Occupy Wall Street, Carbon Tax, Democracy, Bush Heritage, Art Galleries, Live Cattle Exports, Ohio slaughter, Mailbag and Christian the Lion
October 29, 2011
OCCUPY WALL STREET: The Occupy Wall Street movement began on 17 September in New York when 1,000 protesters marched on Wall Street, protesting about the failure of the government to crack down on the practices that led to the financial collapse, the government’s bail out of financial institutions and a financial system that has allowed 1% of Americans to hold more than a quarter of the nation’s wealth.
The movement has spread to many cities around the world and has become a metaphor for many things that decent ordinary people, the 99%, are feeling. I went to the rally in Martin Place, Sydney last weekend. The protesters who were camping there were bundled out at 5am the next morning and this had happened the day before in Melbourne, where the protest was broken up, with ensuing violence, by over 400 police. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne spoke very disparagingly about the protesters, and some commentators are confusing what they interpret as a “sense of entitlement” with a legitimate “sense of outrage”. It was a small crowd at the Sydney rally, and in Australia at the moment there is not the middle class following (and celebrity endorsement) that the movement has in the US – but the current economic and employment situation in the US is much more dire. Another rally is scheduled for 5 November – presumably in Martin Place.
I asked some of the mostly young protesters how one could support them. They don’t seem to be into internet activism, they aren’t targeting businesses or politicians – I think they are creating a space for people to think about and debate “corporate greed”, and they presume politicians will be paying attention. Before being disbanded, people were invited at 6pm each evening to talk about related issues and everyone voted on any suggestions or recommendations. They weren’t even especially interested in my donation.
At the rally I ran into an old friend John Shipton – Julian Assange’s father. It must be quite worrying to have a son described as “the most dangerous man in the world”, and Julian has certainly changed the world and made us aware of just how much information is withheld from us by our governments. WikiLeaks is facing a financial blockade from US based financial companies and the publishing operation will be suspended until the financial crisis is solved.
Last time I saw John he was very interested (and amused) by the Christian the Lion internet phenomenon that we were caught up in – but our experience seems pretty tame and Walt Disney in comparison with Julian.
John was at the rally to listen to Steve Keen, an Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics. Keen is described in Wikipedia as a “post-Keynesian criticising both modern neoclassical economics and (some of) Marxian economics as inconsistent, unscientific and empirically unsupported.”
The “trickle-down theory” that everyone would benefit if the rich got richer, has been disproved. There are now apparently 1,210 billionaires in the world with a total worth of $US4.5 trillion. With this year’s annual reporting season beginning, for the first time Australian shareholders will be able to exercise their right to protest over the obscene level of pay some executives are receiving. From this year on, if 25% of shareholders vote against the salary packages of executives and directors two years running, the entire board will be spilled.
Our airline Qantas seem to be locked in a fight to the death with 3 different unions. Is CEO Allan Joyce’s attempt at a major restructure of Qantas and expansion into Asia worth his $5 million salary compared to the CEOs of Cathay Pacific ($1.4 million), Singapore Airlines ($982,000) and China Southern ($153,000)?
In Australia median pay for the CEO’s of our top 100 companies has rocketed by 131% in 10 years, with bonuses up by 190%. But the stock market value of those companies has increased by just 31%.
MANNERS: I think my primary school motto was “Manners Maketh Man”. The very successful writer Alexander McCall Smith has been in Australia to talk at a Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Various factors have contributed to social dysfunction in “The Broken Society” and the recent riots in England, including absent or hard working parents, Blair’s education policies, Cameron stripping back services, police powers to stop and search people etc. McCall’s “dangerous idea” was the absence of manners in society these days! He argued that manners act as a social lubricant and without them society and the community have suffered. Children especially are having less meaningful conversations and communication and have very little civic respect.
CARBON TAX: Although it is not to be implemented until July 2012, our carbon tax legislation has been voted in, with a price of $23 per tonne. However we have a very successful and totally negative Opposition Leader (see cartoon above) who has threatened to rescind the carbon tax and this is robbing business of the certainty they require – from investment in aging power stations to alternative energy sources. India and China are referred to as the new polluting economic giants – and they are in some respects, but India has a carbon tax and China plans to have an emissions trading scheme in six regions by 2013 and nationwide by 2015 and is positioning itself to benefit from new green economic opportunities.
Unfortunately there have been solar panel scams in Australia and the US. However, Chinese investment in solar has seen their market share increase from 5% to 54% in six years – compared to the US which has gone the other way – from 42% in 1997 to just 6% today.
Experts have been taken by surprise as to the extent of glaciers melting because of climate change from the Andes to across the Himalayas where lakes are forming which could cause catastrophic flooding. In Australia there is also noticeably less snow on our ski slopes.
DEMOCRACY: While people are taking to the streets and actually dying for “democracy” in some parts of the world, it may be inappropriate to question the effectiveness of democracy. However, the 24 hour media cycle, constant polling and focus groups, marginal seats, and the power of the shock jocks are all contributing factors to a dumbing down of the political discourse. Interestingly at a recent debate in Sydney on the State of Democracy the majority of people did not believe democracy is failing the world and that its disappointments should not be confused with its shortcomings. Arguments included: “democracy has defeated science” in relation to climate change for example; “democracy had reached a point of paralysis and inefficiency”; other models could include “a citizens senate or Confucian democracy”; and others argued democracy keeps “government accountable” and “fostered peace and innovation”.
