The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Humourless Bastard

I’ve got a bit to get off ma chest. No blogging for a few weeks back there and now I have an accumulation of rants.

So today, the one in my sights is Mr 80% – yes, that’s right, the essay-writing Kevin 07 – Mr Rudd.

Back in the days when the Evil Bastard was in power we had corruption, self-serving dimwits, and the dying days of a government that had done it’s time.

But we also had The Chaser on the Goggle Box, who would do a weekly stunt – like catch Little John power walking and try and cuddle him whilst holding a running chainsaw. (As you do to a Prime Minister).

John might have been an evil little prick – but he could at least take a joke. Every week, he’d have a laugh, and we’d laugh along.

Well, now, The Chaser has finished – killed off by their own lack of imagination, and stifled by an ABC even more cowed than it was when Little John was The Man.

But notable in the last few shows was the reaction of Mr $300,000,000 – Kevin The PM.

Kevin HAS NO SENSE OF HUMOUR AT ALL.

Unlike Li’l John, Kevin can’t take a joke, can’t laugh at himself – or anyone else. His sense of humour must have been surgically removed. This does not fill me with a sense of a great future for this nation. We need to laugh at ourselves – and this starts at the top.

Leaking ship of state

So a Treasury official has been leaking to the Opposition.

Surely he should know that his work and knowledge is the property of his employer. The Opposition cultivating public servants and using them to get the low-down on government policy, plans, and actions is not OK, in spite of what they might say. A public servant serves their employer – the GOVERNMENT, not the public (in spite of the title), and not the Opposition.

If he has been found to actually have passed the information on, he is most likely in breach of his employment contract as well as various bits of the law, and he should be sacked. This is what would happen in private industry.

Public servants might vote, but they must never bring their own politics into their job. Not a good move!!

Education Apologists

The other day when driving to work, I was listening to Matt-n-Dave the shit-stirrers on ABC 891. These guys seem to take it as their duty to give a hard time to everyone they interview, but especially politicians.

The other day, they made a passing comment about “Elite private schools” getting a slice of the cash being splashed at schools by the Rudd Federal Government.

The switchboard must have lit like a christmas tree. Of the callers who phoned in to complain, every single one had their hand out for private schools. One chap in particular was quite plain about his feelings and intentions:

“I send my children to a private school so they can get a better class of education…. and I pay my taxes so I should get some of this money being thrown around as well. And I find it objectionable that you refer to private schools as ‘Elite’.”

Fellow clearly didn’t understand the English language, and had an even smaller understanding of Moral Hazard.

It should be pretty clear that if he expects a “better standard of education” then that carries an implicit elitism. So why is he so sensitive?

Curious also that all callers seemed very defensive of “their right” to stick their hands into the taxpayer till. There was not a single defender of public education. All of those who called to whine were not doing so about the preceding interview with the various pollies and public servants, which was about how the money is being used. All hijacked the agenda.

But consider now, something a little more complex. Bear with me here.

Proposition 1: Education of children is compulsory. Our governments have deemed that children are to be educated, and in return that education is provided at no (or, in practice, extremely low) cost.

Proposition 2: Parents have choice and can choose to opt out of the government provided education system. By so doing, they elect a different provider and paywhatever the fees are, consistent with their choice.

When schooling decisions are made whereby a free choice is made to use a different provider, the use of government funds in addition to the private provider’s fee leads to a funding asymmetry. Or, to put it another way, if the private provider were to be funded on a per-head basis by the government in addition to fees, the result is more money per student than in the public system. We won’t even take into account the mandatory contributions to private school building funds. Although the government funding of private education is not at the same dollar-per-head rate as the public schools, the fees + government top-up still leads to the problem: funding asymmetry.

This is a form of Moral Hazard, and we can draw some analogies:

- Should people of private means also be allowed to take the age pension? (They [aid their taxes…)

- Should people who wish to use alternatives to mainstream medicine (pick your favourite example… Iridology, Homeopathy, etc) have those services provided at government expense as part of Medicare? (They paid their taxes…)

One can take these things further, into the realms of silly extremes, but the basis is simlar:

- Should people who work be permitted to collect unemployment benefits? Consider all the whining in recent years about the “cost of moving off welfare” and “welfare to work reforms”, which all involve exactly this issue.  (And remember… they paid their taxes…)

The answers to most of these questions are usually clear – until you find the devil lurking in the detail.

Returning to schooling though, the funding asymmetry becomes blindingly apparent when the private schools are compared to their poor cousins, the state schools. In a country where education is compulsory, the private apologists are obscene in putting their hands in the public trough. Public funding should go to areas of greatest need.

I challenge anyone to pay a visit to Salisbury East, or Elizabeth, or Davoren Park – and then explain why those schools should receive less money because some of it must go to private schools. I likewise challenge anyone to show me a private school that has not had some form of building improvement work done in the last 5 years. The funding asymmetry is in front of all our eyes. Open them.

Pollie wants a bikkie

Really, this needs no introduction or elaboration. The bit about pollies as bikkies, I mean.

National Broadband = national censorship

So our Federal Government decided that they will build a new National Broadband Network covering most of the country. When it was election policy it was to cost of about $13 billion.

Now its even bigger, better, and shinier than before – with a price tag of about $43 billion.

In a country of about 20 million people, that means the cost to the taxpayers for this new broadband system will be about $2000 per person, whether used or not. And all for something about 4 or 5 times faster than we can get right now using ADSL2.

Stop and think for a moment. All that money to deliver something that, in large measure, we already have. Sure the current technology is a bit iffy here and there and the coverage is not universal. Sure, it can be ramped up a bit more.

But stop and think a bit more. Why would a government want to duplicate what is already being run by Telstra, Optus, AAPT, and the myriad operators of other telecommunication infrastructure? Sure, Telstra is the elephant in the room – but the other operators are not exactly asleep. when Telstra gouges the prices, others move in to build something with which to compete. That’s the market at work.

Sure, Telstra could be regulated harder. Or have its infrastructure nationalised. Oops – can’t do that. It used to be nationalised before!

Is there some other agenda, perhaps?

This all coming from the same government that wants to censor the internet in Australia, and which has a vast amount of push-back from the ISPs.

Could the government perhaps want to build and control the infrastructure in order to bring the recalcitrant ISP’s into line?

After all – if you control the tubes, you control what goes in and what goes out.

Are they really that desperate to control the message they they would spend this much money on doing so?

Perhaps.

And another thing

I didn’t watch the Budget speech.

So much has been strategically leaked to the press in the last week that we must know it all anyhow.

I seriously hope a few things will be changed:

- Age discrimination in tax rates. Why is it that people over a certain age can have a take-home pay of over $65K per year and pay zero tax? Us working mugs subsidise this. Thanks Mr Costello for that one – buying off the grey vote. Needs to be undone.

- A new higher tax rate for the ridiculously high income earners. Perhaps a new marginal rate of say 55% cutting in a about $500K.  And then a rate of 65% cutting in at about $1M. This will be a big disincentive to offering stratospheric salaries to all those CEOs whose pay has gone ballistic over the last few years.

- I don’t really care much about the Medicare safety net. But the private health insurance rebate (much hated by the socialised medicine lobby groups) should stay UNTIL the government can get the cost of health care rises to equal inflation. Seeing as much of the cost of health care is payingthe health professionals, this means containing the incomes of the medical profession.

- It would be nice to see the first-home-owners-bribe getting a phased reduction. Maybe not elimination – I can’t ask for that, this would be hypocrisy. After all, I benefited from a simialr grant back in 1987. Mine was for $1000, mind. So paring back the current grants of something crazy like $25K would be a good move.

- Some of the defence spending (which is all money going overseas) is just crazy. Defence has had above-everyone-else budget increases for years. Time for a bit of a look at where all those dollars go.

- There’s much ado about middle class welfare. Perhaps a little surgery in the land of upper class welfare would be a good thing, too.

