From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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The Clean Air 2000 affair

Greenwash 2000
NRMA clean air campaign run by world's-best-practice spindoctors

24 January 1998

When Tarkis and Bruce from the advertising agency came into the café at lunchtime I pretended to be fascinated by something in an old issue of Simply Living and avoided eye contact, but it was no use.

"Gidday, you scruffy old marsupial", Tarkis said, as Bruce guffawed and pulled up a couple of chairs.

They ordered chardonnay and pesto and shouted me another dry cider.

"Well it looks as though the smog problem will be under control soon", Bruce said. "Have you heard the news? ... the NRMA have Hill & Knowlton running the Clean Air 2000 campaign ... they're just about the world's biggest PR mob".

An instinctive shudder ran down my spine. There are spindoctors and spindoctors, but H&K are in a very special category. I had always believed that Clean Air 2000 was just a routine political con-job but it had suddenly assumed a more sinister character.

"Just remind me again", I said,"Who's on the Clean Air 2000 committee or task force or whatever..."

"Well, there's the NRMA itself, of course, and Shell Oil and the State Chamber of Commerce and Boral and the Business Council of Australia and GMH and the Motor Traders' Association and some bloke from the Labor Party who wants to build the second airport at Badgery's Creek and that greenie, whatshisname, who's on TV occasionally. They're getting together to get traffic under control somehow", said Tarkis.

I thought about changing the subject. Perhaps it was too cruel to do it to them. They specified recycled paper for all their clients and Tarkis always gave $2 to the bloke in the Wilderness Society koala suit ... but in the end duty forced my hand and I plodded into it step by step.

"Have you ever thought that they're a pretty unlikely bunch of altruists, apart from the token greenie", I said "I mean Shell is an oil company and a third-world human rights abuser of note, the State Chamber of Commerce fought tooth and nail for the Eastern Distributor, Boral sell concrete and LPG, the Business Council of Australia ... are the Business Council of Australia, and GMH and the MTA would do anything to promote as much car use as they could. Scuttlebutt has it that the Infrastructure Development Council have a proxy vote, but I've never been able to confirm that."

"You're such a cynic", Bruce said, "Surely, in their own way, they're trying to do something good, I mean H&K can't have come cheap, surely that indicates a commitment".

"Hill & Knowlton would be costing them a packet", I said, "According to the US organisation PR Watch they're the best in the greenwash business, and the best in the whitewash business too. They smoothed things over for the Chinese Government after Tiananmen Square, helped Proctor and Gamble keep phosphates in laundry detergent, cooled things down for Exxon after the Exxon Valdez disaster. They've helped convince anybody who'd listen that the governments of Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey were charming folk to do business with, but their finest hour was the great baby incubator scam".

I could see I had their rapt attention so I pressed on. "The story goes that during the Gulf war, H&K were hired by the Kuwaiti Government to invent fables to whip up war hysteria in the West. H&K arranged to have the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US front up for the TV cameras as an ordinary Kuwaiti girl who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of humidicribs and killing them. They were paid $8 million for that sort of fiction".

"Jesus ... so what do you reckon they're up to here?" Tarkis asked.

"The whole point of the exercise is to put up a terrific facade of environmental concern and social responsibility while they go on building motorways and selling cars", I said. "Stand by for a burst of 'air pollution reduction targets', 'integrated transport plans' and the like. Remember, it's a state election year. Bob Carr lied like hell last time. He said he'd stop building motorways and bring the RTA under control. Instead we got the biggest motorway building program ever, subsidised motorway tolls, more car use and dirtier air. Now he has to stand next to the NRMA, put his hand on his heart and swear he has a new plan. But I can tell you one thing for sure ... there'll be bugger all money for new rail lines or light rail or cycleways. They'll have some sort of advertising campaign asking people to use their cars less, a couple more meaningless studies, more EPA monitoring and the RTA will go on rolling in money and building as many roads as they like. Lots of ordinary folk will feel guilty but they won't have any alternative but to go on using their cars ... I rest my case".

"So what you're saying", said Tarkis, "Is that the spindoctors' strategy is to offer cheap but doomed solutions based on the individual changing his habits ... knowing that the individual can't change their habits because they don't have the any choice. That way the individual and that mysterious thing called society cop the blame".

"So in this scenario Clean Air 2000 is just a classic front group", added Bruce, "The NRMA and the road lobby pose as friends of the environment, keep the big bucks and keep building the big roads and keep their 'right to pollute' intact".

