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A plague on both their houses

Despite still being fairly busy I’ve made time to return to blogging, and the theme of this somewhat lengthy comeback is the perennial one of nearly all politicians and their parties being nigh on inseparably awful. Inspired by some recent Twitter and email conversations with people who (I’m guessing) might not particularly support Mitt Romney but fear Obama* and with people who (I’m also guessing) might not particularly support Obama but fear Mitt Romney** I thought I’d spend a little time doing some comparisons. And I think the fairest way to compare is to see how often they do things that, depending on your left vs right politics, are frightening or A Good Thing.

Starting with the easiest to find and one of the most recent things I got into on Twitter, use of the Presidential veto. I’m not going into threats to veto legislation as firstly that’s going to be something they all do, secondly it’s only politicking, and thirdly it’s not going to be consistently reported. Actual vetoes are a matter of record so we’ll go with that, and it is a fact that Obama is extremely reluctant to use his veto. At the time of writing he’s been President for 1,329 days and has vetoed only two pieces of legislation, and in neither case did Congress overrule it and pass the law anyway. That’s an average of one use every 21 and a half months. Quite a contrast, say some Obama supporters, with Bush’s 12 vetoes (about a third of which were overruled by Congress), and in fact excluding the half dozen or so US Presidents who never used their veto Obama is the least veto prone President they’ve ever had.

But Bush was in office for 2,922 days, making his veto record about once every eight months. Much more frequent, yes, but objectively it’s hard to accuse Bush of having his veto button on a hair trigger, especially when you consider that Clinton, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower and Truman – all the Presidents since Dubbie was born – all used the veto with much greater frequency. In fact, and again excluding those who never vetoed anything at all, Dubya is the second least veto prone President behind Barack H. Obama. The third place, in case anyone’s interested, goes to Warren Harding, who was in office ninety years ago, while the most frequent vetoers were Grover Cleveland, a Republican, and FDR, a Democrat, who vetoed legislation on average once a week and once every five days respectively.

The bottom line there is that there is no relationship between a President’s party affiliation and his use of veto powers, not even when you take into account an opposition controlled Congress. The most and least veto happy Presidents are/were Democrats while the runners up in both categories were Republicans. Romney has not been President so we can only go on his record as Governor of Massachusetts, in which he used his veto about 800 times, more than twice as frequently as even FDR, though this is likely to be due in large part to a heavily Democratic state legislature which, predictably enough, overruled nearly all the vetoes anyway. Did he veto all that legislation for good reasons, or just because it made him look like he was trying his best to stick to policies in the face of determined and overwhelming opposition from the legislature? Does it mean that as President Romney would be even quicker on the veto draw than FDR? Probably not, but who knows?

So what do these numbers tell us? Not a bloody thing. If you don’t look at exactly what got vetoed by whom you can’t say whether you agree or disagree with its use, and once you do look it becomes subjective anyway. About all we can say objectively is that apart from the reasonable expectation of more vetoes when Congress is controlled by the other party there’s really no reason to suppose a President of one party is any more or less likely to veto legislation than a President of the other party.

Okay, so how about Executive Orders, something else that all Presidents can use and something I brought up in a Twitter conversation. Bush’s were Executive Order numbers 13198 to 13486, which makes 288 over his term or about one every ten days. Clinton managed 363 – one every eight days – over the same period of time, while Bush the Elder managed 165 – one every nine days – in his single term and Reagan’s record (380) over his two comes out at one every eight days. So far so similar. Carter was a bit keener, with 319 in a single term working out to one every 4-5 days. As of now Obama has issued 134, or one every ten days, about the same as his predecessor. Again, hard to get a comparable record for Romney but I can’t see any reason for thinking he’d buck this trend, and again I don’t think the bare numbers say much anyway. An Executive Order supporting a pet project or fulfilling a campaign promise is one thing, albeit something that arguably is not overtly supported by at least the majority who didn’t vote for the President (when was the last time any President had a majority of those eligible to vote, not just those who actually did vote?) but once more this becomes subjective. And while it’s subjective of me to maintain that Obama’s use of this tool to authorise the extra-judicial killing of his own citizens by means of drone launched missile attacks inside the borders of nations with whom there’s no formal declaration of war is pretty fucking iffy, not to mention beyond even where Dubya took the War on A Vague Feeling of Unease, I’m sure I’m far from alone. To be fair he issued one to close down the camps in Guantanamo Bay as well, but it’s hard to credit him for something that still hasn’t  happened yet and when the US continues to add to the numbers held without trial by sticking them somewhere else.

