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.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Suffering Election Dysfunction?

Into October now and Mr Howard STILL hasn't called a date. The old man really must be having nervous bowel movements. Our own PM Broon will call one first at this rate. But while the election campaign has not officially begun all the tricks are coming out.

The previously mentioned decision on African refugees has come under fire and is all over the papers. Curiously this announcement came out only a day after a searing indictment of the Workchoices scheme was published, showing the inherent unfairness of the system. Not only this but after the Government's Workplace Relations Mafioso, sorry, Minister, Joe Hockey waded in with his usual bully-boy tactics and attacked the report as biased, one of the academics involved threatened legal action against both him and the Treasurer. Very embarrassing, but what better way to distract attention than through some good ol' fashioned ethnic-bashing? It seems that just as you think the racism can't get any more blatant the Coalition keeps on pulling white-power rabbits out of the hat.

Meanwhile tax-payer funded propaganda is still clogging up our airwaves and letterboxes. A click here will show just how many adverts promoting Workchoices have been made so far. I particularly recommend the 'Two Blokes' adverts. If proof were needed for my previous observation that Howard has slowly drained all charisma and character from Australia here it is. These 'ordinary blokes' are ordinary in the most banal way possible. If they were any less animated they'd be on a life-support machine. So this state-sanctioned vision of the proletariat is what John Howard has in his head when he talks about "the Australian people". Ye gods, such a pair of dreary bastards have I never seen before. Here's an immigration policy: Recruit some foreigners with a little joie de vivre and kick these fuckers out. Put them on a Norwegian vessel, stick Andrews, Hockey and Howard with them and hopefully no-one will take them in, leaving them to bore each other to death in the Pacific.

Ah sweet justice, why are you restricted to mein head?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Chucking Spears

Although race hate is currently more fashionable in Australia than elsewhere, a trash mag advertisement reminded me this morning that some forms of vitriol are near universal. The magazine in question yelled out "Britney's Worst Week Yet!!" with a picture of Ms Spears looking rather worse for wear. Last week there was a similar headline, but that only had one exclamation mark. Presumably the lower she sinks the more punctuation is required to convey the glee. Since that poster was printed she has had her kids taken away from her so perhaps next week a triple exclamation will be called for. One wonders what will happen when the logical conclusion of the Britney Spears spectacle is reached and she is presented to the cameras in a cage; a drooling vegetable in a shit-stained nappy with her hands behind her back. How much punctuation will be needed for that one?

It is quite curious to see a mediocre human being catapulted into the stratosphere of the gods before being slowly dragged down to earth and toyed with, like a cat toys with a mouse. The rational responses are moral outrage or cold, detached observation. An irrational response is to weep into a webcam but this is not advised unless you want a tv show (oh how those Big Brother contestants must be seething, humiliating themselves for weeks in a cannibalistic rampage of torture, narcissism and loose sexuality, when all it took was a few minutes blubbering on YouTube). Perhaps to stick with detached observation is best. It is quite heartbreaking to see an innocent human being bludgeoned into spasticity, but what to do? A Roman at the Colosseum might express his moral objections, but who would hear him over the maniacal jeers and cheers? So it goes. Bread and circuses.

So we just accept it without judgement? Not quite. The people who hoover up the filth are also simultaneously feigning disapproval and blaming anyone they can for it. But who can we blame? The Media? This is the common target, but what does it even mean? "The media" is not a lone homogeneous voice. It contains all manner of opinions, including those attacking the behaviour of "the media". Even those specific magazines that egg on Britney's mental collapse will defend themselves, "if celebrities use the media then they get what they deserve" they say, "and besides if people didn't buy it we wouldn't print it." Indeed, so what of those who buy it? "I only buy it to look at the pictures" they carp, "and besides, I bought her album." Well, no arguing with that then. So the record company must be to blame. "No, of course not" they say "why would it be in our interests to destroy our talent?". Ah, then no-one is to blame. The crime is being committed but no-one is holding the weapon. We can all keep our consciences clean, and should she go out with a bang in a suicide we might even get to indulge in a spot of Diana-style Hallmark teddy-bear grief and point the finger of indignation at each other. On the other hand, should Britney simply fade away like Kafka's Hunger Artist, back to the blank avatar she began as, we need not reflect on it at all and comfortably move on to the next feast, collectively sucking Perez Hilton's cock along the way.

Oh modern life, how sweet thou art!

It's That Man Again...

Yes folks, saviour of the Australian nation Kevin Andrews is on the war path again. This time tackling the problems of the White Man's burden. The man is social architect of pure genius. "Angry locals murdering your immigrants? Simple; ban immigrants!"

Those darn Africans, refusing to fit in. After all, if I, speaking as a white fella, were to escape a war torn nation and was dropped suddenly into a small Australian town with next to no support my first instinct would be to crank up the barbie and flick on the cricket. These people just haven't been trying hard enough. Luckily the new citizenship test is on hand to help. Along with a helpful booklet it seeks to teach about Australia's culture and values. There aren't many questions on Aboriginal culture but hey, there are some on cricket. After all what sums up "Our Land, Our Values" better than an English game?

I'm sure that one of the new applicants featured in the press, a Liberian mother of three, fleeing the fall out of a vicious civil war, will find her knowledge of Don Bradman most useful, and would quite happily accept her application being refused should she neglect her study of decades old sporting events.

All of this has the feel of a joke I recently heard:

An Afghan and Indian, lifelong friends, are granted permanent residence in Australia. They set up a friendly bet as to who can become the most Australian in a year. The day arrives and the Indian is invited around to the Afghan's house. The Afghan shows him the Holden and the barbecue, and greets his friend with "g'day, mate". The Indian looks at him and says, "Why don't you fuck off where you came from, towel-head?"