30 April 2009

White-collar Underbelly

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

- Shakespeare Julius Caesar Act III Scene II

The sight of those two rogues, Vizard and Elliott, at Richard Pratt's funeral were reminiscent of the funeral scenes from Underbelly, where a different Carlton Crew were out in force.

The fawning over Pratt has received a great deal of attention, but it's a fraction of that showered on the late Kerry Packer. Both men had a mistress in Sydney, and both are responsible for screwing consumers and producers in search of a quick buck. Was the box market in Australia any less competitive than the television market? Has Graeme Samuel suffered more opprobrium for going after Pratt than Frank Costigan did for uttering the most timorous mention of Packer? At a time when the consequences of inadequate regulation are being felt across the community, the vilification of Samuel is absurd. Being bagged by John Elliott might be a badge of honour, but wouldn't Lindsay Fox be better off schtumm?

Whatever you may think of the merits of the way Pratt built his market power, it is likely that had he been a much less wealthy man, he would have been similarly philanthropic. Had he been a farmer like his father, or pursued either of the careers he flirted with in his youth (Aussie Rules player and Hollywood actor), Pratt demonstrated a greater sense of community in any of his toes than Packer ever had. Yet it was Packer who got the state memorial service.

Nobody (except, perhaps, Christopher Hitchens; and this must be one of the few subjects on which he has been silent) is obliged to speak the unvarnished truth about a man in the hours surrounding his death. Rudd struck the right note both in praising Pratt's achievements and not attending his funeral. While two of Rudd's predecessors attended Pratt's funeral, they diminished themselves by showing that they, Hawke and Howard, could have done more to rein in market-distorting greed and distance themselves from wealthy men in the name of good governance in their day, if only they'd had the guts to do so. It is doubtful that a Melbourne-based Prime Minister could have afforded not to be seen there.

Daniel Bernstein's comparison of Pratt with Marcus Einfeld is telling: a man of great achievement sullied by petty avarice, but because Einfeld is not yet physically dead he is denied the oratorical excesses excusable by grief.

Noticeable for being so quiet about Pratt are those lions of free enterprise, the Eye Pee Yay. Pratt made small producers pay more for an essential input to their business while restricting their capacity to go elsewhere for it at a better price. Consumers paid more for unrelated goods thanks to Pratt's connivance and greed. It was Adam Smith who identified collusion as an unfortunate part of the free market, but his more intellectually lazy heirs have a blind spot to market distortion and monopoly/oligopoly power. Now that Roskam has dipped out of Kooyong, and thereby denying a battle of intellectual titans with Frydenberg, he should work on remedying this defect (if it is possible to do so without the entire IPA suffering a capital strike).

It remains to be seen whether Anthony Pratt suffers the sorts of comparisons with his father under which Jamie Packer has laboured. The sins of Richard Pratt against the corporate law are visited upon the son, and Pratt's other corporate heirs at Visy. In going after Pratt, Graeme Samuel has shown more teeth than all Australian corporate regulators combined; together with the recent James Hardie decision, Australian business are on notice about sloppy compliance. No amount of philanthropy or the extraordinary Melbourne showbiz-political vortex that is AFL can save you from corporate malfeasance, it would seem.

Richard Pratt, child of the Depression and the Shoah, man of late twentieth century Australia; as the country entered the twentyfirst century you were lost, alternating between venal collusion and lavish generosity, both shocking to those incapable of either extreme. Now you've died and those who were part of your life (for good or ill) must make do without you: let's see how they go.

22 April 2009

The way to snark

This is the way to do political incorrectness, snark, kulturkrieg, counterintuitive journalism, out-of-the-box thinking, wading against the lefty tide - call it what you will. It’s well-researched and well-written, and specific in its targets. Greg Sheridan could never write an article like this if his life depended on it (nor could John Pilger). The link to al-Qaeda is measured and defined. The laziness of those who go after Israel is made clear, without the ideological blunderbuss hitting fair and foul alike (the very sort of intellectual imprecision that the targets of The Australian are often accused, but which its writers practice so often its credibility is almost exhausted). Well done on rescuing Anna Politkovskaya from a schlocky Diana-style martyrdom and putting her death in a squarely political and journalistic context.

Chechnya also shows the wisdom of what Americans call “the surge”, or (before he fell out of favour) “the Powell Doctrine”. I’d be fascinated to know if Australia has accepted any Chechnyan refugees. This does not make me any sort of expert on Chechnya but I am better informed that I was and challenged to consider issues I hadn’t considered much. I wish this article would be recognised by the various journalistic prizes at year’s end, but it probably won’t. This article is a real find in the lame junk shop of Australian media, and I was glad to have found it.

Pity the comments aren’t of similar quality (Moderates don’t take to the streets by definition, DH, they have work to do – and shame on you for not noticing people until they take to the streets and cause atrocities).

This doesn't take four months of undercover work to do - it's bloody marvellous and there should be more of it.

19 April 2009

The boat that burned

There was a boat full of desperate refugees making their way to Australia, and it caught fire. Rather than leaving them to die, as John Howard and Phillip Ruddock would have, these people have received medical care. Investigations are underway by the relevant authorities as to how this accident occurred, and how these people came to be in that predicament in the first place.

That's it really. The investigations are proceeding and once the information is available, that information will be made public. This piece started so well:
All critically and seriously hurt patients from the asylum seeker boat disaster are now in Australian hospitals or on their way, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

This is as it should be. The fact that Howard and Ruddock never balanced the tough-guy rhetoric of border protection with compassion for those who've lost everything but their lives means that they can't complain about being 'portrayed as uncaring'.

The MSM have made this story much bigger than it really is. It underreported the SIEV-X but more than made up for it with the Tampa fiasco, and every little boatload that arrived since has been treated with the sort of hysteria worthy of a full-scale invasion. That hysteria explains why people like Ruddock could refer to children as "it", and could refer to people being "processed" when it was merely their applications for asylum that were being processed. It explains why people could be detained in prison-like conditions when they had committed no crime against Australia, while any chav backpacker is free to clog this country's gutters with vomit. It explains why it takes phenomenal moral courage to block this hysteria and reach out to these people behind the wire: For those who've come across the sea, we've boundless plains to share ...

It would be easy just to bag the media for this, especially as they assume that their obsessions match exactly those of the public. However, what's been lacking in this whole debate is some examination of the facts behind the refugee issue, and some leadership based on those facts.

Colin Barnett should have resisted the urge to barge in with something he heard from someone who heard from someone who might have been there. It is always appalling when politicians pre-empt investigations with a silly pronouncement, and Barnett has no excuse for jumping in like that. Neither does Sharman Stone, whose credentials as a silly person are cemented by crawling over three-to-five dead bodies to get her fix of media attention. The Liberals are wrong on refugees, as Mike Steketee points out:
The debate on refugees in Australia is stuck in a time warp. Why are Liberals still talking up the threat of a few boatloads of people wanting to settle in Australia? Presumably because that is how they were conditioned by John Howard and Philip Ruddock in the wake of September 11. Perhaps there is a more venal purpose as well, such as whipping up xenophobia.

With all due respect to Ms Stone: stuff that.

