Thursday, June 23, 2011

In a bind over Bundy … and the world economic system

by Geoffrey Heard

It's late morning, Tuesday, 21 June 2011, and I'm in the duty-free store (really the GST-free store these days) at the Brisbane airport buying rum for the elite of Port Moresby's rum and coke drinkers. I've been instructed by email and text that two liters (the PNG duty free limit) of rum is required and the brand is the Australian-made Bundaberg rum. These are dedicated Bundy 'n' coke drinkers.

But as I survey the shelves, I am startled to find that the formerly expensive and upmarket Bacardi (white) rum is a couple of bucks a bottle cheaper than the formerly el cheapo Australian-made Bundy. Here's a revelation -- with the Australian dollar having taken off to a degree (and other former leaders like the USD and Euro having gone south somewhat), and the removal of tariffs on imported liquor, the price differential between domestic and imported has been turned on its head.

So with a guilty apology to Australian-made, I decide to do my Port Moresby friends a favor -- I'll take them upmarket Caribbean sunshine.

When I proudly unleash a liter bottle of Bacardi in Port Moresby that evening I'm repaid for my thoughtfulness by horrified cries of "What? We said Bundy! That stuff's just water!". When I reveal that I have grossly departed from the script and bought Frangelico instead of a second liter of rum, my name is Mud with a capital "M"!

Tough -- we're all having dinner and I'm rounding out mine with ice cream and Frangelico like I had at my farewell dinner (except that I'll be pouring the Frangelico out of the bottle, not out of a shot glass!). The team can take it or leave it. I might be a bit of a soft touch in some respects, but in regard to desserts (and rum and coke which I regard as a last resort drink), I can be as tough as nails.

Making that purchase really hammered home a point, though; one which I have been acutely aware of for some time in my own tiny business. I used to sell Australian-made books in the USA. At that time, the Australian dollar was ranging around 70 US cents. At one point, it got as low as about 55 US cents. It was quite ridiculous, of course -- at the time, Australia had as useful an economy as most others and certainly one as useful or better than America's which was already mired in up-to-the-nostrils debt with a whole lot of stuff going on -- like the idiotic invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that were clearly out of control before they began -- that were adding staggering amounts to US debt hourly.

The Australian dollar's climb coincided with a post office clamp down on special rates for overseas mail (mail is the only viable carrier for micro-business products), and suddenly, every book I shipped was making a loss! Raising prices wasn't an option; Americans are used to certain price points and won't be moved from them.

I had to switch to printing in the United States -- leaving me to ponder what to do with a roomful of brand new books which now weren't salable (I still have them).

So I was fully aware of what the currency movements had done to price relationships, but striking them so vividly contrasted in the duty-free really hammered home the point.

Tough for many Australian businesses

The ridiculous movements in the currency market make it very, very tough for a lot of Australian industries. And then, of course, the ones that are making out like bandits, the mining industry, don't want to pay appropriate taxes on gigantic windfall profits most of which are going overseas to people who have more money than they could possibly poke a stick at in a month of Sundays.

The trick in all this is the financial system constructed by the monied elite for the benefit of the monied elite. At the beginning of modern democracy, the monied elite had everything their way -- democracy slowly rolled back some of that those privileges to some degree, but money always ruled.

Now big money is bigger than ever -- a handful of modern corporations have enormous transnational power supported by the most powerful governments in the world; the USA is the prime example but it's not alone, Australia runs along like its little lapdog -- and it is busy rolling back democracy and turning relatively egalitarian societies like Australia into inequitable, unjust, undemocratic societies which are merely enormous money pumps that feed the money bags' greed. The rich are getting richer, a (very) few of the middle class are getting richer, most of the middle are getting poorer, and the poor are getting even poorer.

The process is complex and includes many subtle steps, but the underlying trick is simple. You set up a scenario where people are restricted in their movement around the globe -- nearly everyone in the world is actually a prisoner in the country they were born in, both physically and mentally -- while allowing money and goods unrestricted movement.

Thus, people are not free to move from place to place to take advantage of the best wages, for example, while capital is free to move from place to place to take advantage of the worst wages, and their goods are free to move anywhere. Then they declare "globalization" to be the great savior of the world's economic system and "protection" at national borders
(against goods and money only, naturally) to be anathema, old fashioned, unfair, and nasty, and they're away towards riches even further beyond the ordinary person's imagining and to gathering even more power to make the trick even more effective.