Among Obama’s inaugural executive decrees was a pledge to close the Pentagon’s notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Today it’s still open with 169 prisoners. The administration’s policy has been to send no new prisoners there, but instead to expand its prison at the U.S. airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan, where some 2,000 languish further from public attention and without a pretense of any rights.

The order’s fine print made clear the president was not challenging the indefinite detention of detainees without charges. Inmates “not approved for release or transfer,” the order said, “shall be evaluated to determine … whether it is feasible to prosecute” them.

Two months later the administration was filing its first court brief defending indefinite military detention for Guantánamo detainees under executive wartime powers. In May of that year Obama defended his prerogative to indefinitely hold those “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger.” His administration has designated 46 prisoners for detention without trial.

And then there’s those drone strikes, on which, unusually for me, I’ll turn to CIF (links are CIF’s, emphasis is mine):

Yet, contrary to his campaign promises, Obama has left most of the foundations of Bush’s counterterrorism approach intact, including its presumption of executive privilege, its tolerance of indefinite detention in Guantánamo and elsewhere and its refusal to grant prisoners in America’s jails abroad habeas corpus rights. While the language of the “war on terror” has been dropped, the mindset of the Bush approach – that America is forever at war, constantly on the offensive to kill “bad guys” before they get to the United States – has crept into this administration and been translated into policy in new and dangerous ways.

This fact is clearly demonstrated in a recent New York Times article, which details how President Obama has become personally involved in an elaborate internal process by which his administration decides who will be the next victim of America’s drone strikes. The article itself – clearly written with the cooperation of the administration, as the writers had unprecedented access to three dozen counterterrorism advisers – was designed to showcase Obama as a warrior president, thoughtfully wrestling with the moral issues involved in drone strikes, but forceful enough to pull the trigger when needed.

What it instead revealed was that the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, PakistanYemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the “kill list” being resolved in secret on “Terror Tuesday” teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.

The creation of this “kill list” – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress.

[…]

Together with the bland assertion that the US has the right to self-defense against al-Qaida under international law, these legal arguments have enabled the president to expand drone operations against terrorist organizations to Yemen and Somalia, as well as to escalate the campaign against militant networks in Pakistan. To date, Obama has launched 278 drone strikes against targets in Pakistan. The use of drone strikes is now so commonplace that some critics have begun to wonder if the administration has adopted a “kill, not capture” policy, forsaking the intelligence gains of capturing suspects for an approach that leaves no one alive to pose a threat.

This vast, expansive interpretation of executive power to enable drone wars conducted in secret around the globe has also set dangerous precedent, which the administration has not realized or acknowledged. Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the “kill list” will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is (I’m far from convinced Obama is all that mindful – AE).

[…]

Also in contravention of his campaign promises, the Obama administration has worked to expand its power of the executive and to resist oversight from the other branches of government. While candidate Obama insisted that even terrorist suspects deserved their due process rights and a chance to defend themselves in some kind of a court, his administration has now concluded that a review of the evidence by the executive branch itself – even merely a hasty discussion during one of the “Terror Tuesdays” – is equivalent to granting a terrorist suspect due process rights. With little fanfare, it has also concluded that American citizens may now be killed abroad without access to a “judicial process”.

Oh, and those American citizens don’t even need to be of voting age. Not even a year ago one US citizen, Abdul Rahman al Awlaki, died on the receiving end of a drone launched missile at the age of sixteen years, though the administration initially suggested he was around twenty and therefore of fighting age as if being older and able was the same thing as being found guilty of an actual terrorist offence by a court and jury. Turns out that one birth certificate, issued in Colorado, did exist to trouble the Obama administration. Might al Awlaki have been involved even at that young age, especially as his dad and uncle were – or at least were also killed by drone strikes, which is as much due process as Abdul got? Possibly, who knows? The point is that Saint Obama of Democrats has been at least as keen to use the same tools, legal and technological, to blow up brown kids as teh ebil demon Bush of GOP. In fact so keen has Obama been on drone strikes that he’d authorised more of them by the time he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency than Bush did in his whole eight years in the White House.

