Weekend forum


A thread for discussion of any political issue, no single topic, so nothing’s off-topic.

As a discussion starter, retirements have been in the news this week, particularly that of Fidel Castro.

Fidel’s retirement is well deserved. He has led his country well for the the best part of 50 years in the face of an economic boycott and military provocations by Cuba’s nearest neighbour and the most powerful military force in the world, the United States.

The achievements of the people of Cuba in that time have been considerable in literacy, health and general living standards.

There are some others who should retire, but won’t and can’t point to anything like Fidel’s record.

Robert Mugabe is one. He was in the news this week because he turned 84. Unfortunately, many victims of his government won’t live to such an age.

Closer to home is that friend of the banking class, Mick Costa, who has been getting around the state talking up his plan to sell off the electricity system. The Dubbo Liberal was not impressed, pointing out this this man of the people spent most of his time in that centre talking to the local business set at a $70 a head lunch.

There are a few other members of the NSW government who should retire forthwith: Joe Tripodi in particular, and then there’s Health Minister Reba Meagher, who seems bent on singlehandedly destroying the NSW public health system.

Any other suggestions on politicians who should retire post haste and how their achievements compare with those of Fidel Castro?


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12 Responses to “Weekend forum”

  1. redbox Says:

    Professor Ross Garnaut’s report on climate change tosses a rather big bomb in the direction of Mick Costa and the NSW government’s privatising faction.

    A report in the Australian this morning recommends that power generators should not be compensated for government-mandated emission cuts.

    This would rip something like $10 billion off the value of old coal-fired power stations in NSW and Victoria.

    So, who’s going to buy Mick Costa’s power system? Sounds like electricity is not going to be a good area for private profits for quite some time to come, and the only interests likely to be interested in the NSW system are asset strippers: corporate raiders that get in, sack a lot of staff, flog off everything that isn’t nailed down, pocket the profits and then move on, leaving someone else to clean up the mess.

    In this case it would be a rather big mess, since electricity is an essential service.

    Should Mick Costa retire? Isn’t he already semi-retired? He doesn’t intend to stay in politics much longer, and he long ago gave up any idea of service to the public.

  2. Doolie Says:

    The Daily Telegraph is on Mick Costa Watch, which means it plays at least one useful role that I can think of.

    Seems the working class Greek boy made good made a spectacle of himself this week trying to queue-jump at the taxi rank at Sydney Airport. Oops. Sydney Airport taxi security staff are some of the sternest and scariest critters I’ve seen outside of Cool Hand Luke. They definitely do not like their orderly system to be upset by rulebreakers, whether cab drivers or weary passengers thinking they don’t have to wait their turn like every other ducky.

    Costa was quickly and firmly brought to heel by these no-nonsense Custodians of the Queue, and he didn’t like one bit being publicly berated by airport grunts when he had an important $1000-a-head ALP fund-raiser to get to at Developers’ Inn.

  3. Prince Nikolai Says:

    I was more than a little taken aback to receive a late afternoon email at work yesterday, forwarded by management, containing a directive to all NSW public servants from Robyn Kruk, the Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Premier Iemma’s most senior executive.

    Originally a Liberal state government bureaucratic appointee, the UNSW and Harvard Business School educated Kruk was formerly D-G of NSW Health and in the mid-1990s, D-G of NPWS before being sacked from that position by the then ALP NPWS Minister, Pam Allan.

    In no uncertain terms and declamatory tone, Ms Kruk stated that if workers had not applied by the previous day, i.e. 21 February, for extended, recreation or any other form of paid leave for February 26, which happens to be the day of the electricity privatisation protest march and rally being organised by ALP branches, unions, the Greens and others, then managers must not approve any applications for leave for that day – for whatever reason! Public servants do not normally have to state the reason they apply for leave other than the form of the leave they will take and nor do they have to give notice if unavoidable.

    The memo also stated that any workers taking sick leave on February 26 must get a doctor’s certificate.

