Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The right won, a great day!

What would Robert Menzies make of this day? Three Catholics, fighting over the ruins of his Liberal Party. Annabel Crabb ABC

Obviously Australia’s public are more concerned about the need for climate change mitigation than our politicians are. The circus of the Liberal Party leadership battle crossed an indistinct range from supporting the Rudd governments ineffective Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to opposing any action at all. The sad bottom line is that the by-play rules out any substantive debate on effective approaches to climate change potential.

The deposed leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was in favour of an agreed watered down version of a watery approach. The Liberal right (define right as self serving bastards) candidate was the generally despised Tony Abbot. In the middle is aspiring, but not just yet, leader Joe Hockey. I don’t like Turnbull particularly, but for the Liberals, any other choice spells disaster at the polls.

So have a look at the style of our new opposition leader: At a meeting with right wing brokers and Joe Hockey, designed to place him as their compromise candidate, Hockey refused to go full on anti climate control. Abbott eventually lost his temper.

"So," he summarised bitterly. "Malcolm Turnbull's for the ETS. I'm against the ETS. And Joe - nobody knows what the f**k you stand for." What he meant is that you are not firmly supporting our stance.

A sweet sweet day

I should explain why, as a progressive, I should delight in the vicious, self serving extremists should take control of the Liberal Party. In my youth I was attracted to the Liberal philosophy, or to be more exact, Keynesianism and social democracy.

Being very active in the party during the 1970s I found most of my effort was fighting against the incursion of the extreme right in the party, alliances with outfits like the John Birch Society and others. We fought hard and produced party rules to stop dual memberships, but in the end that only drove the obvious underground and these people did dominate; the dream being realised by the slimy toad John Howard.

I expect my actions back then would not have made a difference, but things have changed again now. Let them show their true colours, let the electorate see them for what they are. I would have given Joe Hockey until April, had he won, to be knifed by the right. Had Turnbull won he would probably have gone by late Feb. But these leaves wonderful opportunities for the government.

Kevin Rudd has stayed right out of this circus, but I expect he will use the Liberal climate change rejection in the Senate to trigger a wonderful local political coup know as the ‘double dissolution’. That means calling an election where both houses and all senators must face re-election. Almost certainly, under Tony Abbot, the Liberals will be gutted at an election. Not destroyed, but I suspect an almost surgical removal or the right. Fortunately the Greens will probably pick up some of the Senate positions, but not enough to drive real change.

Well politics is, in the end, about compromise and with hope we’ll pick up a parliament ready to move forward at least. My personal revenge will be to see the extremist element (I don’t really accept that we have philosophical conservatives here) dumped from public office and real liberals allowed to return to the party intended by Menzies.

With that I’m heading back to the bush and a news void.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Adventures in the wilderness

The occasional wilderness experience is great for the soul, and while Mia Mia in the Bendigo district of Victoria might not be the end of the earth I have been enjoying periods of splendid isolation tending to a small property owned by my son and his partner.

When I first arrived at the place a month ago it was to find thieves believed they had a better use for items like the generator, the only power source, and water pump plus whatever they could carry off. They left the gas cylinders, fortunately so I’m not completely without creature comforts and don’t object to working my day around available light or enjoying the solitude of the stars.

So there are few real hardships, many fascinating features and lots of work to be done with a few basic tools. With the bush fires, in February this year, still fresh in everyone’s minds the first task has been to clear the tall spring grass from around the house; with the promise of an old slasher mower suggesting a good bit more clearing. The fires menaced the surrounding area, but were not as bad as elsewhere in the state. I believe I will be supplied with some cans of paint, so the picture of the cottage can be regarded as a ‘before’ shot for now.

The picture of the historic Mia Mia iron lattice bridge just shows the start of the property in the top left hand corner. Mia Mia and Redesdale are what might be called ‘non-nucleated hamlets’. That is they are mainly farms with Redesdale at least having a shop/service station and the historic pub. As far as I know Mia Mia has a recreation hall and little else.

The cottage is near the old Burke and Wills trail, with a number of consequent historic features. On this small property, for example, are the remains of Victoria’s first squatters cottage. There is not much to be seen under the old peppercorn tree, but there remains a rough paved area outside the huts foundations. It is believe Henry Munro was a bit precipitous in claiming his land and was soon moved on to the land actually allotted to him.

The colour

The pub, of course, has it’s own colourful past – and present. The young (by my measure)

owner, James, is doing a great job turning the old bluestone structure into a delightful oasis. Jamesis very much a family man, a fact reflected in the way the Redesdale Tavern is run. The bar area is quite small, but big enough to boast a visit from Ned Kelly. Apparently Ned charmed the locals in the bar, buying them drinks, then stole a couple of horses tethered outside.

It is a 25 minute walk to the pub, up a 1:10 hill, so any temptation is moderated be the effort of getting there. Still, on some days when the temperature has hit 40c, despite the heat the call of a cold beer was strong. Most of the ‘locals’ seem to be ‘blow ins’ like me but a genuine local character I met is Peter Rabbit, one of the countries last professional rabbiters.

It made me muse that my mother use to pay 2/6d for a pair of bunnies hanging skun and naked in the open air. Peter says his pairs must be prepared in approved conditions and hermetically sealed a chilled. Sort of takes the ‘romance’ out of the old trade, but then the restaurants pay far for than my mother did for a pair, even considering inflation. Now I know I often hear Peter’s .22 during the night and early morning.

Joys of isolation

Knowing there would be no power, at least until the insurance replace the generator, and against all my prejudices, I invested in a cell phone. Even if I could plug my computer in there is little hope of connecting to the internet. At the same time I rejected the so called comfort of a battery radio; the idea of that inane chatter breaking the peace was far too much to contemplate.

The thought occurs, at times, that the world could end and I wouldn’t hear about it unless someone sent an SMS. In fact my son did send a couple of messages regarding the Federal Liberal Party antics this week so I wandered to the pub to get the story. It was almost a joy to find that no one there knew or cared about the political circus.

I occasionally miss the ability to blog at will, and often don’t have the energy or even story when I get back to Melbourne. In fact just coming back into the city I’m yearning to be out on the block chipping weeds and saplings or moving dirt and rocks. Even the weekend paper has sat untouched this week, though I have a few days to get enthusiastic. Then I hope it is off to the block again to be sworn at by the cockatoos for invading their territory.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Accentuate the Positive Eliminate the Agnotology

My word of the week is agnotology, defined as the study of fear and doubt. Apparently some in the IT world prefer FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) but I always prefer a word to an acronym. The word came up in a discussion on the practices of big corporations, bit coincided with my personal musings on the prevalence of negative attitudes.

