The rebound


I’ve been setting myself to write a post looking ahead to when we get out of lockdown, and everything returns to relative normality, though the normal will be different from what we knew before. I wanted to anticipate what the opportunities might be, tempered by what I thought the Australian government might do. In truth, I wasn’t looking forward to writing it. I feel I must because it’s so much a part of me, but I felt fearful that the opportunities might be squandered by the usual dumb fuckery we saw before. If I didn’t write it I didn’t have to face it – but you can’t live like that.

I’m glad I delayed writing because late yesterday a huge, somewhat unbelievable, government update reached the news services.

Way back in March the government committed $130B to help us through the pandemic in the form of support and subsidies, mostly in the form of Jobkeeper. Lo and hold, the government let it slip yesterday that thanks to some sort of accounting error the amount required was only $70B – a full $60B had been removed from the books.

How this actually eventuated is a bit of a mystery. The government claims the forecasting was off, blaming in large part how forms were filled out. It doesn’t add up, in terms of the sheer amount of dollars, or in common sense. The story is unlikely and, even if true, would account for only a fraction of the absent dollars. In any case, they should have had a much better of what was needed long before now. As the opposition has pointed out, this is something that could have been seen from space.

Not surprisingly, the Treasurer has framed this as good news – a windfall, as such. Normally you’d say a saving of $60B was great news, the problem, in this case, is that money needs to be circulating in the economy to stimulate activity in depressed times like these. You can’t just stick in the bank and thank your lucky stars because we’ll be worse off.

Now, if they play it right, it can be a good news story. The obvious thing to do now is to right the wrongs of the original policy and extend job keeper to casual workers, students and universities, foreign nationals. They were excluded for all sorts of reasons that were ridiculous as well as unfair. Now we have the dollars, let’s plug that hole.

There’s a reasonable clamour to do that, but I’m sceptical the government will respond. It has a tendency to dig its heels in once it’s made a decision, especially when they’ve done it on ideological grounds, such as on this occasion. What so many commentators fail to grasp is that for the most part, this government – and Morrison especially – make decisions based on politics, not the common good.

The exception to that has been the response to the pandemic, and many have chosen to believe that might be the new model going forward. I’d like to believe that too. The problem is that it was the state premiers that forced the federal government’s hand, and a huge dose of pragmatism when they realised that ideology wasn’t going to win the day (we can be thankful for that – Trump’s America is the other side of that). Credit where it’s due, Morrison made sacrifices, and though the package was deeply flawed, it was much better than doing nothing, and we’re better off for it.

None of this convinces me that they’ve changed their spots. There’s plenty of evidence already that they intend to return to the neo-liberal agenda of before, even though it’s discredited rubbish. (I should write on that one day – the torrid, nonsensical economic doctrines of Friedman and Hayek that have ruled the world for too long). There’s talk, as always, of reducing taxes – that is, company tax and to the top tax brackets, and not to those where it might make some economic good, the people who’ll spend it. There’s talk, as always, of labour reform – basically making it easier for companies to hire and fire and negotiate. That’s very IPA, though of course, the business council go on about this like a broken record, regardless of economic circumstances.

These are mindless, ideological driven notions. Add to that the latest climate policy, which is all about half-arsed, recycled solutions and promoting gas, rather than addressing the issue at its root. And this is after a summer of bushfires and a plethora of really attractive renewable energy options. Play this right, and Australia might boom, as well as clean-up – but that won’t happen under a Liberal government.

Why is that? For the reasons, I said before – because most of their decisions are made on political grounds. So what makes this political? Well, the sad reality is that the hardcore of their political support and donations come from fossil fuel companies. That’s their base. You could almost say that’s their constituency. The government doesn’t govern for you or me, it governs from them because through them they have power. In that, they’re cheered on by News Limited and Murdoch, who has everyone running scared.

I’ve banged on about this for years – political donations are a blight on our democracy. They corrupt it literally, and visibly so. They’ve created a culture where glad-handing and corruption has become almost second nature. Unfortunately, what government is going to ban the hand that feeds it? What government is going to introduce the means to police and prosecute their own corruption? Self-interest rules, and maybe I sound like a cynic, but I think more accurately I’m a realist – and it kills me.

