Merchants in the temple

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s ‘ Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ secret battle against corruption in the Vatican’ (published 2015) is, according to the author, based on confidential information to which he had been given access.

The back cover says: “Based on confidential information – including top-secret documents from inside the Vatican and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility – Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The cover also shows these reviews. “A truly shocking, shameful story of waste and corruption within the vast network of Vatican finances … a provocative work of dogged investigative research.” (Kirkus Review)

“The author’s analysis of the numbers and account of the byzantine internal politics are thoroughly convincing … These revelations should make the need for urgent reform obvious to the world outside the walls of the Vatican.” (Fortune)

The book includes the role of Australian Cardinal Pell in the Pope’s efforts to effect change.

The book concludes with the question “Will the Pope win the battle?” and the statement “… Italian prosecutors who are expert in organised crime … have repeatedly expressed their fear about threats to Pope Francis’ safety.”

An incredible amount of detail is available in the book, and its ‘Notes.’ Yet, under the heading “Where does the money for the poor end up, the book states  … we know how much has been collected from the faithful but not how it is spent.”

“In other words, of the 53.2 million taken through Peter’s Pence (2012) – to which we would add 3 million in interest payments – a good 35.7 million (67 percent) was spent on the Curia and another 6.3 million (12.4 percent) was not used, set aside as reserves of the Peter’s Pence fund.” “In practice, to date, the offerings for the poor are still a black hole: absolute secrecy on how the money is spent …”

(A fascinating book. But, “corruption in the Vatican”? By religious leaders? Of the largest institutional religion in the world? Whose theology dominates Australia’s social policy?)

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The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.

Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emus Black Seeds’

Here are the reviews contained in the book. White Australian supremacists, who seem to be thick on the ground, will not like what they say. What explains the derogatory views expressed publicly by white Aussies? A sense of collective guilt? No! One cannot feel guilty on behalf of one’s forebears. ‘Why can’t they be like us?’ is a better explanation.

Since the Irish Catholics were allowed to be a separate people, with their own systems of education and charity, should not the Australian Aborigines (who was here first) be a separate people within an integrated ethno-culturally diverse population?

Would that mean recognising them as First Nation People? Yes, but over the dead bodies of many a whitey. What about giving them a right to have a say in how they are now to be uplifted societally and integrated? Since terra nullius was proven false, could white-man superiority not be up to a requisite standard to ‘bridging the gap’ (a favourite mantra of politicians who prefer words to effective action)?

The reviews:
• “in 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he’s not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily bunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complex civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority. As a teacher – I recommended it as essential reading for any educator.” Lisa Hill, blogger and educator.
• “This very readable, strongly argued study turns the accepted nation of the Aborigines as a hunter-gatherer people completely on its head” Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald.
• “He has done a great service by bringing this material to students and general readers, and in such a lively and engaging fashion.” Richard Broome, Agora Magazine.
• “This is an important book that advances a powerful argument for re-evaluating the sophistication of Aboriginal peoples’ economic and socio-political livelihoods, and calls for Australia to embrace the complexity, sophistication and innovative skills of Indigenous people into its concept of itself as a nation … an important and well-argued book.” Dr. Michael Davis, Honorary Research Fellow at Sydney University.
• “A remarkable book.” Max Allen, The Australian.

The literary quality of Pascoe’s book about the settled lives of his ancestral people is demonstrated by being short-listed for the Queensland Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, both in 2014; the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as ‘Book of the Year’, and the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as winner.

(Comment: The Bradshaw cave paintings show that the Chinese had visited the Kimberleys.

Regrettably, prejudice against the Aborigines by many of the movers and shakers of Australia is quite strong.) 

An Aboriginal writer on Aboriginal culture

The plight of Australia’s Aborigines is so sad that I was pleased to hear about Bruce Pascoe’s book ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ A retired school teacher drew my attention to this valuable book. Have our media paid any attention to its findings?

A book about pre-invasion Aboriginal culture, written by an Aborigine, is far more credible than writing by even a sympathetic non-Aboriginal writer. Pascoe’s sources are journals and diaries of (white) pastoralists, explorers, and the like. His sources are plentiful. When British beneficiaries of invasion, killing, and despoliation of native culture say honestly what they saw and experienced, one would expect Pascoe’s narrative to be accepted by one and all.

