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 night of the Nigerian scamsters

30 November 2000

I had just got to sleep at 4 a.m. when I heard the phone ring down in the office. A little voice told me I'd forgotten to turn on the answering machine, so I shuffled down the stairs.

It turned out to be a "Strictly Confidential" fax from Dr Idris A. Boro, JP, of Lagos, Nigeria, addressed to any "President/CEO" out of whose facsimile machine it happened to roll. It was headed "Request for urgent confidential business relationship re: transfer of US$28,600,000.00 American Dollars into your account".

Idris was a bureaucrat from some unnamed department of the Federal Government of Nigeria and he had a big problem. He had $28.6 million left over from payments to foreign contractors and needed somebody's account in which to park it. If he could use mine, I'd get 30 per cent. Could I please ring 234-1-759 1859 to fix the details?

Ho, ho! I didn't even need to ring up Idris to know the procedure. He'd be delighted to transfer the money, but first I'd have to wire a small transaction fee to clear the way. Then, of course, I'd never hear from Dr Idris A. Boro, JP again. At least he had a sense of humour. Boro ... Borrow ... boom, boom.

Nigeria is the global centre of excellence for low budget scams. It's a business like everything else, and it probably returns 3 or 4 per cent. Somewhere in Lagos there's a room with a few cheap computers and modems which dial the rich countries of the world at random, sending out appeals for help.

It's hardly a targeted approach. Dr Boro is trawling the bottom with a very big net. Only the naive or bewildered would respond, but there's always some desperate dingbat out there who wants to believe in the fairy godmother.

It's a fact that the Eiffel Tower has been sold for scrap several times and the technique has always been the same: A few non-French scrap dealers are contacted confidentially by an obscure French Government department and invited to a secret meeting at an up-market hotel. There are the appropriate trappings: food and drink, security guards on the door, beautiful secretaries, etc, etc. The dealers are told the beloved icon is riddled with metal fatigue. The risk of catastrophic collapse is very great. Repair is technically out of the question. In short, the symbol of France must be demolished, but in view of public sentiment, the deal must be set in contractual concrete before an announcement is made. Naturally, it would be too risky to invite French contractors.

The dealers are asked to submit tenders. A few days later they're all contacted and told they've won the contract. Please pay a first instalment and stand by to move in when the government makes the announcement. They pay, and wait and wait and wait.

OK, laugh, but we can all get sucked in sometimes. You reckon you could pick Dr Boro out of the line-up with your eyes shut, but what about Bruce George "Pretty Boy" Baird? He ran the transport racket when Nicholas Frank "The Hungarian" Greiner ran Macquarie Street. Remember the Airport railway scam?

Back in 1991, Bruce was telling us the project would be absolutely ideologically sound -- in Thatcherite market fundamentalist terms. "The airport link will not require one cent of Government money" he said.

But by the time they signed off on the project, just a few days before the 1995 elections (when the Carr gang took over the rackets), the taxpayer was kicking in $570m of a $700m project. What a sting!

Trouble was, there had to be an ideological figleaf to cover Greiner's nakedness -- a token private commitment. So the construction company, Transfield Bouygues (rebadged as Airport Link Corporation) coughed up $124m (borrowed from NAB) and ended up owning four of the stations. Conned? They must have been ropeable! What did a construction company want with running railway stations?

So in the upshot, ALC are shaking down commuters for station-use "surcharges" so high they're crippling patronage and we'll probably have to buy them out to make the line work like it should. The whole thing makes the Nigerian scamsters look like a harmless fundraising gig run by Community Aid Abroad.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 2000

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.