Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I wonder...

I have noted, with more than a little amusement, US conservative commentators seeking to blame the last Democrat president, Bill Clinton, for China moving away from it’s ‘communist’ past. My apologies here, I would have thought these people would have seen turning communism as a joyous event.

But of course nothing is that simple.

  • Point one is that Bill C, like his wife, is nothing more than an opportunist; a loveable opportunist to some but still an opportunist.
  • Point two is that the road to capitalism for China started well before Bill came along.
  • Point three is that China still has a long way to go before they really reach an effective transition to the effective totalitarian capitalist manipulation.

The last is not the sort of goal many of us would wish, but it is well developed and the mandarin emperors simply can’t even grasp the basics. Having won the Olympics China can enforce building an infrastructure faster than any other any of their predecessors. Good on them, but they miss the point.

The Olympics is the paramount PR event of our time, but China misses this great opportunity because the country’s administration simply can’t move beyond crude bully control tactics to some sort of, quasi-sophisticated bully tactics.

Some footage from Central China TV today underlines my point. They showed constructed video of how China might deal with a range of security issues. The answer I should add was ruthlessly. But it did look like they were doing a Hollywood prep in case things became too boring.

China has also limited non Chinese tickets to about 25% for venues. Well they are a big country, and I don’t want a ticket, but I wonder about the PR image of that limitation on a world full of sports fans. China is currently building a small city every month at the moment, but can’t accommodate visitors.

The latest news is that they are banning the import of specific national foods for contestants. I’m sorry, but I can’t see any great difference now from the control freaks that have always controlled China. I don’t think the country will remain intact for more than a decade or so, but you can’t say they didn’t have their chance.

Sorry, I drifted off the Clinton issue there. The point being the US is in deep shit economically because no one seems to understand that we aren’t being screwed by ‘isms. I have a soft spot for Bill, (I think he was really a great politician - note the was) but he was still an integeral part of the decay.

It is not about socialism, communism, capitalism, globalism or any other ism, except perhaps opportunism . It is about plain “I will win because I am the best bully’ (expletives deleted). I wonder constantly why a few hundred bullies still manage to intimidate the billions…

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Clinton Legacy?

With the US primaries race generating so much angst, I would like to explore some of the myths that seem to be underlying perceptions. One concerns some strange notions on left Vs right; liberal Vs conservative; progressive Vs regressive.

A second myth set concerns the enormous, almost superhuman gifts imbued on the holder of the presidency.

The comparative political leanings

Most informed people around the world would recognise US citizens have little real concept of what constitutes the left, even to the extremes of socialism and communism. I have argued for some time that a traditional liberal is not some bleeding heart philanthropist. Liberalism is essentially a self serving notion of the owners of production. Softer than conservatism, liberalism recognises that weary, hungry workers do not perform well. It holds that workers should have sufficient comfort to be able to work efficiently.

I use regressive as the opposing concept to progressive. But rather than simply bandy words we need to look at realities.

The economics

"Reaganomics," were similar to of supply-side economics and advocated free markets. Along with Britain’s Thatcher, Reagan’s administration championed capital against wider society. But neither the Iron Lady nor the Old Ham could have driven these incredibly divisive economic programs on there own, they were only flesh and blood after all.

Both were happily steered by powerful commercial interests, aided by powerful treasury officials and organisations like the World Bank and IMF.

Meanwhile here in Australia the leftist Labor Party came to power, the new Prime Minister was Bob Hawk, the former leader of the country’s trade union movement. Local economists had labeled this new economic direction ‘economic rationalism’ and Hawk and his treasurer Paul Keating adopted it with gusto. So much for the left wing concept…

Like the US, Britain and other western economies we saw major corporations taking jobs and industries off shore, chasing cheaper labour. Thatcher’s Conservatives were eventually replaced by Britain’s leftist Labour Party, under Tony Blair, the Republicans were eventually replaced by Democrat Clinton. But the supply-side economic approach did not waver.

Many years of regressive policy existed under both notional left and right wing governments. The big corporations continued their dominance as countries were progressively stripped of manufacturing and agricultural industries. In fact it is only now that cracks are starting to show in this long held economic dynamic.

On Clinton

Bill Clinton was right in the middle of this economic paradigm and showed no great desire to wind back to a more progressive stance. Sure he was honey tongued, but we really need to focus on the actions rather than the words.

From my memory any forays into progressive policies were passed to Hilary and invariably were doomed to failure. I’m not suggesting that she might have had some passion for the various measures she was advocating as First Lady. But I would suggest we have not seen the same level of passion for issues since, merely a passion for office.