Doubtless there is a lot in this world to be negative about, if that is your bent. More so when we can identify whole industries intent on spreading alarm and consternation to cover unsavoury messages; in this league I of course include politics. But let’s not forget industry and land development, or in Australia, the fight to control precious water resources. Let us not avoid the deliberate misinformation attending the climate change debate.

They are some of the big issues, my interest in examining all of this is how and why it plays out at an individual level. Just from personal observation it would seem that a majority tend to adopt and magnify the negatives in life. I just don’t really understand why negativity should be so popular when it is clearly limiting and debilitating.

Out of all the adults I know I could probably name just five or six who don’t consider themselves to be victims at some level, the most profoundly victimised being able to recount a daily list of ‘I’ve been screwed again’ episodes. In fact, the condition seems to have the ability to self generate, and I presume provide some kind of perverse pleasure. After all, we humans tend to seek pleasure from our activities.

For many years I was dismissed with accusations of just being a ‘Pollyanna’, a condition which apparently victimised those negative people in my orbit, so I was told. Personally I find it a real joy to interact with others of my ilk, those who would dismiss adversity in the belief that regardless of negatives there are always positives to dwell on.

True there are notable conditions which aid negative thought, such as depression. I was recently moved by the words of a prominent Melbourne doctor and writer who observed; no doubt from personal reflection: ‘depression is the in fact a lack of joy’. Simplistic to be sure, and no sure fire remedy, but in many cases I agree with that summary.

There are numerous reasons for us to lack joy, however many seem so trivial in reality and appear to me more an excuse to wallow in that sticky slough of despond, the ‘black dog’ as the Aussie depression commentators would have it. Any innate tendencies to negativity are surely fed by socially generated negativity designed for commercial/political advantage.

Long experience suggests that trying to convert negative thought is a losing game, so we just have to learn to live with each other. In certainly don’t have to knowledge or skills to intercede effectively, but equally will refuse to be sucked in myself. I doubt the old song, still current in my early days – Accentuate the Positive – had any effect in itself, but it still expresses a core belief.

Monday, November 02, 2009

America Trapped In Dogma Cycle

As a progressive it is easy to agree with the thrust of filmmaker Michael Moore’s stand on the many issues he addresses. The problem is not the issues but the dogged styles which allows no dialogue, simply polarizing and driving a wedge through society. I guess, as an Australian, that is easy to say as our governance is far more progressive; robust, but open to discourse.

Not to say Australia is devoid of debate, but arguments tend to be tribal (partisan) rather than substantive. Even the most contentious issues, such as the current climate change debate, are to a great degree about point scoring with just a conservative rump fully opposed to any remedial legislation.

Barack Obama, Year 1: Reality takes its toll on 'Yes We Can' optimism

We hear, outside America, much comment on that countries disappointment with the performance of President Obama, commentary encouraged by the likes of Moore: Michael Moore On Charlie Rose Gives Obama a Deadline for Fulfilling His ... Certainly I agree that there is urgent need for reforms on many fronts, but Obama never promised o one man miracle set; rather he made it clear that he needed the active cooperation of the American people.

It seems the old divisive ways, coupled with impatience and an unwillingness to engage is more likely to derail any real and immediate reforms. However politics, it is often said, is the art of compromise and certainly should include wide social engagement. Those standing in the way of the Obama plan only do so because they are allowed to by the American people.

Moore’s approach seems to create more discontent rather than galvanizing action, perhaps consistent with the way things are done in America. But taking a firm line on any issue, particularly an aggressive line which precludes dialogue is rarely helpful. Moore himself confesses to frustration at the lack of action, yet his method appears to encourage it.

I speak here from a long and curious background. I regard myself as a moderate, middle of the road sort of person, able to listen and discuss issues. Indeed, in North America I was accused of being a socialist, but regard that charge as a linguistic failing rather than a political reality. For some frustrating reason I’ve always found myself bonding more with people on the right of the political spectrum, even when I am arguing against their position.

Perhaps it just comes down to a mutual respect for those who are willing to discuss with opponents rather than simply attack and berate. If we are going to effect change for good in any society, mutual respect must be the firm foundation. Obama has shown that ability and it seems destructive to attack him for it after the fact. He can only succeed in starting on the road to change with the support of a significant number of voters.

The first step is learning to play the ball rather than the man. Give some respect to anyone who holds an opinion, and be ready to argue alternatives without demonizing the person. It is a gradual approach, but in reality society only changes for the better in gradual steps. In Australia, those who hold onto extreme and negative approaches in politics soon become the butt of humour. Better to laugh at the enemy than adopt their methods.

If Americans truly want change then it must happen at the level of individual. Not so much in activism as attitude or sentiment. Because like it’s sibling economics politics is driven by sentiment and dogma is the real enemy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time to define the scope of media and lawmakers

The role and scope of issues proper for politicians to pursue will doubtlessly always be problematic. However history and real needs clearly question the role of legislators on questions related to moral values. When the world is facing crisis such as economic meltdown, climate change, various open and covert conflicts with the fallout of refugees, the broad ‘moral values’ arguments are increasingly suspect.

My short list on these would include:

  • Physician-Assisted Suicide (euthanasia)
  • Same-Sex Marriages/relationships
  • Legalization of Marijuana
  • Abortion
  • Censorship

These are perhaps Church-State issues, but social/demographic changes really put that concept into yesterday’s news. The marijuana issue is a case in point. While the laws in Australia still proscribe the substance the police and courts will not act against users unless there are more serious issues involved. I short, the laws has simply become irrelevant.

The same can be said of most of these personal choice issues, though economics enters the same-sex issues and assisted suicide seems to have an emotional stranglehold. I am on record for my opposition to censorship, particularly when it equates to ‘saving people from their own stupidity’. The ‘nanny-state’ is expensive in more than money terms; it further dilutes concepts of personal responsibility.

Diversions Vs real issues

As an avid proponent for an Australian republic, even I have to concede that the energy expended ridding us of an anachronistic monarchy will not show any great return in resolving real issues. All to often the moral or even constitutional issues serve merely as diversions from addressing the thornier questions.

We do need to focus on a range of vital social issues, but they are corporate rather than personal:

  • Broad economics
  • Universal Health Care
  • Education
  • Immigration
  • Affordable Housing
  • Climate change
  • Law & Justice
  • Human Rights
  • Poverty

These are the issues our politicians, and their partners in crime the media, should be focusing on. These are issues which should be dealt with free of histrionics and emotional language. But politics and the media slip easily into the cynicism of power, and by reneging on our duty of personal responsibility we allow them to lead us where they will.

Defining the terms

In part the problem is even understanding the words we use. In discussing this recently I had a young woman assure me that ‘women’s issues are political!’ Yet on further discussion she conceded that she did not mean in the sense of lawmaking. I expect, in broad terms, she meant that legislation needed to consider women’s issues. I agree, but not to the exclusion of equally or even more needful situations.