    The PSA (my union) followed this extraordinary email in swift order with a protest to the government stating that as it was only electricity unions which had called a stop work for the rally, the Premier’s directive was based on a false premise and should be ignored by their members who should apply for and be granted leave, any leave, in the normal way on February 26.

    As today’s SMH points out , the NSW ALP government is using the same illegal tactic as Howard’s federal IR department when it tried to intimidate staff there from attending anti-Work Choices meetings and for which the department was subsequently heavily court-fined.

  4. frillneck Says:

    One of the liveliest discussions on Fidel Castro’s retirement is at Crooked Timber. Comments are largely favourable, in response to a favourable initial post.

  5. Isthisadaggeriseebeforeme Says:

    Speaking of Castro’s retirement, I noticed a link to Peter Boyle’s rather fawning letter to Fidel on Marxmail.

    Glad I’m not in the DSP. I reckon I’d be so embarrassed I’d be hoping the ground would open up and swallow me.

  6. Norm Dixon Says:

    Dear Dagger,

    We’re glad your not in the DSP too. Perhaps you can explain what in Peter’s letter you would find so embarrassing?

  7. Tristan Ewins Says:

    Dear friends and comrades –

    Please real free to read the following article – a critique of the government’s plans for regressive tax cuts and austerity. And please discuss the issues either here, or at Leftwrites or On Line Opinion:

    Hard Choices for Labor – Please Discuss

    One of the most notable aspects of the recent past Federal election campaign was Labor’s swift emulation of the Coalition’s tax policy. Labor promised $34 billion in tax breaks, with much of the largesse being transferred to those on higher incomes.

    The deferral of $3 billion in cuts for those on incomes of over $180,000 a year, here, is best understood as an ineffective and empty gesture.

    The “simplification” of PAYG tax, with a reduction in the number of tax brackets from four to three also promises to “flatten” the system, rendering it significantly less progressive.

    Now, in the wake of the election campaign, Labor is facing a raft of hard choices. Economic forecasters are warning of the prospect of inflation, and already official interest rates have risen once this year. It is likely that this will be the first official interest rise of many in the year ahead for the fledgling Labor government.

    High rates of inflation threaten uncertainty and economic instability: providing a disincentive for savings and investment.

    What is neglected, though, in popular neo-liberal responses to inflation, is a balanced assessment that takes into consideration impacts on equity, wage justice and unemployment.

    There are many possible responses to inflation: including wage restraint, tax reform and austerity. Labor is also looking to respond to “capacity constraints” which can feed into a vicious cycle of inflation. Particularly, the government is looking to fund education and training: to counter skills shortages, and to invest in infrastructure: removing “infrastructure bottlenecks”.

    Australians are well-justified, however, to ask whether or not Labor has “backed itself into a corner” on the issues of tax reform and inflation.

    According to The Age, Labor “is looking for another $3 billion to $4 billion in cuts for the May budget, on top of the $10 billion Labor identified before the election”.

    But while Labor Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner rightly belittles the Coalition for its economic irresponsibility, Labor’s own culpability in raising expectations of sweeping tax cuts must be admitted. Labor now faces the inpalatable prospect of wide-ranging austerity; and of struggling families being forced “to the wall” as a result of the housing bubble and continuing
    interest rate hikes.

    At this point, there are a number of questions that are worthy of consideration.

    If demand must be reduced in order to counter inflation, surely it is better to do so through a targeted expansion in taxation, and by more severe means testing of programs such as Family Tax Benefit B and the Private Health Insurance Rebate.

    Additional savings might imaginably be achieved in the Defence budget – especially in the wake of withdrawal from Iraq.

    Importantly, only cuts in personnel could reasonably be deflationary. Cuts in the acquisition of military hardware would not.”
    The Australian

    Abolishing negative gearing and halving dividend imputation, meanwhile, could free funds necessary for progressive restructuring of the broader tax system, radical expansion of public housing, and of social services.
    Surely this is better than demanding austerity for the vulnerable and average income-earners, and sending desperate home buyers to the wall.

