April 29th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Taking stock of the wheat scandal

EDITORIAL: Watering Australia: a national priority

BORDER PROTECTION: Why Australia needs naval, air force bases in Torres Strait

NATIONAL SECURITY: Lives endangered by latest intelligence leaks

ENVIRONMENTALISM: How the Great Barrier Reef is mismanaged

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Labor misses the bus / All is vanity / Kosovo's mafia / When the bills come in / Open season on Christianity

REGIONAL ECONOMIC POLICY: The end of international economic cooperation? (Part 2)

PERU: Latest Latin American country to turn left

SCHOOLS: The choice so few parents can afford

MEDIA: ABC's Easter assault on Christianity

THE WEST AND ISLAM: No alternative but to defend our values

Social cost of unfettered capitalism (letter)

Robert Manne's media critique defended (letter)

Why have a Department of Foreign Affairs? (letter)

CINEMA: Caped crusader for the know-nothing left: V for Vendetta

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Labor misses the bus / All is vanity / Kosovo's mafia / When the bills come in / Open season on Christianity

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 29, 2006
Labor misses the bus

Apropos the frequently announced inevitable triumph of capitalism and globalism, and the irresistible march of economic rationalism, Australian union leaders and many others have been furious at the extent to which the political agenda has been hogged by the "wheat scandal", the West Papuans, and the Aborigines - while the new workplace relations laws have, so far, been barely discussed. John Howard must have been delighted.

Why has Labor been doing this? Before I try to answer this, I'll just say that the Left had an election-winner in this matter. That is, if they had managed to collect their thoughts - and provided that Howard was not realistic enough to make sufficient changes to blunt the new system's claws, while confusing his critics, who don't read, won't read and can't read the new regulations, let alone any changed ones.

Labor leaders and their remarkably incompetent media buddies have been fixated upon the removal or degradation of John Howard - their latest obligatory father figure - and have wasted 10 years rabbiting on with virtually nothing of interest, or even relevance, concerning policies or the ways this country has been changing.

The two Labor leaders who virtually monopolise the media - to the exclusion of most, if not all, of their colleagues - are Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd, who are fighting for the party leadership. Neither appears to be interested in, or knowledgeable about, anything other than foreign policy, war or the compassion industries subcontracted from these activities.

This is the intellectual legacy of the 1960s and the Cairns/Whitlam simplistic, and sometimes hallucinatory, discourse which at times seemed to comprise the whole political agenda - whereas most people, especially Labor people, are more concerned with the bread-and-butter issues, and the standard and quality of life.

They won't get much realistic hands-on advice from Rudd or Beazley. Perhaps these two should take turns reading to one another.

In reality, there is still a great deal of anxiety about, and considerable suspicion of, how these changes in working conditions will affect ordinary people. Our conservatives should be noting what's been happening in France and Italy in reaction to changes in work and employment laws and the kinds of people taking dramatic political advantage of public apprehensions.

All is vanity

Francis Fukuyama is like a figure in a carousel. At one moment, you see a horse; but, as the merry-go-round spins, it is a hawk, then a dove, and so on. His views change as the wheels turn. He wrote The End of History and the Last Man (1992), in which democratic capitalism was proclaimed to be the best, even the ultimate form of, social development, and the whole world was moving that way, whether it knew it, or liked it, or not.

As more and more countries struggled against this delicious fate worse than death being predicted for them, whole sections of the populations of long-standing capitalist, liberal democracies have been expressing discontent with, or uninterest in, this system - to the point where at least one country, Italy, appears ungovernable and unreformable, while Germany is bogged down by major sections of its society who are opting out of the whole process, or, in the case of the wealthy, moving out to more profitable, less democratic places, e.g., China.

The US - despite its population's continuing love affair with capitalism and liberal democracy - seems divided, and drifting - downwards, in every kind of trouble. So Fukuyama's thesis is appearing increasingly shaky.

But Fukuyama continued on, extolling the virtues of his original analysis. But now, this arch-neoconservative and original advocate and continuing supporter for America's War in Iraq, has turned with the carousel and denounced the whole operation and the neoconservative legacy - a legacy originally powered by Fukuyama's advocacy.

Understandably, his erstwhile colleagues are accusing him of losing his grip, giving in to fanatics and beheaders and being simply opportunistic.

The University of Melbourne's Dr Dvir Abramovich, in an excellent little article (Melbourne Herald Sun, April 13, 2006), reminded us that, in 1998, Fukuyama signed a letter to President Bill Clinton, imploring him to use military might to remove Hussein; while, within days of September 11, he signed another public letter, urging Bush to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In 2003, he put out a letter "rejoicing in the fall of Saddam". Would you buy a secondhand car ... etc, etc?

On the other hand, in 2000, Bush and Condoleezza Rice criticised Clinton for intervening in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti, in the hope of introducing democracy. In fact, I think they were correct to criticise the amateurishness of the operations.

