Archive for March, 2007

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The steadfast climb up Mount Arrogant

March 23, 2007

I’ve watched Barack Obama with increasing interest over these last few months and one of the things that has really struck me about the man is his quick-witted ability to size things up in an instant and deliver a succinct sentence or two that cuts to the heart of whatever he’s talking about. John Howard felt the full brunt of Obama’s ability to do this about a month and a half ago when he proclaimed that terrorists in Iraq supported Obama and the Democrats in the US. Of course, Howard’s remarks were made in the context of his unwavering assertion that civilization will come to an end if the US and Australia pull out of Iraq. Upon hearing Howard’s remarks, Obama quipped back that if Howard was so “ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, then perhaps he should send 20,000 more Australians to the war. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.” And there you have it. That’s all it is. If Howard is so committed to fighting terrorism, then why are Australian troops stationed in the relatively peaceful south of Iraq and not in the middle around Baghdad where the hotbed of Iraqi resistance, insurgency and terrorism is happening? If Howard is so committed to fighting terrorism, why do we have a total of only 550 troops in Iraq? I noticed Alexander Downer saying this week that the Governemnt will never surrender to the terrorists in Iraq. Surrender? Our forces aren’t even in Baghdad fighting them Alexander – surely you know that. Of course you do – your whole goal is to whip up hysteria and fear in the electorate.

Howard is caught between a rock and a hard place in regard to Iraq. On the one hand, he can’t desert his mate George W. Bush and admit that he was wrong to support this absolute disaster of a war in the first place. On the other hand, he can’t really back up his thunderous claims with more troops because he knows how deeply unpopular the war is in Australia. So what does he do? In the classic slimey Howard way, he attempts to play the electorate with fear and a steadfast projection of himself as the wise captain at the helm, always knowing what is up ahead and steering us poor ignorant voters to safety.

But is this washing with voters anymore? I’m not so sure. Polls, as we all know, usually aren’t very good signifiers of anything unless there’s a marked trend over a time of about six months or more. However, looking at the polls over the last six months it seems as though this trend is happening and support for Howard’s government as well as the popularity of the man himself is slipping. Interestingly enough, one of these polls suggested that 68% of voters believe that Howard is arrogant. In response, Howard said: “I don’t feel very arrogant, I don’t behave in an arrogant manner”. No! Of course not. Why would voters think that someone like Howard, who thinks the Vietnam War was justified and right, even with the benefit of hindsight, is arrogant? Why would anyone think that Howard who has said this week in regard to Iraq that “I accept that I may be, on this issue, swimming against the tide of public opinion” is arrogant? Then again, perhaps Howard is telling the truth in saying that he doesn’t feel very arrogant, because he knows that everything he’s saying on Iraq and terrorism is “empty rhetoric”. And thus we return to Obama’s nail on the head summary. It’s all a bunch of empty rhetoric – everything that Howard has said on Iraq and Afghanistan is.

The point was again highlighted this week on Radio National Breakfast by Professor William Maley, director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the ANU when Fran Kelly asked him about Afghanistan and the dire situation there:

“Alright, so how do we combat this? Is it simply more troops? I know that certainly that’s what the Australian Government and the US Administration have been calling for.”

To which Professor Maley responded:

“Yes, I think it’s actually very disappointing that the Prime Minister, in his speech last night to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute didn’t take the opportunity to announce a further deployment of cutting edge troops to Afghanistan. It actually highlighted for me that the speech was much more about the Australian election than about the well being of the people in Afghanistan.”

And there you have it again. Obama sized it up and said it straight away a month and half ago and Professor Maley has echoed his summary this week. Howard has scaled to the very top of Mount Arrogant over the last few years and is now bellowing out in every direction to make it look like he was right to do so. All the while, the truth is that he is precariously stuck on the summit. I wonder what form the rescue helicopter is going to take. It’s only a matter of time before the Government whips up another distraction lie. The question is whether it will work again this time. I’ve said it before and many others have been saying it for some time now: it’s going to be a very interesting year in Australian politics.

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Aching thighs from the top

March 18, 2007

OK, it’s not the best idea to go on an intense bushwalk when you’re not in the best shape and you have a serious chronic illness with symptoms that tend to strike without warning. But, I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me. Today, S and I wandered into Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and walked the Gibraltar Trail (pdf) which is in the “challenging” category of the Tidbinbilla walks.

