Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The legacy of corruption still threatens the Obama dream

Corruption has always fascinated me, but then I grew up in Sydney with its unapologetic culture of corruption. My current community didn’t escape either, and research I’ve just been doing on some local figures is proving incredibly far-reaching.

I was chasing up the story on a guy I only ever knew through other people here, an exile mob lawyer Harry Wainwright. I still don’t know just where Harry was in the entourage of ‘Old blue eyes’ before the IRS swooped. I do know that he was responsible for an unannounced Sinatra after a tantrum on a Sydney tour.

These were the Vietnam War days and Harry was associated with the development of Sydney as an R&R centre for US troops. That involved the supply of drugs, sex, entertainment and all the other underworld treats.

Australia was also ripe to provide other services to our American friends, like a lush garden for marijuana supply and an ideal funnel for transacting the opiate trade from the ‘Golden Triangle’. Aussie authorities were more than happy to accommodate these services.

Harry was just one of the shadowy figures in this representing US interests. The Nugan Hand Bank has long been believed to be an enterprise of the CIA, co-sponsors of the Golden Triangle activities. Nugan Hand were the bag men, the money launderers.

Even back then there was talk about the connection to Air America, the CIA air arm in South East Asia. I am not given to simply swallowing conspiracy theories and have waited many years for the suppressed evidence to break. I know that sounds CT, but we are seeing and ignoring constant revelations.

The Obama factor

Maybe that should be the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton et al factor. Australia has already found that the cabal, whatever the current makeup, will destroy a government if need be. Obama’s problem is most of his team have never been on the pad, unlike many in Congress. There is a high level of admittedly pragmatic idealism.

To the power hungry freaks who have bought the world to this current situation there is no acceptable qualification for idealism. Wanting a fair and equitable society is way beyond simple idealism, but the greedy bastards will not simply surrender.

None of our cherished policy aspirations are worth squat unless this new dream becomes a solid reality.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Volunteering to build a new world

“When I go home tonight and I look into the mirror, I’m not going to regret what I see,” Bush to his Texas home crowd NYT

If George W needed to make that statement I expect he really does have some issues to deal with. I doubt many believe Obama was out of line drawing a firm line under the Bush years. In fact he was really drawing the line under the results of 30 years of dubious policy.

I have asserted before that the socio/economic rot began under Reagan, George W merely took the policy direction to its logical conclusion – at least as far as that was acceptable. Enough of the past – it’s time to use the bounce to create a more just, more equitable planet. Time to really get down to work.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Obama is his example of volunteerism. Now when it is about ME it must become; ‘what can I do for MY world?’ Sometimes that will mean getting stuck in without any expectation of material reward. The rewards will come in many other ways.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Papua Merdeka - Free West Papua

The jailing five Australians “for illegally entering Indonesia's Papua province” shines an unwanted spotlight on this forgotten corner of the world.

The group were accused of entering Indonesia illegally, after they travelled to Papua on a small plane from Horn Island, off the tip of Queensland's Cape York on September 12. The Australians have described it as a sightseeing flight and mistakenly believed they could get visas on arrival in Papua. SMH

Granted independence by the Dutch an elected Papuan council took office on 5 April 1961. The Council decided on the name of West Papua, a national emblem, a flag called the Morning Star or Bintang Kejora.

However, Indonesia threatened with an invasion, and with the help of the Soviet Union, the compliance of Australia, the US and the Netherlands, took control of the territory in May 1963. So much for the will of the people and the defence of their sovereignty.

Indonesians live in fear of West Papua freedom building the same sort of Australian and international support as their former colony of Timor Leste (East Timor). It seems the Australia government share that concern. I think it is time we made those concerns real by showing support and spreading the story.

The Free Papua Movement (Indonesian: Organisasi Papua Merdeka, abbreviated OPM) is a separatist organization established in 1965 which seeks independence for Western New Guinea from Indonesia. Some links for further details:

For a Free and Independent West Papua

Free West Papua Organisations and Offices

Unbelievable diversity

The people of New Guinea, Melanesians, are racially and culturally separated from the Indonesian archipelago by some 40,000 years. A racial classification is thought to be inaccurate because it ignores the broad cultural, linguistic, social and genetic diversity in the area. Some argue that there is no one "Melanesian culture" or way of life.

New Guinea is perhaps the most linguistically diverse region in the world. Besides the Austronesian languages, there are some 800 languages divided into perhaps sixty small language families, with unclear relationships to each other or to anything else, plus a large number of language isolates.

