September 2003 #4

Wag the Dog

If you've never seen the movie "Wag the Dog" with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman (playing a gay movie producer), could I suggest you get it out this weekend. Although the fictional event it's based around is now a little obvious and out dated, it is still a good movie. I won't give too much away other than to say - smoke and mirrors.

While not smoke and mirrors, more like shadow boxing, the Australian Labor party seems like it cant lay a glove on "Teflon Johnny", unlike their US and British counterparts who are having a field day with their erstwhile political leaders.

Teflon John seems intent on making his mark on history - something I believe he sees as his Christian destiny - don't laugh! Many men of John Howard's age and religious upbringing have grown up believing that theirs was the chosen generation that would lead the world to some form of salvation. For those who don't think this is a possibility, look at who he has surrounded himself with over the years and the circles in which he moves. The religious right in Australia should be of great worry to anyone who is a free thinker and is concerned about human rights, justice and equality. The prosperity gospel that Howard and his ilk adhere to is the most damaging ideology since fascism and indeed they share similar roots. However, I'll leave that discussion for another day.

But getting back to the smoke and mirrors. If Howard sees his place in the annals of great world leaders being cemented by boot-strapping himself - and the whole nation - to George the Lesser's world view - a world view shaped by religious ideologues and fanatics (see the common thread here) - then what is it he has actually attached himself, and us, to?

Over the last couple of months or so there has been a flurry of media reports on the latest round of WTO talks. These talks have been derailed, once more, by the refusal of some of the world's poorest nations to sign away their rights to control what happens within their own borders. Not prepared to allow, in particular US, multinationals to pillage and burn, they said no and so the talks failed.

Not to be put off by this our own Mark Vale - Minister for selling off the country to overseas interests - came home from the failed talks saying that his government was committed to pursuing bilateral agreements, if necessary, beyond the WTO forum. This means selling out to the lowest bidder with the biggest stick. In short, to cave in to US demands. So why is the US so hot to trot for Australian support? This gets me back to my earlier question and I'll answer both together.

The 2003 US budget deficit is expected to be around US$455 billion. The weak US economy, the Iraqi war and the tax cuts of US$350 billion promised by Bush have brought this on. More than 2 million jobs have disappeared in the two years since Bush took office. A "noose around the neck of the economy" was how the IMF recently described the US trade deficit. The IMF said the US dollar could collapse at any moment and, according to a CBS News poll, 66 percent of Americans are opposed to the US spending US$87 billion to help rebuild Iraq with only 26 per cent in favour. This doesn't include the extra US$70 billion Wolfowitz just asked for the other day.

This is what Teflon Johnny wants to attach us to. The smoke and mirrors of a war that is increasingly becoming a guerrilla fight while the (once) greatest economy in the world sinks slowly down the gurgler. Like the claims that they wouldn't find WMD's, the claim that Iraq would become another Vietnam has also been rejected. Time, unfortunately will tell.

Over the last 18 months or so trillions of dollars have been wiped off the global economy as the multinationals realise that there is only so much we can consume. After all there are only so many take away meals we can eat; only so many videos we can rent and only so many holidays we can take. You may argue that there are millions of us doing these things so volume should make for good profit margins. That's right, but the prices we can afford to pay for these things have fallen to unprofitable or unsustainable levels. Couple this to the fact that so many more of us are unemployed, underemployed and low paid, means that the global money makers have had to look else where for a ready supply of cash.

Did you realise, for instance, that one of the only real growth areas in civil and heavy engineering is in reconstruction work in former war zones? At home the only real money being made is in the privatised, tax payer subsidised areas of energy production and generation, telecommunications, health care (in certain categories like pharmaceuticals), transport and finally, speculative markets - although even these are falling out of favour.

So while we are distracted by the smoke and mirrors of a war that we cannot win, in a nation that doesn't want us there, for a nation that is not our friend and from a location where our neighbours have a different world view, I suggest we need to do some hard thinking about what we want our future to be.

A quick glance at the history of the Australian Labour party under Hawk and Keating offers us no consolation as it was under the leadership of these two - who broke the back of the unions, sold off our public services, overlooked Indonesian atrocities to our North and jumped into bed with the wealthy masters of their party - that many of the current party front benchers developed their political skills. As someone said, in Australia, like the UK and the US, it's a case of tweedledum and tweedledumber.

The smoke and mirrors of politics will always be used to obscure the real issues that affect us. Our constant desire to look to others to 'make it right' needs to be re-thought. It's not an innate desire that we are born with, its something we are continually told is a fact. It's not. We can untangle ourselves from the designs of those who see us as only production line units or consumers. But it will take a collective effort and may, indeed, cost us something. I for one am not satisfied with living in a world that offers only the promise of 'bigger, brighter, faster, higher' and hang the expense. I want to try and understand what it's like to not be me. I want us to try and understand what it's like to not be us!

They say it's the dreamers and those who dare that change things. All of us dream and I am yet to meet anyone who dreams of a society and nation worse than that we already have. The challenge facing us is to take that next step and support each other as we dare to try and change things for the better. Our common dreams need to be spoken and realised. If we continue to accept the smoke and mirrors that distort, distract and dis-empower us, we will have lost the opportunity to create what we all want. A society of equals in which we do, truly, measure the worth of a person, not by who they are, but by who they might become.