Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Projection and Corruption

If we are to believe the Fart of the Nation, the Australian taxpayer has been ripped off by unscrupulous builders making hay from the federal government's BER scheme.
If we believe Tony Abbott and others, dodgy installers have created havoc and house fires through the home insulation programme, another initiative of the same government.

American shock jocks and others have blamed the recent financial meltdown on worthless mortgages forced on banks by organizations such as ACORN.

There is a bizarre pattern emerging in this commentary. Its logic runs something like this -
A scheme is set up which assumes that the usual commercial convention holds. By this I mean the convention that it doesn't matter who is paying - you get what you pay for.
In other words, if you (or the taxpayer) pay for safe and professionally fitted home insulation, that is precisely what you get. If you (or the taxpayer) purchase a school building you expect to get value for money. If you live in the USA and buy a loan (which is precisely what happens - unless you're paying no interest) you expect that your capacity to pay has been professionally sussed out by those who know what they're doing.
But wait - I'm showing my naïveté. There is a different school of thought which argues that if the money comes from the taxpayer, normal commercial ethics don't count. In the case of the mortgage, so long as the commissions and bonuses roll in, ethics can also take a holiday.
I've seen a minor but very clear example of this recently. In my work I use vehicles from the state government fleet. I'm also a bit over-cautious before I take a car on a long journey, so I check tire pressures, fluid levels etc. A few weeks ago the vehicle I was to use was due for a service, so to help the fleet manager out I offered to pick it up direct from the dealer after the 30000km service and take it out next day at first light.
Checking the oil revealed that it was filthy and hadn't been changed. The service manager was initially cooperative, but when I showed him the dipstick, he became quite hostile -
"It's none of your bloody business - I only talk to the fleet manager" was his defence. I had of course, stumbled on an old scam. If the taxpayer's footing the bill, normal rules don't apply.
Once he'd understood that I was quite prepared to use my mobile to phone his head office unless I had actually witnessed the old oil drained and 4.5 litres of Mr Castrol's best poured into the motor, he settled down. I have no doubt that this wasn't the first time, and probably won't be the last that the taxpayer is ripped off in this way.
It happens for two reasons. The obvious one is that busy drivers or fleet managers have neither the time nor the inclination to check these things in the same way as a private owner does. There is a hidden (and invidious) understanding that it's OK to rip off a government agency embedded in our corporate culture. In Vietnam it's called corruption. Here it's called free enterprise.
This culture, obviously embraced by the above-mentioned commentators, assumes that if rip-offs occur, it's the government's fault. Funny that…
It's much the same mythology that believes that the poor in the USA benefiting from the dodgy mortgages are to blame for the GFC. The fact that they did not securitise the loans, and sell them for profit is neither here nor there.
Other aspects of this mythology hold that the Masters of the Universe speculating in the derivatives market are completely innocent, as are those who generated a plethora of incentives for executives to oversee sub-prime loans in the first place.
There is a name for this phenomenon. It's called "projection".
From Wikipaedia -
Psychological projection or projection bias (including Freudian Projection) is the unconscious act of denial of a person's own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, such as to the weather, the government, a tool, or to other people. Thus, it involves imagining or projecting that others have those feelings.
Note the reference to "government".
So if greed takes over, and the taxpayer is ripped off, or the financial system collapses to the point where it has to be rescued by (guess who) the taxpayer, it's the government's fault. Ain't free enterprise wonderful…..
My parents were obviously misguided when they taught me to deal honestly with my fellow human being. Must have been the government's fault…..

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Another Polish Tragedy

Reports of the crash of a Polish government aircraft and the loss of so many eminent Polish citizens have brought back memories of my youthful connection with this much abused nation.

For about five years in my early teens, my family lived next door to a Polish couple. They were refugees from internment, and Steve wore a tattooed "P" on his forearm. He never spoke of his wartime experiences, and whilst a tolerant and forgiving man, he had no time for anything German or Russian. I discovered this when I showed him my first car bought at age 18 when I was at Teachers' College. It was a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle. He took one look at it, spat in its general direction, and refused to have anything more to do with it.

They were devout Catholics, and we got to know them well through our local church. When my mother went back to full-time teaching, Mrs K (as we knew her) was employed to mind my youngest brother during school hours. They also had a pretty daughter about my age, but we never did get together. It was difficult for us to get any unchaperoned time, as Steve kept a very close eye on proceedings. I went off to study in Brisbane. She got a job locally, and finished up marrying an Anglican clergyman, which must have caused family ructions.

