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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Star City blues

20 July 2000

Not many people escape from the zeitgeist and those that do are mostly too old and infirm to adapt, I reflected. I was sitting in the sun outside the Heritage Café on Macquarie Street, sipping a long black while I waited for the solicitors.

It's fine place to feel the pulse of Sydney. Teams of lawyers from firms with names like Malleson Stephen Jacques come and go. Politicians and power-brokers pass by, and the TV media scrum lie in wait for the innocent and the guilty.

A chauffeur-driven black Mercedes with tinted windows pulled into the curb and John Marsden got out. He was wearing a beautiful grey suit, a sharp and shiny dark grey shirt and a jaunty yellow tie. He looked overweight, but remarkably good, considering.

I glanced down at my old brown trench-coat, with the cider stains and the frayed cuffs and felt distinctly grungy, like a drug-runner from B-grade gangster flick.

Once, there was something called Fashion. It died decades ago and nobody mourned its passing. Now there is only Style and everybody seems to dress in some regional drug pusher style: the rich in the manner of Wall Street coke dealers and the poor like ghetto crack pushers in lurid tracksuits and back-to-front baseball caps.

Oxford Street is full of sleek kids in urban charcoal grey, acting cool like the local ecstacy man, and gay men who look like white-trash hash peddlers from Nashville. Walk down Homer Street Earlwood on Saturday night and you'll be passed by a parade of third-generation Greek youths in hotted-up Hiroshima Screamers with the windows down and the stereo blaring gangsta rap, trying to make out they're street-level heroin dealers from some Chicago slum.

It was a grim reverie, but you start to think like that after spending days tailing Korean loan sharks for the casino inquiry.

There is nothing inherently stylish about Star City. It broods over Darling Harbour like a 50s suburban hospital with a moving neon light show up the front, a seedy monument to political cynicism.

The McClelland inquiry will tell us nothing about what goes on in the place that we didn't know before they built it. Everybody knew what would happen. It'd be used to launder drug money, we said. The politicians demurred. It would be strictly controlled by a Casino Control Authority they said. It would raise money for schools and hospitals and there'd be special programs to help the hapless losers. They knew we knew they were lying, but it went ahead anyway.

The casino didn't try to keep the drug barons out, they actively courted them according to Mark Wells, a former casino executive who is singing like a bird to the inquiry. He entertained heroin boss Duong Van Ia and his associates to lunch and did whatever was necessary to get them to try their luck in the high-roller room.

The Casino Control Authority didn't turn a hair when Mr Duong bet more than $20 million in a few months. Hell, he was just a small businessman who ran a Cabramatta roast duck shop. Everybody knows roast duck is popular in Cabramatta.

And when Four Corners asked Kaye Loder, the Carr Government favourite in charge of the Casino Control Authority about the Duong business, she thought about it and said she was sorry to see the money go out of NSW.

Bob Carr was officially outraged of course. Ms Loder was shuffled off to some public service gulag somewhere and McClelland QC was appointed to tell us what we already knew. And they wonder why people are cynical about politics.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.