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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Fare thee well and rest in peace, JKG

Miss Eagle is saddened.
One of her heroes of long and mighty valour is dead.
economist, teacher, social scientist and commentator.
My heart mourns your passing
but celebrates your contribution to life.

As Miss Eagle has mentioned before, in these days, when the irrationality and value ignorance of economic rationalism has come to dominate almost every sphere of daily economic life across the globe, many sneer at Galbraithean economic ideas and ideals. But John Kenneth Galbraith's words have always demanded an audience. In these days when so many influential people appear to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, John Kenneth Galbraith inserted a practical and intelligent voice into the darkness of the dominance of the dollar.

Miss Eagle has two particular fondnesses which have been very useful in daily life: Galbraith's theory of countervailing power which he expressed in American Capitalism and the two sector economy posited in Economics and the Public Purpose.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Guns for hire - with logistical back-up

Miss Eagle is upset - in case you haven't noticed, dear reader - about selling off the assets of Australian taxpayers. Miss Eagle is against the sale of Medibank Private. But there is a worse case of privatisation abroad in the world - and there would be few countries unaffected by it. That is the privatisation of the military.

More than 5 million soldiers were discharged across the world between 1987-1994, according to Henry Sanchez of Rutgers University. Professional soldiers, suddenly unemployed in a hostile civilian environment, chose to earn their livings in the way they best knew. They took up employment as "soldiers of fortune" (mercenaries) or went to work for "security" companies and corporations.

For some companies, security is just that: but probably at a more sophisticated and professional level. For others, it is a euphemism for military activity: at the very least, security activity formerly undertaken by professional soldiers; at the utmost, full-blown military activity.

Private armies for hire have proliferated. Executive Outcomes acted in Sierra Leone, Congo, and Angola, Sandline International in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea (Australians will remember how they were chased out of PNG), DynCorp in Colombia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Bosnia and currently in Oceania and MPRI in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Aviation Development Corporation flies surveillance planes for the CIA. Its involvement was revealed when, in Peru, it misidentified a civilian light plane, carrying Christian missionaries, as carrying narcotics. It was shot down by the Peruvian air force. Blackwater USA is active in Iraq.

"Private Military Companies" or PMCs are known by a variety of phrases and euphemisms. They are "Military Firms", "Military Service Providers" (MSPs), "Privatized Military Firms" (PMFs), "Transnational Security Corporations" (TSCs), "security contractors", or simply "new mercenaries". Yet all these are woven from the same cloth.

In the United Kingdom and Australia the concept of national defence has undergone change. Britain's public-private partnership dubbed the "Private Finance Initiative" revolves around "paying privately for the defence we cannot afford publicly". Thus, transport planes, ships, trucks, training, and accommodation - may all be on long term leases from private firms. In Australia, civilians are carrying out a significant proportion of what were formerly military duties.

Then there are the major corporations that provide logistical support to military operations. The most famous of these is Halliburton (US Vice President Dick Cheney formerly its CEO and, as USVP, maintains a highly significant foreign relations staff) and its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown Root.

Halliburton and KBR are active in Australia. Some of their work is quite public, the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway, for instance. Some is not so public. However, a visit to their website and a check of their office locations when matched with military bases across Australia is an interesting exercise. As someone once said to me, you can get off a little plane in the middle of the night in some far flung corner of the globe and, if it is a place with oil, gold or diamonds, the first person to meet you when you alight is a man in a Stetson with a gun on his hip. That's the man from KBR.

Miss Eagle is not only concerned about the privatisation of war when national standing armies seem unable to recruit at the levels they would like. Miss Eagle has two other concerns. First concern is that limited military resources might once have driven governments to think of alternatives to war. Availability of "guns for hire" has implications for the instability of peace. Second concern is that, as politicians deal with the constantly enriched and enriching PMCs, there is increased opportunity for political and corporate corruption.

Miss Eagle doesn't think that "The Manchurian Candidate", the story of vested interest governing or owing a vice-presidential candidate, was remade simply for entertainment. The denouement of the recent remake was a venture into the fantastic. Miss Eagle thinks this was because a less incredible ending would have clearly made the story too close to its American home - and a high ranking individual may have been able to interfere with its release.

And if you want to think of links between military and political hawks and politicians, I give you the case of Kim Beazley, Australia's Leader of the Opposition. Now Kim is Opposition Leader second time around. The Australian Labor Party is not travelling too well. When Labor was in Government, Beazley was Minister for Defence. He kicked along Australia's participation in the international arms trade and was known for his collection of war toys displayed in his office. Not for nothing is he known as 'Bomber Beazley'.

Now move forward to Beazley becoming Leader second time around. The Americans were frenzied. They were terrified that Mark Latham might become Prime Minister - but they didn't want him as leader of a major political party either. The ALP thrashed around for a leader - and turned to Beazley. Beazley visited the USA and renewed some acquaintances in the political-military establishment there. So it was, with a sigh of relief from Washington DC, that Beazley became leader. And then a strange thing unfolded.

During the first period as Leader, Howard, Costello, and Abbott used to have a field day referring to Beazley's ticker. But, do you notice, during this second leadership, there is little or no reference to Beazley's ticker even from attack dog Abbott? Miss Eagle has a view on this. It is now beyond doubt that Howard's opponent is a good friend of Howard's good friend. So we mustn't be impolite and insult the friend of our friend, must we. And, have no doubt about it, Beazley is there by permission - U.S. permission.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Peril of hope

This poem, by Robert Frost, is because my thoughts are with Denis and his challenge.

It is right in there
Betwixt and between
The orchard bare
And the orchard green,
When the boughs are right
In a flowery burst
Of pink and white,
That we fear the worst.
For there's not a clime
But at any cost
Will take that time
For a night of frost.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Denis has gone off to the most strenuous part of his challenge with a cheery "So long and thanks for all the fish." As I have commented to Denis, this is a bit much. We haven't shared a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster yet.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Spirit of Anzac in the struggle for Peace

It is ANZAC Day tomorrow. Now Miss Eagle has seen more Anzac Days than she cares to acknowledge. She has done Dawn Services, Parades, Church Parades with the ultimate being back in 2001 when Miss Eagle and her sister did the Dawn Service at the War Memorial in Canberra.

