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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Brushtail Graphics

A hellbroth in the Hunter

3 May 2011

Former Labor politician Michael ‘Mick’ Costa is not a nice man, but nobody deserves what happened , a few days ago, to his wife and two small children.

At about 8.20am on 14 April, Costa left his Hunter Valley home, located on the Wollombi Road just west of Millfield, to drive to a meeting in Newcastle, about 60 km away.  A few minutes later a man dressed in a black tracksuit and black balaclava, armed with a knife, entered the home, confronted Costa’s wife Deborah and tied her to a chair with wire. (Interesting detail, that wire. To this old PI it says ex-soldier.)

The perpetrator threatened Mrs Costa with rape and violence, rifled the house and left with her purse, car keys and, oddly, some bottles of expensive wine.

Luckily, he failed to disable the landline. Around 8.40am Costa’s four-year-old daughter dialled 000 and held the phone for her mother to talk to the police.

According to media reports, Michael Costa was already on his way home when he learned of the break in from police. The cops had acted with alacrity and their media unit issued a news release with the number of Mrs Costa’s blue Honda Civic at 10.15am.

At first, and officially, both Costa and the police were at pains to assert that there was no evidence the event was related to Mick’s former political posts – it might have happened to anybody.

The cops later changed their mind about that, and the discovery of Mrs Costa’s car nine days later has no doubt reinforced the view that the home invasion was, as they say, “targeted”.

On the face of it, the perpetrator took an awful lot of risks. It’s a good working assumption he was watching the Costa home from the wooded hill above and moved in after he saw Mick drive away. But how did he know Mick hadn’t just gone into the village to pick up the papers? It would only have taken him three or four minutes to drive back. That doesn’t leave much time to do the deed and hightail it. At that hour, a lot of people are alert and on the move, and in the bush people notice a lot, because there ain’t a lot to notice.

Mrs Costa’s car was found, in the Corrabare State Forest, only 4 km, as the crow flies, from Chez Costa. It was, however,  further by road to get to what the police describe as the “campsite” where it turned up. To get there the perpetrator had to drive back towards Millfield and then south along a dog-leg dirt road, and then via a track back into the state forest. Again, he took a big risk of being seen, and at close range.

We can assume the assailant had left his own car there for the getaway. It’s also possible there was an unseen second perpetrator, who could watch the Wollombi Road in case Mick Costa came back.

In this possum’s opinion, the whole affair looks like a threat to Costa via his family, delivered by a hired thug, but thinly disguised as a random break-in. “We know where your wife and kids live, Mick”, somebody is saying. But if that’s the case, what they want Mick to do, or not do, or what they might be punishing him for, is another question.  

Michael Costa has made many enemies. His CV reads like a potted history of the political degeneration and decline of the Labor Party. The former police minister, transport minister and treasurer of NSW came into politics as a teenager, through the hard-line orthodox Trotskyist party then known as the Socialist Labour League. He deserted the SLL for the fluffier Socialist Workers Party, but he didn’t stay there long either. Soon he was off to the Labor Left faction who he deserted, in turn, for the Right. Along the way he became perhaps Australia’s most hysterical convert to Thatcherite market fundamentalism.

In the result, Costa resigned from parliament after his campaign to privatise the state’s electricity industry collapsed. In defeat, the market fundamentalist right closed ranks around their champion. Retiring to the Hunter Valley, he became a Murdoch columnist and was given a position as an associate professor at the University of Newcastle, researching “competition theory”. In February this year, in a lurid address to the NSW Minerals Council he claimed that at least twice during his years with the late, unlamented, Labor government, there were serious attempts to close down coal mining in the state. If only. Big Coal is strip mining the Hunter Valley on an ghastly, unprecedented scale and a lot of people loath that.

In fact there’s a miasma of fear and loathing everywhere in the Hunter these days and mostly it involves a scramble for power and profit in real estate, development, mining, and even professional sport. 

While Labor remained in office, former cabinet ministers could set up as fixers and facilitators, and many did. What they could sell was their insider’s network of political connections – euphemistically described as “access to government” – but with Labor’s electoral wipeout the doors have slammed shut. A lot of folk from the big end of town bet the farm on the “access” they were promised. If I were a cop looking for motive, I’d be taking a long hard look at that angle.