I am willing to be corrected on fact in any of this, as always. But I will hold to the main point; we cannot simply hide behind labels and shallow perceptions. I suspect the willingness to be duped in this way has led to many of the problems we now face. When we get beyond name calling I find that many I debate on the blogs hold pretty much the same aspirations and beliefs I do. We just get tied up in the perceptions and language.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Giving remembrance a meaning

New Zealand always has a shaky reputation with Australia on the sporting fields, but as a country that stands up and speaks their mind they cannot be dismissed. From all the ANZAC Day 2008 ceremonies the New Zealand foreign Minister Winston Peters did the little country proud again. It is well worth a listen:

Like every other issue the truth is mighty powerful.

Open the windows and the censors crawl in

The election of the Rudd government has proved a potential flood of sunlight for this country. There are countless issues to address after the conservative Howard years, but Rudd seems intent on concentrating on broad nation building and economic imperatives before his government branches out to ‘discretionary’ issues.

Sure the republic is back on the agenda, almost forced back on the agenda, but it not yet a high priority. There are strong cases to further investigate and prosecute dubious activities of the previous government, but one gets the impression that those issues do not advance the immediate needs of the country.

That is all well and good for the government and there is a growing trust that this reasonable approach is probably the right approach. However the fly in the ointment is the Senate. So far Rudd has outmaneuvered the conservative majority in the Senate. After June he will be dealing with a couple of Christians calling the shots.

One is a maverick Liberal from South Australia, Senator Cory Bernardi. The other from Victoria is Leader and Whip of the Family First Party, Steve Fielding, must take time out from whipping and leading himself – he is the only Federal party representative.

These guys would be hard pressed to show more than a couple of hundred thousand primary votes between them, yet feel a moral duty to tell millions of Australian’s what they can watch on TV. Bernardi puts this into context by saying he “has no problem with nudity, you can’t hear that”.

Both, like their ilk elsewhere, claim that they are not at risk from the sort of programs they want to have banned; their concern is for the rest of us vulnerable souls. Shows like Big Brother are in their sights, but they are really getting their knickers in a knot over a reality restaurant show – Gordon Ramsay’s Nightmare Kitchens.

Personally I get fed up with the way certain words are used freely and without consideration for their value in proper context. But potty mouth seems to be the order of the day now, so a TV chef effing and c-ing is sadly in line with social mores.

I get enough of it from people around me, so I haven’t seen the need to tune into any of the dangerous programs this pair sees as worth diverting the national agenda to ban. I have enough trouble trying to understand exactly what people around me mean with their lazy word substitutes; why would I bother trying to work out what TV personalities are trying to say?

But millions of Aussies seem to find it all very entertaining and apart from killing the beauty of our language, and I am particularly fond of the Anglo-Saxon roots of the language, the fascination is causing no great national harm. Unless of course the heavenly duo are concerned that they won’t have the Aussie numbers in their heaven.

Still, I am concerned for the salvation potential of the pair. One of them even claimed that he was concerned that his kids might overhear the bad language during late night trips to the bathroom. Why the hell is he watching the stuff anyway?

Friday, April 25, 2008

It depends on what you remember

Despite the inclement weather I was up before the sun today to attend the local ANZAC Day dawn service. Now bear in mind, I am opposed to war and to being wet and cold, but there I was out on the Town Green with up to 1000 other people.

Even as a Vietnam skeptic I was attending these events, the beginning of what is often called ‘Australia’s one day of the year’. Sure it is a remembrance of war, but goes much deeper into the spirit of this country. All my life I have had old ‘diggers’ telling me; “Remember it, respect it, and work to stop future wars!”

Of course there are those, past and present, who simply glorify war, but there is a powerful force for working for peace. While the day is founded on Australia’s disastrous Gallipoli campaign in 1915, and recognises every campaign since, it is remembrance and not glorification.

Young people are flocking to ANZAC Day events, and the messages they are hearing are encouraging. These events are increasingly inclusive; the major televised dawn service pointedly includes not just the military, but all those who serve in civil emergency services as well.

In short they celebrate the spirit of stepping up, regardless of personal safety, when the situation calls for it. That is something many Australians do as a matter of course, I won’t go so far as saying all, but then we are also realistic I hope.

I remember an uncle (Lyell) who served in North Africa. I remember him as a solitary sort of character, preferring unpopulated places. He was a transport driver in North Africa, a fairly solitary role; when I knew him he managed a remote sheep property. He rarely talked about ‘the war’, and never happily. I guess he impressed with his self sufficiently, but he certainly impressed.

