This side of history

When it was announced last week that there would be rallies this weekend in support of Black Lives Matter, my first instinct was supportive, but then I wondered about it in context of the pandemic and social distancing.

That’s the conundrum state governments faced leading into the weekend. We’re still under strict social distancing protocols, and it’s been drummed into us, again and again, the dangers of a second wave. Around the country, the state authorities took different attitudes, with the PM also weighing in.

In Queensland and SA there was an acceptance of the cause. In the two biggest states, Victoria and NSW, there was more angst. In NSW there was a court injunction to declare the protests illegal, later overturned. In Victoria, a more progressive state, there were warnings and threats of potential arrests for breaching protocols, but there was no effort to prevent the rallies.

By this time, I was well onside. I’d reflected and on balance considered the risk worth taking, though I know many who take the same view. The time is now, history can’t wait for the moment, and the cause worthy. My only concern was the rallies might in some way turn violent, which would undermine the whole message.

As it turns out, the rallies were almost a complete success. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of Australians rallied in support of the cause, both in the US and here as well, where it’s nearly as bad. Almost completely, the rallies were free from violence, and very few arrests made. Again, except for distinct exceptions, the police and the protestors were well behaved. In fact, it seemed awfully well organised, with just about everyone attending wearing a mask and attempting to maintain a social distance. Masks were handed out and sanitation stations setup. I’d call it a complete success but for one awful incident that marred the occasion.

In Sydney, after the march had finished and protestors were heading home, and without any sense or logic, a contingent of the NSW police chose to pen a group of protestors in Central Station, where they attacked them with pepper spray.

This is inexplicable and wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. What was the point of this? The rally was over, the protestors were heading home. And why would you choose to do this on such an occasion? The rallies around the world were sparked by the death of George Floyd, and the litany of police brutality that preceded it. Why prove the point on such a day? All of that is putting aside the morality of the act. The police are meant to protect, not provoke and attack.

In the scheme of things, it was a small act – a few dozen police, a few less protestors – but it appeared planned. Media were prevented from entering the station to witness the attack – we have phone footage to thank for the pictures we have. Paddy wagons were lined up. Was this an independent act of retribution? Were the police slighted by the rallies and chose to show who was boss? Any way you look at it, it’s insane and immoral. I’ll be interested to see what the fall-out is if any. There’s enough to go on in the footage to charge some officers.

If it was to happen anywhere, then it’s no surprise that it’s NSW. The police minister, who has a history of brutal opinion, should have been fired after the bushfires fiasco when he didn’t do his job. That never happened, which attests to the weakness of Berejiklian, who is unimpressive and defensive in so many ways.

In the rest of the country, there was barely a murmur. Some state governments actually praised the conduct of the rallies, and sprinkled here and there police officers took the knee in support.

I’d have preferred if Dan Andrews came out more strongly in support of the protests, though it’s hard for him given his hardline on restrictions. It’s the right side of history. As it turned out, the Victorian police arrested no-one and issued no fines, despite their threats to do so. They’ve since come out and said they’d fine the organisers, which is a token and meaningless gesture. I don’t expect that to happen, nor should it.

I hope these rallies resonate and things change. That’s the point of them.

Where too, now?

I’m at work, and by that I mean I’m sitting in my home office in front of my work laptop. In the background, I can hear the TV on, which would normally be off. I’m only half-listening, but alert to it. It’s CNN, and the wall to wall coverage of the ongoing protests.

Since I last wrote, nothing has changed, except perhaps that it’s possibly worse now. I wrote on the weekend that the next 48 hours would tell the tale. There was a chance that the protests would die away, and perhaps with a competent and decent leader that would have happened. Instead, Donald Trump retreated to his bunker – literally – and when finally he made an appearance, it was to inflame the situation further, and to demonstrate his utter disregard for the American people.

In truth, it’s not all down to him. Some of the scenes we see, the stories we hear are astounding. America is at the crossroads, and if it’s to be guided to a safer, saner place, then there needs to be some conciliation offered. That’s occurred in heartwarming pockets – police here and there taking the knee or being only supportive of the protestors cause and reaching out. They’re the exceptions, however. If it was more general then we wouldn’t have the conflict there is now, to which there appears no end in sight.