The problem will most likely always devolve to sectional and emotional interests. That is why we need a media and body politic evolved beyond the greed/power dynamic. These are of course personal reflections, so while I’m at it I can dream of a post-feminist, post-racist et al language. One where words and definitions unemotional, clear and concise. I don’t expect to find that in my Christmas stocking.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Great frauds of our times

The Economics of Innocent Fraud - J K Galbraith – 2004 – Pocket Penguin

Second hand bookshops are one of my great delights, something I have obviously passed on to my son. He recently picked up the most exciting ‘slim volume’ I have seen in ages and I have tripped over some fairly exciting tomes among used books. Galbraith, himself, described this book as an extended essay, I would add a meaty essay.

Despite the title, not all of these frauds are regarded as entirely innocent. Some like the ‘myth of two sectors’ and rebadging ‘capitalism’ are cited as intentional efforts to put a positive spin on the excesses of the corporate world. The first ignoring the increasing use of private sector resources in pubic sector activities; the second simply trying to escape the negative connotations of corporate behaviour.

On nomenclature Galbraith does concede the change in the nature of modern corporations, from the absolute control of the owner/founder or main influence to a more anonymous and devolved bureaucratic style, yet even in that reality he perceives a fraud. It might be a small book, but one that draws the reader back again and again.

Sentiment and Applied fraud

Judging from incoming Google search terms there is a great curiosity around the world as to why Australia escaped much of the fallout from the global economic crisis. Doubtless sound economic underpinnings from previous governments helped enormously, but the Rudd government have capitalize on that dynamic while capturing solid voter support beyond anyone’s dreams.

The Rudd fraud, which I endorse, solidly links the economic dynamic with social policy. But the question continually raised is; are they doing anything? As the least radical government for a generation the answer is possibly no. We a qualified no, their strong point is sentiment, the feel good factor which serves to drive a society.

Australian media commentators and the ubiquitous TV comedians, are working overtime to burst the Rudd balloon, to expose the essential fraud. Kevin Rudd’s ‘magic’ is language, simple and repetitive. His public words echo his public’s desires and his more harsh private words seem easily accepted as just and proper.

While Rudd drives positive sentiment, in the electorate, with his judicious, respective assurance words the corporate and public sector are powerless to stop much needed reform and regulation. In the end the power people all have the same customers and at the moment Kev owns them.

While the sentiment is riding high, the right words are hammered home, this great fraud seems to be a positive for Australia. I’m sure Galbraith would approve. Even so, Rudd is a social conservative and not really inclined to the listen to the arguments of sectional interests. Unfortunately for me, my opposition to internet censorship can be easily ignored as arcane and beyond the ken of Kev’s masses. Win some, lose some; but I will continue to be a thorn all the same.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Medicinal words

Having only recently relocated to Melbourne I was delighted when fellow blogger, Lindsay's Lobes, invited me to an all day Life Writing conference at La Trobe University. A delight, I should add, slightly marred by mention of biography and autobiography, perhaps my least favourite genres.

As it turned out the day was about far much more than raconteur and name dropper dressed as autobiographer, or painful self disclosures, all bordering unsavory ingredients for gossip; this was an interdisciplinary investigation of how writing, words might have powerful healing effects.

In fact it went further than text, looking into visual stimulus as well as potential triggers for the bodies inbuilt curative mechanisms. I do not intend a blow by blow account here, the day was far too intense for that. Rather I will recount a few highlights and impressions of this ongoing journey of discovery.

Take two pronouns and call me in the morning

The keynote speaker, Melbourne psychologist Doris Brett was an inspired choice. Her talk was on a research project which is showing empirical evidence of a relationship between written expression and physical healing – mind and body resolving their own issues.

Without going deeply into the methodology of the study, it was found that a specific exercise produced a measurable improvement in the subjects wellbeing. The focus was on trauma and the most effective exercise required the participants to write, without any constraints, about the facts and emotions of some trauma in their lives.

Researchers found two interesting factors here. The first is that most people can relate a very personal and moving trauma. The second is that even relating someone else’s trauma had a curative effect on the writer. That all had to do with measuring issues such as blood pressure and those other medical things which are beyond me.

It is no secret that aggressive and obscene language, generally used as weapons anyway, have a deleterious effect on health and wellbeing, for the user and receiver alike. These are the big, powerful weapons of language. Doris revealed the health giving antidote was in fact those little, seemingly insignificant pronouns. I won’t pretend to understand that, but refer as she did to a paper: Chung, C.K. & Pennebaker, J.W. (2007)

The ineffable condition

With so many speakers during the day it was not surprising, and welcome, that some were ‘boring’ It was amusing to find that one persons boredom was another’s joy. Some I spoke with found the presentation of host Richard Freadman boring, though words like incomprehensible crept. Richard’s subject was Life writing and illness in Inga Clendinnen’s Tiger’s Eyes.

I have not read the book so can only relate through Richard’s words. It is supposed to be an autobiography, though given the inclusion of chapters on broader history and actual fiction, confirms my view that the genre of autobiography is problematic at best. Unalloyed self analysis must rank alongside Alice’s six impossible things before breakfast.

In part the contradictions arose from Clendinnen’s own assertion in her book that the autobiography was in fact a lie. I admit I have been toying with a blog on the nature of the lie for some time, but really don’t understand the truth of the matter. The most complete definitions are often legal and far fall short of explanation.

Richard’s presentation layered contradiction on dichotomy and back again. In private I made one of those observations I generally regret as it emerges: “I closed my eyes to better concentrate and thought Stanislaw Lem had stepped up to the rostrum.” Thankfully he took it well, and the fact is, unlike Lem, he had not invented the situation and more importantly did not invent a solution.

Richard in fact demonstrated that knowledge is a minor part of the intelligence equation, even an ape can know things. It is curiosity and the courage to go down the road of the unknown which distinguishes intelligence. It is the in the ability to admit ignorance in the quest for understanding, to step into new realms and throw issues into the wider world for, hopefully, a collaborative resolution. I have to say I was impressed by this academic afire with questions rather than pat answers.

In Retrospect

I will happily admit that I am unused to the intense intellectual weight this day imposed. Given the number of speakers and the diversity of aspects canvassed around the central issue of writing as a curative, I simply felt like a sponge soaking up as much as possible. It was only later, given time to digest this over egged) puddin’(for me at least, salient issues emerged.

I am sure, on reflection, that Richard has seen as I now have, that the second speaker, distinguished medico and writer Tony Moore, answers some of the contradictions raised by Clendinnen’s Tiger’s Eyes. I have no intention of denigrating Moore, in fact I can actually relate to what I saw with ease.

Tony is an able and engaging speaker, but a performer, and somewhat reluctant at the conference. His body language and demeanor made a lie of the words; but not immediately obvious I concede. A consummate performer. Trussed in a jacket zipped to a high collar, hands thrust deeply in pockets, Tony laughingly allowed that he would rather be back at his writing than speaking.

