Archive for February, 2012

As Julian Assange awaits the UK Supreme Court’s decision on his extradition to Sweden, to answer questions about dubious sexual assault charges, Australians should be questioning our own government’s lamentable conduct in this affair. European Arrest Warrants and Swedish law are fraught with numerous legal difficulties – outlined by Jennifer Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, to an Australian parliamentary group a year ago, to prompt some action in defence of his rights as an Australian citizen: http://wlcentral.org/node/1418. Nothing happened, and our government has studiously avoided taking any action. Worse, our PM and Attorney-General accused him of breaking the law and threatened to cancel his Australian passport. No charges of any kind have been laid against Assange over Wikileaks. Clearly these politicians had over-stepped the mark, and have since kept their mouths shut.

Our treatment of another Australian journalist, during the Vietnam War, comes to mind. Wilfred Burchett reported from North Vietnam, the only Westerner to do so, and was branded a traitor. Vilified as a ‘KGB agent, torturer, brainwasher and Stalinist hack’ by our government, he was refused a passport renewal for 17 years after 1955, and even denied entry to attend his father’s funeral. The Whitlam government issued him a passport in 1972. The 100th anniversary of Burchett’s birth was commemorated with an exhibition of his photographs at Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Museum last year, to honour his memory as a friend of Vietnam. In Australia it was ignored. Burchett had argued that the US could not win the war and was credited with, or blamed for, fuelling public opinion in the West against it. Like Assange, he paid a high price for truth-telling.

The depth of antagonism in US government and ‘right-wing’ circles towards Assange is exemplified by senior officials calling for him to be killed by the CIA or other means. Local Swedish politics and close US-Swedish relations (Sweden was used for ‘extraordinary rendition’ of Guantanamo-bound detainees from Afghanistan), will certainly prejudice any chance of fair treatment if Assange is deported there. Amazingly, he can be held incommunicado in solitary confinement without bail for several months, and given a secret trial (on sex offences!). The US government will no doubt also seek his extradition from Sweden. Once in the US, Julian will be abused, like Bradley Manning the US marine charged with leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, and who has been ‘interrogated’ over many months of solitary confinement. The US government even successfully put pressure on Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, and Bank of America to stop processing support payments to Wikleaks – this ban is still in effect, although the transactions are legal. The US government is very angry, and will stop at nothing to take revenge on someone challenging their power and misdealings.

Against this background, the supine and gutless attitude of our government is deplorable and brings shame on us all. After David Hicks’ abandonment by the Howard government to rot in Guantanamo for six years, we have hit a new low of duplicitous US-arse-licking. Julian’s rights as an Australian citizen should be paramount and staunchly defended by our highest public officials. Their complicit silence is disgraceful. Despite what anyone thinks about any damage done by leaked documents in the world of diplomacy, remember, no charges have been laid against Assange. The Australian government should already be taking legal steps to protect him from dubious treatment in Sweden and beyond. For the record, Wilfred died from cancer in Bulgaria in 1982 aged 72, in exile.

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Paspaley Pearls is the giant (quasi-monopoly?) of the Australian pearling industry, proud of its family business heritage going back to 1935. ING is a multinational finance company, which recently suffered a $45.3 million fraud by a ‘trusted long-time employee’. The fortunes, so to speak, of the two companies thus became intertwined, perhaps like a couture necklace.

The trusted employee was a senior accountant without any formal accounting qualifications. Rajina Subramaniam made 200 illegal transfers into her personal account or directly to shops and real estate agents whilst on a huge shopping spree for five years. Purchases included eight over-priced waterfront apartments – imagine the hand-rubbing, drooling agents.

ING looks like a verb ending, or gerund (oh yes, you young non-grammarians!) looking for its stem, and in this case we would suggest supervising, controlling, checking, auditing, etc. Her defence barrister claimed that her computer record-altering deceptions were ‘not particularly sophisticated’. Other ing words come to mind, like boggling…or appalling, amazing….anyway, you get the idea!

Back to shopping: Rajina’s taste in jewellery showed that pearls are in fact a girl’s best friend, although they may’ve combined with diamonds too, as she splashed out a cool $16 million bagatelle on Paspaley Pearls confections. The nice people at that fine establishment became friends and socialised with RS, but apparently they never asked where she might be getting all that moolah. No looking that gift horse in the mouth!  Even the Paspaley patriarch Nick wined and dined her.

Now, in most social settings someone eventually asks what you do for a crust, and poor conversationalists often make that the first or second question. Imagine Rajina responding: oh I’m an accountant at ING, in charge of multi-million dollar transfers. Mmm. Anyway, it appears that Nick and his minions are first-class conversationalists, as they managed not to mention money or ask about her job for hours on end. Rajina’s photo shows her to be an attractive woman, so maybe her charm was spell-binding. Mmm. RS indeed!

Footnotes: the headline is adapted from Paspaley’s website; and for any ING shareholders, good luck!

