Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa – Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

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Occupy This

16 10 2011

To steal from Network, Americans are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

The #Occupy movement, which began as #OccupyWallStreet, a protest against bankers, bailouts and corporate greed.

In my tiny mind, Americans have every right to be angry. They might be angry enough to consign Barack Obama to a one-term presidency – unthinkable a few years ago. The left is angry, the right is angry and the Tea Party is the small government, small tax version of the pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Christian base for this decade

A few fast facts on why I think Americans are mad:

The economy: No wonder President Obama is playing golf with President Clinton. The baseline in American politics is the economy, stupid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ latest release (7 October), seasonally adjusted unemployment in September 2011 was 9.1 per cent. That’s a 0.5 per cent improvement on September 2010. Breaking that down:

  • 14 million Americans are registered unemployed
  • Of that number, the long-term unemployed (people out of work for more than 27 weeks) make up more than 44 per cent, or 6.2 million)
  • 24 per cent of teenagers (16-19 year olds) are unemployed
  • 16 per cent of blacks are unemployed (c.f. with 8 per cent unemployment among whites; 11.3 per cent for Hispanics and 7.8 per cent for Asians)
  • The annual 2010 unemployment rate of ‘Gulf War II’ veterans (i.e. military personnel who have served post September 2001) is 11.5 per cent
Delving slightly deeper, while the labor force and employment figures lifted, the civilian labor force participation rate (64.2 per cent) and employment:population ratio (58.3 per cent) remain fairly static. Disturbingly, 9.3 million Americans are classed as involuntary part-time workers (i.e. their hours have been cut or they’re unable to find full-time work). In August 2011, the number was 8.8 million – an additional 444,000 people in one month. Those ‘marginally attached to the workforce’ – some 2.5 million Americans who have sought work in the last year, but not in the last four weeks, are not counted as unemployed. There are 1 million ‘discouraged’ American workers. These are the defeated and demoralised. They believe they cannot get a job, so they’ve given up. Average hourly earnings? $23.12. Average weekly earnings? $793.02.
‘Failed’ stimulus: President Obama signed The Recovery Act on 7 February 2009. The total package of $787 billion was increased to $840 billion in 2011. I bracketed ‘failed’ because it’s open to interpretation. There is certainly a perception that while some of the leading indicators have resulted in an improvement in certain sectors of the economy and regions, in my view, this is counterbalanced by one of the saddest statistics I think I’ve ever come across: $8 billion additional spend on food stamps to feed 38 million hungry Americans. (Reuters)
Dysfunctional government: the White House is caught in a pincer movement. President Obama has come out swinging at Congress recently, most notably on his jobs bill. He’s moving to Candidate Obama, criss-crossing the country selling a Bill which has no chance of passing. These people who were willing to play brinkmanship with the country’s credit card. It is pathetic.
The cost of foreign policy: President Obama got Osama bin Laden. Terrific. It doesn’t change the economic and human costs of the country’s operations in Pakistan and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the key findings of a recent report from the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies:
  • The U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan will cost between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans. This figure does not include substantial probable future interest on war-related debt.
  • More than 31,000 people in uniform and military contractors have died, including the Iraqi and Afghan security forces and other military forces allied with the United States.
  • By a very conservative estimate, 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by all parties to these conflicts.
  • The wars have created more than 7.8 million refugees among Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.
  • Pentagon bills account for half of the budgetary costs incurred and are a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars.
  • Because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020.
  • Federal obligations to care for past and future veterans of these wars will likely total between $600-$950 billion. This number is not included in most analyses of the costs of war and will not peak until mid-century.
That’s just war. Don’t start me on the President’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay; conduct of extra-judicial killings and the disconnect between endorsement of the Arab Spring where it’s easy (Libya, for example) and wilful disregard for others (such as the Shi`a of  Bahrain).
The 99 per cent: Campaign finance reform; the disparity between tax breaks for the super-wealthy and the middle-class; corporate bailouts; out-of-control student debt it’s the beginning of a national conversation Americans haven’t engaged in for a long time.
So … it was with a general sense of irritation that I heard about the #OccupyPickAnAustralianCity protests that took place yesterday, for one reason: the great Australian propensity for whingeing. If whingeing was an Olympic sport, it would be, ‘GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!’ for Australia. I whinge, I hear others whinge and I read about people whingeing on a daily basis. It’s healthy to vent, to verbalise frustrations, irritations and feelings that systems, services and other people are failing us; but when you conflate whingeing into the #Occupy movement, you cheapen it. Yes, I am fully aware that Australia was only one of 78 countries to hold protests yesterday. I would also contend that people in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece have legitimate fears and grievances against prevailing economic conditions and systemic corruption. Australia? Not so much. While many on the ‘left’ view Tony Abbott as the Nabob of No, the Occupiers of Australia are playing his game of fear and loathing:
The economy: 5.2 per cent unemployment in September 2011. As the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Measures of Australia’s Progress 2011 report shows, pretty much everything (barring productivity) has improved since 2000. Including unemployment. The bad news? That increase applies to threatened animal species due to climate change. The average weekly income per full-time employed adult is $1,305. The average hourly income is between $29.70 and$33.10 (the disparity? Female wages c.f. men) (Source: ABS)
‘Failed’ stimulus: I’m leaving this one to George Megalogenis
Dysfunctional government: I am not a cheerleader for the current Government, but I am thankful that there are some quality people in our Parliament. Not naming names, but as close to the bone it has come on major issues – especially in the last few weeks – it is functional. I may not like the politics, the policies, the poor communication and quality of political discourse, but it continues to roll on.
The cost of foreign policy: Defence estimates an approximate $6 billion spend in Afghanistan to 2014. Iraq Mk II, approximately $2.3 billion. To me, the irreparable damage is in civilian deaths, leaving Australian citizens in Gitmo, irregular migration flows (UN-speak for refugees), international reputation and pathetic policy reactions to the problems we helped cause. That said, I don’t think we’ve been breaking arms embargoes, killing people willy-nilly or uneven in our condemnation for despots the world over.
The 99 per cent: according to a new release into household wealth from the ABS, the top 20 per cent of Australian households have seen their average net wealth increase by 15 per cent to $2.2 million since 2005/06, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of total household wealth. The bottom 20 per cent’s average net wealth grew by only 4 per cent. They account for approximately 1 per cent of total household wealth. That leaves almost 30 per cent of Australian households with an average net wealth of $720,000, up 14 per cent since 2005/06 – almost on par with the richest in the land and 10 per cent ahead of the poor. I contend that there is no ’99 per cent’ in Australia. Of course there is disparity in wealth; but the two major assets of Australian households (property – $520-540,000; superannuation – $60-154,000) put ‘average’ Australia within striking distance of the top 20 per cent. This is not the case in the US. It never has been and never will be.
I hope this stirs some pots & kettles. It stirred mine.




