I just returned from Australia. When I arrived down under the first thing that came on the news was George Bush’s coming to town and what a headache it made for the security efforts in Sydney (I was far removed, in Mt. Tamborine, a National Park rainforest area near the Gold Coast). There were demonstrations against Bush, with one comedy show cast getting within 100 yards of the president dressed as Osama Bin Ladin. Got some laughs from followers of the show, but not from the police. On-air commentators were grilling two young lady organizers asking them if they were planning any violence. One look at these two would make a joke of that question, but their response was even better. “What kind of violence could we possibly do that would compare to Bush’s violence in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people have died?” It was a simple but poignant answer.
Australia is preparing for a new presidential election. John Howard, the current top dog, is being criticized for his position on keeping his country involved in the heavily unpopular war in Iraq. The economy of Australia is prospering, but people are ready to throw his Liberal party out in favor of the Labor party because of their objection to the war. Australia only has several hundred troops involved, but for them every soldier’s life is considered precious. Australians, however, take their obligation to back up the U.S. seriously. They recall WWII when the Japanese seriously threatened the country and the only thing that stood in their way was the American fleet. The battle of the Coral Sea basically turned back the Japanese war maneuvering toward Australia.
The second thing that was heavily in the news was the movement to lower bank fees and credit card charges. Now there was a subject close to my heart. It looks like the Aussie public is fed up with the banks, and is demanding legislation to reduce rapacious charges. Under the threat of all this, and the possibility of the Labor Party coming to power, the banks are now volunteering to behave better.
I think the Australian public is ahead of us on this one. There is an old saying that change does not come when you are fed up; it comes when you are fed up with being fed up, which is precisely how I feel on this topic. Perhaps the American public via their elected representatives will one day pressure our banks to act more responsibly as well.
With just 25 million people in a continent – sized area, it feels like California back in the good old days…when we only had 25 million people. Still feels like some empty space is left. Drought is considered at catastrophic proportions, and the once-wheat-exporting nation is now importing grains. It appears sheep are still in abundance, and the country remains one of the world’s largest wool suppliers.
Brisbane reminded me of a smaller Portland, Oregon, set hard against a long meandering river. It has made good use of its geography to create walkways and parks along the river. Old Customs Houses made of stone sit side by side with newly built modern skyscrapers. Speaking of which, as I moved into the Gold Coast by a beach called Surfers Paradise, the entire town seemed mostly made up of high, thin residential apartment complexes. Some were so thin that they only contained one apartment per floor as they shot up 30 or 40 stories. One building, the Q1, claims to be the tallest apartment complex in the world, though since 9/11 it has been hard to sell the top 20 floors.
There is also quite a bit of boating in this area, as canals were dug similar to what occurred in Florida, and access to the ocean was granted to lagoon dwellers inland. It makes for quite a lovely scene with bridges and riverways criss-crossing the area.
The beach was looooonnnng and wide, with plenty of good-looking surfing spots, plus the outdoor eateries were plentiful and the food generally good.
A cabbie asked me which country I preferred, an odd question, but candidly there felt very little difference between the U.S. and Australia. It seemed as if they were just an extension of one another. I did have trouble understanding Aussie talk, but the people were awfully cordial, easy and unpretentious. One major problem I had was driving on the left side of the road and constantly turning on my windshield wipers by mistake, thinking it was the turn signal. I never got comfortable with the steering wheel on the right and am glad to get out with my life intact.
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Yippee! The Federal Reserve, those champions of Bankers Rights, have finally made a move that can help average Americans…they lowered the interest rate to 4.75 percent. Let’s hope they go one step further at their next meeting and reduce it still further. Though the help may not be immediate, this rate reduction will eventually help homeowners, businesses and consumers, as so many interest rate calculations are based on the Prime Rate the Federal Reserve establishes. A 0.5 percent reduction can reverberate in the economy and perhaps stall off a recession.
I found the 60 Minutes puff piece on Alan Greenspan to be laughable. There was no talk of the ‘91 depression, the meltdown of Long Term Capital Management. Here is an excerpt from famed journalist William Greider: “Alan Greenspan has come back from the tomb of history to correct the record. He did not make any mistakes in his 18-year tenure as Federal Reserve chairman. He did not endorse the regressive Bush tax cuts of 2001 that pumped up the federal deficits and aggravated inequalities. He did not cause the housing bubble that is now in collapse. He did not ignore the stock market bubble that subsequently melted away and cost investors $6 trillion. He did not say the Iraq war is ‘largely about oil.’ Check the record. These are all lies.” Greider went on to call him “the one-eyed chairman” who could always spot reasons to stomp on the real economy of work and production, but was utterly blind to the destructive chaos in the financial system. It sowed profound and dangerous imbalances in the U.S. economy. That’s what happens when government power tips the balance in favor of capital over labor, favoring super-rich over middle-class and poor, then holds it there for nearly a generation.
Last night on The Daily Show, Greenspan, on his book tour, made it very plain that in the 50 years he has been doing forecasting, nothing mattered but how people felt. He claimed when people feel good about things they buy buy buy. Then, as if by social connectivity, they suddenly felt things were too good, economies adjusted downward. He said if he could just get a fix on people’s feelings, all the economic data in the world would be unnecessary. And of course he took no responsibility for today’s sub-prime lending mess. Nope, not he, the HEAD of the banking industry. A self-proclaimed Libertarian Republican, Greenspan always plays the inflation boogieman as the great fear of the future. He doesn’t seem to mind inflation when it comes to executive salaries, bonuses and perks or staggering fees from unregulated hedge funds, and the rise in real wealth for the tiniest percent of Americans; it is just the wage earners of this country who need to stay in line. This disciple of Ayn Rand, one of the cruelest philosophers of the 20th century, consistently argues that higher unemployment is a good check on inflation. What a nice guy.