Helen Briton Wheeler

An Overview from Down Under - Helen is a retired journalist living in Sydney, Australia. She will be bringing the NFP readers regular comments on current social, environmental and political topics from an Aussie's perspective.

Sunday, 09 November 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

ImageIn Goma, Christians are praying for peace. So might we all. For perhaps only divine intervention can defuse the explosive cocktail of violence, fear and the desire for riches that is making life hell in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The violence is against a helpless civilian population. 

Human Rights Watch claims that the rebel army of Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and the Mai Mai pro-Government Congolese militia have deliberately killed civilians. In early November, a Human Rights Watch team visiting the town of Kiwanji found that 20 men had been killed and 33 wounded for apparently supporting Nkunda’s enemies. The town’s population of 30,000 was forced to flee before these victims were attacked and screams heard in the night.

Kiwanji is just one example.

Thursday, 06 November 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

ImageIt was exciting to be part of history on 4 November 2008. I was in my lounge room watching TV with a friend when the news flashed around the world that Barack Obama had become President-elect of the United States of America. 

Tears sprang to my eyes. I wanted to shout out “Thank you America for having the courage to elect this man!”

And with that newsflash, the image of the US changed. For me, it was a re-affirmation that the US is a land of hope, courage and idealism. It was beautiful to see excited young faces, black and white; the jumping for joy the shouted responses of “Yes, we can”. It was moving to see tears on the face of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, an African American leader I have long respected. I was happy for black citizens across the country who expressed their delight. Although I believe – along with one blogger I noted – that Barack Obama was elected “for the content of his character” rather than “the colour of his skin”.

Monday, 20 October 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

ImageGobsmacked. That’s how I felt as I watched global financial chaos in the weeks just past. I don’t think I was the only one mesmerized.

Perhaps that’s the reason why the final presentation of The Garnaut Climate Change Review to the Australian Federal, State and Territory Governments on September 30, 2008 created so few headlines here.

The review is an important study of how Australia can achieve maximum results in mitigating climate change in a most cost-effective manner.

Professor Ross Garnaut is one of our country’s most distinguished economists. The review was commissioned last year to provide a broad guideline for action and financial investment in Australia’s – and our planet’s – future.

Thursday, 02 October 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

ImageIt has been like a rerun of a movie I saw years ago called White Wilderness. In this, masses of little furry rodents called lemmings jumped off a cliff in Norway into the ocean and swam away until they died from exhaustion.

Apparently this was not deliberate mass suicide, but the effect of overpopulation and competition for food, shelter and natural resources driving the creatures into a massive migration. They came to a cliff. Then, pushed on by compulsion for a better life and the press of others behind them, the lemmings leaped off terra firma into deep water and swam to their deaths.

It’s hard not to see parallels with the financial situation in the U.S. these past weeks. For food, shelter and resources substitute money and market share. There has been long-term, tough competition for these and a compulsion to avoid missing out on the rich gains to be had. This is not unnatural, but some of the consequences have been.

Sunday, 10 August 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

ImageWhile we in Australia were glued to our TV sets watching the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games on Friday, August 8, a very different contest began flaring half way across the world in Georgia.

It is not about sport, but about money and power. The setting is the Caucasus region, a frontline of big-power pushing and shoving over centuries of history. Here the political and economic interests of Russia collide with those of the Western powers.

What we have at the moment is a hot war with Georgia, a small democratic country, taking a pounding in a military conflict with Russia.

This is a breaking story, unfolding as we watch. So far, it appears the trigger was Georgia taking the offensive in its troublesome, autonomous province of South Ossetia, where there is a majority Russian population. This offensive took place on August 7, just as we were gearing up for the Olympic Games. Russia’s move, the next day, brought on the present showdown.


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