Friday, September 12, 2003
The wonderful Blogger on the Cast-Iron Balcony offers these timesaving excerpts from Salam Pax and Riverbend's latest offerings from Free Iraq.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The always impressive Chalmers Johnson takes to heart Ike Eisenhower's warning about the rise of the military industrial complex and looks to the decline of the Roman Republic for a few tips. Morsels such as these ensue:

"The militarism that inescapably accompanied Rome's imperial projects slowly undermined its constitution as well as the very considerable political and human rights its citizens enjoyed. The American republic, of course, has not yet collapsed; it is just under considerable strain as the imperial presidency -- and its supporting military legions -- undermine Congress and the courts. However, the Roman outcome -- turning over power to an autocracy backed by military force and welcomed by ordinary citizens because it seemed to bring stability -- suggests what might happen in the years after Bush and his neoconservatives are thrown out of office."


"Republican checks and balances are simply incompatible with the maintenance of a large empire and a huge standing army. Democratic nations sometimes acquire empires, which they are reluctant to give up because they are a source of wealth and national pride, but as a result their domestic liberties are thereby put at risk."


"Given the course of the postwar situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it may not be too hard to defeat George Bush in the election of 2004. But whoever replaces him will have to deal with the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, our empire of bases, and a fifty-year-old tradition of not telling the public what our military establishment costs and the devastation it can inflict. History teaches us that the capacity for things to get worse is limitless. Roman history suggests that the short, happy life of the American republic is in serious trouble -- and that conversion to a military empire is, to say the least, not the best answer."

A rivetting read.
Monday, September 08, 2003

In trying to respond to Gummo Trotsky's plea for bloggers' lists of Great Australian Blunders, it occurs to me nearly all of them might properly be filed under 'Cultural Cringe'. Here's a loose, hurried and under-substantiated manifest of gripes with which to sink noble Potemkin's plimsoll line:

ECONOMICS: In their attempt to keep our betters at the Bank of England happy, Australia's Scullin government agreed to give Otto free reign over 'our' finances in June of 1930. The bastard Niemeyer then helped the bastard Scullin reappoint the head bastard of the Commonwealth Bank Board, Gibson (who duly went on to refuse short-term funds to all states who would not slash public works). In late August the bastard Niemeyer lent Scullin's bastard Tories support in their (tediouisly predictable) claim that Australia's workers had been enjoying too high a living standard, prescribing 20% cuts in wages and pensions and the cessation of 'unreproductive' public works. Consequence: ensuring and exacerbating The Great Depression in Australia. [Note: Blogorrhoea will expand on this point after the credit bubble, and the twenty-year policy setting designed to render us vulnerable to it, has had its way with us. Deregulating the finance sector, ferspewinginabucket!]

SPORT: In their attempt to emulate our betters in sport, Soccer Australia paid Pommie wide-boy Terry Venables quite a bit more than they could afford; this on the understanding that no Australian had the smarts to get the best Socceroo squad in history to the World Cup Finals. In the decider Australia faced Iran, an athletic and durable outfit with only two world-class players: an attacking midfielder called Karim Bagheri, known for his vision and inch-perfect throughballs; and a striker called Khodadad Azizi, known for his pace and well-timed runs on goal. When you're 2-0 up with twelve minutes to go, in a match you need to win, against a team boasting such players, it's a good idea to avoid a square defence. The players are tired and the square defence is particularly vulnerable to throughballs. It's a particularly good idea to have a sweeper in place. Australia's sweeper, Milan Ivanovic duly remained on the bench throughout. Australia's defence duly remained square. Bagheri scored. Then he placed an inch-perfect throughball to Azizi, who outpaced a tired square defence and scored from exactly where Ivanovic would have been. Australia shuffled to the exits and Venables went on to do all for Leeds United he'd done for Australia.

WAR: Letting ship-bound Pommie generals in their dotage land the ANZACs on the wrong 'beach', when Birdswood was entirely capable of running the Gaba Tepe assault himself (his part in the brilliantly planned and executed withdrawal proves that). Letting the Pommie general staff destroy our First Division at Pozierre in 1916 (frontal assault on village, followed by unreinforced occupation of village during three days of effectively unanswered bombardment). Placing the Eighth Division in Singapore and then placing them under the command of another Pommie git. [NOTE, I'm actually a bit of a cultural Pommiephile, but fair dinkum, their poncy generals sucked hugely all the way from Spionkop to Arnhem]. [ANOTHER NOTE: Blogorrhoea intends to expand on this when our dutiful participation in the war of aggression on Iraq has elicited its toll).

