Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Out With The Old...

So Kevin won. Sworn in yesterday and already ratified Kyoto. He may be 'the Blair of Australia' but he was by far lesser of two evils in this election. So much has been written in the weeks since his win that I don't really have much to add (or the time to add it currently), but I think the following image and link sum up beautifully how horribly conservative Howard was, how he dragged Australia backwards, and how things might change now he is swept away. Ah, the politics of aesthetics (you may notice that this blog's font has changed under the New Regime).

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Resistance is Futon

On a rather glum note, the graffitied chimney and urban resistance that impressed me on arrival are both virtually defunct. The chimney is in the process of demolition as I write, while the planned mall at St Kilda has got the go ahead. Of course the Save St Kilda campaign was always Nimbyism rather than an outlet of anarcho-syndicalist collective action, but it was the lesser evil against a behemoth of anonymous purchase power. Doesn't this country have enough fucking malls as it is? The forces of banalification win again.

I visited one of the places myself recently (all in the name of sociological research you understand) to go to Ikea. My God, how can one place inspire such contrary emotions? On one level, I love it. Everywhere you look there is elegant yet functional design, and all at low, low prices. Surely this is the realisation of the modernist dream? Well, you can almost convince yourself "yes", when you notice that everything in the store (bar the gourmet food items) is stamped with 'Made in China'. The products are so cheap not because we live in a socialist paradise but because some other poor bastard lives in a communist hell. They are produced not by smiling workers who get a fair share of their output, but by depressed non-unionised near-slaves, who work 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week in the grim factories of a pseudo-Maoist regime keen to swallow the phallus of neo-liberalism. What awfulness. And all around are pictures (not unlike Maoist icons) of the smarmy Scandinavian designers who have drawn up these sleek commodities. Their smiles beam out, as well they might, having been educated in the inclusive and affluent 'Social Model' before foisting the hard labour onto some faceless yellow-skinned drones. It was almost unbearable, but I soothed my soul by buying an excellent chopping board, in which the knife is hidden within the board itself! In an age when Slavoj Žižek writes copy for Abercrombie & Fitch what else would one do?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

In Loompa Land

Still two weeks to go and even a political junkie like myself is bored with this campaign. Thanks to a six month trickle of government propaganda everyone is worn out. I cannot even muster outrage at the Coalition's cheap anti-union campaign.

Last night I watched 'The Last Mitterrand' and I was struck by the President's declaration that "I am the last of the great Presidents, after me there will be only accountants and money men". Whether or not one regards Mitterrand as a great man the latter part of his statement is painfully true. In the post-Thatcher/Reagan West there is no room for great men, for grand dreams or proud goals, there is only finance. A dour Scottish bank manager rules Britain, making a mockery of the fact that he is a "Labour" PM. The greasy weasel Sarkozy is busy dismantling the Gaullist state, while in Australia the choice is between two dull-as-dishwater accountants. Howard's ideology amounts to little more than "keeping interest rates low" while Rudd champions his "economic conservatism", believing it to be the key to victory. And most likely he is right. There are no Gough Whitlams anymore.

The Melbourne Racing Festival began this weekend and showed the new breed of Homo Economicus in all its glory. Women in big hats have always dominated the landscape at these types of events, but the specimens on show here are particularly hilarious. Saggy, orange cleavage hangs out everywhere and Kath and Kim-esque screeching voices ring through the city as sozzled slags roam around following a day of drinking and imagined sophistication. They stagger on broken high heels, envisaging themselves as Princess Grace, wowing the crowds with their elegance whilst looking for the next glass of cheap 'champagne'. They're a walking billboard for the New Vulgarity. I thought that seeing a man with dribble on his cheek and a silk tie around his head Rambo-style was the lowpoint but I was wrong, the best was saved for a tv advert:

"Melbourne Cup Day:

Outrageous Behaviour: Safe Bet

(image of man in suit urinating in a bush despite men's toilets being in view)

Pashing a Stranger: Outside Chance

(image of man in suit dry humping woman with high-heeled bare legs splayed)

Enjoying an Unbeatable Taste: Dead Cert

(image of Nando's family pack)

Nando's: Pre-order your Racing Day meal now!"

It would be easy but unfair to blame this entirely on the Nouveau Riche, after all it's not just the monied-up plebs who have succumbed, as a glance at the Gen Y royals and the awful clubs they frequent will attest. We live in a brave new world where bling is king; the true legacy of the 1980s.