Humourless

The Queensland government is most unimpressed because a fake Osama Bin Laden applied for their tourism job.

The full YouTube application can be found here.

Hasn’t it occurred to the Queensland tourism minister? Say nothing and it will go away. Say anything and you get two outcomes:

1. You look like a prat with no sense of humour.
2. You keep the story alive for longer.

Then again, maybe they wanted the publicity.

Net Censorship

Our glorious leaders have been banging the drum of Internet Censorship for some time. 

This all began many years ago with Senator Harradine & Richard Alston, but with the change of government the baton seems to have well and truly passed to Senator Conroy.

Mike Fitz has explained, eloquently, the myriad problems with what is being proposed.

The proposals:

- Won’t work

- Will give a false sense of security

- Will block meaningful content by mistake (the problem of false positives)

- Will cause greater expenses to be borne by ISPs who will pass it on to US

- Will make all internet speeds slower

This madness seems to be pushed by a small number of interest groups. But the Rudd government has shown itself already to be hugely susceptible to interest groups. Remember the Bill Henson photo’s business of mid-late 2008?

If people are so concerned about inappropriate content being found on the internet by children, they have 2 options: 1. TALK TO THEIR CHILDREN! Supervise and explain what’s right and what’s not. 2. Install a local parental filter at home where it does the most good at the least cost to anybody else.

I really wonder what on earth is going on in this Labor Party we elected.

I just finished reading a book called “Underground” – a bit dated now, but about an Australia in 2020 with a continuation of the Howard govt. Censorship is the way, as is control, exclusions zones, permanent war. It’s like 1984 but set in Australia in 2020.

The trouble with it is, everything in this book is eerily credible. Even the names that have been chosen to shock have actually come to pass. In the book, people are controlled by “The Department of Citizenship”.

I just recently found that the former Dept of Immigration is now “The Department of Immigration and Citizenship”.

We are not all that far removed (and actually never are) from the imposition of police-state rules.

The really sad thing is that this is being pushed hard by Labor. The same Labor formed to defend the rights of the people in the shearers strikes, the legacy of the same people who stood up for what’s right at Eureka. The same Labor who managed to kill off the Menzies constitutional change to outlaw the Communist Party.

This Labor Government we have is not Labor. It’s the Liberals in drag.

Rudd Labor: FAIL.

Boo-f%$#ing-hoo

This morning I’ve been to the last of the Saturday morning school cricket matches for this year.

Today’s match was at a school which shall remain nameless, in the very-deep northern suburbs.

Looking around, I noticed that the school swimming pool, so carefully fenced to a height of 2 metres, has been filled in. The changing rooms sit there, abandoned, with pigeons cooing from the rafters. The school is a strange mix of transportable wooden buildings from about 1950, and a few more modern brick buildings – from the 1960’s. That’s modern. There are windows that have been broken and boarded up, grass grows through cracks in the paving.

The one thing, the only thing, going for this school is the oval. Which is not an oval, because its a long rectangle. But it’s green, and they have a group of parents and kids out who are having a crack at playing cricket.

This school, and this neighbourhood, is a shithole. Lowest of the low working class, permanently poor. At least a few of them are getting out and trying.

And while sitting there and watching, I’m reading the paper. With an article in it about how parents are suffering because private school fees have gone up so much more than inflation.

This comes after a week where the Federal government have had a big fuss about accountability of private schools who receive over $20 BILLION of federal taxpayers money.

And contrast this with a few months ago when, done southish with friends, we went for a walk to a nearby school to kick a ball around. This was a private school, but we used the grounds anyhow (stuff em, my bloody taxes are paying for some of it). I felt literally sick – the amount of new building work being done (a new computer complex AND gymnasium) is obscene.

Those who want private schools to be unaccountable for their funding sources, and those who defend the right of private schools to get government money, should take a look. Take a good look, at the private schools with the endless building and improvement programs. Include in those the “independent” schools – usually religious, who have likewise grown like mad in the last decade. And take a look in the working class areas at the public schools. Walk around through the grounds of both. Do it on the same day.

We have, through deliberate government action, created a two-tier education system. It was done in the name of equity. That equity has failed miserably.

Something’s wrong, folks. And nobody is brave enought to fix it. All they want to do is whine about how hard it is to pay the private fees. Boo f$#@ing hoo.

Lemon

In November 2007 there was the dawning of a new age:The age of the ex-Howard, the beginning of a time when the lies and deceit were finished and a new enlightenment was cast upon the land. And the people of the land looked about and were happy to see the ex-Abbott, the unsmug-Costello, and the croaking-toad-of-Downer. In spite of some of them still being in Canberra, and still getting their ugly mugs on the daily television, we all knew they were a spent force, marking time, and that now things would be different.

We felt the attraction, power and sheer nerdiness of Kevin07, the little blond man who could do no wrong, speak no ill. Who brought with him a new broom of honesty, integrity and accountability.

Like buying a new car, we were in love with the image. We had an emotional attachment. Like the new car when something expensive goes wrong, it was still a new car, and still good. Little by little though, as more and more goes wrong with the fantastic new car, the attraction begins to fade. Those expensive repairs change the feeling of the shiny car from good to passable, and then to lemon.

And so it is with Kevin07. The man who made national pride, for better or worse, by an apology to the aborigines, something the Howard would never do.

Starting on a high… perhaps the only way from then is down.

Since that high we’ve had the Kevin making pronouncements on the lower lakes of the Murray River: “evidence of climate change”. Bullshit Kevin. Evidence of a lack of rain and a systematic over-allocation to irrigation upstream, in states controlled by your party.

Along the way, the emissions trading scheme which will increase the cost of everything we buy and everything we do in this country, a sure recipe to send the last remaining vestiges of manufacturing offshore.

And then, off to inspect the Great Barrier Reef to look at coral bleaching, again, “evidence of climate change”. Bullshit again, Kevin. The scare-mongers have been harping on about coral bleaching for the last 30 years. Evidence of run-off from too much agricultural fertisler in your home state, more likely.

Like the shiny new car, as things go wrong, the realistation slowly dawns that it’s no longer good, it’s a lemon. And so it is with Kevin and the new Labor Government.

Folks, we might have removed one set of lies and deceit, but we elected another set.

We elected a lemon.

Actually DOING something about Climate Change

Over on Jeremy, he’s posted about the Garnaut report. I’ve no idea if he is serious or taking the piss.

I posted a comment, along the lines of my recent post about how everything Australia does is meaningless, and I’ve been torn apart (as usual) along two lines:

1) My definition of a closed system is wrong.

2) I’m immoral and we should DO SOMETHING because to do nothing is (morally) WRONG.

I’ve posted a long comment there, and then thought Obuggerit, I’ll post here as well.

Point 1: Closed System.

The planet is a closed system. Doing stuff in Australia makes sod-all difference if things are not done everywhere. To mix metaphors, you CANNOT be half pregnant, but Australia taking some kind of moral high ground is trying to do just that.

For the person who picked on my statement about “closed system” and went off into thermodynamics: Sorry – you are nit-picking.

As far as climate and CO2 are concerned you can ignore all the second order effects of thermodynamics, its irrelevant for all practical purposes.

If all you do is consider CO2 emissions globally, the point is that there seems to be an attitude that Australia changing its emissions will suddenly fix all problems, stop the drought, and so on. This is plainly bollocks.

As far as world CO2 emissions are concerned, it does not matter whether the CO2 is emitted in Australia, Antarctica or Callathumpia. When it’s in the air, it’s in the air.

So Australia doing STUFF without others doing STUFF is meaningless tokenism.

Point 2: Doing meaningful STUFF.

Australia can make a contribution which is NOT meaningless tokenism, but doing so is difficult.

Here is a prescription in 4 parts. All or nothing. All parts work together, all needed.

1/ Fund research into 10 or 20 new methods of generating electricity from solar.

Why solar?