Nor is it just extra judicial killing via drone strikes. Obama has used Executive Orders to impose sanctions, “block” property and freeze assets, just as Bush did before him. Having been only a state Governor it’s hard to compare Romney but again I struggle to see any reason to expect him to be noticeably different.

Okay, so what about money and the economy? Republicans in general and Bush in particular are blamed by supporters of Obama and the Democrats for creating the GFC because it’s generally assumed that Republicans are the same thing as free market capitalists, and it’s strongly implied that Romney would be more of the same. Although I don’t doubt that Romney would be broadly similar the rest is bullshit for two reasons. Firstly, Republicans like Bush and Romney, big government Republicans, are no more capitalists than Obama is. Call them corporatists if you like and I’d be inclined to agree. Call them crony capitalists and I’d certainly be nodding. But free market capitalists? Let me put it this way, would a real free market capitalist bail out corporations who’ve fucked up so badly that they’ll go to the wall without state help? Would a real free market capitalist reward failure with money either taken by force from taxpayers or borrowed in their name without asking them?

Secondly, what free market are we even talking about here? The banking and finance industry? The one regulated by the SEC, FSA, ASIC and so on and strongly influenced if not controlled both by governments (both Dems and GOP in the US and both left and right of centre elsewhere) and by their various central banks plus a couple of supranationals? Free market my left ball. Amidst all that regulation and oversight where’s the free bit? It’s a myth – there is no free market. Freeish is not free, and operating under the strong, and as it turned out 100% correct, assumption that there’s a government provided taxpayer funded safety net is certainly not even remotely free for the simple reason that freedom necessarily includes the freedom to fail. Risk assessment changes not just with the risk itself but with the consequences of things going wrong, and when governments allowed corporations (it’s not just banks that have been bailed out or allowed to run for many years on subsidies) to believe they were protected from failure it was inevitable that they’d view risks differently and make products without customers or, as in the case of the banks, lend money to people who could never repay it. Absent the government protection there might be a few less options to choose from when buying a car due to unpopular models being dropped, but there probably wouldn’t have been as many subprime mortgages either. Blaming the free market for the GFC is like blaming Santa Claus for not getting the pressies you wanted at Christmas or complaining that the tooth fairy is getting stingy.

That didn’t happen on Bush’s watch or on Obama’s, yet they’ve played their part in the crisis all the same. There’s no doubt that Bush spent a hell of a lot of money, firstly on the War on Tourism*** and then on those bailouts. But then 2009 came and he left, and Barack Obama arrived promising change… and four years later he’s saying there’ll be some, honest, if America just sticks with him. Seriously? I know Congress hasn’t always been on his side but the last four years have been largely characterised by carrying on where Bush left off: spending a hell of a lot of money on war and bailouts for corporate fuck ups.

It’s harder to argue that the president hasn’t been a radical departure from previous presidents with respect to spending, debt, and deficits, but here goes. As a starting point, let’s have a look at the chart below, which shows federal outlays as a percentage of GDP.

The first year of the Obama presidency, 2009, is the largest year in decades, with federal outlays totaling a whopping 25.2 percent of GDP. Since then, federal outlays relative to GDP have fallen, but they are still incredibly large. In fact, you have to go back to 1946 to find a year when federal outlays were as large as they have been every year of the Obama presidency.

Having said that, it is impossible to look at the chart and not to see a large ramp up in outlays under George W. Bush — the president who reversed the direction of federal outlays, which had been falling. Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that much of the responsibility for 2009’s 25.2 percent rests with President Bush, and not with President Obama; in January 2009, before President Obama took office, the CBO released its forecast that fiscal year 2009would see outlays of 24.9 percent of GDP based on pre-Obama policies.

Don’t get me wrong: President Obama bears responsibility for federal outlays being larger for each year of his presidency than at any time since 1946. If George W. Bush bears a lot of responsibility for FY2009, then Mr. Obama bears even more responsibility for the three years that followed — responsibility for both the very high spending and the questionable composition of the spending.

So is Mr. Obama’s performance on spending quite bad? Yes. But a difference in kind rather than in degree? Over his four fiscal years as president the average outlays-to-GDP ratio is 24.4 percent. During the Reagan years the average was 22.4 percent. Given the Great Recession, this two percentage point difference, though deceivingly very large, isn’t enough to claim that President Obama represents a radical departure from post-war presidents with respect to spending.

What about the deficit? Here’s the picture.

