In the last days, a grown up Australian parliamentarian was asked to provide a proper sick note for not turning up to school; Burma looks to the US for election advice and undermines its nascent democracy in one fell swoop; Russia and China join hands to give a big group bear hug to serial killer Bashir al-Assad, while in Beijing lawyers are obliged to promise they won’t do anything naughty, like defending human rights cases; an executive of Goldman Sachs realises after spending years padding his own financial future that high finance is not a euphemism for NGO; a legend turns 60; a religious leader dies but keeps his seat and; a guy called Spiller makes news about…you guessed water. And how to spill it.
First to the pages of the New York Times, where one Greg Smith splashed the most public spray of a former employer we might see for some time. In taking, very valid, shots at the finance giant, Goldman Sachs, he became a hero to to the Occupy set, and others. Mr Smith went to New York and scored some healthy cred points, if only for having the stones to make such a powerful and well-connected enemy. But, dilute that cred with a dose of reality: the guy made half-mill incomes for years, helping GS pile more billions, before he worked out it was a dodgy industry. Some of us already know that, and have refused sign up to the corporate dream. Am I alone in being tired of these Milvian Bridge conversions by fat cats who’ve already been on the gravy train and made a fortune? How about don’t play that game in the first place?
Final word on Mr Smith: he was suggesting that Sacks of Gold bigwigs called their clients muppets. While he is no GS puppet but its ironic that Mr Smith looks a tad muppetish himself.
Games are popular in Canberra, our odd little capital. Labor MP Craig Thomson, who has plenty of reason to be feeling crook as he battles graft allegations, felt he was just too ill to attend parliament, and informed the government whip dutifully. Apparently. The Opposition suggested his presence was the gallows upon which this hung parliament swings and so refused to “Pair” him with an opposition MP, to square the numbers, as is the practice. Mr Thomson had to take his sick self off to another doc to get another sick-note. The Thomson saga twists on, mainly into the guts of the government, like a very sharp kris. From Gillard down, they pretty much all need sick-notes. As for the opposition, well, death certificates may be more appropriate, at least to once and for all send off their moribund “ideas” and “policies”.
In Burma, the glorious lights of democracy have been switched on. Or have they? Repression of ethnic groups still continues, even as Aung San Suu Kyi appears set to saunter into a parliamentary seat in the Burmese capital Napyidaw, and even odder place than Canberra, after the April 1 by-elections. Things in the land that has possibly the world’s highest mobile phone prices relative to in average income are still imbalanced. Troubling too is the fact that US election monitors have been invited in to oversee the April 1 action. Just like they oversaw the shameful 2000 election wash-up? You know, the one that brought in the worst US President in living memory? Are they bringing their chads?
A have a friend who lives in the US and has been a high profile exile from Burma for the last two decades and he still can’t go home. So, even as tourists and journos are swanning in and reaping the benefits of the military government’s largesse, not all the indigenes are beaming. Not all are convinced: think China’s Hundred Flowers…but, my contacts inside the Burma democracy movement have been telling me for years that there are those inside the government who understand they must reform, and these are the ones they have been working on, and with. So, still hedging my bets on Burma.
Back to China. This week, I was invited to be part of a worldwide reading of the poetry of jailed Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. In putting together a few words, China’s role as a global citizen became a weekly theme – nerdy I know…And this week, it has been highlighted in the headlines too.
Firstly, looking at Burma again, one theory I have for the generals making the shift to democracy – with caveats but let’s go with that for now – is that their relationship with China had gone a little sour, or at least had become a little cloying, like Beijing was asking for too much. The presence of China’s sticky fingers in various cross-border issues has also been noted in Syria, where complex geo-strategic interests have been driving the boffins in Beijing to ensure the Young Fox Assad gets to keep his fancy digs in Damascus and his white knuckle grip on the throat of Syria. It’s a grip that’s as tight as the Chinese government has on its veto power in the UN.
And on its own people. This week, Chinese lawyers were required to swear fealty to the communist party. Given the small army of dissidents in China, who may not be willing to take a similar pledge but who may well be in need of legal advice as they rot in some jail or in some organ-farming gulag, this sounds something of a death-knell. If their plight wasn’t already Kafkaesque enough, facing China’s maze-like red tape-strewn legal universe without professional advice will suffice to send the poor buggers completely off the scale. Fortunately though, many dissidents are actually lawyers, so at least they know the system. Given this new law, its likely a few more from that noble profession will be behind bars. One chap noted that asking for such a promise is all just a formality. Not in a free country it isn’t.
Viv Richards, to my knowledge, has bugger all to do with China. The Masta Blasta’s 60th birthday celebrations continued this week and the celebrations brought back many memories. I remember seeing my first cricket game at the SCG in the World Series era, and seeing the great man in the Windies coral pink kit, fling fours and sixes about like wedding confetti. One six sailed in a sweet arc, high against the dark Sydney sky, disappeared in the floodlights for a moment before landing amid a field of up-reaching hands, most attached to pissed punters who had as much chance of catching it as of not having headache next morning, on the old Sydney hill/grass Doug Walters Stand area. Never a better batsman for mine. And no pussy helmet…legend.
Thankfully the Great Viv is not yet dead, but the Pope is. The Egyptian Copt Pope that is, who was buried this week. The passing of the head figure of this much maligned flock – who remain persecuted post-Mubarak – caused much anguish across the Copt world. Oddly, due to his great holiness, he had to remain sitting on his throne until he was interred a few days later. Talk about getting maxium out of you. Old religions eh…
Dam, er, Dan Spiller is at the centre of the growing controversy over the release of water from Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam last summer’s floods. I’ve got not a lot to say on this – just the name. C’mon. One day I’ll do a book on names and their occupations. I heard recently there is a leading gynaecologist in the US called Dr. Gunter. Close. So close.
And that’s the news as it appeared in these, the last days.