While there have been looters and agitators, the intent of most protesters has been to do so peacefully. Most are reported as peaceful. Unfortunately, many police have raised the temperature with indiscriminate and unnecessary acts of violence. Peaceful crowds have been fired on by tear gas. Many protestors and bystanders have been hit by rubber bullets. Journalists seem to be a target of the police, and perhaps that an outcome of Trump deriding them for years on end. Several have been arrested or detained. One journalist has lost the vision in one eye after being struck by a rubber bullet. We watched yesterday as an Australian film crew was violently set upon. Otherwise, there’s been random and unnecessary acts – an old man with a cane pushed to the ground by an officer, another man with his hands in the air pepper-sprayed. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of stories like that.

All this is against the backdrop of curfews and the National Guard patrolling the streets in their full uniform, and armoured troop carriers rolling through suburban neighbourhoods. Trump has threatened to call out the army. If this was virtually any other country in the world you’d think it was the act of a despot and dictator. Imagine the outrage if it was China! What makes it surreal is that this is the USA. The US has never been as pristine or honourable as they proclaim, but it’s upheld virtues much of the world wanted to believe in. There are still many – the majority perhaps – who are decent and honourable. The difference now is that they’re the underclass.

It seems to me that this conflict has moved beyond black lives. That remains at the heart of it, but watching from afar it seems to me a battle between liberal America and autocratic America. The split is between those that believe in equality and decency and democratic equity and freedom of expression – and those like Trump and his supporters, the rank conservatives and vested interests, and seemingly a good portion of the police and armed forces.

It’s not dissimilar to many other places, though right now we’re seeing a violent expression of the division. I’m naturally curious to see how this plays out in America – I don’t see a quick or peaceful solution at this point, not without one side offering something up. And I’m curious to see if this catches on in the places where a similar divide exists. I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s an appetite for change, for a new socio-economic order. I count Australia in that list, though the divide isn’t as pronounced – yet.

All the way

I keep watching the coverage on CNN even though it’s long past dark there now. Stories keep emerging. Across the country, east to west, there’re protests.

It appears that the protests are peaceful by day but become violent when night comes. I’m not sure what that means or why. There are stories that come the night other groups join the protests and turn it in another direction. I’ve no doubt there’s a lot of opportunists joining in – looting continues. There are reports that many of the biggest agitators are from ‘out of state’. I think there’s more than meets the eye, but then this is a complex, seething, tumultuous mass with a life of its own.

Earlier as I watched I saw a white man in his early twenties with a bandana across his face turn to the camera and give the white supremacy sign. A moment later a passionate and articulate black man from Liberia spoke directly to the camera and eloquently describe why he was protesting. Again and again, when asked, ordinary people are clear on their purpose. It’s impressive, even inspiring. No doubt there are ratbags and opportunists and agent provocateurs among them, but the majority seem fired by the moral imperative to stand up against injustice. It’s in their hearts. It won’t go away now.

Don Lemon has been chairing CNN as I’ve been watching. He’s been outspoken against Trump in the past, and for good reason. I find his transparency refreshing. Now is not the time to be impartial. Again and again, he has asked, where is the leadership? Where is the president speaking up to de-escalate the situation? But then, that’s almost a rhetorical question. No doubt he’ll let us know shortly by tweet.

Lemon was also outspoken asking why prominent black leaders in society aren’t speaking up at such a time? Business leaders, Hollywood stars, sportsmen – don’t be silent. His message was clear – your community needs you. Don’t be afraid of repercussions. Don’t be afraid of damage to your brand. He’s right, and I applaud him for being so blunt.

The thing is, while it’s the black community who suffer from systemic oppression and racism, it’s not a black problem. It’s a human problem. Just as violence against women needs men to step up to be counted, so too does racism against blacks requires whites to step up in support. And that’s not just in America. This is a pox on society, and we’re all a part of that. We all have a responsibility.

