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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How the Australian overseas student industry rips off the developing world

6 February 2010

Let’s face it: there’s bound to be a racist element behind many of the attacks on Indian students in Australia. I mean you can see it: Here’s some resentful half-arsed kid who had a lousy upbringing  and has no prospects of a brilliant career, prosperity and the rest. He hangs out with his mates and they bitch to each other about anybody identifiably different: Lebs, abos, gays, Muslims, Asians … whatever.  And then they suddenly see lots of Indians turning up in the places they hang out, and even getting jobs, and they decide they’re going to bash the diligent little wog to teach him a lesson. Nothing fundamentally to do with being Indian, as such, just to do with being different: not an Aussie, not like us.

You can’t discount, either, a certain structural factor: leaving aside any racist motivation, a big increase in Indian students will be followed, inevitably, by a big statistical increase in violence against Indian students. (How big? Read on).

But focus too much on the is it or isn’t it racism? debate and you’ll miss the Big Drift of History: the Australian ruling class’s quiet development of a new way of ripping off the developing world and providing itself with a cheap labour source.

Educating people to be productive workers is expensive. Not only do you have to guarantee a certain level of resources and social stability so that people can have kids, raise them and socialise them, but you then have to pay for their primary, secondary and, if necessary, tertiary education.

Instinctively, any ruling economic elite is going to try to avoid all these burdens. In the ancient Greco-Roman world they did this by relying on slaves captured in military conquest. Rome started declining when this source of young adult labour dried up and they had to start breeding and educating slaves.

We started off in Australia with the actual slave labour of convicts. But that stopped in the early 1840s, partly because of popular opposition in the colonies and partly because the supply of criminals bred by the social chaos of England’s breakneck industrialisation dried up. Next came heavy levels of immigration. That, so far, has been the story of Australia’s economic development.  Still, immigrants became citizens in short order, and their young offspring had to be accommodated within the education system from the day they set foot on Australian soil, and, after it developed, the social security system. Fair enough, too.

The post WWII skills demand led to the Menzies Government instituting Commonwealth university scholarships, a generous system that extended into the Whitlam and Frazer years.

Parallel with that, after 1950, Australia was giving aid to developing countries in the form of the Columbo Plan, under which thousands of Asian students were sponsored to study or train in Australian institutions. The plan was largely motivated by the belief that improved living standards would counter the appeal of radical nationalist movements in the region. But the motivating threat lifted with the decline of the left-wing threat in south-east Asia, the market Stalinist conversion of China, and the increasingly conservative drift of Indian politics. It was time to exchange aid for exploitation.

Step 1: The Howard Government decides to make tertiary education pay for itself by selling education to overseas students and sponsors the creation of a vast and increasingly shonky private industry selling degrees to the sons and daughters of relatively well-off folk from countries like China and India who couldn’t get into a university in those countries. Cunning stuff. Get the upwardly mobile in poorer countries to subsidise the tertiary education of Australian citizens. Standards decline and crap “vocational” courses proliferate.

Step 2: A policy favouring, for residency, those students whose families have paid for their education here. As word spreads, more and more Asian parents hand over good money for essentially fraudulent degrees and diplomas that are little more than the price of residency. A wonderful side benefit for Australian employers is that a great deal of very cheap or entirely free labour can be extracted from the hapless students and passed off as course work. Officially, overseas students are allowed to work 20 hours a week (and a further 20 for any dependents they might bring) but policing of this limit is no doubt laughable.

Last year there were 320,000 overseas students in Australia, an increase of 15 per cent on 2007-8. Of these, 65,000 were from India, an increase of 27 per cent. There is now nearly one overseas student for every 70 Australian citizens and probably one worker in every 35 in the labour force (as counted very generously by the ABS) is an overseas student. That’s an awful lot of cheap labour. These workers live an atomised existence like the slaves of old. They have few rights and every reason to avoid complaining about their lot.

Facts like these don’t get much exposure in the yellow press, which prefers to encourage moral panic about a few Australian Muslims and dog whistle about a tiny handful of asylum seekers arriving by boat.