That was made obvious when he disappeared as soon as was socially acceptable. Again, I don’t criticise, as a writer I too suffer from a almost obsessive yearning for retreat from the world.

An issue of definition

There is a contradiction in that perhaps, writing of humanity and needing to be separate from humanity to do that. Tony made it clear in response to a question, that his writing demanded that he was separate from the subject, i.e. his accident recovery.

There were suggestions, as the conference progressed, of a problem with definition. In our literate society many people believe they can write, and of course they can to a pedestrian level. But the issue of being a writer and being able to write seemed to create an unnecessary conflict. The potential medical use of writing is vastly different from writing as a skill. The fact is writing, regardless of creativity, is a craft much like a blacksmith of old perhaps.

The noise in a writers head excludes, or needs to exclude, interference as much the noise from the smith’s hammer blocks others. Simply sorting that noise into an understandable narrative is difficult enough. Knowing that if the message is not understood by the reader there is no message is overriding. Little wonder the writer craves a solitary environment, and not as an antidote or curative.

I thank Lindsay and all the participants at the conference for the opportunity to be part of an exciting concept which I look forward to participating in at some time. Words and language must never be underrated. I expect the 'craftsman' writer does have a role to play in this program, but possibly more to do with communication than writing skills.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A positive side to malicious software attacks

Most of us have fairly set computer/internet regimes, with the basic aim of getting the job done with a minimum of fuss. The constant threat of malicious software attack, spam overload and other electronic vandalism can hardly be seen as positive, but it has created an important realization around the world. Governments and major software corporations must develop working relationships to deal with the threats.

I have just lodged a submission to the Australian government on a broad program to create a safer web environment, particularly for children, but with all vulnerable users in mind. Personally I’ve always been paranoid about my computer’s health and safety. Not that they have never been anything special, but invaluable tools all the same.

One of my key recommendations was to find ways for government and corporations to work together to find solutions to a threat which deeply effects both. Governments have a duty of care to the wider community, the corporations too but their profit motive is a greater reality.

Then we read of the continuing threat of Conficker, also known as Downup, Downadup and Kido, the computer worm that just won’t go away. This nuisance is infecting tens of millions of computers around the world, including government and defence agencies. There are now calls for joint government/corporate

Certainly there are issues of separating social responsibility from commercial advantage. But the fact is, the corporations such as Microsoft, Apple, Symantec and MacAfee, just to name a few, each have economies larger than many countries and an ever increasing influence over our daily activities. We have entered a new era which calls for new approaches.

A report in 2007, funded by Microsoft, estimating that $514 billion in annual taxes are generated by it and its "ecosystem". That includes some of the above mentioned corporations of course, but reflect only taxes paid not turnover or profit. That is powerful and we make them so.

It could be argued that we elect them by electing to use their products, but there is no corresponding accountability, apart from any sense of meeting some level of customer satisfaction. The customer has not been highly regarded over the past few years; but these fashions tend to cycle and the cycle is slowly turning back to the customer.

What a cooperative government/corporate approach might look like is yet to be determined. These global leviathans have never responded well to pressure from mere national governments or laws. The difference now is the growing computer/internet security threat is as much against these corporations as it is governments and the wider community.

Some might dream visions of corporate social responsibility, but few would expect wide scale corporate altruism. Some might dream of governments forgoing the normal quick-fix minute soup answers in place of sound, long term solutions. Some might dream visions of Joe Public taking enough interest to play a responsible role in our future.

It often takes a crisis to drive a real solution, or even the interest to look. With the sickos using the system to entertain their fantasies, criminals bring old crimes to the computer age or even those lost souls who thrill at destroying other people’s property for no good reason, this new technology is facing a crisis. Let’s start talking and acting, together, to stop the rot now!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On the censorship warpath

I have been diverted just lately, preparing a submission to my federal government to drop its nonsensical IP filtering program, Clean Feed. One intention of protecting children who were vulnerable due to claimed parental computer illiteracy. However the system is being tested in Australia without any great explanation or wider community consultation.

I would be the first to stand in line to fight abuse of any kind, abuse against children or indeed any vulnerable person or group of people. Clean Feed is an abuse against all internet users in this country and a growing number of web developers globally. It is highly doubtful the system can achieve its more or less stated goals, what it does is penalise legitimate users and sites.

Have a look at this lot

I have been, or at least attempted to be, a contributor on ragebot.com since its inception. We, there are a team of us, comment on a wide range of political, social and economic issues. However early this year I found that I was blocked from reaching the site from Australia. Then we found all sites related to that local IP address were blocked.

I challenge anyone to look at this list of sites and find anything even close to offensive or abusive to anyone, perhaps with the exception of politicians who are fair game.

blognonymo.us - An archive of the US political blog blognonymous.com which redirects here
constable.net - The personal and professional online portfolio of Giff Constable, an New York entrepreneur
constableslarder.com - A "Food Blog" run by Giff Constable
egenea.com - A parked domain intended as a future genealogy site.
eggfree.net - The personal and professional online portfolio of Jeremy Epstein, a Bay Area artist and UI designer
giffconstable.com - A personal/professional blog belonging to Giff Constable -
instacrawl.com - An online real-time search-engine optimization tool authored by William Herndon
instantnative.com - The online website of Anne Herndon's 'Travel Concierge' company
planetjeff.com[.net] - The personal website of Jeff Jacobson, a Boston entrepreneur who specializes in virtual reality software for museums and foundations
pookiepalooza.com - A personal website for the wedding of Jeff Jacobson to his partner.
publicvr.com[.net|.org] - The not for-profit foundation of Jeff Jacobson for distribution of his open-source VR software.
ragebot.com - A US, multi-author, political blog
skillserv.com - An online, "independent contractors' assistant" that helps professionals estimate contract rates and taxes, authored by William Herndon
wherndon.net - The personal website of Anne and William Herndon of San Francisco, CA, USA

In June 2008 the systems administrators, Australian Communications and Media Authority [report PDF], defensively claimed that just 1061 URLs had been actually blocked. I assume they mean were actually targets of a block. Then they went on to claim “Internet filtering blacklist “creeping” to include legal content Web sites is justified…”

Minister Conroy later conceded that ‘creep’ might be a legitimate political issue; sure is minister. Just be this list that target figure can be multiplied by 16. The trouble is, with the secrecy surrounding this whole program, ISP privacy provisions and the nature of the internet we simply don’t know what the real target was or how many neighbouring IP addresses have been affected.

