May 26th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd still in front

EDITORIAL: East Timor: end of the Fretilin era?

HOUSING: Soaring house prices give illusion of wealth

LABOR PARTY: Sir Rod Eddington, Labor's business guru

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Vital issues in wheat single-desk decision

OPINION: Family First takes on Howard's workplace laws

DRUGS CONFERENCE: Reality check needed on illicit drugs

SCHOOLS: Choice would be eroded by centralisation

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Shssh - don't mention the war!

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Politics could worsen global health pandemic

QUARANTINE: Drought used as excuse to relax quarantine standards

STRAWS IN THE WIND: No kangaroo meat - thank you very much / Tony Blair - a class act / Vladimir the Cruel / Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court bans partial-birth abortion

WORLD AFFAIRS: Islam: the questions which must be answered

States more accountable than Canberra (letter)

Problems facing Brisbane-to-Melbourne rail-link (letter)

News Weekly informative, timely (letter)

The media and freedom of speech (letter)

CINEMA: A luminous film of great beauty

BOOKS: WHAT'S LEFT? How Liberals Lost Their Way, by Nick Cohen

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No kangaroo meat - thank you very much / Tony Blair - a class act / Vladimir the Cruel / Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 26, 2007
No kangaroo meat - thank you very much

Whenever we are told of the latest merger, or takeover, we search for how the participants expect to benefit, i.e., increased profits, and shareholder value. And nowadays we look for golden handshakes, whereby retiring CEOs, usually directors of the companies being taken over, engage in an unconscionable rip-off of company funds, i.e., shareholders' funds.

Many of them have already lost money for their investors; but are rewarded for failure.

But often, in the small print, are signals of the coming worsening of services to be provided for consumers after the merger or takeover takes effect. Thus, it appears that the Macquarie Bank consortium, which very nearly took over Qantas, intended to drastically lower the degree of comfort which still remains to air travel.

According to the Melbourne Herald Sun's “spy”, Fully Frank, Macquarie planned to sell a night-landing slot at Heathrow to Emirates for $300 million to $500 million dollars.

That Qantas flight would thereafter use Stansted Airport, which involves a 48-kilometre-long bus-ride to London - and that presumably in the middle of the night.

As Fully Frank pointed out, many of the passengers at that time are backpackers. Now few shareholders would be backpackers. But how many of their sons and daughters would be?

One hopes that Qantas shareholders will shake out the board - certainly, see that no member of it is Macquarie-friendly.

Interestingly, at least one of the principals in the bid would have received $100 million dollars had the bid succeeded.

So we have here a triple attack on the public interest, and natural justice.

People - how many we don't know - were marked down to lose their jobs, through no fault of their own. Asset-stripping was clearly to be a crucial contributor to the bottom line and to future profits.

And we don't know what other parts of Qantas were to be stripped off, and sold.

Finally, service to users, already on the skids, was to be further degraded.

An unanswerable argument for leaving Qantas as it is - not turning it into kangaroo meat.

I would be feeling a lot safer if Allan Fels were still running the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), instead of the former head of Macquarie Bank.

The two have, as they say, different philosophies, albeit in a difference of degree.


Tony Blair - a class act

Tony Blair's remarkable parliamentary career is winding down - and not only the House of Commons will seem a dull and jaded place when he is gone.

Britain has had, in my view, surprisingly few outstanding leaders since the war (a period of over 60 years) - Winston Churchill (really wartime), Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Harold Wilson ruled for a long time, having two bites - but who can remember what he said or did?

Clement Attlee was associated with enormous social changes and took the brunt of the first six years of the Cold War. A good administrator and team player, but not outstanding.

Harold Macmillan was highly competent before he became ill, and has earned general respect.

The English media have tried for almost 10 years to inflict mortal damage on Blair - and totally failed.

He is leaving, showing the same scarcely veiled contempt for Fleet Street's hallucinatory king-makers; addressing his mea culpas and his quite resilient optimism to his constituents and to ordinary Britons.

Blair will doubtless join his old pal Clinton on some of those extra lucrative lecture tours.

The British media, and their colonial clones, now have a serious problem.

Blair's designated successor, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, has said that he intends to continue the same policies, so … do they re-commence the attacks on the new man, hoping thereby to build up the straw man, David Cameron, leading the Conservatives? Or will it be the Liberal Democrats?

In fact, they have made themselves irrelevant and ridiculous.

Which is not to say that many of Labour's social policies haven't been disastrous, or that England seems to be less and less liveable, as Theodore Dalrymple has pointed out many times.

But these policies have been New Labour's, not Blair's - and most journos support them.

They are the same sort of policies that the Left and the Greens have imposed wherever they have ruled.

Whether Blair really agreed with them - we may find out when his memoirs are delivered. After those lecture tours, naturally.


Vladimir the Cruel

Vladimir Putin continues his strategy of returning Russia to the status of a great power - if not a superpower - while establishing a command economy and a pinstriped dictatorship.

And that strategy includes the recovery of the old Tsarist/Soviet empire, which Gorbachev is blamed for “losing” - like the British “lost” India, or the Belgians the Congo.

Russia is flushed with receipts from oil and gas sales from her enormous reserves, together with deposits of gold and silver and virtually all of the world's metals.

Yet, under Putin's delicate fine-tuning and his justice program, 40 per cent of Russia's people live below the poverty line.