Like the very use of the word "liberal" while hollowing out its meaning, the Liberals need to examine what it means to work with other countries to accept refugees. Accept the UN Refugee Convention 1951 in letter and spirit; or try to imagine what a new and better way of dealing with refugees might be, and work toward that. Propose a law that states explicitly that anyone on Australian territory who isn't a citizen, a permanent resident or a visa-holder is here illegally and can be detained just as other law-breakers are. Either way, this takes the issue onto a new and higher plane, which maximises your chance of controlling the debate - and that's how parties win government, as we saw with Rudd in '07.

This is one of the best articles in the Australian MSM about the refugee issue, the very sort of quietly informative article that is forced out in a tsunami of media hysteria. It describes an actual person and their experience of the very process that creates outcomes that, it would seem, we regard with distaste and seek to stop:
After receiving death threats and being chased through the streets of Kabul by gunmen, Mr Fahim first went to several embassies in Kabul seeking protection.

None was forthcoming, so he engaged the services of an "agent", a broker in a people-smuggling syndicate who promised him a passage to a safe country in exchange for money. Unlike many Afghans, Mr Fahim had the resources to pay the agent.

"There are agents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia," he said. "They offer a service. They are promising a better life so people are prepared to pay them a lot of money — 5000, 10,000, even 20,000 (US) dollars," he said. "We are told by the agents that they can co-ordinate everything, but it doesn't happen like that."

The problem here is that people don't get valid information about what it takes to get to Australia, and to stay here. You can get from Australia to almost any point on the globe for A$5000, so the thought of paying "agents" multiples of that seems crazy - unless you have no other alternative. Appointing an immigration ombudsman makes no difference to people who have no idea what an ombudsman is, or why this official is any different to any of the other officials, "agents" and who-knows else stand between an asylum-seeker and their asylum.

It's incumbent upon Australia to provide that information - up front, in easy-to-understand language and in different languages. The web is an excellent means of providing that, and there should be people who can deliver this message in person, simply and directly to whomever might seek it in the language(s) they understand. You can hunt down those "agents" house-by-house, or you can strip them publicly of the perception that they offer any value whatsoever.

It also reinforces the brand perception of Australia: up front, no bullshit, what you see is what you get.

There was an Australian immigration post at Islamabad and Ruddock closed it - the nearest Australian immigration advisory to southern Asia is in Bangkok. Every Australian diplomat and trade advisor in that region should be trained in the basics of the immigration program (and if it's too complex, simplify it).

Yeah, it costs money - but how much does it cost to have warships patrolling the northern coast for pathetic bands of ripped-off and desperate people, only to get tangled in legal and PR issues when they find them, then detain said people and hose down the media shitstorm that ensues?

Besides, if you warn people up front that there are penalties for breaking the law, and they come anyway, then both the "illegals" themselves and the bleeding-heart activists here have less grounds to complain about the penalties that follow.

See, we're not just whingers here at the Politically Homeless Institute. Occasionally we come up with constructive suggestions and clamber up to the high moral ground, from which we make pronouncements like this:
While boat arrivals are increasing, we are talking hundreds, not the thousands of earlier years. And the rise reflects a worldwide trend. It's a long bow to make too much of Kevin Rudd's limited changes removing the harsher edges of earlier policy. But this has been a hot-button issue that worked against Labor in 2001 — although it turned against the Coalition later.

Guess who wrote that sensible piece? I was surprised to find it was Michelle Grattan, too, using her experience for good (not getting caught up in quotidian hype) rather than ennui or getting swept up in trivial, evanescent nonsense.

If you can accept that the current Federal Government is not solely responsible for the Global Financial Crisis, you can accept that it is not responsible for the global upsurge of refugees. Unless, of course, you're an imbecile:
There is no doubt the Rudd Government has been widely reported internationally as softening Australian border controls. That must act as a magnet for illegal immigrants.

Greg Sheridan is never weaker than when he makes definite, declarative statements. He thinks that Australian immigration policy must be reactive, never proactive; that the most expensive option (financially, emotionally, politically, legally and every other way) is the only way to go. He even ended with a bit of sneaky revisionism:
It is understandable that the navy, after the children overboard incident in the Howard years, does not want to broadcast any information that it does not know for sure to be true.

This implies that the Royal Australian Navy was responsible for the claim that refugees on boats threw children overboard, rather than the Howard government and in particular, then-Defence Minister Peter Reith. This is not true: it was Reith, Ruddock and Howard who are to blame for this perception. Sheridan should be ashamed of himself, but probably isn't; he might declaim his motives as pure reportage and proclaim his fondness for Air Marshal Houston, but here we call him out for attempting to skew history.

Then, he does a Crabb-like theatre review:
But there was something shambolic and Inspector Clouseau-like about the joint press conference of Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus and Rear Admiral Alan Du Toit.

They seemed barely able to recite their name, rank and serial number. They certainly didn't look as though they were in charge.

In charge of what? And what's with the "name, rank and serial number" crap - did you put a government minister and a rear-admiral under arrest, Greg? Now that would be a story.

People were injured, missing, dead, and solid information hard to come by; it's so much easier, too easy in fact, just to dehumanise those who seek asylum and parade your reputation as a tough guy. That's the soft option, Greg, and we voted against that.

The way to put people-smugglers out of business is to be up front about what Australia will and won't accept. When the "agents" are being called out or ignored by those who are now prospective customers, then and only then will their market disappear. Taking action against people-smugglers without further damage to those who have suffered more than enough - this will require more than Greg Sheridan or Sharman Stone have done so far, and more imagination than they are capable.

18 April 2009

Back to the future

This is a post from a man trying to wheedle out of past mistakes. This is the work of a man who has not made enough mistakes and is determined to trash what little reputation he has. Neither help us make sense of the world in which we find ourselves, but both give us some insight to different forms of a delusional mindset that so recently governed us.

First to Perle, because his the the better-written and more substantial article:
FOR EIGHT years George W. Bush pulled the levers of government—sometimes frantically—never realizing that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. As a result, the foreign and security policies declared by the president in speeches, in public and private meetings, in backgrounders and memoranda often had little or no effect on the activities of the sprawling bureaucracies charged with carrying out the president’s policies. They didn’t need his directives: they had their own.

Again and again the president declared “unacceptable” activities that his administration went on to accept: North Korean nuclear weapons; North Korean missile tests; Iran’s nuclear-weapons program; the Russian invasion of Georgia; genocide in Sudan; Syrian and Iranian support for jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere — the list is long. Throughout his presidency, Bush demanded that these states change their ways. When they declined to do so, policy shifted to an unanchored, foundering diplomacy engineered by a diplomatic establishment ...

The fact that they "declined" to do so, Richard, is the whole point. Neocons (I'll get to Perle's taxonomy problems later) assured Bush that there would be no such decline.
... the Bush presidency — its credibility gravely diminished — became indistinguishable from the institutional worldview of the State Department. There it remains today.

Of course it does, because the neocon assurances came to nothing and their worldview bore no relation to what was actually happening. Attempts to replace the State Department as the most effective organ of US foreign policy failed. The US State Department offered those who made that country's foreign policy shelter against the storm of criticism that the old ways didn't work, and new ways aren't yet available: no think-tank or drugged-up disc-jockey offers that.

