Friday, 24 December 2010

The New Religion

As Bob Dylan once wrote, the times are a changing.

For about thirty years a mantra of greed and materialism has been inflicted upon us by the old political parties. 

It matters not whether they are Labor or Coalition, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal-Democrat; the heartfelt values once held by these parties have dissolved into an indistinguishable mush of pragmatic materialism.

The same phenomenon is obvious even in totalitarian countries - Doi Moi in Vietnam, and economic liberalism within a pseudo-Marxist framework in China.

This scourge has been given various names, including economic rationalism and corporate managerialism, and has been sold on the basis of efficiency and effectiveness. What has been most efficiently pursued is profit, and this pursuit has been characterised by an almost missionary zeal.

We have ceased to become citizens, and have been transformed, often against our will, and in some case our awareness, from citizens into consumers.

The concept of national sovereignty has been eliminated for the most part by the rise of multinational corporations, whose only allegiance is to their bottom line, and for whom national borders are a nonsense.

This efficient pursuit of profits has been at the expense of gross inefficiency and distorted values for society in general.

Despite its name, the neo-liberal ideology behind this mantra lacks a rational basis, theoretical or practical. It emanates from the deluded and falsely named "profession" of economics, which when subjected to any real analysis has as much credibility as the science of astrology. This pseudo-science conceives of human individuals as using only their lower brains, and interested only in what they can eat, drink, consume and discard.

This philosophy has made a tiny minority obscenely wealthy, but otherwise has performed poorly, then disastrously. The gap between rich and poor in all countries with a substantive middle class is expanding at an exponential rate. It is reducing our well being.

We should have learned during the GFC that markets left to run rampant and unmanaged, descend into catastrophe. The values of cooperation and compassion need to be regarded as highly as competition, as they trend to social harmony and development. Competition unaccompanied by these higher values inevitably leads to conflict and discord. The evidence during this century (two world wars and two depressions - the GFC was a global depression by another name) is available. 

We need to elect governments that govern for society, not just the economy.

To paraphrase Maggie Thatcher - There is no such thing as "the Economy".

Happy Christmas…..

Thursday, 23 December 2010


The title of this post may appear a bit obscure, but it represents the rate of successful projects based on "Value for Money" in relation to the Building the Education Revolution initiative.

Surely not? Hasn't the Fart of the Nation been telling us for about ten months now, that the scheme (to use their favourite word) is a "debacle".

Given that complaints were received from only 294 schools across the entire program — 3% of the 10,000-odd school projects - it's reasonable to assume that the remainder (97%) had no complaints. That 99.1% figure represents the projects that reported satisfactory value for money.

These figures come from  the the report of the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce which was set up specifically to hone in on faults or inadequacies in the scheme. Funny that - an independent  taskforce set up specifically to find fault, and to which any person who had a grievance was free to make a submission, finds a rate of failure so insignificantly low.

Can this mean that the orchestrated campaign run by the Oz for so long is a very good example of media spin? Fraid so, and it indicates the level of bias embedded in the editorial team.

There are a few other points worth making about this "debacle".

It has supported and will support, all up, about 120,000 jobs directly and indirectly in the building and construction industry. The impact of the BER was most pronounced in its first year, when it was needed most.

The new infrastructure is, in the review team’s opinion, “sorely needed, particularly in government schools”. I can vouch for that from personal experience. I visit scores of schools every term, and the positive outcomes of BER are very obvious - particularly as they relate to physical access for my clientele, students with physical impairments.

Some states (Queensland for example) and some systems (the Catholic system) made a better fist of it than others - NSW in particular, but even on the worst situations the outcomes were positive. The total complaint rate even for NSW government school projects, which attracted more than half of all complaints, was 7%.

If you won't take my word for it, read the report.

It might take a while, but if you value the truth over lazy media spin, it will be time well spent.

For me, the sweetest aspect of all, is that no matter how much wailing and gnashing of teeth we hear from those who believe that schools are undeserving of public money, these facilities will be available to kids all over the country well into the future. Whether the schools they attend are wealthy or otherwise makes not a jot of difference.

It brings a smile to my face every time I visit a school.

Bernard Keane's  piece is worth a read.

Made in Dagenham

I haven't  reviewed a movie in yonks - so it's time to change that.

Made in Dagenham is a fictionalised account of an industrial dispute that took place in 1968 on the Dagenham UK assembly line of the Ford factory.