The solar power falling on the surface of the earth is about 1000 Watts / m^2. If all that energy could be used, the roof of a typical house will produce something like 70 kW, more than enough for that house and many others. Even allowing for poor efficiency and cloud cover, getting 10 to 20 kW should be achievable.

Power grids help shift power from places with light to places without. Storage is a problem but is improving. Fund research there as well.

Right now solar is not affordable to all but the very rich, and the solar that’s available is photovoltaic, and based on some pretty old technology.

There is also dye solar in research which promises to be dramatically cheaper. FUND IT!

What about the Heliostat solar furnace? FUND IT!

How about the Power Tower, using pure convection? FUND IT!

There will be a bunch more. Fund them.

Be prepared to accept that of 10 to 20 funded developments, only 2 will be winners. The rest will be dead ducks. Get over it.

But then do steps 2, 3 and 4 (doing step 1 without the others is madness):

2/ A condition of funding research is that the scientists must be kept on a tight reign and the engineers let in.

Publishing papers (the reason for existence of the scientist) spreads the joy, and loses the rewards. Be sure, anybody else following the prescription will be doing these steps as well. Australia must learn!

Funding research will bring out every crackpot, looney, and rent-seeker imaginable. Accepting only proposals which include engineering, design, pilot plants and evaluation will help keep this in check.

Research without pilot plants is useless, so an outcome of research (a condition for getting the money) HAS to be that a pilot plant is to be constructed. The engineers are needed for that. Let em in early.

3/ Don’t permit publication of anything. No papers, nuffink, until the pilot plants have been built and THE PATENTS HAVE BEEN APPLIED FOR.

Historically Australia has been great at doing research and creating intellectual property, and poor at making a quid from those activities. This must cease. Patents are the only method. Use them.

4/ License the patents worldwide at reasonable costs, so the fruits of the research, pilot plants, and so on can be made available to all. AT A PRICE.

If we pay for the research it is only right and fair that we share the rewards. The license fees should be set by the Australian Govt (which funds the activities). And they should be reasonable.

And finally and most important, defend in courts of law the patents to ensure that the fruits of the Australian taxpayer are not stolen.

——-

This is a concrete approach, with a 10 to 20 year horizon it could lead to a transformation. It can benefit all instead of doing a tokenistic, paternalistic, “poor little me” bullshit line, which is what Oz is doing right now. It can benefit all. It can reward Australians for their taxes being used for the benefit of all.

——–

Those who attack me for having the the “we should not bother” line because others do worse are simply pious. Taking that approach without doing something tangible is simply to take the moral high ground. Doing that, we will have the most moral-high-ground-pious unemployed population living in a drought on earth. Whoopy-do.

Budget Rant

The new government has announced a series of small changes to taxes & charges in the recent Budget.

For the most part, I can’t really grizzle too much. Though they could have gone further in some areas.

So just for the heck of it, here’s a bit of an opinionated budget-rant.

The Laptop Computer Scam

How this has lasted as long as it did is beyond me. The arrangement used to be that you could salary sacrifice to buy a laptop PC using pre-tax income. This gave an effective discount on the sticker price of 30% to 40% depending on income.

Then, you could claim depreciation each year on the cost of the machine – but the depreciation was claimed on the amount paid, even though paid with pre-tax income. Effectively, you were claiming depreciation on the cost, not the amount paid in after-tax dollars. The long term effect was that when written off completely over a period of 5 or so years, the laptop PC would have cost LESS than nothing. In other words, us other taxpayers were paying a subsidy to those who bought the laptop and then claimed depreciation.

The changes mean that laptops need to be substantiated and used for work purposes, it seems the ability to depreciate will be removed, though that’s not completely clear.

Removal of a a double-benefit like this is No Bad Thing.

Means-testing of benefits

The baby bonus (also know as the plasma-TV bonus) will be means-tested and paid in forthnightly installments instead of a lump sum.

The means-test is probably no bad thing, though with all the other zillions of family benefits, assistances, and so on that are available, I don’t really see why we need a specific baby bonus anyhow. It was just pork-barrelling by the previous government.

As for payment in 13 easy instalments… I wonder how long it will be before the big electrical retailers are offering big-ticket items that can be paid in EXACTLY 13 easy instalments?

Similarly, the previous Family Tax Benefit B will be means-tested. Probably no bad thing, after all, why should my taxes be used to subsidise the private school fees and fashionable clothing for the already well-off?

No doubt a stack of public servants will need to be employed to check and police all this stuff. I’ve never understood Family Tax Benefit B, and have never claimed it. I suspect I should amend a few years of past income tax returns, but I just can’t be bothered trying to find what it’s about. Besides, I don’t want the government to know any more about me than they already do, so keeping out of the evil clutches of the social security dept and tax office is a Good Thing.

Means Testing the Photo-Voltaic Rebate

Now (tah-dah) CONTENTIOUS TIME. This one I do have a problem with.

In short, households with an income of over $100K won’t get the rebate if they install a solar photo-voltaic system. The PV rebate is worth a LOT of money – something like $8K, or similar.

The logic here is, again, something along the lines of: Why provide middle-class welfare?

And that’s fine and dandy on the face of it, but it’s a bit more subtle in this case.

The new government are green-house believers, Kyoto-protocol-signers, who want to see Australia cut its emissions of CO2.

If they are serious, they need to look at the cost of energy from many sources. Markets are normally driven by prices, and energy from coal and gas is CHEAP. To move away from these energy sources to something more expensive is not going to happen unless there is a good short-term incentive. (A few rare people will shell out their hard-earned for a long term payback, but this is the exception, not the rule.)

Solar power is not cheap, its very expensive, mainly because of the up-front purchase price of the panels. But Australia is blessed with a lot of sunshine, and the amount of power from the sun amounts to about 1 kW per square metre. The efficiency of conversion means it’s very difficult to extract more than about 25% of that, but we do have a lot of roof area in the nation! If you had to choose a country to roll out a lot of solar power, Australia ranks up in the top few.

Fundamentally, the government message is “we are terribly worried about greenhouse”. They go off hand-wringing, and then offer an incentive only to the working poor to do anything about it. Even after the PV rebate, the cost of installing solar panels is thousands of dollars. Few people with a household income below $100K can afford an up-front hit of $2K to $5K (with the rebate picking up the balance). On the other hand, those who are deemed to be well-off CAN afford to spend some of their own money, and usually have both the social conscience and income to want to do something.

So by putting this means-test in place, the government show themselves to be massive hypocrites. The take-up of solar power will plummet because the well-off who would have paid a few thousand will now be expect to pay about 3 to 5 times as much, and the not-so-well-off won’t be able to afford the smaller amount they would need to pay anyhow. CLEVER MOVE, NOT.

Banks ‘n Loans – Revisited

Duncan has a bit of a spray at banks raising their loan rates at greater than the increases being applied by the Reserve Bank.

But actually, if you look at both history and the current environment, its hardly surprising.

The History Lesson

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when knights were bold and maidens were fair… you get the idea. Anyhow, if you wanted a home loan you went to a bank. The banks raised funds from depositors and in wholesale markets (the money market and so on). The banks had to make their profit from the Spread - the difference between what they loaned money for, and what they paid depositors or on the wholesale market.

Then, a few years ago, along came deregulation and the emergence of the non-bank lenders. These guys ONLY raised wholesale money, either in the wholesale markets or by borrowing huge sums from a big bank and then slicing and dicing it into little chunks. The non-bank lenders also packaged mortgages into loan books and sold them off (called Securitising), leading to the stories of the mythical Belgian Dentists who earned a tidy income from owning a portfolio of Australian home loans.

The emergence of the non-bank lenders gave the banks serious competition. Over the last 15 years, the spread (that’s the difference between the loan and the deposit rates) has roughly halved.

And now folks… the Current Environment

Back in about August 2007, a bunch of clever dicks in the USA suddenly realised the Emporer had no clothes.