I had a mate at college who was going out with a nurse, and just before I embarked, he set me up on a blind date with his girlfriend's best pal who turned out also to be Polish. We hit it off, and when I arrived in Vietnam, I started writing to her. After three letters with no response, I gave up.

Years later, when we were both school principals in Toowoomba, he told me that her dad intercepted and burnt my letters, as he wanted her to marry someone of Polish heritage. She did, but it didn't last, and divorce followed, although apparently arranged marriages are generally more enduring statistically than the conventional kind.

There was a Polish bloke in my section in Vietnam. I got to know him fairly well, but we lost contact on RTA. In 1991, I was shocked to hear that he had been shot and killed by a Police Special Operations Group in a seige of his farmhouse in isolated rural Tasmania.

This incident was the subject of two formal inquiries that eventually found police justified in the way the seige ended, despite the less than ethical behaviour of some involved. The whole episode was tragic and avoidable.   

All of these memories flooded back when I read of this crash. There is a deep irony in the fact that the VIPs involved were on their way to a commemoration of the Katyn massacre in 1940 in which the Russians executed  over 20000 of Poland's best and brightest.

According to Wikipaedia, those who were killed in cold blood at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots.

Those aboard the doomed aircraft were on their way to a ceremony close to where the original atrocity occurred, and many military, political and institutional leaders (again the best and brightest) were lost.

History has come back to haunt Poland, a nation which has seen more than its fair share of tragedy in the last two centuries.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Australia - Asylum for Political Lunatics

This is the first time I've linked to a Catholic Newspaper, but The Catholic Leader today features the best article on refugee policy I've seen in a long time.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've had a gutful of shock jocks, drop-kick bloggers and tabloid newspapers stirring up fear and resentment of vulnerable and desperate people who have been dispossessed of every skerrick of security and live in fear of their lives. I'm also heartily sick of politicians, both Labor and Coalition, attempting to score brownie points for toughness by beating their chests about "border protection".

I saw enough of the disruption caused by war in Vietnam in 1970 to understand something of what these families are going through. Many years ago I looked into the eyes of some women and children who were in a restricted area near Binh Ba and saw the fear created by being confronted by men with weapons. I can only imagine how it would feel if my family were in a similar situation, and the lengths I would go to in an effort to keep them safe.

As a nation, we've grown so smug and complacent that many of us are more concerned about insignificant issues in the quality of our own lifestyles than about matters of life of death for others. Australian values are rapidly becoming as inward-looking as those of some of our more vapid friends across the Pacific.

The Leader article very clearly exposes the media and political race to the bottom that has characterised the issue in this country since John Howard's cynical exploitation of those on board the MV Tampa in 2001, by making the following points -

Only a quarter of unauthorised arrivals come by boat. The largest majority come by plane, and the majority of these are from mainland China.

There has actually been a reduction (12%) during 2008 - 2009 in the number of people held in detention centres.

Refugee centres for Hazaras, the largest Afghani group seeking asylum in Australia, are no longer available in Afghanistan. Those seeking safety in Quetta in Pakistan, long the traditional destination of Hazaras escaping the Taliban, are being snatched off the street by Iranian agents.

Australia is a signatory to international conventions recognising the right of people fleeing persecution and violence to seek refuge.

To quote the Leader article -

Brisbane archdiocese's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission made the call following a recent front-page story in The Sunday Mail that the commission's executive officer Peter Arndt said had the effect of "de-humanising asylum seekers and robbing them of their God-given dignity".
Mr Arndt appealed to Catholics to defend the right of people to seek asylum in Australia and to be treated as human beings - "not as demons to be feared or as objects to be used for political or commercial benefit".
"Both major (political) parties are trying to show that they are tough with boat arrivals and they are causing a lot of suffering and unfairness for people seeking asylum," he said.

And -

"There is a potent mix of sensationalised media reporting, political point scoring, xenophobia and resentment", Mr Ferguson wrote.
"The consequence is that the circumstances and need of people who are in desperate situations is forgotten.
"At worst, they are being demonised and portrayed as a threat to our way of life."
Mr Ferguson urged a different response than that taken by politicians.
"Imagine a nation encouraged to be proud that we are one of only a few in the region to have signed the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees," he said.
Mr Arndt called on Catholics to reject "the attempts by fear mongers in politics and the media to foster resentment towards our fellow human beings".
"As Christians, we see asylum seekers as our sisters and brothers," he said.
"It is our responsibility to defend their human dignity and to encourage our politicians and the community to treat them with compassion and fairness."

How right he is.

Yes - it's all there.

The lunatics are taking over the asylum

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