This year I am not feeling up to any of this.

Miss Eagle's family have done their bit - Gallipoli, France, Malaya, Borneo, MacArthur's return to the Phillilpines, Coastwatching in New Guinea, Occupation Troops in Japan, Korea. As well, there is Uncle Jack - the war historian. No males went to Vietnam but Miss Eagle thought long and hard about war in this period and became a pacifist. Miss Eagle is not anti-Defence Forces and, if she was to become the Benevolent Dictator of Australia (BDA for short), there would still be an Army, Navy, and Air Force - if only to help out in cyclones and floods. As BDA, Miss Eagle supports policing type military actions such as East Timor and Cambodia and various UN Peacekeeping missions.

But Miss Eagle is feeling war-weary.

She believes in the solemnity and sacredness of Anzac Day: remembering the fallen and those who have gone before and honouring their service to the Nation. What wearies Miss Eagle is that we do not seem to learn. Australia is still going off to battles that are initiated by others and serves a foreign purpose more than Australia's own. In short, when are we going to turn the commemorative ideal around that focuses on fishing the bodies out of the water and, in addition, focus on stopping the bodies going in.

Miss Eagle does not want to politicise the Spirit of Anzac - but when can we have a national day in which we work towards Peace, highlight Peace and Peaceworkers, and seek to understand, strategise for and glorify Peace? When?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Beloved writing

One of the most valued books on Miss Eagle's bookshelves is A Testament of Devotion by Quaker writer, Thomas R Kelly. So well does Miss Eagle regard this work that she puts it right up there beside the oldest book on spirituality in the English language, The Cloud of Unknowing. The slim devotional volume, published posthumously, comprises a biographical memoir of Kelly by his friend Douglas V Steere and five essays. The titles of the essays lead one to consider the integral experience, values and outcomes of the devoted life. They are:

  • The Light Within
  • Holy Obedience
  • The Blessed Community
  • The Eternal Now and Social Concern
  • The Simplification of Life

At the beginning of the fourth essay are three sentences which might be of interest to readers of this blog.

There is an experience of the Eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action. Unspeakable, profound, and full of glory as an inward experience, it is the root of concern for all creation, the true ground of social endeavor. This inward Life and the outward Concern are truly one whole.

        Saturday, April 22, 2006

        Via Crucis at BMW Edge

        Miss Eagle is searching for words to describe what she experienced last night at BMW Edge at Federation Square. Via Crucis: Stations of the Cross, a choral work by Brenton Broadstock, was presented and performed by Australian Contemporary Chorale.

        This was not a static event. Stations used not only voice - but minimal costume, movement, lighting, image, percussion and textile to bring to life and give contemporary meaning to an ancient reflection on events surrounding Jesus as he went to his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Miss Eagle was so impressed, so caught up in the reverie and mystique portrayed, that it was only with great difficulty that her hands came together to join in the applause at the conclusion.

        Originally, in ancient days, the Stations were performed in Rome to recall sad events that happened in another place. To bring this to remembrance, Broadstock's friend, Rome-based British artist Justin Bradshaw, produced a scene for each of the fourteen stations which were displayed for viewing as one entered the seating area. These paintings are reprinted in the program.

        As one waited for the performance to begin, images were presented above the performance pit to remind us of those who stood up and spoke out to see wrongs righted. The images included Koiki Mabo, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Mother Teresa.

        Two women need to take credit for the overall production. First is Hildy Essex who is the founder of the Australian Contemporary Chorale (previously known as the Melbourne Composition Choir) and its conductor. The Chorale's aim is to become the premier choir performing original Australian composition. The second is Jeannie Marsh. Jeannie's influence took this performance from chorale rendition into dramatic performance. The voices of Sam Qualtrough (tenor soloist) and Jane Hendry (soprano soloist) were a delight and brought richness and colour to the performance.

        At the conclusion of the evening, Jon Cleary, the Australian religious broadcasters and commentator, launched the Chorale's CD, Stations.

        And back to BMW Edge. From the seating, the audience looks across the Performance Pit, through the majesty of steel and glass, to the Yarra shimmering darkly under the city lights. Miss Eagle knows of only one better venue. It too sits beside water shimmering darkly at night under city lights - but at Bennelong Point.

        Friday, April 21, 2006

        With you, Denis

        A good friend of The Eagle's Nest, Denis Wilson, is facing a personal challenge at the moment. Mention of it is woven into his beautiful blog, The Nature of Robertson. Denis loves this planet, especially that part of it around his home at Robertson in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. At the moment, he is not at home. His challenge is happening in our national capital in a Canberra hospital. Please direct kind thoughts, positive energy, prayers and an angel or two to Denis. And, Denis, some flowers for you.

        Missing in action

        Miss Eagle spent a month battling a health problem only to be thrown out of the main game this week by the dreaded lurgi. Back soon!

        Monday, April 17, 2006

        Howard of The Overflow

        This revised version of Clancy of the Overflow has been sent toMiss Eagle by her good friend,
        (With apologies to A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson and to Clancy.
        If you wish to pass this on please acknowledge,
        hat tip and/or link to this post)

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        I had written him a letter, which I had, for want of better
        Knowledge, sent to where I met him at the wheat board, years ago.
        He was chairman when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him
        Just on spec, to make the point that "Howard doesn't want to know".
        And an e-mail came directed, not entirely unexpected (And I think the same was written in some Middle Eastern bar).
        'Twas his CEO who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:"Trevor Flugge's gone to Baghdad, and we don't know where he are.
        "But when he left Australia, he was going to meet with Alia,
        "A trucking mob in Jordan, who were keen to grease the wheels.
        "For 10 percent commission, they could swing Saddam's permission
        "To get our wheat accepted; it's the mother of all deals.
        "But I guarantee, Prime Minister, that there's nothing at all sinister.
        "The chaps at DFAT told us that the sums looked quite okay.
        "When you're selling wheat in billions, what's a quick 300 million?"
        If it keeps the Nationals happy, it's a tiny price to pay.
        "Sitting here at Kirribilli, I've been thinking, willy-nilly,
        That it's somehow reminiscent of the children overboard:
        But I can handle Rudd and Beazley, as I always do, quite easily
        By endlessly protesting that there's nothing untoward.
        I'll tell Bush next time I meet him at The White House, when I greet him,
        That I'm sure he'll understand about the wheat board's quid pro quo.
        He'll forgive this minor error in the global war on terror
        When I look him in the eye and tell him Howard didn't know.

