Podcast EP7 – Housing Affordability, Edward Snowden and the Manning Trial

Episode 7 of the (un) Common Sense Podcast is now available!

This episode of the podcast includes:

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Reflections on 2007

A little over a month ago I blogged the pre-election post “May the Lesser Evil Win” and the lesser evil did win, considerably well too. It’s a first in the part of my since I have actually understood the significance of a new government.

Mr Howard had been leader of this country since I was less a 10 year old with little understanding of the role of politics and politicians.

Thus far there are indications of major shifts in policy between the current government and those of the Howard government (and may I emphasize the “thus far” part). Kevin Rudd’s Labor government has ratified the Kyoto protocol and brought Australia into the global climate change debate which the Howard Government had repeatedly refused to do. They have also begun the process of moving towards a “Carbon Exchange” system, which the Howard Government had repeatedly delayed.

The Rudd Government also moved on reconciliation, with a formal apology on behalf of the Australian Governments past and present for the mistreatment and abduction of Aboriginal men, women and children during the “White Australia” policy and the “Stolen Generation” debacle.

Rudd also appears to be taking careful steps towards shifting Australian foreign affairs policy with the announcement of a withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq; though not without increasing the deployment in Afghanistan to keep up impressions about Australia’s role in the United States’ so-called “war on terror”.

Then there’s the Japanese whaling issue which the Howard Government had done little to resist over the past decade; whereas the Rudd Government has announced the use of Australian military equipment for the monitoring and surveillance of Japanese whaling vessels this whaling season, with the aim of capturing footage for use in an international legal challenge against the so called “scientific” whaling carried out annually by Japan.

But Kevin is no the only thing to happen in ’07. Few can deny the changes taking place in Baghdad and surrounding provinces in Iraq’s centre. The year began with a questionable “troop surge” plan for the stabilization of Baghdad which at first seemed destined to succumb to unpopularity and questionable leadership; but the plan prevailed and it’s successes can not be discounted lightly.

Much of Baghdad is now safer than it has been any time since the invasion in 2003, and though this is not saying it is up to the pre-invasion standards it is certainly an improvement on the all-out sectarian massacres occurring for the most of 2006 and parts of early 2007.

Do not however assume this to be the success of an increase in US troops alone; nor as a sign that the Iraqi government is improving in it’s ability to stabilize the country; though some credit must be given respectively to the US & and Iraqi military forces, the large majority of improvement has come at the hands of local Iraqi militias known as the “concerned local citizen”, or the “Awakening” (though my understanding is that the “Awakening” refers to a Sunni movement born in Anbar province; while the “Concerned Local Citizen” groups exist across the board on a theoretically non-sectarian basis).

Some of my regular readers and friends will criticize me here for “falling for the propaganda” etc, but it’s not true; I am not claiming a victory for Iraq nor a heroic turn in US regional policy in the Middle East; I am merely claiming a lull in violence with an inarguable link to changes in US, Iraqi strategies for combating terrorism and extremism in Baghdad. However much Baghdad has improved throughout 2007 it has not been so across the whole of Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan has come under fire with the heightening of conflict between members of the PKK and Turkish military culminating in the bombing and invasion of many villages along the Northern borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. Ninevah province has suffered badly in 2007, perhaps more so than any other province in Northern Iraq.

2007 witnessed a major attack against the secluded Yazidi sect in which four bus-bombs targeted the quiet Yazidi town of Qahatinya killing over 200 people and injuring many more. Through out 2007 there has been an increasing level of abductions, assasinations and public humilation targetted those of the Yazidi sect in the areas surrounding Mosul in Ninevah province, it is believed to be the work of Salafi extremists who mistakenly view the sect as “devil worshippers” for their worship of a fallen angel mistakenly believed to be Satan.