That is just the people, with about 786,000 km² of tropical land, less than one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the earth's surface, New Guinea has an immense ecological value in terms of biodiversity, with between 5 to 10% of the total species on the planet.

There are probably well over 200,000 species of insect, between 11,000 to 20,000 plant species; over 650 resident bird species, over 400 amphibians; 455 butterfly species, 284 species and six orders of mammals. The island's frogs are one of the most poorly known vertebrate groups, currently totalling 282 species, but this number is expected to double or even triple when all species have been documented.

Then of course there is gold, copper ore, crude oil, natural gas, timber, fish, oil palm, tea, rubber, logs; all of those choice goodies which ensure we wealthy nations will continue to support the subjugation of the Melanesians on economic grounds.

Time to rattle the cage

Given the outcome Timor Leste (East Timor) who achieved a bloody independence in 2000, the Indonesian have every reason to fear a gathering of support for Papua Merdeka. On the other hand Papuans have every right to stand alone, and not be subject to the brutal rule of Indonesia.

Journalists are banned from entering West Papua and tourists severely discouraged; a tight lid is kept in a largely successful attempt to prevent the true story of the province leaking out. This control is apparently supported by Australian and neighbouring PNG governments. The stories that do emerge are from radical sources and quickly buries.

The potential this time is to highlight the fate of five naive travelers who assumed it was fine to stop in Wet Papua on a small aircraft jaunt. That news story was quickly buried, but is potentially the catalyst for wider awareness of Indonesia’s atrocities in the province.

I do ask each of you to take a bit of time to look further into this situation, then act in the way you see most effective. To me simply spreading the word, telling and increasing circle of people, is a good start.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not Black and white

In the lead up to the November election it was made clear, even by McCain’s campaign, that a Republican loss would devastate the party. The loss of a majority in the Senate has increased the electoral destruction with a number of incumbents willing to serve without the perks of power.

McCain failed to develop any continuing direction for the party, preferring his shoot from the hip approach. Now many remaining Republicans insist the party must cleanse itself, must champion a strong Christian America with an open economy and closed borders. Voters would flock to a party of such uncompromising principle, they argue. G&M

As it stands the party is now shunned by every part of the electorate that is growing - the young, Latinos, blacks, city dwellers, people in the New South. They obviously have no idea of what America wants:

“But we've tried moderation, say the talk-show hosts and the preachers and the guys at the institutes. We've kowtowed to the ethnics, and toned down on abortion, and supported deficits. Look where it got us.” G&M

One of the candidates for RNC leadership, Tennessee party chair Chip Saltsman, circulated a CD to committee members that contained "Barack the Magic Negro," a parody of a Peter, Paul and Mary song that only those with longer teeth even remember. I suspect if they continue down that path they might experience first hand the hardships of being an identifiable and unwanted minority.

Opposition within

It often happens that a formerly strong leadership collapses in the face of change. The danger is that regardless of how good the replacement they require a vocal opposition. All too often that opposition can only come from within, treading a fine line between support and attack.

According to key members of the Obama team there will be ample opportunity for voices beyond the lobbyists to be heard. That’s fine for the president, but he can’t really speak for those in congress. Perhaps the first push from supporters should be to convince their own reps and senators to forego lobbyist offering in favour of constituent preferences.

The hardest part is balance, there are so many issues we all want dealt with, and each one seems urgent. New governments rarely have the privilege of solving issues quickly and the focus will be very much on domestic economics, thanks to the Bush regime. Certainly moves will be signaled quickly, like closing Guantanamo Bay, but the reality is much more drawn out.

Since I was a neophyte political activist in my teens I’ve detested the concept of gradualism, but it is a sad reality of public affairs. It does not suggest we shouldn’t be

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The lazy mans C-Span

Thanks to D.K. (the lazy man’s C-Span) - Medal of Freedom, or THE STING ... you decide – I didn’t need to resort to the TV. A great description of a ceremony which would have made me puke.

(Image - I thought they said moth...)

There has always been mumblings downunder about the unhealthy relationship between Bush and Howard. In fact we are now wondering if Bush isn’t taking this further with Howard – to a penchant for necrophilia.

