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Archive for November, 2009

US popular and political mindsets are really perpexing to the outsider. Congress is deeply divided over White House proposals for health care reform legislation which will establish a government-run health insurance plan. Previous attempts under President Clinton failed, with staunch opposition from within his own party, as now under Obama. Apparently the whole US free enterprise edifice and its philosophical underpinnings are under threat from such a long overdue and seemingly civilised forward step. The opposition is vociferous.

Presently 47 million US citizens have no health insurance at all, and the proposed government plan will cover an estimated 31 million of them. The private health insurance industry will continue unfettered as before, so its hardly a radical ‘nationalisation’ of their health system. But something in their genes stops Americans from wanting to help their most disadvantaged fellow citizens – surely one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. What’s going on there? (Imagine Australia without Medicare)

The US health reform plan is estimated to cost US$848 billion over ten years. Compare this with their annual military budgets: in 2010 the ‘base’ defense department budget is $497 billion plus another $130 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total expenditure on those wars since 2001 is now estimated at $951 billion. At current troop levels the Afghan war costs $3.6 billion per month. Do the sums: you could pay for the proposed health plan out of the military budget and still fight a neat little Afghan war.

Honestly, why all that fuss and ferocious resistance by both US elected representatives and their voters to the idea of assuring their citizens at least some basic health care, rather than none? If that’s setting an example as leaders of the free world, then civilisation still hasn’t taken hold in the good ol’ US of A. Come to think of it, when you consider American predilections for carrying guns, banning teaching of evolution in favour of ‘creationism’, and the death penalty, maybe it makes perfect sense. As does exporting democracy to Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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NSW Parliament may be Australia’s oldest, but it’s become a funny form of democracy. Our voting system of course entrenches the tweedle dum & tweedle dee two-party system of Lib-Lab tyranny, where they fight over occupying the most middle ground. No doubt this is a fair simulacre of the mass voter mindset, and certainly of the mortgage-driven popular consumer zeitgeist, but democracy has lost its frisson, to say the least. And any real ballot choice.

As the mostly incumbent government in this hollowed-out and politically exhausted terminal state of NSW, Labor has refined its tricks, starting with so-called pre-selection. The long tradition of branch-stacking that effectively disenfranchised its ever-diminishing party membership base, has evolved into a more efficient system. Nowadays the state party executive simply dispenses with branch members altogether by parachuting in their latest party hack.

Factions are another vital cog in these Labor machinations: left, right or centre, we don’t have a clue what they represent, but they’re entitled to share in the political goodies. And infamous ‘powerbrokers’ keep it all churning by re-arranging ministerial deckchairs on NSW Titanic, organising internal coup d’etats and taking care of ‘mates’. The recent Tripodi sacking was mildly entertaining, with the sackee’s guileless protestations of loyal innocence accompanied by a predictable family photo!

Add in big doses of influence and corruption with party donations from everyone trying to buy favours, from the ubiquitous developers downwards, plus the open door policy of lobbyist coffee shop meeting culture, and you have a recipe for devalued, downtrodden, dud democracy in NSW. Unfortunately there is no Hercules in sight to clean out its Augean political stables. Democracy in name only, but government by self-appointed cliques is its modus operandi.

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All-male St Paul’s College at Sydney University was described as having an ‘alcohol-soaked culture of ritualistic sexism’, following disclosure of pro-rape Facebook page ‘Define Statutory’ put up by its enlightened residents. Rape charges at neighbour colleges have been raised; demeaning initiations, point-scoring for sexual conquest and other low forms of immature macho behaviour. Social events include ‘Tight & White’ evenings where funsters soak girls’ clothes, drink to excess and more.

Unsurprisingly many St Paul’s collegians come from ‘elite’ all-male private schools. Affluence and education are no protection from poor socialisation at single sex schools. KC has reported on this central problem and the positive outcomes of changing to co-educational schools.

Continuing the same abnormal segregation into university life is a recipe for further trouble. Male solidarity, team sport, alcohol and hormones are mixed with adult privileges and the heady Oxbridge treatment & ethos promoted by these colleges.  Parallels have been drawn with the aggressive, predatory sexual behaviour of ‘elite’ NRL players.

St Paul himself (more hellenistic jew than anglican) had a mixed track record of enlightened attitudes to women, telling his mate Timothy: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”. He said plenty more about the primacy of men, Adam before Eve, etc., which opens up some fascinating theological discussion. Suffice to say that ‘post-Pauline’ scholars toned it all down by re-interpreting scriptures to give him better press.

Strangely St Paul’s words to Tim are not mentioned in the college website. But perhaps his teachings are handed down in their secret initiation rites, covering group think techniques, male tribalism, drinking protocols, chivalry and etiquette with the opposite sex.

Predictably the university hierarchy from VC down is appalled and shocked by the scandalous revelations, promising procedural reviews and disciplinary action against a few miscreants (most collegians being well-behaved, earnest lads). The giant elephant in the room remains undiscussed: the fundamental perversity of this permissive, male-only environment.

All those in denial should, like St Paul, take the road to Damascus. Conversion to more enlightened principles of equality of the sexes awaits them. And remember: apartheid always finishes badly.

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Only kidding, that should be Cetaceans. As we all know it refers to our marine mammal cousins: dolphins and whales. Last week a small flotilla of sea kayaks arrived at Bondi Beach after a 36 day ocean voyage 700 kms from Byron Bay in northern NSW – members of Surfers for Cetaceans, organised for anti-whaling protest and protection of both species. Their Transparentsea campaign highlights the Rudd government’s failure to take action against Japanese whaling.

kayak-action[1]

Japan’s whaling fleet will soon be in Antarctica to kill this season’s target catch of 900 whales for ‘scientific research’ (8728 killed in 10 yrs). Ecology warriors on Sea Shepherd’s ship ‘Steve Irwin’ will also set sail soon for Antarctic waters, where they will follow the fleet and intervene, with their Whale Defense Campaign dubbed Operation Waltzing Matilda.