        Sunday, April 16, 2006

        Laughing with the Resurrection

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        He is risen!
        He is risen, indeed!
        Anyone who makes a person laugh
        Opens heaven to him.
        Anyone who is patient with another
        Gives him future.
        Anyone who accepts a person
        As he himself is accepted by Christ
        Loosens his tongue for life’s hymn of praise
        Let us go out from our customs and our habits
        And learn to hope from the Bible.
        Let us go out
        And cross the frontiers
        So that we may infect life with hope.
        Let us ignore the barriers,
        And look only to the One who breaks them down.
        He is risen.
        Jesus is risen indeed.
        Blessed be the Lord for ever and ever.

        Jurgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless

        Saturday, April 15, 2006

        Zhivago 2 - Mary Magdalene, a true apostle

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        Mary Magdalen by He Qi, China

        Miss Eagle is always stunned at how people view Mary Magdalene - and the extremes of those views to the extent that one has to wonder if they are talking about the same person. What has always peeved Miss Eagle though is her own view that the capital 'C' church has been so easily dismissive of Mary. Mary was there with the twelve but is never considered an apostle.

        Yet Mary, in womanly fashion, provided nurture and resources for the work of Jesus. She made so much so possible. But above all where Miss Eagle is peeved to the limit is that Mary Magdalene was the first bearer of the good news of the resurrection, yet for 2000 years the capital 'C' church - with only very recent exceptions - has forbidden women the preaching of the good news officially within the its services. For Miss Eagle, Mary Magdalene is a true Apostle. She resourced the ministry of Jesus. She was constant during his crucifixion and did not go to pieces or to flight like the majority of the male Apostles. She was there to discover the empty tomb. In fact, that's the thing. She was there. She was constant. She was there for the action and there to pick up the pieces. A truly female story. One that many men never get!


        Before the Festival comes the spring cleaning;
        Away from the crowd,
        With myrrh from a little pail
        I wash your most pure feet.

        I feel for the sandals and cannot find them.
        I see nothing through my tears
        And the strands of my hair
        Cover my eyes like a veil.

        I have planted your feet on the hem of my skirt, Jesus.
        I have watered them with my tears, I have wound them round
        With a string of beads from my neck,
        I have cloaked them in my hair.

        I see the future in detail
        As though you had stopped it.
        At this moment I am able to prophesy
        With the foresight of a Sibyl.

        To-morrow the veil of the temple will be torn,
        We will huddle together in a little group, apart
        And the earth will sway under our feet,
        Perhaps out of pity for me.

        The columns of the guards will re-form
        And the horsemen will ride away.
        Like a windspout in a storm, the cross above my head
        Will strain towards the sky,

        And I will fall at its feet,
        Silent and dazed biting my lips.
        Your arms will spread out to the ends of the cross
        To embrace too many.

        For whom in all the world
        Is your embrace so wide,
        For whom so much torment,
        So much power?

        In all the world
        Are there so many souls?
        So many lives?
        So many villages, rivers and woods?

        Those three days will pass
        But they will push me down into such emptiness
        That in the frightening interval
        I shall grow up to the Resurrection.
        From Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak translated from the Russian by Max Hayward and Manya Harari. The Harvill Press, London, 1996

        Friday, April 14, 2006

        Good Friday - a crucial meditation

        ...Misner walked away from the pulpit, to the rear wall of the church. There he stretched, reaching up until he was able to unhook the cross that hung there. He carried it then, past the empty choir stall, past the organ where Kate sat, the chair where Pulliam was, on to the podium and held it before him for all to see – if only they would. See what was certainly the first sign any human anywhere had made: the vertical line; the horizontal one. Even as children, they drew it with their fingers in snow, sand or mud; they laid it down as sticks in dirt; arranged it from bones on frozen tundra and broad savannas; as pebbles on riverbanks; scratched it on cave walls and outcroppings from Nome to South Africa. Algonquin and Laplanders, Zulu and Druids – all had a finger memory of this original mark. The circle was not first, nor was the parallel or the triangle. It was this mark, this, that lay underneath every other. This mark, rendered in the placement of facial features. This mark of a standing human figure poised to embrace. Remove it, as Pulliam had done, and Christianity was like any and every religion in the world: a population of supplicants begging respite from begrudging authority; harried believers ducking fate or dodging everyday evil; the weak negotiating a doomed trek through the wilderness; the sighted ripped of light and thrown into the perpetual dark of choicelessness. Without this sign, the believer’s life was confined to praising God and taking the hits. The praise was credit, the hits were interest due on a debt that could never be paid. Or, as Pulliam put it, no one knew when he had “graduated”. But with it, in the religion in which this sign was paramount and foundational, well life was a whole other matter.
        from Paradise by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Alfred A Knopf, NY, 1998, pp 145-147

        Thursday, April 13, 2006

        Zhivago 1 - Remembrance, bread, wine, friends.

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        At Jesus's last meal with His friends
        he asked us to do what He did
        and remember Him with bread, wine, and friends.

        Miss Eagle fell in love with Boris Pasternak at the age of 17. She read his most famous work, Dr Zhivago - a wonderful novel whose prose reads like sheer poetry. This very Russian story covers the Russia of World War I and the Revolution. It is a novel of great spirituality reflecting the Orthodox beliefs that permeate, in spite of the efforts of Lenin and Stalin et alia, the world of eastern Europe. Tucked away in the back of the novel, under the title Zhivago's Poems, is a collection or cycle of 25 poems. Miss Eagle asks you to make yourself quiet and comfortable and take this poem from that cycle as a meditation for this day of remembrance, Holy Thursday.

