Community

Recent blog entries

Abbott may kill more Australians than Putin

Australians are the third biggest group of casualties in the MH17 tragedy this week. Australia's leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is already calling Mr Putin to account before the facts have even been confirmed.

The startling reality is, OECD research already suggests that Mr Abbott's own policies have the potential to kill more Australians.

Balancing a budget with sex work?

Tony Abbott has attracted worldwide ridicule for himself and our country (not for the first time of course) with his infamous wink incident this week.

In fact, people repeatedly sharing this incident on social media are not really adding much to the national debate. Anybody who's opinion actually matters already knew Tony Abbott is not fit to even lead a scout group, let alone a whole country.

Why I hope Craig Thomson avoids jail

Craig Thomson has finally been convicted of all those fraud charges that everybody has been talking about throughout the years of Rudd/Gillard Government.

It is worth remembering how Gillard deflected all the questions about Thomson:

"Everybody is innocent until proven guilty"

Well, unless you are a refugee or a coloured person (or both).

Pages

Don’t isolate Russia | Tom Switzer

Club Troppo - 15 hours 12 min ago

The rush to demonise Russia (and Putin in particular)[1] is impressive. In the midst of it, it’s refreshing to find authors who make an attempt to stand outside the stampede. Two popped up today, both writing in conservative publications and from a realist point of view.

In “Don’t Isolate Russia” over at The American Conservative, Tom Switzer implores us to “think clearly and, if necessary, coldly, about the underlying cause of the Russia-Ukraine standoff, which sparked the military blunder.”

It [the West] has repudiated the implicit agreement between president George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990-91 that the Atlantic alliance would not extend into Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a region that Russia has viewed as a necessary zone of protection long before Stalin appeared on the scene. In so doing, the West has taken no account at all for Russian susceptibilities and interests.

For Moscow, unlike Washington and Brussels, Ukraine is a matter of intense strategic importance: it covers a huge terrain that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries: [ . . .]

Since the collapse of Soviet communism, Western liberals and neo-conservatives have declared the demise of power politics and triumph of self-determination. But Putin’s calculations are based on an old truth of geopolitics: great powers fight tooth and nail when vital strategic interests are at stake and doggedly guard what they deem as their spheres of influence.

This is unfortunate, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Imagine how Washington would respond if Russia had signed up Panama in a military pact, put rockets and missiles in Cuba, or helped bring down a democratically elected, pro-U.S. government in Mexico.

In The National Interest, Dmitri Trenin considers Russia’s likely security strategy now that the West appears to have definitively turned against it.

Russia is learning to live in a new harsh environment of U.S.-led economic sanctions and political confrontation with the United States. More than five months after the change of regime in Kiev, which ushered in a new era in Moscow’s foreign policy and its international relations, a rough outline of Russia’s new security strategy is emerging. It is designed for a long haul and will probably impact the global scene.

The central assumption in that strategy is that Russia is responding to U.S. policies that are meant to box it in and hold it down—and back. The Kremlin absolutely could not ignore the developments in Ukraine, a country of utmost importance to Russia. The armed uprising in Kiev brought to power a coalition of ultranationalists and pro-Western politicians: the worst possible combination Moscow could think of. President Putin saw this as a challenge both to Russia’s international position and to its internal order.

Taking up the challenge, however, meant a real and long-term conflict with the United States.

This burgeoning, open-ended conflict is tragically unnecessary. Whatever one may think of Putin, Russia during his time has been a predictable actor on the international stage. The few times (such as with Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine now) when it did come into conflict with the west shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Its concerns were openly telegraphed well before troubles erupted.

Now, however, particularly in the wake of MH17, we in the west seem to have abandoned even the pretence of dealing with Russia as a respectable nation, much less as an equal. They are instead being treated as a pariah.

I see that as unreasonable but regardless of one’s view of Putin and Russia, dealing with anyone in this fashion is counterproductive. It merely ensures misunderstandings, heightened tensions, and a hardening of one’s opponent’s attitudes.[2]

The sanctions will not make Putin back off. He also knows that if he were to step back, pressure on him will only increase. The Russian elite may have to undergo a major transformation, and a personnel turnover, as a result of growing isolation from the West, but the Russian people at large are more likely to grow more patriotic under outside pressure—especially if Putin leans harder on official corruption and bureaucratic arbitrariness. If the Kremlin, however, turns the country into a besieged fortress and introduces mass repression, it will definitely lose.

It is too early to speculate how the contest might end. The stakes are very high. Any serious concession by Putin will lead to him losing power in Russia, which will probably send the country into a major turmoil, and any serious concession by the United States—in terms of accommodating Russia—will mean a palpable reduction of U.S. global influence, with consequences to follow in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

I don’t agree that any “serious concession” by the US would necessarily affect it negatively. Done well, it might actually boost their international mana; after all, concerns about its growing unilateralism have been around for awhile, not only amongst its enemies but also amongst its friends. In any case, the important point is that this risk wasn’t forced upon them, it was assumed voluntarily, much like the war in Iraq.

Aggressive steps publicly taken are usually a one-way ratchet. The cost of stepping back, particularly in a political system as dysfunctional and intensely adversarial as that in the US, is just too high. The value this simple truth ought to place on considered prudence has unfortunately yet again been cast aside in the heat of battle.

________________________________________________________________________

1 Putin, in invariably uncomplimentary forms, currently graces four major magazine covers. Not a bad score.

2 Pace Hitler and the 1930s, there are indeed times when sweet reasonableness is no longer a useful tool. However, we shouldn’t forget it would have been very useful indeed 15-20 years before when Germany and its people could still have been brought safely back within the community of nations.

Categories: Community

Ukraine: As Kiev military inflicts fresh bloodshed in east, Australia pushes Western intervention

Links International - 16 hours 27 min ago

Ukraine government troops mass for an offensive in the east in April.

Ukraine army blocks access to Malaysia Airlines crash site

STOP PRESS, July 29, 2014: Roger Annis reports that there has been “constant and heavy shelling” by the Ukraine army during the past two days on the towns and villages in Donetsk region surrounding the crash site of MH17. The site was turned over to international investigators four days ago by Donetsk self-defence fighters, but the investigators have not been able to access it due to military operations of the Ukraine army. "Self-defence fighters say the army controls the area surrounding the site. There are no observers present." Read more HERE.