Talking Points Memos

26 05 2011

Malcolm Farnsworth’s critique of the Prime Minister & Australian political scene, published today by The Drum, is as ever, spot on. (“Malcolm Farnsworth: Three occasions, three glimpses of Barack Obama, three lessons for Julia Gillard. http://bit.ly/leu38P“)
Sadly, the piece isn’t counter-balanced with a more nuanced take on the US political discourse. In fact, it reads more like a DCCC talking points memo.
President Obama’s favourables still hover around 44%; the crowd that has thinned-out among potential GOP presidential-candidates has been Donald Trump – the declared candidates include Gingrich (damaged), Pawlenty & the dark-horse libertarian darling, Johnson. Then there are Romney, who has $6m cash-on-hand at present, & yes … Palin, who has just bought a house in AZ.
I say this as a supporter of the President, but his oratorical talent has rarely been doubted. He’s given a few good speeches in Europe … unfortunately, the speech that counted, delivered to AIPAC, was nothing new. In fact, he’s stuck to the same rhetoric and policy as his two immediate predecessors. The difference is like it or not, Israeli-Palestinian peace seems further away at a time when Israel’s neighbours – & therefore the Palestinians – are looking to make Israel’s claim to be the Middle East’s only democracy a thing of the past.





The Jihadist Pimpernel

3 05 2011

‘Osama bin-Laden and his protégés are the children of desperation: they come from countries where political struggle through peaceful means is futile.”

Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia

International Herald Tribune, 11 October 2001

As a self-confessed international relations & human security nerd (note nerd does not equal expert in ANY way), news of the extra-judicial killing of Osama bin-Laden is like a really good one night stand. It’s great, sexy, an intense bout of oxygen for my passions, listening to smart people talking about my world view. Like a great one-nighter, it won’t last, despite the smart people; we’ll go back to opinion polls and leadership challenges soon enough. So here are a few thoughts, probably incoherent and a cautionary tale for Fairfax as to why sub-editors are required – without them, newspapers will become foolish blogs like mine.

1/. Osama bin-Laden: ir/relevant?