There is a hard rump of rabidly conservative ideologues in the party, most of whom belong to the IPA. The IPA is a toxic force in Australian politics. The pity of it is that they haven’t got an original idea between them. They swallowed whole the Friedman/Hayek doctrine and extended it to social economics as well. They’re a bunch of unimaginative drones who get wound up every day to spout the officially decreed propaganda. They prance around full of self-righteous confidence in their suits and none of them with the wit to consider anything else. They were lost when the pandemic hit because none of it was in their books. Here’s a bunch of paint by numbers goons incapable of colouring in outside the lines.

I despise them, as you’ve probably figured, but I’m not alone in that. They get a platform they don’t deserve and contribute nothing of value.

So, I’m pessimistic, and that feeling is accentuated knowing that we have the rare opportunity to re-make things. The public is on board with that, too. We want things to be different.

That’s my small hope, that society will have moved beyond the old ways and won’t accept them anymore. I think the old, prevailing economic doctrines have been exposed as being false, and I hope the pendulum begins to swing back towards the much more sensible, and user-friendly Keynesian doctrines. People are fed-up with climate policy that doesn’t suit them, and hardline economic policies that exclude the less fortunate. We’re living through a time of inclusion. The barriers that held us apart before have been dismantled because now we all live the same – privilege and entitlement have gone out the window. We’ve become closer to each other, and to ourselves. We’ve recognised the value of things.

I reckon there will come a change, I’m just not sure it’ll come as soon as we want it. This is the opportunity for the Labor party to seize upon had they the gumption – I doubt it. Already we, the people, are talking about different ways of living on the back of this. These are the possibilities, to remake the work/life balance, to provide better for those who need it, to set in place human-centred policies around climate and tax, to open our minds to opportunities we would never have considered before – such as a living wage.

I’m pessimistic about this government. I don’t think they have it in them to change, nor the talent to do it. I’m not over-impressed by Labor either, but they’ve got more ideas, at least. Regardless, I think the tide is turning back because of the experience forced upon us. I think we will reject what doesn’t fir anymore, and that will change the scale of our political landscape. What we need now is a visionary to lead us there – but visionaries are hard to find.

Mob rules


Very recently there was controversy when the NYT’s Alison Roman – an eminent cooking journalist – in an interview decried the efforts of Chrissy Teigen in the same area, and accused Marie Kondo of hypocrisy for selling products while espousing minimalism. They were cack-handed and graceless comments. They were particularly unfair on Teigen, because they were unreasonable, and because Teigen – an open and generous soul – had been supportive of her.

It’s the nature of things that this very quickly became an online spat. Teigen expressed disappointment and surprise but was forgiving. I don’t know of any response from Kondo. Of course, there was no shortage of people outraged on behalf of others and willing to take up verbal arms in defence – and offence – of others. Very quickly it became a one-sided pile-on, again, very typical of the online world today.

I read from afar, mildly curious and generally sympathetic to the offended parties, Teigen and Kondo. Roman’s comments were harsh and unfair. But then I felt a twinge of pity for Roman as the collective moral outrage of Twitter descended upon her. That was that, one of those controversies that pass until the next scandal happens along. But then, today, I read that the NYT had given Roman a leave of absence from her weekly columns.

The general consensus was that she had been basically sacked because of her outspoken comments. From reading the NYT’s comments on this, I might easily understand it as them giving her a break. But, anyway.

This is a very typical confrontation between free speech on the one hand and woke politics on the other. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, that so many supported this ‘sacking’. Some were claiming that Roman was guilty of racism and had to go.

I’m firmly on the side of Teigen and Kondo here, but at the same time, I’d be horrified to think that Roman might have lost her job over some silly comments. I’m strong on the free speech side of this equation, because, you know, democracy, and I think it’s very a dangerous path we take when we seek to hush the voices we disagree with. And it’s bloody unfair when organisations are bullied into complying with public opinion.

Had Roman vilified either Kondo or Teigen on racial grounds, or abused them outrageously, then, of course, I think her employment would be at risk, much as mine would be if I did the same. Like it or not, we represent who we work for, and bigotry of any form is not to be condoned.

