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The neo-con circus: the Forbes Global spectacular at the Sydney Opera House should be quite a show.

In late August the Sydney Opera House will host the neo-conservative lobby machine, Forbes Global. Steve Forbes, signatory of the infamous 'Project for a New American Century', will regale us with his far-right Republican neo-conservativism. Bob Carr and John Howard will stroke his ego on our behalf, extending our hand of welcome to the esteemed gathering. A great opportunity, our industry minister says, 'to tell the world about Australia's business advantage'.

And for those can afford the US$5000 fee, it's an opportunity to press the flesh with 'an exclusive group of senior executives'. The NSW development department has come to the party as a 'host sponsor', no doubt assisting with venue access. Bob Carr was an honoured guest at last year's Forbes Global conference in Hong Kong, which also hosted the likes of David Davies from Philip Morris International, speaking on the 'responsible corporation'.

In the midst of last year's US presidential campaign, the Forbes CEO conference focused on the 'politics of business', with Forbes publisher and chair, Caspar Weinberger, leading discussions on how to deal with 'harsh awareness from the media, NGOs, "stakeholders" and nasty web-loggers'. As a former Secretary of Defence (and Richard Perle's boss) under Reagan, Weinberger has some knowledge of how to address such challenges. He joined Forbes in 1987 when his political career came to an end after being directly linked to providing covert assistance for rightwing guerrillas in Nicaragua, funded from arms sales to Iran.

Ironically enough, Forbes now leads the charge in the US business world against the 'Axis of Evil'--which of course includes Iran. Backing the US 'War on Terror' to the hilt, Forbes is one of Bush's key business sponsors. Since taking the company over in 1990, Steve Forbes has grown the company into a neo-con propaganda house with a five million-strong readership for its international edition Forbes Global, and close to a million for its US-based Forbes Magazine. In all its permutations, the Forbes machine preaches the neo-con script.

In October 2002 Forbes rattled the sabres for business, claiming that 'Hitting OPEC By Way of Baghdad' would cut oil prices and offer 'juicy deals' in a post-war Iraq. In March 2003, immediately before the invasion, the magazine was charting the 'War Dividend': an oil 'gush' that would 'recoup the cost of an Iraqi war'. The 'cost' of invasion and reconstruction was estimated at '$50 billion or so', rather less than the $182 billion and rising as of 20 July 2005 (see <>). Also, in early 2003 the magazine mapped its own 'atlas of evil and discord', throwing Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela into the ring, as well as the familiar candidates.

Forbes' Security Industry Analyst, a newsletter for 'stocks in homeland and security industries', furthermore, picks booming defence contractors. In March 2003, on the eve of the war on Iraq, dollar signs were flashing at the Analyst--'over the last month', it gloated, 'we have seen a handsome war premium'. The newsletter compares the current security stocks boom with the 'early days' of the era. A report from 2003 on missile manufacturer Raytheon is typical: 'U.S. military might in Afghanistan and Iraq has heightened interest worldwide in our weaponry ... good news for defense contractor Raytheon'. With the sale of each missile system 'worth another 35 cents a share', the Analyst stated 'higher Pentagon spending has returned the company to profitability', suggesting 'this stock likely won't be shot down again soon'.

The Analyst states 'we like to invest in security companies that have dual streams of revenue'--that is, companies with government contracts. It actively lobbies for increased government expenditure on security services and greater support for the 'security industry'. In 2002, for instance, it argued the government should protect the entire industry from exposure to 'uncontrolled liability', extending coverage already provided for the defence giants such as Lockheed Martin. Elsewhere it calls for increased use of biometric testing and racial profiling by government authorities, while recommending companies that would benefit from greater take-up of the required technologies.

Forbes Magazine, meanwhile, reassures investors they should never feel guilty about profiting from war. In early July this year, under the headline 'Screw Osama I'm buying Stocks', readers were offered valuable advice: 'The war on Terror is far from over and security stocks should have a place on your portfolio'. The day after the London bombings the headline story spoke loud and proud: 'Markets move higher as the world mourns'. Analysts picked the latest defence stocks for their readers, albeit with the caveat: 'it would be irresponsible for us or anyone to encourage profiting from another's misfortune ...'

The Opera House conference clearly signals their confidence that now is the time to bring their message to Australia. But they may have miscalculated. Controversy about the conference is mounting, and in the most surprising of fields. Reports that Nicole Kidman would be speaking at the conference, for $1000 a minute, have appeared on celebrity pages from the Sun to the Kerala Times to the Sydney Morning Herald. She may now be reconsidering her involvement (although that might be because Forbes top-100 'celebrity list' places her at number 74--two places behind the Eagles!)

The Opera House conference itself runs over three days from 30 August to 1 September, and is preceded by the Sydney Social Forum, 27-29 August, with a major public meeting planned at Circular Quay for 29 August. A number of campaign groups are organising to protest against the conference itself, with a demonstration on 30 August at 5 pm at the Opera House. The Forbes Australia push will not go unquestioned.

James Goodman co-convenes the Research Initiative in International Activism and teaches at UTS. <www.sydneysocialforum. org/ 30a Protest Site>
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Title Annotation:Against the Current
Author:Goodman, James
Publication:Arena Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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