You'd expect Greg Sheridan to be stumbling out of the wreckage that Bush wrought, coughing and wiping the bulldust from his eyes. Not so:
Obama ... is the President of the US and as such an enormous force for good in the world. He represents the continuity of overwhelmingly beneficial American policy.

Obama is clearly a transitional president, moving America slowly away from shibboleths that no longer support it toward more sustainable structures. His work on Cuba and his shirtfronting the irrelevant Poms shows that he has started his country on a journey - not preserving the status quo in aspic, but not trashing it like Bush did to his predecessors' foreign policy. Not only does Greg miss the transition, he takes comfort that Obama hasn't left him exposed.
... it is impossible not to be annoyed by the double standards that the Bush-hating media applies to [Obama]. Can you imagine the noise and fuss that would be made if George W. Bush had tried to appoint to his cabinet a gaggle of charmed plutocrats who apparently felt the payment of tax was entirely optional?

What do you mean "if"? The "Bush-hating media", Greg, are no better or worse than the Bush-loving media.
On all the main issues — Iraq, Iran, Russia, China, Islamist terrorism, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, relations with allies — Obama’s first term is likely to look like Bush’s second.

This is the point where you (because you can't rely on someone like Greg Sheridan to help do it for you) call bullshit on Perle, because:

  • Iraq: Obama has all but set a timetable for withdrawal rather than a 'surge' that undercut the Iraqi government's standing and ability to provide for its own defence;

  • Iran: actively trying to open dialogue with the Iranian government and people, none of your "axis of evil" crap;

  • Russia, China: too early to tell;

  • Islamist terrorism: Obama's overtures to the Muslim world have produced the sort of mutual respect that neocons had promised Bush on entry to Baghdad in 2003, and dampened the appeal of inflammatory rhetoric;

  • Syria: even Greg Sheridan would not pretend that an opportunity like this was available to Bush (see also Iran, above);

  • the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: events, dear boy, events will ensure that this dispute is a whoe new kettle of fish from what it had been in 2005-09. The Netanyahu-Barak-Liberman government will keep things interesting, as will the degree to which moderate Palestinian leaders like Abbas can outflank the Israelis in appealing for the 1948 resolution to be completed (see also Iran, above; the US will hold the Israelis back from destroying Iran's nuclear facilities);

  • relations with allies: try telling Gordon Brown that it's business-as-usual in Washington; Sarkozy's traditional French sneering at American oafishness has been comprehensively blunted; about the only allies that can expect a "normal" relationship with the Obama Administration are Ireland, Canada and Australia - and even they/we are in for some surprises there.

It will not be easy to assess objectively the foreign and security policy of the Bush administration anytime soon.

Possibly because anyone who has a go at Bush, even in the most even-handed manner, will attract a shitstorm from lost-boy conservatives like Greg Sheridan. As Nixon was the only one who could go to China without being Red-baited by Richard Nixon, so too the only criticism of Bush acceptable to Sheridan will come from Sheridan.
Its central feature, the war in Iraq, has generated emotions that all but preclude rational discourse. And it will be nearly impossible to persuade those whose minds are made up — often on the basis of tendentious reporting and reckless blogs — to reconsider what they firmly believe they know.

That doesn't stop tendentious Sheridan nor my reckless self, though. It's hard to put a stop to that, as Perle seeks to do, by seeking to change history and nitpick a politically-scientific term out of its meaning.

"Neoconservative" is a term with a definite meaning, elucidated in detail by powerslut Leo Strauss with some assumptions about fundamental liberties and rule of law that haven't quite worked in practice. Irving Kristol gave an eloquent explanation here, before this elegant theory died in the arid desert of practice in Washington, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

First, Perle starts with a barrage of outrage and some potent denial":
the false claim that the decision to remove Saddam, and Bush policies generally, were made or significantly influenced by a few neoconservative “ideologues” who are most often described as having hidden their agenda of imperial ambition or the imposition of democracy by force or the promotion of Israeli interests at the expense of American ones or the reshaping of the Middle East for oil—or all of the above. Despite its seemingly endless repetition by politicians, academics, journalists and bloggers, that is not a serious argument.

I may have missed something, but I know of no statement, public or private, by any neoconservative in or near government, advocating the invasion of Iraq primarily for the purpose of promoting democracy or advancing some grand neoconservative vision.

Leaving aside the equivocation at the start of the latter paragraph, this is an attempt by a man to send a clarion forth from the equivocations of Washington politics to make a point, and to call out challengers. This is quite the statement, really: that the war in Iraq was not the neoconservatives' big chance to prove themselves.

Note also the other equivocation built in there:

Yairs. Hours of fun weaselling out of that one.
... laughable, as when Vice President Dick Cheney is first misrepresented and then described as a “neoconservative”

In thought, word and deed, Cheney belongs in the club described by Irving Kristol above.
... or when two subcabinet Defense Department officials, the vice president’s national-security adviser, one or two members of the NSC staff and a handful of commentators are said to have bamboozled the president, the vice president, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It's (now) clear that Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Tenet wanted to be fooled, and that Powell didn't do enough to head off this disaster. Wait till Perle's neo-umbrage confronts all that neo-Freudian stuff about Bush Jr. having succeeded where Bush Sr. failed.
So if it was not a neocon master plan, how did we end up invading Iraq? What were the considerations that led Bush to bring down Saddam Hussein’s regime by force? ... I BELIEVE that Bush went to war for the reasons — and only the reasons — he gave at the time: because he believed Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States that was far greater than the likely cost of removing him from power.

Trouble is, those reasons don't hold up. Perle continues to invoke 9/11, which is to harness a real casus belli to a fake one:
Destroying the sanctuary that al-Qaeda enjoyed in Afghanistan was essential and so became the first order of business. With it, al-Qaeda could plan, recruit, train, communicate, and manage the intelligence, logistics, and organization that 9/11 and its possible successors required. Without a sanctuary, al-Qaeda’s capacity to carry out another 9/11 would be greatly diminished. Moreover, the destruction of the Taliban regime would send a signal to other governments that allowed terrorists to operate from their territory: we would no longer regard terrorist acts of mass murder as crimes to be dealt with by the institutions of law enforcement alone.

All good stuff, but it doesn't explain Iraq.
Al-Qaeda was driven into hiding and the people of Afghanistan, especially Afghan women, were liberated from a brutal, repressive Taliban regime. I also believe the subsequent decision to remove Saddam Hussein was right.

Subsequent but not concominant, Richard. The work in Afghanistan is still undone as of 2009, because of Iraq.
And as for Israeli interests, well, the Israelis, who believed that Iran posed the greater threat, were strongly and often vociferously against the United States going into Iraq.

Do you not think they might have a point? One person at least shows signs of having learnt from experience:
Obama said: "The US is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. In fact our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people. I want to make it clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world, including my own country."

These were all sweet and sensible words by Obama, delivered with charm and grace. They were almost exactly the same as words Bush had uttered countless times. Yet the reaction in the Arab world was overwhelmingly positive.

One can only conclude that "the Arab world" is in thrall to the western Bush-hating, shoe throwing media, Greg. Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt, Bush does not. Bush's actions despoiled these fine sentiments and made sure that America's relationship with the Muslim world - including its own Muslim citizens - went rancid.
This is fascinating and it is very difficult to judge its precise significance.