I don’t think that’s the case here. Seems to me Roman was disparaging Teigen much as a professional might an amateur. A little bitter and unseemly, but human. As for Kondo, I read that as a throwaway comment, probably hinting that she was looking to commercialise on a philosophy in contradiction to its principles.

It’s worth noting that Teigen has come out and expressed her dismay at Roman losing her job – and that Roman had made an apology of sorts earlier.

I get a sick feeling sometimes witnessing the pile-on that occurs online. I agree with the sentiment sometimes, but the outrage is disproportionate and the demands extreme. I like to think I’m a reasonable guy. I’m liberal by nature. I’m forgiving too, knowing that every one of us has flaws and all of us deserve a chance to make things right.

It seems to me that many crave the opportunity to criticise and abuse (which is often ironic). There’s a self-righteous purity that verges on certainty. It’s a sign of the times when society is effectively polarised and the extremes subject to rage and the unreason of the mob.

 

A different Oz


I was in my weekly zoom party last night, and the conversation turned to what happens when we come out of lockdown, months from now. That’s a common question, and the answer will be different depending on where you are.

I hesitate to claim that C-19 is now under control in Oz, but infections are in marked decline, and deaths slowed. By comparison to many parts of the world, we’ve got it good. I’d put that down to three reasons – closing our borders early to affected countries, though this was inconsistent. The size of the country and the relatively low population density. And, finally, the decision to isolate, which came later than it should, and only when pressured by the states, but which happened before the virus had the opportunity to reach critical mass.

In stark terms, we can consider ourselves lucky when we look at the diabolical situation in the States, and the only slightly less horrible situation in parts of Europe, particularly the UK now. They’re yet to reach their peak, and there are claims the already swelling death toll has been underreported drastically. One consequence of this, I would expect to see is social fracturing. When the glue that binds us together is weakened then, anarchy begins to prevail.

There is no threat of that here, but there’s no doubt there’s a mountain ahead of us even after we conquer the virus.

There’s been a lot of talk about the mounting deficit. I understand but think it’s beside the point. There was no other option to spend the money (and would do well to spend a little more to plug the gaps). When there’s no other choice, it’s not worth the argument. And though it’s a huge amount of money Australia, unlike most of the world (perhaps only Germany as well placed), was in a good position to absorb it. It’s not pretty, but we’ll manage it.

This is where talk comes to what happens afterwards, and here the conversation separates into the economic and social possibilities.

Morrison speaks of a snap-back to where we were before when all this ends as if we could just wind back the clock and adjust to the settings we had in place before. Not only is this practically impossible, but it’s also hardly desirable, and I think many people are now realising this.

One of the unfortunate ironies of the present situation relates to the federal election last year when a key Labor party policy was to end franking credits and put the savings into health and education. This got a rough ride in the parochial press and had the government, predictably, accusing them of being socialist. Fast forward not even 12 months, and we’d have been a lot better off with that money in the health system, and the government itself has reverted to socialist policies to insulate the economy.

I think it’s fairly obvious that come the end of this that hand-outs of this type must be closed off and the money returned to the public purse. At times like this, I think back to the perfectly reasonable mining-supertax Labor tried to get up only for it to be demonised by News Limited and attacked politically by Abbott and co. If only…and we’d be a much richer nation now.

In any case, I think there’s been a social re-balancing throughout this. We’ve learned to value things again. A refreshed spirit of egalitarianism means we’re now applauding the people forgotten before – nurses and doctors, checkout chicks and postal workers, and so on – the people keeping us going through this. I don’t know if hand-outs to the haves – which we’ve sleepily let go by – will be tolerated now.

This is the predicament the government faces. It has adopted policies antithetical to their innate beliefs. That must be a bitter pill to swallow, but kudos to them for accepting it. The bigger challenge will come when they seek to reverse these policies and revert to type. It won’t be easy, I don’t think it would be productive, and I don’t think the people will buy it now.

There are different takes on this. I’m a little more pessimistic than some. Cheeseboy expressed it last night when he said the experience has exposed consumerism and rampant consumption as ultimately hollow. What point a fridge that connects to wi-fi, but to possess it? As I postulated a few weeks back, as he said last night, we were swept up in the ritual of lifestyle and entitlement. Having much of that denied to us has forced us to confront the basics of our life. We’re learning patience because we must, and to be present in the moment, and gratitude for what we have. I’d like to think something authentic is emerging out of this – but at the very least I think we’ve come to reassess what real values are.