        From Zhivago’s Poems

        The turn of the road was lit
        By the unconcerned shimmer of distant stars.
        The road circled the Mount of Olives;
        Beneath it flowed the Kedron.

        The field tailed off
        Into the Milky Way.
        Grey-haired olive trees tried to walk the air
        Into the distance.

        Across the way was a vegetable garden.
        Leaving his disciples outside the enclosure,
        He said to them: ‘My soul is sorrowful unto death,
        Stay here and watch with me.’

        Unresisting he renounced
        Like borrowed things
        Omnipotence and the power to work miracles;
        Now he was mortal like ourselves.

        The night was a kingdom of annihilation,
        Of non-being,
        The whole world seemed uninhabited,
        And only this garden was a place for the living.

        He gazed into the black abyss,
        Empty, without beginning or end.
        Sweating blood, he prayed to his Father
        That this cup of death should pass him by.

        Having tamed his agony with prayer
        He went out through the garden gate.
        There, overcome by drowsiness,
        The disciples lay slumped in the grass.

        He woke them: ‘God has granted you to live in my time,
        And you loll about like this…
        The hour of the Son of Man has struck,
        He will deliver himself into the hands of sinners.’

        Hardly had he spoke when from who knows where
        A rabble of slaves and thieves appeared
        With torches and knives
        And in front of them Judas with his traitor’s kiss.

        Peter resisted the murderers,
        Struck off an ear with his sword.
        ‘Steel cannot decide a quarrel’, he heard:
        ‘Put back your sword in its scabbard.

        ‘Could not my Father send a host
        Of winged legions to defend me?
        Then no hair of my head would be touched,
        The enemy would scatter and leave no trace.

        ‘But the book of life has reached the page
        Which is the most precious of all holy things.
        What has been written must be fulfilled.
        Let it be so. Amen.

        ‘You see, the passage of the centuries is like a parable
        And catches fire on its way.
        In the name of its terrible majesty
        I shall go freely, through torment, down to the grave.

        ‘And on the third day I shall rise again.
        Life rafts down a river, like a convoy of barges,
        The centuries will float to me out of the darkness.
        And I shall judge them.’

        From Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak translated from the Russian by Max Hayward and Manya Harari. The Harvill Press, London, 1996

        Is that the sound of a passing buck whistling on by?

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        Prime Minister John Howard appeared at the Cole Inquiry this morning and it appears to have been a damp squib affair. Any Australian who thinks its government is astute, on-the-ball, accountable and transparent has surely been proved wrong in evidence given to the Cole Inquiry by Howard, Downer and Vaile. While Miss Eagle does not wish to prejudge Cole's findings, she does not have great confidence. AWB is almost certain to bear the brunt of any findings with the likelihood of the distant and uninvolved (as far as the Cole Inquiry has been concerned) UN getting some opprobrium. As Mike Steketee says, "if no minister is to be held to account, that points to something very rotten in our system of government. "

        Miss Eagle believes that time is an element that is frequently discounted. The three ministers along with Commissioner Cole and Counsel Assisting the Inquiry, John Agius SC, have their actions or lack of action exposed through this Inquiry. Miss Eagle likes the old Buddhist saying -"you may forget your actions, but your actions don't forget you".

        Wednesday, April 12, 2006

        David Hicks: a step closer to justice or a step away from it?

        The Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom has to-day dismissed a Home Office appeal against the granting of citizenship to David Hicks. Miss Eagle has written about Hicks's situation here, here, and here. The Home office has still two further opportunities of appeal. The first is an appeal to the House of Lords which requires the approval of the Court of Appeal to proceed. If this appeal fails, the Home Office may choose to petition directly the House of Lords. So David Hicks remains in limbo in respect of being granted British citizenship and being removed from the possibility of being sent before the kangaroo court known as a military commission.

        Kevin Rudd: rust-proof, high-yielding and red?

        ...and while there's mention of Kevin Rudd and the scandalous behaviour of AWB, Miss Eagle has uncovered a little known fact. AWB has listed an interesting variety of wheat with the name of Rudd. In the great and historic tradition of Australian wheat, it has great resistance to rust and is high yielding. It is a red feed quality grain and a dual purpose winter wheat for grazing as well as grain production. It is suitable for the high rainfall regions of VIC, TAS, NSW, QLD, SA, WA which means it should steer clear of dryland marginals.

        Tuesday, April 11, 2006

        Downer: perjury, misleading or fiddling the truth?

        Kevin Rudd says that Alexander Downer has denied reading a cable in relation to the AWB oil-for-food scandal which he formerly admitted, in Parliament, to reading. More information please, Kevin. Miss Eagle wants to know did Downer mislead Parliament or did he commit perjury at the Cole Inquiry? It may not be proper to ask if he is fiddling with the truth.

        Downer: Innate, primate, or Sergeant Schultz.

        Are they born this way? Or is it a learned response? Y'know Governance 101 - Subtitle: See no evil, hear no evil, read no evil. Or is it just too much television: the Sergeant Schultz response - I know noth-ing. And it appears it is not just Alexander Downer, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs with responsibility for matters relating to the UN and the oil-for-food scandal, but all those bureaucrats in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Whichever way it becomes ingrained into political and bureaucratic personnel, we have seen the art form at work before - in the Children Overboard affair.

        And the one time the Department queried anything, they asked AWB if they did it and they said no. What thorough-going investigators they are! Police don't take a suspect's word for it that they are innocent. Immigration officers don't take new arrivals' words that they are genuine refugees and asylum seekers. But the word is taken of a corporation whose personnel support the incumbent government when it denies breaching international law and indulges in breaches of Australian corporate law. What a difference a white collar and designer tie makes!

        The next questions are - who reads and actions memos? How would they know if their houses were on fire?

