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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Houston: “We have a problem”
What to do with Space Cadet Bush?

29 September 2005

Shortly after Hurricane Latham made landfall, Janet Howard rang. She wanted me to look into the allegations that John had had an affair with Pru Goward.

“Oh, look, those rumours are years old”, I muttered. “I thought you knew about it. When I first heard that yarn people were saying that was the reason you didn’t want John to live in Canberra. Rest easy, Mrs Howard, it’s just scuttlebutt. Don’t waste your money on me … Pru is a sophisticated modern woman. There’s no way she’d want to bonk a bloke like John.”

She seemed reassured and hung up.

The wonderful thing about the Latham Diaries affair is that you can believe just about everything Latham is saying about everybody, and most things they’re saying about him. That’s the cesspit of mainstream politics and journalism – love it or leave it.

But here’s the really ugly bit: more tonnes of ink have been spilled over the diaries than a raft of important stories. Just to name one: in a sinister blow to freedom of speech, the US anti-war activist Scott Parkin – a gentle exponent of street theatre – was arrested and deported by the Howard government with the support of Fat Man Beazley and the so-called “Opposition”. And virtually unremarked by our house-trained media, we sunk deeper into long-term involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, shackled to a lame-duck US president.

If George W Bush had any brains he’d be a worried man. Hundreds of thousands of angry Americans are busted flat in Baton Rouge, the sea winds are blowin’ in Galveston and Houston has called in with a problem.

But these are just poor folk, and largely black. It’s the elite Bush should be worried about – the seedy crony-capitalists who own the US of A. The Iraq imbroglio is bad enough, but after the hurricane debacle the greedheads who once put faith in this idiot-child to gull the masses will now regard him as a failure, a dud, a loser, a space cadet; a man who hasn’t measured up to the challenges; a president who isn’t fooling anybody any more.

We’re talking here about very nasty people: the same folks who had Kennedy killed in ’63 – people who have a whole world to lose. In JFK’s case, he fell foul of the Mafia (who’d lost out badly when Castro came to power in Cuba) and a bunch of out-of-control far-right CIA types who were incensed that he’d accepted defeat at the hands of the Cuban revolutionaries at the Bay of Pigs. They feared he was going to cave in to the Vietcong too. By assassinating Kennedy they got the hapless Lyndon Johnson into the Oval Office and Johnson, as it turned out, was amenable to escalating US involvement in Vietnam.

Things are more desperate now than they ever were in ’63. Sure, revolutionary nationalism, led mostly by Stalinist parties, was then on the march, but nothing as fundamentally threatening as the decline of the age of oil faced the US, nor was it massively indebted to the rest of the world. Now, the Yanks are catastrophically dependent on imported oil and face relentless economic decline.

What are the elites going to do with this president? He still has three long years left in office. If he was going to win in Iraq he should have rammed conscription through Congress months ago. Instead, while the condition of the US Army, National Guard and Reserves steadily deteriorated, he postured and procrastinated. Even if conscription were introduced tomorrow, it would take at least six months before fresh drafts reached Iraq, and by modern standards they’d be hopelessly undertrained. And with each passing month, Iraq grows more intractable and America’s authority declines.

I can think of three solutions: impeachment (leading perhaps to resignation), assassination or coup d’etat. We can probably rule out the latter. There are any number of grounds on which Bush could be impeached, ranging from the lies used to justify the Iraq adventure to vote fraud, but the problem with impeachment is that it would cripple the US for months and lay bare the endemic corruption of the political system.

It doesn’t take much insight to see that, for the US elites, assassination would be a quick, clean option, compared with impeachment, and has the added advantage that it could be conveniently blamed on al-Qaeda. But the problem is: who would step into Bush’s shoes? The vice-president, Dick Chaney, isn’t a complete idiot, but he’s a sick man and, even worse, he’s tarnished by his involvement in the crony-capitalism of Halliburton and has none of the personal charisma needed to rally Americans behind conscription and a ten-year colonial war. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.


A few days after this column was posted here (and appeared in the Sydney City Hub), I received the following story from a friend who sends me all the jokes making the rounds of a large company by email. Political jokes have a certain importance because they often indicate an inchoate public attitude struggling to express itself against the normal restrains against articulating the improper or "unthinkable" – in this case, the assassination of a US president.

Subject: Definition of Tragedy
President Bush was  visiting a primary school and he dropped in on one of  the  classes. They were in  the middle of a discussion related to words and their meanings.
The teacher asked the  President if he would like to  lead the discussion of the word  "tragedy". So the illustrious  leader  asked the class for an  example of a "tragedy". One  little boy  stood up and offered: "If my best friend, who lives on a farm, is playing in  the field and a tractor runs over him and kills him that would be a  tragedy".

"No," said Bush, "that  would be an accident."

A little girl raised  her hand: "If a school  bus carrying 50 children drove over a cliff, killing  everyone inside, that would be a tragedy."

"I'm afraid not,"  explained the president. "That's what we would call a great loss."
The room went silent.  No other children volunteered. Bush searched the  room.

"Isn't there someone  here who can give me an example of a tragedy?"

Finally at the back of  the room a small boy raised his hand.

In a quiet  voice he said: "If Air  Force One, carrying you and Mrs Bush, was struck by a 'friendly fire' missile and blown to   smithereens that would  be a tragedy."

"Fantastic!"  exclaimed Bush. "That's right. And can  you tell me why that would be  a tragedy?"

"Well," says the boy,  "It has to be a tragedy, because it certainly wouldn't be a great loss and it  probably wouldn't be a fucking accident either."