187 women machinists were employed to assemble and stitch the upholstery for the popular Ford Cortina. Without the finished and upholstered seats being available, the assembly line would grind to a halt, which was the best weapon the women had in their armoury.

They were paid much less than the men working in the factory, partly because they were classified as "unskilled", despite the fact that the work was intricate and complex. Their conditions were poor, and the section of the factory that they worked in was unbearably hot in summer, and it leaked when it rained, a fairly frequent event in that part of the world.

The union that represented them didn't take their claims seriously because they were, after all, women, and tried to fob them off.

The women, led by Rita O'Grady (played by Sally Hawkins) were supported by a sympathetic shop steward (Albert Passsingham; played by Bob Hoskins) who generally stayed in the background and offered advice at crucial stages.

They called a strike, which eventually brought the plant to a standstill. Ford tried to discredit the union, but this strategy failed when the women broke ranks with their own union, and refused to knuckle under to a meaningless compromise. Eventually, Barbara Castle, the Labor cabinet minister at time, came to their support. Despite threats from Ford that the UK factories would be shut down, she introduced legislation which guaranteed them 92% of the male wage, and led to a series of equal opportunity reforms that changed the status of women in the workforce in both the UK and Europe.

The team that produced Calendar Girls is also responsible for this one and the same gentle genius in terms of screenplay, character development and cinematography is evident,

It also provides an interesting insight into the values of the time, a time that I can remember pretty clearly. I can certainly remember the small Fords of the time.

Back then, my Polish next door neighbour owned one as her first car, and she was silly enough to let me behind the wheel occasionally. It was enjoyable to drive, and had a sweet direct gearshift and light and accurate steering.

I can't remember the upholstery.

Go see it - it's down to earth, reflects the times, and is well crafted - a bit like the Ford's British cars back then..

Monday, 20 December 2010

James Hardie

The James Hardie compensation case provides an accurate commentary on the moral vacuum in which many multi-national corporations operate.

In its simplicity, the history goes like this -
James Hardie has been mining, manufacturing and distributing asbestos and its products since before it was listed on the Australian stock exchange in 1951.

These products caused many people to develop asbestosis and or mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory and fibrotic medical condition which affects the lungs. Sufferers experience severe shortness of breath. They often develop malignancies including lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma, (also called malignant mesothelioma) is a form of cancer that develops from the protective lining that covers many of the body's internal organs, the mesothelium.

Malignant mesothelioma is always fatal. It destroys quality of life, as the sufferer becomes increasingly short of breath until a point is reached where normal activity is impossible. There is no cure.

The total number of claims made against James Hardie for asbestos-related diseases is estimated to be more than 12,500, of which 8103 will be claimed after 2006.
Individuals continue to be diagnosed, and these diagnoses are expected to peak in 2010 or 2011 at 250 per year.

Hardie had been reluctantly providing compensation for victims since the 1980s. The multiplication of cases from the 1980s onwards forced the acknowledgement that it had known asbestos to be dangerous. However, it wasn't until 1978 that the company began putting warning labels on its products explaining that inhalation of the dust could result in cancer. They stopped manufacturing asbestos products in March 1987.

Think about it. Hardie continued to make and sell a product which killed people slowly. They did this for at least twenty years in the full knowledge that it was dangerous. Tens of thousands of people have been affected.

Now that is a tragedy - but Hardie compounded it by issuing a press statement in February 2001 claiming that a compensation fund that they had set up was fully funded, giving victims hope. 

It wasn't.

Subsequently, Hardie moved its operations offshore (to the Netherlands) to avoid the possibility of Australian civil action targeting its corporate assets for compensation.

ASIC took them to the NSW Supreme Court on the strength of this false statement, but due to incompetence on the part of the ASIC legal team, an appeal against the previous verdict - that the executives involved knowingly made these false statements - was overturned.

So what's the moral of the story? Essentially, that if your corporation is big enough and wealthy enough, you can get away with murder. You can also move your assets offshore so that they are safe from legitimate compensatory action on the part of victims.

We have tabloid junk-peddlers like Bolt frothing at the mouth about the tragic death of asylum seekers at Christmas island, but nary a post about 12,500 Australians killed by a multi-national.
The only time he's posted about James Hardie was in an attempt to discredit Labor because one of its advisers did some contract work for Hardie - kind of three levels removed - but the direct connection between Hardie and the asbestos deaths have been ignored by right wing commentators.

But then, commerce is sacred. Human life? Well, it depends…..

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...