* * *

By Tony Iltis

read more

Categories: Community

CHs: Here’s what I know

Daniel Bowen - Mon, 28/07/2014 - 23:42

As time goes on, I learn more about the cluster headaches that hit me from time to time. They’re different for each person, obviously, but here’s what I know this time around, from my experiences and from my ongoing Googling research — and I must say, the online resources available have been steadily improving.

The word “headache” in the name is a misnomer. They’re not related to conventional headaches, which is why no conventional painkiller medicine works on them.

The UK National Health Service has a very informative page which I didn’t find the last time I went looking.

Cluster headaches … [are] much more painful than migraines or any other type of headache.

They’re called cluster headaches because sufferers usually get one to three of these attacks every day, for several weeks or months, before they subside. A pain-free period will follow, which sometimes lasts months or years, before the headache attacks start again.

Because of the intensity of the pain, some people will pace the room, rock, or bang their head against the wall out of frustration, restlessness and despair.

Bourke Street fog, looking east towards Parliament
Bourke Street in the fog, looking east towards Parliament

The pattern

I get them generally at the change of seasons. Mine started about 3 weeks ago, just as the coldest part of the winter seemed to pass and the days started getting longer.

From past experience, alcohol can help bring cluster headaches on, so I steer clear of booze when they’re around.

I get them mostly in the mornings, 2 or 3 per day. For me this time around it’s been mostly on Sunday and Monday mornings, which is a bit strange. Some of mine have been early in the morning, waking me up.

I can feel them coming about 5-10 minutes before it really hits. They’re at full strength generally for about 15 minutes.

My CHs are always on the left side of my head. Some, such as today (so far), are relatively mild. Some, such as over the weekend, are incredibly intense and painful (and yet perhaps only halfway up the scale compared to what some people suffer in length and intensity).

The intensity of the pain for the worst of the ones I get actually makes me wonder how I’ll handle it as I get older.

Abortive treatments

I used to think that applying pressure to my head helped, but I’m not so sure now.

Cold air does seem to help, perhaps reflecting that some people use oxygen treatment for them. On Sunday morning, possibly influenced by the description of pacing that some people do, I quickly got dressed and paced the back yard in the cold. It did help. Nothing makes the pain actually go away, but it does help reduce it.

Blowing my nose also helps. Some people get a runny nose when it happens — this includes me.

Most documentation says caffeine doesn’t help (nor hinder) fighting CHs. Perhaps the use of an ice cold Coke helping (my so-called medicinal Coke) is my imagination. Or maybe it’s really the cold in the drink plus the sugar? That said, a cup of tea helps a bit too, so perhaps caffeine is making a difference. Given the CH will generally start to fade within about 15 minutes anyway, it’s really hard to tell.

Apparently sumatriptan/Imigran can be injected or applied via a nasal spray, and can help stop an attack, but takes about 10 minutes to work — mine are usually gone within 15 anyway, but given I often have 5-10 minutes warning that one is coming, that may be worth discussing next time I see my GP.

Preventative medication and research

Verapamil is a common treatment to try and prevent them. That’s what my GP put me on. It’s a little hard to know if it really works. It must be powerful stuff — sometimes my head feels really funny after taking one. It also affects the heart, and unfortunately the higher doses needed to really influence cluster headaches are likely to be dangerous without careful supervision.

They still don’t seem to know what causes cluster headaches. Hmm: this claim is interesting:

“Cluster headache is widely regarded as the most severe pain a human can experience ? that’s not hyperbole. It has a population prevalence that’s approximately the same as multiple sclerosis.”

Over the past decade, [Professor Robert] Shapiro said, NIH [US National Institutes of Health] has directed $1.872 billion to multiple sclerosis research, which he said is warranted. By contrast, less than $2 million has gone to cluster headaches over the last 25 years. “It’s completely invisible,” he said.

Anybody care to start up a Cluster Headache Readathon?

To close, here’s a silver lining amongst the cloud of this medical doom and gloom:

The pain during a bad cluster headache is so intense that it’s a relief — almost a natural high, a feeling of elation — when it stops.

Categories: Community

‘Environmental catastrophism’: a response to Ian Angus

Links International - Mon, 28/07/2014 - 05:05

By Sam Gindin

[This is a response to “On ‘environmental catastrophism’: Ian Angus replies to Sam Gindin”.]

July 28, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The most critical question confronting anyone concerned with the environmental crisis is the political one: how to build a social force able to do something about it. The most important division among social activists is not between those who think an environmental collapse is imminent and those who think we will continue to stumble on in an ever uglier, degraded world. It is between those who believe that personal recycling, technical fixes, market incentives and green jobs can solve the environmental crisis, and those who argue the solutions are necessarily much more radical, extending to a challenge to capitalism itself.

read more

Categories: Community

Barry Sheppard: Some comments on the debate around Ukraine

Links International - Sun, 27/07/2014 - 10:39

An unguided Ukrainian government Grad rocket hit the house of Valentina Fedorovna, 77, in the Kuibyshivskyi district in Donetsk on July 19, 2014. Photo by Human Rights Watch.

Read more on the situation in Ukraine HERE.

By Barry Sheppard

July 28, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- It is clear that people who consider themselves to be some form of revolutionary socialist do not agree on the facts about Ukraine. We do not even have agreement on whether or not Russia is imperialist, or even what the word means.

I would urge caution and patience in assessing the current situation.

But here is my take in a nutshell of what I think are the facts, culled from various sources.

read more

Categories: Community

Regional Rail Link tour part 2 braindump

Daniel Bowen - Sun, 27/07/2014 - 09:10

About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.

The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.

A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.

Southern Cross new platforms

The city end

At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.

The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.

Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.

Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.

Rail bridge widened near Festival Hall

Rail flyover near North Melbourne station

North Melbourne

At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.

View of city and rail flyover from North Melbourne station

Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.

Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.

Footscray

Signal box being restored at Footscray station

Footscray station

At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.

The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.

Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks. Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed, in part due to some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms.

Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.

The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.

As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.

The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.

Parkiteer at Sunshine station

West Footscray

As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.

The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.

West Footscray station

West Footscray station

We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.

Sunshine

Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.

It looks good — though a very grey from some angles.