Only if you're blinkered and chained to the ideas out of which Perle is trying to wriggle. Sheridan breaks out, not with a welter of quibbles, but with a lunge at racism:
There is also undoubtedly a racial aspect to all this. Much of the paranoia in Arab culture has a racial element. In the vast, informal alliance between Islamist extremism and the political Left in the West, a common enemy, a common villain, is Western colonialism. Obama, as an African-American, appeals, at least subconsciously, as a fellow victim of white colonialism rather than a representative of a new wave of white colonialism. Much of these dynamics are operating subconsciously, which is why their logical contradictions don't matter too much.

Let's overlook the interactions between Arabs and Africans over millenia, about which Sheridan clearly knows nothing. Having revealed to us the poverty of his thinking, he is poorly placed to act as a guide to the subconscious of an entire people.
Much as I love Indonesia, it probably is true that this had a greater resonance in the Arab world by being delivered in Turkey (not that Turks are Arabs) than it would have had if it had been delivered in Jakarta.

Nor is he well placed to patronise a nation of millions. Leave that to Dicky Perle:
In any case, the salient issue was not whether Saddam had stockpiles of WMD but whether he could produce them and place them in the hands of terrorists. The administration’s appalling inability to explain that this is what it was thinking and doing allowed the unearthing of stockpiles to become the test of whether it had correctly assessed the risk that Saddam might provide WMD to terrorists.

Unlike many people, I'm ready to admit the perception that Iraq had WMDs was real, and not some bogus spectre cooked-up by belligerent wackos. What I'm still not clear on is the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
The administration’s view, which I shared, was that few Iraqis would fight for Saddam while most would consider themselves liberated from the long nightmare of his reign of terror. I expected a quick victory and thought the cost was justified compared to the risk of another terrorist attack, this time with chemical or biological weapons.

A regime fighting for its own survival would have used those weapons on the troops set against it. The real proof that Saddam had no WMDs was the fact that US troops made it to Baghdad, and later to Saddam's hidey-hole, without being subject to these weapons. For all Perle's risk-management, he should have considered that along with the reality that, as with Iran in the late '70s, radical Islam really was the only internal opposition Saddam had left. The idea of Saddam colluding with al-Qaeda against the US was a furphy.

I wish we had journalists who would call bullshit on public figures regarding issues of substance. I'd forgive them their occasional focus on gaffes and other minor matters if only they stood up on the big issues. Perle got away with murder, preserving discredited neoconservatism for another day. Watchdogs like Greg Sheridan are revealed as blinkered oafs who insist on their own relevance while the facts of our world show they have no clue. Greg Sheridan actually inhibits your understanding of the world in which you live. No quibbles, no old-times-sake: stick a fork in him, he's done.

15 April 2009

How immoral, to lack a sense of proportion

Not being a high priest of anything, or even much of a parishioner, I went and did something relentlessly secular and read the SMH. What did I find? A wannabe Prime Minister doing Janet Albrechtsen impressions.

The first half of this article was your standard warmed-over-Keating, hand-me-my-cliche-bucket farrago you'd expect from Peter Costello. Iguana and the stripclub are hardly hot-button issues, and it would be truly sad if Costello is attempting to stoke those cold coals with a view to flinging them at Labor during the next election. Now that Costello's in opposition he can apply his lawyerly skills to the provisions of the What's Good For The Gander Act in a way that would otherwise make government impossible.

Having lulled people into shallow thinking on a shallow issue (and the accountants who run Fairfax, including John B., are after that not-too-bright demographic), Costello just assumed that he could apply shallow thinking to an area that exercises some of the finest minds of our time; and at which much, much more is at stake than Iguanagate.

Don't go on about morality when you're trying to equate Iguanagate with climate change. You know yourself when you're trying to force change that you have to resort to strident language - a bit like yourself on industrial relations in the '80s, really, or when you went after Ros Kelly for doing what the National Party was established to do.
I called my old press secretary last week to complain that he had never once advised me to boost my approval ratings with a couple of boozy hours in a lap-dance club.

You asked him the wrong question. It isn't that your approval ratings increase, it's that they failed to drop like a felled tree; which is what lazy members of a tired government hoped for, or demanded as their due. The old press secretary clearly knew better and went along with it.
I asked: "Where were you when I needed good ideas?"

He answered: "(a) I was never drunk enough to think of it, (b) you were never drunk enough to go through with it, and (c) you're from the Liberal Party."

By that he meant that since journalists are predominantly pro-Labor you can't expect easy treatment on the other side of politics.

Or: I'm sick of being blamed for your shortcomings and dopey assumptions, the Liberal Party should hope for much better than you can possibly offer, piss off.
The modern view is that a person's private conduct is not nearly as important as a person's public morality. And that turns on having the right political views and making the right pronouncements.

Nothing terribly modern about that - in fact, I'd venture it as a definition of the word "mainstream". That view explains why all those wife-beaters, drunks, closeted homosexuals, SP punters and flagellation addicts could lead outwardly respectable lives while mouthing and acting out the old pieties. See what happens when you go and write stuff for the newspaper without checking with your father-in-law?
Let's take another case study.

No, let's not. I take case studies from those imparting knowledge in an educational environment. Don't you abrogate an authority you don't have.
Take climate change.

Oh dear.

Evelyn Waugh once complained that watching one of his fellow writers use the English language was like watching a chimpanzee with a Sèvres vase. I think this is what's going to happen with one of the great questions of our age in the hands of Peter Costello. Being tone-deaf to the nature of the society in which he lives, how could he be anything but blind to the nature of his environment?
The way the argument is being presented you can be for aggressive targets to cut emissions or you are for rising tides, mass drownings, increased heat-related deaths, the destruction of the planet and the death of polar bears.

That is the sort of thing that might work in a bull session with Mitch Fifield and the Swinging Dicks, but in the cold light of day it raises more questions that it answers:

  1. Presented by whom? You can't spend the rest of your life chasing down a small number of Trotskyites, like you could at uni. Besides, all the old Trots are now writing for Quadrant. Leave the straw men to Tony Abbott.

  2. Is there a better way of presenting the argument in favour of lower emissions, and if so what is it? A Liberal leader should be looking for exactly that. The status quo is not sustainable, let alone a place on which to recline and review this debate like a form of entertainment. Who do you think you are, Annabel Crabb?

  3. Do you really think that targets to cut emissions are more "aggressive" than mass drownings, increased heat-related deaths and the destruction of the planet?

  4. Why whack the polar bears on at the end like that - if you could avoid killing polar bears without losing a lot of money or otherwise being inconvenienced, wouldn't you do it? If not, why not?

  5. Did you ask your old press secretary some of the above questions? You didn't get where you are, or where you were two years ago, by wasting your time jabbering to some loser who can't help you - and nor will you get where you want to go.

Menzies spent most of the 1940s applying a very fine mind to the issues of his day, and you could do worse than spend the next little while working out how Australian business can prosper while reducing carbon emissions, given that it ultimately can't if carbon emissions fail to be reduced. We've seen that banks can't be relied upon to keep themselves solvent or apply sensible risk assessment activities - and there is more at stake with the environment than with the GFC, and Menzies had his go at answering the questions he raised on those issues. What he did not do was dribble nonsense like this:
Characterising this as a moral question allows the high priests of emission targets to actually measure the morality of their opponents.

