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.

AWB Oil-for-Food scandal The Players

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 players in the AWB scandal:

John Howard: Australian Prime Minister since March 1996. Leader of the Australian Liberal Party which currently governs federally in coalition with the National Party.

Alexander Downer: Australian Foreign Minister, jointly administers the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with Mark Vaille.

Mark Vaile: Deputy Prime Minister and leaders of the National Party. Jointly administers the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) with Alexander Downer.

Robert Bowker: Dr Bowker is a specialist on Middle East and Islamic issues. In Canberra, Dr Bowker has been the Director of the Middle East Section of DFAT three times, most recently in 1999-2000. From 2001-2003 he was seconded from DFAT to the Directing Staff of the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College, Canberra. He served as Ambassador to Egypt. He also denied removing a crucial AWB letter on Jordanian trucking firms from the department's files.

Alistair Nicholas: Austrade commissioner in Washington during 2000.

Jane Drake-Brockman: Was a senior DFAT head. denied removing a crucial AWB letter on Jordanian trucking firms from the department's files and lying about it. faxed letter, signed by an AWB executive, Charles Stott, has disappeared despite an official search for it. The fax was sent to the department on October 30, 2000, three days before Ms Drake-Brockman signed a reply granting AWB permission to enter into "a commercial arrangement" with a Jordanian trucking firm.

Michael Thawley: Former US ambassador; lobbied Congress to drop an investigation into allegations that Australia's wheat exporter paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime. Apparently Michael Thawley is now Senior Vice President of Capital Strategy Research Inc, a member of the Capital Group companies.

Trevor Flugge: Former chairman of the Australian Wheat Board then AWB Ltd following the privatization of the government corporation . Flugge was paid almost a million dollars for his work as a consultant marketing grain in Iraq. He [was] a director of a number of companies, including Woolmark and Wesfarmers. Several AWB executives, including senior managers Mark Emons, Nigel Officer and Tim Snowball, have given evidence to the inquiry that Flugg, who was voted out as chairman in 2002, knew that irregular payments were being made to Iraq and allowed it to happen because he did not want to lose valuable contracts to competitors. - Trevor Flügge Diary October 1999

Brendan Stewart: Stewart was elected by the directors as Chairman on 14 March 2002 and re-elected Chairman on 13 March 2003. He is also a non-executive director of AWB (International) Limited. Stewart operates a 3,200 hectare property that produces grain, cotton and cattle at Chinchilla, Queensland. He is a former President of Queensland Graingrowers Association and Grains Council of Australia and was Chair of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on the Australian Wheat Board Restructure and Vice President of National Farmers Federation (NFF). Apparently Stewart is currently applying his AWB experience to his Brisbane consultancy which takes on a broad range of business issues.

Andrew Lindberg: From 2000 until February 2006 he held the positions of managing director and board member of AWB Limited. He resigned from these positions in the wake of his appearance at the Cole Inquiry.

Mark Emons: Former AWB executive who told the Cole inquiry illicit payments had been going to Iraq to facilitate Australian wheat sales for years, even back to when it was still a statutory Government authority in 1999.

Michael Long: Former AWB executive who told the inquiry he had discovered when he was in Baghdad for the Howard Government immediately after the war in June 2003, that the AWB had been involved in kickbacks to Iraq.

Dominic Hogan Former sales executive for AWB, Dominic Hogan gave detailed evidence about exorbitant fees being paid to secure wheat deals, including a four million USD payment to a Pakistani agent for a one million tonne shipment of wheat.

Mohammed Medi-Saleh: Iraqi trade minister under Saddam Hussein. Saleh claimed seven years of sanctions had cost the Iraqi government more than $100bn from oil sales and had led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Outback Safari - Vicariously

I have been house sitting for the past month while my hosts have been employed on a tour of the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. [Map Of Western Australia] There was no problem for me, in this wonderful sub-tropical rainforest area to let my mind wander, but seeing the excellent photos of the Great Outback Safari allowed my mind to wander even further afield.