The rosemary pictured represents remembrance, and was coincidently, common on the strange landscape in Turkey where our troops landed a dawn so many years ago. It always comes back to what we are remembering, how we convert those memories to good rather than just maudlin thoughts. ANZAC Day seems to be doing that well. It truly is our ‘one day of the year’.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time to move on from old divisions

A few weeks ago Kevin Rudd addressed the annual dinner of the conservative Sydney Institute. Kev is like that, broadminded, as his speech showed. But commentators were agape when MC and chief executive of Barclay's Capital Australia, Nick Johnson, took the mike to say:

"Someone told me this week this isn't a socialist government, but that sounded to me like a wonderful catalogue of things done and things to do that many socialist governments should be pretty proud of."

Most tuned in Americans would recognise the key sentiment of Rudd’s speech:

"Now more than ever, we need a real debate that transcends the old battlelines of the left and right of Australian politics. The global context in which this debate now occurs has moved a long way over the last 20 years.

Market-based economic solutions have now been embraced across much of the current and former communist worlds. At the same time, we have seen a parallel recognition in the capitalist West that Adam Smith's invisible hand does not represent the solution to every economic problem."

Most electorates lean toward a middle of the road approach to government, but how does the "reforming centre" judiciously balance the market against society, the private sector against the state, individual initiative against social responsibility?

Rudd, like Obama, faces the fallout from policies which never even tried to find balance. Much of the damage, with the acquiescence of leaders like Australia’s John Howard encouraged the excesses of the Bush administration. Now we are left to pay the penalty for blindness to global warming and a swing to corporate welfare.

One outcome is the current global credit crisis. Any commodity, if supplied free, will be abused and misused. The US Federal Reserve pushed the price of money to zero, after adjusting for inflation, for three years. The commodity was abused accordingly and our new crop of leaders has the job of fixing the mess.

That fix will be hard enough without needless aspersions being flung from the sidelines. Or corporate heads have already shown how light they are on savvy. At least they can now get in and take a positive approach during the repair process.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Republic Dream Sweeping In

Last weekend the Rudd government hosted a talkfest of 1000 Australians to pinpoint our vision for this country in 2020. The event received mixed reviews, but was charged with passion, which makes it a success in my books.

The thing that surprised me, given the many social and economics issues we are facing post-Howard, Rudd reported the desire for a republic at the 2020 summit was overwhelming and "there was a sense of inevitability" about it.

I’ve been pro republic since I was a boy, not always popular with adults around me back then. Its one thing not to stand for ‘God Save the Queen’ because of being a ‘naughty boy’, quite another when it is openly declared as a protest. But it is something which must be inevitable, not forced.

The last time we tried to cut ties with the crown it was a referendum carefully crafted by the pro-royalist Howard clique. I expect support would have been borderline if the question had succeeded, yet it is so fundamental a move the support must be clear and unambiguous.

In part the question failed the public test on the method of selecting a head of state. With a national antipathy toward politicians the general preference was ironically for an elected ‘president’. Logic, and the official push was for a head of state selected by parliament. Australia is, and has long been, a de facto parliamentary democracy, not a monarchy.

With state governors and the Governor General currently being chosen by the elected government at any given time we have had very few disappointments in the past. In general the only problem appointments have been political. But maintaining a non-political, largely ceremonial and appointed position really does present a very workable transition.

I’m still perplexed that there is a growing swell of support for a republic just now. The conservatives will inevitably cry – “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it…” But the social fabric of this country is broke, in many ways. Perhaps there is a desire to really say goodbye to the past as we rebuild for the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is China blowing a great opportunity?

I have voiced my opinion before on the difficulty of referring to China as an homogenous whole. Still, there is a ruling authority, drawn from the Han community, which has been largely responsible for that country’s development who represent the country’s decision making.

There is little reason to believe these people are any less sophisticated in governing than other national authorities, they are just bigger than mos. That can be a problem in itself, size imposes its own threats, not helped by a culture of secrecy.

The Olympic Games offered China a bridge to a world it is seeking to play a larger role in. China has enormous assets, people and money, well placed in many countries around the world. They now have one of the great PR opportunities to capitalize on their growing influence.

Instead they are simply wasting it by being unable to let go of the heavy handed tactics used so long to rule their own country. They are parading a brutality of thinking, if not action, which will reinforce current stereotyping. What a waste of an opportunity.

Olympic torch runs have always been problematic, but rather than China navigating through major concerns, showing some concern for the concerns of the world, they have simply become more defensive.