Until then, they had been making large numbers of home loans to people who could not pay. These were of an even lower standard than the Australian “low-doc” loans. These were to people who never had a hope in hell of paying. In the parlance, they were “sub-prime” loans. But the game was about making loans and collecting fees and to hell with tomorrow.

houseofcards.jpgTo help keep the merry-go-round spinning merrily, these loans were packaged (securitised, as above) and sold off all over the place. A bunch of even cleverer folks made managed funds out of packages of these crappy loans, and sold the funds. And on and on the game went. Some of these low quality loans were tucked and folded so many times they even became classed as high quality, such was the obscurity! Lots of yummy fees collected, but eventually the house of cards came a-falling down. Along the way, a few methaphors were mixed as well.

All it took was a bit of an economic slowdown in the USA, and those people who struggled to may their mortgages simply stopped paying. A lot just walked out of their homes. In that kind of environment, there are no buyers so house prices have tumbled, and an economic decline spiral has started. When the borrowers don’t pay, suddenly all those people with sub-prime loans, and funds, and what-not stop receiving an income and want to know why.

Poof! Like Merlin waving the magic wand, the light of realisation suddenly appears as people realise their “investment” was merely an illusion.

Like they have been in everything else, the politicians and leaders in the USA are completely incompetent – even if they knew what to do, they can’t fix this mess overnight. They allowed it to happen over a period of many years, and many years is what it will take to fix. At the moment they are in denial – just listen to President Bush.

In this environment, there is no confidence in any markets for anybody who wants to borrow money. There is still money available to borrowers, just a lot less of it, at much higher interest rates.

Because the lenders have generally departed, leaving only a cloud of dust and the sound of receding running shoes, the unravelling is spreading. Now, any company with large amounts of short term debt is considered suspect, irrespective of the assurances they give about having sources of funding lined up. (Witness the declines of Allco, ABC Learning, Asciano, RAMS and many many more). Funding is harder to get, and bankers are about the only sources left – and they are nervous.

So we’ve seen massive declines in the share market, as companies with large loans (called “highly geared”) have had to reassure investors that they can survive. They try, but it’s not working very well. The loss of confidence is contagious.

For the poor old home owner, the tables have turned. The non-bank lenders have no easy sources of funds – apart from our friends the big banks. They can’t borrow on the wholesale market – because there isn’t one for the likes of them. The only wholesale money market left is for the banks – big, solid, and dependable. And the rates being charged are higher.

The banks don’t source all the funds they loan out from depositors, much has to come from those wholesale markets. When the rates there go up, the banks only have two choices: absorb it, reducing returns to shareholders; or pass them on to customers, increasing their pain.

And that is why the banks are raising rates at greater than the rate set by the Reserve Bank.

Cos the money they are loaning out is costing them more.

Sorry!

I’ve just watched the speeches of Kevin Rudd and Brendan Nelson from the “Sorry-fest”.

You can find the whole deal on the ABC web site. 1/2 hour of Mr Rudd, and out the same from Mr Nelson.

Mr Rudd presents very very well. Look on this oh Howard, and weep at your lost opportunity! Ten years you squandered with no vision, just being a mean-spirited weasel.

Mr Nelson tried hard, and clearly has some strong feelings, but his party is torn apart and don’t know which way to go. His message was a bit mixed up. Rudd is setting the agenda, and the Liberals are trying to maintain some dignity. They have succeeded in the main, just.

I’ve had very mixed feelings about all this (hence no blog posting until now), but after seeing Mr Rudd I suspect that maybe, if he does not get hijacked by other crises, then just maybe he and the new BIPARTISAN Commission can actually make a difference.

By making a clear point that words don’t actually make history, actions do, he has also tied his words to some deeds; and the deeds will define the real result of all this.

I’m now more optimistic that there might be a decent future for Aborigines than I’ve been for about the last 15 years. That said (written), it will be long and difficult to actually make a difference. Decades. But you can be sure there will be no difference at all if they don’t try.

To sit through two politicians speeches lasting a total of an hour is unheard of for me, I normally have such contempt for the species. Tonight, watching from the ABC web site, I was riveted.

So full marks, for the first time in years we have a polly who may yet turn out to be both inspirational and a statesman. He’s sure starting out with that kind of promise. I wish him, and Mr Nelson, well.

Forward, gentlemen, with goodwill. May the forces of evil be defeated as they try to ambush you.

Kevin Rudds Poisoned Chalice

My previous comments about Kevin07 and Labor running a low key / low target campaign drew a few comments, so I’ll explain a bit further.

Very early in the campaign, Howard and the libs announced a program of tax cuts looking about 3-4 years ahead. We all know such promises are silly because nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone the state of the countries economy in a few years time.

Labor were immediately under pressure to match it, and they did – with one exception, a little bit of fudging with an aspirational tax rate at some far-distant time. Now that the shouting has died down, none of us can remember that fine detail but we can all remember a truck load of tax cuts being promised.

Labor HAVE to deliver those tax cuts.

Anything remotely reeking of non-delivery (eg, Keatings L.A.W. tax cuts delivered as superannuation, and Howards core vs non-core promises) will be seized on by the Liberal opposition as proof of their incompetence, and used forever to beat them up.

Howard and Costello knew for 12 months that they were on the nose, they knew their chances of winning were slim.

You can just imagine their reasoning:

- If we make this promise and the economy tanks, we’ll just dissemble like we did so many times before – it was a non-core children overboard promise, and look, well, the ecomony is a bit sick now and it would be unreasonable to give that tax cut we promised 2 years ago.

- But if Labor wins and the economy tanks, we can scream at them for YEARS about how they screwed up and could not deliver.

So Labor, by matching the tax cuts, have sipped from the poisoned chalice.

There is now NO SCOPE for tipping oodles of money into better State / Federal relations, no pot of gold to build a really flash rail system, nothing for expanded transport infrastructure, zip for reducing HECS or public school upgrades or building programs.

The education revolution will have to be funded on a shoe-string.

About the only large fund they can lay their hands on quickly and easily is the saving from Howards former advertising campaign. A million bucks a day will do a lot of hip replacements, but it’s small fry in the long run.

Howard and Costello have set the Labor agenda for the next 3 years!

Cunning, very very cunning.

Poor Rudd. He’s now in office and boxing with one hand – he tied the other behind his back when he matched the tax cuts. And if he had not done it, he probably would not have been elected – but we’ll never know.

Slimeball

So far in the campaign I’ve received 4 personally addressed letters from the king-of-slime, Nick Minchin, telling me how if Labor is elected there will be dire and catastrophic consequences.

In the same period there have been 2 personally addressed letters from various apparatchiks of Labor.

In the piss-me-off stakes, Liberal ranks higher. I don’t like personally addressed mail trying to swing my vote.

A pox on both your houses!

Be Scared, be very very scared

Today’s scare:

“If you vote for Mr Rudd the inflationary consequences will be so severe that a recession is inevitable”

Thus speaketh Mr Liddle John & Mr Costello.

Hmmm.

There are 4 weeks of the election campaign left. What can they use next week?

“If you vote for Mr Rudd he will come and eat your children.”

And the week after? Perhaps Mr Rudd will take away all your women? And after that? Who knows… Perhaps he’s so evil he can single-handedly change the direction of rivers, cause storms, steal all our money, or something similar!

Oh dear.

Better and better

101 Uses For a John Howard just gets better and better.

Check the latest entry: Green Machine.

I’m especially tickled by:

… there is a less dangerous source of power generation based on the principle of the Howard backflip. Once Johnny was hooked up to the generator with the monitor showing a continuous feed of opinion polls, the torque generated by the process of the little guy changing his story could power the planet.

Eventually, cloning and miniaturisation techniques would make possible the mass-production of the internal Howard engine, bringing an inexhaustible supply of energy to all humanity that, as long as the soundproofing was perfect, would be entirely free of toxic emissions.

Howards (History) Way

His Royal Highness, Prince Howard of Canberra wants all schools to teach Australian History, with an officially sanctioned curriculum.