Not so! A retired Anglo-Aussie school teacher told me that she did not find the book credible. I repeat a belief I uttered way back in the racist 1940s and 1950s: that the oldest generation of (British) Aussies had to join their Maker before the lives of Asian students in Australia would be easier. That did happen.

Those supremacist white Australians who will not even accept that their indigenes are First Nation People, or who are unwilling to allow the Aborigines to have a say on policies to ‘bridge the gap’ in life expectancy, health, education, and a jail-free life have to leave us – in my view, as soon as possible.

Pascoe’s report also suggests that the behaviour of settlers generally, and some explorers, was decidedly despicable and un-Christian. Pascoe’s book also confirms what the redoubtable Dr. Coombs had earlier written about the Australian Aborigines. Their lives had all the hallmarks of a settled people, an organised polity, and a civilisation; and they had spiritual values of a high order, as well as a view of the Cosmic order.

Would not any intelligent person expect that a people who had survived this harsh land for 35,000 to 60,000 years know how to relate to Nature and to heavenly bodies? I doubt that modern man does. He wants control, not balance.

British settlement turned a settled people with agriculture, aquaculture, solid buildings, and a co-operative way of life into nomads. Being converted to Christianity did not protect the indigene from exploitation for more than two centuries. Now, they are expected to be ‘like us.’ Some already are; what about the rest?

Multiculturalism policy permits, even encourages, ethnic communities in Australia to identify themselves as identifiably separate; but not our indigenes. Why so?

Beyond the free-trade spin

You find ‘free trade’ is covering up a lot of special deals that may or may not be good for the economy. This is the conclusion I draw from the paper What do trade agreements really do? by a leading US expert, Professor Dani Rodrik.” So wrote Ross Gittins in the March 3-4 2018 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald. I have followed him for decades, as he is a most perceptive analyst.

He accepts the benefits from international trade. “… we all benefit from specialising in a particular occupation we’re good at, then exchanging goods and services with people in other specialities, so further ‘gains from trade’ can be reaped by extending specialisation and exchange beyond our borders to producers in other countries.”

In relation to NAFTA, Gittins quotes Rodrik as saying that recent research suggests the deal “produced minute net efficiency gains for the US economy while severely depressing wages of those groups and communities most directly affected by Mexican competition. So there’s a huge gap between what economic theory tells us about the benefits of free trade and the consequences of highly flawed, politically compromised deals between a few countries.”

Rodrik: “How can economists be so certain the gains to the winners far exceed the losses to the losers – and that the winners have compensated the losers?” Gittins: “What many economists don’t realise is that the international battle to eliminate tariffs and import quotas has largely been won (though less so for the agricultural products of interest to farmers).” Ignore ‘Trumpology’ for the moment.

Gittins also points out that “… so-called free trade agreements are more about issues that aren’t the focus of economists’ simple trade theory: “regulatory standards, health and safety issues, investment, banking and finance, intellectual property, labour, the environment and many other subjects besides.” Rodrik names 4 components of agreements that are worrying.

First, intellectual property (IP): Gittins points out that “the US just happens to be a huge exporter of intellectual property –in the form of pharmaceuticals, software, hardware, movies and much else.” “… with IP the rich countries’ gains are largely the poor countries’ losses.”

“Second, restrictions on a country’s ability cross-border capital flows.” “… it’s a good thing for less-developed economies to retain some control.”

“Third, ‘investor-state dispute settlement procedures.’ … They allow foreign investors – but not local investors – to sue host governments in special arbitration tribunals and seek damages for regulatory, tax and other policy changes merely because those changes reduce their profits. How, exactly, is this good for economic efficiency, jobs and growth?”

“Rodrik concludes that ‘trade agreements are the result of rent-seeking, self-interested behaviour on the part of politically well-connected firms.’ ... They may result in greater beneficial trade, but they are just as likely to redistribute income from the poor to the rich under the guise of ‘freer trade.’”

(Does not economic theory support the view of certain nations that only the rich save to invest, and thus take their economy forward?)

