Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not corruption, just plain crime

There is good news and bad news for your erstwhile correspondent, the writing muse has finally taken a firm grip; the inspiration is crime, but the research is going places I never contemplated.

I’ve blogged previously about this strange neighbourhood I’ve landed in; the proximity to serious rime past and present, to jailbirds historic and current, to the violence and desperation which shadows a brisk drugs trade. It is one thing to observe, until very recently the ability to write in depth about it alluded me.

I have the key now, thanks to the persistence of some informants eager to share their experiences. I wanted to avoid writing about local and current criminality, I’m not that brave. Instead I saw the path leading back to the rich, fecund fields of crime in Sydney in the 1960s and 70s.

Living there around that time I had some insights, if not personal experience, enough to create a canvas on which to paint the narrative. Best of all, the min players are now dead for the most part or never likely to leave prison. Those still active in the community seem to live happily with their notoriety, so again little risk there.

Enter corruption on a grand scale

The problem is staying focused and safe. I am being given great detail on the criminals of the period; bank robbers, hold-up men, hit men and body disposal experts. All suitably colourful and dramatic in their own right. But a little research leads to a deeper darker pond.

From the 1930s through to the mid 60s Australia had been gloriously free of the illicit drug menace, but the Vietnam war and presence of R&R troops changed that in major ways. Sure we had our organised crime, organised by police and major politicians quite often. That is where I am trying to focus, the local pissant crime, but a bigger story still beckons.

With the advent of Sydney as a major funnel for the Golden Triangle opium local politicians and police recruited by far more powerful forces, the American CIA/Mob interests. Indeed it was not just the heroin traffic which mainly just passed through but Australia was ideally situated to provide a growing US demand for marijuana.

While my informants can give me minute detail on our home grown criminals they quickly develop amnesia when it comes to that next level, even though they don’t deny associations. In fact it was talk of purely local activities that bought up the linking names, research is filling the rest of the picture.

My long concern over corruption is taking on a new level of understanding with the information being pieced together. There is now a picture of a corrupt local cop linked to a corrupt state premier linked to a know CIA agent or US Mafia figure linked to the highest levels of US government. I can understand the reticence of my informants, even dead some of these characters looms large as a threat, and besides others always fill the gap left by the dead.

Curiosity is going to drive the desire to research further but I’m not sure just how or how much I’m willing to revel. A book on the Sydney activities of Sydney criminals, with the personal insights I’m being given, is certainly plenty to go on with. The rest of the story is compelling however.

In the end I’m seeing that corruption is just crime, that international leaders, political and corporate, can be just crooks like the local variety.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fire disaster

As I sit here in my South Pacific paradise, enduring a third day of intermittent torrential rain, I read that 31 fires are still burning out of control in Victoria. For a full week I’ve found the unfolding disaster in Victoria beyond words. Today I still find personal reflection pretty much irrelevant.

I note, with a great deal of pleasure, that people around the world care. I also note that foreign media find it easier to cover the story in detail than do our own media. Anyone who has ever reported on personal disaster will know how uncomfortable it really is to just be a hard nosed reporter.

Still, a week on and some very moving reports are coming through, not to dismiss the efforts of the reports we’ve had all week. I commend the following

The nation is mourning and searching for answers. How do we make sense of losing so many good people, of so much devastation? The painful truth

Marysville residents to see burned town

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

On arson:

Perhaps the hardest fact for everybody affected by these fires to accept is that they will not be the last. The Australian bush has evolved to burn and grow again. And for as long as there are morally malformed individuals in our midst, communities will suffer from the idiocies of arson. Australian editorial

Marysville the great unknown

This morning, the township's residents will be taken by bus into Marysville for the first time since last weekend's firestorm flattened their properties and devastated their lives.

At a closed meeting yesterday, police officers tried to prepare them before they re-entered what has become Australia's biggest crime scene.