BUSH HERITAGE: In my last blog I mentioned the work of The National Conservancy (TNC). The organisation Bush Heritage also successfully buys and rehabilitates land – like clearing it of sheep grazing and protecting threatened animals and plants. It began in 1990 with a grant from Greens leader Bob Brown to buy a property. Bush Heritage now owns almost a million hectares and over 33 reserves, and is aiming to protect 1% of Australia by 2025.
GALLERY IMAGES: I had a run around some Sydney galleries last week and loved some exhibitions and works in their stock rooms. My favourite was the bark paintings by Aboriginal artist Nyapyanapa at Roslyn Oxley9 and I bought one. I have long admired Robyn Stacey, and her luxurious photographs in the exhibition House at the Museum of Sydney make us look at 19th century domestic life in a new way. There is an accompanying book, and I recently bought the book Museum, which contains Stacey’s equally stunning photographs based on the Macleay collection of entomological specimens.
At Stills Gallery I saw an image of a dog by Petrina Hicks which has always rather haunted me.
ARAB FALL: An unpleasant, if not totally unexpected end for Gaddafi, and illustrative of the difficulties ahead for a transition to a better future. Difficulties include the interests of the various tribes that make up the Libyan people, and so many weapons in the country. Luckily oil will provide an economic base. The Tunisians, who have a very different history, have successfully held their “free and fair” elections, won by a moderate Islamic Party. It is a relief to have Gilad Shalit finally back home in Israel, exchanged for the 1,027 Palestinians released, or to be released, from prison. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the Israel/Hamas/Fatah/Syria/Iran/Hezbollah/Sunni/Shiite histories, strategies, agendas and alliances – but I hope for some progress, any progress, towards a more peaceful and secure life for them all. Protesters are still dying in Yemen and Syria, but footage that has been smuggled out is going to make convincing evidence against authorities for their crimes against humanity.
I see that Condoleeza Rice is trying to rewrite history and claim that the invasion of Iraq has contributed to the Arab Spring popular uprisings. This war has cost $US800 billion and 5,000US lives, and many many more civilian deaths. I think we will see just how “democratic” the government of PM Nouri al-Maliki is once the US withdraw all troops by the end of the year.
Interestingly, Noam Chomsky believes that the role of technology in the Arab uprisings has been exaggerated. “The core of the Arab Spring was really labour organisation. Take a look at Egypt; that was attributed to tech-savvy young people with Twitter. That’s not false, but there is a close correlation between long-term labour activism and the effectiveness of democracy movements.”
SHAME: Amnesty International recently visited the ironically named Utopia, a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia, and was appalled by the living standards. The community feel they are being deliberately starved off their traditional land and being forced to relocate to other centres.
We should also be ashamed that in Australia we are detaining our relatively few asylum seekers (including children) for so long – some for over 2 years, that there are scandalous levels of mental illnesses and self harm.
LIVE CATTLE EXPORTS: The Government has accepted the recommendations of the review into Australia’s $1 billion live export industry. Exporters will have the responsibility for the welfare of animals (to World Organisation for Animal Health standards) from departure to the point of slaughter. Animal lobby groups object that stunning before slaughter is still not mandatory, and that the review did not address the conflict of interest of vets on board export vessels.
OHIO: The slaughter of dozens of lions, tigers, bears and wolves set free from a private farm in Ohio has sparked calls for restrictions on the largely unregulated ownership of exotic pets in several US states. Eighteen Bengal tigers were shot – and there are only 1,500 left in the wild in India. There are approximately 2,884 pet tigers in the US but there is a certain amount of genetic manipulation with interbreeding between different sub species. I have been emailed recently about caged tigers and panthers used recently at extremely noisy sporting events in the US, with cheerleaders even performing on the roof of the cage, and of course Tony the Tiger’s predicament weighs on most of our minds. Read the SMH article here – http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/ohio-exotic-animal-slaughter-sparks-outrage-20111020-1m9wq.html.
Three Sumatran tiger cubs have made their first appearance at Taronga Zoo as part of the captive breeding program. Only 400 survive in the wild, their habitats and lives threatened by the palm oil industry and hunting.
DONKEYS: I’ve got several friends very concerned about the welfare of hard working donkeys. The Brooke has been working for over 75 years to help working donkeys, mules and horses in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia and Kenya. For more information see www.thebrooke.org/littledonkey.
MAILBAG: Thanks to David for sending the beautiful, interesting and sometimes appalling images from Animals in the News from TheAtlantic.com, George for the email about the improper use of animals at sporting events, and Christine for the superb photographs of Kevin Richardson with his animals – especially the lions.
Thanks for sending these stories in. We post most of them on the www.alioncalledchristian.com.au website and we are building a great archive which people are enjoying.
Vanity Fair listed ways to support the protection of elephants and other endangered species.
CHRISTIAN THE LION: Thanks to Matthew for this YouTube link with a new version of Christian’s story reedited from the original footage.
MY PHOTOS: Some people sweetly commented on my photographs last blog. Bundeena is so beautiful and on my afternoon walks armed with my small trusty Lumix it is hard to go wrong – even without my glasses!