straight criminal; rape, violence and crime in the name of some half understood cause.

My fear is that while governments shrink away from defining terrorism, for fear of implicating themselves, they continue to push through anti-terrorism laws. On what basis? For what purpose? Yet many of those laws are little more than tougher criminal law, tougher in the sense of police powers, or more often designed to impede voices of dissent.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Resolving Middle East Conflict

Nearly five years into a war that might drag on for decades, Vice President Dick Cheney visited Iraq and declared, "If you look back on those five years, it has been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor." SeattlePI

The US will complete its mission in Iraq to ensure the country does not become a base for attacks on Americans, Vice-President Dick Cheney has said. BBC

It would be needless to suggest that Cheney is wrong, at least by the standards of much of the world. By his own standards, those of the Bush Admin, the job won’t be finished until they get their hands on Iraqi oil.

Other countries involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan have quite a different view of these conflicts. Without the priority of pillaging oil reserves or spreading fear and loathing these conflicts aren’t wars at all, but reconstruction efforts. Even the ‘War on Terror’ has taken on a new reality.

John Caligari is a brigadier in the Australian Army and commander of the 3rd Brigade based in Townsville. The brigade is the army's most readily deployable. A quarter of his 4000 troops are on deployment in East Timor or the Middle East.

From a great depth of experience Caligari is critical of the mindset of some other national military leaders. Of the Americans in Iraq, he says: "They're in armoured vehicles where they don't open the windows. They don't talk to the people; they don't care about the people."

As for the French, whom he worked with in Somalia, he is even harsher. "The French are rigid, very disciplined colonial masters. They believe the only way of treating the Africans was harshly because that's how you got anything from them; that's how you kept them under control," he says. Model of a modern digger

The fact is, Caligari makes sense. He believes the complex post-September 11 war fighting environment necessitates the development of soldiers who can think for themselves, rather than soldiers who are robots.

"… you get better soldiers if you spend more time on education and less on training," he says. "Training is characterised by what to think. Education is characterised by how to think."

He talks about a phenomena called ‘mission creep’ and provides a startling example of Australian soldiers in Iraq.

Despite having no experience running water systems, they found themselves working in the Iraqi water board. How did they do it? They jumped on the internet, of course. The Chicago water board, the soldiers discovered, has a very informative website.

The bottom line is conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan might well have been inevitable, but not to rape the countries resources, rather to support the many in those countries who want basic human rights.

It is about attitude and the attitude America took into these conflicts was bound to be lose/lose for everyone. The sooner the US move out and leave it to countries with the attitude, and troops with the education the sooner the world will start moving in the right direction again.

I guess that’s my next US visa request down the toilet…

Monday, March 17, 2008

Easter reflections

It has been many years since I have held any brief for the established church construct of religion. Take that as widely as you like, as my experience has consistently been one of a human organisation corrupting wondrous spiritual concepts.

Festivals like Easter tend to make doing business far more stressful than any long weekend break can compensate for, never mind focusing any true meanings. Even my normally leisurely NGO funding submission activities suddenly become crazy rush jobs, obviously limiting my long winded blogging ability.

Still, and perhaps as a reflection of the power of the spiritual over the religious, a post I made over on Ragebot - The minister – rock star goes pallistic - triggered a performance which will carry me through Easter and a busy lead up period.

I was reflecting on Aussie Environment Minister Peter Garrett and his attempt to cut the use of plastic shopping bags. It reminded me of the only Garrett performance I’ve ever seen – modern Rock and Midnight Oil thankfully passed me by.

Peter performed with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Sydney some years back and one piece was "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," by avant-garde composer Gavin Bryars. This is another rendering, one of the originals I believe -

It’s an eerie piece, doubtless a powerful anti religion hymn, but without doubt, powerfully spiritual. The piece, written in 1971, “is based around a recorded loop of an un-named tramp singing a brief stanza; eventually rich harmonies are played by a live ensemble of strings and brass, always increasing in density.” Wikipedia

This is a confronting piece of music, no blond blue eyed Jesus here, no pretty or soaring melodies. Still, for some reason, once it was prompted into my memory it has stuck and will endure for a little while yet as I try to get through this harried week. I don’t ask you to enjoy, but it is worth a listen.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

When corruption rules

Australia’s largest state by population and economy, NSW, has the sad distinction of a long history of entrenched corruption. One of the few state premiers who took a pro-active stand was Liberal Nick Greiner. Ironically Nick was trapped by his own ethical stand, but remains a beacon in my eyes.

With our current state Labor government lurching from one scandal to the next Greiner has recently been vocal on the potential for the states Liberals to lift their game and present as a realistic alternative government. Rightly he points out the fact that Labor should have lost the last two elections.