Cheeseboy believes that the government must acknowledge this and that things will be different. I half agree: things will be different. I’m sceptical of the government, though. I’m sure the RWNJ’s – quiet throughout this crisis (it’s not prudent to pipe up with their toxic views) – will emerge and seek to hijack the Liberal party, as they have for years. I doubt there is any evidence or undisputed facts that could sway them from hard-wired belief. They don’t engage in argument or debate. They’re fanatics who brook no other perspective. Come the end of this they’ll certainly want to return to the time before – back to denying climate change and sticking up for their pals in the mining industry; back to neo-liberal economic theories that dismiss human dignity and value; back to denying compassion and cutting services; back to a view of the world, and history, that elevates the haves and dismisses the rest.

I’ll be interested to see how Morrison responds to this. I don’t know that he has the spine to resist, even if he wanted to – but maybe he’s had his road to Damascus moment. I think there’ll be members of the party emboldened by the change in atmosphere who’ll seek reform – but can they prevail? In all of this, I expect the Australian public to have firm views on what they will and won’t accept.

What we don’t want is to revert to a parliament of narrow point scoring, where politics trumps truth. I think as before, as a people, we were sick of it, but to such a degree that we disengaged from it. I don’t think we’ll take it again, but now perhaps we’ve been roused to action.

Maybe I am an optimist, after all.

There are a lot of answers to be found, and when we get through this and in what state, no-one can say. This talk is likely premature and many more twists and turns to come. And what’s true today may not be tomorrow. All of that, but one day it will end, and no matter what we wish for, the world will be different. We can make it a good difference. This is a chance to reset, as individuals, and as a nation.

Another scorching day


When I was a kid, I used to love the hot weather. The hotter, the better. You’re pretty carefree as a kid, and I took the baking summer days as an excuse to hop in the pool and splash around. In a funny way, I was pretty patriotic about it, too. I loved it that we had it hotter than most places on earth, and believed it made us more rugged and hardy as a people. When you’re that age, you have a pretty immature grasp of the world, and it comes to you simply – which is much of the charm of being a kid. I guess they call that innocence.

When I cast my mind back, I can recall many a hot day, the sky a pure blue and the sun blazing down. Every year for ages we’d go down the peninsula for our summer holidays straight after Christmas. For the most part, we stayed in Blairgowrie, which remains a great spot today. Hot days then were an excuse to go to the beach, and mostly the surf beach at Gunnamatta. I was a good swimmer and would go out beyond the breakers and look back towards the beach as the swell would gently lift me before crashing down upon it. I’d swim in then, body-surfing the last bit of it, and it was a thrill.

Back home we’d play street cricket or go on long bike rides, or else hop in the pool. We had the only pool in the street, and the neighbour’s kids would often join us for hours of shenanigans. It was an above ground pool, four feet deep, and I can remember dad putting it up bare-chested in the summer heat. In my small way, I helped – wielding a shovel as dad excavated the ground before levelling out the surface, and then holding things in place as dad put the pool up.

My last memory of those hot days are the meals mum would prepare. Often it was salmon patties with salad. I hated salmon patties. More often, it was a straight, seventies style, salad. There’d be a hard-boiled egg, grated carrot and (Kraft) cheddar cheese, a slice or two of tinned beetroot, maybe some potato salad, a selection of cold cuts, and the tomato, white onion, cucumber combo steeped in vinegar. How many people remember that?

It’s many years on now, and my perspective on hot days has switched around completely. I dread them.

We’re looking at another 43-degree day today, which is a total waste of time. Unless you’ve got a pool or are at the beach, there’s nothing to do, and it’s probably even too hot for that. Instead, you’re confined indoors, the air-con going steadily and the blinds and curtains drawn shut to keep the heat out. It’s gloomy and artificial.

I’ve been out, and for the rest of the day, I expect to take it very easy. I reckon I’ll end up pretty bored, but I’ll probably do a bit of reading and, if I can rouse myself, maybe some writing.