This chart is startling. It shows that President Obama walked into a massive budget deficit and he made the situation worse. Prior to President Obama’s inauguration, and in the absence of any of his policies, the CBO estimated that the FY2009 budget deficit would be an incredible 8.3 percent of GDP. George W. Bush again bears a lot of the responsibility, and as with spending, President Obama turned bad into worse.

Each of Mr. Obama’s annual deficits has been larger than any since the 1940s. Deficits aggregate into debt, and as I have previously written it is reasonable to think of President Obama and George W. Bush as each being responsible for roughly one-third of the debt — with all presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton responsible for the remaining third. (In the absence of George W. Bush, it would of course be much harder, perhaps impossible, to argue that President Obama has not been a radical departure from previous presidents on debt.)

 

Get that? Obama’s administration is responsible for about a third of America’s debt, and Bush’s for about another third. But Bush isn’t the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney is. And Mitt Romney delivered on his promise to get the deficit under control in Massachusetts, and claims he did so without raising taxes. Whether you consider a government imposed fee a tax or not probably determines whether you entirely buy his claim, as does your view on Romneycare, the Massachusetts health insurance scheme that has been likened to and even described as a predecessor to Obamacare, and whether federal money Massachusetts received (this is during the Bush era, remember) to help with this means that Romney is not the fiscal conservative some would like to believe. On top of that Romney has said little to nothing about rolling back the size of America’s federal government apparatus and come out in favour of things that seem likely to maintain if not increase it. PATRIOT Act? Yeah, he’s a fan. Bailouts? Well, he may have opposed Obama’s but he supported Bush’s so he’s clearly alongside the principle of rewarding failure with money taken from taxpayers. War and foreign policies? According to Wikipedia he “has stated that Russia is America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’, and that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability should be America’s ‘highest national security priority’. He plans to label China a currency manipulator and take associated counteractions unless that country changes its trade practices. He has supported the War in Afghanistan Romney supports thePatriot Act, existence of the the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without trial, and use of enhanced interrogation techniques for interrogation of suspected terrorists.” As far as I can tell he, like Bush and Obama – and Clinton and Bush the Elder and Reagan etc – would also continue America’s ludicrously expensive and pointless War on Drugs Which Aren’t Ciggies Or Booze Because America Still Hasn’t Got Over The Last Time It Tried That. As a devout Mormon he may even want to extend it, but again with Obama attacking medicinal marijuana usage it’d stil be a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Just like it was 1,329 days ago.

All of which I’d call change I can believe in – namely none whatsoever. America decides, as does Australia and the UK next year and the year after, but we need to wake up to what we’re really deciding. If all we’re voting for is who gets to be warden of our multi-million square mile prison camps then what’s the fucking point? Bush or Obama, Obama or Romney, Gillard or Abbott, Cameron or Miliband… all will change details, yes, but it’s clear that all will maintain vastly more just as it is now. One or other of them may do a slightly better job at maintaining the gilding on the bars but none of them wants to, probably can’t even conceive of, doing away with the cage.

Well, almost none.

So am I saying Americans should vote for Johnson? No, it’s their choice to make, but I will say that at this admittedly long distance it really does look to me that voting for Obama because you fear Romney or voting for Romney because you don’t like what Obama’s done really isn’t going to change a great deal. No criticism of America intended as both the country of my birth and the one in which I’ve made my home suffer from the same problem. Christ, on some issues you can’t get a fucking cigarette paper between them. My personal opinions may be slightly closer to Ron Paul’s than Gary Johnson’s, but he’s not on a ticket and as I have no say in America’s elections this is all academic anyway.

But crazy ideas like politicians not bankrupting their countries and not accumulating debt for taxpayers not yet even born and fighting unnecessary wars and letting us all live the one life that each of us get as free individuals… well, I’d vote for Australia’s or Britain’s Gary Johnson in a picosecond. And I can’t help but feel the best chance of there being an Aussie or British Gary Johnson to vote for is if a fair number of American voters decide to reject the usual Republocrat/Demlican suspects this November. I don’t imagine he’ll actually win, but at this stage getting noticed and getting on the ballot has been enough an achievement that just taking a decent number of votes off the other two would be a small victory.

Good luck @GovGaryJohnson, and if you don’t win is there any chance you could move here and not win as well. Because at least you’re getting the idea of real change into people’s heads.