If the Labor government was so bad where was the alternative government? Busy engaged in an internal right/left faction struggle. We have noted this many times on Grub Street, particularly the attempted Christian right takeover attempt.

Accepting Greiner is no longer in the game the NSW Liberals still have a great opportunity with the current leader, Barry O’Farrell. It is not about high power, grandstanding, but effective leadership. It certainly is not about extremes, rather capturing that great vacuum now existing in the political centre.

The NSW Liberals have the great opportunity to read the tea leaves and position themselves as the reasoned, considered managers of this robust economy. The people don’t want the isms and the hard dogmatism; they simply want to get on with life without the dramas.

Once upon a time it was a Liberal belief that government had a responsibility to create an environment allowing business and the community to get on with life without undue intrusion. I don’t believe that means a lack of regulation, but it certainly means politicians managing the social/economic regime rather than their own corrupt self interest.

NSW desperately needs balance in government now; starting with a viable alternative to the Iemma feed trough fest. The sooner we have a strong opposition the sooner this current government will collapse under the weight of it own unending corruption.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Feeling cheated after the fact

Over here in Australia we are currently being treaded to excerpts from The Commission – The Uncensored History Of The 9/11 Investigation (by Philip Shenon). I know I’m not the only one who questioned the motives of the Bush administration post 9/11, but I also know those of us who were vocal were constantly slammed as stupid and naïve.

Given my current favourite saying – “Never argue with idiots, they drag you down to their level then win on experience”, we probably were stupid and naïve… The fact still remains that the Western World has just endured one of the most intellectually corrupt periods of history.

Certainly there have been worse periods of history, my concern is that given the scale of communications available over the past decade the majority simply chose not to be informed. Even without the benefit of Shenon’s expose there has been reason for serious doubt from the very first rumblings.

I still support attempts to subdue the tribal war lord activities in Afghanistan; the region which should have been the primary target for al-Qaeda from the beginning and a remaining outpost of feudalism. Whatever Iraq presented was the result of foolish Western policy in the past. Afghanistan has historically been the untamed region.

But Afghanistan didn’t have oil reserves and so didn’t present as the ultimate Viagra to Cheney and his coterie. Iraq, historically, is Iraq because of lies and deception from the power nations. Okay, they might not have turned out much differently left to their own, but that is something we can never know.

Sadly what we do know is that intervention was predicated on the wrong issues for the wrong reasons. What we know is that the Bush administration and their Western allies at the time were willing to lie for personal and political gain. What upsets me is how many of us knew that from the start and were effectively ignored.

No glory in vindication

There is no glory in vindication. To be truthful, this isn’t even vindication here, just one more level of damning evidence. But however it is styled it doesn’t bring back the lives of the thousands sacrificed to the egos and greed of actively promoted and executed this obscene ‘war on terror’.

Still, Australia’s top military claim to have learned some powerful lessons in the post 9/11 period, the face of conflict has changed. One, John Caligari a brigadier in the Australian Army and commander of the 3rd Brigade, the army's most readily deployable has been critical of US troops and the basic approach to conflict such as Iraq.

Caligari took a swipe at the inability of US troops to be proactive, even to the degree of winding down the windows in their troop carriers. He argues that the modern soldier needs to be able to think about the wider ramifications, not simply apply robotic defensive/offensive reaction.

Using East Timor as a model he is critical of the way that intervention was run, and it is a criticism he makes of deployments today, including in Iraq. His complaint: that too much responsibility is placed on the Defence Force to perform tasks outside its expertise of providing security.

He provides a startling example of soldiers in Iraq. Despite having no experience running water systems, they found themselves working in the Iraqi water board. How did they do it? They jumped on the internet, of course. The Chicago water board, the soldiers discovered, has a very informative website. These blokes are just learning everything they can".

Vindication doesn’t cut the mustard, but recognition of better ways of dealing with these situations is very exciting to me. Even in my personal life I can’t see the value of thug Vs thug. The alternative isn’t all that easy, but I doubt is really all that more difficult, unless patience is difficult.

Yes, you are right, new class to reinforce every Monday morning… and I still feel cheated.

Dealing with distractions

We rarely write of personal issues here on Grub Street, and it has been many months since I reflected on my inability to write the Steinbeck like tale of my apartment block. That anything productive has occurred here over the past year is close to miraculous, but I believe we are turning a new page at last.

The issue has been two of the four ground floor apartments are occupied by drug and alcohol abusers. They have also abused each other and other residents here, as have the constant stream of hangers on, dealers and buyers coming to the block.

In the past few months this behaviour has prompted police visits on an almost daily (or late night quite often) basis. After being physically assaulted in my own place I finally took out an application for a court order. My brother followed suit a few weeks later.