Again, who are these ill-defined clergy (high or otherwise) and do they have a point? All great causes need a moral element:

  • Subsidising failed industries was immoral in the 1980s when protectionism was to be reduced (do you remember that supporters of high tariffs used jobs to defend their position? I do).

  • Fighting Communists in Vietnam, Malaya and Korea was moral, refusing either to fight or help those who did was immoral.

  • Fighting Nazis was moral, Peter, and you yourself have sneered at appeasers who stood against Churchill. Can you imagine if Halifax or Chamberlain had not just wrung their hands in defence of their position, but come out with bullshit like this:

Take the German government. The way the argument is being presented you can be for aggressive war or you are for some sort of German Reich spreading throughout Europe, mass murders, no democratic input to government policy by people throughout Europe, northern Africa and elsewhere, the destruction of the planet and the death of Jews.

Glenn Milne would laugh at that. So would your old press secretary. Feel free to try it at your next bull session. A bit of Godwin’s Law never hurt anyone.
If anyone questions whether these targets will be met, if they will make a difference without the co-operation of major emitters, or what will happen to those who lose their jobs in industries affected, they can be dismissed as engaging in moral subterfuge.

Do you think the co-operation of manufacturers whose whole business model depended on high tariffs was really worth having? As for those who'll lose their jobs - same thing that happened to all those manufacturing and call-centre jobs that went offshore, same thing that happened to all those jobs shed by private equity takeovers to get a short sharp rise to the share price, same thing that happened to all those jobs not created by the Gordon-below-Franklin dam. Something will happen, Peter, because I have faith in the free market.
There is not much you can do wrong at a personal level as long as you're in favour of a better planet.

In other words: get the big issues right and it will be easier to overlook petty issues. If you have a problem with that, what could it possibly be?
Which brings me back to Belinda Neal. Why was she singled out for reprimand and counselling? It was not that she treated a waiter badly or lost her temper. The point is she was becoming a political nuisance who had to be distanced from the party leadership.

But she was unlucky with the timing. After recent events no backbencher will be ordered into anger management for yelling at a waiter.

If you were a leader, here's what you'd focus on:

  • Should individuals with significant power in a community feel free to yell at those with relatively little power, or not?

  • Is anger management worse than being yelled at by Belinda Neal?

  • Are Neal and Shagger Thomson big greenie warriors or something? That circle wasn't really closed in what passed for Costello's argument. I think they're just backbenchers toeing the line: if you've got a problem with government policy, why not take on Penny Wong or Rudd himself?

  • Can the Liberal Party come up with anyone who'd represent the good people of the NSW Central Coast better than Neal and Thomson, and if so how is Peter Costello helping them?

  • Do you faithfully promise that you have never, as deputy leader of your party for thirteen years, had to admonish an errant backbencher?

I've been feeling sorry for Peter Costello. Then, I read his articles and realise that he deserves no sympathy at all, let alone any support. He's no better than Belinda Neal, and hopefully has about the same chance of becoming Prime Minister. As Albrechtsen would say, stick to your day job.

09 April 2009

Ban the Health Services Union

After reading this, one can only assume that Nathan Rees is angry, just as he's angry about bikie gangs, late trains, decrepid hospitals, dopey ministers, and schools that don't teach nothin'. There is only one course of action for the State Governments of NSW and South Australia to take.

Ban the Health Services Union.

I have no idea whether or not the brothels allegedly patronised by Thomson and Jackson have engaged in people-smuggling and sexual slavery, or underpayment of whatever allowances sex workers get, or other activities used by these so-called unions in their "membership drives". Ken Ticehurst has been done out of a job by activities that were clearly, ah, below the belt and may have grounds for some sort of public redress. The very idea that the marital problems of the Jackson family should be footed by hard-working healthcare services people is just not on. Time for another dose of the angry pills, Mr Premier, and take a firm stand against rorting and criminal allegations of this sort.

Ban the Health Services Union.
In a terse statement, Mr Thomson dismissed as "incorrect and false" allegations that he had misused credit cards during his term as federal secretary of the Health Services Union, including cash advances exceeding $100,000 over five years.

Both incorrect and false at the same time? Luckily they weren't also counterfactual, erroneous, faulty, flawed, imprecise, improper, inaccurate, inappropriate, inexact, mistaken, not trustworthy, specious, unreliable, unseemly, unsound, unsuitable, untrue, way off, or wide of the mark - then they'd be in real trouble.

With all these claims and counter-claims, the HSU is clearly not in a position to meet its stated aims - but then again:
Getting involved [in the HSU] means:

  • ... Doing things you usually couldn't or wouldn't do alone

  • ... Having fun and doing something that you enjoy

Helping your colleagues with workplace issues is clearly an afterthought. If you believe that the HSU is about workers in the Health Sector, then you probably believe that the Bandidos are enthusiasts for two-wheeled vehicular transport, and I've got a bridge to sell you.

Ban the Health Services Union.

Read the lyrics of one of their club songs, and you can almost hear the roar of hogs in the background (people who care about families like Ropeable Rees better look away before they become incandescent):
Before the union did appear
My life was half as clear
Now I've got the power
To the working hour
And every other day of the year.

So though I'm a working man
I can ruin the government's plan
Though I'm not too hard
The sight of my card
Makes me some kind of superman.

Oh you don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
You don't get me I'm part of the union
Till the day I die, till the day I die.

Chilling stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Rees might not have a plan but he certainly hates the idea of it being ruined.

Ban the Health Services Union.

Sure, there was Dean Mighell and his "run-throughs" and his encounters with Suzana - but that was way back in the olden days when we were more innocent about elected officials misusing funds. Besides, the Libs were in government then, and any activity by John Howard against this kind of misuse of workers' funds would have been simple harassment. The laws against outlaw gangs clearly applies these troublemakers, raid their headquarters before someone does a drive-by shooting or used their health-service knowledge to permanently dispatch some factional warrior beyond the need for healthcare.

Ban the Health Services Union.

Seriously, what is with these people? The Prime Minister giggles and lunges his way around a New York strip club, and the NSW Central Coast - one of the fastest-growing urben centres in Australia - is represented by two turkeys, Shagger Thomson and Belinda "Don't you know who I am?" Neal. If the Liberal Party don't win both Robertson and Dobell at the next election they may as well give up now. The government needs to rebuild public trust with this vital part of our State, and decisive action must be taken (well, fixing Gosford and Wyong hospitals would be really expensive, and the railways have been under repair for twenty years to little real effect) - lunge for something quick and easy, Narky Nathan. Barry O'Farrell would never do it, just as it took Chifley to shoot striking coalminers. Be a Labor hero, and ...

Ban the Health Services Union.

You can help write the script for Underbelly 6, with the obligatory breasts in every shot thanks to the brothels and the marital bust-up, based on the meltdown described in the Wallace/Norington story linked above. If the authorities can break up the Mr Asia Bangkok/Singapore shuttle service, the BLF and the mighty Painers & Deckers Union, surely they can use the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) laws and ...

Ban the Health Services Union.