* He’s a muslim/commie/wasn’t born in the US/pot smoking hippy/Chicago lawyer/socialist healthcare advocate/pinko/freedom hater/terrorist sympathiser/Zionist – circle all those you personally believe in and which you think make him unfit to be President.

** He’s a mormon like Bill Paxton in Big Love/rich guy’s friend/socialist healthcare advocate/as bad as Bush because they’re both from the same party, you know, so despite  differences in the way Romney ran his state as Governor he’d run the country the same way Dubya did/terrorist sympathising Zionist… I’m going to stop taking the piss out of Obama and Romney’s respective detractors now. You get the picture – as far as I know nearly all the guff I’ve written in both these footnotes is complete bollocks and what isn’t is irrelevant, but all of it or stuff very much like it has been said either online or in the MSM. What amuses me is how some of the things they’ve been criticised for are actually things they have in common.

*** Not a typo: fly through Los Angeles airport and you’ll see what I mean – seriously, America, I’d love to visit again and spend money seeing various bits of your country but last time there the TSA made me feel about as welcome as a tumescent priest in a boy’s dormitory.

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In which I credit the Tories with something positive for a change

Not hugely positive, and I still loathe the Cobbleition almost as much as the last lot, but this is still good to hear.

Governments must not interfere with the internet, the British government said Tuesday – weeks after suggesting police should curb online access during riots.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the fact that criminals and terrorists can exploit digital networks is not “justification for states to censor their citizens.”
And Prime Minister David Cameron said governments “must not use cybersecurity as an excuse for censorship or to deny their people the opportunities that the Internet represents.”

As the article points out this is a bit of an about turn from the post riot noises about Twitter clampdowns and turning off mobile phone networks from some in the government, and the cynic in me wonders if this is less a Damascene conversion to the cause of liberty than a dawning realisation that they just can’t stop people talking to each other, but whatever the reason it’s welcome. Not so sure about this next bit though.

Britain supports the less proscriptive idea of internationally agreed online “norms of behavior.” That approach was backed by US Vice President Joe Biden, who warned against imposing a “repressive global code” for the Internet.

And who’s doing the agreeing? I suspect we know the answer already and that it’ll be governments agreeing for their citizens without giving them any say in the matter, which rather sours the happy mood. Still, backing away from overt censorship isn’t a bad thing at all. Statists and authoritarians run so much that any concession they make, any little victory at all, is worth mentioning.

Quote of the day

Okay, to be fair on Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh, talking here about Melbourne’s biggest dam reaching 50% full for the first time in seven years, this really ought to be called “Incredibly selective quote of the day” but never mind.

I can’t have thoughts as the minister…

Hanging together

Despite the last post saying there’d be no blogging ’til after the weekend I’m going to make the time for a very brief blog on the topic of capital punishment, currently the subject of a reinstatement campaign by The Sun and Guido Fawkes. As usual it’s a splitter, and in the blogosphere as well as day to day life. Some bloggers for whom I have a lot of respect – the Ambush Predator, Sue and Anna Raccoon, to name just three – are in favour of capital punishment while others who are equally estimable – such as Captain Ranty, Sadbutmadlad c/o The Raccoon’s Arms virtual pub and ironically The Grim Reaper – are opposed to it. As I’ve written before (here and here, for instance) I’m very much in the opposed camp, and trying to put it beyond reach is one of the very few things that I think politicians have somehow managed to get right. Quite possibly by accident or for other motives but whether it’s design or serendipity I’m not the slightest bit sorry about it.

Since this is supposed to be brief, at least by my normal prolix standard, I’m not going to go deeply into the reason for my opposition, which can be found on those links anyway, but I’ll summarise it with a copy of a comment I left at Captain Ranty’s an hour or so ago.

I say this time and time and time again: it simply astounds me that so many people who are so critical of the state – an entity that so many of us agree is corrupt, incapable of finding its arse with both hands and prone to abusing its authority if not acting ultra vires – are willing to give it back the power to kill its citizens. Fuck the criminal scum, a noose around the neck of the most evil man in the land is a potential noose around the neck of all.

Oh, you might be safe with a Cameramong or Millivanilli government but which of you death penalty supporters knows what kind of toad-licking swivel-eyed fucknuts you’ll have for PM in 10, 15, 20+ years? For all we know right now the future could hold a Chancellor Sutcliffe or a British Mugabe, and why the hell would we want to make the bastard’s job any easier? And I can’t think of any democracy that hasn’t elected a bastard at some stage and we all know that some have elected utter batsards, so there’s really no reason to think it can’t happen. In fact I’d bet that if you wait long enough it’s almost inevitable.

