Last update: 2009-04-08

April 2009 #1 - Foot Spas R US

On my way to work on Wednesdays, I sometimes take the long way round. On the longer route I pass a 'spa'. Its housed in a renovated factory type place. You know the kind, all angles, glass and cement. Very trendy and upmarket. The kind of place you don't take the kids, if you know what I mean. When I walked passed it the other day there was a sign out the front. It read “Easter Bunny Specials” and included the listing “Spiced Chocolate Foot Spa. 15 Mins. $35”. It got me thinking. What do foot spas, the 'global financial crisis', shootings in the US and Easter have to do with each other? Fifty seven civilians have been killed by gunmen in mass shootings in the US in the last 30 days. Think about that for a minute. We're not looking at acts of gang related violence or criminal links between the victims. These were innocent citizens going about their daily routines when another, seemingly innocent, civilian opened fire on them and shot them dead. The list of wounded is, of course, much longer. If we take into account those who were not physically harmed but are psychologically scared for life and the families and friends of those involved, we are looking at hundreds of affected people. Then there is Obama's re-commitment to the so-called “war on terror”. Imagine what the media would have said if up to 13 soldiers at a time were killed – and lets not forget that that is the risk all soldiers get paid to take – going about their business. There would have been screams for inquiries into why 'our boys' are dying at such alarming rates. But no, there was no such outrage. Just a few mealy mouthed words from the VP and a few congressmen. In a New York Times article in April 2007, it was reported that over 29,000 people were killed in gun related deaths in the US during 2004 and 176 people per day were injured. That's a staggering 94,000 people directly impacted by gun fire on US soil in one year. Thousands more suffer the terrifying prospect of living with the loss, grief or psychological damage of being related to the shooter or the shot. If you live in the US, according to a study by the FBI, you may be one of the 3 in 100,000 who will die at the hands of a fellow citizen using a gun this year. If the World Trade Tower collapse only killed about 3,000, why isn't there absolute paroxysms of outrage in 'the homeland'? Perhaps foot spas give us a clue. In a culture that is suffering from rates of obesity that are truly shocking, a country in which the freedom to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution and a place where everyone wants to be a millionaire, its not that hard to see how the humble foot spa represents the pinnacle of self indulgence and consumer ignorance. The $35, 15 minute foot spa is, if you like, the ultimate anti-society product. While a little bit of self indulgence is fine from time to time – and who hasn't indulged – becoming self obsessed is pathological. According to the free marketeers, we exist to consume and market forces drive us to co-operate. However, if were to take seriously the market failure that is driving even more on to the dole queues, we find that selfish behaviour, as dictated by the 'market', doesn't lead to society. It actually drives us apart and pits us against each other in an ever accelerating race to the bottom, the nadir of which is killing each other in order to access whatever resource we think we are being denied a share of. The sign outside the spa made me think about how we live in such depressing, but nonetheless, exciting times. Depressing because we are not being given the depth of understanding our leaders and their media should be giving us. The increasing dominance of trivial 'lifestyle' and 'reality' type content that dominates our media truly is creating a reality out of the “let them eat cake” mentality that has infected the rulers of the world. While our friends and family are impacted by more lay-offs or decreased working hours, the rulers of the world are offered trillions to do what they do best ... take our money – offered freely, no less, by our elected representatives – and continue to enrich themselves. These same rulers ensure that legislation is put in place that denies ordinary folk the right to protest or take back what is rightfully theirs. If we didn't already, we can now plainly see who is actually represented in our houses of parliament. And it isn't Doris, next door. So, while all those fellow citizens of ours, who refuse to look up from the titillation and escapism that masquerades as 'news and information', continue to live in blissful ignorance of how hard they are being screwed, is there any hope? I was brought up to believe that the central message of Easter was about hope. About the possibility of a new world being made possible. I also believe that foot spas do have a place in a healthy society. However, at present, with the continued decline of ethical society in the US and its spread around the globe, unless we resist and come together to ensure that all have access to the spiced chocolate foot spa every now and again, the times ahead are not going to be very pleasant. The hope I hold and what makes these times exciting, is that there are growing signs of resistance around the world. These resisters will, eventually, break through and it is this hope that I carry into Easter. …