TELECOMMUNICATIONS POLICY: Copying the Pommie model for privatisation of the public carrier and 'deregulation' of the telecommunications sector only after that model had proven to be a complete disaster: a massive transfer of wealth from the public sector to the higher echelons of the private sector, only after the monopoly power of the encumbent had proven impossible to shift, only after 'competitors' had shown a disinclination to invest outside the 'cherrypicking' routes, only after strategically mandated technologies failed miserably before the onslaught of opportunistic foreign capital, only after public apathy concerning pay TV and 'interactive services' had proven the consumption fund could not finance infrastructural development, and only after partial privatisation had shown itself a nightmare for governments, regulators, shareholders, would-be competitors and users alike. Copying the Yanks in satellite technology only after their satellite had shown itself a financial disaster, which added nothing to the national communications system's capacity but a lemon that'd need to be unloaded on a foreign corporation who'd need to be promised free access to the pay TV sector and a booming mobile phone sector. Selling Arena GSM/Vodaphone a $150-million-dollar licence to bring their technologically inappropriate digital technology to Australia's mobile telephony market, in return for which we promised to close down a billion-dollars-worth of perfectly serviceable analogue network.

IT Policy: Producing the OECD's worst research and development performance by underfunding public research, removing tax benefits on what little private R&D there was. Driving out transnational communications/IT equipment plants in Australia by forcing Telecom to disassociate itself from them and tender for wares ready-made for other markets to other briefs. Spending a mint on boosting, brain(less)storming and seeding 'multi-function polises' without having a clue what they were, what they'd need and what they were for. Outsourcing most of the public sector's information storage, manipulation and retrieval functions to foreign companies, who now possess a monopoly on strategic knowledge about us and a monopoly on the skill to deploy it, and cop huge chunks of taxpayers' moolah for the privilege.

DIPLOMATIC: Whitlam re East Timor in '75. Again, I suspect Ford and Kissinger had more to do with Whitlam's stance than any Australian interest in the matter. And none of Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard come out of the tragedy well, either. Even the liberation process, of which we have the arrogance still to be proud, was royally stuffed up, our crusading pollies choosing to ignore domestic and US intelligence assessments that saw the slaughter and destruction coming in impressive detail. S'pose we got some oil revenues out of it in the end ...

AESTHETIC: Crew cuts, 3/4 pants, body piercings, tats, every Falcon since the XF, every Holden since the Kingswood (including the fabled 'New Monaro'), medium-density housing estates straight out of the Leggo brochure, the new Parliament House, the neshnel enthem, the flag, Air Supply, Little River Band, Fosters, the Gold Coast, every building erected in the Sydney CBD since 1975, the Cahill Expressway, replacing Nowra's lovely pubs with ugly but equally doomed bank branch offices, the National Museum (from the outside anyway), the Belconnen CBD, Sylvania Waters, Hobart's rubbish bin of a concert building, Hobart's (erstwhile Sheraton) waterfront international hotel, and 'gourmet pizza'.
Sunday, September 07, 2003

Immiserating the unemployed and obliging the working class to finance its carefully nurtured aspirations with debt was an economic model that was never going to last forever. For those who produce our world's economic common sense, the bursting of the credit bubble is not overly frightening. They made out like bandits while the going was good, and, as long as their portfolios aren't too finance-sector/real estate-heavy, they won't be the ones left holding the debt and having their houses sold out from under them.

Not unless they've unleashed a run-away credit crunch and a globally calibrated depression, anyway ...

In 1980, global financial assets exceeded physical assets by about five times. The New Economic Foundation's 'Real World Economic Output' report reckons the excess is nearly twice that now. In Australia and the US it's already higher. This doubling happened in Japan around 1990, and what has been the story in Japan since then? Everyone knows this, yet assumes everyone else doesn't.

Western productivity statistics, the main currency of our orchestrated growth fetish and its attendantly rich promises, stopped referring to the real world around the time services began to exceed manufacture and agriculture as the major wealth creator and employer in the economy. You can't count the inputs and outputs of the services sector the way you could count yer actual widgets and yer actual hours of labour on yer actual shop floor. That matters when 60 per cent of what you purport to count comes under 'services'. Everyone knows that, yet assumes everyone else doesn't.

In unprecedented conditions of near-zero interest rates, whopping great tax cuts to the rich, massive consumer borrowing, ever more government 'savings' in the social welfare sector and flat payrolls, direct investment is stubbornly flat and jobs in the US have been disappearing for 22 straight months (93000 disappeared in August). Everyone knows that, yet assumes everyone else doesn't.

The US and Australia have structural current account deficit problems in the six-to-seven-per-cent range. Household consumer-spending is all that's keeping economic activity going at all - this affords the populace the illusion of smug well-being, but it's based on debt that can't hope to survive rate rises, dependent as it is on inflated senses of wealth rather than rosy income projections and expectations of continued low rates in volatile times. The national debts in Australia and the US are higher than ever, the danger they represent hidden by fanciful currency rates, productivity numbers and asset valuations. Asian money that used to fund unprecedented US debt is slowly repatriating itself to Asia, especially China. If this evacuation continues, the already deflation-wary Central Bank will be obliged to exterminate its manufacturers, debtors and lenders with rate hikes to protect the greenback's crucial international status. Everyone knows that, yet assumes everyone else doesn't.

Then again, perhaps it no longer matters whether we know it or not. It's not as if there's anything we can do.

[insert usual request for cheering refutations here]
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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