Friday, July 30, 2010

CRIKEY: Welcome to the US of Hey, that’s a lot of security

What do you get when you build your intelligence service up to such a size that it occupies three times the floorspace as the main centre of your executive government? When the services employ about150% of the population of your capital city? And when the amount of intelligence reports produced are so huge that a large proportion are just ignored completely?

Surely you’d have some kind of dictatorship or police state on the scale of China or North Korea or some tinpot Arab state. You’d also have the United States of America.

The Washington Post has produced an investigative report called “Top Secret America” (TSA), which has become effectively the fourth of three branches of US government since the September 11 terrorist attacks and has created

... what amounts to an alternative geography.

You’d think something this big would be effective in protecting Americans from terror. But as the Post argues,

... the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

That’s right. The “Land of the Free” has a huge but secretive inner core to protect the freedoms of the free but that the free have little knowledge of. And there is no co-ordinating “American Homeland Security Agency” (AHSA — credits to The Hollowmen.)

All this creates huge opportunities for corrupted or manufactured intelligence to enter the system and lead to bungle after bungle. TSA bungles could lead to the wrong person being indefinitely detained, deported, tortured or even killed. One such person could be Australian citizen David Hicks, who is currently seeking to have his conviction overturned. Another such person would definitely have to be Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib, released from Guantanamo gulag without a single charge being laid.

Most TSA spending went on during the Bush/Cheney administration.

[T]he Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending ... In all, at least 263 organisations have been created or reorganised as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support ... With so many more employees, units and organisations, the lines of responsibility began to blur.

And this was an allegedly conservative President who believed in small government.

TSA has a strong private industry focus, with about 2000 contractor companies and a staggering 850,000 people with top security clearance. Despite even US Defence Secretary Robert Gates saying that “getting your arms around [the growth of intelligence networks] ... is a challenge”, the response from the intelligence community was a predictable denial.

So much money is now being spent, we are told, to fight violent extremism. Yet some 25 years ago, huge amounts were spent to support the same violent extremism. Much of the money used to fight the Soviet Union, Reagan’s so-called “Evil Empire”, was spent on a group of “freedom fighters” in a tiny country called Afghanistan. Among America’s allies was an Afghan faction that included one Mullah Omar. Also allied to the US was a chap named Usama, a young member of a Saudi business family with close ties to the Bush family.

And now we are back there fighting the forces of Mullah Omar and Usama. And losing. And its costing America more money than anyone in the US government can count. It’s also costing Australia troops.

First published in Crikey on Wednesday 21 July 2010.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

EVENT: Come & Watch the Amazing Annabel Crabb

Come along on Sunday 18 July to watch and witness the delightful fabulous amazing charming and nice Annabel Crabb.

"AAAAAH!!" I can hear my step daughter scream, "Annabel's my idol!!!!!!!!"

So where can you see Ms Crabb?

Gleebooks - Dulwich Hill
536 Marrickville Road
Dulwich Hill, 2203
Tel: 02 8080 0098

Some other bloke is also on straight after her. He certainly isn't my step daughter's idol. Still, he does have at least one friend.

Friday, July 16, 2010

COMMENT: Andrew Bolt's World Cup Nightmare ...

It’s amazing what crazy thoughts enter your brain in the early hours. One recent Monday morning, an hour or so past midnight, I was sitting in my room trying to stay awake for the World Cup final. I needed some comic relief. While perusing Andrew Bolt’s Herald Sun blog, I suddenly wondered who the f*ck would fill Fred Nile’s NSW Upper House seat after he retires at the next NSW election. I then came across these words:

Only a fool could not see a problem in importing more people from a faith that sets many so apart from, and at odds to, the culture of their host country.

No more Muslim immigrants. Indeed, Nile finally has someone bigoted enough to replace him.

Still, if Bolt’s wish comes true, there are other Western countries happy to accept Muslim migrants. Especially ones that can play football like Sami Khedira, the son of a Tunisian migrant who holds both German and Tunisian passports. Talk about dual loyalties, ay Mr Bolt?

Khedira managed to score the final goal for Germany the other night against Uruguay. Khedira’s header was magnificent, and did justice to the marvellous corner kick from German striker Mesut Oezil.

Oezil is regarded as one of the best footballers on the planet. He recites verses from the Koran before each game which he says helps him to focus. Oezil acknowledges his game has a kind of racial split personality. He told The Guardian:

My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game, the discipline, attitude and always-give-your-all is the German part.

Talk about conflicting values, ay Andrew?

Like all star footballers, Oezil has been the subject of much gossip. In late June, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that model and Oezil’s long time girlfriend Anna-Maria Lagerblom, younger sister of Pop Star Sarah Connor, had decided to adopt her boyfriend’s faith. Talk about forced conversions, ay Andy? Rumours are rife that the couple got engaged after the game in which Germany defeated Ghana.

Then of course there is 29 year old Dutchman Khaled Boulahrouz. If Bolt was born in Holland, he might have had something in common with Boulahrouz. Boulharouz’s devotion to his country to his country is such that when his daughter Annisa died after a premature birth, he still played. His team-mates wore black armbands in solidarity.

Two other Dutch players with links to the faith Bolt must fear are Ibrahim Afellay [url: ] (of Moroccan descent) and Robin van Persie whose wife is of Moroccan descent.

Bolt will surely faint when he learns of the extent to which the dreaded unintegrateable Islamist jihadist Taliban burqa-wearing al-Qaeda conspiracy has spread across European football. Here are just a few names of sleeper-cell leaders I located on the FIFA website: Hakan Yakin (Swiss-Turkish), Franck Ribery (French - convert), Xherdan Shaqiri (Swiss – Kosovar Albanian) and Serdar Tasci (German – Turkish).

