Chickens coming home to roost

The Howard government’s past misdeeds, most of which seemed at the time to be consequence-free, are catching up with it. The AWB scandal is an obvious example, with the important observation that the “Children Overboard” episode ensured that no-one (other than those wanting to be duped, unfortunately a large group) believed the government’s initial denials of knowing anything about the whole business.

Perhaps more serious, in terms of its consequences for Australia’s national interests is the dispute with Indonesia over the granting of temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan “illegals” (the term popularised by former Immigration Minister and current Attorney-General Phllip Ruddock.

Under the international law that prevailed in the past, these people would have been asylum seekers, with a wide range of legal rights.[1] If their cases had proved successful, the government could reasonably claim to be bound by treaty obligations. Now however, “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstances”. People fleeing Saddam Hussein and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed back to sea, to take their chances, or subjected to close and critical scrutiny, in a process with the presumptions all stacked against them.

So, assuming a consistent process is taking place, the decision to grant visas to the Papuans amounts to a judgement that the Indonesian government is far worse than Saddam or the Taliban, so much so that their illegal arrival can be disregarded. Not surprisingly, the Indonesians are not taking this at all well.

The best thing the government could do for Australia is to admit that its actions in 2001 were a desperate and cruel, but successful, political manoeuvre, aimed at winning votes from a panicked electorate, and that nothing it said or did at the time should be regarded as part of our true policy. Almost certainly, that is the message being conveyed privately to the Indonesians, but what’s needed is some sort of public apology, and this is not a government that’s good at saying “Sorry”.

fn1. The process of stripping back these rights was started by Labor, but extended massively by Ruddock and Howard.

Which Saddam ?

Currency Lad seems to be down on someone called Saddam Hussein. It’s not clear who’s being referred to here. Certainly not the Saddam Hussein who collected $300 million from the Oil-for-Food fund, courtesy of the Australian government statutory authority/official privatised monopoly AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board). That’s a beatup of no interest.

I’ve generally been an admirer of Currency Lad, but this is truly dreadful stuff. Either he should stop insulting his readers with moralising about Saddam* and present an honest realpolitik line, or he should condemn without reservation those who financed Saddam’s arms purchases, and those who either encouraged them or looked the other way.

To be clear in advance, this includes all those who colluded in evading sanctions, whether they were from France, Russia, the US or elsewhere. However, as we now know, AWB operated on a scale that dwarfed the petty operators about whom we heard so much from the pro-war lobby until recently.

* Or anything else. If you’re willing to swallow this, your opinions on ethics aren’t worth considering regardless of the topic.

Posts I don’t need to write

Caz sums up my thoughts about walking, considered as a sporting event

You see, the “walk�, with all its stylized strangeness, has become more and more unnatural over the years. Sure, perhaps not as unnatural as the girl coming out of the well and through the television set in The Ring (the real version), but all the same, it was always a tad ungainly.

The walk, to my mind, is no longer just another silly walk, worthy, apparently of a medal; rather, it has morphed into a silly jog. I don’t care how they slice it, or how they rationalize it, the competitors are not walking – they are jogging, albeit in a very silly manner. They are no longer walking quickly; they are jogging slowly. It’s time for the walking events to leave the stadium on the grounds of being a fraud.

Her thoughts on wardar are also worth reading.

Bell Labs going to France ?

This NYT story reports that Alcatel is negotiating to buy Lucent, the communications equipment maker spun off by AT&T a few years back. It’s not mentioned until the end of the article, and then only in passing, that the deal includes “the research and development unit Bell Laboratories, an intellectual powerhouse”.

That’s putting it mildly, at least in historical terms. Eleven researchers have shared six Nobel Prizes for work done while they were at Bell Labs, among many other awards. As well as the transistor, the photovoltaic cell , the LED, CCD and much more, Bell Labs created both Unix and C. It even had its own economics journal (the Bell Journal, which later became the Rand Journal). It was truly a unique institution.

Of course, all this was cut back drastically with deregulation and the breakup of the old AT&T monopoly, and even more so after the Lucent spinoff. Still, the passing of Bell Labs out of US ownership is worth recording. It remains to be seen whether Alcatel will follow the logic of the market and kill Bell Labs altogether, or make a quixotic attempt at reviving some of the glories of the past.

Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.