Given the lack of any obviously offensive, abusive or otherwise dangerous cont on these sites then the abuse charge must turn back on those who initiated poorly considered approach to an incredibly serious issue. I repeat just one passage here from my submission:

Daily, in my current situation, I hear a ‘child mother’ verbally abusing a very young child. So the mother is not coping, but the long term damage to the child is predictable. I have watched as adults sell drugs to children in school uniform, and fruitlessly reported the same. The drug dealers keep trading and doubtless include sexual abuse in that trade. We all see evidence, from time to time, of family abuse, and generally are helpless even if intervention is called for.

It verges on obscenity to spend tens of millions of dollars on a negative censorship campaign when our communities lack the resources to confront real life situations.

New Zealand joins the campaign

It looks like New Zealand is set to be the next country to get country-wide internet filtering, according to a blog post on Geekzone. The New Zealand department of internal affairs has released a draft proposal that outlines the filtering system.
According to the document, the filtering system is for cases where "A person who views a website containing chlid sexual abuse images is in possession of those images, if only for the period they appear on the screen. The Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System therefore will help prevent inadvertent exposure to these images and will also help prevent New Zealanders from committing crimes."

Where does it all come from?

I would now posit that law enforcement agencies are behind these ill founded initiatives. I come to that position on the basis of a growing number of laws being created to deal with the systems inability to deal with the real problems. That we constantly need new laws to fight anti-social behaviour says more about the quality and efficiency of the agencies.

In Australia and beyond new laws had to be created to deal with terrorism, but the acts of terrorism are well catered for under criminal law. What the cops really wanted was a way to hold suspects, incommunicado, until they could squeeze a confession from them. Well that didn’t really work.

There is the now famous RICO in the US, emulated elsewhere of course. The idea was that the really big crims were able to distance themselves from action and evidence of criminality. These laws cut through that, but are more often used to snag small time criminals who should already be vulnerable under existing laws.

Now it is biker gangs, for much the same reason as RICO, perhaps increasing the reach of guilt by association in the process. Then there is the clamour for special weapons, apparently it’s not good to shoot someone dead, much better to taser them to death. The internet is a relatively new medium, but the crimes and anti social behaviour on the internet are still the same old stuff covered by the same old and new laws.

We know that public officials, elected or otherwise, including police are not immune from breaches of criminal law and other anti-social behaviour. There is no rush to create special laws to deal with that class and generally when ‘standards’ are set the tend to disappear again quickly. The question is, should these authority figures be expected to beyond the foibles of the rest of society? Probably not.

Prohibitions and censorship have no place in a liberal democracy, despite a tendency for authorities to control. They are an abuse of our rights and freedoms, which come of course with responsibilities. More emphasis should be placed on social responsibilities rather that the bullying and abusive behaviour we have come to expect from authority.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

With a dubious election process set to return Karzai, a puppet of the drug lords, we really need to wonder why our military people are being exposed to the incredible dangers this country presents. By we and our I refer to the non-Afghan combatants in that country.

It is seldom I agree with Canada’s PM, Harper; but this did accord with reality:

“The insurgency in Afghanistan will never be defeated only by maintaining an international troop presence in the country”, he said in a U.S. television interview last March, adding: “Ultimately the source of authority in Afghanistan has to be perceived as being indigenous…” CBC

Looking for justifications is an interesting exercise, though ultimately useless. We know Bush’s public justification:

The stated aim of the invasion was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking Al-Qaeda members and put them on trial, to destroy the whole organization of Al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to Al-Qaeda. The Bush Doctrine stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between terrorist organisations and nations or governments that harbor them.

It seems we have a problem right there. Pakistan has been the launching pad for terrorism. It has also been the scene of major terrorist deaths in that region. Yet here we are tied down in bloody conflict, in a narco-state and blithely ignoring the country displaying the greatest threat.

However our political leaders are now floundering as they try and justify this conflict to voters. Britain, France and Germany unveiled proposals on for an international conference on Afghanistan later this year in order to press Afghans to take more responsibility for their own country. That is, they want out.

General Stanley McChrystal, is seeking a closer partnership with key allies, including Australia, who have troops in southern Afghanistan. Well PM Rudd isn’t saying much just now, but one of his first foreign actions was to front NATO with that same proposal. We Aussies aren’t part of NATO and Rudd was ignored back then.

Having just read William Stephenson A Man Called Intrepid Wikipedia I’m reminded that truth is often the first casualty of war. The book itself was written as a preemptive strike, in the mid 1970’s when official war documents were due to be released. It was a justification for retaining covert operations groups. For this reader nearly every paragraph raised the question; which part of that was truth and which a lie?

However, a repeated theme through the book was information being given out on a ‘need to know’ basis. It was repeated a number of times that political leaders apart from Churchill and Roosevelt did not need to know, it also asserted that those actually in the from line of war didn’t need to know.

In today’s terms that would include General McChrystal, and down to the rest of the brave men and women daily facing the war on the ground; as well as presumably various national leaders trying to find justifications for war weary voters. The history of covert operations since WWII should be ringing alarm bells now.

In Vietnam drug trafficking became a source of funding for ‘black operations’ and transferred into personal wealth generation for some in the system. They are no doubt, now, powerful forces purely through wealth. But it is time to stop and expose those who use their obscene influence for narrow personal gain.

If our presence in Afghanistan can actually produce more positive benefits than negatives I’m all for it. My fear is that the political leaders who launched this adventure have gone, but the covert operations behind it persists, probably without the knowledge of any of the current decision makers. Poppies, or perhaps more correctly Opium, has returned as the major product of this land since our ‘compassionate’ action began.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Branding deficits and a tolerance for corruption

British Columbia (BC) and Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) are both special places to me, but what a political heartbreak they both present. In both, for simplicity let’s call them electorates, the incumbent governments present a major branding headache for their federal counterparts.

The BC Liberals have ruled that province now since 2001 where they made an all but clean sweep of seats, leaving the opposition with just two MLAs. In 2005 that majority was pared back to just seven seats, and despite a string of scandals held on to government again in May this year.

If Campbell’s BC Liberals were a sovereign economy the province would very likely be a ‘corporate state’ run largely by and for the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. The problem for the Federal Liberals in BC is that the BC Liberals are actually aligned with the federally governing Conservative Party.

In NSW the Labor government has been in control much longer, and was returned again last year. Again despite serious concerns over corruption and ethics issues. With the Rudd government facing election again in the next six months they have to contend with their NSW Labor counterparts dragging them into the political gutter.

Both BC and NSW have well developed and entrenched systems of pay-offs, many both blatant and obvious. One of the few who seemed determined to correct this in NSW, former Liberal Premier Greiner, was very quickly removed. In BC the memory of former Premier, ‘Wacky’ Bennett, still lives with something akin to hero worship, despite his blatant corruption.

In our federal systems there are major differences in the roles of central government and the subservient states/provinces. For a start the Feds manage the economy and disperse funds to the states/provinces to deliver services like health and education. However the states/provinces also have control over development and land use as well as a wide range of other lucrative areas with corruption potential.