That application was heard yesterday and the offender, faced with a thick submission from the police prosecutor didn’t contest the order. We won, but the toll so far on us didn’t leave much room for celebration, just relief.

That was our immediate neighbour, the next along are smarter as evidenced by their booming drug dealing business. Apart from hurling insults they stayed clear of us so we had no reason to take action against them. Then, on top of yesterdays win, this pair are packing up and moving today.

So my brother and I are looking forward to some peace and thinking space now. Hopefully no more slamming baseball bats into walls at 3 am, no more drunken fights on the driveway, no more abusive invasions. Well maybe I’m being over optimistic, but we live in hope.

I still couldn’t do the story justice, I simply can’t relate to these characters in any way. I just look forward to getting on with life with a slightly less stressed mind and body.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

US Fed a sub-prime lender?

I was curious last year when central banks were reported ‘injecting’ billions to shore up the ailing banking system. As it turned out these injections were overnight loans to facilitate transfers between banks.

It seems the banks were unwilling or unable to run with their own short term transfer buffers. At the heart of the global issue is that banks and other financial institutions will no longer lend to each other. As it happens the central banks were making a handy profit on those transactions, it was just a poorly sold concept. The US Fed has upped the ante now.

When the Fed announced lending Treasury notes in exchange for debt that includes mortgage-backed securities, to the tune of $200 billion, it was obviously a different scenario. A far more problematic scenario, rather than an overnight turnaround we are talking more extended periods to the greedy bastards behind the sub-prime fiasco.

Shave and a haircut

The deal, it appears, is that the Fed will auction treasury notes off to a bunch of their primary dealers including Goldman Sachs Group. Inc., Bear Stearns Cos. and Merrill Lynch & Co., who will then lend the Treasuries on to other firms in return for cash, to help the dealers finance their balance sheets

The loans will be made in exchange for a wide variety of collateral, including mortgage debt, which will be discounted by up to 10% in recognition of the dubious value. I guess the lenders involved would be happy to take a mega interest rate and risk losing their dodgy mortgage portfolios in return for cash in hand. They call this discounting a haircut; cute…

The good news is this is a creative alternative to the unsuccessful toying with interest rates. The bad news it seems would fill a major text book. It is, at best, a stop gap measure. Like interest rates and other tools being employed the time frame for any sort of positive movement is months, not days or weeks.

But worst of all is the risk of giving the Beagle Boys the keys to the bank vault. You can be sure they aren’t going to just go in and dust the shelves and polish the gold bars. At best these sub-prime lenders were incredibly incompetent, at worst they were outright crooks. Either way it was all about greed and now the Fed is going to give them another bite of the apple.

Papering over the problems

At least since Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury, Salmon Chase, printing money has been a central economic wisdom in the US. I’m not sure the negative economic indicators are a cause so much as an effect of printing money to ‘paper over’ the problems.

For instance, the credit problems began when there was too much cash available. Decreasing rates is meant, in the US, to encourage a return to profligate spending, the very thing that caused the problem in the first place.

At present it seems the Fed doesn’t know if it’s an armpit or an ear hole. On the one hand it is keen to work market economics, the free market then on the other it is wildly interventionist, socializing debt. Rather than punishing predatory lenders the Fed wants everyone to reward them.

Surely it is time for a reality check - it is time to bite the bullet and recognise it is not business as usual – it is time to get down and reduce money supply! Every time the US prints a new dollar every other dollar in circulation is devalued. It is not backed by anything other than a notion.

The notion is now out of control. Doubtless the remedy will be painful, but putting off taking the bitter pill is hardly an answer when the country is suffering anyway, and beginning to infect other economies as well. Before we have another great crash the US must act.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Economic conundrums

I often argue that most ordinary Australians know more about economics than many Americans who cal themselves economists. Not that the average Aussie really knows it, but they do pick up the essentials, and argue them without really being aware.

All too often Americans are fed markets as economics, so called economists are really finance experts. Given the US relies on ‘market economics’ and has rarely enjoyed an economic regime which includes a social dynamic.

Given that I tend to give Aussie economic commentators a decent level of respect, but just lately there are questions I can’t resolve and no one I’ve approached seems willing to deal with.

Conundrum One: Australia has nearly full employment, which apparently puts the breaks on growth because there are simply not enough workers left in the labour market. I find that odd, but again no one seems wiling to work through the statistical brambles.

Employment figures used to be catagorised, full, casual, part time casual etc. Now they are all simply expressed as employment. Yet many people I know do not work full time, i.e.; 40 hours a week. In fact 40 ours every two weeks is far more common, and often they are on call and rotating shifts, so cannot take on extra work.