I’ll bet this bit won’t be taught.

1931 / 1932 – The Great Depression.

Have a guess, readers, which countries had the highest unemployment during the Great Depression?

HANDS UP all those who guessed Germany (highest) and Australia (second highest)?

And which country had armed militias prepared to overthrow their elected governments during this period?

Yep – Australia again.

One of the more interesting – and lesser known – parts of Australia’s history is that during the 1914-1918 First World War, Australia agreed to help out the British Empire by supplying troops for use as English canon fodder.

However, Australia may have supplied the troops, but it was also required to pay them (their wages), pay for uniforms, pay for ammunition, pay for transport, pay for billeting, and on and on.

The money for all this was not available to the young Australian nation, so it was BORROWED – from English bankers. At the end of the war, Australia owed £350 million.

By about 1931, during the depression, the Australian war debt was £90 million (about $6.3 billion in todays terms). At the same time that the British had persuaded the USA to grant interest rate concessions on their war debts, they refused any such concessions for Australia.

The interest being paid by Australia was an unbelievable £36 million ($2.5 billion) per year!!

At that time the Federal Government had very limited revenue raising ability, this money was paid by the states.

The amount of interest being paid on war debts was crippling to Australia and led to massive political ramifications, including all state government policies being dictated by the British banker Sir Otto Niemeyer. This policy was for severe austerity measures, which in turn exacerbated the already large unemployment.

Consequences of the austerity measures included riots in Adelaide (the Beef Riot), Perth (Treasury Building Riot), Cairns (Bloody Sunday riots), and Sydney (Glebe and Newtown riots).

Only one politician was prepared to challenge the financial measures being imposed by the British – Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales. Whilst he was denouncing the measures, and threatening (and later carrying through with the threat) to refuse to meet the interest payment, there was a young, aspiring Victorian politician who felt differently:

“If Australia is to surmount her troubles by the abandonment of traditional standards of honesty, justice and fair play, it would be far better for Australia that every citizen within her boundaries should die of starvation during the next few months.”

This address by Robert Gordon Menzies was greeted by rousing applause – such were the polarised times!

While political feelings were heated, shadowy groups were preparing to overthrow the governments of New South Wales and Victoria. In New South Wales, the New Guard was led by Eric Campbell, and at one time boasted over 100,000 members – prepared to remove the Labor government of the day. A similar group in Victoria was much less well known, and called the White Army. The best, most publicly known of the exploits of the New Guard was the slashing of the ribbon by Francis de Groot at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Such were the times of the Great Depression: Riots, 700,000 unemployed (and adding at the the rate of 5000 per week), massive political unrest, private armies, and a politician who would rather see the people starved than fight payment of usurious interest to Britain.

Will this be taught in the Australian history curriculum?

—————————–

References and further reading:

“1932″, Gerald Stone, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2006. (A cracking good read).

“Working for dole – Commonwealth relief during the Great Depression”, Don Fraser (National Archives)

“Riot acts – The history of Australian Rioting”, David Lowe, 1993, pp 16-18.

Australias WW1 debt to Britain, in 1931, in answer to a question in the Senate was £79,724,220 (National Archives).

The Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor Blog (Sword Point article, comments): “Feel free to call me Peter, Pete, or even mate. Feel free to explain to me why the UK never fully repaid its war debt to the USA but Britain demanded Australia pay it back. Also explain to me why it took the same country 60 years to pay off its WWII debt but never gave Australia such latitude.”

“The Centenary of Treasury 1901-2001, An Informal History”, Highlights (Part 3), Commonwealth of Australia, 2001: “Significant economic instability followed the end of the war. Australia emerged from the war weakened by the loss of the maimed and dead and by the monstrous burden of a £350,000,000 war debt…”

Three main points of the Lang Plan (from: http://www.alor.org/Library/Commonwealthbank.htm):
1. That until Great Britain agreed to fund Australia’s overseas debt in the same manner as America funded that of Great Britain, no further interest upon her overseas debt should be paid by Australia.
2. That the interest rate on this debt should be reduced to 3%, and that all interest rates on private finance should be correspondingly reduced.
3. That the existing system of currency be altered from a nominal gold standard to one more suited to modern conditions, preferably the goods standard.

This policy was greeted with a howl of mingled rage and fear from private banks, the insurance companies and the bond­holders in general. The press denounced Lang in the most unbridled terms, as a swindler and a thief, whose proper place was gaol. It published ‘scare headings’ such as ‘Lang will confiscate Savings Bank deposits’, ‘Lang will smash your bank and seize your savings’, while politicians vied with each other in prophesying the bank’s ruin in every newspaper – one Federal Member publicly stated that he gave the bank four days to run (Hansard, Vol. 128. P. 1087/8, 1181).

Malcolm you old lefty!

Malcolm Fraser should have been a member of the Labor Party.

Over at Australians All, he has written a short article which I’m blatantly stealing and quoting in full in order to make sure i’m not savaged by links going bad in future (The emphasis, though, is mine):

Judith Brett, professor of Politics at La Trobe University, has compared the way Robert Menzies dealt with the perceived threat of communism to the way John Howard has and is dealing with terrorism. “The big moral question though for any historical judgement of John Howard is his handling of asylum seekers and the war on terror,” she wrote. “Did he manipulate fear, racism and xenophobia to win the 2001 election? Has he over reacted to the threat of Islamic terrorism by introducing draconian legislation which breaches fundamental principles of civil liberties?”

These questions go to the very heart of the current debate about Australian values. No government has spoken more of what it calls Australian values than the current one, but the government has implied that those values are unique to Australia and that some people don’t adhere to or accept them. So often it seems to glorify the outcome of war.

It is a good thing that more and more young Australians recognise Anzac Day and give thanks for the courage, the heroism, the mateship of Australians and others who fought at Anzac Cove. It is a good thing to remember all those who fought for freedom and liberty. It is questionable though whether this relatively new found sense of nationalism carries with it only “good” for the future of Australian society.

The great Australian icon of Anzac was born out of a political decision by a British cabinet minister that was unrealistic, that cost thousands of lives and had no chance of success. As we remember the heroism of those fighting Australians, we should also remember the futility and terror of war. Especially we should always let the Anzac story remind us that ordinary people can be sacrificed by political decisions which are sometimes unforgivably wrong. Do we use that experience to caution us against leaders who campaign using fear of the unknown, to magnify a danger out of all proportion?

I was speaking only the other day to somebody who suggested that a nation cannot be truly a nation unless it has been bloodied in war. We must hope to build a world better than that. We need to guard against those who seem to use, even glorify, heroism as a means of upholding those same values in a new war. There is nothing about the Anzac legend that suggests Australians should forgo any of their basic rights as human beings because of the War on Terrorism.

Extreme action by any government needs to be questioned with great severity. One of the tragedies of Australia in recent years is that a weak opposition has failed to question, and has often supported, government decisions which many argue are misguided and wrong.

How many of us give due thought to the fact that once a government accepts that the Rule of Law and due process under the law is broken in relation to any one individual or to a small group of people, then the Rule of Law, effectively, does not apply to any citizen of that country. Unless such a government is hauled back, as it can be in the United States by their Bill of Rights, by a political opposition that is vigorous or by public opinion, that breach in the Rule of Law tends to grow larger as every moment passes. Four hundred years ago evidence taken under torture was outlawed in British courts. Now it is accepted by the United States and implicitly by the Australian Government. Is this an advance, or is a step backwards into a darker age?

Too many of us seem prepared to accept that the Rule of Law need not apply to people who are different. If it does not apply to every person without exception, it cannot be guaranteed to protect any person from the arbitrary exercise of power by government. It is not possible to exempt any person, for reason of background, of origin, of race, or circumstance. You can’t legislate retrospectively to make a person, doing something lawful at the time, guilty after the event.

The Rule of Law is indeed the most precious aspect of our democracy and it is the only protection that average people have against arbitrary and excessive use of power by government.

Why no election called yet?

