United States Of America
Wherever you look in our near region, the shadow of the elephant walking the room is everywhere.
It may not always be voiced, but the US-China relationship and its future stability hang heavy across most discussions, whether at multilateral forums like ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum or within regional bilateral talks.
Every commentator of note has given voice to this challenge, some good, some simply nonsensical. I find myself on unfamiliar ground agreeing with Defence Minister Smith when he called on the two great powers to match their military dialogue with their economic engagement.
His is a voice of reason calling for engagement, and the Minister is on firm ground as his words match his actions.
Condemning Barack Obama from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last night (Australian time), Julian Assange found himself channeling the US president.
The Wikileaks founder’s statement to a throng of waiting press, police and protesters was Obama all over. In the hype the speech stirred, particularly among his London supporters, many of whom wore Guy Fawkes masks. Also in its flair for the dramatic (he left his audience, part of which was yearning to arrest him, waiting for a good half-an-hour).
The two men have more in common than you think. Both have been described, and criticised, as idealists.
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It’s a lonely and worrying business being racist. There are no signposts guiding the way to the Baptist church that is the headquarters of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in the backwoods of Harrison, in northern Arkansas.
A local farmer says to cross a small bridge, turn left at a hump and then follow the dirt track down a few miles. “You won’t find any blacks around here,” he laughs.
Past a rundown farmhouse with a shiny new black hog parked outside, this is deep Confederate country. Probing further, past ratty chook pens, there are white-tailed deer grazing openly off the track, seeming to carry the conceited knowledge that hunting season doesn’t begin till September 15.
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Images and video footage of Hillary Clinton greeting Phongsavath Souliylath in a rehabilitation centre in Laos this week have been splashed across papers, shared, liked, and commented upon by Lao people, aid workers, and international campaigners.
Phongsavath lost both hands and his eyesight when his friend passed him a “funny-looking object” that he found by the roadside as the boys walked to school. The unexploded bomb, a remnant of the Vietnam War, exploded in Phongsavath’s hands. It was his 16th birthday.
Reports of Phongsavath’s meeting with the US Secretary of State are being heralded as a monumental step forward for the tiny land-locked country and its people, and have elicited quite emotional reactions from people who have lived and worked in Laos.
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On a highway in Arizona, south of Phoenix, a sign reads: DANGER — PUBLIC WARNING — TRAVEL NOT RECOMMENDED - Active Drug and Human Smuggling Area - Visitors May Encounter Armed Criminals and Smuggling Vehicles Traveling at High Rates of Speed.
There are no such signs on the roads of Christmas Island, outside Villawood, or by the Curtin detention centre in north-west WA.
Australia’s and America’s immigration issues bear almost no resemblance, except that people die on boats from Java, and they die crossing the miserable mesquite plains of America’s south.
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Even in Chicago, they are puzzling over Labor’s long march to oblivion. In 1987, prior to becoming chief of staff to a president, Rahm Emanuel spent a fortnight with a couple of Australian nurses as he travelled up the east coast to Cairns.
The charismatic 52-year-old Chicago Mayor joked with me this week - his city was hosting the NATO summit - that it had given him a “great respect for the Australian healthcare system”.
“I told your previous prime minister this,’’ he said clearly amused as he relived a conversation with Kevin Rudd.
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As best I know, Australia has no true accounts of white people being kidnapped or rescued and raised by tribal Aborigines. In America’s West, punitive parties were always on the search for white women held captive by the feared Comanche tribes of Texas and New Mexico.
Repatriating stolen white women was a considerable political and military issue, so much so that it arguably contributed to the destruction of the Comanche people, the largest and most warrior-like of the native American tribes.
In Australia, stories of Aborigines raising whites really only exist in fiction. There’s Michael “Crocodile” Dundee, born in a Northern Territory cave and raised by a helpful tribe that schooled him in his broad Australian accent.
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Watching from afar, I noted a press release from a federal minister talking about a Brisbane suburb. It was headlined: “Making Sunnybank’s streets safer”. How can a place called Sunnybank possibly be unsafe?