        Vaile sells out Australia's integrity, Australia's good name

        What price can be put on integrity, reputation, and good name? They are priceless. Once integrity is besmirched, reputation downgraded, and a good name has become a byword, it is difficult - in fact, well nigh impossible - to make up the ground that has been lost. So it is with Australia following the AWB bribes and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime. Australians have been and are shamed by the actions of AWB's gun-totin' cowboys - gun-totin' cowboys who were buoyed with the confidence of Australia's Howard Government.

        Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, made that quite clear in his evidence to the Cole Inquiry yesterday. He didn't read the cables. He didn't ride shotgun on his department. He didn't double-check with his department. He didn't require an investigation to be carried out into the probity of AWB. He bought the flim-flam lock, stock and smoking barrel and then he dished it out - through the Ambassador - vouching for AWB with the solid backing of Australia's integrity, Australia's good name, Australia's reputation.

        Read Mark Vaile in his own words here.

        Monday, April 10, 2006

        Vaile, venality and vacuity

        His written statement addressed 21 diplomatic cables about suspected irregularities in AWB contracts, and 21 times he said: "I have no recollection of receiving or reading this cable."

        This is the summation of Mark Vaile's evidence given to-day at the Cole Inquiry into the oil-for-food scandal uncovered by the United Nations which showed AWB, Australia's single-desk wheat seller, was the biggest subscriber, through bribery sometimes known as 'facilitation fees', to Saddam Hussein's coffers.

        It appears from to-day's evidence that - if the Cole Inquiry's Terms of Reference allowed it - it would be possible to draw a conclusion that Mark Vaile, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Trade and Leader of the National Party (a rural rump agriculturally based party), has been negligent in his administration of the Department of Trade.

        The sort of support the AWB expected of and was provided by the AustralianGovernment was something worthy of Australia Inc dogma and politics. Tim Costello - CEO of World Vision, aid activist and brother of Australian Treasurer Peter Costello - suggested at a public meeting in Melbourne yesterday that official government aid money was diverted from AusAid to the benefit of AWB in its dealings with and in Iraq.

        Now the taxpayers of this country, the defence forces of this country who have been sent to the mess of Iraq, those who expect ethical and responsible governance require answers. At this point of the inquiry, those of us on the outside looking in are left to think that Ministers including the Prime Minister and their Heads of Departments were asleep at the wheel at best and complicit or negligent in their attitudes to malfeasance at worst.

        Oh, and by the way, Vaile's evidence carried a sting in its tail. A desperate throw of the dice, perhaps? A little insurance? He mentioned that he had no ministerial responsibility for the United Nations or its oil-for-food program in Iraq. The person who has will be next cab off the rank, to-morrow.

        Howard and AWB: getting to the heart of the matter?

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        Tim Costello said yesterday, at the Micah Challenge event to launch Jim Wallis's Australian edition of God's Politics: why the American right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it , that he would like to ask Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Trade Minister Mark Vaile the following questions:

        Now that Prime Minister John Howard has been asked to provide a statement to the Cole Inquiry and has stated that he is willing to appear before the inquiry, does Tim want to ask these same questions of the PM?

        Tim Costello: AusAid, Flugge and AWB

        Tim Costello, speaking at the Melbourne Town Hall, 9 April 2006

        God; politics right, left & centre; and the Wallis & Costello show

        So you think that all Christians vote for right wing parties and think of political issues in terms of abortion, RU486, gay marriage and pornography. Not so. But, unless you follow the political processes of Australia quite closely, it can be hard to detect faith-based politicians and activists who take a broader view. They are there - and across party lines. Miss Eagle thinks of Bruce Baird in the Liberal Party and Claire Moore in the Labor Party who was one of that small group of women in the Senate who led the successful charge to make RU486 available to Australian women. There are others - but they are few. Not surprising really because, as a generality, Australians don't wear their faith on their sleeves as people do in the USA. Not that there aren't similar difficulties of awareness for broad-viewed people in the Republican and Democratic parties of the U.S.

        How refreshing it is when one comes across US citizens of faith who don't support the Iraq war, who put the fight for poverty, justice, and equity above the abortion debate, and speak out on the biblical basis for these views. Such a person was in Melbourne yesterday: Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Jim, hosted by Micah Challenge and introduced by Micah Challenge International Council member and Tear Fund Executive Director Steve Bradbury, spoke yesterday at the Melbourne Town Hall.
        Also speaking in support of Jim was World Vision's, Tim Costello.

        Jim is in Australia promoting the Australian edition of his book, God's Politics: why the American Right gets it wrong and the left doesn't get it.

        Tim Costello wrote the Foreword for the Australian edition. Quotes

        How did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war and pro-America alone?

        The good news is that the monologue of the right is over...Dialogue is always better than a monologue.

        There are two great hungers in our world today, one for spiritual integrity and the other for social justice. And the connection between the two is the one the world is waiting for.

        The churches ask for the edges of people's lives, and that's what they get, the edges. A whole generation of young people are looking for an agenda worthy of their energy and gifts, something big enough to give their lives to.

        If I'm an unborn child I should stay unborn. Once I'm born I'm off the radar screen of the religious right - no child care, no support for mothers. It's pro-birth, not pro-life.

        The choice is between hope and cynicism.

        Cynicism is a buffer against commitment.

        Hope is not a feeling nor a state of mind. Hope is a choice, a decision we make because of faith.

        We are the ones we have been waiting for.

        For a review of God's Politics which points out flaws as well as applauds, read Elizabeth Castelli's critique at Slate.

        Sunday, April 09, 2006

        Seasons of the soul: Holy Week 2006

        Miss Eagle marks the seasons, keeps the traditions, believes in the rituals. To-day marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians in the western tradition. The eastern and western traditions of the Christian Church mark Easter differently on their calendars. Next year the two traditions will co-incide and share the same date for Easter, but in 2006 the west will mark Easter of April 16 and the east will celebrate on April 23.

        Holy Week is the most sacred time in the Christian calendar. No, the most sacred time is not Christmas. Christmas might be the biggest time on the commercial and corporate calendar - but not on the Christian calendar. It is of great importance - but not as important as the things that are remembered this week.

