I despair


The other night I spat the dummy and posted a rant to Facebook. What tipped me over the edge was the most recent round of cuts inflicted on the ABC by the government. There have been cuts just about every year since the Coalition came into power, despite the explicit promise back in 2013 by Tony Abbott that there wouldn’t be any – a brazen lie. The national broadcaster, ingrained in our culture, cherished by many, and lauded most recently over the bushfire season because it ‘saved lives,’ has been the subject of an ideological battle because they fear the combination of good sense and balanced reporting is damaging to their brand. And, to a degree, they’re right. They accuse it of being bias towards the progressive side of politics, but the truth is the ABC has been bending over backward (too far) to appease an unreasonable government. The real damage done is that most people who watch the ABC are educated, intelligent and reasonable – and what educated, intelligent, and reasonable person is going to look upon a corrupt government but with disdain?

It accords with a general theme of this government, sponsored by the hard right and the diabolical IPA. I’m utterly convinced that the primary goals of this government are to maintain power by any means and to reshape society to ensure that they stay in government for years to come. To do so they must disarm their natural foes – the intelligentsia, the educated, the progressive. To achieve this they diminish the channels in which their foes can express or be heard. They manipulate university funding so that quality will inevitably decline, and tilt it away from the humanities subjects that teach critical thought and historical perspective. They’ve long been an enemy of science, ignoring it altogether in the case of climate change, and sidelining it generally – the CSIRO, our peak scientific body and an absolute treasure trove of invention, had further cuts inflicted this week as well.

It’s all about dumbing down the nation and making it compliant so they can say and do what they want without scrutiny, and so that their mates get a free ride. You might think I’m overly paranoid and cynical, but the existence of a Donald Trump as American president shows anything is impossible – and much of this is right out of the Trump playbook. (The government even gave a job to the former head of Trumps border force last week).

Anyway, this is what I said:

I don’t know where to start. The government’s been after the ABC for years, and the latest cuts might have terminally gutted it. This is on top of more cuts to the CSIRO today, and the farcical changes to university funding last week. I’ve had it with a low-brow government that devalues science and learning, and hobbles diversity of expression. Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s a fucking disgrace, and I haven’t even started on the environment and climate change. I’m calling it out. This will kill the society we cherish and I’ve had enough.

It was a bit more emotional and less measured than usual, but it stacks up.

It’s funny I put it on Facebook, where it’s more common to post cutesy memes and photos of nights out than it is anything too political. Twitter is the home of the crackpot rant, but that’s probably why I didn’t post it there – I don’t want to be just another Twitter crock jumping on my soapbox, and something like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow there. On Facebook, it has more impact because it jars more and because the people who’ll read it know me personally. Many of them agree.

I’m seriously concerned about what’s happening to this country. Many of the things I love about it are being eroded by government and a mendacious media. Much of what I value and believe is being trashed by an anti-intellectual government more concerned about their wellbeing than the wellbeing of you and me. The fabric of this place is being frayed by constant snips to it. Disgracefully, these most recent cuts come under cover of the coronavirus and in a time when services like the ABC and CSIRO are most needed, and when we should be investing more – if only for the good of the economy – not less.

I was willing to hope that the government and Morrison might have learned something in this crisis but, to be honest, I never really believed it. I was right to doubt. Now’s the time for the opposition to throw away the rulebook and stop playing nice. This is the future of the country we’re talking about; there are no second chances. It won’t happen though because they’ve lost their purpose as well as their cojones.

Without judgement


So, the latest is that Winston Churchill is being brought to heel by the woke forces of the earth. Revisionist commentary now has him classified as a racist and his statue duly defaced. How much that actually means is an open question. In Bristol, the statue of an eminent slave-trader ended up at the bottom of the river, and good riddance to him. But then, so too was a statue of Gandhi – Gandhi! – vandalised because he too – and who knew? – was a racist. I guess that sums up the collective mentality of the mob in heat.

I’m not here to defend Churchill – he doesn’t need me – but rather to deplore the recent practice of dragging down significant figures. It’s mindless and simplistic and bloody arrogant, too. It’s symptomatic of an era when critical thought is barely a concept, and it’s all about the raw feels.

Churchill was racist, much in the same way as many of his generation were. That’s not to excuse it, but it places it in context. The younger Churchill had something in common with Boris Johnson, I reckon – a gift for self-promotion, high self-regard, and a tendency to put their foot in it. That’s where the comparison ends. Even on his worst day, Churchill had more class, wit and intelligence than Johnson on his best. And anyway, the young Churchill matured.

There’s no doubt that Winston said some awful things, and made some stupid mistakes. Some of them were pretty racist, certainly by today’s standards. But, you know, he did some pretty good things, too.

What man is without flaw or fault? Look hard enough, and there’s always something to find. I’ve no objection to a fair appraisal, but to be fair it needs to embrace the man as a whole. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. Individuals are picked apart and every flaw magnified under the social media spotlight. It becomes fashionable to join the throng laying into the victim of the day – as if no-one else has ever erred, and regardless of the legitimate achievements of the victim in question.

In this era of extremes, every misshapen part is taken as the whole. There’s no nuance or critical judgement. To transgress one more invalidates every achievement, or so it seems. Churchill is a racist, and therefore a bad man – never mind that he stood alone against the forces of fascism. Never mind that he uplifted a generation by his example and by his rhetoric. Never mind that he actually opposed the bad guys doing evil racist things. No, in the new accounting it comes a distant second to the evils of his person. Wait until they hear he was a misogynist as well!

Anyone with any sense knows that Churchill was a great man. The world would undoubtedly be a different place today without him, and possibly quite radically so.

I’m not excusing Churchill, and I’m certainly not downplaying racism. What I’m calling for is a bit of balance and common sense. We need to learn how to see people in their totality, as once we did.