Then there are the many who are working two or three jobs, but the statistics don’t factor them. Around 10% of Australians are engaged in full time caring for presumably another 10% of people with a variety of disabilities. Home care is seen as a far cheaper alternative and is probably better in many ways. But many productive people are stripped from the labour market.

Australia has a strong contingent of volunteer workers, often doing jobs which should be filled by wage earners. I know the organisations using volunteers could not operate efficiently without them, but they remain a large pool of around 5 million people sidelined from the labour market.

My point is, Australia claims nearly full employment but is still squandering a large pool of potential labour. Good economics should be recognizing this waste and look at ways to optimize our greatest resource, our people.

Conundrum Two: Interest rates and diminishing returns. Australia and the US are both in stress, but at different points in the economic cycle. The US is trying to drive activity by cutting interest rates and Australia is trying to cool things by increasing rates. Because the pressures are complex, and in some cases external, neither attempt is working.

Worse, the law of diminishing returns seems to be cutting in with the Australian situation. The reality is that consumers are consuming less anyway because of rising costs. Housing costs, including rents, are skyrocketing. Grocery prices are rising rapidly, and recent evidence suggests that standard packaging volumes are shrinking at the same time.

The major inflationary factors appear to be banks and investment houses exposed to external markets and a rush to imports to make up for our reduced production capacity in this country. The latter being a deliberate government policy.

Rather than address that the experts seem intent on holding tight to old domestic paradigms and not really look closely at the fallout from a headlong rush into the global market.

I certainly don’t claim any great wisdom on these issues, it just seems awfully curious no one is looking at the logic gaps.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Malaysia a ‘New Dawn’

AFTER five decades of political power, Malaysia's ruling coalition suffered a humiliating rebuff at the weekend, ushering in one of the biggest shifts in Southeast Asian politics in almost 40 years.

Anwar Ibrahim, (pictured right) the former deputy prime minister to Mahathir Mohamad, delivered a crushing blow to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition by rallying the opposition parties to their best performance in Malaysian history, taking five states and more than a third of the parliamentary seats.

The result means that, for the first time in 40 years, Malaysia's ruling coalition no longer enjoys the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, which it has done more than 40 times since independence from Britain in 1957.

A jubilant Anwar said the opposition had to prove it was a credible alternative to the coalition, which has dominated Malaysian politics for half a century. "It's a new dawn for Malaysia," the opposition leader said. "People want to see justice. I don't think Malaysian politics will ever be the same again."

This election was timed so that Anwar could not run himself because of the ban applying to former prisoners. But that ban runs out next month and one of his supporters will resign so that he can enter parliament.

The performance has even revived talk of Anwar as a future prime minister, after the lost decade that followed his 1998 fall from grace when he was convicted on sex and corruption charges trumped up by Mahathir.

The last time Malaysia saw an election result like this - in 1969 - there were race riots with hundreds killed. Malaysia will be lucky to get through this result without serious disturbances. But Malaysia is a much more middle class, and stable, society today than it was in 1969.

Note: My apologies for the largely cut ‘n paste content of this post. I was caught on the hop, not really believe the loaded Malaysian political system would allow an Anwar Ibrahim comeback. I wonder if this isn’t yet a dramatic example of that pendulum swing away from the ideological right.

Dumping on Mark Vaile

Toward the end of last year’s Federal election campaign, with Rudd taking the lead, I saw merit in Mark Vaile retaining his seat of Lyne, the electorate I live in. Vaile has a lot to answer for, and losing his seat would have simply meant end of story.

As it happens, Vaile is continuing his inept, corrupt ways because the Rudd government is too busy focusing on governing, not the past. I’ll accept that, there is a lot to fix from the overall Howard legacy, enough to keep a government swamped with forward looking tasks.

So just for the hell of it I will list the various sins of Mark Vaile as I have seen them, starting with the AWB ‘Oil for Food’ scandal. This particular scandal eventually forced the Howard Government to launch the heavily shackled Cole Commission of Inquiry.

“A relatively gentle grilling at the Cole commission revealed Mark Vaile to be, at best, totally naive and, at worst, frighteningly incompetent.” Michelle Grattan

Western Australian grain producer and ex-AWB chairman Trevor Flugge was paid $679,000 for services, through the Australian government humanitarian agency AusAID for ‘reconstruction’ work for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

His position involved arranging payment for AWB (Australian Wheat Board) contracts which included alleged kickbacks of nearly $300 million to the Saddam Hussein regime which he had personally negotiated for the AWB in 2002.

Oxfam Community Aid Abroad chief executive officer Andrew Hewett told the Congress Daily in June 2003 that the Australian Government's appointment of Flugge to advise Iraq on reconstruction is "like appointing Henry Ford to advise on public transport."

Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer and the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile personally applauded the appointment. In fact these two were finally responsible for the whole fiasco, as joint minsters of the department of foreign Affairs and Trade (DEFAT).

“Giving evidence to the inquiry “Vaile has no recollection of reading cables that came to his office. He doesn't even "have direct access to the cable system at my desk". Except in one case - where it was actually suggested in the cable that the matter should go to the minister.”

Given the low esteem in which Vaile was held by his senior coalition partners he might well have been kept out of the loop. Over the past few years I’ve found a long trail of evidence ranging back to 2001, when the Canadian government first complained about AWB corrupt activities. It is only with my latest review of that trail, and later Vaile behaviour, that he really does live in ignorance and simply accepts the pay packet without question.

That is not to say Mark Vaile is not corrupt, no one who reaches the position of Deputy Prime Minister can be so terminally dumb as to not see what is happening around them. He might well have been a stooge through the whole affair, but a willing stooge.


When Vaile became a total embarrassment to the Howard ministry he was gently moved from Trade to Transport and Regional Services. That move also downgraded a key domestic ministry, but that is another issue.

For the government leader with the finger supposedly on the pulse of the rural vote Vaile became the major pork barrel stooge. Particularly in the lead up to a difficult election campaign for the conservatives, promise a road here, a rail link there, a few regional airport upgrades and the generally conservative country vote

Federal Transport Minister Mark Vaile says he will take a proposal to Cabinet next week on a new phase of infrastructure funding. Some of the key projects in line for funding include the Goodna bypass in Brisbane's west and a possible Melbourne to Brisbane rail link. The cost of the package could reach $19 billion. February 16, 2007 ABC

Vaile spent the months prior to the 207 election in Queensland handing out promises on roads, airports and rail upgrades. He had started back in February, but by November it was still largely promises. His allotted task by the real leadership was to secure a swag of rural electorates in that state.

There was a pressing need for Vaile as well, his much treasured national positions were under severe threat if he failed, which he did of course.

The Australian National Audit Office

Prior to the November election I had been sourcing funding for a local community program which successfully guides house bound women into further education and the workforce. It is not an expensive exercise, but does require some financial assistance.

When I found the Regional Partnerships Program I thought I’d hit pay dirt. This seemed like the ultimate Vaile pork barrel exercise, and the timing was right. Well it might have been but the National Audit Office dropped the bomb before our program was considered.

NATIONALS leader Mark Vaile has foreshadowed a fresh batch of grants to regional areas under a funding program previously attacked as being political pork-barrelling.

Okay, it was transparently a rort – if not totally corrupt then certainly dubious. A bit of research around this, Vaile’s electorate showed that the Deputy Prime Minister was amenable to showering money around where he could see potential votes.

Chief among the recipients appear to be the local Catholic establishment and National Party donors. Trying to track money given to the Catholic establishment I was told there was no record because a cheque was simply handed over by Vaile.

While local public schools and hospitals languish, and the Catholic counterparts do little better, the money appears to have been funneled into a new sub-division development on Catholic owned land. Obviously growth of the church funds far outweighs any real needs in this electorate.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile says rules on public servants' actions during election campaigns should be reviewed. Vaile believes the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) may have breached caretaker conventions, prepared by the Prime Minister's own department, when it released the damning report. SMH

I doubt the revelation of a dodgy pork barrel exercise did more than confirm what some believed, but for the most part it was ignored and still is. For Vaile, now bereft of position and floundering in the role of local member, the Middle East beckons again. After all, he must have some knowledge now that it is rich soil for a corrupt income.

I didn’t cost the taxpayer…

Unrepentant Mark Vaile has defended his decision to supplement his $127,000 backbenchers' pay by moonlighting in the Middle East as a consultant. The former deputy prime minister said his trip was paid for by serviced office company Servcorp, not the taxpayer, and he would only be away from his electorate for four days.

Note that word supplement. Obviously Vaile does not see the Australian taxpayers as his paymasters, just as he doesn’t hold any special brief for his constituents in Lyne. This is one of the great problems attempting to understand Vaile’s behaviour.

The businessman who hired Mr Vaile for a four-day lobbying mission to the Middle East has rejected criticism of the trip, telling The Australian the former trade minister's contacts were invaluable in helping his company - ServCorp - to expand its business overseas. The Australian

Like all good conservatives Vaile has resorted to the ‘others do it better/worse than me argument.

“Vaile said there was nothing new about MPs from both sides of politics taking consultancies. "I recall many Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs undertaking very similar advisory roles during and after their parliamentary service," he said in a statement from Bahrain.”