Only 12 to 14 of hundreds of homes remain standing in the once pretty tourist town. The Australian

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leadership into the next decade

Like many people around the world, Canadians have been suffering for several months with a nagging chronic condition… The condition is Obama-envy, and the flare-up will be induced by the visit of the new President on Feb. 19. G&M

I understands the US looms large as the direct neighbour of Canada, the glare must be powerful as it constantly blinds Canadians to the realities of the rest of the word. I would hold the above assertion from Michael Adams is president of the Environics group of companies is demonstrably erroneous, at least for “many people around the world”.

Just look at your Australian cousins, more delighted that Obama, between the expected razzle dazzle of an election, is following the Kevin Rudd 'no drama' model; just quietly getting on with the job. PM Rudd is decidedly white and equally colourless politically, which suits Aussies just fine.

I personally long or those days when politicians had a fire in their bellies, but just coming out of thirty odd years of conservative politics of fear, entering a consequent economic readjustment, most people don’t want a daily diet of shock politics, they want our leaders to just do their jobs and fix the problems.

Doubtless many of us are thankful for Obama, but that is because our own national economies are tied to global trends and subject to the decisions made in Washington to a great degree. We just want our leaders to get on with the process of recovery without fanfare or fuss.


Rather than political theatrics we are increasingly choosing technocrats, leaders like Ignatieff in fact. But Canada is still stuck with Harper and the legacy of conservatism, albeit as a minority. I concede that is depressing but I doubt it will see the year out, and I doubt Canada wants an all singing all dancing political leadership.

Remember Harper took over a Conservative Party cobbled together from the bits and bobs of an historically splintered right, then shed any part of that with a semblance of policy direction, starting with the admittedly loathsome religious right. Overall, however, policy direction is not big on the conservative agenda.

Having gained the baton of leadership Harper then sought to secure it with rigid party discipline and a one man ministry. As Harpers star steadily wanes he has effectively left the ‘party’ bereft of serious leadership candidates. Without any effective voice the most promising, such as the treacherous technocrat David Emerson, were simply bored out of the game.

Other aspirants like the hapless walking accident Peter McKay, left to their own device with time on their hands, managed to foul their own aspirational nests. Ignatieff’s Liberals need only focus now on capturing the high ground with quiet, calm development of solutions the party and the country can wear.

Like Rudd and Obama Ignatieff needs to build a narrative on pragmatic solutions, fluid policies to be sure but 'outcomes driven' directions. I suspect, from observation of the Rudd government, there is a wide latitude for error as the global mess changes the dynamics at a rapid rate.

The media still try to beat up a story out of misfires, but the ‘no dramas’ approach by Rudd and now Obama is happily accepted by the wider community. It is common knowledge that we are in uncharted waters and navigation is problematic. But it remains doubly problematic for the likes of Harper who is potentially seen as part of the problem, not the solution.

So don’t be envious Canada, start aiming for your own Canadian flavoured solution to global impacts. You don’t want or need larger than life leaders, just hard working and focused leaders.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Friedman and Hayek undone

"With the impeccable sense of timing that has marked my career, my wife and I chose to renovate last year. But next spring we shall be joining millions of Canadians in saying "sod it." And then sending you the bill" Bob Rae

Bob Rae is the Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre and the Liberal foreign affairs critic, who should be even more respected for stepping back from the recent Canadian Liberal’s leadership race.

That race was between two fine candidates, Rae and Ignatieff and a wonderfully acid article by Rae - Goodbye 'Rae Days.' Hello 'Harper Holidays' – is something he could never have done as party leader. Bob Rae is far more valuable off to one side picking off Conservative policies and ministers.

From that position he can tell Stephen Harper – “I am no longer the Deficit Poster Boy and Punching Bag. You are. Wear it in the best of health.” He can tell the Neo-liberals; “Your old copies of Milton Friedman and Hayek's Road to Serfdom will somehow seem less relevant and helpful.”

More than that he is the voice that can overcome the anti-deficit trash we’ve been force fed for years. “…deficits are not the product of the devil incarnate, but happen when there are recessions.”