So why, oh why, has the turd-who-cannot-be-flushed not called the election yet?

I’ll hazard a guess at the answer:

He’s spending about $5 million a week of OUR money on advertising.

While he’s spending OUR money on advertising workplace IR laws being OK, better super, tough on drugs, blah blah blah, he can claim that it is all legitimate because it’s about government programs.

The moment he calls the election, the Liberal Party will have to pay for anything the remotely smells of advertising the policies or benefits of the party, and the libs are skint.

So, he holds on, spending OUR money at the rate of about a million bucks per working day, in the vain hope that some of the message will stick.

Well, John, I hope the public are not so gullible.

Sooner or later you’ll get flushed! All turds go, sooner or later. Some just need more work than others.

Nuvver one

Had another anti-Howard blog referred to me (thanks Mel).

For all you rampant Howard-haters out there, check out Bilegrip.

EDIT: I just had to add this quote:

I think we had better get used to the taste of Victory Gin. The thing about John Howard is that he is a master at wearing people down with his incessant presence; like a political Freddie Krueger who invades everyone’s dreams and waking states, he keeps the Australian electorate paralysed with the fear that if they lose him they will regain their souls. After supporting him for eleven and a half years, they are in too deep to admit they sold out their humanity.

Such is the power of John Howard that to have a soul is now regarded as un-Australian.

Those in the electorate who a few months ago felt a surge of courage at the thought of getting rid of this predatory automaton will soon be gibbering in a colloidal goo of their own faeces as he turns their taxpayer funds into a campaign of stark raving fear of everything that moves.

Things that make you go GRR! (Part 2)

Continuing from before…

6. The woman from Brand Power.

Who IS this woman?

Why does she always smile? And not just any smile, this is a SMILE where you need sunglasses for protection.

Am I supposed to know who she is? Is she famous for some passing fad I missed?

And what the heck is with BRAND POWER anyhow?

See, I thought business worked liked this: You think of a name for you / your product / your service. You use the name (that’s the Brand, see) and build its reputation over time. You become known, recognised and respected. You have earned some power for your brand.

So along comes this Brand Power thing… isn’t this like a meta-brand? The brand is not important any more, what matters is to have it plugged by the Brand Power lady with the extremely white teeth.

Gahhhhh! I just don’t get this!!

7. School newsletters printed in colour

Our school has just started sending home the fortnightly newsletter, printed in full and splendiferous colour.

Somebody has a new toy – a colour laser printer. YES I KNOW THEY ARE CHEAP TO BUY. I have one. It was about $300 – delivered! The toner cartridges though are far from cheap. A complete set for the one I bought comes in at a mere $500 – so we are aiming to make the primary colour units last a long, long time. The black toner is about $90, so you can see what the cost of the others is.

The school print off 800 copies of the newsletter, in colour. The newsletter has a lifetime of about 8 hours. Long enough to get home so we can see the pictures of somebody else’s liddle darlinks, and then it goes into the recycling.

But somebody has to pay for the colour refill cartridges that have led to such a short-lived thing, and that somebody is me. Well, ok, me, and all the other parents of the liddle darlinks. Printing in colour will MULTIPLY the costs of the newsletter by about 4 times!

This is not a wise use of my hard-earned. No doubt it’s good for some administrative ego-tripper. But I don’t want it.

Time to write them a nasty letter. Perhaps I should suggest they bring back stone tablets.

8. Politicians who have suddenly discovered there is a lack of water… And all the boofheads screaming for desalination

Der… There must be an election in the air.

Suddenly Our Glorious Leader has discovered that the capital cities have little water in storage, and his prayers for rain have not been answered. Perhaps God is listening to somebody else.

At the same time as Dear Leader is posturing, we have the Victorians who won’t play the same game as the rest of us and try to actually allow centralised management of the major waterway of the country. See, they have spent years putting in more irrigation ditches and growing crops and moo-cows on irrigated pasture. Makes cheap milk.

And we have the Queensland Government who are still selling off water allocations in the upper reaches of the various waterways!

These are all Labor states. They are all supposed to be on the same side. Just imagine how difficult it would be if one of those states was not Labor!

While that’s going on we have cries for huge numbers of desalination plants to be built. Now this might be a Good Thing, in terms of actually having something to drink apart from ones own urine (Adelaide excepted… see later). However for those concerned that Global Warming has caused the change of weather and thus lack of rain, they seem to have overlooked the fact that desalination uses a LOT of electricity. Thus, more power consumption, more coal burned, more CO2, etc etc.

Next we get told we will be able to have some water, but because it’s desalinated it will be expensive so water bills will go up. The unwashed masses start whining that this isn’t good enough. SA Liberal Opposition in particular plays along with this one.

Fer crying out loud you morons, stop ya bloody whining and accept either eating shit or paying more.

Adelaide is in a special position: being at the tail end of the Murray Sewer, we’ve been eating other peoples shit for years. Strangely enough, it’s not good enough for Toowoomba. Last I checked only 3 of my neighbours have 2 heads.

9. Corporate OMO-Men

“Corporate What?”, you may ask.

Remember the adverts for OMO washing powder: cleans so well your whites won’t be white, they’ll be whiter than white.

There is a certain class of corporate junkie, mostly the sort who are desperate to climb the greasy pole of success. These are the OMO MEN.

When the boss says “Hmm, I wonder what the effect of XXX would be”, these are the guys who turn the musing into Holy Writ and pronounce to all and sundry the new policy and that henceforth we’ll be doing XXX – oh, and a little bit more dreamed up by the OMO MAN on the grounds that, well, more is better. And the boss will love it for having gone that little bit further.

I should hasten to add that OMO MEN is a catchy title, but some of the worst OMO MEN I’ve come across have been women. You know what I mean.

Omo Men are not new. They are the clichéd chaps in the Army who when told to go jump ask “How High, Sir?”. They are always on the lookout for the next thing that will make them look good. Usually they struggle to find a single brain cell to actually think with, but their quota of self-preservation drive is exceeded only by their quota of self-advancement drive.

Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170) was done in by OMO Men, when the King in frustration cried “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”.

10. Career Managers

There have been advertisements appearing in some newspapers for months now, something along the lines of “Earning > $250K? Want to be head hunted? Want a board position? Want advancement?” etc etc – I’m sure you get the drift.

Now you can outsource your own climbing of the greasy corporate pole!

Pay somebody money – and while you meddle and scheme, or act as an OMO Man, or more frequently, futz about avoiding decisions – they will look after your career advancement for you!

Those who get advancement by plotting and scheming, or by outsourcing it, are like politicians: Those who want to be there are precisely those who should not be there.

I really seriously need a bucket – the contempt I feel for those who would use such a service warrants a quick throwing up!

Kevin (Andrews) and Little Johns Citizenship test

Thanks to Catherine Deveny at The Age for dumping far better on Little Johns citizenship test than I ever could.

Especially good:

When you go to a bring- your-own-meat barbie can you eat other people’s meat or are you only allowed to eat your own?

and:

Is it possible to “prang a car” while doing “circle work”?

and particularly:

What purple root vegetable beginning with the letter “b” is required by law to be included in a hamburger with the lot?

Those who quiver with delight at the real thing can find Kevin Andrews’ booklet and sample citizenship tests here. Part 1 – “What does it mean to be an Australian” is telling.

A few paras about Australian values that our friends in Canberra might try and live to:

  • respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual
  • peacefulness
  • tolerance, mutual respect and compassion for those in need.

Bring on the election!

Todays blatant rip-off – APEC

I found this rather amusing, especially Condi Rice:

Ripped off from Crikey (again):

Barry Everingham writes:

Our DFAT mole has reported that things in Canberra got very nasty last week when the spotlight was turned on our Second Lady and Lord Downer of Baghdad and Kabul following the American First Lady’s call to Janette saying she wouldn’t be coming down – I got a pinched nerve in my neck honey and my doctor said don’t fly.