I have to say something. These things affect me very deeply. They’re like a hit directly on my emotions. I’ve always struggled seeing iniquity, bigotry and abuse, especially when it’s the powerful upon the weak. They sound like words, platitudes, but I hold true to democratic principles all the way through. I don’t take it for granted, and I feel it in me like it’s an organic thing. And so, when I see something wicked like we saw with George Floyd, I feel it hard, and I feel it when I watch people stand up for their democratic rights.

I don’t understand how one man can look down upon another for a spurious cause of race or religion. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s wrong that someone might be denied the same opportunity as me for his colour. He has a life no less valuable than mine, and I think that’s the basic principle of human decency. We all start out the same, and surely it’s contrary to nature to hold down others while we elevate ourselves? It’s an obscenity, but it’s happened throughout history. You think of all the people deprived, the wasted lives, the injustice, all for this evil. And it still happens.

I have it easy. Most of us reading this probably do as well. I can feel this wrong in my body, but I don’t suffer from it. I can walk down the street and be one of the privileged. I understand what that means, but it doesn’t mean I’m insulated from the reality. There’s not much I can say except, as a human being, I’m proud of those guys speaking up today and protesting. They belong to the best part of democracy. Stand tall – much of the world is with you.



The tipping point?

I’ve spent most of this morning reading about or watching the race riots and protests currently in America (and I have CNN on in the background as I write this). Just to follow online is a torrid, traumatic experience. You can’t help but think that America now is at a critical juncture in its history. Regardless of how this resolves, you wonder if America is forever changed from our common perception of it. Trump changed everything, but in ways, all he did was to amplify and ultimately encourage, the divisions in society that are now coming apart. Terrible as he is, as he has been, there was always the civilised notion in the back of your mind that he was an aberration, and that sanity, common-sense, and decency would be restored once he was kicked out of office.

I question that now. We’re still months away from the election, and the way things are moving anything could happen before then. Even if in a best-case scenario and Trump is ultimately de-throned come November I have serious doubts that his rusted-on supporters – the MAGA crowd, the crazy libertarians, the white supremacists, and so on – would support such a result. He has emboldened them sufficiently that it would be no surprise if they resisted the democratic outcome.

There’s a horrible fascination in observing the events from so far away. I feel grateful to be free of that. I feel a little embarrassed as a white man horrified by what’s happening and wanting to understand. And I feel totally on the side of the black community that’s had enough of racism and violence and mistreatment. 100%.

I’ve watched different clips of black leaders speaking out, and I’m roused and moved and sad as well. It’s clear that even in the protesters there’s not a single common view, and that’s to be understood. With shops being trashed and looted and violence like wildfire, there are some that urge restraint, while others say, what do you expect?

There was a speech given by a rapper and activist in Atlanta called Killer Mike. He’s a fine, impassioned speaker. He was hard on the racist forces and political infrastructure that had oppressed black people for generations. He was angry and fierce, but his message was to “plot, plan, strategise, organise, and mobilise”. He urged people not to burn down their house but to fortify it as places of shelter. Behind him stood the mayor and the chief of police (who had earlier appeared speaking to the rioting crowd). His message, in short, was to keep fighting for your rights, but not to destroy.

Reading the comments on his speech, many were laudatory, but others thought the time had passed to be so reasonable. It had never worked before, why now?

There was another speech given by Tamika Mallory, which went off like a bomb. She was compelling. Angry, fluent, smart, bluntly telling the story of black oppression. Hardline as it was, it was hard to disagree with her. Why not burn Target if they are complicit in the system that oppresses black lives if they don’t step forward to defend them? She told the audience that looting was something they had learned from the whites, who had looted the Native-Americans first, and then the blacks. She made the point repeatedly, and with much justice, that “We learned racism from you!” It was heady stuff.

Another was a Princeton professor speaking to Anderson Cooper, Dr Cornel West. He expressed the state of frustration felt by black people very well. They have tried to protest peacefully, they have tried to affect change democratically, they have tried every way, but nothing ever changes, black lives are lost, people oppressed, racism continues. Listening to him, I thought of Colin Kaepernick and how he was excoriated and ultimately banished, for taking a knee during the national anthem in protest against racism.