March 2009 #1 - TV or Bust

Have you ever had one of those months where its suddenly the end and you are hard pressed to recall what you did over the last 30 or so days? If so, welcome to the brave new world of disasters, terrors, wars, gluts, downturns, failures, frauds and fiscal miscreants. How are we meant to keep up? According to the producers and programmers employed by our TV networks, we aren't. They tell us we (that is the unwashed viewing public) don't want tough, thoughtful, insightful programs after a hard day at the coal face. We want 'light' entertainment. By this they mean programs like “The Worlds Ugliest Dancing Star” and “Celebrity Renovation Nightmare Video Hits” or maybe “Big Nanny Losers”. You get the picture. The TV execs are saying that we need more pap and less good information. They dress this up saying that audiences are now “sophisticated consumers of media” and we are “discerning” and pick and choose. Top among our choices, the execs tell us, are programs that were once accused of 'dumbing us down'. The TV execs say this claim is hogwash and rather than dumbing us down, they tell us the programs they present play an important part in keeping us sane and relaxed. “Light entertainment” is the order of the day not only for TV but for radio and many newspapers and magazines. No longer is the aim of the producers and publishers to enlighten and educate, it seems the pendulum has swung fully to the side of 'entertainment' … if you call seeing people humiliated and degraded on programs like “Funniest Home Videos” or “Aussie Tarts in London” entertainment. The “Productivity Commission” is an organisation established by our government to reduce everything from forests and beaches to the airwaves and mothering to a dollar value. Over the years they have produced many reports in relation to broadcasting in which they refer to the “value” of the available broadcast spectrum and how the economics of dividing it up should be realised. While in a couple of the reports they do refer to the social utility of the airwaves, the overwhelming focus is on how much they are worth. This, to me, is to miss the entire point. Like a forest has no value to a speculator until it is reduced to wood chips, timber framing or dining settings, the social value of the airwaves has been usurped by the amount of value that can be extracted by the lease holders of the spectrum. TV has increased the social distance between us by making us more fearful, anxious and afraid of those we consider “others”. In a recent TV magazine editorial one commentator raised a very good distinction between the way a fictional program presented its villains and the way a so called 'reality' program did. In the first the personality was played up. In the second it was the stereotypes. The first pretended to be nothing more that light entertainment while the second pretended to be 'real life'. At least the first one was honest. The second is nothing more than scaremongering and stereotyping. The blurring of the line between 'reality' and fiction is closed as far as our TV producers and programmers is concerned. They tell us we want 'reality' dressed up as entertainment and 'entertainment' denuded of any reality. We are told that the TV of the future will be more about 'lifestyle' and 'light' programming because we want to “escape”. Escape to where exactly? The technical boffins who created the technology, like most boffins, were probably more interested in solving the technical problems than examining the impact of the devices they invented. Like technicians everywhere, they saw an interesting challenge and tried to find the most elegant and effective way of overcoming it. On the other hand the investors are more interested in the way the technology can be deployed and how much money it can bring in. They don't care about how it works so much as how many people will want one. Their concerns are driven by very limited definitions of 'value' and words like 'responsibility' have long been replaced by 'risk management'. In the modern world of media there is a war going on. A war between them and us. They want us to believe that there is nothing we can do to change the future and that the forces lurking beyond our front door are virtually unassailable. We need to hunker down and scurry about. We need to be busy 'producing' and looking out for number one. Anyone or anything that challenges us has to excised and ignored. What a terrible future they have planned for us. But there is an alternative. The airwaves are a public resource. The government and its various departments and commissions admit that. They tell us they need to administer that resource in an effective and responsible manner. Yet, rather than chase the real villains we get fed a media diet of hearing how this or that group are upset over some minor moral outrage. I mean, how many did actually see the “Big Brother” turkey-slapping incident? If the moral right was watching, the real question is, 'who gave them permission to tell us what we can and can't watch?' Now, I'm not defending the incident or its perpetrators and no, I haven't watched it on UTube. If the airwaves and broadcast spectrum are a precious and limited resource, surely its about time we asked our politicians what their policy on how that resource is used is. I mean, if “Neighbours” was ever meant to 'tackle serious issues' then it would make places like Wadeye look like model communities. Don't get me wrong I like to get lost in a good TV program as much as the next person. But more and more often I have to go beyond the free to airs to find it (and I'm not talking about pay TV either). The disasters, terrors, wars, gluts, downturns, failures, frauds and fiscal miscreants are really out there. They do exist and in various ways could and sometimes do threaten us. What we are not being told is how we can respond in ways that not only limit their impact but how we can lessen the chance of them harming us. What is missing are the tools that will assist us in identifying the real threats and dangers. TV could be a key to building a better future and more open and inclusive societies. It was recognised a long time ago that the media has power. Power to not necessarily make us think in particular ways but in particular what to think about. At present what we are being told to think about are matters that are, in the bigger scheme of things, trivial or unimportant. That said, maybe what we need to do is to avoid as much as we can lending our support the mainstream and find ways in which we can engage with the alternative media and become not just passive receivers but actively engaged as media producers and discerning consumers of high quality, well considered and good programs. …