I had hoped that ego would not get the better of Bob Rae, in the leadership stakes. He is the right guy in the right place. The article is worth reading and the unfolding story will be worth watching.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Slaves to preconceived ideas

I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles Darwin, not just for coming up with "the single best idea anyone has ever had". Now a new book suggests that Darwin’s theory of evolution was motivated by his outrage against slavery.

It seems a long call come up with a such a complex attack on slavery, and despite the debates at the time I suspect had only a marginal effect. Darwin’s family, along with their kin, the Wedgewoods of pottery fame, were staunch abolitionists so the hypothesis presented in Darwin’s Sacred Cause remains credible.

In 1831 Darwin visited Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti and Tasmania on the Beagle. It was a naval brig and Darwin was on board essentially as a gentleman companion to the captain, someone to provide intelligent conversation on the voyage.

I confess a personal penchant for reflected glory, even exulted glory like Darwin’s. Over my years in Tasmania there were many reasons and opportunities to research the numerous colonial newspapers held in the state libraries. Despite the focus of any specific research there were numerous side tracks, including Darwin’s visit to the island.

What never occurred to me at the time was the thought of Darwin being a mere gentleman’s companion, in fact the excitement was unequivocally directed at the man himself, the ship as his vehicle, but no other aspect of the ship’s complement.

Duck-Billed Platypus

Doubtless the excitement had been stirred up by the scientific discoveries on the earlier part of the voyage, with colonial papers reporting London news at great length. The great theory was yet to be expounded, but the gentleman scientist was highly respected in the outer reaches of the Empire.

One thing I looked for in contemporary reports was a Darwin approached to the strange creature known as the Duck-Billed Platypus. When local naturalists sent specimens of this animal to London it was dismissed as an elaborate hoax, a prank by those ‘dimwitted colonials’.

I never found reference to the platypus, but maybe for the best as it would have been a difficult precursor to his later revelations. Even without the theory Darwin would have been recognised as a major figure, perhaps only revealing our slavery to preconceived ideas. Perhaps the great logical leap was indeed a political argument. Either way he remains one of my heroes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Questioning The Afghanistan Motive

When it comes to desired motives for our involvement in Afghanistan I tend to share the ideals of such exulted persons as Prime Minister Rudd and President Obama. The desire is a purely humanitarian one, the chance for the majority of people of that country to chose their preferred destiny.

For the Bush administration for the Afghan conflicts was primary stated purpose was the capture Osama bin Laden, a failed endeavour. As for the NATO and other international forces in the conflict there is a constant debate and disagreement over purpose.

“U.S. General John Craddock said all drug traffickers could be attacked, whether or not evidence connected them to the Taliban insurgency. The "guidance" was sent to General Egon Ramms, head of the NATO command at Brunssum in the Netherlands, and the commander of the NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan General David McKiernan, and neither wanted to follow it.” link

“…Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called on NATO allies Thursday to target Afghanistan's drug traffickers as part of a wider effort to confront a resurgent Taliban, which he said is using heroin money to fund the insurgency.” WP

We know now that there were no WDMs in Iraq, it was essentially an oil war. Increasingly evidence has emerged that Vietnam was not about ‘communism’ but about the control of the ‘Golden triangle’, the world opium trade – read heroin etc...

Afghanistan, despite various pathetic attempts to paint it as such, is not about oil, it is about opium. The global corporates aren’t fussy bout the actual commodity, so long as it pays well. I’m still researching and cast no allegations on anyone, but still two major corporates linked to legal production of opiates are Glaxo Smith Kline & Johnson & Johnson, both of whom have been under scrutiny in recent years.

So lets go back: “Drug production that was all but wiped out by the Taliban by 2001 has shot up. Afghan farmers grew enough opium in 2005-06 to make 610 tons of heroin — more than all the world's addicts consume in a year. . . “ link

If the Afghanistan conflict is really about the humanitarian needs of the people of that country then serious efforts would also be underway to find cash crops other than poppies. There are obviously forces who want that illicit drug supply to continue, and the war must be against them as well as brutal government regimes.

At the moment there are too many questions, too many wrong reasons why we are there. Criminal behaviour is no less criminal because it is sanctioned or organised by legitimate governments and corporations.