Many of the counter-terrorism and Middle East experts I greatly respect have already put it out there: bin-Laden is irrelevant; his legacy is not outstanding. Despite its grim successes – embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the strike against the USS Cole and 9/11 – al-Qaeda has failed to achieve its stated aim, to inspire an Islamic caliphate, ridding the oppressed of dictators and false kings propped up by infidels. It is ordinary people demanding democracy who are achieving results, not those carrying bombs in their underpants. Alternately, bin-Laden undoubtedly kept al-Qaeda in the money, not only through his own wealth, but through his extensive contacts. He wasn’t entirely passed his use-by date to the organisation he founded; perhaps the organisation itself is struggling for relevance as Arabs rise up and demand 21st century freedoms, not a 7th century ideology.

2/. Kill bin?

As a Twitter friend of mine, @SenamBeheton wrote tonight:

Are people celebrating #OBL’s death or the end of his possibilities? Reaction if he was arrested not killed? Would have been the same.

It’s a worthy, skilfully put statement. Why kill bin-Laden?

Why do I, a believer in the imperfect, largely unwritten world of international law, not have a problem with his assassination. Is this why I fear NATO is overstepping the mark in bombing Muammar Qaddafi’s compound; yet have few – almost no – qualms about bin-Laden’s assassination? Both are violations of my interpretation of international law – UN resolution 1973 does not entail the extra-judicial killing of a man who, like it or not, remains a head of state. bin-Laden’s death surely violates Pakistan’s sovereignty – I cannot be convinced that anyone in Islamabad had prior knowledge of the kill squad – and is the unilateral action of the hegemonic power. So why am I uneasy about one, and not the other? I have thought about it since I saw President Obama’s carefully worded statement. Killing bin-Laden shuffles the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ leaderboard, but his strategic input to al-Qaeda’s activities after the Battle of Tora Bora is questionable – so was the kill team necessary? His value to the organisation on 30 April 2011 was as a figurehead for al-Qaeda franchises and bogeyman for the West, in particular Americans. This is why I understand President Obama giving the go ahead for his assassination. This is not an episode of “The West Wing’. Given he was first briefed on the potential operation last August, President Obama has had time to consider his options. I applaud him for using his intelligence agencies and military in an ‘old skool’ manner; after 9/11, the reputation and morale of the American intelligence community reached a nadir. The security apparatus of the US could not prevent such an attack. Despite the Revolution in Military Affairs, and his own use of drone aircraft to bomb suspected Taliban-held areas of Pakistan, the POTUS made sure it was he, as Commander-in-Chief watched as Navy SEALS, not an unmanned plane, killed bin-Laden. The photographs from the White House Situation Room do not reveal any sense of jubilation, but white-knuckles; fear for the safety of their own troops, especially after one of the helicopters stalled, and, I dare say, some horror at what those assembled were witnessing. Then, having ordered the kill and witnessed it, Obama wrote a speech, alerted the press corps and gave a compelling, sombre statement and delivered it down the barrel of a camera late on Sunday night. There was little hyperbole, no ‘Mission Accomplished’; yet I cannot condemn the crowds who gathered at Ground Zero and the White House. Sure, “USA, USA” is not the most intelligent chant, but I truly believe it was a cathartic expression, not a celebration. We experience security subjectively. Americans felt violated by 9/11, and they had a long-bearded Saudi jihadist to blame. I don’t remember Americans spontaneously greeting the capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the tactical magician behind the attacks. Americans subjectively experienced terror at the hands of bin-Laden, & people are happy he is dead. Is it necessary for the US administration to release pictures of its dead prey? Difficult call. I was repulsed by the scratchy vision of Saddam Hussein’s execution, taken by a guard on a mobile phone, and yet I circulated a photograph allegedly showing the dead bin Laden on Twitter as soon as I saw it. The photograph was confirmed as a pitiful photoshop job. Embarrassing for me, more embarrassing for the three journalists whose hands it passed through before reaching me. Releasing the photos? Ghoulish? Will it put to rest the ‘deathers’ who don’t believe the President of the United States, or those who insist that he died years ago? I doubt it. There is no putting brains into statues. Release the photos? Will it spark anger, cause reprisal attacks? Probably. Yet the sight of the bloodied body of Ché Guevara, laid out for the world to see in Bolivia is not the Ché first year arts students venerate on their $2 t-shirts – the handsome young Ché of the Cuban revolution. bin Laden’s whippet features already appear on $2 t-shirts; I doubt they’ll be updated to feature his death mask. Is this a neat end to a shadow-caster? Definitely. I am not going to engage in what bin-Laden could have dumped on the US in a trial at The Hague. Buckets of shit that would make Julian Assange look like a flea in the ear of a dog; but Saddam Hussein’s trial didn’t afford the world a real look into the business he had done with the West. Would bin Laden’s have been any different? Does it help Obama politically? Absolutely. The carnival barkers, Palin, Bachmann and Trump look positively idiotic. Does it secure his re-election? Put it this way – his job approval ratings will go up for a month or so. Then, like us, Americans will go back to their real insecurities: unemployment and unending wars. Which brings me to … 

3/. The realpolitik: what now for the Middle East and Pakistan?