His was the most peaceful of protests, but America couldn’t swallow it. What’s left to an African American when casual racism is an everyday event, and racist violence so common that it’s become a cliche? I read the comments of a black journalist explaining his life. This is an intelligent, educated man who related tales of how teachers were afraid of him when he was a kid because he was big and black. Of how, like many, he is commonly pulled over in his car by cops as if he was a suspicious character. Of white women recoiling from him as if he were about to rob them, and so on. How does that feel day after day, year after year? What does it feel like to know that so many consider you second-class and inferior all your life? And when a black man like George Floyd is murdered by police, what happens to you then?

What we’re seeing is the anger of people too long disenfranchised and abused. The violence and the riots are expressions of pent-up frustration busting loose. It’s gone on too long, their voices have been discounted and muted too long, and enough is enough. With Covid-19 as the backdrop, the tipping point has been reached, and seriously, what is there to lose now?

The next 48 hours will tell the tale. Cities are in curfew now. There’s no sign of things calming – in fact, the anger is spreading across the country. America has the worst possible leader for a situation like this, but he is a part of the reason, too. He’s not the man to de-escalate this. Even if he had the will, he doesn’t have the capability. In all honesty, he’s more likely to tip a bucket of fuel on the fire.

I feel so much for the millions of Americans, black and white, who are decent and reasonable, watching their country fracture before their eyes. They have been held hostage by Trump and his cronies while the values they believed in have been sold off cheap.

I don’t know how this will end, or if it will. The anger is well-founded, the president is incompetent (at best!), and racism is entrenched. There’s curious evidence that white supremacists are exploiting the situation to provoke more violence (much of the vandalism has been by whites, including deliberate acts by mysterious figures). You suspect this is a confrontation they relish.

There must be an answer to all this, and the answer must be equality and justice for all. You’re not going to eradicate racist thoughts and actions overnight. That takes education. What you can do is ensure that every racist action is met with the full force of the law. A huge part of this is that since forever white racists, particularly in law enforcement, have got away with misdemeanours. There has to be equality of opportunity and economic equity. Justice must prevail.

These are fine words, but not long ago there was a black president, and even then none of this came close. Trump aint going to do it. Biden isn’t capable. What happens? It won’t be pretty.

Black lives

I spent eight minutes this morning watching a YouTube video of a black man in Minneapolis die. He was lying on the ground, being restrained by a police officer who had put his knee into the man’s neck. The victim was begging to be let-up, saying that he couldn’t breathe. Bystanders protested the violence and attempted to intervene, fearing that the man might be seriously injured, or worse. A police officer stood by impassive, keeping the crowd away, while the perpetrator of this crime seemed indifferent, his hands in his pockets.

After eight minutes paramedics arrived. By then, the victim was silent and still, as he had been for the minutes before. The dragged his lolling body onto a stretcher, claiming later that he ‘died in hospital’, though, for all intents and purposes he appeared lifeless then, and the lack of urgency suggested that the paramedics knew it.

Allegedly, this man had been resisting arrest. In that case, put him in cuffs and take him away, and fair enough. Instead, the officers chose to punish him. Why, you ask? Unfortunately, there appears one obvious answer to that – because he was black.

It was an awful thing to watch, knowing that the man’s life was ebbing away when it could so easily be saved. It was a callous act, fuelled by the pointless cruelty of officers in betrayal of their role. It’s being investigated by the FBI now. The officers should be charged but, you know, who has faith in that anymore?

It’s not as if this is a one-off. If I was a black man in the states, I know I’d be wary of police. How many times have we seen black men accosted by police in the street or driving their car, and how many times have we seen a gun drawn on them and shots fired? It’s almost a trope.

There must be many times when nothing untoward happens, and there must be many decent police officers – but clearly, there are also officers who are racist and violent. There’s a pattern of black people being victimised because they are black, and it’s no wonder that they protest and rebel. So would I. Take a knee – absolutely.