"Yep, greenwashing, like car washing, is big business these days", I said, "And now there's a new threat. These radical cyclists are giving the government hell over their right to use the roads. The last thing the RTA wants is cyclists grabbing roadspace or siphoning off sizeable chunks of the road budget into cycleways or promoting any legislation which would favour cycling. I got a whisper that the RTA have another PR mob doing a bit of push-polling ... the old random phone poll caper. From what I've been told the brief is to discover that the public (whoever they are) think cyclists get a good deal already".

"Geez, maybe there's a few bucks to be made out of this market", wheezed Tarkis, fishing around for his Ventalin.

"Why not?" I said, "Ring Carl Scully ... everybody else is working for him these days".

Somewhere over the rainbow
Sunday 22 February 1998

When I got back from Webb Dock I dumped my gear in the office and went down to the café for a cider.

I had forgotten that it was Mardi Gras week. The place was full of queer cowboys, camp commandos, gay hussars, bent bikies and tough-looking lesbians from Newtown. The Tim Fischerettes, resplendent in pink Akubras, elastic-sided boots and spangled see-through Drizabones were giving their routine a last run-through and admiring the sequin frocks of the Cheryl Kernot Boomers.

Bruce and Tarkis from the advertising agency had taken up the corner table which had a prime view of the action.

"You'll never guess who's working on the NRMA's Clean Air 2000 campaign", said Tarkis, with the smug expectation of someone with a bit of gossip that was almost too hot to handle. Ever since I'd explained the greenwash scam to him he'd been digging around in the PR industry looking for a piece of the action.

"What do you know about Judy Garland?" Asked Bruce, who wasn't going to let Tarkis monopolise the story.

"The American actor ... mother of Lisa Minelli ... starred in The Wizard of Oz ... gay cult icon. She's dead", I replied, thinking that this must be some sort of Mardi Gras joke.

"Not Garland ... Garling. Isn't it Judy Garling", Tarkis said.

"Whatever, something like that", Bruce replied.

"If you mean a blond PR lady ... about so high ... I can't recall much", I said. "If it's the same one, she comes from Terrigal. Used to work for Nick Greiner when he was Premier, then Chris Hartcher when he was Minister for the Environment. After the demise of the Fahey Government she went on to be features editor for the Woman's Weekly for a few months but I lost track after that".

"Well I can pick up the story", said Tarkis, "After the Weekly she got the top media job with the Parks and Wildlife people, then she was attracted away by a very big offer from Dow Corning. The talk in the industry is that she was mainly working on the silicon breast implant debacle. Now she's gone to Hill & Knowlton and she's working on Clean Air 2000."

"So she gets around", I said, "So what?" Webb Dock and the Gulf buildup had left me in a poor mood for scuttlebutt.

"Well anyway, you were right about the big air quality PR offensive", said Bruce somewhat deflated, "From what I've heard the whole thing's been lined up for early March. It's the ol' weekend blitz technique. The NRMA are going to lead off with a fanfare announcement on a Saturday, so as to get the Sunday papers. Then the government are going to announce something called the Air Quality Management Plan on the Sunday to get the Monday papers, then on the Monday the NRMA and the Environment Protection Authority are going to sign some sort of memorandum of understanding on air pollution ..."

"Yeah, yeah, to get the Tuesday papers", I muttered, "A great facade of 'policy changes' and more EPA air quality monitoring behind which it'll be business as usual for the tollway builders. Pigs will fly over the rainbow and they'll pave Oxford Street with yellow bricks before any of that makes the sightest impact on air pollution. The best we can hope for is that the new Gulf war will break out or Prince Phillip falls under a bus and the whole sorry sham gets pushed off the front pages".

Just then we were interrupted by the throbbing roar of Harley-Davidsons in Werrong Lane. A stench of petroleum and a thick haze of blue exhaust smoke drifted in through the door, followed by a dozen grumpy-looking, near-naked, fat elderly bikies with long white beards and coal scuttle helmets. They were strapped up in leather waistcoats emblazoned 'Contrarian MC', chrome-plated bondage chains and leather g-strings.

The Paddy McGuinnesses had arrived and in no time they were bitching about the excessively intolerant atmosphere.

• • •

POSTSCRIPT: On Tuesday 13 October 1998 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the NRMA was poised to dump Clean Air 2000. Since 1995 the association had spent more than $2 m on the project.