January 2009 #1 - Gaza, Gas and War

Have you ever heard of British Gas? Or perhaps the BG Group? Or what about the Consolidated Contractors Company? OK, then what about Tony Blair, Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert? I guess these last three are recognisable. But what do all these names share in common? Two things Gaza and gas. In 2000 a $4 billion US dollar gas field was discovered just off shore from the Gaza strip. The field is under waters that, by international recognition, makes it the property of the Palestinians. Kind of like the oil and gas that lies in the waters recognised as belonging to East Timor. Just like the East Timor gas and oil there are powers that want to deprive the Palestinians of any claim to or control over their natural resources. Just as Israel controls the fresh water and other resources that flow into Gaza, they want to ensure that the 'right' Palestinians control access to the vast gas field and the benefits that will flow from it. As they say, wars have been fought for less. And that is exactly what the carnage in Gaza has become. A war over natural resources and who controls them. Our moribund media have been reporting for the last three weeks that it was the Palestinians who 'started' this latest round of ethnic cleansing. However, even a cursory Google search will reveal the lie that these so called 'reports' are. On November 4th 2008 the IDF crossed into Gaza and killed four Palestinians and therefore broke the cease fire that had been negotiated in June. The fact that this has not been discussed and that our mainstream media has been prepared to lie about the facts that led to the resumption of the armed Palestinian resistance demonstrates, beyond doubt, that at the highest levels of business, the networks to keep us ill informed are working like a well oiled machine. Now, back to the names listed above. Back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister of England, he intervened in negotiations between British Gas (now the BG Group) and the Egyptian government and attempted to ensure that Israel got first dibs on the gas. His attempt to broker a deal between the Abbas' Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government helps explain the reasons why the PA is touted as 'moderate'. However, when one examines the deal we find that Abbas is set to reap a personal fortune from a deal with Israel. His PA is a ten percent owner of the 'rights' to the field along with the Consolidated Construction Company and the BG group. Just three weeks before Israel unleashed its weapons of mass destruction, the Israeli cabinet signed off on a deal with the PA to buy the gas from them. As the so called “Middle East Peace Envoy” Tony Blair played a key role as he shuttled back and forward between Britain, Egypt and Israel. And, in the middle of all this, he obtained a “peace” award from that other war monger, George W. Bush. Ironic isn't it? As I write this I find the whole thing is like the script from some Hollywood movie. Yet, nowhere in this script do I see a hero. I fail to find a single 'reputable' voice in the mainstream media that as been prepared to speak out. Now, that is a bit harsh because there are many that have spoken out but like the Palestinians who live under occupation and deprivation, their voices are excluded or occluded from the discourse that normalises the Israeli aggression and killing. The script that has been written and is repeated continually in the mainstream media, is that Palestinians are bad, Israelis are good. Neither definition is true. There are good and bad on both sides. One just has to look at the Israeli peace movements and armed forces resisters. I suggest that if you were forced to live under the inhumane conditions that those in Gaza and the West Bank are forced to live under, that it wouldn't be too long before you decided that passive acceptance was not getting you anywhere. The fact that only three Israeli citizens have been killed in the latest carnage while nearly one and half thousand Palestinians have been killed (and almost a quarter of them children) demonstrates once more the valuelessness of human life when it stands between outrageous fortunes and those who seek gain them. The apparent 'unilateral cease fire' that Israel has announced and the fact that the almost impotent rockets continue to be fired from Gaza shows that there is more to this than the 'we're defending Israeli lives' line being run by their government. Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to securing wealth, no lives are important except those who hope to gain the most from the suffering of others. Just like in East Timor, the war in Gaza is not about human safety or security. Nor are the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. Each of these conflicts comes back to something very basic. Access to resources and the means to control and benefit from them. The people of Gaza know that Abbas will sacrifice them for his own ends and they don't trust him at all. Perhaps if we were to step into their shoes for a moment we might realise how despondent they feel after being sold out by successive politicians who supposedly represent their interests. Arafat failed them (although he did try) but Abbas has been too warmly embraced by the West to be seen as a credible Palestinian leader. Perhaps a better term for 'peace negotiations' would be “piece negotiations”. The only bit that needs deciding is who gets what pieces. Meanwhile names that we know and many that we don't will continue to allow the killing to go on and for many more thousands to suffer. Perhaps what we in the West should be doing is taking back our media and for once, highlighting the real context in which the genocide in Gaza is being perpetrated. …