    There is a good and valid argument, here, that Labor is bound by its pre-election promises, and thus feels compelled to abide by its mandate.

    And indeed, Labor’s platform is seriously constrictive: promising not to increase taxation overall as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But if the minerals boom comes to an end, though, along with its corresponding explosion in Company Tax revenue, the consequences of such a policy could be disastrous. In the face of such contingencies there must be “room to move”: exactly what Labor has denied itself.

    This argument (that Labor’s platform must be strictly upheld) would resonate more strongly if Labor had not already so flagrantly violated its own platform: such as with the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank in the 1990s.

    The need to rein in inflation, however, without impacting negatively upon social justice, or giving rise to the spectre of unemployment, demands bi-partisan attention. As a matter of “national emergency”, it is an urgent and valid position that tax cuts be put on hold.

    Surely – as already noted – such money could instead be redirected into infrastructure and education, thus responding to the skills shortages and “infrastructure bottlenecks” that are feeding into inflation. And surely with steep increases in the cost of living, it is time to be more generous and just with the provision of welfare for the vulnerable and the needy.

    It should not be these people, or ordinary working-class families struggling with exorbitant mortgages, who pay the price of the fight against inflation through wage restraint, spiraling interest rates, and austerity.
    Furthermore, in regard to urges for “wage restraint” it must be noted that workers’ share of the “economic pie” has already fallen to a 35-year low.

    Australian workers need to organise: to strive for wage justice, and compensation for prior wage restraint in the form of collective co-ownership and economic democracy. Poorly organised, unskilled and semi-skilled workers also need stronger protection than what is currently envisaged in Labor’s proposed “safety net”.

    Beyond this, Labor needs also to develop a plan to restructure the tax system progressively: addressing inflation through taxes that seek to dampen “conspicuous consumption” among the wealthy.

    Labor should not shift a greater proportion of the tax burden upon the poor, the vulnerable, and average workers. Instead of reducing the number of PAYG income tax brackets, the system would do better to encompass a greater number of thresholds.

    The entire tax system needs to be organised in such a way as to be more equitable in its spread, and so as to finance progressive expansion and development of Australia’s welfare state and social wage.

    As previously noted, there is a legitimate position which holds that Labor must be held accountable for its pre-election promises. Even if Labor resolves to stay firm to its platform, though, this ought at least not be without dissent or controversy.

    Beyond the calls for “belt-tightening”, there is a desperate need for investment in welfare, infrastructure, education, health, aged care, and foreign aid. Ambitious public housing programs should also be provided for: to increase supply and to burst the “property bubble” which has put home ownership out of the reach of so many Australians.

    And Labor’s apology for injustices visited upon Australia’s Indigenous people will ring hollow unless accompanied by the resources necessary to “close the gap” in age expectancy, income, home ownership, health services and educational opportunity.

    If Federal Labor fails to provide in any of these areas, then it is up to citizens to mobilise and demand change. Rank and file ALP members need to organise now – hopefully with leadership from dissenting elements within the Party – to win a shift in policy at Labor’s next National Conference.

    Progressive activists, including those to the left of the ALP, also need to mobilise and take a stand for the values of compassion, mercy, kindness and justice.

    In particular, trade unions, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), and citizens’ networks including “Now We The People”, “Melbourne Social Forum” and “GetUp!”, could mobilise activists to intervene in Australia’s political parties in support of more progressive agendas. GetUp! alone has well over 200,000 members.

    In light of such figures, those on the broad Left would do well to imagine the impact of a concerted campaign to mobilise these Australians into party-political activism.

    Importantly, if leadership were provided in recruiting more Australians from unions, NGOs and citizens’ networks into party-political activism, progressive influence in the ALP, and also minor progressive parties could expand simultaneously.

    There is a space, now, to the left of the ALP, which is begging to be filled by a new party embracing the traditional values of the Left.

    And if Labor holds firm to policies of inequitable “tax reform” and austerity, the ranks and appeal of any new formation could swell – if only with a determination to “move into the mainstream” and not be lost in a “self-imposed political ghetto”.