Sunshine station

Sunshine station

Junction at Sunshine station

Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.

Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.

Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.

The new line

West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.

A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.

Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.

Tarneit station


Wyndham Vale station

We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.

There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.

Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.

At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.

Wyndham Vale station

 Myki is coming

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Wyndham Vale station, looking north

Looking south from Wyndham Vale station

The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.

At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.

It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including right now), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.

And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.

In a couple of weeks parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City will start to be used by V/Line trains, and it looks like the full project will be completed next year.

And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.

PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.

Daniel at Wyndham Vale

Categories: Community

Why the fuss about a dictaphone?

ProgressiveDirection Bloggers - Sat, 26/07/2014 - 21:28

There's a saying in the US: if you see a bear, you don't have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the guy next to you and hope the bear catches him.

The latest comment from The Age suggests that the ALP's dictaphone antics are no different than the grubby antics of student politics. They are completely right: I've been pointing out for some time that the ALP has serious problems with a generation of leaders who were educated to win at any cost in their student days and the #dictagate scandal is the latest evidence of this ALP flaw.

So what has it got to do with the bear? Well, if the state opposition are acting like a bunch of student politicians, then the state Government need act no better than a borough council. Without serious competition, they are likely to become fat and uncompetitive (at least in a more pronounced way than politicians are normally prone to be fat and uncompetitive). Suddenly, that is an issue for the whole state.

Melbourne is a city of 4 million people, hosting the headquarters of several national companies and many who compete internationally. The city and the state deserve better than shabby leadership.

Incest, the ALP way

When you hear about a bank employee or medical professional being sacked for criminal activity, you probably don't imagine them walking across the street and getting a job doing the same thing at another bank or hospital.

In politics, however, sacking and resigning is not nearly as painful as it looks.

When officials from the ALP's state office resign over #dictagate this week, they may well get full pay until they find another job. There is a revolving door between the unions and the ALP and in practice, it is more like the Catholic Church moving around paedophile priests from parish to parish. An official leaves the ALP at 5pm one day and starts working in a union office at 9am the next day. Somebody from another union or an MP's office is promoted to the vacancy at the ALP HQ. This incestuous system of promoting enables people like Craig Thomson to climb all the way to the lofty heights of our federal parliament.

Within a year, the official(s) who are sacked or resigning could be in a more senior position than they are in now.

Another possibility is suspension. That, too, is just pulling the wool over the eyes of the public. In reality, many of these ALP officials do very little "official" work in their job and they spend about 95 percent of their time running around different unions and party branch meetings stacking the votes. A "suspension" might mean they do not visit the office where they are formally employed, but all their other shenanigans continue unchecked. Just consider how one of the state officials embroiled in the current scandal, Stephen Donnelly, managed to spend a period of time in Queensland helping a friend win an internal union election while he was officially employed in the office of Senator Feeney in Victoria. With union bosses tossing in $500k from a slush fund to achieve each rival union takeover, do you think they are really going to risk any interruption of the antics of the bovver boys who are getting results for them? Of course not, they will simply put on a brief show of contrition for the public and then carry on the next day as if nothing happened.

Categories: Community

Opposing the Horrific Depravity of Senseless Slaughter in the Faroe Islands

Sea Shepherd - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 23:12
Opposing the Horrific Depravity of Senseless Slaughter in the Faroe Islands

Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson

A pod of pilot whales off the stern of the Brigitte Bardot A pod of pilot whales off the stern of the Brigitte Bardot
Photo: Sea ShepherdIt has been 46 days that Sea Shepherd volunteers have been in the Danish Protectorate of the Faroe Islands.

No whales have been murdered during this time.

For 46 days the volunteers have met and spoken with many Faroese and have found many who also oppose the brutality of the slaughter of the pilot whales, this bloody sadistic abomination the Faroese call the “Grind.”

Unfortunately, there remains a hardcore group of whale killers who seem almost to justify their very existence by participating in the grisly slaughter of entire families of innocent and defenseless whales.

They like to kill. They want to kill. It is as simple as that. They like killing in the same way that big game hunters or serials killers like to kill. It gives them a rush, emotionally and sexually. One Faroese observer even described it as a frenzy.

We need only look to words written by a Faroese writer to illustrate and demonstrate the psychotic aspect of the grind and the fact that they really take pleasure in the killing of the whales. I would like to take an extract from the book "Pilot whaling in the Faroe Islands" by Joan Paul JOENSEN. This book is presently being sold at the tourism office in Torshavn:

“A Faroeman I met a little later beamed upon me in his excitement and said, ‘There is whale in the fiord – plenty whale; it will give us a little pleasure if we can kill him!’ I was to recall that remark later – as a classic understatement of the truth!”

and:

“The long blades carried out a dreadful job and soon, the water and foam were streaked with purple veins. Foul streams of blood gushed from the bodies beneath the waves and spread out on the sea’s surface.”

“The whales’ backs cut through the waves and their blood jetted out into a purple mist, oozing in their wake whilst they frantically ploughed through the waves. They whined in their agony under the reddening water, like woeful, pathetic crybabies.”

“There was much amusement, as much for the spectator as for the worker. Excitement was rising like a fever in everybody’s veins. Often, whilst a whale was being drowned, someone disemboweled it and after a short rummage with the blade of a knife, extracted the kidneys and liver from behind the steaming intestines.”

“Children helped pull on the ropes and the hands of two small girls were stained red up to their wrists so that it seemed they were wearing scarlet gloves. So many children were riding the whales which were being dragged out of the water as for a rodeo, they stayed in place displaying their indifference to the slaughter of their ride and flung themselves on its heart, liver and kidneys when these were torn out. At the entrance to the port, boys younger than adolescents were using hooks attached to ropes to harpoon the whales which had sunk in the port after dying. Their delight was extraordinary.”

and:

"With long lances and knives the men fought, using hooks attached to lines to draw the boats within striking distance; and as the blood flowed freely from the wounded whales, their comrades would not leave them.”

“Even if they reached clear water, they turned again seeking the blood. The large whales seemed to be trying to protect the small ones. Some of the whales, maddened by lance wounds, rushed forward and were stranded in the shallows where they were met by men of Sorvagur and Bour, who, breast deep in blood and water, struck again and again with their grind knives to severe the spinal cord. At last it was over. Not one whale escaped. A hot, heavy odour filled the air; two hundred eighty-six whales lay dead and dying on Midvagur beach.”