But, you know, places can get that way. Or un-get that way. Which is what happened to New York. It got safe.
Recently, I re-watched the still-watchable 1979 film The Warriors, about a New York gang’s attempt to get home to Coney Island by crossing from the Bronx through the wilderness of Manhattan.
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Among the multiple emergency exits built into the mighty C130 Hercules is one in the forward half of the aeroplane helpfully surrounded with the words “danger” and “propeller” in huge red letters.
It invites an interesting dilemma in an idle passenger’s mind. How bad would things have to be in here, to make using that exit worth the risk? It is the kind of dark thinking that occurs as one stares blankly at the internally netted walls of the Herc’s cavernous fuselage.
This military transport is designed for function over comfort. The noise during flight into a mostly hostile Afghanistan is deafening. Literally. As well as full body armour, passengers wear earplugs and each is thus cocooned in a strangely solitary world of sound and thoughts.
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Published in 1943 and given to every American serviceman heading Down Under to help with the war effort, the US War Department’s A Pocket Guide To Australia can be now be read in a different light.
Almost 70 years on, the Pocket Guide appears to be a pretty accurate description of who we were. It may be quaint, but it’s a time capsule that says much about how we have changed as a people in outlook, ethnic composition, custom and language.
It tells of a mad gambling, umpire-hating people, who have strange ways of speaking, putting an ‘i’ where the ‘a’ should be. The booklet’s glossary of Australian slang contains words that have long since passed from our everyday usage.
Just looking at him, elderly Miami resident Pedro C. Alvarez is not the type who would be inclined to take in the scenery on Ocean Drive. It’s not his kind of place.
There, on famous South Beach, along the row of deco hotels, including the one where they shot the chainsaw scene for “Scarface”, wild-looking babes endurance test the elastic on their overbrimming bikinis.
Coke dealers, or possibly dentists, or maybe they’re porn stars, drive their black Bentley convertibles at stall speed down the main drag. Miami’s a look-at-me place, until you leave its shiny edges.
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Across her neck, the contradiction of a permanent tattoo shackle that reads: “Freedom.” Across one forearm, a tattoo that reads, “Liberate All Beings.” On the other arm, “Inside Job,” a reference to her belief that 9/11 was carried out by the US Government.
Kanaska Carter is 26. She is a former hairdresser from Canada who came to the US to protest on the 10th anniversary of September 11 but got caught up in Occupy Wall Street, six days later. And now there’s the Google wars, another natural fit for a conditioned young protestor.
Kanaska has lived homeless on the streets of New York for five months. She makes some money busking and inking tattoos and knows various places about the city where she and her friends can get free dinners each night.
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Gah. The Golden Globes. If you don’t like frocks, and can’t bear self-indulgent speeches thanking God, long-dead parents, a dog etc, you’d be forgiven for not giving the telly even the slightest glance this lunchtime. Except that is, for Ricky Gervais.
Yep, the Brit funny man who made working in a drab back office in a west-London suburb hilarious, could save the Golden Globes. And all earnest, glamour-loving Americans. From themselves.
Tonight will be Ricky’s third time hosting the champagne and taffeta-fuelled, red-carpet fiesta. But after managing to offend nearly everyone in Hollywood last year, this year’s invitation surprised many.
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Sometimes you can meet a person and feel blessed. I don’t mean touched by the hand of God. I just mean you feel renewed, restored and pretty sure there’s goodness in the world. And that, in itself, is a blessing.
The man in question is the Reverend Dr Thomas Lane Butts Jr, aged 81, retired pastor of the Uniting Methodist Church in Monroe County, Alabama. His older brother was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The Rev Butts was not.
He battled the Klan for years, but particularly in the 1950s, when Alabama and neighbouring Mississippi were the Klan heartlands. They had always been a presence, but had in recent years been sleeping lightly. Their cause was fully awoken as the Civil Rights movement began its fight in the south.
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