None of us is faultless. If you want the truth of it I’m probably a little racist myself (though I tend to think much of what is called racist is actually rooted in cultural difference), not by intention, but by instinct. I’m sure I’ve made racist comments in the past or looked upon someone differently because they were different from me. Again, it’s not who I mean to be, but I haven’t always been as virtuous as I am now. I know in places far distant that I’ve gravitated to my countrymen on occasion because we came from the same place, which is perfectly understandable while clearly showing a cultural bias. I guess that makes me imperfect, but human – hands up who isn’t?

We’re complex beings formed by our experiences and torn in conflicting directions by the forces around us. We absorb and deflect. We submit, and we defy. We develop and grow. If we are to accept that as true then we must also accept that people make mistakes, they act without judgement sometimes and sometimes without knowledge, they change.

We love pulling down tall poppies. There’s joy in exposing their feet of clay. It makes us feel grand. It’s cheap and nasty, though. Who among those tearing at Churchill could hope to do half of what he achieved? Wiser to understand none of us is perfect – and to measure the man on his actions.

 

I’m adding this addendum a day later after thinking about it overnight. I don’t retract anything I wrote yesterday, but in and amongst this mess I think there’s a great opportunity to come to terms with our past. We can’t disavow history, but we can hope to better understand it as something more than written down in books. I commented yesterday that Churchill was a man of his times – and it’s his time, and other times, that bear consideration.

If we are to take Britain as an example, for all their rich and storied history, for every victory, there was a loser. Many of those losers were weaker civilisations and peoples – weaker militarily, that is. That is the story of the times, of colonisation and imperial might, and the subjugation of the many for the economic benefit of the few (some things never change). It’s time that Britain – and other nations – to acknowledge that past, which includes slave-trading. You can’t change history, but you can face it square on (without prejudice – we can’t go down that path). This is what happened, this is what we did. It’s an exercise often proves cathartic for individuals, and may do also for nations. Certainly, the victims of this would applaud it.

Australia has wrestled with similar questions for many years now with regard to the aboriginal people. There was a breakthrough in the early nineties when the Federal Labor government pushed through Mabo, which was a landmark case of recognition. More symbolically, the Rudd Labor government issued a long overdue apology to the aboriginal people for the ills done to them by successive generations of white Australia. Nothing has happened since then, largely because we have a Liberal government who believes in little of this, unwilling to admit to fault or responsibility. It’s time now for formal recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution by way of a treaty. In this time when the headlines scream Black Lives Matter and myriad stories of violence and mistreatment, addressing these matters to put in place legal protections to prevent and redress is overdue.

There are plenty of statues being pulled down which don’t deserve to stand, but the bigger picture is not the individual, but the society that made that individual and allowed for them to flourish. It’s not about denying that history – it’s done, it can’t be changed – but understanding it and the context in which it belongs. This would be a healthy outcome.

What not to do


I don’t know what annoys me most about the Federal government – the rushed, ill-considered policies; the abject lack of imagination; or the corrupted, partisan economic and social policies that advantage cronies, mates and donors.

The $60B they ‘found’ the other week remains unspent, despite all sensible commentators urging them to spend. In the meantime, they’ve announced that childcare subsidies will be ending in a month, just like that (and, contrary to their promise, the JobKeeper provision will be ended for the industry also). It’s an expensive policy and it can’t go on forever, but it seems to be premature ending it while we still haven’t returned to work and the economy is tanking. Extend it a few months, then consider how components of the policy can be maintained, or funded differently, on a permanent basis. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that making childcare more affordable (if not free) has economic and social benefits. It’s a policy dictated by circumstances, but why not take the good from it and convert it into new policy? It doesn’t have to cost as much, and surely there are other – more creative – options to sustain it? This decision epitomises the government’s determination to ‘snap back’, even though the crisis continues and it’s hardly feasible. The world has changed, and we must adapt to what it is rather than hopefully return to what it was.

Last week a new stimulus package was announced. The HomeBuilder policy aims to stimulate a building boom by offering subsidies. The theory is fine, but the conditions are nonsensical, and the targeting fundamentally wrong. This is an example of a very poorly considered policy decision, combined with the everpresent motivation of currying favour with its constituency.

Basically, if you earn under $125K, but plan a renovation of your home with a quoted value of more than $150K, then you qualify to have $25K of your bill paid for by the taxpayer. It also applies to new home building, but only if the value exceeds $750K. Now, for a start, how many will actually qualify for this? It makes for an impressive-sounding announcement, but the number of people in this very narrow qualifying niche will be fuck-all.

It’s pretty immoral, too. Very clearly, this is targeted at people who can afford a $150K renovation at a time when there are homeless people on the street when unemployment is sky-rocketing, and there are actually people in the bushfire ravaged areas of Australia who are in dire need of a replacement home. Sure, let’s get construction happening, but why not target areas of real social need?

The political angle backfired regardless. It’s been widely and reasonably panned. And the political aspects are so transparent that it’s been treated with disdain even by those who might qualify. What the government needs to understand is that people aren’t as greedy and selfish as they hope them to be. In actual fact, there’s a strong social conscience in the aspirational classes, who are often progressives. I had conversations over the weekend with people wealthy enough to consider this, but who are just as disgusted by it as I am.

There’ll be more announcements to come, and it’s interesting to think about what they may be. The RBS wants JobKeeper extended beyond September, but I sense the government won’t do that. Then there are inevitable decisions to be made over JobSeeker which are bound to be controversial. It doubled when we went into lockdown, but the government – I’m sure – intends to return it to its pre-COVID-19, below-the-poverty-line rate. This would be immoral and stupid but neatly fits the government’s MO.

Stay tuned.

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.

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.