I know BC and NSW legislators are not alone when it comes to scooping the choice bits out the swill bucket, just they are the ones I know best. In both those places, and elsewhere, I’ve be caught on the bumpy end of the corruption club. The only remedy in each case was possibly to pay more; a lot more because it meant beating regular ‘customers’.

The real concern must be, surely, the constant dishing of democratic principle and representative government. Well at least the question should be asked up front: Representing who? While key services like health and education languish our elected representatives are still not only allowed to continue on this track, but are seemingly encouraged to do so by voter support.

Given the history perhaps federal and subservient government branding issues aren’t so important. We do seem to have a remarkable tolerance for, and it seems appreciation of blatant bad behaviour. My involvement in a federal election in BC led me to ask constantly about the federal/provincial difference; and I was constantly assured people understood the dynamics.

Shoot the black duck

Perhaps Kevin Rudd and Michael Ignatieff, in Canada, should have no real concern over the bad behaviour of their namesake party organisations. Both will face the electorate in the coming months, Ignatieff as opposition leader. Each have ready solutions to the branding dilemma.

For Ignatieff it could be a simple as a public request for the BC Liberals to change their name. They won’t of course, but their MLAs and members will continue, in their support of the Conservatives, to undermine their federal namesake, thus clearly drawing the distinction. The fact is, these people are not particularly smooth and sophisticated.

For Rudd to attack the NSW Labor government is problematic; but I expect the ‘RUDD’ brand is sufficiently entrenched to override any tarnished Labor brand. Federal Labor, under Rudd, should be able to pick up lower house seats elsewhere to offset any NSW losses, and perhaps need to just concentrate on picking up much needed Senate seats.

Despite party nomenclature both Rudd and Ignatieff have many similarities. Both would seek to create an environment where their respective economies allow the growth of well run enterprise, both would direct support to where it will best serve economic growth. On the other hand, I suspect both are ‘belt and braces’ sort of guys. At the risk of mixing metaphors, I suspect while each are lining up their ducks they dream about shooting that annoying black duck!

But how do the crooked guys get away with it?
Which brings us back to how these obviously dubious governments retain electoral acceptance. The NSW Labor government was on the nose almost as soon as it was returned at the last election. Infighting, scandal and faltering service deliveries seemed to miraculously surface after the fact – well for most at least. Partly the opposition managed the first parts of the equation, the infighting and scandal, no doubt helping Labor to succeed.

Recent news suggests that Campbell simply found it advisable not to know his province was sinking deeply into the red. This amazing news has jut surfaced, months after the election in BC. Finance Minister Colin Hansen warned this week that the economic recovery is so rickety that the province could be plunged back into recession in coming months.

NSW remains on the edge of the economic precipice, relying a great deal on spin to fill the gaps in real policy; that is provision of adequate, not even functional, health and transport delivery services. Little wonder the last health minister resigned this week, having been caught out spending his time bedding a young woman rather than attending to urgent needs. It is not hard to see why he sought the distraction.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A pitiful state or an effing shame?

The state of NSW is currently the largest economic unit in Australia. On population and other statistics it should be, but given the appalling lack of political talent across the spectrum it might well sink to second, or worse.

Prime Minister Rudd must despair at times over the political albatross represented by his Labor state counterparts, particularly the NSW lot. In fact I’m certain if I were Prime Minister I would be far happier that the states should be in the hands of various other parties.

At present NSW is led by an ineffectual compromise, and is suffering from the lack of real leadership. Not that there aren’t potential leaders on the Labor or Liberal/National teams; it’s just that the body politic in the state is too busy trying to pull itself to pieces to actually present a unified ticket.

The latest impasse came when potential Labor leader (dream on) John Della Bosca bit the bullet over a sex scandal. Sorry, sex scandals aren’t life and death in this country. It might well have been the last straw, but then the underlying issues which made it so aren’t easily apparent. Well, unless we consider how desperate Labor caucus members must be to block rather than build.

I’m no Della Bosca fan, but there are few in the state Labor ranks I would support. Sadly the problem is as deep for the conservative opposition. The junior partner, the National Party, would be shot out of pure compassion if it were a horse. The Liberals are torn between genuine Liberal ideals and ultra Christian conservative.

Liberal leader O’Farrell is a decent bloke, but then how often do decent people actually achieve strong leadership? O’Farrell is flat out putting out party fires to develop the sort of platform he needs to gain traction, a platform a majority of his party might accept. Even if he can hold on and win the next election by default it would soon be stolen from him.

On the Labor side Rudd is powerful enough to step in, but at what cost to him. If he does and it goes wrong it’s his problem. If he does and it goes right then a strong state Labor government in NSW might also become his problem. I’m sure Kevin prays for a Liberal miracle.

There are good decent people on both sides, just too few in either camp to make a difference. In the meantime NSW is desperate for sound stable leadership and there is no real answer in sight. As for the common nick name – the ‘Bear Pit’ – after Della’s triumph, it perhaps just be called a f*cking shame.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Gwion Gwion, a Paleolithic mystery

I am still enjoying my vicarious safari of the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, in fact in raptures over depictions of ancient Gwion Gwion rock art. But first the disclaimers, vital to this post:

Nomenclature: My hosts were understandably excited by what they came to know as “The Bradshaws”, named after the white bloke who ‘found’ them in the 1890’s. The traditional people of the area rightly claim the traditional name for this art and it’s creators, Gwion Gwion, who predate the current people. This art belongs to “The Dreaming” and dates back to a period lost in time.

Rights: While the photos here are courtesy of Louise Caldwell the images they depict are subject to strict rights. Certainly they can be reproduced with attribution but must not be used in any way commercially or on commercial media.

The Gwion Gwion mystery

When I was shown the photos of this rock art I was knocked out by the sophistication of the depictions compared to later art which in some cases overlays them. (Note - click on the images for larger resolution.)

From Gwion Gwion
Unfortunately the story related by the tour guide went nowhere near matching the excitement of the images. So we went researching, only to find a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.

For a start: “The pigment used to create the beautiful Gwion Gwion is extremely resilient, so much so that C14 radiocarbon and other scientific dating methods cannot differentiate between it and the rock canvas. An indicator of their age was determined by a fossilised wasp nest built by the insects on top of a Bradshaw figure. It was reckoned to be at least 17,000 years old, placing the art beneath an indeterminate age beyond.”

Even relating the story is fraught with hazards, with any single comment likely to be pounced on with n opposing view. There are obvious arguments about the nomenclature but even the description ‘art’ gets under the skin of some. Simple soul that I am I will graciously accept differences of opinion on an issue where balance is problematic.