If you love liberty the answer is straightforward: you must never, ever entrust the state with any power that you would not also be happy giving to a homicidal dictator.

It can be put even more succinctly than that (though clearly not by me). Old Slaughter, who doesn’t even describe him as a libertarian but a “small government conservative”, comments at Anna Racoon’s blog:

… the death penalty is the ultimate symbol of the state’s presumption of authority over our lives. I would find it incongruent with libertarianism to advocate such a policy.

Indeed, and I did leave a comment telling Old Slaughter him that I was going to nick that. Please don’t hang me for it.

QOTD

Claiming that Whitehall mandarins are accountable, via ministers to Parliament, is a bit like claiming that the Press Complaints Commission properly oversees tabloid newspapers.

Douglas Carswell.

Aaaah, look, they’re getting all grown up

For a blog that’s supposed to be the semi-coherent rantings of an English expat upset at the goings on in the land of his birth I feel it’s been a bit overly focused on Aussie affairs lately, and was determined to give it a rest for a bit. The trouble is that while the phone-not-hacking business seems to be dominating news in the UK, and is also being so well blogged elsewhere I haven’t got much to add, there appears to be a wider variety of things going on here that have got sufficiently far up my nose to blog about. Money being wasted, carbon tax, some more money being wasted, different money being wasted elsewhere, politicians saying one thing and doing another, politicians talking complete bollocks, politicians talking bollocks whilst wasting money, politicians destroying the cattle industry – Christ, I’ve just realised I haven’t even done that one, but fortunately the Real World Libertarian has covered that as well. Well, best intentions of mice and bloggers blahblahblah, because I’m going to do another one. No apologies though, because this is important – Australia’s nannies have decided it’s growing up enough to be allowed scary videogames.

SEXUALLY explicit and violent video and computer games banned in Australia could soon be sold here after all state and federal governments except New South Wales agreed to an R18+ rating for video games.

Now as I’ve mentioned before, the reason we don’t already have one was that one state, South Australia, would not agree and that unanimity was required for change on this, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has actually changed. NSW abstained rather than objected as SA had done in the past, although the new Attorney-General from NSW, Greg Smith, is reportedly a conservative (yeah, that Liberal kind of ‘liberal’ again) and argued against introducing an R18+ classification.

Mr Smith said he abstained from the vote because it needed to go to state cabinet first as the government was new – it was elected in March – and so he could consult the community.

Same same but different, you’d think, because that’s really not far off the old situation – one strongly conservative view, quite possibly religiously influenced, held by a paternalist know-it-all in a position that lets him decide for the whole country rather than just his state (or better yet, his family) has apparently been exchanged for another. However, the federal government are not letting one state lay down the law for the whole country anymore. Kind of begs the question why they’ve been content to do so up to this point, but nevermind.

Brendan O’Connor says the Federal Government would over-ride NSW and implement the R18+ rating regardless of its decision.

And then there’s that community Greg Smith mentioned, and that can be divided into three groups: the gamers, who overwhelmingly want to be able to buy adult oriented games since so many of them are adults; the non-gamers who mostly don’t care or support the gamers; and the small but phenomenally noisy and, for their numbers, highly influential Christian lobby, who up ’til now have mostly opposed games that would be rated R18+ because of the violence and the risk of a T&A being included. Presumably the feeling is this sort of thing inevitably leads to hot women playing World of Warcraft in the nip and naked gaming parties, which in turn can only lead to sticky sheets, Kleenex shortages and babies, and this game-induced lust-fuelled sexmageddon will meet the game-induced bloodlust-fuelled murderpocalypse head on.

No, I don’t know how they get there either, and that many of the kind of games they worry about are not only not banned but are sold to 15 year olds here in Australia because of rather than despite the lack of an RA18+ rating seems to have escaped them until now. On that point there seems to have been a waking up and smelling of coffee

THE Australian Christian Lobby has overturned its opposition to a new R18+ category for adult computer games, saying a new in-principle deal would keep extreme games out of Australia.

… though it’s not exactly a Damascene conversion.