Male life-expectancy has sunk to 56 years, lower than many developing countries. Russia, with a birth-rate of only 1.2 children per couple, will have ceased to exist in its present form within two generations.

Seven out of 10 foetuses produced by Russian women are aborted. On the other hand, Muslim women in some parts of Russia are successfully delivering eight to 10 children.

This is the shape of things to come - for Russia, Spain and some other European nations.

You might ask, how can a state hold together with such problems, such social decay?

Putin can point to his great role-model, Peter the Great - and to Ivan the Terrible.

Russia's population was smaller at the end of Peter's reign than at the beginning. Wars, and the building of St Petersberg out of the malaria-ridden swamps by million of serfs, a great many of whom died, helps to explain the population decline.

Ivan greatly expanded Russia's boundaries, but at the cost of his people's suffering.

But they could rule, despite all this, by force, fraud, propaganda and censorship; and the secret police (cf. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe).

The latest example of Putin's desire to return to the past has come up in Estonia.

As with Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia suffered during World War II from Russian and German occupations, from mass killings and deportations. Also, large numbers migrated to escape.

Red Army soldiers and their families were settled to take the places of missing Balts. These implants appear to have had little respect for Estonia's history or culture; in many cases, Moscow is their spiritual capital, and Moscow supports them.

A third of Estonia's citizens are now Russian and, as Putin's Russia becomes more and more intrusive, indigenous Estonians are demanding to be masters in their own recently liberated state.

For starters, they intended to remove a great Soviet war memorial, in the centre of Tallinn. In fact, this proposal was on the platform of the party which now forms Estonia's Government.

The local Russians say that this is a sacred site - Russian men's business - and a memorial to gallant Russians who saved Estonia and the world from Nazism. The statue is of a gallant Russian soldier.

Estonians see this statue as a memorial to the two war-time invasions by the Russians, to Estonia's forced absorption into the old USSR and the fate of many Estonians sent to the Gulag slave labour camps.

In response to the removal of the statue, local Russians have been demonstrating, and rioting, then looting. The police and the Estonian army are determined to drive them off the streets.

At this point, Putin has intervened, threatening the Estonians with the cutting off of their vital oil and gas supplies, unless the Estonians let these hooligans run around Tallinn.

And Estonia must promise not to remove the statue of the heroic interloper. (The Estonians have already removed it and put it in the war cemetery).

There is now a stand-off. The Balts face the wash-up of the same kind as did the Irish after the English planted settlers in the north of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries. The consequences? Lethal, unjust and apparently insoluble.

In Western Europe, where NATO has been considering the American plan to establish missile defences in Poland, and possibly in other eastern European countries, Putin is adopting a very threatening tone.

All arms agreements will be off if NATO lets the American plan go through. It will lead to a renewal of the nuclear arms-race and a return to the Cold War.

Clumsy stuff - reminiscent of Chinese bluster during the Cultural Revolution.

Incidentally, critics within Russia say that Estonia is just the pretext for a much larger plan enabling, at one level, the further build-up of Putin's power in Russia. Rather like Chechnya.

Suffice to say, Putin is a very different creature from Boris Yeltsin or Mikhail Gorbachev. If he can, he is going to give America and her friends a lot of trouble in the days to come.

There is now a different game evolving, so we should start changing our perceptions, if we wish to keep up.

Remembering that remarkable book, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Untold Story (2005), and the revelations of how closely Russia and China worked together, while pretending to be opponents?

We should watch for signs of contemporary Russia and China again playing Good Cop/ Bad Cop, so as to fool the West - which contains many who dearly want to be fooled, yet again.


Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

A great deal is hanging, for Turks and for their whole region, including Greece, upon the outcome of the struggle between the Islamicists and the secularists within Turkey.

The next stage of this struggle is to be the election for the Presidency. If the Islamicists win, Turkey will perform a U-turn in her relations with the US and her friends, and embark upon a much closer relationship with the hardline Muslim states.

Turkey's role in NATO would change - perhaps drastically - while she might be kissing her chances of any future EU membership good-bye.

I think the Islamicists' strategy was to introduce changes gradually when they finally gained power; but the secularists, headed by the army, are in no mood to allow even the possibility. They are trying to virtually ban, permanently, Muslim attempts to gain legitimacy, no matter how many voters might support Islamicist parties (a situation similar to that in Algeria).

This is a recipe for another military coup, and a period of dictatorship, or even … some kind of civil war (although that seems unlikely).

Most Turks probably want some kind of Muslim state, as against the secular society which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created and which his army has protected.

But, in the long run, can radical, politicised Islam be kept down? This is also a question for Algeria and, quite possibly, for Egypt.

One short-term solution, running in parallel with dictatorship, is to scapegoat some minority in society, e.g., Kurds, or Copts, or Berbers or, earlier on, Greeks and Armenians.

So any return of the Turkish army to full control might be bad news, at least to Kurds, on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border.

On the other hand, the triumph of the Islamicists would set off new waves of refugees, secularists and moderate Muslims who would crowd into Europe as the economic migrants from Africa and the Near East have already been doing.

Paradoxically, such cultural/political refugees could be the best prophylactic against radical Islam that the Europeans could devise.

But they would have to treat the newcomers with respect, and not force them into ghettoes of poverty and alienation.

- Max Teichmann

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