Clues to the origins

From Gwion Gwion
There are over 100,000 documented Gwion Gwion sites, generally protected only by rock overhangs as depicted in the second image. In contrast to the timeless solidity of the rock the images were painted on any understanding of the where’s and when’s are pure conjecture, speculation and educated guess.

The current controversies span issues like land rights and ownership, confused cultural imperatives, the twists and turns of politics and commerce and of course scientific rigour. The scientists might be able to resolve some of the issues around these incredible features, regarded as one of the planets great wonders, if the tools and methodology were available to them. Dating methods are simply not developed sufficiently yet.

What science does know is that when our ancestors moved out of Africa what we now know as Europe was covered in ice, so the migrants moved east, reaching the Australian continent around 60,000 years ago. Were these the Gwion Gwion? Again our lack of information and understanding of those early arrivals, and the probable waves following, leave a big question mark over who the Gwion Gwion people were.

From Gwion Gwion

Another possible dating method, borrowed from art history is based on comparative styles, has been soundly rejected by archeologists. Granted it is a method based on conjecture not provable fact. Even so it is instructive to note the similarities of ‘rock art’ in the Kalahari region of Southern Africa and on the probable migration trail through the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia. In fact my immediate thoughts on seeing these depictions was of current Indonesian cultural depictions.

From Gwion Gwion

So while the debate rages another concern, from the stories I’m hearing, is the protection of these treasures. I guess you don’t need to know everything to be able to recognise something worthy of protection. The Kimberley Region is fairly isolated and difficult at present, but the Gwion Gwion rock art suggests that it was once a thriving centre of culture.

Without doubt the local traditional people, property owners and various national parks agencies are making access to the bulk of these sites difficult. Given that Louise’s collection is the same as those elsewhere on the web the current level of protection appears to be working. Let us hope it continues to be so.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wheat cheats will walk free?

Australia’s Federal police are to drop the investigation into wheat cheat and oil-for-food pirates – AWB Ltd. The move is hardly surprising as major and officially sanctioned, corruption is rarely prosecuted. At this stage the only hope is the a continued effort by ASIC (Australian Securities and Investments Commission)

Having recently recovered files from my now defunct Scandal Files site I have reposted below-

AWB Oil-for-Food scandal The timeline

AWB Oil-for-Food scandal The Players

AWB Oil-for-Food scandal The timeline

From the mid 90’s to around 2006 Australia’s government, some statutory authorities and public service were implicated in attempts to subvert the UN Oil for Food program. Australia’s major involvement revolves around a former statutory body – The Australian Wheat Board and eventually the offspring AWB LTD. Here are some of the major issues as they unfolded:

August 1990 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 661, imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iraq following that country’s invasion of Kuwait.

April 1995 acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council adopted resolution 986, establishing the "oil-for-food" Programme, providing Iraq with another opportunity to sell oil to finance the purchase of humanitarian goods, and various mandated United Nations activities concerning Iraq.

January 1996 BHP Billiton described a wheat deal as a "humanitarian gesture", which took place with the full knowledge of the Australian Government. Recovery of an Iraqi debt for this $US5million "humanitarian gesture" featured in a 2002 deal between BHP and AWB.
Documents recovered by in 2003 suggested the then BHP executive had met senior figures in Saddam Hussein's regime during the height of Western sanctions in Iraq.

May 1996 Foreign Affairs document shows both the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, and the department would not support a plan by BHP to get the Iraqis to agree to a "deferred payment" of five years.

1996 Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer welcomed the UN oil-for-food strategy and flagged Australia's desire to provide most of Iraq's wheat requirements.

1997 BHP-Billiton executives proposed US$50 million -US$100 million loan to Saddam's regime to help gain access to oil fields.

1998 The Iraqi Grains Board first raised the idea of kickbacks from AWB.
AWB, Australian monopoly wheat exporter was under government control as The Australian Wheat Board,.

1999 Mark Emons traveled to Canberra to discuss transport fees with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) officials.

July 1999 AWB corporatised and is no longer a statutory body answering directly to the Australian Agriculture Ministry.

July 1999 Saddam ordered his ministers to tell AWB to start inflating the price of its wheat contracts, so he could take a cut. AWB agreed to disguise these kickbacks as a "trucking charge"

October 1999 the Iraqi Grains Board demanded a non-negotiable $US12-per-tonne extra be added to the price of wheat from Australia.

October 1999 AWB employee Dominic Hogan said he had come up with a "brilliant idea" for how to pay the trucking fees.
He told former manager of sales and marketing Mark Emons that AWB could set up a "special" bank account with a "friendly" bank in Jordan, he suggested the ANZ, and that money could be transferred from there to Saddam's regime "as long as it was not apparent that the funds were going to Iraq".

The 'Alarm Bells' should have alerted governments and the UN to potential corruption, as early as:

September 1999 Emons wrote an email to Dominic Hogan, who also worked on the Middle East desk. "Speaking with slug (Graham Owen, who worked in the finance department), he suggests that the only way to make the payments is holding the money in an account in Australia until the sanctions are lifted or we can make the payment to a Jordanian account." Emons

December 1999 Canada raised concerns with the UN that the AWB was using Jordanian front companies to fund interests associated with the Iraqi regime.
The UN then questioned an Australian government representative in New York who, after consultation with the AWB said the matter was untrue.

1999 or 2000 DFAT’s Robert Bowker, Australia's current ambassador to Egypt, satisfied himself that no corruption was taking place by telephoning AWB employees who denied there was anything untoward about their billion-dollar deals with Saddam.

1999 Trevor Flugge's daughter, Felicity, was employed by Ronly Holdings when some of the Iraqi contracts were negotiated.

2000 A report written by Arthur Andersen said Ronly Holdings was secretly paying inland trucking fees to the Iraqis as a way of circumventing UN sanctions on Iraq. Ronly Holdings is a London trading house run by two Turkish businessmen, Nori Bali and Erol Yahya.

2000 The external auditors uncovered what could amount to "money laundering" and reported to the Australian Wheat Board (AWB).

2000 Prime Minister Howard, and deputy Vaile, who was trade minister and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer received a copy of a cable from the Australian mission to the United Nations, in January of 2000, which contained a formal warning to the Australian government from the United Nations about what the wheat board was up to.

March 2000 Austrade commissioner Alistair Nicholas called Flugge and other AWB executives to a "briefing" in Washington DC. Mr Nicholas asked whether there was any truth to rumours circulating at the UN that Australia was paying kickbacks to Saddam's regime, in exchange for wheat contracts.

October 2000 AWB said engaging the services of Alia would "eloquently solve our problems" in Iraq, but wanted to "ensure DFAT is comfortable with AWB proceeding". AWB wrote to seek DFAT's Ms Drake-Brockman permission to pay "trucking fees" to the Jordanian trucking company Alia. The deal was approved.