Sure, Australia needs more and better healthcare workers. Given the tightness of health budgets across the country you can't really incentivate them, but why not put the wind up them with a parliamentary committee (preferably not involving Craig Thomson) making the baleful cry: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Health Services Union?"

Ban the Health Services Union. I'm Alan Jones.

08 April 2009

The fast and the furious

Finally, the Federal Government has done what it should have done in the first place. The country will be better for being optic-fibred - not to the network, the node or any other rort but to the very premises where people live and work - on the government coin. Let's hope that the "compensation" that it feels obliged to offer those who had taken part in this stacked game is not too onerous.

The media coverage of this issue has fallen into four predictable ruts:

  • The political: tit-for-tat equal time to the major parties, government proposes and opposition opposes, John B. Fairfax-style "old-fashioned journalism".

  • The economic: whose share price is affected, and the incredible risk-aversion of Australia's fearless capitalists without the government to hold their hands, do their work for them and guarantee them a few dollars into the bargain.

  • The geeky: z0mg, evrything (w4t3vr) wil b fast & kewl?!?!?! :)

  • The Australian: No matter what, it's another stuff-up by the Rudd Government.

Let's take each of these apart to show why the public are poorly informed when journalists jump into the ruts they regard as trenches.

First, the political. This is as straight a piece of reporting as you'll find: description of what the Government is proposing, with quotes, and a response from the Opposition. Neither of these are examined.

The fact that the government is "under pressure" is neither here nor there: the government is always under pressure. This sort of reporting seeks to create drama where none exists. What's missing here is an examination of the issues raised:
But some analysts say the plan will cause broadband costs to rise, especially if there is not a large demand from households for the service.

Analysts should know that both the demand for and supply of increased data traffic over the internet have increased exponentially in recent years, and shows every sign of continuing. Will costs rise in real terms? Will these costs be offset by new economic possibilities not available now? Who are these analysts, and why are they stuck in the present when nobody else - the taxpayer/ citizen/ net-user included - isn't?
Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan has also defended the plan, but will also not say how much the cost will be to consumers.

"I'm not going to speculate about the price, that's why we're going to have the implementation study ...

Oh, so there's an implementation study to deal with the issue of cost? Why wasn't that at the top of the article?

But Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says the Government has no evidence to show the plan stacks up.

"They've said it's a great investment ... and yet we've just heard him say he does not know how many households will take it up. He does not know what price they will pay and, in fact, he does not know whether it's commercially viable at all," he told Radio National.

"This service to be commercially viable would require an enormous number, a very, very large percentage of households to take it up and to pay prices north of $150 a month."

Malcolm Turnbull was a director of one of Australia's first million-dollar internet companies, OzEmail. He should know that scaremongering about the internet is stupid and counterproductive, serving only to discourage the uptake of opportunities. A responsible fourth estate would have called him on it.
Opposition broadband spokesman Nick Minchin says the Government's announcement is just "an extraordinary and brazen cover-up" for the collapse of its previous $9.4 billion plan.

"We've got a $43 billion plan with no business case attached to it, no evidence that people actually want 100 megabits per second of download speed ... to warrant a $43 billion investment," he told ABC 2 News Breakfast.

If you go back through history you'll find some shellbacked reactionary fulminating against every initiative, every technological development big enough to cause some form of social dislocation. What happened here was that the government has decided to wade in and do it properly.

Consider the vast tracts of lands devoted to airports, the noise, and the propensity for planes to crash - Nick Minchin would have voted against air transport at every opportunity, particularly if the cruise liner industry and Cobb & Co brushed a few crumbs at the South Australian Division of the Liberal Party.

Nick Minchin is part of that generation of Liberals who came to office over the dead bodies of the protectionists. For a century up to the 1980s, Australian liberals generally believed that Australian industries needed to be protected from imports by tariffs and import restrictions. South Australia was one of the strongholds of this type of Liberalism, and Minchin was one of the prime movers in replacing them with low-tariff, deregulatory reformers (or with duffers who went along with this kind of policy). Now he's an ossified incumbent, not ready to retire but not willing to adapt to circumstances that he cannot direct, who stands in the way of reform that will enable quantum leaps in the Australian economy. This kind of economic development are simply not possible by sticking with the status quo - or hoping that Telstra may, out of the goodness of its heart and against all evidence, do the right thing and come up with a breathtakingly fast and comprehensive internet access service on its own, now that it can wade into the private market.
It is not yet clear what legislation will be needed to go through Parliament to implement the plan.

However, Senator Minchin denies the Coalition has already decided to block it.

"It's up to the Government to convince us of the merits of this proposal," he said.

No Nick, it isn't. It's up to your consultation with the wider community, business interests and individuals, to tell you whether this proposal is or isn't in the national interest. You demonstrate how well you're in touch with the community in every vote you take on the community's behalf. Then, when you go to the election, you show us how in-touch you are with the community's concerns, and the vote goes to the party that best represents the nation's interests over the coming three years. By waiting for the government to advise you, you're being a reactionary - and while Australians do not always vote for "progress", they never, ever vote for reactionaries. Mark Pesce said it best:
A decade ago [when Minchin was a minister] broadband was a solution looking for a problem. It offered little more than a faster web experience. Then Napster came along, and suddenly everyone wanted to share music, then movies and TV shows, and now everything. This is the age of sharing, both legal and illicit, and broadband internet is principally responsible for that.

Yet none of us knew back in 2000-01 [I hate to labour this point, but back when Minchin was a minister], as the dotcom bubble imploded, that another and brighter future lay just around the corner, driven by broadband. The internet was presented to us as a one-to-many publication medium - and we do use it to get our news. But the second wave of the internet - Web2.0 to its devotees - is all about sharing, collaborating, and pooling resources.

In such a future, there is no place for some pooh-bah to wait for the government of Australia to implore him not to vote against the future. Minchin fails to realise that ten years from now, today will be a decade ago and what people do now will be judged by the standard of the future. Minchin is not being a prudent custodian of the common weal. He is being obtuse and determinedly irrelevant. He thinks he's placing pressure on the government, when all he's really doing is giving them a stick with which to beat his own party.

As to Minchin, he can - to coin a phrase - catch the vision or catch the bus.

Again, "pressure" on government is irrelevant - it's a given. Judiciously applied pressure can be a force for good. Minchin will ultimately be judged as to whether he's a force for good, and journalism should be helping us form a judgment one way or another.

All Dizzy Lizzie Knight can tell you is that someone should be angry - but who, and at whom? Read the article from start to end and it still isn't clear.
The decision of the Federal Government to build a $43 billion high speed national broadband network looks like a bizarre and expensive piece of public policy.

Expensive yes, bizarre no. From the time it was proposed in the early '90s it was clear that separating infrastructure and retail was vital, and even the most basic bit of research should have uncovered that.
Only a few years ago the Howard government finished selling Telstra to the public. Now, having pocketed the proceeds, another government is creating a competitor that will seriously undermine Telstra's value.

Only if the public weren't aware that they were buying a dog of a stock, run by clowns who set themselves against the very people you need to help shore up a monopoly - the government.
It's hard to know which photo Telstra shareholders would rather pin to their dartboards - that of Kevin Rudd or Telstra's chairman, Don McGauchie.