The Last Whale’ by Chris Pash is a recent book about Australia’s own whaling past and worth a read. It documents the role of a small group of activists who took a stand at Albany in WA in the 1970s to help close down the remnants of our whaling industry. Some were pioneers of Greenpeace Australia. 

Direct action, documentation, film, speaking out and courage can change the world. KC reported on documentary film ‘The Cove”, about one man’s crusade to stop the secretive annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji Japan, and its effect in changing hardened Japanese official attitudes and reactions.

toter-wal[1]

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Liberal Party backroom apparatchiks have been indulging in dirty tricks as their NSW factions brawl over pre-selections for upcoming elections. The nadir was reached with a YouTube video depicting Federal backbencher Alex Hawke as a ranting Adolf Hitler.

Fall-out has been instructive with Tom Tudehope from the Federal Leader’s office already fingered by an ’email chain’. Although not at all involved in production of the video, his resignation has been accepted, which makes perfect sense, and of course no-one is to blame. And Charles Perrotet, ‘key staffer’ to ultra-right NSW faction boss David Clarke, has undergone disciplinary action for his link in said chain, despite claiming emails were ‘doctored’.

Naturally all the kerfuffle, falling on swords and denial has revealed ‘anonymous sources’ as responsible for the dastardly deeds. Or more accurately, to mix another medieval metaphor, staffers were hoisted on their own petards. Use of social networks as tools of political assasination is still in development phase.

Actually the most interesting revelation in this low-life story was that Malcolm’s Tom is one of 24 staff in the office of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and his job is apparently to file Malcolm’s twitters! Let’s hope the other 23 have something marginally more useful to do, like twittering with the boss about dirty tricks co-authored in his office before they hit the fan.

galahs

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‘Sculptures by the Sea’ is a hugely popular annual event at Sydney’s Tamarama Beach with sculptures along spectacular cliff tops, and 500,000 visitors. This year’s controversy generated PR frisson and backwardness.

‘Little Boy Lost’ by Paul Trefry is a life-like but oversized fibreglass rendition of a naked small boy with a spaced look. After initial exposure, so to speak, it was decided that it’s nascent willy could shock families, encourage pedophiles or whatever. Event organisers girded his loins with grungy speedos. This pre-emptive strike was self-censorship at its worst, as there had been no public complaints. Weasel words from the event director and local council were the only justification offered for this ridiculous modesty.

After a few days the artist finally revolted over this pathetic intrusion and removed the offending cossie, hopefully restoring lost boy’s innocence, and threatening to withdraw the sculpture if he was contradicted. References to Bill Henson and utterances from child protection lobbyists were rife, but common sense prevailed and of course the sculpture has entertained the masses. Council and the event director ducked for cover with more weasel words and now nobody was responsible for the original decision to censor.  Bravo Paul!

Folks, its actually made from fibreglass, not pulsating flesh, and represents the most natural form of naked innocence, found of course ironically on all Australian beaches. It’s amazing and scary how self-appointed moral guardians and anti-pedophilic hysteria can induce muddle-headed and reactionary thinking in people who should know better. Fortunately Fahrenheit 451 had not been applied to the event catalogue.

Little Boy Lost 1Little Boy Lost 3

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Michael Moore’s new film ventures into the broken lives of low income Americans suffering in the sub-prime melt-down and so-called global financial crisis, and also into the corridors of US executive and corporate power. It’s not a pretty picture! Moore’s usual cheap technique of walking up to security guards and doormen of said headquarters with his cameras is put to good effect and raises our smiles. And he shamelessly displays the victims’ distress.

Capitalism and corporatism are conflated, but when Moore attacks the US$700 billion bail-out of the banking and financial sectors, its understandable. The contrast between high-flying executive greed on Wall Street and those working class lives deeply affected by property foreclosure and job loss is stark and shocking. The influx of Goldman Sachs executives into senior US Treasury roles before and after their failures shows the cynical control exercised by these vultures. Secretary Hank Paulson is the apotheosis of this take-over, with a fortune estimated at $700 million before seamlessly assuming the top economic job in US government. Their shenanigans with President Bush in pushing the bail-out package through Congress are a travesty of democracy, with some courageous congressmen & women valiantly resisting.

Worker resistance too, in a factory bankrupted by Bank of America, to loss of final pay entitlements is an heroic tale. In a glare of media coverage, the bank finally relents: jubilant workers leave their factory sit-in and receive an average $6000 pay-out!  Bank of America paid $228 million to 13 executives last year, or $17.5 million each. Combined with Citigroup their bail-out was $90 billion.

Airline pilots earning $19,000 per year are grossly exploited in that deregulated industry! ‘Pennies for Pilots’ literally allows flying customers to leave money in begging buckets. And so it goes. Ugly, unregulated modern American capitalism in its heartland: no minimum wages, no union protection, no health cover.

Franklin Roosevelt’s lost attempt in his final years to introduce a second bill of rights to guarantee the basic rights of Americans to a job, home, health care, etc. is a little-known episode in America’s relentless drive to incredible income disparity: 1% of the population owns 95% of the nation’s wealth.  

Moore’s final light-hearted take on Wall Street when he rolls out ‘crime scene’ police tape around bank buildings, calling their inhabitants to come out, still leaves behind feelings of disgust. KC correspondant had a sneak film preview, but its out later this week. If Moore’s polemical style is off-putting, just look for some fundamental truths.

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