Quite aside from being unpleasantly hot, in recent years the heat has brought with it angst and existential pangs. The simple days of my summer youth now seem very innocent. Times have changed.

On days like today, when it is windy as well as hot, I fear what else it may bring. The bushfires are ongoing in NSW, another has sprung up in WA, there’s the risk of the SA fires re-igniting, and here, in Victoria, an area the size of a small US state has received evacuation orders because of fire. I fear for and pity the fire services once more called out to deal with these catastrophes, and I hardly bear to think of all the wildlife that will perish.

There’s no such thing as just another hot Summer’s day, anymore. Each day is loaded with portent. Summer has become an existential test. Where this is all heading I don’t know, but I’m not optimistic, and often I find myself wondering “what have we done?”.

And with that comes blazing anger, pointless and impotent. The leaders we elected to act on our behalf have betrayed that trust. It’s not the first time that’s happened, but this has disastrous consequences: our very future rides on the decisions made by these people. But leadership is either absent, inept or inherently corrupt – or a combination of all three, as we experience it here in Oz. I can’t overstate my contempt for these people. One day, I hope, they are held to account for they’ve done – and didn’t do. That may be small satisfaction as chances are, come that day it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

People I’d have a beer with


I really enjoyed reading this, and you can add Wittgenstein to the people I’d have liked to have met – and maybe even have had a beer with. No higher honour than that.

He’s portrayed her quite differently from what I’ve previously read. There’s some explanation for that in the text, about how Bertrand Russell put it about that he come out of the war a bit of a wreck. I’m pretty sure that Wittgenstein was an unusual character, but I reckon that most genius is. He seems to be well-balanced, though I’m sure he suffered from some of the same challenges the rest of us do. A man like him is always going to rouse opinion and be subject to unusual scrutiny and analysis. And, through the years, reinterpretation. No wonder he’s a character hat’s coloured some of the commentaries about him also.

I don’t know the truth of him because we never met, but I’m happy to consider him a man first, who also possessed an unusual insight into the forms the world took, and which he challenged.

I find some of his methods, explained in this piece, particularly attractive. He appears a free spirit, indifferent to the petty characters who sought to take him down, and confident in his beliefs.

Have a read:

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n22/jonathan-ree/the-young-man-one-hopes-for

Stand up


I feel like I’ve done enough this week. It’s a bit after 2pm on Friday and I’m grinding to a halt.

It’s been a busy few weeks in general, and this week fractious on top of that. I’ve been holding the fort against the heathens in Sales. They’ve been battering at the ramparts demanding to get their way, but I resisted them because their way was chaos and, in this at least, I believe in and represent order. Ultimately I prevailed, but it was a bruising experience and it’s a good bet I’m not on their Christmas card list.

Doing my job properly meant for me to stand-up against them, though I don’t really have the authority or back-up. It was the right thing because it was the only way to ensure the integrity of our systems, and because there were others who felt the same as me but didn’t have the voice. It was right on principle also, because if processes are there to be subverted by bullies then you have anarchy.

All of that is true in itself and sufficient to have held firm, but there is another reason beyond that which is individual. I do a job, I represent a role and a set of duties, but I’m also a man with my own principles and standards. Never mind anything else, I won’t allow myself to be bullied and are contemptuous of those who would try. I represent myself ultimately, separately to my job title.

In my mind this is the right of every person. It doesn’t matter what job you do or where you are on the socio-economic ladder, we’re all entitled to respect and to stand up for our dignity. It seems to me that many lose sight of this. Your job is just a job. The amount of dollars in your wallet are a convenience or an inconvenience, but says nothing about your character. Where you fit in the hierarchy has bearing on what you do, but has nothing to do with your value as person. Your integrity, your beliefs, your standards, are personal to you and independent of everything else. Unfashionable as it is today, these are things that can’t really be bought and sold – though that’s up to the individual.

In my case I hold true to those values because they’re mine – the one thing that really is. Everyone has the same entitlement, and I wish more were more aware of that. You are yourself: be that person.

Then one day it’s gone


One good thing recent protests have done is to draw out the government. After the protests last week Morrison made a speech condemning their actions and questioning the rights of the protestors, further suggesting that legislation may be required to limit the damage of boycott action by basically making it illegal.