We do know this was the expected abusive relationship, though outwardly to the world rather than to each other. My take is that the freedoms this mob really refer to are freedom to:

  • Abuse the rights and freedoms of their own citizens
  • To put the interests of their own chosen ‘friends’ ahead of everyone else
  • To abuse the rights and freedoms of numerous foreign populations
  • To attempt the theft of natural wealth for their own benefit
  • To excite acts of terrorism to justify the above

History will paint the past decade or so as the most politically corrupt in modern history, the spread of Stalinism throughout the west. But there have been bright points too, as the world tried to shake of this horror. My nominations for MoF would be:

  • The ill-fated but determined Romano Prodi of Italy, who at least modified the Berlusconi part in the horror
  • The Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Sure he looks as ineffectual as Mr Bean, but is ever-present in finding real International solutions
  • The hardest – Nicholas Sarkosy of France. I was determined to dislike this alleged right wing leader, but find my admiration growing daily.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Religions or belief systems?

It would be a strange world indeed if ideas of religion did not occasionally tease even the most cynical mind. I was prompted here by a couple of things; first a recent blog Perhaps I’ll Give Buddhism a Try , second was a book passed on to me, because I am a prodigious reader, What the Great Religions Believe – Joseph Gaer; which I find out is now a rare book.

On reading the volume I’m impressed with Gaer’s integrity – rarely is he able to tell readers what the great religions think, but the book remains a fascinating source of discovery and reminder. The reality is that acceptance of a religious system requires a massive suspension of disbelief; but equally most systems contain an essence of desirable instruction.

For me the major reminder was a vague interest in Zoroastorism, arguably the oldest written religious code and forerunner to much of the Judaic/Christian/Islamic teachings. Pre-dating Zarathustra were the Magi, but Zoroastorism is considered the oldest written religious code.

I’ve read arguments that Zarathustra was opposed to locking his code into written text, but obviously I’ve never found the source of such claims as these texts were not recorded for several centuries after his death. Like Christian texts these refer retrospectively to events for religio/political reasons, without support.

Nothing new under the sun

Zarathustra posited a dual, as opposed to one god concept. In fact those religions following accepted the same good (Ahura Mazda) Vs evil (Angra Manyu) godheads, downplaying the evil, though not as dual gods. I guess that is simply a matter of degrees; personally I take a Jungian view of god, but would essentially credit the converse with an equal authority.

Again personally, I’m inclined to the idea that a personification of god or gods is a nonsense. It is not the personification, but the moral code that is central to societies well being. In this the Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta of Zoroastorism seems to ring true as a basic code of conduct through the various regions, albeit conduct rarely met: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.

The whole religion argument distracts, or worse fortifies, a tendency to justify unacceptable behaviour. I’m not religious, but only because I reject the distractions and negatives of structured religions.

Stripped of excuses we should only be weighing up the real value of our actions. If we choose as individuals to adopt the negative then so be it, and must also choose to accept the personal consequences of our actions. Negativism strips what might be called our souls, it strips our lives regardless.

All of the major religions embody elements of essential goodness, even when the practice drifts away from core beliefs. The trouble is structures assume an element of power, regardless of basic belief; the human element if you like.

I failed within the church because I could not condone the negative and destructive aspects, like the power motive. There is something about the ancient Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta of Zarathustra that still speaks volumes. Perhaps it s time to return to those basics.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Strange notions of democracy

It was once said that communism might be a great system, if anyone actually tried it; the same can be said for democracy. Given the plethora of practical examples few democracies adopt anything close to the ideal. Recent news, particularly from North America, has highlighted one major shortcoming – senates.

A few years back I was commissioned to prepare a briefing paper arguing for the abolition of one of Australia’s Two things struck me from that exercise; (1) you can present an equally compelling argue for both abolition and retention of upper houses (senates), (2) upper houses (senates) were never predicated on democracy, rather they were designed to keep the rabble in check.

- The Australian Senate

- Canada’s Senate

- US Senate

From that tradition, the British administrators paying lip service to democratic principles in Australia, the upper house was to ensure protection for the colonial masters. The Australian Senate was an extension of that concept, intended to ensure each colony had an equal voice in the federation to protect their interests.

Constitutionally, like the US, senators should be answerable to their relevant state legislatures. As the ‘states house’ there could be some justification for the undemocratic makeup of the Senate. For example the half million Tasmanians have the same 12 member allocation as the more populous states.

That argument does not translate to a senate which has morphed into a full on party house. Aussie Senators now represent their sponsoring parties rather than their state, and are chosen by their party and presented to the voters as a fait accompli. As one former Prime Minister put it, none to subtly; “unrepresentative swill.”