Both the Howard and the Rudd governments have been hopelessly unsuccessful at getting Telstra over the line to roll out high speed broadband.

For its part, Telstra was recalcitrant at every turn, playing hardball with the competition regulators and the Government.

Answered your own question, haven't you? Telstra shareholders should have begged McGauchie and Trujillo not to piss off the government too much, yet they didn't and bought the whole Trujillo dream that a telco can be a feisty crew of free-market buccaneers (nowhere is telco free of close government regulation, not even in the United States - Elizabeth Knight has no excuse for not having called Trujillo and his troupe on this ludicrous position), especially where investments in new technology were almost non-existent.
Telstra took the view, as did many commentators, that no viable bid would be forthcoming because interested parties would be unable to fund such an ambitious project during the current financial crisis.

But no one counted on the fact that the Government would, in effect, go it alone.

Oh come on, massive economic opportunities were going begging. Somebody somewhere would have seen the pitiful infrastructure Telstra was offering and trumped it. This included many commentators - well, those who weren't covered in Trujillo's pocket-lint.
Telstra has now been caught flat-footed ...

Notice how only Telstra has been caught, and not the "many commentators"? Glad I'm not a Fairfax shareholder, I'd be furious.
It is far worse [for Telstra] because now it is faced with a competitor that is prepared to spend whatever it takes to build the best in the world - and it will not have to justify the commercial return.

So much for Telstra shareholders being angry at the government, then. Trujillo has depressed Telstra's share price by 20% since he came to office and he's not penalised for poor commercial returns under his stewardship. There once was a time when Telstra needn't have cared about commercial returns, now it's been hoist on that very petard. Bizarre, eh Elizabeth?
The new government-owned telco will be open access and state-of-the-art. Once it is built there will be little reason for Telstra's wholesale customers to put up with the monopolist a second longer. Those who remain with Telstra would only do so if its wholesale rates were slashed.

Telstra will soon learn what it is like to be on the losing side of competition.

Unless, of course, it gets off its backside and starts developing a network equal to, or better than, the competition. Wonder what the commentators might say about that?
As for the Government, it could have served taxpayers better by negotiating a deal with Telstra rather than replicating the infrastructure - running another set of wires up the same streets and into the same homes.

Firstly, there was no deal to do - this outfit had shirtfronted both Coalition and Labor governments. Secondly, would someone please explain to Elizabeth Knight the difference between copper-wire and fibre-optic cables?

For a start, Elizabeth, it could see the end of that nineteenth-century eyesore, the "telegraph" pole.
So will the Government be able to attract private money to this project in the medium to longer term? Perhaps not.

This may be a project that falls into the basket of public service, as it may never attract the kinds of returns that private money needs. (And selling the communications company to the same people who bought Telstra would be a tall order.)

Yeah, technophobes and Trujillo-lovers, keep whatever money you might have. You'll need it to pay your increasingly expensive Telstra bills.
The new network may generate demand for a better service that justifies higher prices. But only time will tell.

Someone so ignorant of the industry in which Telstra operates has no business commenting (or even commentating) on it.
... it will probably be some years (if ever) before the private sector will be convinced that this new network can supply a commercial return.

Until then the Government will need to be satisfied with the fact that it will enhance productivity and create jobs.

Yeah, talk about cold comfort. The question of the profitability of the fibre-optic telco does not arise until its sale is impending, and frankly it isn't impending in any way. The drivers of profitability are not yet apparent and, given the timescales involved - as well as some understanding of recent developments in telco - Elizabeth Knight should have the modesty to avoid this whole area rather than wade in with such ignorant drivel. If you've gone long on TLS shares and swoon over Sol, Elizabeth, that's your problem not anyone else's. No mention of the implementation study - yet another sign of research aversion.

On the technology, Pesce's article was surprisingly balanced, gushing over the possibilities while navigating the moral shoals of "lifestreaming" without falling into the Conroy pedo-filtering trap. So too, out of sight of the main editorial section of his paper, Mitchell Bingemann's surprisingly positive if lightweight article should have been read by Nick Minchin before he revealed himself as a Cheneyan black hole of negativity.

However, this article is more consistent - you can see Telstra as Atlas trying to shrug off Rudd's attempts to tie it down:
Telstra insiders said the company was concerned about the possibility of functional separation -- a process undertaken by former state-owned monopolies in Britain and New Zealand -- and the sale of its broadband cable network or interest in Foxtel. However, they said Telstra was optimistic that discussions with government would provide positive outcomes for both parties.

Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie said the company looked forward "to having constructive discussions with the Government at the earliest opportunity".

Shares in Telstra rose ... yesterday as investors bet it would be allowed to participate in the proposed fibre-to-the-home network.

McGauchie is talking like a man with a gun to his temple, and Bingemann should know better than to rehash the old "functional separation" thing - didn't work for investment banking and their advisory services, did it?
Lobby group the Competitive Carriers Coalition said it was now only a matter of time before Telstra would be forced to functional separation. "I give them six months," executive director David Forman said. "They can change their ways or they can have their ways changed for them.

"The regulatory paper says today's arrangements are not working and that we need drastic reform before this NBN is completed in the next eight years.

"We need a much stronger, more effective internal separation of Telstra."

Telstra should take the attitude that if people want functional separation, it should give it to them good and hard. Sell off the retail arm and use the cash to invest in the sort of infrastructure that makes NBN look like dial-up - and do it within the eight long, lumbering years Rudd is talking about. Give us some analysis, Mitchell!

A straight reporting piece on Tasmania as the pilot project, but again no forethought:
Mr Bartlett said that by being the first State to benefit from the new $43 billion super-speed internet, Tasmania would steal a commercial edge over other states and much of Asia.

Yes, and when (not if) other states and much of Asia overtakes them, won't they whinge again - just like they did when all that Harradine money melted away. You know it, so let's see it. Do I have to do all the work myself?

In sharp contrast to Elizabeth Knight, Michael Sainsbury called it as a failure for Trujillo, but generally this piece by Jennifer Hewett follows the house line at The Australian that Rudd can't do anything right, that plucky Telstra is just the whipping boy for failed government policy. The whole issue of monopolisation and future growth is completely ignored. Poor stuff, worthy of Janet Albrechtsen at her worst. Then, there's this:
"It's a cliche but the devil is in the detail in terms of pricing," Senator Xenophon said. "We just don't know how affordable it will be for consumers."

We don't know how Telstra can charge us top-dollar for rock-bottom service, but it does. Senator Xenophon, don't fall into the Minchin trap of thinking this is all about the government - hold out for South Australia to get a better deal by all means, but think about what this promises.

Who does Xenophon consult on these matters, Christian? What sources of information - government or not - does he draw upon? Who does he trust?
Senator Fielding has echoed Mr Turnbull's concerns.

"$150 a month is a heck of a lot of money, seriously," he told The Australian.


This is a paltry effort from the Australian media, on such an important issue. It doesn't help us understand what this is all going to mean, with our money, or economy, our government and our society going forward. Nobody need complain that MSM circulation figures are declining when, at the very time you want information on the big issues, they're just not capable of providing it.