“Their broad thick lips curved backward in a grotesque smile, disclosing the small white teeths clenched fast. There lay the leader of the flock, and there, oh the pity of it were poor little baby whales lying by their mothers, born in the agony of panic and of death."

This book written by a Faroese observer puts a lie to the Faroese claim that the whales die in 2 seconds and that they do not suffer. It also proves that there is a sadistic pleasure enjoyed by the killers.

A pilot whale and her unborn calf shortly after a grindA pilot whale and her unborn calf shortly after a grind
Photo: Sea ShepherdThis arousal of a primordial urge to kill is of course a disturbing psychosis, and like all psychopaths, the killers attempt to justify their depravity by saying that they kill for food as if their subsistence depends on it, which it does not.

In doing so they actually bring shame upon their ancestors who indeed killed whales for subsistence in the days before wealth came to the islands and before regular shipments of foods from around Europe and the world arrived on their shores.

There is a difference between the need to hunt for food out of necessity and the desire to kill for the sake of killing.

A visit to any market in the Faroes demonstrates that food is readily available. There is no need to depend upon mercury-tainted meat. This is not a subsistence hunt.

Yet the psychosis of whaling is such that even the dead-certain consumption of poison in the pilot whale meat is justified, and it is a toxin that literally eats away brain tissue. Methyl-mercury is a silent killer and pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to the consequences.

And methyl-mercury is also threatening the whales and diminishing their chances for survival.

There are very few places in the world where cetaceans are tortured and slain for reasons other than necessity. And the killing is done by a pathetically few individuals of the global human community. Not more than a few hundred humans out of seven billion are so inclined to rip open the innocent flesh of dolphins and pilot whales and to spill their hot blood into the cold sea with such enthusiasm.

When a very few of our species practice such depravity in comparison to all the rest, it must follow that this is an aberrant and abnormal psychosis.

In fact there are only a few communities in the entire world where this horrific butchery takes place on a regular basis. The Faroe Islands are one place and a few tiny villages in Japan, like Taiji are the other places.

The Faroes are becoming known as the Taiji of the Atlantic.

We need to produce a film about the grind on par with the Academy Award-winning film The Cove.

At this moment there are some 70 Sea Shepherd volunteers from around the world in the Faroes. Like the Cove Guardians in Taiji they are not there to intentionally break any laws. They are there to do whatever they can do within the boundaries of nonviolence to defend and protect the pilot whales.

The killers, of course in their predictable need to justify their psychotic behavior, accuse these selfless volunteers of being motivated by money, although they are not paid. They accuse them of being racist, as if having empathy for life is a racist motivation. They accuse them of cultural imperialism, as if being compassionate is some form of dictatorial imperative.

I suppose there really are three kinds of people in the world when it comes to humanity’s views about other species of sentient beings. There are the psychotics who get a thrill out of killing and inflicting torture. There are those who have empathy for other species and abhor killing and torture. There are those (the majority) who are in denial and simply don’t care.

The world thus is populated by hominid killers, apathetic hominids and compassionate humans - or as I like to see it: homo arrogantus, homo ignoramus and homo sapiens.

A true homo sapien, that is a real human being that the world’s religions profess to aspire to, are intelligent beings of compassion who empathize with other species, who respect life, do not intentionally harm life and care for and abide by the natural laws of ecology and decency.

Killing should be abhorrent to any human being of compassion. And empathy should be the hallmark of a civilized person.

Many of the Faroese whalers consider themselves to be Christian, yet the Christian Bible specifically forbids the eating of whale meat. But if a justification cannot be found, denial is the next excuse for continuing the killing even to the blasphemous point of declaring that the “Grind” is a gift from God.

Yet it is plain from Leviticus 11:12 that it is forbidden to eat whale meat.

King James Bible

“Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.”

Whale flesh is specifically forbidden by the Bible because whales are devoid of scales. Thus according to the Bible, whale flesh is an abomination and considering the mercury content, it is also an abomination because of its toxicity.

There are ugly rumors coming from the whalers and their supporters that they intend to initiate a confrontation with Sea Shepherd volunteers. There have been many threats and some of the threats are extremely disturbing.

The Danish Navy has been doing exercises on intervening to protect the whale slaughter should Sea Shepherd choose to intervene. In many ways this will be a good thing if they do because it will illustrate Denmark’s support for something that is specifically illegal under the laws of the European Union.

The Sea Shepherd volunteers however are not being deterred and they are not to be frightened off, because they know that unless they are there, hundreds of innocent and intelligent whales and dolphins - entire families - will be massacred.

They know there is a possibility that they may have to shed blood for the whales but that is what defines a Shepherd of the Sea – the wiliness to endure threats, assault and conflict in order to stand in defense of life and for the future of diversity in our ocean realm.

All Sea Shepherd crewmembers are asked if they are prepared to risk their lives in defense of the whales. So whatever the threat, whatever the consequences, the Sea Shepherd volunteers in the Faroes will stand their ground on land and sea for our clients, our friends and our future.

Operation GrindStop Visit our
Operation GrindStop 2014
site for more information.
Categories: Community

Indonesia: Jokowi wins presidency, but can he bring real reform?

Links International - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 15:11

Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is popularly known.

By Peter Boyle

July 25, 2014 – Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Data Brainanta is one of quite a few Indonesian socialists who have been supporting the successful presidential bid of Joko Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is popularly known. He was very happy when Indonesia's electoral commission (KPU) finally confirmed on the night of July 22 that Jokowi had defeated his sole opponent, the sacked former Suharto-era general Prabowo Subianto, by 57% to 43% of the nearly 130 million direct votes cast on July 9.

read more

Categories: Community

Australia: Reject 'Cold War posturing' over MH17 tragedy: No troops to Ukraine!

Links International - Fri, 25/07/2014 - 05:25

Statement by the Socialist Alliance (Australia)

July 24, 2014 -- Socialist Alliance -- The Socialist Alliance conveys its condolences to the families of all its victims of the suspected shooting down to Malaysian Airlines flight 17 (MH17) over war-torn eastern Ukraine but it rejects the inflammatory Cold-War-style political posturing by both Liberal PM Tony Abbott and Labor Party opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Both these politicians have shamelessly sought to exploit this terrible tragedy to step up their pro-war and imperialist propaganda and they have been urged on by the capitalist media.