However it is not just the Yazidi who have suffered at the hands of extremists retreating north from Baghdad and it’s surrounds; many local Moslawi citizens have fallen victim to seemingly random assasinations and car bombings. Many of the Iraqi bloggers including my friends SunshineNajma,Hnk and other members of their family report the sharp decline in security around Mosul through out 2007. Reading the news would tell you the same; though perhaps with a little more spin and an attempt to show this as a sign the “terrorists” are making a last-ditch effort to cause destruction in Iraq.

The reality is that the surge has achieved its goal of creating “a window of opportunity” for Iraqi’s to step up and crush the extremist elements hiding amongst them; to step forward and produce a new, stable economy through which they can gain the freedom and modernization they desire and feel rightly entitled to. The Iraqi government however can not achieve these goals; they are tied up in their own issues and must be sidestepped.

Foreign investment in localized projects including the rebuilding of infrastructure and municipality services such as waste management, electricity production and agriculture; is essential and should come no-strings attached.

Failing this the Iraqi government and supporting aid groups must step up to provide localized jobs for those Iraqis willing and able to rebuild the infrastructure in their areas; without such micro-economic stimulation Iraq can not recover. The Iraqi population really do need to be shown once again that “peace pays” better than war.

May the lesser evil win

I haven’t said much about this election to date; in fact I haven’t said much lately at all. Today is election day here in Australia, the one opportunity that arrives every three years (aside from the very occasional referendum) where we as Australians have a chance to take part in our quasi-democratic process.

There are two major contenders for Government and Prime Minister respectively; John Howard and the Coalition (Liberal Party + National Party); or Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party. Personally I’m voting Greens, whose preferences in turn will go to the Labor Party of Kevin Rudd. The reason I’m voting Greens is because they are the only party with a clear moral compass.

The greens really want to tackle climate change. They want a fair foreign policy which would promote global harmony and would work towards decreasing tensions internationally as opposed to the inflammatory policies of the past. They want better rights for indigenous Australians and refugees. They support sustainable development.

They may not appear to be “economic conservatives” as is the catch-phrase of today, but what does it matter? They don’t have to be economically conservative because they realise they are not going to get in power because the vast majority of Australians are only concerned with what they can see is effecting their own worlds right now. Typically we believe ourselves a “lucky country” immune to all of the struggles which face other nations around the globe such as poverty, starvation, disease, malnutrition and war.

Perhaps we are a lucky country. Perhaps we have not experienced real war in Australia (aside from the British invasion) and it seems a far off issue meant only for backwards nations in far-off lands. Perhaps we do have a strong economy due to the Mining & Resources industry which comes from the rich earth beneath our feat.

But how does all of this give us the right to ignorance and exploitation of our lands and Indigenous people? How does this give us the right to exploit other lands and their people? How does this justify supporting the US political scheme for world dominion? How does this justify our rigid support for the oppression of the Palestinian people who are stuck under the thumb of Israeli extremists ?

What has happened to you Australia? What has happened to the country with world-leading dedication to humanitarian issues and whose pride was in it’s open attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers? Why must you guard your borders like a war-zone and send refugees back to almost certain suffering? Why must you help occupy a country like Iraq and yet refuse to take your share of the large number of refugees created by that conflict? Why must you buy into the politics of fear and worry more about “national security” than about the suffering it causes to others?

The greens have got my vote because they care about these issues; and if you gave two shits’ about them you’d vote greens too. The only problem with that is there’s not enough of us who give a shit to actually elect the greens to power.

Baghdad cleared or ‘al-Qaeda’? I call bullshit.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been cleared out of Baghdad by the US military. *BULLSHIT*.

Here’s what is really happening. The US invasion has piece-by-piece destroyed the very fabric of Iraqi society; beginning with it’s economy and family units during the invasion of 2003. Foreign interests have pushed tensions to boiling point and beyond, exacerbating the poverty and poor conditions in Iraq.

