Amanda, the gift that keeps giving

Bless her socks, Amanda Vanstone is a GEM! The Age must be tickled pink by their star recruit.

First, her latest article of faith inspired 677 comments, more than twice the number cheering Our Tones as he goes mano a mano with Vlad the impaler in the battle of shirtless men. But then there is some big money in Vlad’s corner so maybe Tone was wise to back down while he could. On the other hand the best the Age could do was summon up some lefty gook economist from the Oz Institute to respond to Amanda’s insightful prose.

The second observation about Mandy is she seems to be gifted with the rare talent to ignore the blindingly obvious and steadfastly maintain that black is indeed white. Such vision is rarely seen in someone so esteemed in this country although I am told it is more common over in the US and elsewhere in the World according to Rupert.

Amanda will not suffer the fools who assert sheeplike the communistic mantra that inequality is a bad thing. It is about time someone came to the defence of the poor beleaguered rich folk who want nothing more than a quiet night at home and to help their fellow man in times of trouble. People like the late great Kerry Packer who single handedly built the greatest TV empire known to mankind, dragged himself up from the gutter to become a leading light to those aspiring to the sort of social mobility Mandy so rightfully defends. The late Kerry’s philanthropic deeds are only matched by his son’s great passion for investing in such job creating wealth distributing enterprises as the Melbourne Casino. Like the poor downtrodden Gina who had to suffer such terrible deprivations under the previous Labor government, these people are only ever thinking of what they can do for AUSTRALIA! The hundreds of druggies and commies frothing at the mouth who vented there rage at Amanda for daring to call it how it is should really just take a chill pill and thank their lucky stars we have such noble spirits doing their bit to keep this great country great.

Sure, Gina might be a bit inclined to ask her hard working book keeper to make sure she gets her tax return right, but just like the late great Kerry, Gina probably thinks it’s her patriotic duty to make sure the gubberment isn’t ripping her off to pay the bleeding heart dole bludgers to skive off and smoke cones all day. It’s no wonder we acknowledge such nationalistic endeavor with state funerals, it sets the bar high for personal achievement and gives the rest of us something to look up to.

Oh poor Amanda to be so cruelly misunderstood, to think she has even be called “a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable” when all she is trying to do is stand up for those who shun the limelight and avoid the rewards they so richly deserve.

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Instructions from Rupert

I think the front page headlines that assault you in the supermarket or newsagent are a good snapshot of what we are supposed to be preoccupied with as we go about our daily business. Remember this gem…

Well Australia this is apparently what we needed Tony for…


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Dissent in the 21st Century


What is so remarkable about Hong Kong isn’t the huge potentially tragic problem it poses for the Chinese Government in the shadow of Tiananmen. This might be the emerging western narrative but in that story no one will question where is the dissent in the west.

As a student of history I am struck by how successful governments in the west have been in creating orderly society, especially over the last hundred years or so. I am definitely curious about how this has happened and it seems that a simple explanation might be at hand, so-called western prosperity.

The idea is this, it seems likely that the price of dissent free orderly society in the west has been the carrot of achievable personal comfort, if not relative affluence. Consider what we enjoy in the west, electricity, communications, transport, public health, shelter, clean water and possibly most telling, abundant food.

Certainly these things are not evenly spread around, that would be communism, but it is significant that these general social conditions form part of an unspoken social pact between the governed and the government. Democracy is supposed to enable this process but my cynical view is that democracy is not the vehicle that enables socially beneficial self government in the sense that Derrida was fond of. Rather it seems that democracy is merely a vaneer, painted a different colour from time to time that hides the real decision makers and their decisions from public scrutiny.

A sample of today’s news illustrates the point. Two “issues” currently doing the rounds in the media are the new spy laws and the budget emergency. These are not unrelated issues although they appear to be dissimilar, one a question of personal liberty and the other a question of economics. I think both of these issues are but two sides of the same coin.

The justification for the new surveillance laws is as hysterical as it is unfounded in logic or practical experience. No one has died from a so-called terrorist attack in this country since the 1970’s. The existential threat to everyday Australians is close to zero. Furthermore the police operations currently underway are taking place within the existing legal framework. The question then arrises, what about the future, remembering that the label of terrorism is a bit like the label of witch. The terrorist is defined as so alien to the us that we are justified in taking whatever course of action is deemed necessary to remove their threat, no matter how these things are in a more objective sense. In other words there is no logic to the terrorist question, rather its premise is irrational fear or hatred. This situation or definition is easy to reappropriate, just as in previous times heretics or witches were called out by representatives of the prevailing order. If you are wating to see how this might evolve consider how easily the idea of eco-terrorist has entered into the lexicon.