    Such a party, in alliance with the Greens, could shift the relative centre of Australian politics to the Left, leading public debate in a way the ALP cannot – because of its conflicting constituencies.

    Effectively, the broad Australian Left – comprising the ALP, Greens, and a new party of the Left – would launch a “multi-pronged assault”, mobilising activists and voters of different identities and backgrounds from several directions at once. The aim would be to forge, through exchange, co-operation and engagement, a “cultural and electoral bloc”.

    Some activists despair that the Rudd Labor Government could be yet another “wasted opportunity”. Should enough citizens “stand up and be heard”, however, perhaps there is yet hope for real and progressive change.

    Tristan Ewins

  8. Isthisadaggeriseebeforeme Says:

    Norm, I’m not embarrassed about Peter Boyle’s letter (except perhaps as an Australian) because it’s not written on my behalf, but if it had been written on my behalf I’d be deeply embarrassed.

    The dead language is exactly the sort of thing that could have been read to the masses from Lenin’s mausoleum in the 1950s or to a rally in Pyongyang last year.

    The heading, “Revolutionary appreciation and respect to Fidel Castro” is enough to stop most readers right there. This is dreary, perfunctory, routine, ceremonial stuff, the sort of thing that turns people off sections of the left.

    If it wasn’t on the Democratic Socialist Whatever website, I’d have thought it was a parody.

  9. Norm Dixon Says:

    Come on Dagger, don’t be coy. I doubt your real complaint is with the literary style. What would YOU write to Fidel. How would YOU assess his contribution to Cuban and world politics. Let’s get beyond trolling and abuse, and actually discuss the politics of it.

  10. Jenny Haines Says:

    My view of Cuba is that it was never a socialist paradise but you have to admire Castro, who managed to stay in power for 50 years despite the best efforts of the Americans to kill him or at least wish him dead every day of that 50 years.

    When you look at Cuba from outside (and I have never been there so I am relying on reports, and TV) the people look happy and healthy enough, they live in older style houses and drive older style cars, that are no doubt the result of the decades long trade embargo on Cuba by the United States of America. The people seem to eat well, their children go to school, they have access to their health system ( we can’t match that!). You certainly don’t see the grinding and degrading poverty of other Carribean, Latin American and South American States. Right wing commentators in Australia who criticise Cuba and Castro would no doubt prefer that Castro had never taken power. I remember a column by Gerard Henderson not that long back that said that in so many words. At the time I sent Henderson an email asking would he have preferred that the mafia contined to control the nightlife of Havana while children starved on the streets. I never received a reply from him but he has not written about Cuba since, that I have seen.

    But Cuba’s recent history has come at a cost. Dissent has not been tolerated, the one party state is very real. But the thought of there being what George Bush call free and fair elections in Cuba chills me to the bone. Would they indeed be free and fair? If they were, and the people voted for more of the same, would that be respected by the Americans? If Cuba opens up to the world, will the American Mafia move back to claim their lost assets?

    On Michael Costa – what can one say other than if he wants to stake his career on the privatisation of the electricity industry in NSW, then let him, and if it doesn’t privatise and he goes, then who exactly will be sorry?

    On Reba Meagher – I know these next comments will be most likely misunderstood, but she should not be blamed personally for things over which she has no direct or personal control. If a planner stuffs up in the Greater Western Health Service by not engaging in enough consultation with staff about the re-development of Bathurst Hospital, that is his fault and the fault of NSW Health who have destroyed the concept of consultation in recent years. Reba Meagher wasn’t even Health Minister when all of this took place. I notice in today’s papers she personally is being blamed for a doctor’s misdeeds at Bega Hospital. That is a matter that has not been dealt with effectively by the Medical Board. Ministers in governments do bear responsibilty for the implementation of government policy, its effects and outcomes and the Ministerial Office carries that responsibility. To personalise it in the way that the media does is in my view a tactic to besmirch that person with enough mud until some of it sticks. I have no brief for Reba and the current health administration. Quite the opposite. But mud where mud is due!