If the downing of MH17 was a deliberate shooting down of a civilian airliner, then who ever was responsible would be guilty of an atrocious crime against humanity and should be punished accordingly.

However, an independent and objective international investigation into the incident needs to be allowed to take place without provoking more war or leaping to conclusions about who may be responsible.

Instead the Australian government has flagged sending soldiers as part of an "international deployment" to eastern Ukraine under the guise of securing the cash site. This comes amid reports that the US was planning to send military advisers to assist the Ukranian regime in its war against rebels in the east.

read more

Categories: Community

ALP figures Noah Carroll and Stephen Donnelly and the stolen Age tapes

ProgressiveDirection Bloggers - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 21:22

The Age has now revealed certain facts about the stolen recordings of former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.

  • Fairfax reporter attended the ALP conference as a guest
  • CCTV recordings show her dropping a dictaphone as she got up and walked away
  • The recording then shows security staff picking up the dictaphone and taking it to lost property
  • Fairfax states "At this stage we have chosen not to name the individuals involved in order to protect the identity of our sources."

Their identities are no great secret though. Daniel Andrews, running the opposition front bench, is a busy man who needs to keep a squeaky clean profile. This type of cloak and dagger activity is kept at arms length, in the ALP's state office rather than the Parliament.

The two key players there, of course, are Noah Carroll, the formerly bankrupt State Secretary and Stephen Donnelly, assistant secretary and campaign managerwho has previously faced charges over election rigging.

Donnelly is a particularly bad piece of work. It has already been said that due to his role in the La Trobe student union election rigging he will never be allowed to run for public office. The ALP doesn't need another Craig Thomson. Unemployable outside the murky world of Labour politics, this means this duo can work full time on shenanigans like the Age tapes.

Categories: Community

United States: Working-class and left electoral politics back on the radar?

Links International - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 14:54

Click for more on left electoral politics and for more articles by Dan La Botz.

By Dan La Botz

July 2014 -- New Politics -- The US political system, so highly polarised between conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats, has experienced in the last year some interesting changes on the left-hand margin of the national political scene.

From Bill de Blasio’s victory in the mayoral election in New York City, to Kshama Sawant’s winning of a city council seat in Seattle, from the late Chokwe Lumumba’s popularly based campaign in Jackson, Mississippi, to self-described socialist Bernie Sanders’ talk of a run for the presidency, something new appears to be happening.

Independent politics and socialist party campaigns, so long marginal to US political life and from discussion in the media, seem to be back on the radar again. This is all the more remarkable given our terrible election laws that make it so difficult in so many states to get parties and candidates on the ballot.

read more

Categories: Community

A question for Troppodillians: does

Club Troppo - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 05:09

A question for Troppodillians: does anyone have a record of the Australian Government’s response to 1988′s accidental US shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655?

I ask because the parallels with the MH17 shootdown are so clear.

At a political level the government’s response has so far been well-judged. There are few negatives in getting upset about the deaths of Australians overseas, particularly at the hands of a group aligned with a nation whose policies we rightly dislike, whose statements we quite sensibly distrust, and with whom we have few important links.

But at a moral level, it seems to me difficult to judge this episode more reprehensible than the Flight 655 shootdown. MH17 was shot down by untrained yahoos informally but closely connected to the Russsian government. Flight 655 was shot down on the orders of a formally trained US warship commander. The US never apologised to Iran or anyone else over the shootdown.

And my dim recollection is that the Australian Government’s reaction to that was pretty much that it was all a regrettable accident. Hansard’s online search doesn’t return anything from 1988. Does anyone have more detail?

A reminder of what happened when a US warship shot down Flight 655, from the careful-with-the-facts Tim Colebatch, who was in Washington for The Age at the time:

… The initial US response in 1988 was to try to blame the victims. The then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, told the world that flight 655 was flying outside the civilian flight corridor, was emitting military transponder signals, had ignored radio warnings, was flying low and was descending on the USS Vincennes at a rapid 450 knots when the captain ordered that it be shot down. All these claims were false, even if Crowe believed them at the time. It was only two days later, under intense questioning from journalists, that the Pentagon admitted the evidence showed that flight 655 was in fact a routine scheduled flight, emitting civilian transponder signals, flying in its proper corridor, climbing to a 4000 metre altitude, at normal speed. The US sailors clearly got much wrong. Similarly, the Russian rebels clearly mistook MH17 for a military jet and seemed unaware that commercial airlines routinely fly 10 kilometres above their land.
The US military admitted its mistakes. But President Reagan never publicly apologised to the victims’ families. The inquiry cleared the Vincennes commander, and he was later awarded the Legion of Merit. And US public opinion overwhelmingly blamed the victims. As UK Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, Russia is facing ”a defining moment” in its history. The US offers both good and bad examples for it to follow.

If you want more detail, the Flight 655 Wikipedia article seems pretty accurate.

At some stage, someone should ask Tony Abbott what he believes the Hawke Government should have said about Flight 655.

Categories: Community

Spain’s Podemos: An inside view of a radical left sensation

Links International - Thu, 24/07/2014 - 04:27

Pablo Iglesias.

Click for more on Podemos and politics in Spain.

By Iñigo Errejón, head of Podemos' European election campaign

July 15, 2014 -- Le Monde Diplomatique, translated by Revolting Europe -- In Spain, the surge of discontent caused by structural adjustment policies and hostage taking of popular sovereignty by the oligarchic powers gave rise to a series of protests and created spaces for social cooperation. However, it had no effect on the political system and its internal balance.

read more

Categories: Community

Venezuela: Chavista debate more than 'pragmatists vs radicals', 'Trotsky vs Stalin'

Links International - Wed, 23/07/2014 - 08:52

Jorge Giordani.

For more on Venezuela, click HERE.

By Federico Fuentes

July 21, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The publication of a document highly critical of the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, authored by one of the longest-serving ministers in former president Hugo Chavez’s government, has triggered an unprecedented debate among Venezuelan revolutionaries.

Jorge Giordani dropped the bombshell on June 18, a day after he was replaced as planning minister. This was preceded by his dismissal from the boards of Venezuela's Central Bank and state oil company PDVSA, the state oil company. He had held the post almost uninterruptedly since Chavez first came to power in 1999. .