The other side of the coin is economic, or simply wealth. The 1% problem is hardly new but the success of the neoliberal agenda has seen the an exponential growth in the magnitude of inequity to the point where we are almost approaching feudal conditions. The so-called budget emergency concocted by the current fascist government of Mr Abbott is simply a statement of economic fact, government spending on the things that comprise the social pact is relatively stable but the amount of money coming into the government in the from of tax receipts has suddenly declined. Why? Because those that can have massively started to avoid paying taxes. This governments response has been informative, social spending has been cut, the office that polices taxes has been gutted whereas the muscular arm of state violence has been flexed with talk of war abroad as well as the extension of the all seeing eye.

The point of this rather long winded little rant is this. Dissent Hong Kong style has been bought off for a time here in the west but the cost of doing so has apparently become less attractive to the 1% who are busy withdrawing their financial support of social democracy while simultaneously securing their position from dissent with increased police powers. These two directions speak to our future, one which might bear more resemblance with what takes place in Hong Kong than what we are led to believe.

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Turnbull gives Community TV the heave ho

Superficially Malcolm Turnbull is applying free market logic however his government’s ideology is steeped in fear and loathing for the community sector, unless it’s the mining community or banking community or property owners community…

Clearly this is not an issue about the viability of broadcast free-to-air TV in general since the minister is not directing other TV networks to vacate the spectrum. It is kicking off community TV because they can’t pay the ransom fees the other players pay. When Turnbull says he can get more money for this spectrum elsewhere, he’s probably right but he is also protecting the existing TV networks from any similar competition, a fact that probably wont be forgotten.

However you do have to feel for the community TV players. Told to fend for themselves from the beginning, the only government help was lower licence fees and access to the RF spectrum, which paradoxically left them totally exposed to the whims of the new right wing junta currently flexing its muscles in Canberra. Slowly they have evolved into cultural icons perhaps best illustrated by Melbourne’s Ch31 only to fall victim to the new right’s culture warriors.

I think this is the real battle. It could be just about the money but several points don’t make a lot of sense unless you factor in the Libs natural antipathy for anything communal or socially based. For example, Turnbull is on the one hand telling the world we don’t need faster internet and then telling content generators that the internet is their future. Huh? How does that work? If you look at traffic generators on the web, video gobbles up bandwidth faster than anything. Horses, carts anyone?

Of course the dark side of me also says wait a minute, the thing about free to air TV is you can’t actually tell who is watching stuff whereas as we all know these days the government knows exactly what you are doing on the internet. Could this be a not too subtle effort to get deviant left leaning community TV watchers onto the web so their thoughts could be monitored? Just another case of making sure everything is monitored and controlled? Surely the party of freedom and Bob Menzies wouldn’t be so motivated would they?

Of course in the meantime it will disrupt the noisome rabble and allow the ruling class to get on with business. The fifteen month transition window is hopelessly inadequate and similarly speaks to the minister’s ignorance on how things work in the real world. Broadcast TV is not a Youtube channel. I can be a Youtube channel with nothing more than camera-phone and an internet connection. There is no standard I have to adhere to (other than some prudish Google rules and some Byzantine copyright interpretations), I don’t have any professional obligations, if I choose my anonymity is virtually guaranteed, I can do and say virtually anything. I also don’t need elaborate studios, personnel or technical infrastructure, offices or general managers. But best of all I don’t need to broadcast according to some rigid timetable, I can just make shit up as I go along. Yes Minister, the future of TV is the internet but not TV as we know it.

The real 21st century solution to both spectrum allocation issues and cultural plurality is actually denied by this government’s decision to restrict the NBN to fibre to the node. Again it speaks to the technical ignorance of this mob who think the internet is the sum of Google and Facebook, with the odd email thrown in. It is possible with increasing bandwidth and reliability to distribute media via the public internet but that requires a different mindset to the Youtube mentality. Critically it also depends on the sort of infrastructure the NBN was supposed to be. In a nutshell it boils down to doing cable TV on the internet which of course leads to talk about how the Lib’s NBN is payback to Rupert and Foxtel.

So, in rather typical fashion, the gubbermints decision is superficially about one set of economics but seems to be about another set of economics with some serious cultural implications tossed in (and aside). If Turnbull was fair dinkum he would devote some of his department’s energy into investigating how broadcasters like CH31 can transition to a cableTV/internet model. The keystone objects are largely in place with payment options (pay per view, subscriptions etc) and technical delivery systems already established, but working models are few. Inquiring into this sort of stuff is the sort of things governments are good at, but then again it probably wouldn’t happen inside of 15 years let alone 15 months.

In one sense Tunbull is right when he says the future for TV is the internet, but either he is wilfully ignorant about how the two differ culturally and economically or he doesn’t care as long as he silences the annoying rabble amongst the clattering class.

Community TV gets pushed onto internet.

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The 40hr Week

There is another way. It’s not just an idea or a name of a song but rather it’s what we have to do. The alternatives aren’t too hot.