Janette went spare, according to the mole, and she sent for the Man of Steel and her instructions were clear — fix this now.

Our Lame Duck leader in turn sent for Lord Downer and his instructions were very clear — get Condi on to this.

Damn and blast said LDPM. What if the Lame Duck President pulls out too? There would be more withdrawals than on Tony Abbott’s honeymoon. His lordship giggled with uncontrolled delight – “Yes sir,” he said to John. “Condi and I can talk about my two weeks with her when she showed me her country.”

LDPM’s patience was running thin by now – Janette hadn’t let up, the Embassy in Washington reported there was a real possibility Dubya wouldn’t make the trip either and without him the whole re-election campaign, called APEC, would be a flop.

“Lex,” said John. “Try to get a grip. Janette wants Laura and I need George. Tell me they are both getting ready for the trip.”

Condi alas was no help. “Get a grip (that phrase again) honey chile. Laura aint able to fly and the Massa ain’t decided whether he will or not. Baby, you’ll be the first to know,” she told his lordship, who by now was over the moon. And he was taking a grip, though probably not in the way Howard and Rice had in mind.

Meanwhile, back at Kirribilli House Janette was fuming. Her last hurrah was quickly turning into a disaster and her own doctor told her that as Air Force One was the size of football field, Laura could move around with ease, notwithstanding her neck.

At the time of writing, his lordship’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears – Laura will not be subjected to four days of campaigning against Maxine in Bennelong, the Lame Duck President looks like dropping in, Sydney is a total disaster, Janette won’t talk to John, Downer is still smirking and giggling and through it all Kevin Rudd is convinced there is a God after all.

Quote of the week

Thank you, Aurelius, for this.

Interest Rates up, dissembling up as well

Interest rates went up.

Speakest the Howard: It’s all the fault of the EVIL state Labor governments, who, incidentally are borrowing money to pay for infrastructure upgrades. You know, building roads, bridges, hospitals, that kind of thing. The kind of thing that Honest John and Bumbling Pete have been getting stuck into the states for NOT doing.

Clager-lang-er-lang. Oops, sorry, that’s the hypocrisy detector sounding.

See when you are Prime Monster, you truly can have your cake and eat it too.

Mr 101 uses has it spot on.

Bring on the election!

The death of personal responsibility – a second go

There has been a bit of a fuss about the Labor folks thinking the Shreck promotional stuff is going too far, especially in selling junk food to children.

The other day, this reply / comment appear in Crikey. It’s worth quoting, and commenting. For information, Christian Kerr wrote an article about fat people. Paragraph break additions are mine.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton writes: Christian Kerr’s claim that “if you’re fat or if your kids are, it’s probably because you’re also lazy – too lazy to exercise, too lazy to cook and eat properly and too lazy to fight marketing” shows he has never worked with people suffering from obesity. Blaming the victim is also unlikely to lead to any solutions.

Of course, people can make decisions about what they eat and drink, they can learn to cook (it would help if schools taught kids to cook) and they can (usually) do some exercise.

But many people are unaware of what is in foods and drinks and the food industry rejects a clear “traffic light” labeling scheme that would make it easy to choose from the 30,000 different foods on offer in a typical supermarket. Many of the two-thirds of Australian men who are too fat are unaware that abdominal fat is a problem and wrongly believe they just have “a bit of a beer gut”.

Studies in Victoria also found that most parents do not recognise that their overweight children (especially boys) have a problem because they look pretty much like their friends.

Few people in our society make a decision to be fat — it’s more a combination of genes and an environment that makes it difficult for people to make good food and exercise choices. Many people also eat for emotional reasons — including picking up the message from unsympathetic people that fat = lazy. There is no evidence to support such an assertion.

Two world experts in food policy (Professor Tim Lang and Dr Geoffrey Rayner of London City University) have stated that obesity is a function of “the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity; widening distances between homes and work or shops; the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability; the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice; the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing; the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks; the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Some of these factors are under individual control; others are related to the way we organise our society to satisfy economic and political ends. Governments must address obesity as the ensuing health care costs will cripple their budgets in the near future.

There are things that can be done and finding ways to counteract the efforts of clever marketing gurus that seek to subvert kids is a small start. At least Nicola Roxon is prepared to look at the issue. Some more comprehensive positive policy statements from Kevin Rudd would be welcome. Damning the victims of our obesogenic environment will achieve nothing.

Well, Rosemary, sort of agree, and sort of disagree.

Picking over a few of the arguments:

Blaming the victim

Blaming the victim is a convenient and shorthand way of saying that people – individuals – must take some responsibility for their own lives and their own actions.

Ignorance, rather than laziness, can make doing so difficult, but in the end the only way that people anywhere have ever made significant progress against their problems is because they have wanted to do so. Nanny-state prescriptions don’t work. How many examples of this need to be wheeled out?

Blaming the corporations

A common approach is to lay the root cause of all our troubles at the feet of rapacious corporations.

But corporations are just people, they are just you and I, and they are owned by us and our superannuation funds.

Corporations live in the market economy, something that’s deemed in today’s world to be A Good Thing. whether that’s the case or not is the subject for a separate philosophical debate.

An attribute of competition in the market economy is not just sales growth, it’s survival. Everybody wants an edge, and in a competitive market the edge is about whatever works. Frequently it’s taking sales from your competitors. New (really new) sales are jolly hard to come by.

A wee digression: think of those retailers who want more opening hours, less regulation, blah blah blah. “More opening hours will make more jobs”. Phooey. There is only a certain amount can be spent on STUFF. More opening hours might make more convenience, but it does not make some magic-pudding of retail money magically appear and get spent.

Anyhow… For the food corporations to survive they will do the SMALLEST POSSIBLE amount of marking of their products. In fact, the smallest possible amount of compliance with regulations. Why? Because their competitors do! And even if food items are marked, how many Joe and Joesephine Averages read it anyhow? (back to ignorance)

The corporations deserve part of the blame, but by no means all.

THE SYSTEM, that allows the corporations to do what they do, is equally culpable. But in the end, that’s just us (the people) as well. We can include our governments, but hey, they just us, the people as well!

A traffic light labelling scheme

Spare me.

Really, who will set the standards? And on what basis?

And what about when research leads to changes in what’s considered acceptable?

SOME FOODS ALREADY HAVE TRAFFIC LIGHT-ISH LABELLING: Just look at the rampant use of nonsense like “97% fat free”. (And ice-cream makers are especially bad – pull out the fat and put glucose in instead. Lots of it. Glucose is very nasty stuff.)

Simplistic solutions rely on some all-knowing benevolent father passing knowledgeable decrees down from on high. And what if they are wrong?

Remember when it was the thing to eat lard? To have an egg for breakfast every day? You must have cereal for breakfast! No, grains are bad, eat protein! Protein – ergh – evil stuff, eat cardboard. On and on the advice goes. And changes.

Fat factors

“the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity;”

Hard to disagree with this one, but seriously, what is to be done about it? The serious answer is nothing.

“widening distances between homes and work or shops;”

Ditto.

“the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability;”

Now we might be getting somewhere. Once, food was expensive, people had little money left for McMansions after basic survival, and they ate enough to survive, not always to live well. Here I’m only going back about 50 to 70 years.

Factory farms, intensive agriculture, mechanisation, cheap oil, modern fertilisers have all helped drive the price of food down dramatically in modern times. A natural consequence of plenty is to eat more. Hard times may make a change, little else will. Cheap food will be with us for a long time to come.

“the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice;”

Go back to what I wrote above – advertising is a fact of life in a market economy. Whilst we might all agree that the advertising is evil, and wring our hands, we need to question the alternative.

Governments can try and regulate advertising, which is possible but difficult, or they can nationalise the means of food production. Oops! That’s sounding like Communism, and we’ve had a 50 year experiment conducted to show how well that works!

“the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing;”

Ahh! Now what might cause that? We could start with families who don’t eat together, or who shovel food down whilst watching Neighbours or Big Brother. This is where we end up in the land of personal responsibility again!