06 April 2009

You first

When times are tough there is an increase in activity by fascists, a disgusting predicament that is yet another side-effect of the failure to properly regulate the economy to avoid the type of economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Australia has a proud record in fighting fascism, and it seems the good works continue with FDB. Given the origins of their name I thought they were just another Trotskyite fire-with-fire AFA outfit that lowered themselves to skinhead standards of direct action violence, but Fight Dem Back plays a smarter game in terms of getting the information out there and blowing down the facades ("Australian Long Distance Owners and Drivers Association" my arse!) behind which these bullies cower.

At last, the idea that those who would deny free speech and citizenship to others are not themselves worthy of protection in public debate has been recognised, and forms a basic motivation for FDB. It is hypocrisy to extend neonazi groups a freedom that they would suppress. It is fundamental to participation in debate that one does not deny the freedom to associate, speak out and work peacefully for social reform to others, on a racial basis or any other. No patriot would divide and conquer on the basis of race. Germans and Austrians treated these people with kid gloves and had their countries smashed as a result; other countries would do well to shut them out of the public debate, and FDB show how they shrivel and wince when the sun shines upon them. Nobody needs to hear what they have to say, we've heard it all before and the hearing of it makes things worse not better, makes free speech weaker not stronger for pretending that its enemies may have a point.

It is a shame that this clown hasn't had the book thrown at her, subject to criminal investigation well beyond the inconvenience of being "suspended". Any Thales employee who has acted under her instruction cannot be certain that they have done so toward the better defence of Australia.

Sometimes they're funny, like the Illinois Nazi clip above, or the Hitler tribute on Anzac Day (could they miss the point any more than they have? Why not re-enact the Kormoran and sink themselves off the WA coast), or Saleem's mispronunciation of his own surname. Most of the time though, they should be firmly cauterised from public participation by exposure and marginalisation. I'm not a member of FDB and, having seen far-right stacks in the Liberal Party, understand their restricted membership. I congratulate them on their fine work and wish it were reinforced by the kind of public honours that currently go to insider traders. I hope it only ends when the last fascist chokes on their own bile.

Gandhi said that the Jews of 1940s Europe, rather than resisting the Nazis, should have committed mass suicide to draw attention to their plight - he had it the wrong way around. Fascists, who would seek the extermination of whole peoples, who claim that others sully the world in which they would live, should top themselves to draw attention to their plight and demonstrate what they want.

03 April 2009

Playing the bastard

The economic situation in the United States is so grave that nobody wants to do the dirty work of identifying companies that have become such a drain upon the US (and global) economy that their legal status as a going concern has to cease, but in such a way that requires both considerable finesse and sheer scale of operation that is beyond the power of mere liquidators. Firms like Citibank and General Motors require dissolution in such a way that they will no longer encumber any prospect of recovery, but without the clumsy pole-axing or neglect that befell Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bear Stearns.

So far, this has fallen to the President, a man whose political capital is significant but not infinite. The Treasury Secretary is reprising his mistake of the Asian crisis of '97 and striving to do too little. The Commerce Secretary, a job that has gone from being an irrelevance (the last occupant of that office to do anything with it was Malcolm Baldrige) to impossibly onerous, as no politician wants to wade into their donor/peer class and send one of their own into the library with a revolver. Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg shunned the office, so it finally fell to a small-state governor who would not pretend to be able to play the big-league commercial and political game - a man who, like Senator Burris, is such a narrow striver that it almost invalidates the attainment of First [member of disadvantaged group] to achieve [high office].

Some will have to play the bastard, someone tough enough to stick to his guns while at the same time consulting widely, negotiating the tides and undertow of politics, while not a captive of what might loosely be termed the US East Coast political-business establishment. Someone who can take the heat off elected officials like President Obama without usurping his power or his freedom to act in other areas of policy.

Who would do it? Nobody who has pocketed a fat Wall Street bonus cheque, like Henry Paulson or Robert Rubin, can escape the perception of having taken tainted coin - or worse, biting the hand that fed him and his. It's a hard ask: Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair have the stature but they'd probably find the Israel-Palestine conflict clearer and less fraught than the Global Financial Crisis. Neither has much purchase with east Asian powers who find themselves with the whip hand, though their may be some residual affection for Kissinger in Beijing.

God help us, there is a man who is actually lobbying for the job. He may be familiar to those in the US administration who were in the Clinton Administration, though they could be forgiven for struggling to place him. He hasn't played the big-league Wall Street-Washington axis, though he seems game and many would fancy his chances. He has some familiarity among east Asian powers. He has been writing articles and appearing on telly.

Of course I'm not referring to Peter Costello, but Paul Keating. John Hewson can fulminate against Tim Geithner and it looks like just another bit of commentary. John Howard may or may not have an opinion, but now that Bush has gone he's receded so far into history that even Federal Parliamentary Liberals realise he has little to offer. Bob Hawke is still interested in any deals that are going with China that he won't rock the boat for the sake of idle comment, and his thirst for the grandstand seems at last to be slaked. Keating is pawing the ground, wanting to get back into the big time, wanting to use the current crisis to burnish an economic legacy every bit as mixed as Tim Geithner's.

Keating is playing a wider game than wanting to be a corporate undertaker, or even defusing the complex arrangements surrounding the defunct behemoths littering the corporate landscape. His talk of restructuring arrangements like the World Bank and the IMF is grand enough, but in the execution of this new world order it will be necessary to navigate the rapids of Washington, and shirtfront some "zombie corporations" to encourage the others, and make people realise that a new order really does mean that the old cozy ways of kickbacks and soft regulation will not do.

Who else but Paul Keating could slip in the shiv and call it acupuncture?

Keating's turn of phrase would be "a breath of fresh air" in Washington and New York media. Murdoch would probably resist the urge to dust him up too much given current circumstances - Murdoch's operation is hardly likely to set their full might against him as they did in the political context of 1990s Australia.

He would be regarded warily in Europe but his task there is probably not impossible, with Labour/Social Democrats in government and receptive to one of their own who survived a recession politically (again, without any political mistake he might make attributed directly back to them). He has standing in Asia, but would have to start from scratch in Russia, India and western Asia.

This flurry of activity shows that Keating doesn't want to just comment on the global economy, nor does he want to be on some committee somewhere - he's actively seeking to get in and shape the architecture himself. There aren't many other takers. Gordon Brown is stuck in domestic politics and would have to see out the job he coveted for so long, and pretty much every other leader is either new to their national leadership or are so tainted by it that they can't transcend to the global level.

He's doing the big-picture stuff, but unlike his mentor Jack Lang wittering away in his little office in Surry Hills, Keating is out there getting noticed by people with the power to make these sorts of decisions. He has the opportunity to lift his legacy beyond the kuturkrieg. He won't be able to remake global economic frameworks Bretton Woods-style because the current predicament involves nothing like the devastation and geopolitical power upheavals of World War II. Don't worry, it isn't like Australia is getting ahead of the game to any extent, or that Keating's grandiosity is unfettered.

For Kevin Rudd, having Keating in a global role is squarely in line with his worldview and his ambitions for Australia on the world stage. Domestically, it also cements a perception that Labor is the party for getting Australia out of recession, while the Liberals are just good-time Charlies only capable of frittering away the boomtime gains (a perception that will be reinforced, not diminished, by putting up Costello as leader).