October 2000 AWB's Hogan sent a fax to foreign affairs official Jill Coutney, telling her AWB was "extremely keen" to solve discharge problems in Iraq and was about to enter discussions with a "transport company in Jordan with an aim of introducing a performance incentive scheme".

October 2000 AWB's Hogan had an informal meeting with Trade Minister Mark Vaile in Cairo on October 20.

2000 Trade Minister Mark Vaile told the then AWB chairman, Trevor Flugge, he had told officials from the department:
"…existing UN-controlled restraints on trade with Iraq" had to be respected, adding Iraq needed "to comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”…I have asked relevant Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials to maintain a close dialogue with the AWB interlocutors on this issue, and keep me apprised of developments."
The letter was written at the time AWB hugely increased its kickbacks to the Iraqi regime from $12 per tonne of wheat to $44.50.

Late 2000 the AWB wrote to inform DFAT that it had contracted with a Jordanian company to truck wheat within Iraq. DFAT responded with approval.

2001 AWB dumped Ronly and tried to end some deals with the company. The following year, the head of Ronly, Mr Bali, telephoned Flugge to discuss a dispute over money and raised the secret dealings in Iraq.

June 2002 Michael Long was personally told by Iraqi trade minister Mohammed Medi-Saleh that 10per cent would be added to the price of contracts between AWB and the Iraq Grains Board.

July 2002 Trade Minister Mark Vaile issued a press release stating he recognised the need to provide wheat to the Iraqi people, notwithstanding issues with the Iraqi government.

July 2002 Prime Minister Howard had written to AWB's chief executive, Andrew Lindberg "In view of the importance of the matter, I suggest the government and AWB Ltd remain in close contact in order that we can jointly attempt to achieve a satisfactory outcome in the longer term."

July 2002 Long went to Baghdad after Australia’s wheat sales were threatened. “Through our extensive efforts, in Baghdad, we convinced them that it’s the farmers that are suffering and not the government. Then the [Iraqi trade] minister [Mohammed Mahdi Saleh] decided to reinstate the 2 million ton trade ‘out of respect for the Australian farmers and the Australian people'.” Long.

August 2002 Three ships containing Australian wheat have been stopped from unloading in the port of Umm Qasr in Iraq, because authorities are alleging the grain is contaminated with iron powder.
A team of executives - including Lindberg, the former chairman Trevor Flugge and international sales manager Michael Long - flew immediately to Iraq to meet the trade minister. Saleh said he expected the Australians to pay a $US2 million fee to "clean" the contaminated wheat.

August 2002 Between trips to Libya and Iran by Minister Vaile and AWB chairman Brendan Stewart went to Baghdad over Iraqi claims that Australian wheat shipments had been contaminated.

August 2002 Brendan Stewart was reported as saying he had spoken with Minister Vaile, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and then deputy Prime Minister Anderson about the tone of the Government's public rhetoric about Iraq and its effect on AWB's Iraqi sales.

August 2002 Vaile congratulated a successful AWB delegation to Baghdad, which secured even further wheat exports to Iraq, even as we were counting down to war.
These oil-for-food contracts, with suddenly inflated prices, were signed by AWB executives and stamped by Australian government officials before going to the UN.

2002 US wheat farmers wrote to then US secretary of state Colin Powell, saying Australia seemed to be having incredible luck picking up business with Iraq, and asking him to investigate AWB, to see if it had been paying kickbacks. All this was openly debated in the US Senate.

2002 Oil debt deal. An agreement was reached in 2002 between AWB and the Iraqi Grain Board that the price for a million tons of wheat "would be artificially inflated to include the amount due to Tigris." (Andrew Lindberg) The debt was originally owed to Australia's then major oil firm BHP for the supply of wheat by the AWB in 1995 in exchange for oil exploration rights. The debt was later assigned to Tigris Petroleum, a firm set up by former BHP executives. The money was to be paid "through the mechanism of a trucking fee," said the statement to the Australian government inquiry.

The Alarm Bells start ringing again

2003 US Defence Department report accused AWB of overpricing 500,000 tonnes of wheat "to the tune of $14.8 million".

March 2003 Prime Minister John Howard said: “The oil-for-food program has been immorally and shamefully rorted by Saddam Hussein, who has used the proceeds of it to acquire his weapons capacity and support it."

April 2003 Trevor Flugge was chosen by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer to lead a team of Australian experts to reform Iraq's Agriculture Ministry shortly after coalition forces moved into Baghdad.

June 2003 Michael Long ‘passed information about the kickbacks to DFAT” - 10 weeks after the war started. Long said, he received a report, while in Baghdad, from the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority, made up of Americans and Britons, that clearly stated Saddam had been stealing from the UN's oil-for-food program, by adding a "kickback or surcharge, often 10per cent" to the price of contracts.
"We need to know what percentage kickback or 'after sale service fee' was involved," the report said, adding that Long should work with the Iraq ministry to identify the fees. AWB employee, Chris Whitwell, also emailed the report to a senior DFAT official, Zena Armstrong, who was then a member of DFAT's Iraq taskforce. The taskforce was established in September 2002 to bring together a range of departments and agencies, including Prime Minister and Cabinet, Defence, AusAID and Austrade, and the Attorney-General's Department.

June 2003 the MPs Craig Emerson and Senator Kerry O'Brien issued a press statement calling for the Government to investigate allegations that Australia's wheat sales helped support Saddam Hussein's regime. The Government ignored them.

TRADE Minister Mark Vaile denies any knowledge of kickbacks made to Saddam Hussein's government but cannot explain comments he made in 2003 suggesting he knew Australia's monopoly wheat exporter was making some kind of investment in the dictator's regime. "The wheat sales conducted during the past decade were under the UN's oil-for-food program under sanctions that we all supported. I have asked my department to contact the US embassy and convey a message to Colin Powell that Australia regards these comments as quite disturbing." Vaile said in June 2003

October 2003 the Australian Government established a $350 million trade facility to support Australian exporters operating in Iraq.

November 2003 Oil for Food Program terminated.

November 2003 US Wheat Associates (USWA), representing American growers lobbied then Sec Powell, claiming Australian exporters overcharged for sales to Iraq.

2004 stories about AWB's dealings in Iraq - including the fact that contract prices were inflated and that Iraq had forced AWB to make payments to a Jordanian trucking company - were also starting to appear in Australian newspapers. They were picked up by US senators, who wanted to investigate AWB.

October 2004 Australia's former US ambassador, Michael Thawley, allegedly misled a powerful Republican senator in the US in that the Government had no knowledge of the kickbacks scheme.

November 2004 Iraq's former trade minister, Mohammed Medhi Saleh was interrogated by a panel of UN investigators, when he told them: AWB had for years been making payments to a Jordanian trucking company known as Alia, which kicked the money straight back to Saddam's regime.

February 2006 Andrew Lindberg resigned as CEO of AWB.