In Australia that means reports of the Chinese embassy bussing their own protesters in to Canberra to counter balance, or even swamp opposing protests. This is after inflaming the Tibet situation themselves. It means secreting their secret service agents in the crowd, according to reports, not a good PR move in this sovereign nation. Great wall for China torch relay

THERE were conflicting reports last night about the destination of a Chinese ship carrying weapons for Zimbabwe after it left South African waters. Mystery of ship bearing arms for Mugabe regime

Just the suggestion of China engaging in arming troubled African nations just now clearly squanders the value the Olympics offer. The west, well most of the west, has tired of constant conflict, is looking for other means to strive for stability in troubled areas. Just the suggestion of China fueling those problems is a major negative.

China is emerging as an important world player; there was even a growing level of credibility. These latest manifestation show little more than a great, lumbering thug state.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

China torch flare-up downunder

The keystone cop antics of the torch run through San Francisco made great TV entertainment around the world, a real PR coup for someone I guess, but not the Olympics.

Australia is shaping up to cause even more angst for China, the Olympic hosts. The presence of armed US security during last years APEC meeting was an anomaly and was not well received locally. Australian’s don’t tolerate foreign security on their soil.

While the Murdoch press is busy stirring the pot on this, insisting Chinese guards will be protecting the torch local authorities have warned that “Chinese guards travelling with the Olympic torch could be arrested if they lay hands on protesters in Canberra.”

The tracksuited Chinese officials, recruited from paramilitary police forces, were heavily criticised for perceived heavy-handed tactics in London and Paris.” The Guardian UK

Meanwhile thousands of Chinese expatriates are mobilising to defend the Olympic torch from pro-Tibet "scum" when it passes through the Australian capital.

“Chinese community leaders are invoking patriotism in an attempts to drum up a “people’s army” in Canberra next week.” Telegraph UK

It is ironic that Chinese nationals, in the name of patriotism, should choose to draw even more negative international attention to the torch relay. Sadly, at the same time, they risk driving racial divisions in this country.

So much for the spirit of peace and co-operation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The more things change

Researching the social turmoil in Manchester UK during the early 1840s throws up some alarming parallels with the recent past. In many ways this period throughout the newly emerged industrial England was an extension of the feudalism which preceded it, only the masters changed.

The power of the aristocracy was slipping being replaced by the power of capital. The ordinary people were becoming more dependent on their industrialist employers than they ever had been in the previous agrarian society, as hard as that had been for most

I would contend that Manchester was at that time the major crucible of modern economics. While my primary focus has been the Chartism it is impossible to ignore the various other political and social reform groups which impinged on their relatively straight forward political aims of a democratic parliament.

By 1842 support for the charter was spreading throughout the country, but like a modern corporation the popularity made it ripe for takeover. The makeup of the movement had changed and become divided by differing interests.

There were those seeking little more than opportunity for a cherished seat in Parliament, a burgeoning socialist movement was riding the coattails of the Chartists, various social reform movements were looking for advantage within the movement, and there was doubtless a natural symbiotic relationship with the development of organised labour.

Absent at that time we only Frederick Engels and Karl Marx, with the former busy designing his blueprint for communism in the cauldron of Manchester social and political upheaval.

A New Charter

Modern Liberalism was also influenced by the dramas playing out in the cotton city. . Liberal economics sought to provide, at least, sufficient nourishment and rest to provide viable workers for the factories. Nothing should hinder the profits of industry.

All a long winded way of suggesting that the neo-liberalism of the past thirty years sought a return to a time when capital was absolute master. The tide is now turning, but undoing the massive damage will be no easy matter.

I would have supported the charter in 1842 and I would propose a new charter now. The truth is our parliaments (congresses) are still no more democratic. Electoral systems are rigged to ensure only those in the club form governments. Parties might differ in substance but we are still denied real democracy.

To my mind a new charter would seek:

  • The banning of all political donations, being replaced by taxpayer funding
  • All candidates, not parties, allocated an equal time/space in appropriate media
  • All 3rd party advertising would be banned
  • Ex members would be barred from holding any commercial position which relates to former elected responsibilities for two years. To compensate ex members would be compensated with their elected entitlements for the duration.

I really owe those points to my blog friend and guide on certain issues Abi. The fact is, as Abi has often pointed out, money is undermining our democratic systems. We might have full voter franchise now, but it means little when votes, legislation and a host of other government preferments can be bought.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The saviour rises again

I had resolved that I would no longer comment on sad Australian federal opposition, and limit my references to the wonders of the Rudd government. Both, in general, are merely stating the bleeding obvious.

However, having returned triumphant from his US sojourn, where leading edge surgery obviously removed his tail from between his legs, Lazarus (aka John Howard) is offering his services to the party and country he damaged so thoroughly.