Those road signs on any journey tend to tell a story about a region. The fascination with this Gibb River Road sign is that regardless of the time of year, wet or dry essentially, any number of issues can close these unsealed roads. It might be flood or dust storm, wind or a myriad of events. As rugged as this country is, it is extremely sensitive and fragile to any attempt to change the natural order.

The story of these roads is every bit as fascinating and dramatic as that of Canada’s Ice Highways. The second image, taken from the centre bottom of the first, gives an idea of the transport dynamics. These huge road trains are the main way of moving cattle from the region to markets. Scales of economy might dictate four of these massive trailers; reality has it that all the cattle in a fourth trailer will die from suffocation in the dust cloud created.

From the earliest European settlement in the region cattle production was the key industry. These pastoral spreads average around 2500 Sq Kilometres (965 Sq miles) and support two or three head per square kilometre. Of course there is the problem then of getting this beef to distant markets, not to mention bringing in precious supplies.

There was one attempt to establish an air shipment service where the cattle were slaughtered and dressed, then the beef flown out, but in this vast land even that proved uneconomic. The road trains and trailers are still heavily relied on to move goods in and out.

Over the past few decades another industry has sprung up – diamonds. Fringing the region is the heavy iron ore mining, but diamonds are so far the main mining game here. Like De Beers, albeit for different reasons, I would have been just as happy if the resource had not been found at Argyle. However it is another link to that Ice Highway experience.

Shit happens…

Of course without adventure tourism I wouldn’t be writing this,

wouldn’t know to be so excited about an otherwise isolated region. But tourism is the latest ‘white European’s assault on this fragile land. Admittedly there seems to be an awareness among the adventure tourism promoters of the sensitivities of this land, but in the end they are still driven by profit.

For the owner of that license plate the claim is tongue in cheek, Claus and his dog travel these dusty roads in an old campervan towed by a pair of camels. There is a big difference between owning the land and belonging to the land so we’ll go with this bloke, Claus, who seems to simply belong to the land.

He is often encountered on the, even in the vast outback he stands out. Here he was happily reading Dickens’ Great Expectations while his camels gazed nearby. Characters like this enrich the safari experience without any great threat to the fragile environment.

The traditional owners had come to terms with this land many thousands of years ago, with some remarkable areas, like the Bungle Bungles, only coming to non-indigenous attention in the last few decades.

Personally I am quite happy to experience this wonderland vicariously, and not add my footprint. Though in reality the growing hunger for adventure tourism, for mineral resources and of course prime beef, will accelerate the pressures on the land.

Though I should qualify that comment on the tourism, which I am informed is in the hands of local women who really do understand and respect the nature of the land.

A real concern is perhaps the potential damage to one of the worlds great unknown treasures, some of the oldest rock art known to man – Gwion Gwion. But that is a story for another post.

Note: The photos used here are courtesy of Louise Caldwell and I am thankful for her permission to use them. While they might be among the more prosaic of the hundreds of images she bought back from this safari, please respect her copyright. If you want to know more about Louise’s photos you can contact her through my email address on this blog site.

Friday, August 14, 2009

When your forebear was a traitor

Family history has been a long time passion, albeit one that tends to ebb and flow, for this blogger. Part of the problem is being in the right place, i.e. where the recourses are, to effectively pursue this interest. However, thanks to technology and other interested parties I’ve recently been able to pull together some of my previous writing on the family story and have posted it on Cartledge Chronicles.

Now I don’t expect many would be inclined to get excited over someone else’s family history, but there are broader elements to this one. For a start I’m not inclined to the idea of lists (family trees) for their own sake, only as a research tool. But the stories are something else again.

The focus of these chronicles is my great-great grandfather James (1810 - 1877) who, shock horror, was a radical and in a recent book branded a traitor as well. James was an active participant in the Manchester Chartist movement, radical for seeking many of the social democratic rights we now expect and enjoy.