This case recalls another from about five years back when another black man complaining he couldn’t breathe while in police restraint. He died too, and you might recall the protest then, and NBA players taking to the court with “I can’t breathe” emblazoned across the front of it. And what’s happened since? It’s probably worse.

It’s not just the police, though they are repeat offenders. A few weeks ago, the awful story emerged of a black man taking a jog – Ahmaud Arbery – who was set upon by a father and son, both white, and shot dead. Their claimed he was acting suspiciously (by running), and thought he’d committed a crime. So they acted the vigilante, just as the KKK does.

Last night I watched another video, more innocuous thankfully, but troubling in a different way. A woman in central park was out with her dog and had let it off its leash in an area it wasn’t allowed. A man – a birdwatcher – asked her to put the dog back on the leash. She responded violently, which is when he began to film her.

She didn’t take well to being asked to do the right thing and began threatening him by saying she was going to call the police and tell them an African American was threatening her. The implicit and racist threat is obvious. She then called the cops on him though he was doing nothing wrong, all the while half choking her dog to death.

By the time the cops arrived, they had gone, but the video went viral. The woman has been since fired from her job because of her racism, and the dog was taken from her because of cruelty.

I know last week I complained of online pile-ons and over-reaction. I spoke of how so often people choose to be offended and to take the most offensive take on any given situation.

This week I have to say this woman has got her just rewards. It’s there on film, and it’s clearly racist, and she seems an unpleasant person by nature. She’s claimed that she isn’t racist and she probably believes it, which is one of the more worrying aspects of this. She’s seemingly educated and probably says most of the right things when prompted, but when push came to shove, she reverted to racist bullying.

A lot of this stuff has been going on forever, but I wonder if the advent of Trump has empowered these racists to act out their bigotry more readily? It’s not helped when so much of this behaviour goes unpunished and offending police officers are let-off.

I don’t know how this ever gets fixed. Even assuming Trump is ousted in November, a lot of this is now hard-wired into sections of society. I don’t expect them to go quietly, incidentally, and I don’t see Biden as a leader who can put a stop to this. In truth, it goes much deeper, and it needs education and cultural reform. That’s the work of generations, and the US is heading in the opposite direction.

Show us the money!

As predicted, the government has so far ruled out using the $6B they ‘found’ to extend the JobKeeper service to those missing out. Listening to some of the commentary coming out of the government the last few days is enough to send you batty.

I think to a man they’ve pretty much clapped their hands together to celebrate having ‘saved’ so many dollars. It seems incomprehensible that not one of them has figured out what this actually means. It begs belief that so many of them are economically illiterate – in fact, how can they be when every economist in the land is screaming at them to spend the money?

I know it’s been generations since we came to expect much of our elected officials. Still, surely it’s not unreasonable to think they go into parliament with a basic level of competence and intelligence? In an ideal world, you’d like to believe they are the best of us. In the real world, with notable exceptions (none in the actual governing party), they’ve got the smarts to be an office manager and not much more. I work with a lot of people smarter than the guys we have in government.

I’m being snide, and maybe exaggerating a bit, but not by much. I’m bewildered by how few of our MPs appreciate the issue. Not only is the current setup iniquitous, failing to actually spend that $60B would be potentially catastrophic for the economy.

If they’re smart, they can take that ‘saving’ and extend the value of it by spending it in other ways. Extending JobKeeper so that casuals, temp visa holders, universities, etc., can get the benefit also (which addresses the iniquity, as well as need) is the obvious answer, along with potentially funding other stimulus projects with the rest.

To put it in context – $60B is more than was paid for the NBN.

The risk by not doing that is that we’ll fall off the economic cliff sometime in September. Right now, the money spent is keeping the economy alive and putting food on the table. It’s due to run at just about the time when we head back to work, or soon after – just when the economy will need another kick-along. If we don’t, the economy will tank and, millions will suffer and, we’ll be in this for years.

