Cyprus bailout perhaps a hat-trick

Guy Rundle writes: Re. “Cyprus bailout far from elegant” (yesterday) Niall Clugston asks whether I see the Cyprus bailout as “elegant”, because this appeared in the headline to my piece — which as he well knows, authors do not write. The full phrase I used was “elegant double-whammy”, quite a different thing. I suggested that the “bailout” — it is barely that — served the dual purpose of cracking down on eurozone tax havens and hitting at Russian financial colonisation of outlying EU areas (which, occurred of course, with the connivance of the Cypriot financial elite). It’s obvious that the EU/German centre decided Cyprus was small enough for them to take really punitive measures, to use the country as an example to all those who put north European banking systems at risk by bad financial management (in the case of Greece) or shonky local banking (Cyprus). So yes, in realpolitik terms, that’s elegant — rather than the inept stuff-up that most financial commentators, caught up in the usual groupthink, insisted it was. The stuff-up came when that Dutch EU official announced that it was a template for future bailouts. It is, but you can’t say that out loud. The third purpose of the effort was German domestic politics — if southern Europeans are screaming in pain and calling Angela Merkel a Nazi, German voters feel they aren’t being ripped off. So a hat-trick perhaps.

A Brit to the end

Tony Wheeler writes: Re. “The Schapelle tax: travellers should pay a $5 DFAT levy” (yesterday). I’m Australian and proud of it, but there are certainly occasions when I put my Australian passport aside and whip out my UK one. Like on a recent transit through Santiago in Chile where the choice was six hours at the airport or a quick look around the town. The brief visit to Chile was free on my UK passport, but if I’d used my Aussie passport I would have been hit for a US$95 “reciprocal fee” because that’s what we charge Chilean visitors to Oz.  I was DFAT’s after-dinner speaker at its annual dinner and ball in Canberra last December, and I concluded by waving both those passports and commenting that given the Australian record if the shit ever hit my fan, I’m sorry, I’m British:

  1. David Hicks — a stupid guy, anybody who thinks the Taliban is worth supporting needs to be handed over to the local feminist lobby for some urgent re-education. But that doesn’t mean he should be handed over to the Americans in Guantánamo Bay.
  2. Julian Assange — I’m very much in favour of what WikiLeaks accomplished, and last year Malcolm Fraser, Malcolm Turnbull and Lindsay Tanner — on stage together for a debate at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne — all backed him as well. Yet we were ready to hand him over to the Americans.
  3. The Bali 9 — a bunch of stupid young people, some of them only kids. All of them fully deserving of a slap on the wrist. But I totally, completely, utterly disagree with shooting people or hanging them by the neck until dead because they’ve messed with drugs. You simply do not, by my books, shop your citizens into a foreign government if you know that they could end up dead.

I could add more, like people languishing in jails in the UAE while we waffle about their actions and there are certainly question marks about the foolish and misguided Ben Zygier in Israel.

Drowning in debt

Peter Matters writes: Re. “Here’s the real story of Australian debt” (yesterday). The handling of government debt by the Rudd and Gillard governments has been good — notwithstanding the fulminations of the reactionaries — News Ltd’s tabloid axis. If social media have not acted with sufficient rigour to counter the deliberately misleading quotations from the axis in Parliament and the tabloids, we should not be surprised that the public is confused.

However , the real problem is not the government debt but the national debt, owned by individual citizens. Thanks to the cunning and very effective mantras of “buy, buy, buy until you drop” and “outdo the Joneses next door”, people have acquired debts of approaching one trillion dollars, which comes out as about $40,000 per person, including newborn babies and their great-grandparents in their rocking chairs. The greater part of this money has been borrowed by our banks on our behalf from international banks, in particular, Chinese banks. If the Chinese banks decide they want their money back to finance their expanding home market, we might find that we are living in fool’s paradise. Make no mistake, governments of all persuasions supported — and still support –this hectic, profligate, decadent spending spree incumbent upon the ratrace nature of consumerism.