It was the Canadians started my mind on this track. A number of recent commentators from that delightful country have been foaming over the Liberal Party appointment of their new party leader, Michael Ignatieff, as undemocratic. No foaming over PM Harper recently appointing 18 senators; a real breach of democratic principles by any standards.

Still, Canada’s Senate has never pretended to be a democratic forum. Apart from being appointed the representation is massively uneven across the country. The relatively tiny eastern provinces each outnumber the larger western provinces in the Senate, essentially because they were there first.

PM Harper made these appointments to save his political ass, despite being a noisy advocate of Senate reform while in opposition. Of course, breaches of democracy can always be justified:

“… it's a chicken-or-the-egg kind of problem. You can't change the rules for Parliament's upper chamber until you control it. And you can't control it unless you appoint senators.”

Quite frankly, Mr Harper would have scored more points by putting the argument for Senate reform to the people, leading to a referendum. The fact that politicians have control over rewriting the constitution, feathering their own nests, without recourse to the people is obscene.


Currently regarded the house of millionaires, the US Senate is quickly heading to billions… Obviously a seat in the Senate costs dearly, and usually in money terms. I guess that is consistent with the haves protecting their stash against the rest of us. If money is the only path to the Senate then we have an immediate issue with democracy.

But again, appointments become a secondary problem. Well, in the US each state has its own rules for what has become another party house. The lucky ones, or those able to escape scrutiny, can ensure the big money entry into the Senate. It’s doubtful, without scrutiny, an appointment would be made for any regard for those represented.

The US delivers many challenges to ideas of true democracy, and partly because of the massive state by state disparities in regulations. Surely an even and fair system holds the same rules across any one jurisdiction. In this sense I mean state voters might have their own consistent state rules, but federal voters should have the same, across the federation.

Compare current US electoral laws with major sports. If teams in the NFL or any other of those acronyms had to remember different rules when they played in other states the teams and the fans would soon start to lose interest in the complexity. Federal voters should be confident that every other American voter has exactly the same value. They don’t!

Dream on

In many ways, as flawed as it is, I still see Australia as the leading model of democracy. Still, I don’t accept that it begins to approach an acceptable level of true democracy. Canada has the best electoral laws I’ve experienced (the Senate is not elected) but is still a mess of special interests. The US I’m told has some perfect examples of true democracy – at the bottom of the pyramid, the concept fades as real power takes its grip.

While money, power and self interest hold sway we can’t have any great expectation of our political masters willingly adopting democratic concepts. More so when most voters really don’t care. I guess they’ll just keep screwing us and using the word democracy to justify themselves.

Monday, January 05, 2009

What am I doing here? A meme

I love the blogosphere, an anarchic wherein we have no real idea who is watching, or why. Then out of the mix come the most frightening changes, like the tag from No Blood for Hubris. It’s scary enough to be challenged by a Humorless lipstick feminist. Clintonista, doubly so when the challenge is to list – chronologically, my work history.

Having been involved in politics, one way and another, most f my life I just know there are things you never make public. On the other hand, I’ll never achieve a White House job so what the hell! So here we have, following the lead of my sponsor, two annotated lists – paid and unpaid endeavours.

Paid (often a laughable assertion…)

Newspaper boy (I was a boy)

Golf caddy and tennis ball boy (still a boy and never did develop anything more than a pecuniary interest in the sports)

Floor sweeper/packer in softgoods warehouse (they didn’t have software back then, this stuff was like furnishings and manchester)

Cashier, lay-by clerk, curtain hanger, blind fitter (the retail side of the former job)

Into the motor trade (the great leap into bloke stuff!):

- Counter clerk and storeman handling auto tools

- Dispatch manager – auto parts

Office cleaner (in and around other things)

Cutting loose (following the lure of the swinging 60s. All self employment efforts of varying success, often overlapping)

Established temp agency for band personnel (great idea if you can handle 1000 or so drummers on the books)

Rock band management and promotion

Concert light show operator

Venue promotion and management (proudest achievement was not rebooking The Brothers Gibb – later to become The Bee Gees)

Occasional rock media writer

Heading South (Relocated to Tasmania, to help maintain a static population of fewer than half a million people)

The motor trade (delivering spare parts)

Office cleaning (learning the joys of Tasmania’s heritage buildings)

Timber (lumber) sales

State marketing and sales rep – lumber and plywood (including saving Tasmanian forests by importing North American lumber)

Manager of project to rescue precious Tassie woods (from being bulldozed and burned)

Local reporter for regional newspaper (first foray into paid journalism)

State manager, industrial equipment sales

Sales and marketing – specialized construction and furniture products

Sales and marketing – Industrial safety equipment

Freelance writer (producing feature articles for a national market)

Established media consultancyKISSMEDIA (as in keep it simple…)

Projects varied and included copy provision, contract reporting, advertorial (including real estate and aged care), small scale publishing, contract typesetting, editing and proofing, providing summaries of new legislation from various states and anything else available.