There was some controversy a few years back about whether or not Mrs Thatcher would get a state funeral. But wouldn't this would be an insult to everything she stood for? She is no Mitterrand. Surely the best tribute would be to let her body decompose and then sell the corporal mulch for fertiliser at a tidy profit. Perhaps they could even use that orange hair as dye for a fake-tan, rubbing her into the wrinkling tits of the rich. Thank you Maggie and goodbye.

What finer salute could we give?

Monday, 15 October 2007

...And They're Off!

So two days in and Johnny Howard, the people's friend has unveiled his latest bribe package. He's offering his 'battlers' (so much more noble a word than 'strugglers' or 'plebeians') a $34 billion tax package. Or is he?

Under the new package the average wage earner ($45,000-55,000) will see a $20 a week tax rise. While those earning slightly more or slightly less than average will see an $11 a week rise. Now let's be honest, it's a pittance, piss all. That is not to underestimate the extra money, which is always handy, but if Howard cares that much about the 'battlers' then why does a part-time worker on $20,000 see a 9 per cent rise in income, while someone earning $200,000, ten times as much, sees theirs rise by 15.5 per cent? It's a tax break for the rich conveniently dressed up with some crumbs from the table. Howard is tossing pennies down and crying "dance to my tune and drink my piss you worthless wretches!"

This is an empty and expensive promise. It is another waste of the much boasted about budget surplus. Mr Howard and Mr Costello love to bring up the budget surplus as evidence of their fiscal credentials. They rarely like to discuss how they have achieved this though, which is:

- Drastically cutting health and education spending, resulting in chronic skills shortage due to drag down the economy in a generation.
- Creating a mountain of foreign debt approaching unmanageable proportions (this isn't factored into the surplus calculation which merely measures tax revenue versus government spending)
-Being the highest taxing government in Australian history, despite claiming to be conservatives.

And yet they still boast of the surplus as if it were a good thing in and of itself. They might like to listen to John Maynard Keynes, however unfashionable he may currently be, who said "The whole objective of having a low rate of interest is in order to do things. But if you begin to think it is wise to stop doing things in order to lower the rate of interest, you are standing upside down." The same may be said of the surplus. It is useful to have a surplus to invest in the nation and its economy. To cut investment to gain a surplus is muddled and useless. Yet that is exactly what has happened. All sense has been sacrificed to the great god Surplus.

Now we are seeing some of that money being used, but to what end? They have used the revenue from record high taxes to offer paltry tax cuts, a tiny and incredibly short-term bonus that costs billions. Unlike infrastructure investment, tax cuts do not reap anything. Rather than invest in reducing foreign debt or encouraging skills or better health care they are investing in nothing at all. Like Homer Simpson putting his money in pumpkins and waiting for the prices to keep rising after Halloween they are foolishly squandering the nation's wealth on transitory economic soap wanks. It will do little to help the economy, in fact pumping cash into an already overheated economy will cause inflation and send those precious interest rates up, hurting the very people this break purports to help. Says who? The governor of the Australian Reserve Bank, they who actually control rates. Not usually known for his socialist leanings, he pleaded with Howard to limit any tax cut in order to avoid a rates rise, but he has only partially succeeded. Rates look certain to rise anyway, and this will only make things worse.

Will people see through this initiative? Well, the polls have shifted towards Howard after the announcement, showing that they will most likely not. If you ask a small child whether they would rather have a block of chocolate now or a whole bar in an hour, their lack of understanding and foresight means that they will choose a block now. We may well be living in a world of small children.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Ready For Kick Off

Well, having been silent when Sudanese men are attacked, and refusing to apologise for the inflammatory nature of his comments, or even say anything even vaguely indicating that he isn't stereotyping African migrants, Kevin Andrews has waded in to condemn an attack by two Sudanese men on a police officer as Un-Australian.

So, when two Sudanese men drunkenly punch a policeman, giving him minor bruises, that is Un-Australian. When two white men beat an African to death? Silence. The message is clear: It is only violence by migrants rather against them that is of concern.