While I was busy resurrecting articles from long defunct websites (thanks to WayBack Machine) I was also delighted to come across an Australian book, Unrespectable radicals?, one of the few recent works on Chartism. But alas, one of the writers branded James a traitor, and my hackles rose.

Of course he had good reason. Following the civil unrest in the North of England, in which James featured, there were mass arrests, resulting in Lancaster trial, 1843. It was in this trial James again featured, giving Queens evidence against hiss associates.

The essay writer ascribes James’ change of heart to ‘saving his bacon’, a notion I’ve never been able to accept. Certainly I can see the prima facie case for such a notion, but t my mind it simply does not accord with the character I have been researching for so many years. Anyway, the story is there to see, it is a story which has encouraged my political views and my hunt to resolve the traitor claim.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An economic/political paradigm shift?

There was a school of thought which proclaimed the 1960 and 70’s represented a paradigm shift. Doubtless the ‘liberal’ indulgences led to the real thing, but I would argue that it occurred in the 1980s, quite probably a result of the tedium of constant social tension.

In the eighties a jaded world seemed ready to acct the concept that father (or the corporate interests) know best. It apparently became easy to just accept the cold, calm shift away from the need for personal responsibility. The neo-liberals had a ready market. As it was put by columnist Paul Sheehan, and admittedly in a different context, and with wider relevance than just Australia:

A surfeit of ideological passion brings problems and pain, and the reason Australia is not riven with social schisms is that the demographic ballast is provided by the apolitical tolerance of the great majority.

I have argued for some time a pendulum swing was imminent, and in some economies it has occurred. That is, a shift from corporate focused priorities to a recognition of broader social needs and outcomes. We could use the shorthand conservative to progressive, though I suggest neo-conservatives were in fact radicals though semantics just tends to muddy these waters.

Given the premise that the pendulum has largely reached its apex in is swinging back then a paradigm shift of some description is inevitable. The questions are now about direction and intensity, and the initial signs are change requiringing minimal dislocation or indeed action from the great majority.

The basis for any major shift now seems fairly clear. In the 18th and 19th centuries when Western economics were being formulated it made some sense to develop theoretical roadmaps. Through the 19th century into the 20th these developed into rigid ideologies and spawned even more rigid ideologies.

Without rejecting out of hand the theories of dead economists, as some suggest should happen, we do need to recognise that none of them have experienced the dynamics unique to our times. The major asset we can claim in our current situation is history. We have a plethora of theories and ideology to draw on, we also have a well drawn history of cause and effect. Smart business looks to its history, as should smart economies.

This paradigm shift should be based on the will and ability of economies to recognise specific dynamics and act on the required issues, with what is now being termed a pragmatic approach. Of course there will always be competing pressures from big business and other special interest groups. But dealing with them should not be tied to untenable or irrelevant ideology.

As lindsaylobe pointed out, in comments to the previous post, regulatory oversight should remain a clear responsibility for governments. Lindsay also makes strong points on the ability of sovereign countries/economies to act sensibly in their own interests in a global economy.

The realities of a paradigm shift would require the sort of confidence a government has when they know they have room to move. This is a great time for the US and Australia where the governments both have potential for many years without serious challenge.

Where to now?

People want change, they just don’t want to engage with change. Big business, or at least the smart ones, will fall in line with governments determined to create a new paradigm. The process, if it is to be enduring, should be slow and almost organic in nature. To be sure, it will come with a cost, but so did the neo-liberal experiment.

One enduring problem is the temptation to corruption, both government and business. Perhaps that should be a number one target for a paradigm shift. But there are still many targets. There has already been a greater shift to consultative forums which rather than seeking resolutions look for levels of mutual understanding. Part of that process should be to develop a respect for differing cultural needs and priorities.