December 2008 #4 - Gaza Again

As I sat down to finish off the last of the Christmas fare I switched on the evening news. It was not a pretty sight. The lead item was the latest genocidal attack by Israel against the civilians of the occupied Gaza strip. The first pictures were of the bombing of the university in Gaza city followed by a montage of shots of ambulances disgorging wounded civilians and other pictures of injured children being carried into hospitals by their distraught parents. Then the cruncher. The reporter intoned that the 'continued rocket attacks against Israel were creating a climate of fear'. As he said this the picture that flashed on screen was of a burn mark on a road. The point was missed. The point is, the crude rockets fired by the so called 'terrorists' are virtually ineffective both in their accuracy and their potency. Most fail to explode or fall in unoccupied land. The few that do hit an Israeli town usually do not claim lives. Only two Israeli civilians have been killed so far this year. The low death toll can be attributed to the sophisticated network of bomb shelters and early warning alarms that allow the population, in most cases, to get to shelter long before the rockets arrive. While any civilian death in what is a full scale war is regrettable, the fact that Israel continues to kill hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians each year is virtually ignored as the real issue. Mark Regev, the current mouthpiece of the occupiers, continues to run the line that they do all they can to avoid such deaths. He, like many other defenders of the occupation, continue to run the line that it is the Palestinians who are the aggressors. However, with the increasing civilian death toll in Gaza, I suggest that the Israeli army should get a refund on their so called 'smart weapons'. Meanwhile the extreme right wing in Israel continues it relentless march back to power – if they ever abandoned it. At the same time our mainstream media continues to ignore the protests going on in Israel by its own citizens who are opposed to their nation's ongoing occupation and aggression against the Palestinians. I ask you, where is the response to this current outrage by the Rudd government? Nowhere to be seen or heard. The current foreign minister, Steven Smith, seems just as mute in this instance as his predecessor, Alexander Downer. While quick to condemn, and rightly so, tyrants such as Robert Mugabe, our government's silence reveals their double standards. It seems, once more, that the Palestinians are the meat in the sandwich of Israeli and international politics. With an election due on February 10th, the Israeli political scene turns, like clockwork, to a show of force against one of the most vulnerable civilian populations on the planet. Like shooting fish in a barrel, the population density of Gaza means it is impossible for them to shelter adequately or effectively against the random bombing attacks on them. In the shadowy world of propaganda – sorry, I mean public relations – practitioners must take account of their various audiences both internal and external and craft their messages to suit. In the case of the current massacre of innocent civilians in the Gaza strip, a very important external audience is the incoming US president, Barack Obama and his coterie. As we now know, Obama is reviving the Clinton legacy and this scares many of the Israeli hard-liners because Clinton was the only US President to even come close to a peace deal. While that peace deal was flawed and very one sided, he was able to, at the least, get the warring parties to agree to a photo opportunity while shaking hands in the White House rose garden. The symbolism was immense and the underlying message was clear … “peace is possible”. Without an enemy, real or perceived, the dynamics of the Israeli interactions with the world would be seriously challenged. So, as we sit to finish off the Christmas fare and prepare to welcome in the New Year, it is important to remember that the blood of innocents is on our hands just as much as it is on the hands of those who ordered this latest round of genocidal attacks. We cannot escape this fact because we live in a so called democracy in which our leaders are elected, or so we are led to believe, to represent our interests. If our interests are not in protecting the most vulnerable, then the news coming out of Gaza and other places will only continue to worsen. …