It started off as an overland trail which was quite easy. As we got up the first hill, about 30 kangaroos greeted us with inquisitive looks and ears pricking up in every direction. We pushed on to the tough part. It was steep – really steep – and it took quite a while to reach the summit at 1040 metres, but we got there and boy was it amazing. At several points along the way, we paused to pick different types of Eucalypt leaves which all smelt wonderful. When we got to the top, we were struck dumb by an amazing rock formation and a view that will stay with me forever. My thighs were aching and I felt buggered, but hell – the complete (and I mean complete) silence, the wafting smell of the Eucalypts and the satisfaction at having climbed all the way to the top made everything else seem to fade into the background in a prolonged moment of pure bliss. Next time, I shall remember to bring my camera. But for the moment, here is a picture (that someone else took) of what greeted us when we reached the top:

Image from here.

If you’re ever down in the southern reaches of the ACT and you’ve got a day, head into Tidbinbilla. It’s well worth it. We have resolved to return during the year (although not in the freezing winter) to have a crack at the rest of the walks there. I can’t wait!

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I don’t want any gay people around me while I’m killing kids, OK?

March 14, 2007

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US, Peter Pace, has condemned homosexuality saying: “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts… I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”

Oh please! I can’t believe that every few years this becomes a huge issue in the US. It’s ridiculous, it really is. To say that a homosexual is not qualified to perform a job of any nature because of their sexual orientation is outright STUPID. When are these poeple going to get with the program?

Besides, when did we start listening to military officials to guide us in relation to issues of morality? The military? Moral? I can’t begin to articulate my reaction to this latest outburst of stupidity. As always, someone else has said it better – and more often than not, that someone is Bill Hicks:

“Gays in the military… Here’s how I feel about it. Anyone dumb enough to wanna be in the military should be allowed in… You know what I mean… I’m so sick… I’ve watched all the fucking Congressional hearings, and all these military guys and all the pundits “oh the espirit de core will be affected, and we are such a moral…” Excuse me, aren’t y’all just fucking hired killers?! Shut up! You are thugs and when we need you to go blow the fuck out of a nation of little brown people, we’ll let you know… Until then… Where did the fucking military get all this (military voice) moral, we are the military, is that a village of children and kids, where’s the napalm? (burning noise) I don’t want any gay people hanging around me while I’m killing kids… I just don’t wanna see it.”

I’m just glad that the US military is full of fine, upstanding moral and dedicated individuals – imagine how they would act if they had to perform their duties with openly gay people…

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Winning Hearts and Minds…

March 7, 2007

Through rape, torture, intimidation and murder. That’s the way to do it! Although it’s been well documented through disgusting examples like the Abu Ghuraib prisoner abuse episode, everytime I hear more about the way ordinary Iraqis have been treated under the US led occupation, I get more upset and outraged.

Last night on Late Night Live, Phillip Adams spoke to Joshua Key, a US Soldier who served in Iraq and has now gone AWOL and applied for refugee status in Canada after refusing to return there after witnessing and taking part in some of the most horrific, disgusting and degrading acts that I’ve ever heard about. For the full MP3 interview, go here and be sure to download it as the ABC only keeps it up for about a week. Josh’s book The Deserter’s Tale: Why I walked away from the war in Iraq was released in Australia this week.

Last night in the interview, Josh told us that among other things, he had witnessed the following:

  • A little girl who had usually come to beg food off Josh and some other soldiers decapitated after being machine-gunned.
  • A father and his 10 year old son decapitated by US troops after their car came under machine gun fire. There were no weapons or explosives in the car whatsoever.
  • Four Iraqi bodies decapitated and US troops kicking one of the heads around like a soccer ball on the banks of the Euphrates River.
  • US soldiers using C4 explosives to break down residential doors.
  • US soldiers stealing people’s possessions after raiding their houses. Josh explained that one of the soldiers he was on duty with even took to stealing jewellery from some of the houses they raided and sent it back home to his wife in the US.
  • What he thinks may have been a rape. Josh said that whilst he was outside a building they had raided, he was told by another soldier to guard the front of the building. In the 20 or so minutes in which he did so, he said he heard grunts, a woman repeatedly screaming and other noises which overwhelmingly led him to the opinion that the Iraqi woman inside had been raped by a US soldier.

This is not to say that every US soldier in Iraq is taking part in these disgusting activities, but it’s no wonder that attacks against US troops are viewed favourably by a majority of the Iraqi population when disgusting abuses such as these occur. There is no justification for these acts, not that there was any justification for the war in the first place. In the 200 odd house raids that Josh took part in, he tells us that he didn’t find one terror suspect nor any weapons of any kind. Thus, ordinary Iraqi houses are being destroyed, looted and their occupants humiliated, raped, tortured and killed under this occupation every day.