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As some wit put it, the great thing about getting old is that it beats the alternative. As baby boomers face their inevitable physical decline, and philosophise about life and the d-word, the sharing of practical wisdom can be useful too. The importance of fitness is a subject dear to our hearts, so to speak, but it can lead to some surprising conclusions.

Recent newspaper discussion about obsessive fitness prompted input from 71 year old Peter Halstead of Budds Beach, who claimed that super-fitness can lead to depression. For decades peers had admired his fitness, and he’d maintained an abnormally high level exercise program into his mid-sixties, when disaster struck. He started getting old! Now he is less fit than others of his age group because of this obsession, citing worn-out knees from too much running and squats, and spine degeneration from too much weight training. Apart from the painkiller regime, he’ll soon have surgery to remove a pre-cancerous lung lesion, which he puts down to lots of jogging in city traffic. Now Peter is depressed.

Peter seems to be a baby boomer name, and KC’s gerontology reporter of the same name has been thinking along similar lines following an incident three years ago. After 30 years of trouble-free running a knee suddenly protested that its meniscus was worn and torn, resulting in clean-up surgery. No warning all that time, and then bang! The running regime had been a daily 40 minute jog, reduced to 3 times weekly in recent years, but no marathons or other excess. Of course each of us is a unique combination of build and bio-mechanics, and the surgeon would not agree that it was payback, citing much younger patients with the same injury. The famous writer Haruki Murakami (‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’) is still running marathons at 62, so his unique endowment is going strong. It will be interesting to see at what point he starts getting old.

The famous Peter Principle – from a light-hearted (that word again!) 1969 management book (co-authored by Dr Laurence J Peter) – is that in organisational life a person rises to their level of incompetence. No, it’s not about the incompetence of Peters generally, just to avoid any misunderstanding. The two Peters of our story are separated in age by a decade, but they have reached a similar conclusion. The new Peter Principle is very simple: ‘moderation in everything’. And the beauty of this principle is that, like beauty itself, moderation is in the eye of the beholder. So, Banzai, Haruki!

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NATO governments & allies (International Security Assistance Force), including us, are gathering momentum for a stampede to the Afghan exit, strategy or not. Or ‘faster beat in the retreat’, as the SMH put it before Xmas. The French have moved forward their departure (despite our clever Foreign Minister Rudd declaring only last week that this would not happen), following the recent killing of four of their troops by another rogue Afghan colleague and wounding 15 others. Like the French, everyone is now canvassing withdrawal by 2013, instead of 2014. By the end of this year ‘drawdown’ of foreign troops will total 40,000, including 33,000 Americans from their June total of 101,000. President Karzai wants foreign contractors, including security companies, out next month.

US Congress committee reports a total 70 allied troops killed and 110 wounded by Afghan government soldiers. Afghan civilian casualties are estimated at 10,000 in the last five years alone. US casualties total 1,800 killed and 150,000 wounded, France 82 killed, Australia 33 killed and 218 wounded.

The usual weasel words ‘going the distance’ or ‘doing the job’ or ‘completing the mission’ are no longer worth repeating. Now it’s about ‘transitioning’ or ‘handing over’ to Afghan security forces. Negotiations with the Taliban are well under way. We’re just not sure who’s negotiating. The bottom line is that we will not go the distance, or do any lasting job or complete any of those shifting mission objectives of the last ten years. Afghanistan faces an uncertain future, like Iraq, in the vacuum that we create by our presence and departure.

A reminder of US (and our) involvement in this latest foreign military adventure in Afghanistan may be helpful. Originally the Taliban were financed and supplied by the Americans to fight the Russian occupation. Following 9/11 and Taliban refusal to give up Bin Laden without some evidence, they became synonymous with Al-Qaeda and henceforth US mortal enemies too. First big mistake! Meantime the US also massively supplied Pakistan with arms and dollars, even while its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence was harbouring and abetting Taliban, and probably Al-Qaeda, safely across the border in bases in Pakistan. Go figure!

At the same time, the corrupt Karzai government and its recycled Taliban provincial governors and their cronies, were flourishing under the manna of US hand-outs and contracts, plus the thriving opium cropping and trade. Former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, confessed that the US held a ‘frighteningly simplistic’ view of the country and its history when it declared war on the Taliban in 2001, and that they didn’t even try to learn Afghan languages. Furthermore he said that ten years later the US lacks the know-how to bring the conflict to a satisfactory end.

Politics will determine ISAF exit strategies – first and foremost the looming US Presidential elections, where Obama needs to announce US withdrawal for 2013. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is even fudging to mid 2013. Australia will of course independently come to the same conclusion. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan retired lieutenant-general Karl Elkenberry estimated that the ‘sustainment cost’ of Afghan army and police forces will be $7 billion in 2014, three times Afghan government revenues. Somehow Elkenberry remains hopeful, and NATO is talking of ongoing support beyond 2014. Unfortunately without foreign military protection, civilian aid projects may be withdrawn too. There is no happy or snappy conclusion to this tragic saga. As the French would say, ‘quoi qu’il en soit’ (no matter what), the Taliban are well-placed.

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