One of the mooted announcements is funding the Tafe sector the government de-funded a few years back. It recognises that education is one way to grow the economy in coming years, which is right, but at the same time, they’ve left our public (but not private) universities to fend for themselves throughout this crisis.

Universities are hotbeds of innovation, which is probably the biggest focus in the next few years if we’re smart. Neglecting them throughout this pandemic to me just about sums up what a dumb government we have.

Get cracking

I spent the last hour of Tuesday and the first hour yesterday organizing rent relief. I had to do most of this because the real estate agent had no idea. I wonder how her other tenants, looking for this, will go.

First, we had to agree to reduce rent, which took about 10 days because – confusion. I had to spell it out what I was after and how it worked, despite initially explaining myself clearly and even sharing a link. So anyway, we agreed on that and got a document signed by all parties.

Well and good, except it had to be submitted to Consumer Affairs Victoria to sign-off and register it. I think that’s the agent’s responsibility, but they gave up on it as too hard, so I went and did it myself. I then had to apply for rent relief separately to a different department. Did that to. I believe it got sent to the agent to validate, and, as far as I know, we now just have to wait and see.

I expect I’ll get the requested support, though it may be a week or two. The jobkeeper subsidy is a different story. I know my employer has applied for and qualified for it. What difference that makes for me I don’t know yet. It’s a good concept, but very flawed, unfortunately.

When announced, it appeared very generous, but it became evident shortly after that there were a lot of holes in it. The government being a government were very prescriptive on who was entitled to it and how it works. Eligibility to start with was tied to revenue, and fair enough. If it was impacted by this much, then you’re were eligible to apply as an employer. It goes to the employer, but every employee, or worker, is entitled to it, which is the problem.

The most significant exclusion relates to casual workers with tenure of fewer than 12 months. It also excludes the gig economy in general, sub-contractors, etc. Workers on temporary work visas miss out as well, even though they live and work in the community. The government claimed that they had to draw the line somewhere, but it appears arbitrary when you consider the realities of modern working culture. Half of my workplace are contractors, and not all of them meet this criterion. For much of my working life, I’d have never qualified either because – though I was fully employed – I worked with different clients/employers in the qualifying period. It also counts out shitloads lt of people working in retail and service industries.

A very big loser out of this is the arts industry which, almost by definition, is made up of casual and freelance workers. There was a great noise drawing the government’s attention to this when the policy was announced, but the feds chose to ignore it. I think it’s fair to say that the LNP are not lovers of the arts, once more, almost by definition. The arts are an elitist pastime in the eyes of conservative governments, and its practitioners almost to a man, progressive.

The government has turned a blind eye to science in the past because of the inconvenient facts scientists publish. In the same way, artists hold inconvenient opinions for the government, and have both the platform and the skills to share them. It suits a government without any belief or passion in the arts industry to silence them, but Australia is much the poorer for that.

These exclusions penalise the employer as well as the employee, as well as culture and society. The whole idea is to maintain the business through the lockdown – if half your employees miss out then your business suffers. Just quietly, it’s also inhumane and discriminatory.

Speaking of discrimination, there are sections of society excluded from receiving any formal support or benefit. For example, we now have an underclass of foreign (and local) students who can’t go to school and have been forced out of work by the pandemic, but don’t qualify for assistance. Morrison, very unwisely given the scale of the industry, bluntly told international students to go home. Not diplomatic, a bit nasty, and foolish as these students are a big part of our economy, and belong to our major trade partners. It seems sensible to stay on good terms, but anyway.

It feels a bit cheap and counter-intuitive to be excluding them when you’re spending so many dollars generally. We need people to have money to spend to keep the economy running – that includes students and casual workers. We also need these groups, and their employers, to be able to pick-up and transition into work life once the restrictions ease and we get back to some kind of pseudo-normality. As an economy, we can’t afford to stumble at that point, which means that we have to get that work done now.

To compound these arbitrary conditions, the jobkeeper rate is set at $1500 fortnightly, without variation – even for those who earned more than that previously. There are people making money out of this. If that rate was more flexible to match actual earnings then the government could afford to offer it to more people.