Lets look at the possibilities. Automation, robots, technology, innovation haven’t given us, the ordinary people, abundant work or exciting new “career” options. Instead we stand at the crossroads as post WW2 manufacturing and cosumption based economies struggle to find meaningful ways of employing every increasing numbers of people.

The solution according to some is simply to say let the market decide. The meat market, the employment market where people compete with each other for work. Because work is what sustains a lot of people, it provides money to pay bills and put food on the table. But while competition might produce “winners” it also produces losers and the facts are that market based solutions produced stratification, a few big winners, a few more not so big and so on, down to a whole bunch of losers.

However contrary to the prevailing market based theory, the distribution of wealth is not an accident unrelated to social conditions or public governance. Instead it is a consequence of those large scale settings. Increasing competition serves not only to maintain the inequitable distribution of wealth (by way of wages), it also seems to promote further inequality.

That there is a lot of pressure to continue down this path seems obvious but to what end? More gadgets, more services, more consumption just to drive the current economic model?

What if instead, a living wage could be had for working less? Not just for some but for all? Let the machines do the work, we could have a world of less stress and more pursuits of genuine happiness. The problems that just don’t go away, the millions who die because they don’t have clean water or decent food, the mountains of rubbish piling up, the toxic dumps in the oceans, the silent killers of human spirit. Aren’t we smart enough to figure out these problems don’t fix themselves, but rather are symptoms of the fact we aren’t doing anything about them? Instead of making bombs or new cars, we could be fixing some of this.

It could be otherwise, but this anaylsis misses the obvious point. Generally systemic failures of the type I alluded to above are usually attributed to some local or specific cause. We often see for example unemployment blamed on some sort of personality defect in the unemployed and much is made of the argument that it is not a consequence of the economic system in general which is portrayed as a neutral setting or so-called level playing field. The extent to which this depiction serves some interests and not others brings to mind what Nietzsche said about Platonism and christianity, it ignores the question of perspective and assumes that the truth (of the level playing field) is universal.

No. The economic system and existing social order are co-conspirators in a structure that perpetuates an elite minority who can enjoy everything life has to offer while condemning the rest of us to wage slavery. What is surprising perhaps is the extent to which the large majority still comply. Progress hasn’t just been in terms of science or technology, somehow dissent has all but disappeared.

Are we all sheep?

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Old men confront the 21st century

It was a telling incident that demonstrates the disconnect of the old guard in the Liberal Party machine but it is hard to decide which one was more revealing. Was it the inept and incompetent Brandis on Sky who bumbled incoherently about how the government will increase its spying on the public or was it the other hard right culture warrior Abetz who when interviewed by a young woman on daytime TV casually asserted scientific evidence existed that linked abortion to breast cancer.

For mine Abetz wins by a short head but mainly because I can think of nothing more stupid than a ageing old fart like Abetz trolling out a right wing article of faith live on commercial TV in an interview with someone likely to experience either of the two linked conditions, ie abortion and or breast cancer. He’s a stupid old fart talking through his arse and the fact he was so stupid as to do it when and where he did illustrates the extent to which his generation of thinkers is not connected to the modern world of evidence based decision making.

And to think this mob junked the Science department.

Team Abbott rattled by loose cannon salvoes.

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Drowning not waving in the information age

So the wild west was won by the forces of law and order, lo and behold the US became, well the US. It saw how good was idea of private enterprise when backed up by muscle prepared to do violence and decided to dress it up as democracy for the rest of the world. They even erected a statue supposedly symbolising the eternal nature of individual liberty. Then they gave us Facebook.

Well to be fair they also gave us Microsoft, Apple and Google, as well as Oracle and IBM. Bastions of entrepeneurial success and validation of the system of private enterprise. Yay team! So confident was the US in its model they even believed that modernising China and sending all their hitech comapnies over there to make even more money would only ever be a good thing. The rest of the world couldn’t wait to join the party.

But somewhere along the way, the government of the people by the people and for the people got lost. Maybe it was never there, those were just some nice sounding words a politician used to “connect” with the people. But at least there did exist the idea that in a democracy people had some agency in deciding what affected them, even if it was reduceable to a simple choice between tweedledee and tweedledum.

Lately there has been a bit or talk about so-called antipolitics, a apparently widespread phenomenon whereby voters in modern democracies are apparently not interested in voting for either tweedledee or tweedledum, opting instead to vote for the jokers in the pack or not voting at all. Democracy is apparently in crisis with our political institutions seemingly irrelevant to the rest of our lives.

Still life goes on. People eat and sleep while the wheels of industry keep on trucking. Last time I looked belief in the institution of money was pretty strong. It seems to have no problem in convincing people of its relevance to the rest of our lives.