With so many of them blasted European Muslims, it’s little wonder this World Cup was such an explosive tournament. Still, Andrew will be happy that no African teams made it to the final. I mean, we all know how much trouble them Africans cause! I mean, check out this dude ...

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COMMENT: Always be polite when wishing a woman be raped ...

In an extraordinary defence of Mel Gibson published on the Herald Scu ... woops ... Sun website, Andrew Bolt makes this remark:

Gibson, it’s said, is now finished in Hollywood after Oksana Grigorieva, mother of his daughter, taped him ranting over their relationship and her flaunting of her siliconed body.

For instance: “I am going to come and burn the f------ house down.”

And: “You look like a f------ pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n------, it will be your fault.”

Now we have celebrities demanding Gibson’s films be boycotted, but why is he the chief villain here? I don’t approve of his language, but approve even less of Grigorieva’s entrapment of him - and the exposure of what he had every right to expect was a private conversation.

Yep. Mentioning rape is fine in the context of a private conversation. But try to be polite about it. Don't use impolite language.

And you thought Keysar Trad's defence of Hilaly was bad.

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, July 02, 2010

OPINION: ALP can mine marginal seats

Julia Gillard has impeccable working class credentials. Her parents were one of many “ten-pound Poms” migrating to Australia in 1966. Her first speech, delivered on Remembrance Day 1998, referred to her identifying with local communities of families on low incomes and possessing a fighting spirit.

Gillard's own father was a coalminer. He must have had many a tale of hard work, sacrifice and danger in the mines. And of terrible working conditions and poor remuneration.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Gillard's grandfather was injured in a mining accident.

My father was one of seven kids in a coal-mining village and their father was injured in a mining accident, which means he could only do surface work, which was not as well paid.

Mining seats are crucial for Labor to retain or win if Gillard is to be elected and remain Prime Minister. One such seat is the very marginal central Queensland seat of Dawson, currently held by retiring Labor MP James Bidgood.

The seat takes in Mackay, a large coastal city, as well as the popular tourist destination of the Whitsundays. While there are no coalmines within the seat, Mackay and other cities are home to a large number of people employed by mining companies or their contractors.

One cannot overestimate the importance of mining in providing jobs and livelihood to the people of Mackay and the rest of Dawson. During the past decade, Mackay has become the location of choice for many mining service companies supplying and consulting to mine operators.

The fighting spirit of many mining families isn't the same as that referred to in Gillard's maiden speech. Fly into Mackay and you might find some of the same issues miners have always dealt with. The airport walls are strewn with advertisements for personal injury solicitors, many specialising in industrial accidents. The Daily Mercury, the local newspaper, regularly prints front page stories of industrial accidents and fatalities.

But living dangerously is also very lucrative. Mining is no longer a working class game. John and Moira Gillard would not have had it so tough had they found themselves in central Queensland today. In Sydney or Melbourne, an auto- electrician can earn $60,000 per annum. In the Bowen Basin coal reserve in central Queensland, the same tradesman earns more than double this amount.

For a Sydney-slicker like myself, landing in Mackay felt like landing on another planet. I'm used to working in a snobbish, highbrow place where the number of figures on your paypacket is almost always determined by how many letters you have after your name. A perusal of the MyCareer jobs website showed advertisements for a maintenance supervisor ($115,000 per annum), a drill and blast crew member ($140,000) and a production supervisor ($150,000). These jobs are all based in Mackay, the largest city in the seat of Dawson.

In Mackay's city centre you'll find shopfronts for RBS Morgans and Bell Potter Securities. Parked outside are hotted-up utes and trucks, the luxury vehicle of choice in this part of Australia. With even contract dump truck operators earning $60 per hour, it's little wonder the stockbroking firms are doing a steady business here.

In his maiden speech on March 17, 2008, Dawson MP Bidgood said:

The Labor Party is the miner's friend always has been and always will be. The coal industry has a true friend in the Labor Party, a true friend that will not give up on the industry. Dawson's economy relies on a sustainable coal industry ...

Mining companies would have you believe that a super profits tax could lead to the sky falling down on communities such as Mackay. To what extent has this campaign worked?

One would expect that miners and contractors might feel shocked to learn just what small proportion of mining company profits is taxed. But anecdotal evidence shows that miners have little concern for how much tax their employers pay. They know they’re on a good wicket, and arguments about limited resources aren’t going to help.

What could help the ALP's chances is offering to pour money into infrastructure in these areas. The sad reality is that multinational mining companies see local resources and communities as fodder. Regional councils such as Isaacs, Mackay and Whitsunday are struggling to provide sufficient infrastructure to keep up with the growth in economic activity arising from the mining boom.

The nature of mining work has its social costs. Miners work long shifts, spending between four and seven days away on site or underground followed by a roughly equivalent period of time at home. The resulting strain this places on marriages and relationships (especially on children and youth) is then picked up by poorly paid community sector workers.

Politics is all about numbers. Key seats like Dawson need to be factored into the equation. At the heart of this is the mining tax. Mining companies need to pay their fair share, and they have often failed to contribute to the infrastructure and social mess their operations leave in our regional areas.

If Gillard cannot create a wedge between mining workers and their bosses over tax, she can at the very least sell to workers the idea that mining company dollars are desperately needed to improve the quality of life for residents and to properly resource services desperately needed.

In other words, any tax must be directly linked to improved services in mining communities. Perhaps mining companies could be granted tax concessions if they could show substantial investment in community projects beyond what little is already done. Perhaps some kind of community development fund could be established. This will not only be smart marginal seats politics. It will also be sound policy.

Most importantly, it will show that mining companies are being slugged not just to pay nebulous public sector debt but rather to benefit the communities that benefit them.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and author currently based in Mackay. This article was first published in the Canberra Times on Friday 2 July 2010

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