While al-Qaeda has publicly declared its support for protestors in Tunisia & Libya, the only rebel or revolutionary force where there are ‘flickers’ of al-Qaeda is Libya, as acknowledged by Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander and Commander of EUCOMM in testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee in March (Reuters, The Telegraph, BBC). The President of Chad, Idriss Deby Itno, claims al-Qaeda has snatched SAMS (surface-to-air missiles) from the rebel zone. Of potentially greater import is the future role of Atiyyah Allah al-Libi, one of the few Libyans in al-Qaeda’s central leadership group. Could he drive a greater jihadist influence through the rebel hierarchy? Is that why Libya’s protestors were able to unsheath weapons and fight Qaddafi? I worry because of my perception of security. I fear that NATO has pursued an illogical strategy in Libya, and its only easy ‘out’ is to kill Qaddafi. Air strikes are not preventing the humanitarian outrages in Misurata and other towns. With every dragging day I am more convinced that the unspoken civil war which is being fought in the Maghreb will split and spread and Libya, torn in two, will not draw parallels with Vietnam, but Lebanon. There have already been incursions by Qaddafi forces into Tunisia. The President of Chad is right to fear weapons seeping from rebels and loyalists – his country has been involved in one of those ugly, unknown wars with Libya for decades. And Qaddafi – Qaddafi has been armed to the hilt since the arms embargo was lifted & he was rehabilitated by the Europeans. Arms in the hands of al-Qaeda and its pretenders in Libya means arms in Somalia, Yemen. Arms mean one thing: arma-fucking-geddon. And on that cheery note, we shift east, to Pakistan.

Many, and smarter minds than I have put the US / Pakistan problem down on paper with great eloquence. I will concentrate on what I see as the drivers of insecurity. In short, the gin joint is teetering on the edge of the clichéd ‘failed state’; unlike Somalia, no one can walk away. Unlike Afghanistan, we cannot pull the pin and hope for the best. Pakistan cannot topple over the edge. It dances around handbags with its nuclear-armed neighbour, India. It is terrorist central. It is fairly broken with corruption and human insecurity. It is not a failed state, but it is one ruled by networks of influence which have freed political actors from formal constraints of governance – the rules of representation, accountability and transparency. At the domestic level, informal networks coalesce around influential individuals, and may infiltrate every element of the political process, helping those in power to keep it by manipulating the national polity and cultivating a culture of cronyism, where network allies network receive government positions for personal reward. This solidifies a power base and may make the machinery of government inefficient and susceptible to corruption. Such networks flourish in states where power is not diffused, particularly if the judiciary is not independent and the rule of law breaks down. Influence can extend through families, clans or villages and across these boundaries, reaching out to other key ‘influencers’ and offering mutual benefit. This makes it difficult for opposition voices to be heard legitimately and competitors hungry for authority, particularly if it is accompanied by prestige and access to public wealth. Groups which may once have been confined to local rivalries will seize on a mood of disaffection and extend their networks in states struggling under the weight of government by favour. Hardened opposition networks of influence are less susceptible to dysfunction of that nature; it may prove more difficult to build connections on little more than promises, but success demands loyalty and discipline, norms which are diminished when a culture of entitlement becomes deeply entrenched. The delegitimization of social, political and military structures is a root cause of conflict. Conflict and fear. A University of Maryland report, Pakistani Public Opinion on the Swat Conflict, Afghanistan, and the US (1 July 2009) found the Pakistani public’s views of militant groups operating in Pakistan have become sharply more negative over the last year and a half; very large majorities now see them as a serious threat to the country’s future. A major shift has taken place in Pakistanis’ perceptions of religious militant groups in their country. In September 2007, only 34 percent thought the “activities of Islamist militants and local Taliban in FATA and settled areas” were a critical threat. In the current study this increased dramatically to 81 percent. In 2007, only 38 percent thought “the activities of religious militant groups in Pakistan” were a critical threat; in this study, 67 percent did. There has been a major shift in Pakistani opinion toward al-Qaeda – so far as it regards Pakistan itself. In late 2007, 41 per cent saw al-Qaeda’s activities as a critical threat to the vital interests of Pakistan in the next ten years; 21 percent called these activities an important, but not critical threat; and 14 percent said they were not a threat. In the current study, 82 percent called al-Qaeda’s activities a critical threat to Pakistan—a 41 percent increase. Twelve percent said al-Qaeda was an important, but not critical threat; only 2 percent said it was not a threat. If security is experienced subjectively, the Pakistani people are frayed and frightened. The US has little or no option but to keep the faith (at least in public) and perform a seismic shift against the multiple threats Pakistan faces from the extreme negligence of its government, its intelligence service and military. This is the great challenge facing this cool-headed President. Killing bin-Laden exposes the sores, and will prove to be pivotal in helping Pakistanis claw back their democracy; restore the apparatus of state. Maybe, bin-Laden’s death will bring an ‘Arab Spring’ to Islamabad and prevent non-state actors from pouncing on a state which is simply too big to fail.