"I will do everything I can, in a quiet way, to help you," told a gathering of the faithful in Brisbane. "This party has been the government of Australia for 42 out of the 64 years that it has been in existence. It's a party of enormous depth and resilience and it has a great future," he said.

The scary part is that every attempt in the past forty odd years to kill Howard politically has resulted in a miraculous resurrection. His only positive claim is that of perennial survivor. My whole politically active life has been shadowed by the spectre of John Howard.

Mind you, the US sojourn wasn’t all sweetness and light for Howard: Asked at a function at the George Bush presidential library in Texas to name his top three achievements, he started with gun control. No one in the Texan audience clapped.

So he won’t win brownie points in Texas, which is a shame. I rather fancy the idea of him moving to a farm in reach of his good old buddies, George and Dick. Maybe Dick could use him for target practice.

Awarding times

One of the Ironies my blogging experience is that the more distracted I become, the more life impinges on my need to pontificate my less than satisfactory work (to me at least) attracts positive comment.

Perhaps I should take that to heart and pass up on the usually careful research and composition. Anyway, true to form this latest period of distraction has attracted some bouquets, much to my surprise.

Tom Cat at Politics Plus is not only a prodigious blogger, he is extremely generous in his encouragement of the rest of us. To be recognised by Tom for excellence is quite an honour, given the quality of Politics Plus. Thanks Tom.

So now it is my turn to spread the news on some bloggers who inspire me. The list is not long, not reflecting quality out there, rather my own limitations over the past year or so. Tom has kindly awarded some of my choices already; others I have enjoyed have disappeared over that time. So here are my choices:

praguetwin An American abroad, always interesting perspective looking in from the outside.
Lindsay's Lobes My Australia cobber, has a mind like a steel trap and a big Aussie heart.
Wiseline Institute/Mr_Blog A fellow contributor at Ragebot, a mix of acid humour and sharp observation.
Dada's Dally Fascinating insights, and humour as dry as the Rio Grande landscape that inspires his thoughts.

Progressive thoughts

The second award, administered by Tom Cat but awarded by the delightful Redheaded Wisdom is the Progressive Patriot. I am a little reticent, though absolutely delighted by this one.

I guess my problem reflects a difference in language and cultural perspectives. I’ve never been slow to draw attention to these issues in the past, in relation to a number of terms which have quite different meanings for us.

To be fair, and perhaps have myself educated, I intend to investigate my understanding of the Progressive patriot concept, soon. No reflection on tom or Redhead whom I hold in the highest regard, perhaps more a reflection on my own limitations.

Thank you to all who so often lift my spirits by entering into debate, correcting my off the rails thoughts and supporting and illuminating other isues.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Looking back, an historical reflection

I’ve been distracted by some historical research of late. I’ve long been a genealogist, but more concerned with the social issues than who begat who. Like many issues, this latest burst was inspired by a stray question. In the event I found a vital trial transcript, decided I’d like to storify this marvelous tale. But the first part is doing the research, some I’ll share here.

Manchester, England, during the1830s and 40s is in many ways the birthplace of the modern era. The rapid transition from an agrarian economy, the destruction of eons of village communities was replaced with close packed communities totally dependent on factory and mine owners for virtually every aspect of life.

Manchester was undisputed capital of the world’s working class. If feudal life was onerous, at least it offered opportunities to supplement food supplies; it offered clean air and a measure of freedom and space factory towns like Manchester never provide. Work hours were long and dangerous, wages low and living conditions almost unimaginable

Manchester was also a magnet for the dispossessed of Ireland and Middle Europe, creating a melting pot of ideas as well as squalor; the contrasts were incredible. The Chartists were demanding electoral and parliamentary reforms, workers were beginning to recognize power in numbers and ideas of socialism were starting to form.

It was through this period that Friedrich Engels began developing theories, to be joined a little later by Karl Marx as a socialist movement began to bud. But it was the Chartists who first became prominent. The Charter was a straight forward surge for democracy, calling for:

  • Universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21
  • Equal-sized electoral districts
  • Voting by secret ballot
  • An end to the need for a property qualification for Parliament
  • Pay for members of Parliament
  • Annual election of Parliament

While the Charter called for specific parliamentary reform it was caught up in the first major economic depression. The Industrial revolution’ was changing the way we live and that revolution was far more reaching than the steam engine and iron bridges.

My great-great-grandfather found out, to his cost, the dangers of being politically active during this period. James had risen to delegate to the National Chartist Association just at a time when competing forces were active in the movement.

As a local official in Manchester James had been focused o the aims of the Chartists, he failed to understand the changes in the movements executive, at war with each other, were usurping the association for their own aims. On one side was the emerging labour movement, on the other political hopefuls like Feargus O’Connor.