The media will smell the blood and lap this up and then everything will be set for a full-scale race riot. It is difficult to believe that the government doesn't know this, and also hard to believe that they aren't hoping for it. Australian politics has sunk to a new low.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Imprudent Jurisprudence

So Gordon bottled it at home, "if only I could wait until 2010!" thinks John Howard. Another week, another refusal to name an election date. And as Johnny is planning to go to Tonga next week it seems unlikely we'll get one then either. The penicious rodent is even more fearful and piss-weak than I had thought. His nervous little arsehole must be pumping like Tim Henman's fist. How long is he going to push this waiting period? How long will government-funded propaganda clog our screens in a desperate grab for votes before the official electioneering begins? Well it now seems that Howard will wait as long as he credibly can (which is not much longer) in the hope that Kevin Rudd will provide the mistake that allows the government and the shrill hyenas of right-wing TV news to pull him to shreds. And it seems as though this morning he may have found something to get his teeth into.

With the Bali bombers seemingly about to face execution Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McLelland last night reaffirmed the Party's (and also officially the Nation's) opposition to capital punishment in all cases. He also accused John Howard of being a hypocrite for ostensibly promoting Australia's stance against capital punishment whilst personally endorsing it in certain cases. Fair point, after all this is not the kind of issue that can have a selective application. If a government is against the death penalty, then it is against it. If it is in favour of the death penalty 'in certain cases' then it is in favour of it. It is a black and white issue. Not so for John Howard though, who seized the chance to smash down McLelland's logical argument with a populist sledgehammer.

Speaking today Howard described McLelland's opinion as "extraordinary" before adding (and bear in mind that the Australian Government, his Government, has consistently and officially stated its opposition to capital punishment)

"The idea that we would plead for the deferral of executions of people who murdered 88 Australians is distasteful to the entire community. I find it impossible myself, as an Australian, as Prime Minister, as an individual, to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women."

And there we have it, a masterful example of Mr Howard's sophistry, his spineless opportunism and shameless abuse of power. It's all there, the Nationalism, the populism, the cheap sentimentality all tied up in a neat little soundbite. Labor, with its cold rationality doesn't understand the man on the street, not like dependable old Johnny, who says what we're all thinking. This goes to the core of Howard's "leadership" style. Rather than have the guts to act like a true statesman and defend a momentarily unpopular, but nevertheless essential Australian principle of justice, he takes the tone of a deranged radio talk show caller and scores cheap political points. Howard's opinion that he cannot oppose the execution of those who "murdered his fellow countrymen" as he so emotively puts it, has difficult implications. What if an Australian citizen were to murder 88 Australians in Bali, or say 8000. Would he support their execution? And say they did it not in Bali but Brisbane, would his government have them executed? And if not how can he then justify a selective application of the anti-death penalty policy?

These are the types of questions that those who make and implement laws are forced to ask and angry talk show callers are not. That is why Judges with extensive legal training are responsible for sentencing and not electricians with ideas on "what this country needs". They are also the types of questions one would expect a Prime Minister with a law degree to consider before attacking a rational argument as 'insensitive'. But alas no.

Of course McLelland's opinions might appear insensitive, because the law can appear insensitive. By its very nature it stays cold and unmoved, refusing to bend to the whims of pubic emotion. Its objectivity (to give 'insensitivity' another name) is its core feature, it is what prevents the administration of justice descending into mob rule. The families of the victims are furious with McLelland, and it's not hard to imagine why. However, this doesn't justify taking the voices of the grieving as the most valid in questions of legality, simply because they have suffered. If a child was killed in a drink driving incident and the father demanded a horse whipping for the driver would we yield to it on account of the strength of his grief? The opinions of the victims and their families are skewed and we mustn't mix sympathy with righteousness. One angry parent, who previously was against the death penalty went so far as to admit that "In these circumstances, I agree with it. Realistically, for me, it is just vengeance and vengeance isn't good, but I can't help that, I can't help that." We should be able to understand this without endorsing it.

The pain of the families must be unbearable, but a good leader has to occasionally take unpopular stances in order to defend high principle. Howard chooses not to defend such principles (on which his precious "Australian values" are built) and instead takes the easy vote-winning option and to hell with consequences. He has neither the balls to defend his own policy, nor to suggest changing it. He simply trots out puerile have-your-cake-and-eat-it aphorisms to grab headlines and attacks those who are willing to defend legal procedure and the objective application of justice as elitist and insensitive. It is rule by the heart and not the head, the very thing legal thinkers from Plato onwards have identified as bad which a good legal system is supposed to defend against.