December 2008 #3 - Gouge Your Eyes Out

So now George Bush knows what its like to be a friend of Dick Cheney! Well, at least the guy didn't have a shotty. Might have made for better tele though! Nonetheless, Muntadhar al-Zeidi will continue to languish in an American controlled Iraqi jail until he confesses … whatever. We haven't seen shoes used in such reverential surroundings since Nikita Khrushchev took off his off and banged them on a desk in the UN. What is interesting is that his reason for doing so was when a delegate from the Philippines launched a broadside at the colonial rulers who, even today, impress their will on subjugated peoples. Interesting isn't it, how 48 years later the imperialists are still encountering shoes used as protest props. It's a pity the much larger media delegation present at the time didn't stand up for al-Zeidi and use their voices and bodies to raise the serious questions that should be raised when Bush mounts the podium. Anyway, enough of that. It did add some colour to the ever decreasing range of political emotion we are seeing from our own crop of current rulers. Australian politics has, since the Rudd ascension, become an even paler shade of beige. Just how bad it is was brought home to me the other evening. I was sitting watching what passes for news on the TV when I turned to the trouble and strife and said, “I miss the Howard government”. Both of us nearly wet ourselves when we realised what I'd said. I'm not sure who was more shocked, her or me. Anyway, the upshot was that I got to thinking about how bland the Labor lot are. Where is the toffy, born to rule, guy with the perpetually red cheeks and expanding corpulence? Where is the former almost monk with his sharp tongue and acid wit? Where is the ever shining Minister for Agriculture or something who single handedly saved the Australian wheat industry? Where is the highly coiffed women who scribble on blackboards or power dress to the max? Where are the fun and games? Whole weeks go by and the unions don't take to the streets. They'll get out of practice unless they dust off the banners and get to a waterfront or store house and chant their uniquely Ozzie “Oi, Oi, Oi” style chants. Oh, I long for the days when I hung on the words of politicians waiting for a faux pax that I could use here. I long for the days when Costello would round on the opposition and leave them scrambling for a witty retort. I yearn for a glimpse of Howard, cocking his head, raising his eyebrow and pursing his lips as he told us another porky pie. He had great body language. Horrible policies but you could read him like a book. Where is the smirking Costello and the terrier Abbott? What a team they would have made. Lively, always ready for a bit of biffo, if they and Hockey had made the front row, we would be enjoying World Championship Politics. Sure, the Libnats had their weaknesses. I wonder if anyone has woken Ruddock up and told him they didn't win this time? Poor old Barnaby seems to be the only one on that side of the Senate who took his goolies with him. OK. Score one for colour. He did arc up a bit last week but it was a little to little far too late. My therapist says that I should take a more balanced response to conflict. I smacked him around to seeing things my way and we get on much better now. But boy, I've got to tell you I am seriously over the KRudd (he he. When I typed that in my spell checker changed it to crud). He sounds like a real try hard. He exudes passion like a B52 at 20,000 feet. All noise, you know its there and you realise that whatever its dropping on you is not good for your future prospects. Gillard. Or should I say Julia, is turning out to be just an extension of the PR wing of the Labor party. Sure, she has landed a few heavy hits on the opposition but when she speaks I want to gouge my eyes out with a nail file. She bores me almost as much as Penny Wong. I'm sorry Penny but your nose is for blowing snot out of not speaking through. The two of them are more wooden that Ruddock ever was and that, my friends, is saying something. I was going to mention Peter Garrett but what has he done that is worth mentioning? Mmmm, let me think about that? Thought so. Nothing worth writing about. I heard through a mate in Canberra that his staff have attached a GPS to him because they need to justify their own jobs for a minister who doesn't do anything worthwhile. A whole cadre of them now spend hours checking his whereabouts so they can tell the media “he's unavailable for comment at the moment” and be sure he is. Which brings me to another great disappointment. Steven Conroy. He was supposed to be a leading light. The man who was going to sort out the mess Coonan and Alston created by trying to bend over too far for the media moguls. Conroy did emerge from hibernation a few days ago to make a few noises about something but when Sol and Donald rang he quickly retreated to the safety of his panelled office and a cup of camomile tea. Nicola Roxon could be a good minister if she hadn't allowed herself to be corralled by the same vested interests that held the Howard government to ransom on health matters. While nice to look at, her depth of knowledge and understanding of the portfolio seems to be just one small step behind her. Like a wind up doll she faces the prospect of becoming another Julia or Penny in a few years. I could go on but I'm getting depressed again. I saw a comment in one of the weekend rags which said something like, “Howard, Rudd? Same arse, different cheeks” and I must admit the great saviour KRudd is letting me down. He is supposed to be younger than Howard but often seems like he's old before his time. Not in a wise and sagely manner, but just in the way he presents. He seems uncomfortable in crowds and unsure of himself. I guess all those years of being Goss's toe cutter has probably made him aware that somewhere, out there in punter land – that strange and dangerous place where all those inconsiderate and unappreciative people live – is a punter, with a pair of size tens, ready to let loose at him. Maybe, if that were to happen, I would, for one night at least, get to see some real pizazz in Australian politics and the Labour party on the evening news. By the way. I reckon the award for the most balsy protest in 12 months go to Anikka Dean, the protester who was dragged out of Rudd's concession speech to the coal industry the other day. Dragged out the door while she continuing to remind us of the truth of Rudd's deception, she at least demonstrated that some Aussies are passionate about politics even if our pollies aren't. …

December 2008 #2 - Human Rights or Our Shame?