  11. Mattie Says:

    Loved this priceless comment posted by: ‘navy-vet’ on Feb 21, 2008 on AlterNet in response to an article, “What Does Castro’s Resignation Mean for Cuba?”

    “Scheer seems to be losing his brains, although this article sounds more right-wing than it is. Castro was arrogant, but Scheer goes on to say why Cuba needed a stubborn, arrogant revolutionary — although Castro often over-reacted. I disagree on many points in this article. The moves against Cuba weren’t begun by JFK — although he was a Cold War brinkman — but were from the Eisenhower administration. This is easily corroborated, and it’s surprising that Scheer doesn’t know that the Bay of Pigs was planned before Kennedy took office, concocted by the Dulles brothers, VP Nixon, and the US military.

    As a Floridian I vividly remember Castro as OUR icon. To many of us in college he was a hero, a Simon Bolivar figure. I graduated from the U of Miami, right on Cuba’s doorstep. A Phi Beta meeting I attended in the fall of 1956 broke up when a Cuban-American student ran up to the podium screaming that Batista, the murderous and corrupt dictator of Cuba, had arrested his brother, a student-body officer at the U of Havana, and had him murdered by the police for the crime of speaking in favor of Castro. Oh, we knew Batista very well. For a good portrayal of the vile Batista regime, reread The Godfather. Any replacement was better, and Castro a lot more promising than most.

    I graduated in 1957, two years before the Cuban Revolution, and joined the Navy. Most of the college kids I knew, especially from Latin America, were Castro enthusiasts–even the ones whose dads were rich like Castro’s father. Castro got a lot of help from non-Hispanic Floridians. I knew Anglo college boys, who were hardly left-wingers, only idealists. The more adventurous guys began taking their speedboats out to sea during school breaks and vacations, running food and medical supplies (one boat ran guns, so this boy bragged) to Castro’s followers in Oriente Province, where they’d been attacked and gone into hiding. At the end of 1956 Castro’s force came out of hiding and gathered a vast army of ordinary folk and deserters from Batista’s army.

    Castro was not a “Soviet” Communist until many months after taking power in 1959 — maybe he never was ideologically, but was forced into the rhetoric and alliances with the Soviets by the stupidity of the US, just to keep the Cuban people alive. He was a well-educated upper-class Socialist in love with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, just as Ho Chi Minh was before we began bombing him, an austere Catholic “Puritan” educated by Jesuits, a social justice lawyer who loathed corruption and crime.

    What was his difference? Unlike most other revolutionaries, he kept his promises! He immediately kicked out the Mafia and quickly followed the British lead and nationalized the worst US exploiters, United Fruit, Bell Telephone, and the sugar-field barons. I wasn’t the only American (or the only registered Republican) who cheered. When his government nationalized healthcare and milk production and nurtured the healthiest milk-fed kids in the Western Hemisphere south of Canada, we cheered even louder. In 1959 I’d been a Naval officer for two years, and when I gave opinions favorable to what Castro was doing none of my colleagues thought I was a “commie,” which, of course, I wasn’t. Many of them shared the same opinions, but true information on Castro was getting hard to come by. On TV, the smears and lies began as soon as he nationalized the first big US industry. Fortunately I had subscriptions to RAMPARTS and NATION magazines and got the real scoop.

    For Cuba to move now in the direction of labor-exploiting China would be a disaster; I pray they choose Venezuela as a role model.”

  12. Tristan Ewins Says:

    Dear friends and comrades;

    I’m writing in regards to a paper I’ve been working on – including a consideration of the current economic crisis…

    The paper comprises a consideration of Labor’s coming-to-power, and the challenges faced since then.

    A significantly edited version is being published in tomorrow’s On Line Opinion and your comments would be welcome there.

    see the following URL tomorrow (ie: Fri): http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/

    It’s always better to have some sympathetic support – and criticism…
    In the future, I’m hoping to publish the full version on Leftwrites as well.

    Hoping all is well with you.

    Take care, most sincerely,

    Tristan Ewins

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