It was during the misnamed ‘plug riots’ that the world began to unravel for James. The association had agreed to support the ‘Great Strike’ of 1843 and James was required to support the organisation at mass meetings, including Mottram Moor where he was arrested.

These arrests led to a major trial in 1843, at the Lancaster Assizes; The trial of Feargus O'Connor and 58 other Chartists. James had been turned before the trial commenced, and made a point during his evidence that his support was solely for the Charter.

Those on trial were charge with sedition and perhaps James realised that the Charter he supported had been taken over by other forces. These forces were advocating continuing the strike across Britain, but more worrying was advocating a run on savings banks. In short they were wiling to cripple the country’s economy.

James was acquitted. 40 or so found guilty were never sentenced, showing the political sensitivity of the events. Certainly many chartists before and after this period were transported to Van Diemans Land. James was ‘sent’ as a free settler, but certainly had no life ahead of him after testifying against some of his fellow chartists.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

No longer lukewarm on Lu Kewen (Kevin Rudd)

Getting rid of the Howard government was an imperative, but that did not translate directly to an appreciation for Rudd and his team. Sure it impressive that Kev has a Chinese name, given they are our major trading partner, but not the real reason we love Kev now.

Quoting one of our feistiest, grumpy old commentators, Alan Ramsay:

“To publicly stand up to the Chinese, in their own capital, in their own language, on an issue so sensitive to the planet's last great totalitarian state - and, since May last year, Australia's biggest (in dollars) trading partner - is something no visiting head of government, of any kind, has ever done, let alone one from this country. To say it took courage and no little risk only parrots the obvious. What it took was leadership of the most dramatic kind.

“In recent years, we have been force-fed national leadership, wrapped in the flag, that gloried in sticking its head up the backside of Washington and its dependent satellite in the Middle East. To have an Australian prime minister behave as Rudd has done in Beijing is to think that maybe he is different after all and not just another political control freak with a brain as big as his smile. The bloke is worth watching.” Alan Ramsay

I adore Ramsay, his commentaries are crust and il tempered at times, but seem to reflect my own passage of perceptions. I’ve written before about that all important need for leadership; not the iron rod Howard or Bush variety, but leadership in ideas and a willingness to stand behind beliefs.

The opposition roundly attacked Rudd for his two week global jaunt, just weeks before a federal budget is due. Irrelevant really as the former diplomat is no great economic mind. Like a good leader he has set the parameters for the budget, which I suspect includes working closely with Treasury and Reserve Bank officials.

However Rudd has also set a budget agenda which has the economic community bleating and the rest of us wondering why we haven’t done it before:

Rudd is determined to change the way policymakers and the public contemplate economic activity. When he held up a laptop last year and described it as the toolbox of the future, he meant it. When he talked about a "knowledge-based industry future", he meant that too. Expect innovation to be one of the buzzwords of the Rudd era

"An industry policy is not about whacking up a tariff wall. That debate's been had and it's gone. What I'm concerned about is what you can do elsewhere by innovation policy, research and development, and other things, practical things, in industry policy, which make it easier for this country to have a knowledge-based industry future, and I believe we can do it”. The Age

There comes a time when we need to suspend disbelief, or put some trust in a real leader. Rudd has made that a great deal easier. Both on the world stage and domestically he continues to perform beyond expectation.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

An ethics deficit

VANCOUVER — John Les seemed genuinely surprised when he learned a special prosecutor was investigating allegations he and other officials may have profited from land transactions while he was mayor of Chilliwack, B.C., in the 1990s. The Canadian Press

Les says he did nothing wrong and expects to be cleared. That seems to be a recurring theme in the Campbell government, and agencies it administers. Premier Gordon Campbell, himself, when caught drink driving in Hawaii was not cleared, but back in BC he adopted the Les argument.

Skating close to or beyond the edges of the law seems to be something of a provincial sport; blatantly ignoring ethical issues is, it seems, as natural as breathing. Therein is the real danger for the authorities and the people of the province.

If you ignore the ethical underpinnings then it is not a matter of obeying the law so much as not getting caught breaking it. Lawmakers have an absolute duty to adhere to the laws they make, otherwise anyone else has a right to ignore the law as well.

The issue is not just the politicians either; I’ve already alluded to the agencies they administer. Here it is a joint obligation to perform in the interest of the wider community. There is a list of agencies implicated in various scandal, including insurance arm ICBC, the Agricultural Land Commission or the Milk Marketing Board, Fisheries and Aquaculture, even local government authorities. Each have been tainted by ethical, if not outright legal, breaches.