Sixty three years ago the global community drew its collective breath and sighed in relief at the end of World War II. Millions had died and many more millions were displaced, suffering under conditions that the so called “civilised” world found repulsive. In a collective head spin the leaders of the “free world” came together to assemble what we now know as the United Nations. Ironically, an Australian politician, Herbert (Doc) Evatt, was the foundation President of the UN. Some would argue that Doc Evatt was one of the leading proponents of what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, sixty years ago, Australia was a foundation signatory to. It seems from the historical record that 'Doc' was indeed a champion of those who suffered injustice and discrimination. At the launch of the foundation named in his honour, Indigenous activist, scholar and advocate, Faith Bandler said of him, “Dr Evatt fought for the oppressed, he fought for our political rights and civil liberties, our freedom of thought and action. We would not find it possible to be as outspoken today as we are if Dr Evatt had not fought for us as a judge, as a politician and as an Australian.” Speaking as an Indigenous person, she used the collective “we” in recognition of the fact that in 1979 our Indigenous brothers and sisters were able to vote and take part in mainstream Australian life. But not all of them. Many, as she and others knew, were still living in appalling conditions which remain virtually unchanged till today. However, she also recognised that the legacy of Doc Evatt and herself would not be complete until all her people were recognised as equal participants in the 'common wealth' of Australia. Yet, sixty years after Doc Evatt and others said “never again!” we find that here, in our very own back yard, Indigenous communities are living in fear under conditions that our government would openly condemn in nations far from our shores. Where is the respect for the “inherent dignity” and “inalienable rights” of our Indigenous peoples when they are forced by our government to accept a military 'intervention' on their homelands? Where is the collective outcry from the Australian community and the call to “rebellion against tyranny and oppression” when this occurs just over our back fence? Where is the collective outrage against the use of race as a basis to impose another degrading social and economic experiment on a people whose skin is a different colour from the majority? I noted a little earlier that I found it ironic that Doc Evatt was a leading Labor man. He devoted himself to what might, these days, be termed a 'socialist' agenda. While he might not have claimed that himself, he did seem to represent all that is, or should I say, was, good about the Australian Labor party. Now, sixty years on, regardless of the legacy left to them, the current crop of Labor leaders seem intent on nothing more than a continuance of the Howard government's disgusting “intervention” policy. As I have said before, 'if there was outrage and the need for intervention in the outback, why not the same in the upper class suburbs of the big cities where just as much child abuse and degrading behaviour takes place?' I guess I forgot for a moment that there are always one set of laws for “them” and another set for “us”. I caught the final episode of “The Howard Years” on the ABC the other night. There was Mal 'the enforcer' Brough, shedding crocodile tears as he recalled the 'facts' of Indigenous child abuse and neglect. The fact that these “Facts” were concocted lies deployed in the dying days of the Howard government in an attempt to bolster their flagging credentials, was obviously lost on Mal. As he shed a tear, perhaps more for the fact he was no longer one of the 'ruling class', Mal studiously avoided any reference to the neglect and disrespect his government had shown to the First Australians while they were in office. As we pause a moment to consider the power of the words in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the sentiments that lay behind them, we should also reflect on the fact that our government is ignoring the plea by those who penned it that “never again” would military force be used to reduce a people to nothingness. While our government seeks to turf Indigenous people off their land and out of the towns that will eventually be bulldozed for the minerals that lie underneath them, we should be fulminating and taking to the streets in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters. “Why”, we should be asking our politicians, “are you introducing programs to overcome the preventable diseases which shorten the life span of Aboriginals?” “Why”, we should be demanding to know, “are you telling us to spend, spend, spend when you do nothing to lift this people out of poverty?” “Why”, we should be shouting outside their offices, “do you claim to need more pay when you “quarantine” the meagre benefits of those who need them most?” We should be shamed as a nation that our leaders proclaim outrage at what Robert Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe, and it is an outrage, while they allow similar conditions to prevail here, on our turf. We should feel shame that while we proclaim our “success” on sporting fields, we continue to ignore the poverty that exists in places we would never visit. We should be shamed that as we give Christmas gifts to each other this year, hundreds of Aboriginal children will be denied that simple pleasure because our government chooses to withdraw their access to 'disposable income'. A 2005 report by the United Nations “Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” condemns our governments and describes in detail the ways in which racism is institutionally reinforced and supported. The Howard government responded with an attack on the committee which lead the Brazilian delegate to reply “As a veteran diplomat, this statement, with its language describing programs and attacks on NGOs, reminds me of the sort of statement from communist bloc countries and Latin American dictatorships that Australia used to condemn.” As the world celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where are our thoughts? Are they turning to the embedded and institutionalised racism that prevails in our country? Are they turning to the fact that we live in a country that is unique among nations in being condemned for its inherent racism? Sixty years after Doc Evatt and others struggled to codify the basis by which human rights would be measured and upheld, we celebrate this day and hear, perhaps coincidentally, about another push for a federal “bill of rights”. But we should not forget that those who said “never again” were remembering something that is beyond our imagination. The fact is that today, for many of our indigenous brothers and sisters, their memories are still being formed. …

