Two Texans caught our eye over the past week. Not George W. Bush, the faux Texan born in New Haven, or Dick Cheney, the Houston inhabitant who claimed in 2000 to be living in Wyoming – in order to avoid the 12th amendment prohibition of a Prez and VP from the same state.
No, I’m thinking of two younger men: a soft-spoken school teacher, Scott Parkin, who was unceremoniously thrown out of Australia for non-violent protest, and Ahmed Abu Ali, born in Houston, who until recently couldn’t get himself thrown out of Saudi Arabia, or at least its prisons.
Mr Abu Ali is facing court this week in Virginia, implausibly charged with plotting to assassinate George Bush, while attending uni in Saudi Arabia. America’s treatment of Abu Ali presents a sort of counterpoint to Australia’s treatment of David Hicks, but I’ll leave his story for another time.
So to Scott Parkin. According to the news reports, he came to Australia, travelling as a humble backpacker, on a six-month holiday – rare enough for a Yank – with the proper visa. Why was it revoked?
Australian op-ed columnist Adele Horin described his participation in a demonstration against Halliburton at a shareholders’ meeting in Houston. Others noted he protested at the Republican convention in New York last year and elsewhere.
But the Australian government would surely have known all of this when it issued his visa.
Everything went well until he participated in a demonstration in front of the Halliburton office in Sydney during Steve Forbes’s global CEO love-in last month.
On TV he declared Halliburton “the poster child for war profiteering in Iraq”. All harmless stuff but Australian “justice” minister Ellison said “two incidents” had made it clear that Parkin’s intentions had changed while in Australia. Could it have been the Halliburton “incidents”?
In Sydney, as in Houston, the demonstration involved “street theatre”. It rather reminded me of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where anti-war protesters distributed a clever parody of a traditional share prospectus – a thick white A5 booklet with bold-faced oversized black type on the cover, and red letter disclaimers running sideways down the margins.
The name of the new “share issue” was “the War in Vietnam” and in addition to listing the chairman of the board, president and directors (LBJ, Gen. Willy Westmoreland, Robert McNamara, et al), the prospectus listed half a dozen underwriters, being the usual suspects – Bechtel, Kellogg, Brown & Root among them.
In 1968, Brown & Root was known as the company that discovered and nurtured, for over 30 years, an obscure congressman from central Texas, funding and guiding him throughout his career until a fortuitous political vacancy found him president of the US.
When Lyndon Baines Johnson ramped up the Vietnam war it was common currency in Washington that many of the resulting contracts and profits flowing to Brown & Root were corrupt.
These days Kellogg, and B & R, are rolled up into Halliburton, a dyed in the wool Republican company with Dick Cheney its former CEO and continuing beneficiary.
Halliburton is arguably more sinister than Brown & Root, who never got $US10 billion worth of no-bid contracts from the administration. B & R may not have achieved the level of corporate impunity of Halliburton, or succeeded in getting so many inspectors, auditors and sundry procurement officers harassed or hobbled for doing their jobs.
Paul Krugman in The New York Times reminded us the other day of the highly regarded auditor at the Army Corps of Engineers who started to get poor performance reviews after she raised questions about some of Halliburton’s Iraq contracts. Late last month she was demoted.
But back to Scott Parkin. Ultimately he agreed to voluntary “removal”, though he authorised a local man Julian Burnside to appeal in his absence.
And why was Mr Parkin tossed out of the country with an insulting “hotel” bill for five star jailing? I read here that your attorney general Philip Ruddock says it was “national security”. He added, with unconscious irony, “There is no indication ASIO is making a habit of recommending that alleged peace activists be deported on a whim”. Not yet, perhaps.
One suspects the answer is simpler: Australia is doing a favour. And who asked the favour? The fellow in the Grey House, not far from the White House. The new Australian ambassador to the US, Dennis Richardson, is the previous head of ASIO. A simple phone call from Cheney’s office would be enough.
Or maybe not. When he got back to Texas the affable Parkin, though still professing to be baffled, said he doubted Washington had anything to do with it and noted the US consular officials had visited him in stir and been most kind.
But then Washington didn’t have to ask for it. When this administration is dealing with Australia they get it for free, and before they ask. Call it telepathy.