In response to critisim from Opposition leader:

"As far as me being absent from my electorate - I'm a member of the Nationals, not the Liberal Party," Vaile said.

The reality is that Vaile is no longer the serving member for Lyne, he is just serving time until something better comes along.

“"It was a trip for me to look at their business, and in doing so see if I could add any value to their operation in the longer term," Vaile said.”

Local Comment

Local reaction has been mixed, but generally there is so little contact with ‘the member’ here no one would really notice. This has been a conservative electorate, underserved for so long few realize what representation is or should be.

Throughout the last campaign, November 2007, some of us ran a ‘Where’s Wally’ campaign around the country to track Vaile’s movements around the country. He rarely campaigned within the electorate.

In one letter to the local newspaper the reaction was clear:

If Mark Vaile understood Australian political processes, he would have known that:
a) Public Servants are apolitical, and report to the government of the day
b) The ANAO's own website states that it "assists government" – and tough if you get a bad report card, they are just doing their job
c) Kickbacks are illegal – in your own case used to by Saddam Hussein to purchase weapons to be used against Australian soldiers
d) Decisions for funding cannot be made in caretaker period of government

I would also add:

e) Taking a business trip while accepting the parliamentary pack packet is a cost to tax payers.

If Mark Vaile isn’t corrupt he is totally incompetent and useless as a local MP. He serves neither his constituents or his country well, and the sooner he moves on the better.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oppositions in crisis

Since late November 2007 every major government in Australia has been in the hands of Labor. Across the country the conservative coalition, Liberal and National parties or variations on that theme, have been in disarray.

In NSW, where Labor have been entrenched for some years, the result of an ineffective opposition has been dismal at both state and federal representative level. NSW has always had a reputation for high level corruption, a sore which festers seriously with a weak opposition. The state Liberal Partie's extreme right wing adventurism has ensured a dysfunctional opposition

The Nationals in NSW simply lack leadership and direction, having adopted personal pragmatism over any thought of rendering a public service. Former federal leader Mark Vaile is a shining example of lack of purpose beyond his own.

Vaile’s federal coalition colleagues have recognised for some years that he is a dead weight. He proved it on returning from his recent Middle Eastern moonlighting jaunt by telling the country he will retire when it suits him; that he is just waiting for the right opportunity.

Putting Vaile aside, and the sooner the better, the coalition in NSW have a brilliant opportunity now to stake a claim to government. Their absence from the fight has allowed the ruling Labor government to become so self serving as to start losing their own party supporters.

Politics is about cycles and the current cycle is repudiating the old dogmas, the rights and lefts. It is a different sort of pragmatism, people simply want solutions to the many social and economic problems stacking up against them. When government delivers the odd lapse is easily overlooked, but no party is delivering at the moment.

The sad part is NSW Liberals, the whole coalition, have the ideal leader for the times. Like Labor's Rudd federally state Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell avoids grandstanding, is self-effacing and apparently intent on delivering results rather than serving dogma.

O’Farrell, in his non-blustering way, seems naturally directed to filling that vast middle of the road void left behind by a greedy, rapacious state government. The big hope is that O’Farrell is as tough as he is moderate. Apart from Rudd the country seems to be sadly lacking in real leadership.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Howard the coward?

Since losing the last election former PM Howard went into hiding, refusing to talk to the Australian media. Instead he slunk off to Washington to have a well paid whinge to ‘a friends of George Bush’ convention.

Former Australian prime minister John Howard delivers the 2008 Irving Kristol Lecture.)

Howard is still defending his failed industrial relations policy while on the lecture circuit in Washington. Rather than comment here in Australia he told an audience at a Washington conservative think tank that it was a mistake for Labor to reverse the workplace changes.

It is a gutless act, of course, but reflects the fact that most of us think he is wrong on the issue; wrong enough to kick out of office. Secret research handed to the Howard government, before the election, showed its $46 million taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to promote Work Choices failed dismally.

John Howard finds friends

But in a world lacking in friends Howard knows where he can still connect. Outfits like the American Enterprise Institute are wiling to pay big money and shower the has been with dubious awards; i.e., the Irving Kristol award. (Speech extract)

“The Irving Kristol Award replaces the Francis Boyer Award, AEI's highest annual award for the past twenty-five years. Named for a distinguished chief executive of SmithKline in the 1940s and 1950s, the Boyer Award was first conferred in 1977, on former president Gerald R. Ford.”

How is that, an award in the name of profit ahead of human health and wellbeing. Howard is happy to be feted by crooks but I hope they are running out of time as well. The AEI is an unapologetic right wing cheer squad, far too right for anyone the Democrats might throw into the White House.

