Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Listen to this

TV Channel 9 here in Oz has broadcast an amazing interview over her mobile phone with an Aussie woman trapped in her Christchurch office building after today's earthquake.

Major disasters are actually not one event but a jigsaw of individual, very personal stories. It's the small individual experiences that make up the big picture.

This is another example of that.

She sounds calm but she must be terrified.

Listen here: "I'm trapped under a desk, I can't get out, it's dark, I'm bleeding, and I just don't what's going on out there".

Ánd by the way, it's a side of mobile phones, often so annoying and cause for complaint, that we don't think about.  Try to imagine the comfort of it to someone like this, trapped in the dark, not knowing what's out there, what's going on, what her situation really is. She at least has contact with a friendly voice, feels that she's not alone.

Another example of a very personal story that was part of a much larger jigsaw - and another showing the value and comfort of a mobile phone in these disastrous situations - that still raises the hair on the back of my neck whenever I listen to it was during the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria. It was a real time audio of one person trapped right in the middle of it, facing a terrifying death.

I posted it on my Dubai blog, here:

Rhiannon, only twenty years old, called radio station 3AW as the fires raced towards the house where she and a group had taken shelter.

Later Update

Ann Vos, the woman trapped under her desk, was later found and rescued without serious injury.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This time the domino theory looks probable

While the scaremongers have in the past often warned of the domino theory it hasn't actually happened. But it does look as though it's happening this time.  

And where it's happening is taking world leaders by surprise. Especially in the west, where successive governments have propped up, financially and otherwise, the regimes which have now gone or are under threat.

First we had Tunisia, then Egypt and there's increasing unrest in Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain...

In the west they're usually lumped together and believed to be the same. But while they have in common the fact that they don't have democratic political systems, they're actually quite different from each other. Absolute monarchies, life presidents, secular, Islamic republic...

They also have very different economies, very different wealth, very different societies.

Currently they all also have in common the fact that large numbers of the people want change. And they want change because they want a better deal, a better life.

In the poorer countries the unrest is about standards of living and jobs. In the wealthier such as Bahrain it's about politics. Much as in Northern Ireland it's politics dominated by religion - Catholics vs Protestants, Shia vs Sunni.

I'm hearing a lot of surprise that modern westernised Bahrain, with at least half the population being expatriate, is one of the dominos. But in fact there's long been unrest there.

I remember on my second visit back in the late seventies seeing huge piles of sandals and flip-flops in the streets. In answer to my question I was told that there had been large demonstrations the night before and the demonstrators can run faster from the security forces if the kick off their sandals. From the amount of footwear I could see it must have been a good-size demo.

Coming back to my hotel after dinner I saw Public Defence units on most street corners and intersections.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The mining super profits debacle

If we ever needed proof of how wrong the government was to back down over the resources super profits tax, we've got it today.

According to figures just released by the Treasury the backdown has cost us $60 billion over the next decade. We were going to get $99 billion, but thanks to the backdown we're actually getting $38.5 billion.

Then, as expected, today BHP Billiton has announced record profits of  $10.5 billion for the last six months, which is 72% up on the same period last year.

What an appalling decision the backdown was, and to me competely inexplicable.

The miners spent a few million dollars on a scare campaign making highly dubious claims, panic ensued, the government didn't bother to mount a counter campaign using the true facts but instead simply backed down.

They negotiated with the miners to see how much they were prepared to pay.

Government negotiating with taxpayers to see how much they're prepared to pay? When has that ever happened, until this disgraceful episode?

I've never been invited to join negotiations about how much tax I'd like to pay, have you?

Our resources are just that - ours. The miners are granted leases to dig them up and sell them. A reasonable profit is expected and acceptable. But these are unprecedented windfall profits.

And remember that these huge windfall profits are not the result of anything the miners are doing, it's all about the growth of China.

The resources are finite, which means future generations won't have them to produce wealth.  So what was, still is, needed is a tax on the excess profits which should be used to create a sovereign wealth fund.

That way our future generations can benefit from the resources we're so quickly depleting.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More Egyptian history

What an amazing couple of weeks in Egypt.

The seemingly unmoveable Mubarak regime has gone. A regime not only brutal in the way it usually treated dissent and which had all-but destroyed any organised opposition but which was, let's not forget, also supported and propped up by the West.

In spite of all that a largely peaceful mass uprising by the people has removed them.


While it is a people's revolution the critical part the military played in the revolution should be acknowledged. Surprisingly to me they stood by and let the revolution take its course.

It was a big dipper of a revolution and it was touch and go there for a while.

It looks to me as though the original thinking of the regime was that it would fizzle out afer a few days, so they did nothing.

Then they tried to show that chaos would be the result by loosing off some thuggish 'supporters' to create violence.

By and large, and to their credit, the crowd didn't resort to retaliation with violence and the chaos the regime wanted didn't really happen.

The numbers waxed and waned, but calls for 'million people' demonstrations boosted the numbers again.

It was touch and go on Thursday when Mubarak was expected to resign by just about everyone but didn't.

If there was going to be a violent reaction, the disappointment at that point was going to ignite it.

Again to their credit, the people were restrained but determined.

There are lessons in it too for American foreign policy makers and their western allies, not that they've ever learned from their mistakes in the past though.

Once again they've been supporting a brutal, undemocratic dictator hated by his people.

And think about Iraq & Afghanistan - you can't impose a political system on people, the people themselves have to do it.

As the Egyptians have so wonderfully shown.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A land of extremes

Cyclone Yasi devastating the north, severe flood warnings in Victoria...and here on the NSW Central Coast we have a total fire ban because of the danger of bushfires.  All at the same time.