For all of that, the jobkeeper uptake has reportedly been less than anticipated, and it seems the main reason for that is that it’s too complicated. But the bigger problem is that the jobkeeper payments have been slow in coming for those approved. People need the dosh now, if not next week, just to survive, and to keep a job open – and the economy needs the activity of dollars circulating.

It’s all been a rush job and there are always going to be issues that pop up and delays along the way. You have to expect that. It’s a bit untidy, but now’s the time it has to start cracking.

Rather here than there

Naturally, most of the news these days is about the virus crippling the world. We’ve been living with it for a while now, but it still surprises me sometimes.

What surprises me most is what’s happening in the States. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise with a madman like Trump in charge of the place. The surprise is conditioned, but still, it’s startling to compare what’s happened here in Oz with what’s happened – and continues to happen – over there. The results speak for themselves.

In Oz, we’re debating easing the lockdown with only a handful of new infections every day, and the infrequent death. The death toll nationally is still under a hundred.

Contrast that to the States where the latest reported death toll is approaching 70,000. The infection has slowed, but with hundreds still dying every day, it seems sensible to remain cautious. That’s what’s happening here, but I watch the news and see people in the US flock to the beach and attend demonstrations and businesses re-opening, and basically any concept of social distancing going out the window. I’ll go he if there isn’t a spike of infections – and deaths – because of this. It seems utter madness. From afar, you can’t imagine a final death toll under 100K (and probably well beyond when the final tally is done). How many of those lives would have been saved with sensible precautions? Many thousands.

There’s a lot more at play in the US than mere health concerns. There’s politics of course, and the economics of it all, not to mention the mad libertarian impulse of so many Americans. You read signs like Give Me Liberty or Death, and you wonder, really, you’d rather die than sacrifice a visit to the mall? Then there was another banner I read this morning: Honk if you question coronavirus. Seriously? There are hundreds of thousands dead from it, millions infected, and you still think it’s a conspiracy? There’s a lot of smart and unfortunate people in America, but gee, there’s an awful lot of nutters there, too.

And now they’re easing restrictions. It’s suicide.

There’s a lot of media these days about the decline of America and describing it as a failed state. Recent history would support a lot of that, and it’s hard to argue that a lot of structural and cultural damage has been wrought by Trump, which may never be rectified. And it’s fair to say there were issues even before Trump. Even so, I take articles like that with a pinch of salt. Journalists love writing those articles, and a lot of them crave the opportunity to sink the boot into America (a surprising number of them American). But then you see protestors storming the Illinois legislature brandishing automatic weapons, and you know that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the place.

This has become a common sight in recent years, but it’s unique to America, and a few anarchic, tin-pot nations. What has become normal in America is looked upon with horror by the civilised world. Will it change? I don’t know that it can now. And even if Trump is voted out in November – as he must be – then I still doubt that the underlying issues will be resolved. I actually wonder how the half of the country who believe in Trump will respond if and when he gets thrown out – it could become ugly. But ugliness has become emboldened.

We’re not free of politics here, but thank christ it remains in the zone of the sane. I can complain bitterly, and with good cause, but gee we’re a million miles ahead of what’s going on elsewhere. America now acts as a warning of what can go wrong when you let things slide, when you elect the wrong leaders. When – let’s face it – democracy corrupts.

It’s a crazy world. History is moving very quickly before us.

Long way to go

It already feels ages since I lived a normal life, going to work, meeting friends, having a drink at the pub, but it’s only been a few weeks. I reckon there’s probably another couple of months of this, which feels almost inconceivable. The novelty will have worn off well and truly by then, but there’s every chance that the lockdown will go on well past that date. How will it be then?

I expect people will start getting itchy feet. Already there are complaints about the severity of the restrictions. Expect that to become much louder if the current rate of infections improves further.

There’s a tendency to discount how serious things are. Sure, there’re thousands dying in the US and Europe, but it’s slowed to a trickle here. What’s the big deal? We got it beat.