Many view Giordani as a principal architect of the Chavez government’s economic policy and representative of a more orthodox Marxist strand within cabinet. His removal has been portrayed as evidence of a widening rift between “pragmatists” and “radicals” in the government.

Giordani’s testimony

read more

Categories: Community

#EWLink: What is it? What is it For? Why it won’t die easily? – Sophie Sturup on mega projects

Daniel Bowen - Tue, 22/07/2014 - 23:47

I and others have been known to call the East-West Link tunnel a zombie project — you can fight it off (as was done in the 70s) but it will never truly die.

Last year at the launch for the Trains Not Tollroads campaign, Dr Sophie Sturup gave a great speech on mega projects. She made some really good points about how these multi-billion dollar mega projects get up, and about EWLink specifically.

She’s given variations on the speech elsewhere… these are summary notes from a similar speech given to the Carlton Residents Association meeting on 14 March this year. Reproduced with permission. Hopefully they’re as compelling in written form as they are spoken.

Victorian government advertising their "second river crossing"

What is East – West?

East – West project is a mega project and a road project. That is why my research on the mentalities of mega projects has some relevance to it.

From my research, a mega projects have a couple of salient features:

1. Power is in mega projects is based on sovereignty – which is to say that these projects rest on the fact that someone with the authority to do so has declared that they will be done. Thus the legitimacy of the project is directly linked to the people who said it would happen. To question the legitimacy of the project is to question the right of the ‘sovereign’ to decide things, and this is generally confused with the legitimacy of the sovereign at all. The other thing about this is that everyone operating in the project is able to do so because of the sovereign decision. Thus they cannot question the project’s legitimacy either without removing their ability to operate in the project at all.

2. Process in the project is dominated by project thinking. Project thinking is about deciding what needs to be done, and then creating boundaries around that so that it cannot be interfered with. That is, making the project manageable. This is one of the reasons why consultation looks pretty weird in these projects. By the time the community gets talked to about the project, the project has already been decided upon (see 1) and the fact that it is happening cannot be questioned. The project thinking means that the only questions of relevance are those which will ‘improve’ the project either by reducing its costs or reducing the impact on the community. And the reduction of impact on the community can only be accommodated if it reduces costs or the time taken in the project (which also costs money).

3. Mega projects do not come about as a result of identification of a problem, and then the application of a solution. The process of creating a mega project includes the problem and solution being jointly conceived. This happens as the stories or rationales for the project, and what can be conceived as being done jointly emerge – this lets you get at the next item on this agenda which is why has this project happened?

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

What is the project for?

The rationale for mega projects needs to make sense if the project is going to be a success. In this sense East-west is a failure waiting to happen. It won’t be a failure because it isn’t built on time and on budget. The Linking Melbourne Authority has the competence to ensure that that happens. Unfortunately that isn’t what constitutes success in mega projects.

One of the key findings of Omega Project 2, a research project looking at 32 mega transport projects across 10 countries (run by the Omega Centre, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and funded by Volvo Education and Research Foundation (VREF) was that mega projects are context specific and where they don’t have an open and exploratory relationship with the context they work out as a failure.

My own research which focused the Australian cases of Melbourne’s City Link, the Perth to Mandurah Railway and Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel, found in Australia we define success as occurring when projects meet their stated outcomes (in transport projects that means traffic numbers) and the companies which build them are successful in financial terms (which of course is related to the traffic numbers being correct).

The reason that East – West will be a failure is therefore that the stated goals are:

a) Fluffy

b) Not agreed on

c) Based on inducing traffic, so there won’t look like any kind of benefit. For example the modelling shows that the traffic in Alexandra Parade will reduce a tiny bit briefly, but be back at the same level by 2020. This will not look like 30% reduction in traffic on the Eastern Freeway, unless of course the traffic numbers projected to be induced doesn’t’ happen in which case there won’t be enough traffic to meet that modelled expectation. Similarly the changes on Bell St or reduced traffic on M1 will not be noticeable by the people who are near enough to the tunnel to make a difference.

The fluffiness of the dialogue on the purpose of the project is thus such that if they succeed in getting the numbers they predict the Eastern Freeway will be horrible and the numbers on Alexandra Parade the same so the predictions will be wrong because there will not be a 30% reduction in traffic. Or alternatively they won’t get the numbers of induced traffic in which case the tunnel will be seen as a failure because it isn’t able to pay for itself (and therefore wasn’t really needed).

This leads to the conclusion that whatever the stated objectives in the media (primarily ‘reduce congestion’) that probably isn’t what it is really for. So what is indicated in the objectives which isn’t quite so fluffy?

The objectives which appear to have teeth are:

a) Induce traffic onto the eastern freeway – in the form of trucks. This makes sense. After turning the section of Freeway between the City Link tunnels and the Bolte Bridge into freeway spaghetti, it is not surprising that B-double truck drivers are less than happy with that route. City Link changed the location of key freight logistics hubs and helped the development of a major one out at Lyndhurst/Dandenong. East-Link was built to facilitate this development (among other things). However the trucks (which represent several cars in terms of counting traffic) have failed to use the road to come to the Eastern Freeway. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to go when they get there. Thus one logic for this road which makes sense is to create a new link for trucks trying to access the port from Lyndhurst. This will have the effect of reducing the cost to the state of East-Link (because of increased toll revenue), and thus obliquely help pay for the East-West. It will also keep the truck moguls happy, and reduce the truck traffic on the M1 (which is of course Liberal heartland). It is possible to observe this as a source of equity, it will share the truck traffic, and hence the enormous danger to health and life they present, around the city more. Bringing large numbers of B-doubles and their pollution into those eastern suburbs which are almost truck free.

b) As speculation, another source of possible logic for East-West is to grant access to the Liberal swinging voters in the east to some of the jobs that are coming from the west in particular the Airport. Obviously this isn’t one of the things discussed widely in the media. This would explain why ‘improving access to the airport for those in the eastern suburbs’ might make a type of sense. Certainly spending $8 billion on a tunnel so “George” can go to the airport twice a year more comfortably doesn’t.

c) A third logic which makes sense is that this project is getting funded by the Federal government and there is no money on the table for anything else. It is against all logic in public service not to take up money when it is offered even when it only represents 18% of the cost of $8 billion.

d) Finally the logic of keeping car driving alive and well in the city is also relevant here. Tony Abbott has clearly expressed the view in various publications including Borderline what in his view we will have failed as a society if freely available car transport isn’t provided.