Blowback

18 04 2011

As the conflict in Libya drags on, it is becoming increasingly clear that as with most armed conflicts of the last 100 years, a bombing campaign will not ‘succeed’ (success in this case being the removal from power of Muammar Qaddafi). Having secured a United Nations resolution for ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians from their government, NATO began air strikes which had an immediate effect on Qaddafi’s forces. Then again, they were easy pickings in Libya’s vast deserts, chasing the ‘rebel’ forces aligned with the National Transitional Council east towards the putative capital of Benghazi. It doesn’t take a military genius to work out that once Qaddafi’s forces & arms reached population centres such as Tobruk and Misurata, bombing, no matter how surgical, is going to endanger the civilians the planes were sent to protect.

Resolution 1973 is the clearest indication yet that the international community is willing to implement the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect”. Military intervention is not the beginning of “R2P”; it is the last resort. The responsibility to prevent is crucial. It was clear for weeks before the conflict escalated that Qaddafi would not go willingly. Any hope of negotiating with Qaddafi, or his son, Saif, was doomed by pushing them into a corner. I am not saying that it was feasible or even wise; but Qaddafi rules because he is rat cunning and controls tribes. He is no Mubarak, a ‘strongman’ whose power was based on more readily understood (to the Western observer) military structures. Libyan society, like much of the region, is based firstly on tribe, family, and blood. The TNC is a collective of Western Libyan tribes. Qaddafi’s power is drawn from Sirte, his tribal home, yes; but also from Tripoli. With a population of 2 million in a country of 6 million, with Tripoli goes Libya. At the height of its surge west, the TNC reportedly came close to taking Tripoli (many Western media outlets breathlessly and prematurely reporting Qaddafi’s end was nigh). And this is where it all went pear-shaped. While there may have been broad support for getting rid of Qaddafi, he stared them down, fairly frothing at the mouth from a balcony, doing what he does best. Cornered, he blamed everyone from al-Qaeda spiking the Kool-Aid to his old enemies in the West for the uprising. I’m sad to say I called his strategy. Libyans, particularly Tripoli residents, remember the American raids of 1986 after the Berlin nightclub bombing and other outrages. The targeting of his compound killed an infant girl, who Qaddafi claimed was his adopted child. Qaddafi reverted from the prodigal son role he had played to win redemption with the European powers & United States in the wake of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. He galvanised his army, the tribes still paying fealty to their lord and did as he has done for 40 years: fight. As the rebels withdrew, the international community prevaricated. By the time the first planes were in the air, it was all but too late.

The National Transition Council is recognised as the legitimate government of Libya by three Member States of the United Nations – France, Italy & Qatar. For the other 189, it is the opposition, including Britain, Australia and the United States – for all of our huffing and puffing. The Arab League, at first supportive of the no-fly zone, withdrew it almost immediately. The ‘Mad Colonel’ happily posed for photos with an African Union delegation dispatched to mediate between the warring sides. They were then treated with contempt by the TNC (given the AU’s rapprochement with the self-proclaimed ‘Lion of Africa’, who could blame them?). In the early days of the insurrection, there was the farcical discovery of what appeared to be British Special Forces on the ground. They were rejected, and ejected by the TNC. NATO has not been able to dislodge Qaddafi, and unless there is a change of tactics, they won’t be able to. What now? An ignominious choice: to prevent the wholesale slaughter of residents of Eastern Libya – the real and present danger put to the UN under Resolution 1973 – they must do one of two things – negotiate a ceasefire and enter the country with peacekeeping forces, as the UN and French have done most recently in Côte d’Ivoire; or arm the rebels to ‘level the playing field’.

There are several problems with both strategies. Firstly, Qaddafi has said he will negotiate along the lines of the plan put to both sides by the AU. The sticking point: the TNC will not entertain any plan which does not remove Qaddafi from power. The risk is the rebels are over-run; already fighting street-by-street in Misurata, Ajdabiya shelled and without effective air support from NATO, this is a real possibility. The pay-off is a true balls-to-the-wall gamble: that the international community will respond by putting boots on the ground. Perhaps that is why, as I write, the US is spinning into overdrive, trying to find an African country to provide an African solution – play host to Qaddafi in exile. God knows where, and at what price? Every effort must be made to strike a compromise. The TNC must understand that the West has no stomach for another war. President Obama would kiss a second term goodbye, and with wars in Iraq & Afghanistan still very much open sores, it is not going to happen, as UK PM David Cameron has today made perfectly clear.