Most of all I’m just disgusted that the craven coward had to slink off to these cretins to somehow justify his past. I can’t remember any former Aussie leader who has been too gutless to respond to the Australian people, even in defeat.

If the best Howard can do is suck up to a bunch of corporate crooks and a dead duck president he is really showing his true colours. But after his recent election bombast I want to see him have the guts to face Australians and deliver the crap he is delivering now in the US.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Aussies breeding wingnuts

Right wing commentators in Australia are finally beating their quills into sword as the Rudd government quickly develops of mastery of political persuasion. Lobbying has obviously transformed under a new regime, but the rabid right can only see this in terms of a swing to the left.

The disclaimer for commentator Katharine Murphy is that she; “has attended a number of social functions, meetings and engagements at the invitation of lobbying firms.” SMH

I guess that means Katharine is echoing the old guard of that particular class. An example: She cites former trade union heavyweight, Bill Kelty, presumably as a icon of the left. Then goes on to explain Kelty’s association with former high flying industrialists like Aussie transport magnate Lindsay Fox for whom he now works.

It seems anything short of National Socialism, the full ascendency of capital over the people, is left wing to some. Certainly that is the case in the US and it seems was increasingly going to be the case here.

She goes on to cite other former labor and union luminaries, invariably in relation to their efforts for major industrial organisations and figures. Australia might have had a left leaning once upon a time, but Rudd is a pure pragmatist, in the very best sense of the term..

Rudd’s agenda in balance
Unlike the cartoon above, Rudd seems intent on finding a national balance. It seems more in the order of what is what is good for the country, regardless of wether it is big business or the little people.

Holders of marginal mortgages will suffer under Rudd’s attempts to fix the economy, just as errant businesses can forget the sort of bail outs common from Howard. The problem for the mouth foaming commentators is that this government defies the old drawer full of pre-organised labels.

It seems we are breeding our own home grown wignuts.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Vaile - The absent MP

A whole bunch of former Howard government ministers have turned into part time members since they were booted from office last November.

My local federal member, Mark Vaile, sought re-election and won his seat, but he lost his coveted position of Deputy Prime Minister. I predicted at the time that he would jump ship sooner rather than later, but like his colleagues he is reluctant to give up the perks while he pursues new opportunities.

While the majority of MPs are committed to the job they were elected to do, Vaile is off in the Middle East doing some sort of corporate consultancy. He is still supposedly my local member and has recently been quoted in the local paper screaming about the loss of democracy with the sacking of our local council.

I’m not sure what kind of consultancy would want the man his former ministerial colleagues thought of as a lame brained half-wit. I’m not sure what influence he has when his own parliamentary leader now publicly rebukes his behaviour. As a potential lobbyist he really doesn’t have a lobby to work.

Locals haven’t really missed Vaile, here is rarely seen at the best of times. Some of us conducted a running commentary during the last election campaign, tracking his movements around the country – anywhere but the electorate. But his days are numbered.

I was among those who predicted that he would be gone within six months of losing his exalted government position. I’m thinking we might not be too far off that target. At last we might have the opportunity to elect a member who gives a damn about their constituents and country.

Cooperation, sounds like a fantasy

Australia’s Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, has tipped the bucket on the Howard governments reluctance to get on with essential reforms, including state-federal relations.

He also said policymakers in government had been discussing for years the fact that Australia was at the end of a global disinflationary period and faces serious challenges presented by a "near-full employment" economy.

On state-federal issues Henry said “Only a genuinely co-operative effort between governments would suffice. The change of government had presented an "uncommon opportunity" for state and federal reformers to push ahead with an aggressive reform agenda. Identifying markets for energy, water and land transport as the three most in need of reform.”

Rudd’s government started the ball rolling very quickly, with high level talks starting within days of taking power. How government levels relate and cooperate is key to a number of vital issues in this country, including water. "Water rage" was likely to increase as tensions rose between neighbours over pent-up demand for the scarce resource, according to Henry.

So we might be facing some serious economic stresses, including another rate rise yesterday, but it seems our economic gurus and government might actually be working in sync for a change.

The growing cooperative approach to government sounds like a fantasy, however it is long overdue and is actually occurring. As someone said to me recently, even if Rudd can’t turn the economy around he is delivering something far more important for Australia, and this is just one more example.

Monday, March 03, 2008

An economic vision

Even as an old cynic I’m well capable of recognizing some exciting potentials in the newly emerging political changes. I’ve often been on about regulation, and it looks like a regime that might be about to re-emerge, with differences.

"We should consider employee morale and satisfaction as a major output of the labour market. Classical economists joined the fight against slavery by showing how misery and oppression depressed productivity.