The other reasons why the road is occurring are largely borrowed from the Eddington report which was based on dealing with an accessibility and equity problem that was real – the issues of the disadvantaged West and the actually congested Westgate Bridge. The rationale in Eddington doesn’t make much sense for the East-West stage 1 because it comes from a study which had the centre of it’s study area in Laverton, and only at the very edge reached the end of the Eastern Freeway. An example of such nonsense statements is the one which came out in the second news letter from LMA (before the second half of East West was announced) which stated that the project was required because by 2031 almost 440,000 cars would be crossing the Maribyrnong by road (none of course would be in the East-West stage 1 as that project does not cross the Maribyrnong).

Why this project won’t die easily

One of the main reasons is that both sides of politics have a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their right to make sovereign decisions. The major parties like to make decisions on these things and then deliver them it removes all that messy business of democracy. If the Labor Party was to revoke the contracts it would not only be expensive by they would essentially be admitting that these things should only happen after consultation (which is likely to make it very difficult to get anything done).

Secondly the Labor party has linked their policy to jobs. Because of the time it takes to get large projects up and running, they will not meet their targets without East-West. Therefore they will not revoke contracts unless forced.

Why do I care?

I believe that we probably do have an infrastructure crisis in this country. Apart from new projects much of our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced. Also I believe we need to massively retrofit our cities for sustainability and even to just accommodate more people. We probably need mega projects to do that.

The problem with this project is that every failed mega project inflates the cost of the next one. You can already see that with the massive cost increases between Cross City Tunnel, the Brisbane tunnels and this project.

The other problem that this project exposes is the degree to which government has come to the conclusion that the community cannot be consulted with. I don’t believe this is just ideology, it has also come from bitter experience. If the community is going to insist on being consulted, then it is up to us to figure out how to do that in ways which are productive.

More reading/viewing:

Categories: Community

Australia can't criticize Putin while competing with him

ProgressiveDirection Bloggers - Tue, 22/07/2014 - 13:27

While much of the world is watching the tragedy of MH17 and contemplating the grim fate of 298 deceased passengers sealed into a refrigerated freight train in the middle of a war zone, Australia (with 28 victims on that train) has more than just theoretical skeletons in the closet too.

At this moment, some 153 Tamil refugees, fleeing the same type of instability that brought a horrible death to the passengers of MH17, have been locked up in the hull of a customs ship on the high seas. Windowless cabins and a supply of food not fit for a dog are part of the Government's strategy to brutalize these people for simply trying to avoid the risk of enhanced imprisonment(TM) in their own country.

Under international protocol for rescue at sea and political asylum, these people should be taken to the nearest port and given a humanitarian visa on arrival. Australia, however, is trying to lie and cheat their way out of these international obligations while squealing like a stuck pig about the plight of Australians in the hands of Putin. If Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants to encourage Putin to co-operate with the international community, shouldn't he try to lead by example? How can Australians be safe abroad if our country systematically abuses foreigners in their time of need?

Categories: Community

Ben Hills’ monument to newspaper journalism

Club Troppo - Mon, 21/07/2014 - 04:43

Ben Hills has a new book out – Stop the Presses! How Greed, Ambition and Incompetence wrecked Fairfax. It’s published by (surprise!) News Corp’s HarperCollins imprint. Its essential thesis is that the Fairfax media group, owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is in trouble because it has been run by nongs. Boards and managements have been too dumb to exploit the opportunities of the Internet, Hills reckons. He thinks Fairfax should have bought Seek and carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au. Fairfax also needs to be run by “people who know about media”, he complains.

Since Hills is making a virtue of plain language, I’ll copy him: Hills’ theory is tripe, and I’m surprised more people aren’t calling him on it. In the media, most people seems to be treating him very politely.

But Stop the Presses! also has its lessons – though perhaps not the ones Hills draws.

The reality is that “people who know about media” do not have a great record of thriving in online business. Hills points to Eric Beecher as an example of an ex-newspaperman thriving in the Internet age, but Beecher looks like an admirable but thoroughgoing exception to the general rule – and his online enterprise is, so far, sub-vast.

I worked in newspapers for more than a decade and in Fairfax’s online operations for several months. I left Fairfax in 1998 to join an Internet start-up. The truth as best I can see it is that Fairfax over the years has had normal leadership, but they’ve run into a hugely abnormal economic disruption. In normal industries at normal times, normal leadership makes normal mistakes, nobody pays much attention for long, and enough successes happen to keep management’s reputation intact. But when an industry is having its entire economic underpinnings ripped away – which is what is happening to newspapers – management doesn’t look so good.

This happens in all industries. Think of Kodak’s response to digital photography. For that matter, think of carriage-makers’ response to the rise of the car: none of those firms have their names on anyone’s boot-lid today.

If Hills had prominently acknowledged this, and had pointed out that Fairfax had reacted like most other big businesses in a similar situation, I’d have more sympathy for him. If he had taken care to say that the world he yearns for was the product of an information quasi-monopoly, I’d cut him some slack. But he hasn’t said these things up-front, even though they are the foundation of Fairfax’s strife.

So, four questions for Ben Hills:

  • If “media people” know so much about today’s online media, why have so many of them been astonished by the decline of the newspaper business?
  • If hundreds of papers have closed around the world in recent years, how likely is it that Fairfax’s problems could have been solved by sound management?
  • If newspaper companies can make a great success of buying and running and growing online advertising businesses, what proportion of newspaper companies in developed nations have actually done so?
  • If Fairfax had bought it had bought Seek and carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au, would it really be using them to cross-subsidise its newspapers?

I have my own couple of thoughts about that last question.

  • If Fairfax had bought all these firms, it wouldn’t have made any difference to the thing Hills really dislikes: the collapse of the economic underpinnings for news reporting. It would have merely made Fairfax a business concentrating on online advertising and not very interested in editorial.
  • If Fairfax had bought all these firms, it wouldn’t have run them very well. It would have had roughly the same success with them that News Ltd has had with MySpace.