While there are rumblings from the US and Britain about responding to the cries of the TNC and breaking the blanket arms embargo enforced by the UN to arm the rebels, it is, in my opinion, stupid in the extreme. Firstly, NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis has stated that the Mad Colonel may not be entirely wide of the mark. As veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson reported on 29 March 2011 (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12901820), intelligence has shown ‘flickers’ of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah activity. Secondly, the rebel army is far from one. The fighters are undoubtedly committed, but untrained civilians used to shooting semi-automatics at best. NATO (or whichever body broke the embargo) would be arming groups of young men who may in turn seek to inflict terror on those loyal to Qaddafi, whether they are true believers, paid protestors or foreign workers, lured by the promise of the oilfields, and marked as mercenaries. The rebels are already rigging up ‘Mad Max’-style adapted light weapons. Thirdly, Libya is subject to an arms embargo. Breaching it is illegal and sets such a reckless precedent that attempts to control the trade in small arms and light weapons (SALW) or respect other embargoes will be laughed at. Finally, Libya’s borders are porous. Here is where we really gear up for the frightening prospect of a steady supply of arms flowing through Libya to Tunisia and Algeria on the east; south to its former foe, Chad; or west, to Egypt and Sudan. Do we really want more weapons in these post-conflict zones?

Already, the rebels are claiming to have seized weapons from pro-Qaddafi forces made in Israel, while Qatar is suspected of shipping anti-aircraft guns to the rebels. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the embargo has only been reinforced this year, being lifted in 2004 after pressure from the Italians in particular. According to www.defencetalk.com, Russia had an order book from Libya worth 1.5b euros; official EU data for exports in 2009 show Italy exported weapons worth 205m Euros, followed by France (€143m); Malta (€80m); Germany (€57m); Britain (€53m) and Portugal (€21m). The US was not to be left behind: according to Reuters, representatives of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon Co. visited Libya as members of trade delegations. South Africa also saw a piece of the Libyan action: its National Conventional Arms Committee annual report for 2010 showed the country sold R70m in arms last year. Manufacturer Denel has denied sales, but a leaked memo outlined a visit to Libya in April involving the planned sale of artillery systems, missiles, grenade launchers and anti-materiel rifles (www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/SA-sold-R70m-weapons-to-Libya-20110410)

Now, the West is bombing an army it armed, much as it did in Iraq. Reading over the articles of Qaddafi’s ‘rehabilitation’, it seems so long ago; now, those guns are involved in bloody civil conflict. They fall into the hands of the rebels, who shoot back with the same small arms & fire the same light weapons. Mistakes in the name of greed and guns have already been made. Tilting the balance in the conflict by arming the rebels presents moral hazards the world cannot afford to entertain.





Altern-oPod

9 03 2011

So DJ JG’s Aussie song collection for POTUS was a fizzer among the Twitterati. She also gave him the second most expensive Sherrin, which is the equivalent of not ordering lobster on your first date. I think I can do better, mostly because I am style, fashion & politics at once.

In alphabetti-spaghetti order:

AC/DC:

  • It’s A Long Way To The Top
  • Thunderstruck
  • Shook Me All Night Long
  • Highway To Hell

The Allniters:

  • Montego Bay (every list has to feature a cover)

Australian Crawl:

  • Errol
  • Reckless (Don’t Be So)
  • Boys Light Up
  • Downhearted
  • Beautiful People

Who wouldn’t want a tribute to Tasmania’s greatest pantsman? OK, Maybe more Bill Clinton’s style. Have to include Reckless if only for the accompanying subtitles.

Boom Crash Opera:

  • Dancing In The Storm
  • The Best Thing

The Cat Empire:

  • Hello
  • Days Like These

The Church: (meh, under ‘C’)

  • Under The Milky Way
  • Almost With You

Love song dedication for FLOTUS on those long return flights on Air Force One

Cold Chisel:

  • Flame Trees
  • Bow River
  • Khe Sanh
  • Saturday Night
  • Forever Now

Essential prep for 2012 campaign when visiting factories in the flyover states.

Crowded House:

  • Into Temptation (hmm, maybe one for Bill …)
  • Private Universe (because no one knows what it’s like to sit behind that desk, except the other people who have)

The Cruel Sea:

  • The Honeymoon Is Over
  • Black Stick
  • Better Get A Lawyer Son

Because let’s face it, it is.