Dec 2008 #1 - Dentists, Dole and Private Schools

There are two places I really don't like. The first is dentist's waiting rooms and the second are dole offices. Being in both give me a sense of dread. In the dentist's waiting room I begin to sweat a little and my knees begin to ache. I imagine the huge – I mean really, really big – needle that will be plunged into my gums and the way in which my jaw will ache for a day or two afterwards. I imagine the recurrence of the dreaded 'dry socket' which is even worse than the toothache. In the end I submit to the procedure and put up with all the uncomfortable processes required. When it comes to the dole office, similar feelings of dread are evoked. Earlier on this year I found myself waiting in the que at a dole office as I signed up to receive the infamous 'welfare benefits' our society grants to those who are in hard times. Out of necessity I booked in to sign up and duly attended the appointment. I found my way to the office and when I entered I felt like turning around and walking straight back out. The last time I was ‘on the dole’ was when I was in my teens, fresh out of high school and looking for an apprenticeship. How times have changed. In this age of “accountability” I had to bare my soul to the “customer service officer” and give over the most intimate details of my private life. I had to sign a document, that described in detail, the penalties that applied should I give false information, regardless of whether it was by way of oversight or deliberate. For what seemed like forever, I sat as a barrage of questions was fired at me. I was asked how I had lived without income (savings), whether I had looked for work (yes), if I had travelled outside Australia (no), if I had any bank accounts other than the ones I declared (no) and on and on it went. I was also asked to sign a “mutual obligation” form that outlined the obligation I had to diligently look for work and the ways in which I would penalised for not doing so. I was also given a “work diary” which I had fill in each fortnight, detailing the jobs I had applied for. I was also given a form that I had to fill in every two weeks and return to the dole office so my “benefit” could be processed. Don't get me wrong. I can see the neead to ensure that people who are claiming benefits are checked and that we are grilled in order to ensure that our claims are in no way just an easy way out. My six weeks or so on the dole demonstrated to me the ways in which we are subjected to classification, surveillance and monitoring when it comes to being assisted by our fellow tax payers. What I also realised was that being on the dole is pretty much a full time job. Scouring newspapers and the internet for jobs, calling or writing to prospective employers, filling in “job diaries” and responding the seemingly never ending stream of paperwork mean that being on the dole is not something that can be done between drinks. Thankfully, that short period of being subject to constant threat of penalties is over. It did, however, renew in me the respect I have for those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves subject to the scrutiny of the state. It is not pleasant, places you in a constant state of dread and certainly doesn't do anything to boost your self image or morale. But when it comes to our private schools, it seems they demand a different set of rules. You might have heard that the current federal government is wanting to pass a bill that will cause all schools, public and private, to, among other things, disclose a whole range of things that, in the case of private schools, have been hidden from public scrutiny since the start of time. Of interest to me, in the current context, is the fact that the schools will have to disclose all sources of funding in the new format for annual reports. Julia Gillard, the Federal Minister for Education says that such disclosure will usher in a “new era of transparency” and make it easier for parents to make ‘informed choices’ about their children's schooling. Yet, the private schools, who stand to get twice the funding of the public schools, are baulking at opening up their books. So, I ask you, ‘is it fair that the poorest have to subject themselves to scrutiny while the wealthiest do not?’ Evidently it is fair. It is worth noting that most of the wealthiest private schools in this country are associated with religious organisations. Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Uniting, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Jewish and other faith based schools account for the majority of private school providers. The non-Catholic ones want to disguise themselves behind the “independent” label. Yet it is apparent they really should be called “non-accountable”schools. Its also worth noting that under the much maligned Australian Constitution, there are clear declarations about how the state should not fund religious bodies, which obviously includes their schools. However, these declarations are ignored by successive governments seeking to curry favour with their “serious money” backers. Another thing worth noting, as our government seeks to inject $28 billion of our hard earned into the private school system, is that the so called “Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority” will include only government appointed bureaucrats and private school nominees. I suggest it should be renamed the “Australian Private School Fund Raising Authority”. With no public school representatives allowed on it, how will the government know what the true state of public education in this country is? Like dentists and dole offices do to me, the thought of private school money having to be accounted for sends shivers up and down the spines of the elites. Unlike me and many others, when it comes to their spending of our money, they do not have to sign forms, attend job appointments, fill out activity diaries or in any way stand accountable for putting our their hand for a hand up (as if they need it any way). I’m all for choice and all for assisting those who need a hand when times are tough. I even support dentists who provide good care (even if I try to avoid them at all costs). But when it comes to my taxes being spent at a 2 to 1 ratio to save the already wealthy from the ramifications of their choices, I think there is something seriously wrong with our system. I suppose the wealthy are just as nervous about having to disclose how they maintain their lifestyles as I am about saying ‘ah’ when the person in the white jacket with the big needle asks me to open up or when the “customer service officer” asks me to ‘sign here’. …