Of course, it is all a Ponzi scheme and must collapse sooner or later, but when it does collapse, we all know who will have the most comfortable ride -- the super rich. When money becomes essentially valueless, it pays to have sh*tloads of it.

When everyone's down and they've scraped up all the money and valuables left lyng around by the crash, they'll start all over again building another huge pyramid.

The "poor" who have kept a grip on their own land like the majority of people in Papua New Guinea will do next best because they can still live off their land -- in large part, they are outside the world economy. The middle and lower classes in the developed countries will do badly because they are bound up in the money machine, are in debt to the money machine, and will have to take what pittance they are given. And, of course, the truly dispossessed, the very, very poor of areas like Sudan, Eritrea and so on, will do worst of all as has been demonstrated in depressions and recessions throughout history.

I reflect on the period in which I grew up and have through in (or in touch with) Australia -- the latter part of the 1940s, the 1950s, 1960s, even into the 1970s and 1980s. In many respects this was the democratic dream time, the high tide of democracy in both in Australia and overseas.

Today, we are participating in its end.

Of course, democracy always had its dark underbelly -- the wars against the "evils of communism" and now "terrorism" (the latter so clearly an excuse for ramping up control of frightened populations), the exploitation of the weak and poor both at home and overseas --particularly overseas, the pretense of self-determination and the granting of independence to colonies (economic colonialism is so much more profitable), and so on and so forth.

Of course, while we know all this, fighting back is difficult. The vast majority of Australians (and Americans, and Brits, and French, and Germans, and Canadians and whoever!) all know that the solution is to clamp controls on capital and globalism. But much as we talk and protest, politicians of the major parties, the politicians in control, flatly refuse to act for the good of the people -- the good of those they are supposed to be representing.

They are corrupt. Whether they take cash on the barrelhead or under the table or just accept promises of support so they can stay in power (or in the case of the enormously rich mining companies, promises of no public opposition to them), they are corrupt. They promise to represent the people, to work for the good of the people, but they do not.

They know damned well that if they moved to do what people want and fix the economy so it serves the people rather than enslaving them in the service of a tiny elite, their money masters would come down on them like a ton of bricks.

They are so afraid or their palms are so well greased -- or both -- that they stand up in public and tell barefaced lies. They sign Australia up to trade agreements that take decisions on trade out of our hands, clearly advantage our trade competitors, are unfair to our neighbors, and put disputes about trade rules into secret courts. Having signed up Australia in the full knowledge of what they are doing, they then feign looks of doleful helplessness as though it all happened by accident and not design!

I really applaud the Icelanders who broke out of the thrall of these poisonous, anti-democratic, anti-people schemes and refused to drive themselves into penury to pay off debts incurred by foreign bankers under cover of their name.

We need more of that. We need to do that in Australia.

In the meantime while we Australians are getting up the courage to act in accordance with our national myth (rugged bushmen, individualists -- in fact we are among the most urbanized societies in the world and the most politically apathetic and naive), we need to do something immediate about Bundy.

For mine, I promise to buy two bottles next time I go to Papua New Guinea. No Caribbean sunshine (get nicked, Bacardi), no Italian dessert wine, just Bundy. I swear!

I might even get a bonus by doing that -- a bit of respect from the disgruntled Moresby Bundy 'n' coke team. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On the road again back to Papua New Guinea for another visit

By Geoffrey Heard

Evening, Saturday, 18 June 2011

It’s not long after eight on a chilly winter's Saturday night in Melbourne as I start writing, but I am as snug as a bug in a rug in Car D of the XPT train as it glides through the suburbs heading north. To farewell me on my trip, my daughter and I have just indulged (and that is the only word) in a delicious three course dinner at The Vault CafĂ©, Batman's Hill* on Collins hotel (
u/), strolled (fairly) leisurely across Spencer Street to the pretentiously named Southern Cross Station, and boarded the XPT.

Three minutes later, with a single blip of its horn and a short announcement, the XPT was quietly accelerating out of the station and beginning the 1000 kilometer journey to Sydney where it’s due to deposit me into the heart of the city at 6.30am.