        To-day is known, generally, as Palm Sunday. While the whole of Lent is a period of reflection, reflection this week becomes more sombre as some very dramatic events are remembered: events with the capacity to change the lives and outlooks of human beings. Thursday is Holy or Maundy Thursday, Friday is Good Friday, Sunday is Easter Day.

        In recent years, Palm Sunday has become a focus for public reflection on issues of peace and justice. In Melbourne, this public reflection will be held at the Melbourne Town Hall with a special guest, Jim Wallis, and Tim Costello.

        To-day, palm fronds in one form or another will be handed out at Christian Churches. One old tradition is the weaving of palm leaf into crosses. For instructions on this ancient Christian craft, see here.

        Friday, April 07, 2006

        The Prophetic Voice of Vinnie's

        While I listened to the ABC's Religion Report on Wednesday 5 April, I thought I could hear Helen Coonan in the background marking down the ABC's Budget. Stephen Crittenden interviewed John Falzon, Operations Manager for one of Australia's biggest charities, the St Vincent de Paul Society. Falzon's interview was a tour de force and is worth listening to. For those of you who can't listen to it, or would like a permanent record, here it is. Fasten seat belts. Hold on to your seats.

        The St Vincent de Paul Society says the Federal Government’s new breaching regime for people on welfare is immoral. Under the scheme, people who are breached but deemed to be extremely vulnerable, will be referred to the churches and charitable organisations to receive one-off payments of up to $650 to manage their cases.
        Dr John Falzon is the National Operations Manager for the St Vincent de Paul Society.
        John Falzon: Under the new Welfare to Work legislation, two major groups of people are going to be brought within the scope of the breaching regime. That’s people in receipt of parenting payments, especially single parents, but not exclusively, and also people with disabilities who are able to work more than 15 hours a week. Now when these people are breached, there are going to be some cases judged by Centrelink as being extremely vulnerable, and they are going to be referred to agencies that have taken up a contract to case manage the extremely vulnerable, and those agencies are going to give assistance in packages of up to $650 of government funds to the people who’ve been breached.What’s Vinnie’s position on this? Well, No.1 we consider the entire breaching regime to be unconscionable and immoral. It takes away dignity, it doesn’t offer hope, it doesn’t act as a mechanism for really enabling people to move from welfare to work. It punishes people who are already vulnerable, it deprives people of their human rights, of their dignity, of bread on the table for children in many cases.
        Stephen Crittenden: And you’re not having any part of it.
        John Falzon: Exactly. We’ve always held that position and as far as this idea of institutionalising charity and making people feel an even greater sense of humiliation in that even though the government is acknowledging that they’re going to be in a dangerous situation and is funding this period of crisis, it’s going to do so via a charity, to make people feel that the charity is being institutionalised and they’re being forced to go to a charity.
        Stephen Crittenden: Yes, I don’t really understand what’s in it for the government. They aren’t really getting people off welfare, and even though the churches are looking after them, the government’s still going to be paying.
        John Falzon: Yes, it’s more symbolic I think in this case. That’s what we really find unconscionable, that this is a return to some very old models of charity as being a means of really making people feel like they are to blame for their poverty. There’s a whole moral discourse involved here that we will have no part of. You know the wonderful educational theorist, Paulo Freire, and we really take his lead in Vinnie's, when he spoke very beautifully about needing to engage in a prophetic denunciation of the bad news, in order to engage in a prophetic annunciation of the good news. We denounce the breaching regime as bad news, there is no good news in any element of it. We do announce the good news that there is an alternative vision for Australia, and that’s one of our major concerns with this Welfare to Work legislation which some of our members refer to as Welfare to Work to Welfare - because in fact we don’t believe it’s going to have those sorts of positive outcomes that everyone would hope for. We believe that it lacks vision. Not only does it lack fairness but even from an economic rationalist point of view, it lacks strategic vision, and as the Book of Proverbs says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’. Well where is the vision in pushing people who are vulnerable into that low end of the labour market without any adequate opportunity for skilling, for education, at a time when most commentators will acknowledge we’re facing a skills crisis, at a time when Australia can in fact have a competitive edge, by investing in education skills and innovation.
        Stephen Crittenden: Presumably some of these people are still going to be coming to you for help, whether the government’s reimbursing you or not?
        John Falzon: That’s true, absolutely, and Vinnie’s will never cease giving assistance to people who have been breached, and they will continue to come to us. We won’t be accepting government money to do that, we won’t be entering into a contract, but what we’ve always maintained is yes we will give the charitable assistance, we will be there as a charity because we consist of so many wonderful people who are giving up their time to do that, and because they believe in a fair go.
        Stephen Crittenden: Doesn’t that let the government off the hook?
        John Falzon: Well there’s the second part of the equation. We’ll give the charity to people but what we have always maintained is charity is fine, but what these people deserve is justice, and we’ll keep clamouring for that justice.
        Stephen Crittenden: The Salvation Army says it will probably take up this proposal. The St Vincent de Paul Society says the breaching regime is immoral and you won’t have any part of it. Shouldn’t the churches be at one on this issue?
        John Falzon: Well our position as far as – I’m not commenting on churches, but I will comment on agencies – we have taken the position quite rightly in my opinion, that we in no way wish to give any direction or call to other agencies as to how to conduct themselves. They must follow their own charters, their own rules, their own rationales for how to engage in this quite vexed social policy area.
        Stephen Crittenden: But if you’re calling the government immoral, surely the implication is another church welfare agency who takes part in this immoral regime is participating in immorality if you like.
        John Falzon: Well, as I said, we’re not commenting on the decisions of other agencies as to how they engage in this entire process, but for Vinnie’s our message is clear: in our rule as a matter of fact, it says where injustice, inequality, poverty, or exclusion are due to unjust economic, political or social structures, or to inadequate or unjust legislation, the society should speak out clearly against the situation, always with charity with the aim of contributing to and demanding improvements. For those people who might think that’s quite strongly worded, it’s not nearly as strongly worded as those words from the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Woe betide those who enact unjust laws and draft oppressive legislation depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, plundering the widow and despoiling the fatherless.’ That’s where we take our lead from, Stephen, we’re placed in a position by our members because of what they see every day in giving assistance to the people who come to us.
        Stephen Crittenden: Let’s turn to a couple of other related welfare issues. Vinnie’s is also particularly concerned about what you’re describing as the nexus between the government’s Welfare to Work legislation and the new IR legislation.
        John Falzon: Yes. Look, what we see is that the people who are going to be pushed by the Welfare to Work legislation into that low end of the labour market, are also the people conceivably, who will be subjected to compliance with Australian workplace agreements that potentially will not be family friendly, that will be deleterious to family life. We’ve actually received some legal advice to suggest that there may be a case whereby the provisions in the Welfare to Work legislation can contribute to coercion of sole parents to breach their duty of care to their children which is potentially a criminal offence.
        Stephen Crittenden: But you’re also suggesting that the Welfare to Work legislation won’t just have the effect of pushing single mothers say back into the lower end of the workforce, it will also have the effect of pushing them on to individual contracts, which may be deleterious to them.
        John Falzon: Conceivably, yes. We’re not in any way saying that that is necessarily going to be the case, but it is certainly on the cards as far as we can see, that that’s precisely where Australian Workplace agreements will be put in place, and who knows what kind of conditions will be removed from those working arrangements, particularly where children are involved.
        Stephen Crittenden: OK, just finally, Dick Warburton and Peter Hendy, two Australian businessmen, have this week presented the Federal government with their review of Australia’s tax rates. And the Prime Minister has said that his first priority in this year’s budget is support for lower middle-income families. What is St Vincent de Paul Society saying about tax reform?
        John Falzon: What we’re saying No.l is that the Treasurer is quite correct in citing the OECD figures that we’ve got the eighth lowest tax to GDP ratio, and that we’re the second-lowest spending amongst the OECD countries. We have always considered two major points as far as the debate on tax reform. 1. is that the effective marginal tax rates that affect precisely the people moving from Welfare to Work are incredibly high, up to the 70% mark and this acts as a major disincentive for people moving from Welfare to Work.
        Stephen Crittenden: Labor’s Wayne Swan is saying this, too, this week.
        John Falzon: Yes, quite right. Secondly though, we have always maintained that the far greater deficit in Australian society is not so much in terms of the need for tax cuts, it’s in terms of our under-investment particularly in social infrastructure, particularly in the costs that hit low income households, and middle income households in areas of education, health, transport, housing, child care, these are the sorts of costs that impact heavily because it’s a matter of shifting from the public purse to the private pocket. We would dearly love to see an intelligent and strategic investment in these areas of Australian society rather than putting a few dollars into people’s pockets, because this would have not only a great effect on those individual households, but as a whole, collectively as a nation, it would enable us to go forward and would stand in opposition to the narrow-minded punitive welfare reforms and IR reforms that we’ve seen.
        Stephen Crittenden: John, thanks very much for being on the program.
        John Falzon: Pleasure, Stephen.
        Stephen Crittenden: You don’t often hear a Catholic who can quote the Bible. Dr John Falzon, the National Operations Manager for the St Vincent de Paul Society.