“What is Fairfax today?” complained Hills on Jon Faine’s ABC Radio show yesterday. “It’s a dating site …” But if it had bought Seek and carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au as well, it would be a job ads site and a car ads site and a real estate site. And that sort of site doesn’t do news either. Fairfax today might be bigger if it had somehow been run by Internet visionaries, but its newspapers probably would not be; they’d be in just as much trouble. And Hills might well be complaining about how Fairfax was neglecting them.

“One just cannot fathom their strategy,” he says of Fairfax management. Well, Ben Hills can’t fathom it. It’s possible that this is because he doesn’t understand economic history. This would be a failing in a journalist writing about business. At least he has plenty of company in the journalism profession.

“You’ll never get the doings of Eddie Obeid exposed in a Twitter feed,” Hills said on Faine’s show. Has he heard of Wikileaks? (Faine, to his credit, challenged Hills on this point, and his guest, media academic Andrea Carson, also sounded doubtful about various Hills claims.)

Hills’ book seems really to be a book-length version of a whinge I have been hearing from Fairfax journalists for 15 years. It stands mostly as a monument to some newspaper journalists’ lasting inability to understand the changing economic realities on which they report.

Categories: Community

Australian economic reform: The next generation

Club Troppo - Sun, 20/07/2014 - 16:40

As published on the Lowy Interpreter on 14 July 2014.

Growth in HALE index, Intangible GDP, net national income and GDP, 2005-2014.

John Edwards’ Beyond the Boom tilts effectively against Australia’s congenitalHanrahanism. It points out the extent to which we managed to finance the wild ride of the boom (the massive surge in mining investment, from 2% to 7% of GDP) without blowing out our current account deficit and foreign debt or setting off an inflationary spiral as we’ve done in the past.

We did it with a floating exchange rate, superior macro-economic policy and higher savings. How many people are aware of these facts as recited by Edwards?

By 2013, Australia’s rate of workforce participation was higher than the US, once cited as a country far ahead of Australia in respect of that indicator. Australia’s rate of investment was far higher than Japan or Germany, to which Australia had usually been unfavourably compared in this respect. Its rate of saving was also far higher than Japan or Germany, recognised as saving paragons.

Edwards is strangely muted on the role of compulsory superannuation in lifting savings, perhaps because he’s aware of its huge and inequitable cost to the budget. (Naïve question: If we want to lift household savings, we can use compulsion or incentives. Why do we use both?)

What’s more, as Edwards points out, much of our investment occurred not in physical structures — buildings, plant and equipment — but in human capital, in the skills of our people. The Herald/Age Lateral Economics (HALE) index of well-being takes GDP and adjusts it for some of the major inadequacies of GDP in measuring well-being. And our measure (see graph above) corroborates Edwards’ story, with human capital rising faster than GDP.

For instance, consistent with the figures Edwards cites, the proportion of the workforce with Certificate III qualifications or above has risen from 40.7% in 2003 to 52.3% in 2013. These changes scored a squillionth of the column inches devoted to the mining boom, but they matter more. From mid-2005 to the latest quarter reported, real GDP has grown by 28%. Net national income (NNI) captures the rise in the terms of trade and so lifts our measured economic growth to 33%. The HALE index takes NNI as a better starting point for measuring welfare than GDP and, even with rising obesity and mental illness weighing it down, human capital increases our measured increase in well-being another ten percentage points to 43%.

Does this mean we’re out of the woods? Well, yes and no!

I’m broadly in agreement with Edwards that we’ve handled the boom relatively well (and brilliantly when compared with our former booms). Still, just as Adam Smith asserted, it was ongoing production that mattered more than accumulated treasure. We will (or won’t) adjust to what the future throws at us not because of the accuracy of our pundits’ predictions today, but rather as a function of the quality of leadership as the future unfolds.

The upside here is that, as Edwards points out, labour productivity can be expected to grow at 1.5% per annum. Even if it grew at 1%, this would generate around four times the annual growth cost that aging will impose upon our economy in the coming decades. And fiscal drag exerts a powerful budgetary counterweight against the depredations of rising dependency ratios.

None of this is to endorse the complacency produced by our increasingly dysfunctional political-infotainment complex. Each major party campaigns by gravely warning of impending crisis while promising not to hurt a fly.

The world is a dangerous place, and pessimists like Ross Garnaut may be right that real income falls are in store for us. If he is right, then he’s right also that bringing such a transition off fairly and efficiently (which is largely a function of how strongly unemployment figures in the transition) is a difficult business.

There’s another kind of complacency that Edwards’ helps illustrate. There’s an unfortunate presumption among our policy elite that productivity-enhancing reform is conceptually straightforward and only requires the stiffening our political resolve. In this scenario the role of the pundit is as a kind of motivational spur. In politics as in sport, it’s a case of ‘no pain, no gain’.

Gary Banks’ ‘to do list‘ illustrates the problem. Edwards’ claim that the adoption of any of the items on the list ‘or for that matter the whole lot, would probably not make a measurable difference to GDP growth’ is exaggerated. But his point, that the items on this list pale into insignificance against the reform strides from 1983 to 2000, is hard to dispute. Gary’s list is mostly the unfinished business of those glory days of reform.

Since then we’ve failed to replenish the intellectual larder. Australia, a standard bearer for neo-liberal reform and the only one with a focus on equity, has been reticent to build on that legacy by moving beyond it.

Recently we at Lateral Economics were commissioned to estimate the benefits of more vigorous policies to embrace open-source data in the age of the internet. Despite high-level government commitment to the agenda, and the fact that the US and the UK are racing ahead of us, Australia is taking its time. Treasury and the Reserve Bank don’t even have real-time tax data from GST returns to help them take the economy’s pulse. We surprised ourselves to find that such an agenda could add around 1% to economic growth without generating any substantial losers. But it’s not on Gary’s list.

That’s just one example. I could offer many more, having worked on my own list for some time. But none conform to the ideological formulas of the 1980s and 1990s, when the dominant criterion by which reforms were judged was as crude as asking whether they were more or less ‘pro-market’.

Chest-beating endurance of electoral pain won’t deliver reforms like this if there isn’t the intellectual curiosity and courage to imagine them and get them on the list.

Categories: Community

Pages