I expect the fast and loose approach is so entrenched that people like Campbell and Les really don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong, it’s just business as usual. That is not good enough for people who put themselves forward as community leaders. Democracy is not about awarding perks of office, it is about duty and responsibility to the citizens they represent.

British Columbians, I should point out, are not on there own when it comes to ethical failures in government systems. Sadly it is more common than the alternative. Power corrupts, but it only does so as long as the people allow it too.

Sydney getting a little cross

Keep out if you're not a pilgrim, THE Sydney city centre has been declared a virtual no-go zone for cars during World Youth Day and the NSW Government is urging the city's workforce of 280,000 to take leave and work from home.

I’m not known for my support for religious organisations, though equally I don’t recognise the Catholic Church as a religious organisation, it is a business. Special provisions handing the city over to this organisation is ruffling feathers in Sydney and beyond.

World Youth Day, the six-day gathering of Catholics in July, will necessitate the closure of 300 roads, or about 25 per cent of the central road network The disruptive impact of World Youth Day would be as great as the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit and the Olympics combined.

125,000 international attendees are expected, with up to 600,000 expected to attend the Sunday mass. So far local and overseas registrations are falling well below expectations. The justification of buggering the whole city for a week is an economic injection of $231 million, well if all the suckers turn up.

The real question: When these specific interest groups like the Catholics, and in the previous story athletes, take over our lives; why do they never measure the cost of disruption against the apparent financial benefit?

The Catholic Church has a poor record of delivering any great social benefits to communities it infects. Currently in Australia the organisation is profit generation focused, from the various health care and welfare fronts it controls. I am even losing any sympathy for the lingering adherents who are little more than a dupe to justify the benefits given to religious organisations.

It looks like Australia might now be saved the disruption of the Olympic flame runs, but no one seems to have the guts to tell the pope to let us get on without the chaos his visits cause.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Paradise a hell on wheels

My subtropical paradise was turned to hell on wheels over the weekend; Port Macquarie hosted the ‘Ironman’ competition.

We live uneasily with a local brigade of these extreme athletes, some live and train here, on a daily basis. This competition draws hard core competitors from around the world.

I don’t begrudge them their choice of activity, each to there own. Though swimming, cycling and running for up to 14 hours does seem a bit extreme to me.

The problem is this type of activity requires a self centered focus which denies the rights of every other human.

Hundreds of brick solid egos pitted against each other is one thing, against the wider community. The rest of this community consists of a heavy balance of retirees, with health/aged care being a major industry here. Under normal circumstances older citizens are forced off the footpaths by these joggers and cyclists, Ironman takes over the lot.

The big race was Sunday but problems really began Friday with some competitors doing their own unofficial time trials. That meant a stretch through the busy CBD totally mindless of other road users and pedestrians in their focused efforts. The ignorance and arrogance was staggering.

The race began around 6:30 am Sunday, with the last runners still coming in after 9 pm, obviously anyone wiling to swim, cycle and run for that long must be totally self focused. The course was closed off for the competitors, which is fair enough, with co-operation we can al cope with a one day event.

The spectators were behind barriers were constantly encouraged to cheer competitor. Pedestrians were herded on to narrow walkways, shared by marshals and volunteers as focused and heedless of the ordinary pedestrians as the competitors had shown themselves to be.

If that overflow of elite arrogance wasn’t enough to trigger a little pedestrian rage, the competitors, in their protected course, were doing their own bits of rage. Twice, as spectator groups cheered passing competitors I saw cyclists stop by excited groups telling them to “shut your fucking mouths!” Cute loveable people these elite sportsmen.

The event is justified by the $8 it brings into town each year. I’m inclined to doubt even that paltry windfall, but if they want special treatment these athletes should be taxed separately to pay for construction of special routes for them. They obviously have no concept of shared space.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Economic dreams and realities

When I was just a kiddy, admittedly a few a few years back now, our major bank used to come around the schools once a year handing out tin money boxes and lectures on saving our pennies. It wasn’t about driving profits; they didn’t even have charges on our miniscule ‘penny’ savings accounts.

The whole concept was to drive a savings culture in the future, so little tots would grow up with a positive attitude to saving, and of course to that nice bank that introduced the concept to us. I guess, now that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, established for the people, has long since jumped into the shark pool as a senior shark.

Those years of the countries own bank working on a strong future didn’t foresee a future of globalization where our meager savings add up to zip in the grand equation. In fact even our central bank, the Reserve Bank, are having second thoughts about interest rate increases cooling the economy. We, the poor bloody consumers, aren’t doing it – we aren’t causing the inflationary problem.

