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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.

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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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A race to the bottom

3 August 2000

"The infuriating thing about the trucking industry is that it's one of those quiet never-ending tragedies that polite society politely ignores", Old Possum said. "This business of owner-drivers fired-up on yippie beans, driving twenty hours at a stretch has been a reality for decades".

Old had come up to the office to give me a hand on some work for the Motor Accident Authority's inquiry into the long-haul trucking industry. He had done a bit of driving himself in the old days, before the owner-driver nightmare began, and he'd stayed in touch with a lot of people in the industry.

"Yeah, look at these statistics", I said. "At least 138 drivers who were covered by the Transport Workers Union super scheme suicided between 1995 and 98. That's ten per cent of all claims. And they reckon it may be as high as 30 per cent ... how do you tell if somebody deliberately drives straight into the wall?"

Long-distance truck driving is a sweatshop on wheels. It's the living, breathing, proof that the capitalist workplace is a race to the bottom unless it's ruthlessly regulated.

There's always a pool of under-employed owner-drivers out there with huge mortgages on their trucks and homes. There's always more of them being tempted into the industry. What hope have the poor silly buggers got? Of course they're going to work for peanuts, clock up more mileage than an airline pilot and do more white powder than you'd put in a washing machine.

There's always somebody willing to make a big buck out of glamourising the bullshit: glossy trucking magazines and dumb country and western songs. Three days on the road and we'll make it home tonight ... Daddy was a Whore and Mummy was a truck-drivin' Man ... We got a Convoy.

And there are radio 'personalities' who extol the lifestyle; gibbering on about the truckie as a heroic independent battler, making it on his own. They don't like dwelling on the ones who don't make it home. The grim reality is ghastly accidents involving bigger and bigger trucks, and the worst slavedrivers seem to be the supermarket chains. It's something to think about next time you pick up a few interstate tomatoes down at the mall.

We took a break and strolled down to the park with the papers. It was a bright, clear, day and the magpies were carolling in the big old blue gum as we sat in the sun on the old park bench reading the papers.
Old Possum said: "Think about this. The first Concorde crash in thirty years kills 103 people and it fills the papers for days. But in 1998, 179 Australians died in 151 truck-related accidents and the media hardly notices.

"And it says here that after the Concorde crash a German Catholic bishop asked: 'God, where were you in Paris? Why have you deserted us?', but I can't remember the last time a holy man railed like that against the annual trucking toll. The Concorde crash is part of the Big Drama of Life, but the trucking deaths are just background noise."

He was right. If you go out in a blaze of gasoline, you'll be long remembered if you're a rich German retiree in a flying anachronism, but if you're a young owner-driver in a big rig keeping tomatoes on the supermarket shelf, you'll get a few of column centimetres in the Newcastle Herald.