Major international organisations, such as the UN, World Bank and IMF should now be closely considered to determine relevance and probable needs to make major adjustments to priorities, or even to abandonment in part or whole. This is surely the opportunity to move away from priorities of power retention and wealth generation of the few toward a broader social agenda.

The UN Security Council, for example, has long since outlived its usefulness. For too long it has served as a forum for competing powers to lock horns and butt heads, but in fact it produces nothing useful. The World Bank and IMF, I posit, have simply become the tools of select wealth generators, to the detriment of much of the worlds population.

I am not rejecting the cultural need for some economies to chase wealth, any more than I reject cultural imperatives which to western eyes seem inferior because they don’t depend on the whiz bangs and gimcracks which serve to divert our inner fears. This paradigm shift must recognise and embrace diversity.

Mao famously said, “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Mao is dead and his creation, China, is painfully reinventing itself. The US elite saw power in a different way and like Mao chose to ignore concepts of humanity in its quests. It was recently pointed out to me that the US only produces and sells ideas. That is quite possibly the case, and without change the social dislocation there is going to be enormous.

Dynamics of change

In times past the regular pendulum swings have tended to be impatient affairs laden with immutable ideology or simply plain greed. This shift has already shown a different character, one accepting to concept of recognizing the dynamic and moving forward from there. Love it or hate it we now have a sort of global economy. That is just a reality.

For positive change we need to put the impatience aside and focus on the real and varied needs of a world society. It will not and cannot happen overnight. Our best way forward now is patient dialogue and gradual consensus. I agree with Paul Sheehan’s point that the great majority are jaded. Without the benefit of research I would suggest this is the case at te end of each economic cycle, and the reason change can be imposed.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Buy American and other loony notions

Most Australian’s would not know about the ‘buy American’ campaign or particularly care, but Canada sure does and resents it. There seems little cause for concern. As always, simple concepts become prisoner to highly complex realities.

“Obama's stimulus spending has run into a problem: A shortage of General Electric water filters. GE makes them in Canada. Under the program's `Buy American' rules, that means the filters can't be used for work paid for by the $US787 billion ($935 billion) fund…. Contractors are searching the US in vain for filters as well as bolts and manhole covers needed to build wastewater plants, sewers and water pipes financed by the economic stimulus.”

Tom Pokorsky, president of Aquarius Technologies says ”Buy American has stopped US wastewater work this year. I'm surviving by selling to Canada.'' Even that market won't be safe if Buy American sparks a ‘Buy Canada retaliatory initiative.”

They call the Canadian dollar the Loony, after the bird gracing the coin, or maybe after the government managing the economy: Canadian Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is taking a stronger stand against currency traders, blaming speculators for at least some of the foreign-exchange volatility that is hampering Canada's economic rebound.

Obviously export countries like Canada and Australia fair better with lower exchange rates against the benchmark $USD. It just seems strange that one of the last governments professing to still be in the thrall of all out neo-liberalism should be proposing any sort of regulation. Stranger still when that government does not have the regulatory powers to intervene.

Flaherty can’t order The Bank of Canada to adjust rates or make currency purchases to effect exchange rates, possibly the most effective measures. It seems many Canadian commentators agree, and Flaherty’s only probable tool is his mouth, and his ability to effect sentiment.

All this in a the week a professor of global development studies at Queen's University, David McDonald told us: Like it or not, we're all neo-liberals now The article caught my eye because it is something we’ve discussed here over the past year, it’s just great to see someone with a little more gravitas saying it.

Mind you, while I agree with much of what McDonald says in his article I dispute the headline pasted on by the sub-editor. It was never ‘all’ of any one ideology; neo-liberals were never so hardline as to refuse to pick and choose the bits they wanted. The US free-traders operate strong farming subsidies, as do Canadians. John Howard was a dogged supporter of AWB, which was hardly ideologically neo-liberal.