        Thursday, April 06, 2006

        Good on you, Tegan - but remember CH

        In recent years, Australia has watched in horror two rape proceedings. One which had as its central figure Bilal Skaf. The other involved men who have had their names suppressed. I find this of particular regret. Each of the two rape proceedings involved men of Muslim background. Each of the two proceedings appeared to have racial overtones involving the denigration of Australian women of European descent. The NSW Government - in whose jurisdiction the legal proceedings took place - were forced to change laws and the way victims gave their testimony because people involved in these cases, quite simply, had no respect for the law let alone the people whom they had raped. One disappointing factor in the case mentioned here is that the father of the men involved has not been held to account before a court or tribunal for his statements. He, a medical practitioner, is alleged to have excused his sons by saying that they did not understand Australian cultural standards. Was he trying to tell us that this society in which he has chosen to live and to bring his family to live supports rape and violence? He, a medical practitioner, is alleged to have said - on seeing the videos of the rape and violence taken by his sons - that one of them would have made a great gynoecologist. What blame attaches to this man for the rape and violence committed by his sons? What penalty does he face?

        I congratulate Tegan for her ability to stand tall and not allow herself to be brought low by those who sort to denigrate her in the ultimate way short of death. However, let our thoughts never be far from CH. She never felt able to attend court, and wrote in a victim impact statement: "My own regret in relation to my lost dreams is a constant torment."

        Wednesday, April 05, 2006

        Scott Parkin

        Deep in the September 2005 archives of The Eagle's Nest, the dedicated reader will find Miss Eagle's posts relating to Scott Parkin. Now there is further news. Scott Parkin has begun a case in the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne in an attempt to force the Australian Government to reveal the reasons why he was deported. Anne Gooley who is acting for Scott in this matter, said:
        "This is a broader issue than just Scott. This is the issue of whether people are entitled to have these decisions made without any opportunity to scrutinise them."

        Medibank Privat-ised?

        Warwick Hatfield - who rattles quickly through all the sporting news on RN's Breakfast every morning from Monday to Friday - is nothing if not a wit - and, at the speed at which he delivers his news, you have to be quick on the ear and the uptake.

        To-day, Warwick fitted in his comment on the decision by the Howard Government to privatise Medibank Private in two words: Medibank Privatised.

        Oh Warwick, we hope not.

        Tuesday, April 04, 2006

        The Dalai Lama: comment and wisdom

        The Telegraph (that's the London one, not the Sydney one) is carrying a long article and interview with the Dalai Lama. In the interview the Dalai Lama said two things of particular interest.

        The first is about us:
        The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."

        The second is about handling The West's greatest external collective fear:

        Terrorists, he warns, must be treated humanely. "Otherwise, the problem will escalate. If there is one Bin Laden killed today, soon there will be 10 Bin Ladens. Awesome. Ten Bin Ladens killed, the hatred is spread; 100 bombed, and 1,000 lose members of their families."