The El Dorado of welfare

When the Soviet regime allowed some of its Jewish citizens to join close relatives in Israel, 85% of those allowed to leave were (according to Israel’s Prime Minister in the early 1980s) deflected to the El Dorado of the USA (and to less-attractive nations such as Australia). This is the power of economic opportunity.

In recent decades, beardless Middle Eastern men and niqab-free women paid large sums of money to ‘snake-heads’ to deliver them to the (no reciprocity of payment required) welfare regime of the El Dorado of Australia.

The extent of support for welfare (and attempts to widen its scope in Australia) is most impressive. While ‘other people’s money’ is a natural drawcard, what motivates those who recommend (even demand) widening and deepening welfare eligibility for others? Paying students to study maths at school is the latest thought-bubble of a poobah in education policy.

And, until recently, there was a strident demand from a sector of the community that Australia should take in more economic migrants claiming asylum – without regard to the UN Convention defining a refugee. Is it not curious that their wish to offer charity is circumscribed by the availability of taxpayer money?

A concealed form of welfare takes the form of tax subsidies to the well-off. The most interesting one is described as ‘wealth creation’ by Conservative politicians. The most flagrant form is through ‘negative gearing’ of investments in property. Costs – actual or staged – are deductible against income from any source; a most generous unintended gift by other taxpayers, who have to make up the deficit in government revenue, and who are unable to reduce their tax burden honestly.

Interestingly, an article by Jessica Irvine in the Sydney Morning Herald of 9 Feb. 2018, about a report by the Grattan Institute on Australia’s compulsory contribution by workers, suggests increasing rent assistance to vulnerable retirees.

What was the objective in establishing the ‘superannuation guarantee charge’? Was it not intended to progressively replace the age pension, which is now popularly regarded as a right, and which is a very heavy budgetary burden?

Multicultural, ethnically diverse or one people?

In the 1970s and 1980s, ethnic empowerment (my phrase) became federal government policy. Since 1948, selected able-bodied European immigrants had to find their way wherever they lived in Australia. Now, their successor entrants had to be shown their way by social workers. These would be employed by their ethnic communities at taxpayer expense. Settled ethnic (European) populations, with few new entrants, were to be served too!

Coincidently, during that period, both sides of politics decided (on obviously faulty advice) to chase the so-called ethnic vote. Instead of a residence of 5 years out of 8 to qualify for the grant of citizenship, one government reduced the qualifying period to 3 years; this was followed by the other government reducing it to 2years. The beneficiaries would have included those with a criminal intent; by keeping their heads down for only 2 years, they could go back with Australian citizenship. Dual citizenship was not then available.

Multicultural policy was also introduced – to manage multiculturalism; that is, to tell us ethnics how to relate to one another. Quaintly, some British then claimed to be an ethnic community too, displaying a revived Morris dance. Since the Anglo-Aussies had already accepted us foreigners as fellow-Australians, what was there to manage? By the very fact of being foreigners, we got along with one another. Ethnic enclaves had not been formed as yet.

To guide the government, ethnic advisory committees were established. There was also a Minister for Multiculturalism, with attendant public service staff. What did they all do? The parallel migrant-settlement service managed by the ethnic committees was also never evaluated for its effectiveness.

State governments were not slow in establishing counterpart ethnicity-focused structures. What did they achieve? In essence, what ethnic tribal chiefs opposed was ‘mainstreaming,’ where governments provided necessary services to the public irrespective of ethnicity; that would have saved a great deal of taxpayer money. Needed services, when ethnicity based, emphasised cultural differences.

Why were cultural differences relevant? Interpreters were available in both public and private agencies. Gone were the days when children interpreted for their parents; or when some host people raised their voices to be understood.

A prime minister and a state premier then replaced culture retention with shared citizenship, and pride in being one integrated people. Most of our children had already led the way to one people through their education, socialisation, sport, and habituation.

In what ways do people display their ethnic origins in day to day living? Are not diverse clothing styles over-laid by a shared Australian accent in spoken English? And in shared community attitudes?

Could we just be Aussies without burbling about how culturally diverse our origins were? Do allow our young to lead us.