Nov 2008 #4 - Not Winning. Losing

It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun. And haven’t we been having some fun lately. Work, mortgage, work, car repayments, work, groceries, work and on and on it goes. Meanwhile, out in the ‘real’ world, elections have been had, grand finals lost, economies collapsing and all that stuff. If it wasn’t for the distractions of work, mortgage, work, car repayments, work, groceries, work and so on, one could get very depressed. Take the oldies. A bunch of them recently got together in Melbourne to vent their spleens over the cost of living and the pittances they get as pensioners. My, what a sight it was. However, they failed to realise that their greatest advocate (according to his memoirs) is no longer in office. Instead of a bloke about their own age, they now have a PM who is young(ish) and more concerned about his frequent flier points than doling out more cash for those he sees as being ‘great contributors to the nation’. The pensioners and retirees who gathered in Melbourne need to ‘get with the program’ a little and realise that the greatest contribution to the nation they can now make is to unselfishly get back to work and do so until they kark it! Then, at the other end of the life spectrum, we have the kiddies. They’re the ones who don’t mind taking a dump in their pants when you’re in the middle of coffee and buns at the café and who cause you great embarrassment when they spew their lunch all over the back seat of your best friend’s Audi. It seems that despite successive government’s endorsement of private child care, the great saviour of mankind (sorry sisters) that is capitalism, doesn’t really do much to solve our biggest problems after all. Now, before we get all starry eyed and blame the Howard government for the ABC fiasco, lets recall that it was the Hawke and Keating governments (which according to my memory were Labor) who deregulated the child care ‘market’ and opened it up to ‘for-profit’ companies. Seems like the whole shebang is coming down around our ears. Now I could talk at length at the disappointment we Geelong supporters have over not winning the flag this year … but I wont. It pales into insignificance when compared to what is going on as governments around the world bailout whatever multinational comes knocking and enter into the ‘socialist phase’ of capitalism. The wonderful thing about capitalism seems to be that it is blind to age, infirmity, middle wealth, poverty and the environment. These impediments to the upward redistribution of the common-wealth do not stand its way. Well, not really “its” because capitalism isn’t really a ‘thing’ as such. Neither are the ‘ailing’ or ‘weakening’ markets. If you’ve ever been to a market the first thing you will notice is the people. There are people behind the stalls. They want to sell you something and you want to buy. The market without people is just an empty space with stalls in it. There is no activity, no trading, no fracas and no exchange. In other words, the market place is only created when rational people, who have an aim to maximise their utility, come together and trade whatever commodity they have. So, if the market is made up of rational people who trade according to rules they agree on, then we have to agree that if the so called ‘global financial crisis’ is having material outcomes (no more retirement funds, collapsing businesses and so on) then it must have been people who caused it. On the surface this sounds fairly simple. Yet, the reality is much more complicated and far less understandable. However, in order to make sense of it all, it is important to remember that the biggest benefits of capitalism do not accrue to those who must adhere to its ‘rules’ but to those who manipulate or ignore the rules and bribe the umpires. Elections, as we have seen, do not bring regime change (and neither does invading a sovereign nation under false pretences). As we see Obama putting together his new government we must really ask, is this not a rearrangement of the deck chairs? Similarly, and despite his “apology”, the Rudd government is failing to live up to its promised ‘saviour’ status. Even the mysterious Mr. Garrett must be getting worried about his latest album. Tuneless melodies and obscure lyrics mean his latest work is not being received by the masses as well as his managers had hoped. Meanwhile, back at the coal face, we are encouraged to work harder, volunteer more, drink less and enjoy the ride. We are reassured that noting beats working when it comes to living a fulfilled life. Who was it that said “Arbeit macht frei”? Now, I can accept that my beloved Geelong didn’t have the mettle to go all the way this year. What I can’t accept is that we are still expected to swallow the whole ‘work will set your free’ mantra. The worst thing we can do is sit back and accept that there is no alternative. There is. But it won’t come free. While I am the first to admit that, as a theory, capitalism has some upsides, I am not stupid enough to miss the fact that, like any theory, it can used to justify dogma, ideology and the severest human rights abuses. The fact that the “market” has been corrupted cannot be missed by even the strictest adherent to its tenets. Even though it scares the bejesus out of me, I can’t help but have a chuckle when I see one of the “leading economists” turn themselves in knots trying to explain why the public purse needs to be used to bail out those who caused the problems in the first place. The bottom line is, with thousands more about to lose their jobs over the next few months as factories close and the ‘economy contracts’, the question for us, will be, are we really content to just work, pay the mortgage, work, make the car repayments, work, buy the groceries and work more in order to see our inheritance used to enrich those who see us as nothing more than stepping stones to their own enrichment? …

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An alternative viewpoint on local, national and international events. Often polemic, always controversial. Highly researched and presented by Shane Elson, an award winning radio commentator and producer. Available free of charge. Only ask is that, if used, quoted or otherwise referred to, that proper acknowledgement be given.

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