        Vote NO to the sale of Medibank Private

        VOTE NOW
        The Age is having a vote on the sale of Medibank Private.
        These votes do not go on forever.
        Please go to
        VOTE NO, NO, NO

        Learn from history to protect everyone's freedom

        Every act of discrimination by our Parliament and governments dishonours our nation.
        We honour the memories recorded in this book most worthily
        when we resolve to respect
        the freedoms and dignity of all people and to be vigilant for our own.
        at the launch of an anthology of the memories of child survivors of the Holocaust.
        Let us remember! Let us learn!

        Monday, April 03, 2006

        Globalization: dark and democratic?

        Nothing comes without a price, says Paul Sheehan on globalization. And he outlines the price quite clearly:
        • erosion of working conditions,
        • a rising gap between haves and have-nots,
        • a looting of community assets by fee-gouging financial brigands,
        • a siphoning of corporate profits by overpaid executive bedouins, and
        • the loss of entire industries shipped offshore, mostly to China.

        His final question puts the English-speaking world in its place.

        Are you any more deserving than a young Chinese worker desperate to get out of poverty?

        Owning up and going from there

        Boyd over at Non-violent Jesus has a great post on what we - and particularly those of the we who are Christians - should be doing. His post is out of the USA and relates to that nation's involvement in the war on Iraq. Miss Eagle has long advocated similar principles in Australia in relation to this nation's handling of reconciliation with the people of the First Nations and in the matter of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigration policies.

        " 'Fess up!", Miss Eagle says. Come to grips with the truth about ourselves, our actions, our motivations. Then - and only then - can we move forward into new and creative policies and solutions. Christians, if we are worth our salt - or, as the good news says, if we are the salt which has not lost its taste and flavour - should stop shilly-shallying and being mealy-mouthed and lead the way in this direction. The principles espoused can be used on a number of fronts.

        1. Honesty, self-criticism, confession.
        2. Contrition, repentance, making amends, setting things right.
        3. Reformation in our actions and ways of doing things. New actions. New attitudes.

        These are principles that can be taken onto a number of fronts. Not only in the matter of war and peace. Not only in the matter of asylum seekers and hospitality. But also in the matter of the new workplace legislation. Miss Eagle has said harsh words, particularly about the Howard Government, in all this. But if Miss Eagle is to be honest, the most satisfactory result for all with justice for all - employers, employees, business and community - will involve reconciliation. And Miss Eagle has to say that the state jurisdictions - at least the one in which she worked in Queensland - have strong conciliaton processes, and the word 'conciliation' is in the title of the governing industrial relations tribunal.

        But - most Christians sitting in pews do not seem to have a clue about industrial relations or the issues involved. In most parishes or congregations of most denominations, industrial relations is barely a blip on the agenda. In fact, some denominations have poor track records themselves in industrial relations. Yet the current state of industrial relations in this nation has the capacity to rend asunder community values and traditions with no significant benefit or enrichment to either. So, in the name of Christ, Christians, what are you doing?

        Higher than the Berlin Wall, Jerusalem becomes a medieval walled city once more

        Miss Eagle has posted before on the build-your-own-ghetto mentality which appears to prevail in modern Israel. Robert Fisk explains how the recent elections will not restrict the Israeli landgrab - but will endorse and encourage further hegemony by Israels on land held by Arabs.

        Is this how the Howard Govt makes us feel?

        Art came tothe Solidarity Picnic yesterday

        What are you doing this Easter: worshipping, working or playing?

        Barnaby Joyce claimed to have saved Good Friday and saved Christmas Day for workers as a condition of passage of the Howard Governments draconian industrial relations laws through the Senate. Jill Murray is a party pooper. She has cast doubt on Backdown Barnaby's claims. So if you see yourself pitching your tent with the family at Rosebud next week with all those other Victorians who treat Easter as the last proper holiday time before winter sets in, better check with your boss first. The last week as shown that quite a few employers want to get in early to make the most of the Howard and Andrews gift to employers. The first public holidays since the legislation came into effect on Monday 27 March will provide a further test to the venality of employers. How many employees who otherwise would not have worked over the Easter holidays will be co-erced or feel co-erced into working these days and thus taking them away from worship, from their families, from recreation. And how many executives, managers, owners will work this Easter when otherwise they would not? A miniscule number, I venture.
        So check with the boss - but don't forget Barnaby. If the boss won't let youo have Easter to yourself and you will be working on Good Friday and/or Easter Monday, let Barnaby know. Here are his contact details. I doubt he'll be in St George though. I think it's an each way bet on either the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast.
        Any Barnaby watchers out there might like to let Miss Eagle know.

        The struggle and the protests continue - 2

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        The Northern Communities and Union Solidarity Group are planning a Family Day and March on May Day Eve, Sunday 30 April 2006. It will be held at 1pm - 3pm (plenty of time to go to church first) from 1.00pm to 3.00pm at the Town Park at Pearcedale Parade, Broadmeadows. If you want more information please call Wayne on 0438 304 326.

        The struggle and the protests continue - 1

        Yesterday, the protest continued. This time in the western suburbs of Melbourne at Yarraville Gardens at the Solidarity Picnic organised by the Western Suburbs Community & Unions Coalition. Those who fronted up to entertain and speak included comedian Corinne Grant who compered the event; Sharan Burrow (President ACTU), Phillip Huggins (Anglican Bishop), Cath Smith (Victorian Council of Social Services), Kevin Bracken (State Secretary, MUA), Michele O'Neil (State Secretary, TCFU), Janet Rice (Mayor, Maribyrnong Council) ; Chris Wilson, The Band Who Knew Too Much, Crawfish Dave, Sudanese Women Dancers, Indigenous Performers, and Sweet Cheeks. The Solidarity Picnic was endorsed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the Victorian Council of Churches, the Victorian Council of Social Service, and numerous individual unions, community and welfare groups, including Job Watch, Liberty Victoria, Western Suburbs Legal Service, Federation of Community Legal Centres, and Women's Health West.
        Yarraville Gardens, the picnic venue, is beautiful. It was a great day for families, kids, dogs and protest.

        Sunday, April 02, 2006

        A Lenten message?

        Graffiti in a lane off Little Collins Street, Melbourne, between Queen & William Streets