I say three minutes later, and it was literally that. Actually, I almost missed the train -- that would have been a hoot! What with the mixed dips being just plain beautiful, the Malaysian style curry exceptional, the rich vanilla ice cream with a shot each of Frangelico liqueur and black, black coffee sublime, and the wine excellent, we were both feeling pretty relaxed and happy with life until we were jolted into action by the big clock on The Age building opposite reminded us urgently of the time! Thanks Age!

And if the bill for the two of us was within a couple of bucks of my (Seniors card discounted) train fare to Brisbane, that’s neither here nor there -- it was better than reasonable for the quality of the food, wine and surroundings, I am replete, I’m on the road to Papua New Guinea again, and I’m happy, happy, happy.

Let me explain. I'm in the throes of selling my house in Melbourne in pursuit of a more relaxed lifestyle. I had expected the sale to be done and dusted in March so I could escape tropics-ward before the first chill of winter, but the market is trending down and the demand for old places on a biggish block like mine is falling off.

I've been working away, as one does, making the place more presentable and, as one also does when thwarted, moping a bit. Then three weeks ago I awoke on a frozen Melbourne morning to the realization that my continuing presence was doing little or nothing for the house sale and that if I booked immediately I would be in time -- just -- to get Air Niugini's economical Wantok fares to Rabaul for the annual Warwagira and National Mask Festivals.

I bounced out of bed and onto the Air Niugini site ( so fast I nearly spilled my first cup of tea of the day which I made in passing from the kettle boiling on the gas heater (yes, really).

I saw the very first Warwagira Festival way back in the 1970s but have not seen another since so was eager to see it again. I had not seen the National Mask Festival but it had attracted favorable reviews from everyone I know and from strangers who’ve paid full price to get there, so I was right into getting among that too.

Having set the parameters with the Air Niugini bookings, it was a question of "what next"? Air Niugini takes off from Brisbane and I was about 2000 kilometers south of that in Melbourne. Fly or …? Ah, forget it! I would train it, I decided, the XPT overnight from Melbourne to Sydney (, one night in Sydney at Glenferrie Lodge, Kirribilli (, then XPT again overnight from Sydney to Brisbane.

That timetable would give me the chance to see and photograph a few things in both cities before I moved onto the next leg of my journey. And it would save me from one of those unnecessarily stress-inducing embarkations which make air travel today such an unpleasant experience.

Call me old fashioned, reactionary, even Luddite, but having spent most of my adult life traveling by road or air, I am returning to the favored transport of my youth. I train it all over the place around Melbourne; it's faster and more economical than driving a car a lot of the time. For long distance, it's actually pretty stunning to realize the great value you get out of trains. For the cost of the fare, you get travel and accommodation if you overnight; travel and sightseeing if you do daylight trips!

And as I wrote at the beginning of this piece, departure is relaxed and happy. With my ticket printed out from the internet in my pocket, including seat allocation, I walked on to the platform (no ticket check), and onto the train (no ticket check apart from directions to my carriage) literally three minutes before departure (they do ask you to be there 10 minutes prior but I was greeted with a smile), stowed my suitcase in the main luggage rack at the end of the carriage, then found my seat and sat down. A couple of minutes later, the train started.

As I was writing this, half an hour or so into the journey and 50 kms up the track, a lady came around and checked our tickets.

So easy. No ridiculous security checks, beeping screens, tough looking characters investigating your underwear. No two hour queues and grossly overpriced coffee and cakes once you’re a captive in the departure lounge. And no gouging airport parking fees either -- you depart and arrive in the middle of the city, the hub of the public transport system.

And all in a relaxed manner and in generally congenial company! I'll admit my preference for the economy car and its aircraft type seats is not going to be everyone's favorite (I work alone most of the time so it's a treat for me to be among people) but if you wish, there are upmarket alternatives at very reasonable rates.

If you haven't tried it recently, give it a go!

But back to the point of it all, Papua New Guinea. I can't wait to get there again. Reading my earlier posts, you might think I’m more than slightly besotted with the place, and you might be right. I am. I love it. Not uncritically, I think I've made that plain, but I love to be there. It feels like something is happening. It feels alive -- and so do I when I’m in it.

For readers not familiar with Australian history; no, not named after the comic book character, but after an English chap who famously said of the then swamp: "This is the place for a village", did the usual dirty deal with the indigenous inhabitants, and founded Melbourne, naming it after an English Viscount whose wife had an affair with the poet, Byron.

What a delightful connection!


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.