All this is from the mouth of only one soldier which can only lead us to the horrifying conclusion that this is happening all over Iraq. This brutal occupation must end now.

UPDATE 9/3/07: Tony Jones speaking to Joshua Key on Lateline last night.

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Is this all they’ve got?

March 5, 2007

I won’t waffle on about the Burke affair, as everyone who has the slightest interest in it will be up to date on the latest happenings. Besides, plenty of other bloggers have already given insightful commentary on Howard’s usual selfish, childish tactics and Rudd’s genuine stuff up.

But really, I mean is this all that Howard and his cronies can come up with after three months of Rudd in the job? Mud-slinging at the man himself? Rudd has comprehensively out-manoeuvred the Howard government over the last three months and has shown them up for what they really are: self-interested, power hungry elites with no long term vision on the most important issues facing Australia such as climate change, education and fairness in the workplace. Scandal after scandal after scandal have accompanied the Howard Government’s time in office: the Children Overboard affair, the AWB kickbacks scandal in which Howard and his cronies made damn sure they wouldn’t be implicated in any of the Cole Inquiry findings by carefully crafting the terms of reference and of course the War in Iraq which John Howard still supports despite everything that has happened over the past four years.

Kevin Rudd has dinner with a former WA Premier and 40 other people and Howard points the finger and says that Rudd is dishonest and slimey. Honestly, is this all the chief liars of the decade – Howard and his incompetent front bench of political mud-slingers – have on Rudd? Clearly it is, and the way in which Howard has conducted himself in the last week by sluggishly picking up the butter knife and going for the jugular shows just why the electorate is ready for Rudd and why Howard is going to have a fight on his hands this year. I guess we’ll see when the polls come out tomorrow just what effect Howard’s childish (and hypocritical given Campbell’s behaviour) mud-slinging will have had.

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What you gonna do Zimbabwe?

March 1, 2007

What you gonna do Zimbabwe
What you gonna do Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a man who tried
to teach his children what was right
but then there came a time when war
split the family from inside
he said no fighting no more
what you gonna do Zimbabwe
what you gonna do Zimbabwe
the old man sits and shakes his head
while the multitudes insist
where is the cause of unity
with just one thought there could be peace
men gathered in silence the same
can there be some peace on Earth
can there be a love
greater than the world we see
greater than us all
it’s the last station home
it’s the last station home
you ran your heart in those days
when no-one could see days
you want to run in the wind
you want to go back inside
see no more crime in your lifetime
Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
no more crime in your lifetime
Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe


– Toni Childs, Zimbabwe

I’ve had this song playing in my head all this week, ever since I saw Robert Mugabe prancing around celebrating his 83rd birthday at the weekend . The celebration reportedly cost millions of dollars, whilst millions of Zimbabweans struggle to even feed themselves and their children each day. Mugabe celebrated his birthday by slapping a three month ban on all political rallies. In early February, Zimbabwe’s inflation was up at 1600% and the IMF is predicting official inflation to be at 4000% for this year. So what does Mugabe do? He sacks the Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa who warned him recently not to flood the country with newly printed money that would just make inflation worse.

Mugabe’s brutal regime has run the economy into the ground, suppressed all opposition and ignored all suggestions and pleas for sane policies that will at least attempt to bring the economy back on track and pay the long suffering people of Zimbabwe their wages in order for them to feed themselves. Ah, but how to feed themselves when Mugabe’s policies (or lack thereof) have resulted in food production to drop to one-sixth of what it was in 1999?

Over the past decade, over three million Zimbabweans have crossed the border into South Africa, desparate for work. Is there any hope left in this once shining light of Africa? Perhaps there is and the reason for it is depressing, but it is a reason nonetheless. The economy is so bad that the people of Zimbabwe are starting to stir and are defying the bans on demonstrations in greater numbers everyday. With the combined economically driven desparation of the people and the umpteeth mobilisation of the Movement for Democratic Change behind Morgan Tsvangirai, there are signs that Mugabe’s days could be numbered. The fear of many is that Mugabe will try to hold onto power at any cost. Brutal suppression is a speciality of this man and the corrupt forces he employs to protect his power. As the people of Zimbabwe rise to claim back their country, Mugabe will probably make it as difficult as possible for them to do so and will not shy away from shooting, beating and starving them in the process.

My heart cries out in pain for this great nation. My hope is that Mugabe will be booted out on his arse in peace and Zimbabwe will have the hope that it once possessed returned to it. What you gonna do Zimbabwe?