In praise of Ethan McCord

* Update 9 May *
Note to self: don’t publish blog posts late at night while still processing confronting information just consumed in front of large screen. It may give incorrect impression on ticker, resolve etc, and things will be different in the morning. Same goes for sending emails to careless tradesmen, irresponsible colleagues etc. Yes, the feelings will be the same (you will not turn into an automaton) but your response may be more appropriately communicated. Carry on.
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I’m beginning to  think I don’t have the stomach, the ticker, the resolve to continue studying International Relations. I’ve just watched John Pilger’s documentary The War You Don’t See, and I wish I hadn’t seen part of it; the children, dead and dismembered, strewn across the rubble of destruction wreaked by distant, emotionally removed soldiers – the good guys of our Western narrative.

Remember the Wikileaks footage of the US Apache helicopter shooting at the group of civilians, including the Reuters cameraman (and, now I discover, two children)? This footage is discussed in the documentary, and this post is as a result of that footage.

In particular, I want to congratulate Ethan McCord.

He was one of the first US foot soldiers to arrive on the scene after the shooting, and I won’t go into detail here on what he saw, or what he did, other than he acted humanely – more humanely than his superiors wanted him to.

He has since left the army, and has spoken in various public arenas about the experience on the day of the shooting. Here he is addressing the United National Peace Conference in New York in July 2010.  The full 17-minute Wikileaks video of the Apache footage, shown to this crowd just before McCord made these remarks, can be found here – but a warning, it’s confronting, and you’ll have to sign in.

This link on The China Rose site has an interview which brings us more up to date with McCord’s activities. Here is the apology letter he refers to in this interview, which I think is magnificent.

So congratulations to Ethan McCord for not letting his military training get in the way of being a compassionate human being, first and foremost. I know the purists will argue, “he should have done his job, he could have let his team down, that’s what he signed up for, that’s what he’s paid for,” etc. But I don’t think too many purists are ever put in his position.

And this post – having taken an hour or so to write – has now re-inspired me, again, to keep watching and reading and learning about the geopolitical horrors occurring around the world. But what can I do with this knowledge?

Watching a doco like Pilger’s makes you feel so helpless, so completely impotent (such a good word to use in this world of men at war); that, as one person in li’l ol’ Western Australia, what difference can I make? And yet McCord is just one man; a man who, at one stage, was part of what Assange and others call the military-industrial complex and yet he has made a big difference in his individual way.

I’m just going to check the boys are asleep now.

In WWI, civilians accounted for 10% of deaths.
In WWII, civilian deaths had risen to 50% of all casualties.
During the Vietnam War, 70% of deaths were civilians.
Poor Iraq.  Nearly 90% of the deaths have been civilian men, woman and children – one million people. And that’s just Iraq.

The (milk) glass is still half empty

“We don’t want to do it because we’re the good guys in this, and we want farmers to like us, but we have to because – sorry, folks – that’s competition.”

From ABC news online:

Woolworths says its ongoing milk price war with rival supermarket Coles is unsustainable and will inevitably hurt Australian dairy farmers.

Executives from Woolworths and Coles have held talks with the National Farmers Federation about the potential impact of the price reductions on dairy farmers.

Coles recently slashed its milk prices to just $1 per litre and Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger says the supermarket has been forced to cut its prices to compete.

“That’s the nature of a competitive industry,” he said.

“But we are very forthright in saying that this is not a price war we would have started … and it’s a price war we do have some concerns about.

“We do prefer to work with farmers, rather than against them.”

Mr Berger says a good relationship with farmers is essential to delivering quality produce, and says Woolworths is siding with farmers on the issue.

“We told them that we share some of their concerns about this particular price war,” he said.

“Coming after the floods, which have devastated the dairy industry after a decade of drought, also gives them very real concerns about the future viability of the dairy industry.”

It’s all a bit hard to swallow, isn’t it.

Update: milk price flow-on effects

I am feeling flush full of people power today, as if I have been personally responsible for developments in the milk price war in Western Australia.

Last week I posted the contents of my email to Coles Customer Service which outlined my discomfort with the price war.  I was pleased to receive the following reply, which not only answered some questions but provided extra background:

Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email regarding the recent price reduction of our Coles brand Milk.

Coles have an ongoing commitment to provide our customers with a great range of quality food that costs less. The recent price reduction of our Coles brand 2 and 3 litre milk is just one of the many ways that we are delivering on this commitment.

We hear and understand concerns that price reductions may adversely affect Australian farmers, however, we believe that there is no foundation to these concerns. Coles buys its milk from major dairy processing companies, not directly from dairy farmers. Coles have made the decision to absorb the costs of this price reduction and has not sought any reduced prices from the processors we buy from. In turn, our processors should not need to seek price reductions from the dairy farmers.