What people fail to realise is that it’s not beaten until there are zero infections, and even then you’d proceed cautiously. And if it’s slowed to a trickle it’s not because it isn’t a big deal, it’s because of the steps we’ve taken to slow it down by social distancing. If not for that, then we might well be in a situation similar to the US and Europe. By our actions we’ve slowed this virus – if we reverse that too soon then all that good work could be undone. This is definitely one of those situations when you want to err on the side of caution.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but if the current trend continues, I would expect some of the restrictions will begin to be lifted towards the end of May. By that, I would think cafes and restaurants might re-open on the basis that social distancing is maintained – say, about 50% capacity. People might begin to be rostered on to work, meeting the same conditions, and so on. I think the important thing is that the borders remained closed to prevent re-infection from abroad. That may well be for many months more. That’s how I see it. The government probably has other ideas.

Speaking of that, there’s been a lot of press about how the airlines are struggling, and Virgin looks on the verge of going under. The government has already provided substantial financial assistance and probably will need to contribute more. If they’re doing that – it’s taxpayers money – then I’m in the school that we should be taking a stake in the business in return. A lot of the hardline conservative blowhards will bluster that its communism, but it seems to me good business sense to nationalise a part of these companies to keep them going. We can’t afford for Qantas to have a monopoly. We all lose from that. And by buying in when the market is low, it’s a handy investment going forward now we’re heading into deficit.

I’m not one for nationalising industries generally, however, I think we went through a crazy phase where many essential services were privatised, much to society’s detriment. All the utilities are privately owned these days, and a lot of agencies and services previously government-run. It’s all in the name of competition, but the philosophy behind that is pure economics, with little relationship to real-world situations. The result is that we, the consumer and taxpayer, have lost out, and the government has lost control over essential services that become critical in times of crisis – like now. And spare me, I certainly don’t believe private enterprise is any more efficient, except at the expense of the consumer.

Have we stabilised?

I’ve been reading of people struggling with the challenges of being in lockdown (in all but name). Initially, I’m surprised and wonder if I should be feeling it more. In point of fact, I’m thriving, though it’s early days. In my case, it makes a difference being so busy. I’m flat-out from first to last and expect to remain so for several weeks. The days pass quickly.

Not that I’m only doing work. I take time to take my two scheduled walks daily and am now managing close to 7,000 paces every day. That’s bolstered by the bustling around I do in-between times, whether it be in cooking, or in the patches where I clean or organise. Like most people it seems, I’m catching up on the things that mostly get lost in the rush of living. Cleaning definitely falls into that category for me, but I’ve knuckled to it so keenly that I’ve even given the wooden cabinets a clean and polish with marveer. I’m also going through my filing cabinet to either dispose of or scan, the documents and files in it. The aim is to get rid of the filing cabinet altogether.

What might make it difficult for me in the longer term is that I live alone. I’m on the phone all day and sending messages here and there, but it’s not the same as warm human contact. I am self-reliant in that regard also, and perhaps too much so, so we’ll see how that pans out.

For others, I wonder what the particular issue is? Is it a sense of confinement? Is it the disconnection from standard routine? Is it missing colleagues and friends? Probably a bit of each, and more besides. Real challenges are being faced by thousands now, either for health or financial reasons. A friend, working from home, has had his hours reduced by a quarter and his salary with it. Many others have either been stood down or made redundant altogether.

Since I last wrote, the government has finally come to the party with a comprehensive wages subsidy policy. They’ve gone big, and though it’s late, it looks like it’s most of what it should be. It’ll make a real difference because thousands will have some job security now, and be able to continue living. Most importantly, it preserves some readiness for such a time when we come out of this.

There’s a long way to go, but you can’t help but wonder what happens when we’re through this. The government has adopted policies and measures ideologically foreign to them. Though they’ll be keen to reverse most of them, I figure some will be so entrenched in the public consciousness that it might be difficult. As I’ve said before, there’s opportunity to reset in this, on both the personal and national level. This is a wake-up call.

I’ll follow up on that another day, but in the meantime, I’m curious to see how the government pays for this – perhaps it’s time, and with a national justification now, to take the franking credits windfall off the table?