“the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks;”

Arrggghhh! Ditto!!

Seriously – are we to ban the sale of soft drinks? Or super-tax them?

HOW are governments going to reduce the sale of soft drinks?

Governments in Australia give us clean drinkable water from our taps, and one of the fastest growing product sales groups is bottled water!

For heavens sake, if the population is so stupid that they pay extra for water that they can get from the domestic tap for cents per litre, how the heck will you wean them off the lolly-water?

It’s a PERSONAL CHOICE to drink this muck, and it’s up to people to stop doing so.

“the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Arrgghh and arrgghh again.

If people were not lazy, and actually cooked their own food, this would be a non-issue.

Back to personal choice again. Buying pre-prepared or take-away food is about speed, and convenience – hey – isn’t that really about laziness?

Buying basic food ingredients like meat, milk, cheeses, vegetables, fruit, flour, bread and such like is always possible, always available, and is damn hard for the “large commercial concerns” to do anything with. And the resulting meals taste better too!

Parents, children, body and image

Fat kids not seen as fat by the parents?

What the heck is wrong with the parents? YOU CANNOT blame governments or the mysterious “they” for this.

Parents need to lift the scales from their eyes. Rolls of blubber on a 10 year old is not healthy, no matter how it is rationalised.

Parents bear significant responsibility, and must take the blame.

Parents who allow lots of take-away food, who give in when the kids want a drink by buying a LARGE soft drink. Parents who won’t cook. Parents who won’t think. Parents who want to buy their childrens love with yummy tasty fatty sweet food. These are the parents who MUST accept responsibility for their actions and make changes.

Blaming governments, schools, or corporations for obese children is a cop-out. Who puts food into children’s mouths?

Teaching in schools, exercise in schools

Oh dear, ANOTHER cop out and blame-shifting exercise!

South Australian schools do teach children cooking, my oldest son has been doing it, and he’s a pretty accomplished 13 year-old. So… some do. It helps. But it’s not everything.

Expecting schools to pick up after slack parents is crazy. This is no different to schools feeding breakfast to children with parents who can’t / don’t / won’t do it themselves. It might be started to satisfy worries or feelings of responsibility on the part of the teachers but it’s masking something far far worse.

And then we come to school exercise programs.

Doing an hour a day of The Health Hustle, or running, is surely predicated on the notion that the victims ARE to blame and can be cured by taking them away from feeding their brains, and getting them out raising a sweat.

The increased use of cars, and the large increases in fatty and sugary foods over the years will NEVER be compensated for by a few measly minutes of school exercise. The calorie balance just isn’t right. All this will do is create a nation of overweight and under-educated children!

These things are an exercise in futility, they will have no significant effect.

What to do?

We can accept that radical changes to our social systems are unlikely to happen – so corporations and advertising will be with us for a long time.

We can regulate advertising, and we should. It was done with cigarettes – among many squeals of outrage – but it can be done, so it should be.

What about lolly water and take-away food? Banning would never be accepted by the great unwashed masses, so that won’t even happen. There is already choice with diet / low sugar drinks containing all manner of soup from the chemical factories. Educating parents, somehow, might be feasible. (But look at smokers – advertising bans have not eliminated the puffers.)

There can be financial incentives, or penalties – perhaps a Medicare surcharge for people more than some percentage overweight? It needs to be a large amount, some people have genes that make putting the kilos on very easy, but many of the naturally big people are not obese and should not be punished for being a feather heavier than Kate Moss.

Family doctors could provide leaflets and advice.

A brave government could introduce compulsory obesity counselling and education.

In the end, though, the solutions to our problems lay within ourselves.

We, the people who eat the rubbish we do – we have to make the choice for how to live, and what to eat.

Expecting a magical bale-out is fanciful.

Now, I’m off to find some chocolate.

Haneef and all that

Now the dust has settled, here’s a few thoughts about the famous Dr Haneef and the SIM card.

For years, we’ve had Little John and his Merry Men trumpeting about terrorism, passing a bunch of draconian laws about sedition, allowing people to being held without charge, and so on.

At the same time, this lot supported the invasion of Iraq with impassioned speeches in the Parliament about the evils of Saddam Hussein and his Weapons of Mass Deception Destruction.

Once it was proven that Iraq was a quagmire and winning the peace infinitely more difficult than winning the invasion, we’ve seen Iraq become the attractor of every disenchanted nutter, would-be terrorist, and general looney with a chip on their shoulder.

Little John and Co have insisted that being involved there would NOT make Australia a more attractive terrorist target, and have ridiculed, rubbished and demeaned anybody who suggests otherwise – including the head of the Federal police.

These same people have exploited these situations and the attendant fear (be A Lert, not A Larmed :) ), along with border control and the occasional Tampa, as a means of differentiating themselves from the Opposition.

In general terms, until recently the Opposition have taken an opposing view – not supporting the war, not supporting the changes to laws, wanting more humane treatment for asylum seekers, and so on.

The Government have exploited this difference, watering down the message and simplifying to something like “that lot are weak on border protection”, or whatever suits at the time.

In political speak, this is “The Wedge”. Bang something pointy between the two sides and then belt it for all its worth. The politicians and the community become polarised, and Howard and Co are masters at it.

Or more particularly, Labor were really BAD at playing the game.

Now we have Haneef, and we have a new leader for Labor.

This government have been itching to find a new BIG issue to make a polarised split (the wedge) between themselves and the opposition.

What better than a real genuine home grown terrorist?

And if we can’t grow one ourselves, why not so what Australia does so well, and just import one?

Now we’ve seen the new laws used, with the disgraceful treatment of seeing somebody – a guest in this country – locked up without charge for weeks, selective leaks to the media about his supposed crimes, and the capricious removal of his visa. During this, no wedge. The opposition supported the actions all along.

Finally, it’s all come unravelled. The Howard side’s dream of having their own terrorist to trot out and exploit for months leading up to an election has evaporated and they are left looking like a bunch of school-yard thugs.

You can just imagine their prayers each night: “Please please God, just give me a real terrorist that I can parade around and then lock up… please… please!”

The great shame so far is that to avoid The Wedge, Labor have supported the Government in their actions. Now they look stupid as well – the one time that if they’d gone out on a limb and made a boisterous opposition, then would have been right. Of course, it’s a high stakes game. If they’d things had gone the other way they would have looked a right bunch of dills.

Now the best the Opposition can do is call for an enquiry – a cunning move in some ways because they can target the people concerned, and if an enquiry were to start it can be used to keep the issue in the media for months.

But the Opposition still look like a bunch of toadies for supporting this all along, and they look shrill for calling for an enquiry once it’s unravelled.

So far, the score card from this whole sorry episode looks a bit like this:

  • Australia as a country: -50 points, looks like an anti-democratic bunch of terrified over-reactive whiners
  • Howard and co: -50 points, look like a pathetic bunch of lying two-faced nasty ogres
  • Labor opposition: -40 points, because they refused to let themselves get Wedged they gain a few points for cunning but they still make us look bad
  • Dr Haneef: +50 points – irrespective of his crimes or otherwise, he comes out smelling of roses, looking like the little guy who got beat up by the monster and survived. Treated as a hero in India, you can bet he’ll not be back to Australia in a hurry.

From this whole sorry exercise you can only conclude that the actions of the Government, aided and abetted by a compliant Opposition, have serve to highlight the insecurity of Australia, and the rampant paranoia of its people.

This action, along with the shrill rantings of our leaders over the last 10 years will continue to make Australia a terrorist target by raising our profile.

From all of this, we are LESS safe, nor more.

And in the meantime, the government continues to pray for some horrible catastrophe which will rally the great unwashed around, and aid their re-election.

Pathetic.

Yesterdays Hero

When this kind of thing starts becoming commonplace, perhaps Little Johns time really is up:

Nicholson’s animation, from The Australian.

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