Eventually distrust and even hatred have become the unifying factor shared by many Iraqi’s. They distrust their extremists neighbours who support and supply the many dangerous terrorists and militia’s amongst both Iraqi Shia and Sunni. They HATE Al-Qaeda in Iraq. They HATE what Iraq has become since the US invasion. Though they may not all trust each other Iraqi’s are coming to realise they can’t trust anyone else to intervene in their internal conflicts, and as such are beginning to turn against the foreign elements who wish to control Iraq for their own purposes.

Here are a few of the catalysts behind this unification:

Firstly I will start by mentioning the biggest no-no. The decision by the US Senate that it would be a good idea to split Iraq along sectarian lines.

Secondly we have the Blackwater incident, which confirms the story we (who give a damn about Iraqi civilians) have KNOWN all along; that the foreign security contractors are trigger-happy and above the law.

Third is actually two-parts; part one is the constant pressure the US has placed on Iraq to pass oil-laws which would open oil-reserves to “private” investors. Part two is the recent deal made between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Texan Hunt oil company.

And need I mention the al-Askari shrine bombings, the seemingly unreported rise of the  Badr Brigade militia in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, extremist members of Al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and their connections to Iran.

These are just some of the reasons why we can see an gradual easing sectarian tensions in Iraq and the fall of foreign extremist groups like Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It has little to do with the “surge” though some may disagree. Even a US soldier based in Fadhil district of Baghdad can confirm; the recent cleansing and actual reconstruction going on in that part of town was a localized event.

It was Baghdadis’ who rose to the challenge and expelled extremists from the area. It was Iraqi’s who have laid mains-capacity electrical cables in preparation for the arrival of new electrical generators promised by the US military. It was even Iraqi Sunni who expelled Sunni extremists from the formerly Shia parts of Fadhil and invited the displaced Shia families to return to their deserted houses with the promise of security.

Now lets hope the US delivers on their promise and that this process can be emulated across other parts of Baghdad.

Not to say that things are all well in Baghdad or across Iraq. There is still wide-scale aerial bombardment going on, suicide bombings and mafia-style kidnappings, extortions and general thuggish activity. The infighting still exists it’s just changed. There is shia-shia conflict between members of the Mehdi Army & Badr Brigade; and there too is conflict among the sunni. There are tribal conflicts too.

Nothing is going to change overnight, but it has been confirmed to me; Baghdad is improving at the moment- and I stress that point; “AT THE MOMENT”.

Iraq update, Avaaz and Ed Miliband

Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraqi civilians have suffered through many tragedies; but perhaps none is so great as the poor state of their general services.

Electricity supply in Baghdad, like many of the other major cities in Iraq is unreliable and comes at most a few hours a day; though this is not the most pressing issue for Iraqi’s who have lived with similar electrical conditions for more than a decade. Medical supplies are few and far between even the most rudimentary kinds such a gauze and anaesthetics.  These are in high demand due to the security situation and short supply due to the unwillingness of international actors to supply the Iraqi population.

Those who suffer from conditions such as diabetes and cancer are left with no hope for treatment even during emergencies. Aid groups have established channels for the transportation of basic medicaments for treating these illnesses but are unable to supply the huge demand. NGOs simply cannot fill the void created by the dysfunctional nature of Iraq’s government.

Even those who suffer from highly treatable conditions such asthma are left in shortage of supply; a death sentence for many in Iraq’s dusty, hot and highly polluted conditions.

In a few days the new chief of staff at UK foreign ministry, David Miliband, will be giving his first major speech and has agreed to take questions and suggestions from the online international community via Avaaz.org; the suggestions and questions will be both put forward to him at his speech and also compiled into a book which will be kept on Mr Miliband’s own desk for reference after the speech.

I have taken this opportunity to pass my own suggestions to Mr Miliband; suggestions as to how he might change his Iraq policy to be focused towards stocking the shelves of libraries in Iraqi schools, stocking the medicament cabinets of Iraqi doctors and sending in electricians, supported by companies like Powertec Electric Inc., to local Iraqi neighbourhoods to help them set up their neighbourhood-run generator systems in a safe and reliable way for maximum efficiency.

Perhaps you should consider putting in your own suggestions and questions also.