Manager of café in Sydney’s bohemian district (survived famed dykes on bikes)

Barrista, dishwasher (best place to manage an eatery), cleaner (someone had to do it)

Still freelance, mainly issues research, not for profit project development and media design.

Extra- curricular - More problematic, less linear than the paid mess of pottage so I’ll try with categories:


Formerly began political activity at age 15 as a campaign foot-soldier.

Active in the Australian Liberal Party, holding various branch and state positions, until their serious drift to the right

Was founding member and office holder of Tasmanian branch of Australian Democrats and federal candidate.

Campaign manage five times, including one in Canada (Canadian Liberal Party)

Involved in policy research and development, prep of wide range of print media, including newsletters and media statements

Tend now to support individual candidates rather than party structures, and focus on issues identification and relevant policy statements.


All things pass, including involvement in community/social groups and the specific beliefs/interest that spurs the involvement. Perhaps the only consistent activities have revolved around writing and politics. Specifics:

Marrickville Boys Club – team leader, gym instructor, management committee member.

Rotaract, branch and district newsletter publisher.

Jobless Youth project – management committee

Anglican Church – various roles from verger to lay preacher with responsibility for a parish for a time

Circular Head Arts Festival – committee member

Australian-Italian social club director, barman, barrista

Inaugural committee of Launceston Festivale

Director – Newtown (Sydney) Traders Union (on Australia’s last great ‘High Street’ this was an alternative to the Chamber of Commerce

Port Macquarie Band - fund raiser

Port Macquarie Neighbourhood Centre – media prep

Ok, there are bits missing all over the place; life gets too complex for lists. But there is my attempt. For more entertaining versions try:

And Now for Something Completely Different: Department of Been There Done That

the rev. paperboy Been there, done that

Meanwhile, from curiosity spurred by a permaculture connection, I’m tagging Austin Permie

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The shrinking newspaper industry – the dark ages

There is, to some of us, something sensual about the feel and smell of a fresh newspaper; the printery can be every bit as evocative as the bakery. Even transferred to the web a quality newspaper can still be evocative, but shifting with technology isn’t stemming a flowing tide and demise of quality journalism.

While media groups are searching for the silver bullet, the Knut to stem a determined flow, they invariably choose the wrong approach. Cost cutting, cosmetic make-overs, telemarketing and discounting are not cutting the mustard.

Increasingly former competitors are now pooling stories, increasingly local papers are buying in outside news to keep the dwindling ads apart. This is where the relevance content begins – content must be relevant to readers to hold interest. Sounds DOH!, but newspaper accountants don’t understand the concept.

My first editors/chief of staff’s insisted on two things – local names, and pics local of locals. Okay, that was regional, but even the metros and nationals need a nod to broad local to hold reader interest. That is why we are assured there was one of our nationals on board a plane wreck in Bulgaria.

I regularly take one of two hard copy newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald or the Australian; both broadsheets and only one owned by Murdoch. I guess they represent the serious right and soft left Aussie print. I only ever take Saturday papers because I can find all the news I need online; it’s the analysis I’m looking for.

I’m not concerned with pop culture, yet I’m with those who are. As newspapers seek to reduce costs they are making an unforgivable mistake: The shades of opinion are being buried, the relevance to individual readers is being rejected. Regardless of core interests, readers are still looking for either affirmation of information. ‘Newspaper lite’ doesn’t meet reader expectation or needs.

Now I don’t deny my concern with the shrinking news media holds an extra dimension for a professional writer. As much as I love the tech revolution, everyone is a writer and skill or discipline become lost in the quest for the dollar. No tears for we old journos, but lots of tears for quality reporting and commentary.

Fortunately history teaches us that ‘everything old is new again’; all this will pass and the desire for the broad spread of news will return. For now though it does feel like the dark ages of real reporting, as my old editors would have it.