Deborah Conway (incl. Do Ré Mi)

  • Man Overboard
  • Consider This
  • It’s Only The Beginning

Decoder Ring:

  • Out of Range

Whispy vocal has to come in at some stage, right?

Divinyls

  • Science Fiction
  • Boys In Town

Dragon: (if Crowded House count, the fucking Hunter brothers do)

  • April Sun in Cuba (derr …)
  • Get That Jive (for trips to Chicago)
  • Are You Old Enough?
  • Still In Love With You
  • Rain

The Dynamic Hepnotics:

  • Soul Kind Of Feeling

The Easybeats

  • Friday On My Mind
  • She’s So Fine

Ed Kuepper:

  • The Way I Made You Feel

The sexiest chord progression. Maybe not of all time, but it is right up there.

Eric Bogle:

  • And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

GANGgajang:

  • Sounds of Then

The Go-Betweens

  • Cattle and Cane
  • Bachelor Kisses
  • Streets Of Your Town

Hoodoo Gurus:

  • My Girl
  • Bittersweet
  • Like Wow-Wipeout!
  • Good Times

Hunters & Collectors:

  • Throw Your Arms Around Me
  • Holy Grail
  • Say Goodbye
  • Do You See What I See?

One of the seminal bands of my (misspent) youth

Icehouse:

  • Hey Little Girl

INXS:

  • Need You Tonight
  • Original Sin
  • Never Tear Us Apart
  • New Sensation
  • Don’t Change
  • What You Need
  • I Send A Message
  • Burn for You
  • Mystify
  • Devil Inside

OK … THE seminal band of my (misspent) youth. Limiting it to 10 tracks was difficult.

Jet:

  • Are You Gonna Be My Girl?

Jo Camilleri (Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons & The Black Sorrows):

  • Shape I’m In
  • Hit & Run
  • Chained To The Wheel
  • Hold On To Me

Kylie

  • Confide In Me
  • Love At First Sight
  • Come Into My World
  • Better The Devil You Know
  • I Believe In You
  • Can’t Get You Out of My Head
  • Spinning Around
  • On A Night Like This
  • Slow

Because it’s Kylie. Because she rocks.

The Loved Ones:

  • The Loved One

Machine Gun Fellatio:

  • The Girl of My Dreams Is Giving Me Nightmares

Midnight Oil:

  • US Forces (fuck him!)
  • Beds Are Burning
  • Power and the Passion
  • When The Generals Talk
  • The Dead Heart
  • Blue Sky Mine
  • River Runs Red
  • Stars of Warburton
  • Kosciusko

Models:

  • Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight
  • I Hear Motion

Mondo Rock:

  • Come Said The Boy

Nick Cave (solo, associated collaborators, bands)

  • Red Right Hand
  • The Weeping Song
  • The Ship Song
  • Where the Wild Roses Grow
  • Henry Lee

Someone’s got to growl at the man (occassionally)

Paul Kelly:

  • From St Kilda To Kings Cross
  • Before Too Long
  • How To Make Gravy
  • Sweet Guy
  • Dumb Things
  • Darling It Hurts

Powderfinger:

  • My Happiness

The Presets:

  • My People

The Reels:

  • Quasimodo’s Dream

Richard Clapton:

  • Girls on the Avenue

The Saints:

  • Stranded

Sherbet:

  • Howzat

Sia:

  • Breathe Me

Silverchair:

  • The Greatest View
  • Tomorrow
  • Straight Lines

Newcastle. Reprezent.

Skyhooks:

  • Ego Is Not A Dirty Word
  • Horror Movie

Slim Dusty

  • Pub With No Beer

Split Enz (yeh yeh, whatever. I’ve got Crowded House & Dragon.)

  • One Step Ahead
  • I Hope I Never
  • Message To My Girl
  • I See Red

Stevie Wright:

  • Evie (Parts I, II & III)

The Triffids:

  • Wide Open Road

Warumpi Band:

  • My Island Home

Wendy Matthews:

  • The Day You Went Away

The Whitlams:

  • No Aphrodisiac

Yothu Yindi:

  • Treaty




The Gitmo Archipelago, or how I learned to stop worrying and fell out of love with Barack Obama (Part I)

9 11 2010

“I’m sorry, Kimberley, but I’m an American. I don’t vote for the President of the world. I vote for the President of the United States of America. I’m from Chicago. Barack Obama is NOT what he represents himself to be. You don’t get in, or out of Chicago politics, as squeaky clean as people think this guy is. I’m for freedom, not socialism. I don’t want to be told what doctor I can see, or have my taxes support people who want to have five kids on welfare and never work. You bet I’ll vote for Sarah Palin if she runs in 2012.”