But Iraq is for high stakes. Nevertheless, as things are panning out, Fukuyama may be right, for the wrong reasons - as one eminent person described my original prognosis for the Vietnam War.

Kosovo's mafia

Readers who have been following the course of the long and utterly deplorable wars in the former Yugoslavia, via our periodical reports in News Weekly, will be saddened, but not surprised, by the final denouement, which is in Kosovo.

Almost as soon as the death of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic was announced, we were allowed to know that Kosovo is "falling into the grip of Albanian organised crime gangs" (UK Sunday Times, April 9, 2006). They are, of course, the same crowd who set up the KLA, the Albanian terrorist force which operated from Albania and raided into Kosovo until the Serb army, coming to the rescue of their compatriots, drove out not simply the KLA but ethnically-cleansed the Albanians of Kosovo as well.

The Albanians are back and, being the vast majority, are now in charge. Those of the Serb minority who still remain are pretty harassed, while most of their churches and much priceless religious art have been systematically destroyed by the Albanians. As in most other places, the UN peacekeepers look the other way.

But, as one observer has written: "Crime groups have been able to operate with impunity. You have a criminal state in real power. It needs underground illegal structures to supply it with everything to survive. These networks can rely on the weakness of the public institutions to sanction their operations." This from Marek Antoni Nowicki, Poland's leading human-rights lawyer and the UN's international ombudsman for Kosovo until last year (UK Sunday Times, April 9, 2006).

This help is attained from the Western European Albanian mafias which were in the Kosovo operation, from the beginning. They now operate, within Kosovo, a black economy of illicit petrol, cigarettes and cement, drugs and prostitution. Profits go into a building boom, including 2,000 petrol stations for two million people. These are money-laundries.

The UN's internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight, accused the head of the UN mission in Kosovo of downplaying the problem and turning a blind eye in particular to widespread fraud at Pristina Airport.

This criminal state, meshed in with European Albanian mafias and with Albania itself, robs and exploits Kosovo's Albanians just as sorely as it does other groups, for it was not set up in the first place to make a better world for ordinary Albanians. But then, how many leaders and backers of liberation movements, independence movements or revolutions - at least nowadays - are doing this for the good for their followers?

When the bills come in

During the Commonwealth Games (remember them?), Channel Seven, in an attempt to beat up support, ran a poll in its early morning show: "Is Melbourne's Lord Mayor John So the greatest mayor in the world?" Some 78 per cent of those who responded said "yes".

There was no second question: "Name one mayor of another city in the world?" They might have got the Sheriff of Nottingham or the Mayor of Casterbridge.

That was the Games. Remember them? You will: when the bills come in.

But, as the Aborigine occupation of Melbourne's Domain saunters into its 36th day, as I write, will we see a repeat of that mayoral popularity poll? I think not.

The Melbourne City Council and Victorian State Government are vying for saying nothing, doing nothing and not biting the bullet. But the mayor and the council are going to have to do just that - although they obviously prefer making the park rangers and the police the patsies. Brave fellows, our City Fathers!

As for those Games, which few of us can now recall, the main memory is that of our suffering jingoism and small-town chauvinism, worse than has been expressed, even in wartime.

No other country, nor even their talented performers, got a mention or an expression of genuine interest. Few were interviewed in this multicultural paradise; few were taken seriously or their life-stories unpacked. It was all "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" for the Aussie who finished fourth or third.

Our visitors must have felt marginalised - punching bags for our ego-trips. Recalling the 1956 Games in Melbourne, the contrasts are painful, and of course the big hitters in sport - the US, China, Russia and the Europeans - weren't even there. This time, we had to invent our opponents. And all the talk was of money and the fabrication of icons, and "celebrities".

A flying tram and some fireworks? So enchanting that everyone wants to forget it. And who did win that Grand Prix which followed?

While you're about it, ask your shopkeepers and restaurateurs, who had been recording losses not gains from the interludes, what happened to all that overseas tourism. In fact, our tourism industry has become yet another managerial leaching system, diverting public money away from our basic social needs.

It all sits very badly with the Spirit of Easter, and the birth of Christianity, with its hopes for Mankind.

Open season on Christianity

The return of more and more Christians to expressions and affirmations of their faith is quite clear. The only reaction of our media has been to ignore this by trying to step up the usual pre-Easter advertising blitz or picking out political statements from those few clerics who don't appear really interested in the significance of Easter. These have a new political spin every Easter, and another for Christmas.

The media like them, but I doubt if their captive audiences, who came to pray, do.

But the swelling numbers, as described to me, in and outside many churches this Easter, went almost entirely unreported. But there is a kind of crisis in the Catholic Church - not enough priests on the ground to cope with the upsurge of returning worshippers and the large numbers of Asian and African Christians now appearing.

Incidentally, some of our low churches would love to have such a crisis. But the almost complete exclusion this year of religious music and services was striking, accompanied as it was with a stream of documentaries questioning the veracity of the Bible.

  • Max Teichmann

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