It’s laughable in a way. How do you police that? If I choose not to buy one brand of beer or jeans or choose not to shop at a particular shopping chain, then what’s the difference between freedom of choice and a political boycott? How does the Gestapo make that distinction – or is guilt simply assumed and applied en masse?

Of course, it’s ridiculous but much more than that it goes against our democratic principles. I’m putting a lot of faith in that statement – our democratic principles – for while I believe they remain true to the people, and intrinsic to our democratic history, there’s real doubt that the government of the day cares for it at all.

This is not news, though perhaps it’s only now that people are waking up to it. The statements by Morrison have been condemned and rightly seen as an attack on our right to free expression. This attack has been building for years, and the truth of it is that today we lack many of the rights that we had a decade ago. Government policy has become much more intrusive and repressive, all of it justified by contrived threats on our national security. Today the government can read our emails and track our movements. I was reading yesterday about facial recognition technology being used in some schools. There’s a push to have a national database of identity drawing on all states data and, most importantly, the photos taken for various licence categories. We’re but a hop, skip and a jump from being a surveillance state.

Add to that a generally inept media which is, nonetheless, constrained from reporting so much in the national interest because of government restrictions – witness the recent raids on journalists by Federal police. Then there is the absence of laws to protect whistleblowers, who are more likely to be prosecuted by exposing corruption and fraud than be rewarded for it.

Much of this has happened by stealth – an opposition too afraid to oppose, and generally a media either compliant (News Corp) or inneffectual, means that the interrogation of these policies hardly occurred. There was little of it made in the press, and even less that disturbed the general torpor of the Australian electorate. And that’s how it happens. Little by little, you lose your liberties until one day you wake up and find you have precious little left.

It suits the government because they control the narrative then. These are politically motivated. If you can shut down the avenues for free expression and identify the dissidents then who is left to oppose you? With a feeble media and an enfeebled middle class, where does the resistance come from?

I remember I was embarrassed when Tony Abbott became prime minister. He was everything I didn’t believe in, but I recognise now that at least he believed in something. Then Turnbull came along, a great hope for those of us passionate about society. Here was an intelligent, decent man, who also turned out to have no idea what was happening behind his back. What a disappointment he turned out to be. Now we have Scott Morrison, and I’m not sure, but it’s possible that I hate him most of all.

I don’t know that Morrison believes in anything but his own personal god. He is pure politics. A cynical Trumpian. He governs only for advantage and isn’t a leaders arsehole. There’s something particularly soul-numbing about people like him. He likes to get around and to be seen as a man of the people, but the reality is that his sole ambition is for power. He leads a do-nothing government more intent on wedging the opposition Labor than developing policy, more intent on serving his industry donors than the Australian people. (As I’ve been arguing a long time, we as a people lack true representation. It’s the opportunity that Labor are too timid to grasp – break the nexus and do what is right rather than what is merely politic.)

Then there’s Peter Dutton in the background pulling all these strings. I reckon the average man in the street has a better idea of Dutton than his party colleagues do. This is a man fundamentally lacking in moral decency. He’s a despot in waiting. I have no doubt that he has his eyes on the top job still, and if ever he achieves it, then Australia will become a tyranny.

People are objects in his world-view. They are tools to be exploited. He has the rigid perspective of a dictator – anyone who isn’t for him must be against him. It’s an attitude that informs recent calls by him that the unemployed found protesting should have benefits stripped from them. Here combined is the vision of a society where surveillance is so pervasive that one can’t protest without being identified, and so punitive that to do so is to have your rights denied. That’s effectively a police state, and a senior minister is saying it. How does this opinion go unchallenged? And yet, more or less, it’s gone unreported.

The scary thing is that this is the man who runs Homeland Security! A man like this shouldn’t be in parliament, and he should certainly be nowhere near running our security agencies. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so terrifying.

We’re the frogs in the pot of water. For years now the water has been getting warmer, but we’ve become acclimatised to it. What would have been shocking before is but the temperature of the times now. I wonder now if finally, we’re starting to feel the heat? I hope so. As a humane, open society, we can’t survive much more of these oppressive policies. Time to make a noise.