I’m sitting next to ‘Tom’, a businessman from Illinois, at a great restaurant in the West Village, New York City. It’s my last night here, and the antipathy towards President Obama is troubling me. I understand part of his argument: the US economy is up shit creek, and for many people, the paddle is out of reach. Every second ad on cable TV is for bankruptcy specialists. What I do not understand is why President Obama is not kicking against the pricks. I know you can’t blame the other side for everything, but President Bush rode his horse out of town with nary a bad word said against his economic record; the obsession with tax cuts while running a parallel, war-fuelled deficit defies belief; but he did it. It is four months before the midterm elections. Unemployment is running at almost 11 per cent. I walk around the financial district & it is though nothing, bar September 11, has hit the place. The investment houses, bailed out by the taxpayer, have returned to profitability. I feel sick that Australians, in general, do not understand how a combination of sound regulation of the financial industry and measured (though highly criticised) stimulus spending saved our country from this pain, and I am staying in one of the best neighbourhoods in New York. Poverty is not immediately evident, but former Mayor Rudy Giuliani did a good job of sweeping out the homeless. I may not agree with Tom, but he is considered, measured and engaged in the political process, and we agree to disagree, which is my default position on almost everything.

“Tom, I’m sorry – You’re the only superpower left. With that position comes responsibility. I’m not asking you to vote for Barack Obama because he’s a Democrat. Give me an intelligent, moderate Republican and go for your lives – but Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin negotiating Middle East peace talks? My country is at war because our then-government followed you. Socialised medicine? How many daughters did you say you have, Tom? Two? What are your daughters going to do if, god forbid, you’re in an accident and can’t work for six months. What if they have a genetic test, and they find out that they have the ‘breast cancer gene’? Will they be covered under your insurance? Will it be considered a pre-existing condition? What use is it to have the greatest pharmaceutical companies in the world if you cannot afford to buy medicine? How is access to a doctor ‘socialism’?”

We buy each other a drink. It’s hot, and a hot New York is not where Tom wants to be. He blames Barack Obama for almost everything, from the state of the economy to single mothers with five kids sucking the marrow out of his tax dollar to healthcare reform. If he thought big government controlled the weather, he would blame the President for that as well. 

The next day, I leave the Village for Penn Station and the Acela Express to Washington, D.C. – meeting my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen for 15 years. She married an American she met in Sydney, and become a citizen in time to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. I page her, she pages me, and I am mortified when a ‘red cap’ (Amtrak porter) grabs my bags as we squeal and hug. “I’ve got these, Ma’am. Don’t worry, you’re with me now,” he says, but it’s a struggle. I’m used to it – my rule is that if I can’t carry it all, I can’t buy anymore. The red cap won’t hear of it, and my friend keeps walking and talking. I tip him $10 as we board the train, mostly from sheer embarrassment. My friend berates me as she juggles a handbag, laptop, iPhone & squeals at her business partner in an accent that is neither that of her birth, or home. She lectures me on tipping etiquette. I hold firm with my own tipping regime. I tipped $1 in Williamsburg on Sunday for $2 beers! How is that fair to a guy in his 50s hauling 30 kilos of shoes, handbags and cosmetics while we squawk like battery hens? Well, in this economy, she says, people are lucky to be working. I voted for Obama and now, I don’t know. We don’t see him enough. I mean, what’s he doing? You’re in politics, surely you think it’s not good that we don’t see him? I look at the gadgets and listen to the conversations about crazy clients she’s firing. Yes. In this economy. Maybe the President is working, I muse aloud; he was dealt a pretty crap hand. That said, if I was his comms director, I would have him do more Presidential press conferences – he’s done fewer than Dubya. That part I do understand. As a candidate, Barack Obama travelled overseas and was feted in the capitals of Europe. My friend voted for hope, audacity and change; for a candidate whose oratory captivated the world.  Now my friend has a President, and rarely hears his voice. He’s not a candidate; he’s not leader of a movement – he’s the POTUS. You need to kick arse when circumstances warrant it. People and pundits talk about consensus politics, reaching bipartisan solutions to national problems. It’s bullshit. Politics is adversarial. In a few short months, the Democrat majority in Congress is going to be put to the test and NO ONE does nasty adversarial politics better than the Republican Party. The GOP in full flight is a sight to behold. President Obama is being hit from the left and the right, and he’s doing a pretty good, Ali-style ‘ rope-a-dope’, taking a metaphysical pounding from George Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, round after round. President Obama is well into round two. He and the Democrat machine need to start bloodying the nose of the right. It’s July, 2010 and New York City feels as steamy as 1974 Zaire.

To be continued …