Additionally, the farm gate price of milk is set by dairy farmer cooperatives and dairy processors, not retailers.  The farm gate price is largely influenced by the international price of milk products.   Australia exports about half of its annual milk production and is one of the biggest dairy exporters in the world.  To put this in perspective, Coles milk sales represent less than 5% of Australia’s annual dairy production.

Coles is committed to maintaining lower milk prices for our customers, however, if there are genuine cost pressures coming through the milk supply chain, Coles has and will, continue to review them with our dairy suppliers.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. We do hope the above information has helped alleviate your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Lucinda Moses
Coles Customer Care

It’s fair to say that this reply did, in fact, alleviate some of my concerns, and I thanked Lucinda in a return email.

Imagine my surprise this morning then when I heard on ABC news Coles to pay farmers affected by ‘milk wars’. In the story, Coles says it will pay a five cents a litre price increase to the WA milk processor Brownes Dairy to ensure farmers are not affected by recent cuts to its retail milk prices:

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper says the higher price will be fairer to Western Australian dairy farmers.

“The processors there didn’t get a substantial price rise in the last round of contact negotiations,” he said.

“We felt given some of the competition that’s been happening, that extra payment was only appropriate and bring them more into line with other states.”

“We believe that this price rise should be passed through to them and should further alleviate any concerns they might have,” he said.

The Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative chairman Ian Zandstra says Coles appears to be acknowledging the error of its ways.

“We hope this is the first step in them admitting they’ve got it wrong,” he said.

“Clearly they want to get some farmers support after the somewhat arrogant statements that surrounded their announcement of their retailer behaviour.

“Equally it’s telling us that they acknowledge they they do influence regional milk prices and the prices paid by processors for the supplies on the domestic shelf.”

It’s times like these that I feel for the Customer Service and Communications Managers whose job it is to turn last week’s message on its head and rewrite the new strategy into something that consumers will buy – literally and figuratively. And yes, that’s their job, but I’m probably more sympathetic than most because I’ve had to do it myself.

But the end result? Cheaper milk for consumers, more income for primary producers, and a clawing back of reputational damage for Coles’ owner, the still-newish-retail-kid-on-the-block: Wesfarmers.

Now I’m off to have a celebratory, extra milky, latte.

[Thank you Little Thoughts for the image.]

Retailers milking the profits

I sent a letter to Coles today. I’ve never done it before, but something is making me very angry about milk.  I had to use a sterile online feedback form, as I don’t happen to have Archie Norman’s direct email (though I tried looking for something remotely corporately close), and this is what I wrote:

My feedback is directed to Mr Archie Norman, or, if this is not possible through this channel, to the Manager of the Rockingham store who could forward on my feedback.

I am very concerned about the milk price war, and I am not happy that Coles jeopardises the livelihoods of primary producers for a short-term advantage – especially in the lower socio-economic areas like Rockingham where lower prices are more of a ‘sure thing’.

This is not the likes of mega-manufacturers such as Uncle Toby’s or Goodman Fielder who are being affected, but family suppliers.

The issue has already gained widespread media coverage, and my gauging of public opinion is that most people are siding with the dairy farmers.

When the dairy farmers go bust – what then happens to the price of milk?? It will be more expensive than it already was due to the lack of supply.

As a former proud Wesfarmers employee, and current shareholder, I have to tell you that I just couldn’t buy the cheap milk when in the store yesterday.

I will continue to pay a higher price for locally-produced milk rather than be part of this short-sighted retail strategy.


Safety Bay

It’s an interesting feeling when you hit the ‘send’ button after writing something like that.

Part of me feels like a purse-lipped ol’ battler, having a whinge about “it’s just not right, you’d never have that in my day” etc, and another part of me is thinking that there’s an awful lot I don’t know about the retail industry, and especially the machinations of this particular episode. I don’t know what deals are being done, and who might or might not be benefiting.

But after my supermarket visit yesterday, it seems I’m not the only one thinking about this.  ABC news has posted this story which explains it better.

What worries me more is just how symptomatic this is of the gulf between primary producers and consumers – and how the flashing dollar signs can confuse us, depending on how we are living our lives.

[Thanks to for the image.]

Are you buying the cheaper milk?

What’s in a name? Not this little black duck …

I was looking at ABC correspondent Sally Sara’s blog tonight, which has a link to the Thomson Reuters AlertNet interactive map (through Bing/Microsoft/NASA and others) and thought I’d compare the satellite images with Google Earth.

Imagine my surprise when I headed towards home in Perth, and found a hitherto unknown region of WA!  I know that the State’s resources boom is helping boost the federal treasurer’s coffers, but isn’t this taking strategic geography just a little too far:

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