The saddest thing is that the alternative Prime Minister Rudd has joined in too, forcing McLelland to retract his perfectly sensible statement and issuing one of his own assuring voters that Labor's policy is "exactly the same as the Liberals'" i.e. the same as McLelland's speech only Rudd and Howard aren't brave enough to say so. Just to show that it's not only Howard who can do tough-talking meaningless rhetoric Rudd also said that terrorists should "rot in jail". What does that even mean? Is he advocating starving them and sitting them in their own filth and disease on the verge of malnutrition? I doubt even Kevin knows what it means, it is a piece of populist tabloidesque gibberish of the type his opponent has perfected and which he is fast becoming fluent in.

I doubt this minor scandal will be a mortal blow for Rudd's electoral chances, but it might have just killed off the chance of having a Prime Minister of principle in Australia for at least a generation.

Heart of Darkness

The fallout from the immigration ban has been long and loud. One voice of support coming from the ever reliable Pauline Hanson. The written press has however been commendably responsible on the issue, with even the tabloids coming out broadly against the decision and defending the Sudanese community against racist slanders. It's difficult to imagine the same kind of behaviour at home from shitrags like the Daily Express and the Mail. Only the other day I caught sight of a copy of the Daily Express with its pompous imperialist St George logo and humble slogan "The World's Greatest Newspaper", it's headlines declaring "It's Official: Police Can't Cope With Massive Rise In Immigrant Crime!" (below this was the usual 'Diana Woz Done In' headline) The phrase 'it's official!' is often used by Fleet Street vermin, yet the stories rarely seem to correspond to any type of officialdom. Usually it's a populist poll from the paper itself in which 98% of readers have agreed that "asylum seekers are all AIDS-ridden, criminal lunatics intent on rape and pillage on a scale unseen since the Vikings". Given the relative backwardness of Australia's media and politics on race issues it has been refreshing to see the newspapers report responsibly and refrain from headlines such as this gem in 2005:

Not only was it disgustingly xenophobic and outrageously emotive, it was completely inaccurate. It would be quite funny if it didn't sell so well. Being confronted with the Express again on foreign soil was a horrible experience and made me ashamed to be British. So congratulations Australia on your more responsible tabloid press. Unfortunately the same can't be said of the commercial television networks. Channel Seven, Nine and Ten, the big three all reported the story alongside "African gang" stories, thus rather unsubtly justifying the government policy. Channel Seven opened with:

"Sudanese gangs caught on camera as the government shuts the door on African immigrants…"

While Nine went for:

"New footage has emerged showing Sudanese gangs terrorising shopkeepers in Noble Park. Business owners are demanding more protection from local authorities while the Federal Government has announced it’s shutting the door to African refugees."

Channel Seven too had footage, asking us to "put racism claims aside for a minute" while we watched. So what was this sinister footage? Well it was indeed footage of violent young men but despite the Seven assurance that it was footage of "Sudanese gangs taking over a shop and stealing alcohol", a closer inspection showed only one man present was Sudanese and he wasn't shown doing anything violent. There was footage of him stealing a single can of beer but this transpired to have been taken on a different day. Meanwhile a shopkeeper complaining of having a bottle thrown at his head on Channel Ten was taken out of context to imply the thrower was Sudanese, when in fact it was a white woman. But wait there was some sinister news of the Sudanese man in the footage:

"One of those featured in the video is 19 year old Liep Gony who died after being savagely bashed by rival gang members last week"

Actually he was bashed to death by two white men in a racist attack. Nevermind that though, who ever let facts get in the way of some audience-grabbing rabble-rousing? Certainly not Channel Ten when they said:

"Ten news believes a man recently entered the Springvale police station vowing the rape and kill a female officer… the Federal Government shutting the door on African refugees until July next year because of concerns about their ability to integrate."

Well, that was news to the police who confirmed that the report was "completely without substance". They also confirmed that the Sudanese arrest rate was no higher than for the general community, but the seeds of fear over 'ethnic gang violence' have taken root thanks to dark rumours, misquotes and downright lies, all spurred on by government and media. News has just come through (via the newspapers of course) of another violent attack on a Sudanese man by white youths. You can bet that the government and commercial networks will be silent on this one. They don't want us to see the blood on their hands.