And then there are the new masters. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple. These companies are effectively above the laws created by the rest of us, their wealth largely untaxed and their capacity to do things that affect us grows every time someone likes something or asks a question or connects to a friend. Not only do we have no power in this relationship, the state which one could argue is supposed to protect our interests is instead only interested in exploiting the modern panopticon in the interests of law and order. The regressive nature of such actions should be obvious to any child over the age of 5.

We need to be utterly clear about this. Google is not our friend, it does evil. Facebook likewise. They have graduated from the hardware/software moguls like Microsoft and Apple that merely tried to lock us into using certain things. Now not only do we have to battle what we use or how we use the tools of the so-called information age, we also have to do battle with those who seek to control how we think and about what we think.

And just in case this is seen as some kind of extremist libertarian ratbaggery, consider the views of Jay Rosen or look at what happens when Greenpeace crosses the mighty Shell. The internet age heralds no new dawn for freedom.

Worse still, the demise of the idea of democracy in the mind of people reinforces a prevailing sense of powerlessness. There is some connection between the rise of companies who are effectively beyoond our control and the demise of democratic government although its exact nature is obscure. My suggestion is to follow the money. Look at who wins even if the method is odscure.

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Work in 2025

Ross Dawson, doing his best to look relaxed and at ease with himself in the Age’s supplied photo has this rather alarming conclusion

a rapid increase in self-employment as larger organisations cut the number of permanent employees and hire expertise from anywhere in the world only when they need it.

I have some experience with self-employment. It’s very much a two edged sword kinda thing. Yes on the one hand you do get substantially more time to do other things with your life but, and this is very much a big but, your relationship with your employers is far more subservient than is the norm in structured workplaces. Further, your financial security is far less certain with periods of gainful employment greatly outnumbered by long stretches of scraping by.

We used to have a term for this back in the days of our agricultural dominated economy, we called it seasonal work. You would work like buggery for a short period of time usually somewhere where you didn’t usually live, make a pile of money and then spend the rest of the year living of it and whatever else came your way. But in those days the cost of living was pretty cheap, in a sense money went further or could be stretched more. These days just having a roof over your head is almost more than you get on unemployment benefit and that means you eat shoe leather the rest of the time.

There is something very disconcerting about Ross Dawson’s prediction and that is the degree to which he paints this as some kind of technological utopia. Along with any claim that productivity is good for the economy in general is an unspoken truth. Improvements in productivity is a measure of how much of value is produced by a company or business or organisation or individual over time. In widget speak if I make 5 widgets a day and I buy a widget maker which allows me to make 50 widgets a day my productivity has improved. Leaving aside the accounting of cost, presumably the purchase of a widget maker is returned in terms of extra productivity since the only ongoing costs are my wage and whatever maintenance costs are associated with the widget maker. Me and my widget maker…

This is a rather crucial point. The widget maker is not another person, so someone else looking for a job has to go and find somewhere else to make gidgets because we, my widget maker and me have suddenly got the widget market to ourselves. Go innovate yourself a new job in Smokin Joe speak. Now this is all very well and fine since the last 70 odd years we have seen a pattern where investments in widget makers has not actually produced a seismic shift in employment but more recently what we have seen is a dramatic shift in the distribution of wealth with the elites suddenly tucking it away at a rather obscene rate. The assumption of economists is that technology that improves productivity is generally good for employment is based purely on the belief that what we have seen in recent times will always continue but there is nothing guaranteed in that relationship.

The case for businesses employing people is basically a matter of making money. Something of value needs to be done, widget making for example, and this doesn’t happen unless someone does it. But in the brave new world of Ross Dawson, widget will be made by pressing a button, or clicking an icon or just simply be created on demand untouched by human hands. Where will jobs be if companies can make money without workers?

The big problem is this. Ross Dawson and his kind of technological mind set assume that the capitalist system is fundamentally human and that its human value will prevail in terms of social good yet there seems to be abundant evidence to suggest that social good is the last thing to be considered in terms of private wealth creation. In fact the social world is viewed as unclaimed territory by those seeking to expand their business horizons.

That is where we are heading. You want a human for something, then you pay. You can make do with a machine, then here’s your choices but you also pay. Most of us will be reduced to begging to be used so we can do something of value to the rest of the world. Playing with yourself might seem like fun for a while but when the novelty wears off the reality is most of us need to make money to survive.

But I daresay Ross will fine.

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Rolf and Sarkozy

One of these men was found guilty of indecent assault, the other seems to have a case to answer for influence peddling. While there is no charges against Sarkozy yet there is a common element here, men who rise to positions of power or influence appear to consider themselves above the laws and moral codes that govern the rest of us.

Are the elites corrupted by their positions? An optimist might observe we can at least question the rich and famous, take them to court and obtain judgement but it seems to be too little too late. Maybe we need to avoid creating monsters in the first instance. On the available evidence it seems human frailty is incompatible with the degree of responsibility we place on public figures.

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