Indeed, Flaherty’s own wishful thinking about intervening with the Loony is a case in point. Ideologies have never been applied fully or consistently. Which is why I also take issue with McDonald’s summary: “We may be witnessing the start of a new phase of this ideology, but there is no question that in our rush to save finance capital, we are doing more to shore it up than change it.”

I would hope we are witnessing a new phase, sans ideology. The model could well be JK Galbraith, a Keynesian to be sure, but far more concerned to find solution that work rather than just fill pre-conceived structures. The talk now is of an era of pragmatic economic policy; we’ve tried the others so it must be time now to try to simply address situations with appropriate solutions.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Meet the next former opposition leader of Australia

As a literary type of bloke I’ve been pondering on which author might conjure the name Godwin Grech as a key character. Beyond Roald Dahl and maybe Rowlings I’m flummoxed, it sounds far too contrived; a passionate but misguided soul, bound to bring himself undone by overdoing.

In fact Godwin Grech has starred endlessly in our headlines of late; the Australian Treasury official, neo-liberal tragic intent on returning to a semblance of the Howard years. Now considered a Treasury mole for the Liberal opposition contrived the ‘smoking gun’ designed to bring down the popular Rudd government.

The issue surrounded a quite proper attempt to ensure lines of credit for auto dealership floor stock in the wake of the global credit meltdown. If you cannot present autos for sale, there isn’t much point even building them, so jobs were at stake on a major basis. Grech had the responsibility of signing off on various support applications.

Actually it occurs to me that Bill Shakespeare might have penned this ripping yarn, it has all of his tragic hallmarks; Grech behind the curtain feeding lines to an overambitious princling, opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and his hatchet man Senator Eric Abetz, both too consumed with the promise of power to read the tea leaves.

Having attended political primary school within the Australian Liberal Party I know there are older and wiser heads (OWHs) shaking their heads, muttering I told you so. Turnbull was intent on turfing Rudd at the next election, due next year, come hell or high water. Turnbull wants to be prime minister.

But the OWHs know that in the grand cycle of politics, save the intervention of the gods, not the Godwins, Rudd has a clear decade before him. Impatient pretenders do not last as opposition leaders and OWHs will be looking for a stable seat warmer, having lost the last one to Turnbull’s impatience.

Turnbull, merchant banker and barrister, is no doubt a highly intelligent man, but dumb as all get out! I blame (another literary allusion) the fact that his mother ran away from home when he was quite young. Had she stayed she would have warned him repeatedly, “Malcolm, don’t run with sharp knives!” As it is he has a bad habit of falling on his own sword.

He might have survived this latest indiscretion, might still or a while as the OWHs sort out the party’s future, but he is doomed. At a time when no less a master of political expediency is in North Korea doing a George Washington – “I chopped down the cherry tree..” Turnbull is claiming innocence; "The idea that a senior public servant would forge a communication like this and then show it to the Opposition is extraordinary.''

In fact the extraordinary thing is that Turnbull chose to attack Rudd because he might have represented the interests of a member of the voting public, ‘mate’ or otherwise. That seems, in my humble opinion, to put Turnbull and the Liberal’s in an invidious position.

Prime Minister, opposition leader or humble back benchers are elected as our representatives. If an elected politician refused to represent me because he knows me I’d be really pissed off. In this case, as is often the case now, MPs can lobby public servants, but the responsibility for a decision is the with the bureaucrats.

It’s a neat trick of good leadership; “I’ll refer it to the department for consideration” No problem about being “I’m just a guy who caint say no…” In fact why should Rudd bother to say yes or no on a deal like this? If his mate has a legitimate claim which stands up to guidelines he’ll get the support.

Sadly Malcolm Turnbull is less concerned with detail than he is with obsession, not a good look for a long term opposition leader or a potential Prime Minister. Sadly because a good opposition serves the country in as many ways as a good government. Rudd offered effective scrutiny of the Howard government even before he became opposition leader, that is what the Liberals should be doing now.