They were simpler days back in the 1950s, even for a little kid the message was easy to understand. Our savings would help us in small ways as kids, our country and ourselves in big ways as adults. But no-one in the 1950s could have foreseen the world as it stands today economically.

I recall, even in high school on the ‘60s, having an essay torn up because it “so lacked imagination it must have been written by an adult.” The question was, what will the world be like, technologically, in the year 2000? Unfortunately my essay painted a world altered stylistically rather than functionally.

I hope the teacher recalls the attack and is watching the predicted outcomes. Had I been asked about the economy rather than atomic powered autos and the like I might have been more creative. I would have talked about a world of Ward Cleavers, squirreling away their earnings and creating a pleasant level of economic comfort for all.

For a more technical explanation it's worth a trip to Lindsay's "Saving a nation from debt"

Friday, April 04, 2008

Rudd salutes Bush

"PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has been caught on film saluting US president George W. Bush - but he says the incident was just a joke.

Cameras caught the gesture as world leaders gathered in Bucharest for talks on NATO's involvement in Afghanistan."

We’ve all been to conferences full of strangers and gravitated to the odd person we had met, perhaps at the sign in table or elsewhere before proceeding started. Bear in mind Australia is not a member of NATO; in fact we are as geographically removed from the north Atlantic as you can get.

So Kevin had just spent time with George at the White House. For George who is on the nose internationally, and Kevin still feeling his way, it was sort of understandable on a personal level. Still, an unsettling thing to see…


The whole point of Rudd’s visit to this conference was to put Australia’s plea for NATO countries to live up to their commitments in this conflict, and a wish to see drug crops destroyed and replaced with submitters, with financial aid for farmers, if necessary.

In a sense it was always going to be a minnow wrestling with a pod of whales. Afghanistan is very much a part of the Australian sphere of influence, but we are in an uneven contest when it comes to battling NATO.

Even his call for common rules of engagement (ROE) for all forces involved failed to win any real support. Many European forces have caveats over their engagement effectively preventing them heading to danger zones. Though Rudd says details of ROEs are not matters for public discussion, so he might be holding out some hope.

The salute might have been a PR slip, the assault on NATO politically naïve, but Kev still comes up pretty much as the sort of leader this country wants. For once the rag tag opposition in this country have resisted an attack on Rudd. They might be recognizing that we’d rather have a bumbling PM trying to do the right thing over and arrogant one ignoring our wishes.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Corruption in the provinces

"B.C. Solicitor-General John Les has resigned his cabinet post pending the outcome of an investigation into his dealings with developers while he was mayor of Chilliwack."

The only time in my life I’ve felt a real sense of place was living in Chilliwack BC. Sure the corruption in Canada’s most western province is blatant and seldom prosecuted with any success. It’s sort of a Wild West thing; a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do!

My few brief meetings with local MLA John Les confirmed his adoption of that attitude; if you can’t see anything wrong with an issue it is easy to slip into bland denial. Les grew up on a dairy farm, land locked into the provinces Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR); an effort to preserve productive land for farming.

No one can blame Les and his brothers for wanting to escape farm life; it’s more an issue of the ethics of moving from dairy to development. Much of the old Les farm is now flood plain housing development, so that rich agricultural land has somehow been parleyed into marginal housing blocks.

John Les insists that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing, and when his government holds the numbers t crush opposition he might well be right. His provincial arty call themselves Liberals but they are, like Les, essentially conservatives too gutless or crooked to even be honest about that.

Les’s blatant use of position, first as mayor then as MHA has not gone un-remarked over the years, it is more a matter that no one has had the will or power to challenge him before. With control over the ALR the power brokers like Les can easily determine that development occurs in their favour.

The big problem now is that Vancouver’s food bowl, the Fraser Valley is also under demand for housing as the city grows. Chilliwack City council, along with others are approving developments on the unstable murrains which line the valley. These are not mountains as such, but detritus bulldozed up by old glacial activity.

Much of the agricultural lowlands are recovered lake bed of flood plains of the Fraser and Chilliwack rivers. In many ways driving growth in the valley is a disaster waiting to happen, especially given the valley sits on top of a massive subduction fault zone. With a major quake long overdue increasing population density in the area already borders on the criminal.

But while the easy dollars are on offer good Christians like John Les are not going to be concerned about things like human disaster on a massive scale. In fact they are not the slightest bit concerned with the quality of life in the region. For these guys, destroying remnant urban native bush, fish nurseries and water quality is just business as usual.

My betting is that Les will be true to his word and escape any charges. He will continue raping his section of the Fraser Valley to increase his personal wealth. Corruption and power travel hand in hand, and John Les has shown himself to be a master at the disgusting, self serving game.