"In a similar spirit, reformers today should be excited by strong links between employee morale, work satisfaction and productivity. Improved information about employee experience inside workplaces would intensify competition between employers to provide satisfying jobs, [thus] improving productivity and labour market efficiency." Dr Gruen Lateral Economics

Dynamically flexible regulation

The point is regulation, properly used, provides enormous social benefits. Dr Gruen talks about dynamically flexible regulation. To be effective we need to accept the basic requirement for a regulatory regime, otherwise all the energy is spent simply putting mechanisms in place. A dynamic regime needs to shift the focus to continual tuning of regulations to ensure they are meeting the whole range of needs.

Regulation can promote beneficial innovation where it addresses clear problems with markets. For instance, where it internalises the cost of pollution, regulation will send firms scurrying to find new ways to avoid those costs. The resulting market in pollution abatement will underwrite technology development and innovation more broadly directed towards pollution abatement.

The mechanics are background, the general populace are hardly going to engage with detail, only with results. It seems to me the results required by the new wave of political leader we find in Rudd and Obama can only be achieved by some new economic thinking.

The big end of town won’t like it, they are now well used to bulldozing cash into their personal piggy banks without consideration of others. This emerging perspective does not stop individual wealth creation, but it should ensure that wealth is created without undue harm to the wider community.

Take the money and run

The US has a particular problem introducing any impediments to big money and their games. Apart from a few short periods the rape of the wider community has been an acceptable behaviour for entrepreneurial spirits. Any measures designed to share the wealth are considered socialist or even communist.

Australia is an easier proposition. Those US CEO’s who are currently dominating our corporations are already considering grabbing their cash and heading back to a market they believe can’t be regulated. There won’t be many tears here when they head home.

Making Money

If you ask most of today’s business leaders what their company’s core activity really is the honest ones will tell you variations on ‘making money.’ There should be no issue with the making money, as long as we are making or providing other things of real value.

For example regulators in Australia are currently looking at the need to regulate margin lending, company directors borrowing to cover their stock holdings. I guess it is the idea of getting rich, or richer, using other people’s money.

Smart traders who recognize the highly geared directors then start manipulating sales, pushing prices down and triggering margin calls. So the markets are preying on each other, using money to make money without producing anything else but heartache for those trapped in the middle.

It is a similar story with property. A house used to be a home, now it is a wealth generating vehicle. So we build lots of overpriced, shoddy accommodation, not to be lived in, but to be traded and virtually gambled with. That is the neo-con dream and with a little luck it is running out of steam.

Illusory economics

The whole thing is illusory; unless you are a drug dealer or pimp you rarely ever carry any amount of real cash. Even if you did you can’t eat it and it doesn’t keep the rain out. To use the market jargon, it is a bubble due to burst! It is a bout attitudes and perceptions and we must change them back to realities.

If it takes regulation to make the changes happen I’m all for that as well. I like the concept of dynamically flexible regulation, responding to the real world. We have the technology to make that work, now we just need the will.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Political perceptions oceans apart

Rudd says no to Left agenda

Australian Prime Minister Rudd has warned that people had "elected the wrong guy" if they believed that once he was in power he would unveil a secret left-wing reform agenda or suddenly yield to pressure from sectional interests.

I find it fascinating straddling Australian and North American political scenes. One of the most difficult aspects is the gulf in perceptions. What is centre or even centre right here is considered broad left in the US.

Rudd’s Labor party was traditionally socialist but now holds the centre ground, much as Blair’s New Labour in Britain before it swung to the right. The left have always been noisy, if not always effective, but that was the past.

Leftish perceptions

But those perceptions, I’m sure Rudd’s first 100 days looks leftish to some in the US:

  • Ratifying the Kyoto agreement
  • Apologising for the historical treatment of indigenous Australians
  • Calling a people’s consultative forum to thresh out the country’s future
  • Flagging the roll back of US style labour laws; imposing more stringent electoral donation rules; also stricter regulations on share trading among other things.

In fact just the talk of tightening the regulatory regime must sound close to communism to the American ear. Personally I find the regulation directions encouraging, and potentially a positive boost to business and the economy here.

The fact is, as we let go of Howard’s neo-con experiment, we are returning to what has long been seen as the Australian political centre. Howard was limited in how far he could dismantle what Americans might see as bordering on socialist policy.

On health the best he could do was hold back specific funding for the public health system administered by the states. His attempt at stripping workers of their rights and putting business interests ahead of those of the wider community eventually lost him the government.

Now Rudd’s major concern is the economic legacy left by Howard. Certainly the economy is booming, but at the same time a major recession threatens unless the new government finds some fast remedies. No doubt those remedies will hurt, but they will hurt across the board without protecting any particular sector.