“The draft R18+ guidelines as originally proposed would have matched the R18+ guidelines for films,” spokesman Rob Ward said.
“This was clearly never in the interests of the community, with the boundaries of the R18+ film guidelines slowly eroded to allow extreme violence, actual sex and simulated pedophilia in films.
“Although ACL awaits the final detail from the meeting, it appears that the existing ceiling for games has been maintained with a commitment to move the more extreme MA15+ games into a newly-created R18+ rating.”

So while the Christian lobby, or at least one of its most vocal parts, has worked out that the current situation is counter-productive they haven’t gone quite as far as conceding that they don’t speak for ‘the community’, just themselves, or that adults in Australia should be able to buy the same games that are available elsewhere without the game developer having to specially ruin it for the local market.

Still, the main thing is that the opposition to an R18+ category has pretty much dried up and I’d say it’s almost certain that it’ll be in place in time for Christmas orders. And I’d be prepared to bet that although the wording on the game classification guidelines may be slightly different to those for other media I’d be prepared to bet that the official censors – the people who’ve been employed to nanny us but have often allowed games aimed at adults to slip through as MA15+ – will allow into Oz unaltered games that they can’t at the moment.

I’d prefer to see an end to the gaming nanny completely, and realistically with online sales growing – my last two games purchases were made via Steam and with the prices of games in the shops I’m likely to carry on buying that way – I don’t see how they expect to stop someone downloading games that aren’t for sale here anyway. Even if the internet filter plan hadn’t stalled I’m sure serious gamers would be working out ways around it so they could download ZombieSplatterKill4 from the US or elsewhere.

So I have mixed feelings about it, but overall there are more positives than negatives. It didn’t go as far as I’d hoped and certainly not as far as I’d like, but baby steps I suppose. Progress has been made and Nanny is going to let us play the scary and slightly naughty games now, which for a country with the biggest and most blatantly sited sex shops I’ve ever seen is probably about time.

View Larger Map — Sexyland, just off the Tullamarine freeway about ten minutes from Melbourne international airport

For those who are interested there’s a good potted history of the road to an adult games rating on The Age’s Screen Play blog.

Oh, fuuuuuh (Fit the Second)

High cost of energy? Are you keeping up, carbon tax fans? And while we’re on the subject, what the fuck is all this crap about a London style congestion tax (fortunately given the flick by the Victorian government – see, fellas, you can get something right) when it turns out that car use has fucking declined over the last six years?

Is this genuine idiocy or is it a secret plan to tackle immigration concerns by making the place so ridiculously expensive to live that no bugger wants to come here anymore?

‘Kinell. I’m off for a shit – who do I make the cheque out to when I flush the bog?

Black is white, up is down, Labour is Tory

As if to prove that this political metamorphery (apparently not a word, but I’m sticking with it anyway) of Tories into Labour that I’ve been ranting about the last couple of days is not unique we have the precedent of the grinning mutation mentioned earlier today, who, according to a lifelong member of the Tory party I knew, was among the best Conservative Prime Ministers he could remember. To be honest I wasn’t sure how much he was complimenting Blair and how much he was slagging off Major and whichever tool they had as leader whenever it was we were discussing it, but it seems as if Blair was not a one off. Either that or Frank Field is starting to channel Norman Tebbit.

When Tony Blair won the 1997 election, the total number of benefit claimants of working age stood at 5.7 million. When Gordon Brown went to the country in 2010, the level was the same – even though more than three million jobs had been created under Labour.
The problem was that, of those new jobs, 80 per cent went to immigrant workers. And now, the same disturbing pattern is repeating itself. In fact, it is even more marked: over the first year of the Coalition, 87 per cent of the 400,000 new jobs created were taken by immigrants.
[…]
Overwhelmingly, voters reject the idea that the right to welfare should be decided on grounds of need. A vast majority insists that welfare should instead be earned. Voters are deeply uneasy with the direction of policy, begun in the early Sixties, that has seen Britain move away from its insurance-based system, where benefits were awarded only to those who had paid in, to a means-tested system that gives a universal right to benefits to anyone whose income is below a certain level. Especially since, under the guise of tax credits, a third of the country has been sucked into the welfare net.
Voters are equally hostile to the way social housing is allocated. The rules determine that those deemed to be in greatest need shoot to the top of the housing queues. The public fundamentally disagrees. It believes that those who have waited the longest, who have been good, reliable, decent tenants, who have paid their rent on time, whose children haven’t caused trouble, shouldn’t be pipped at the post for the best housing.
Yet even so, the Coalition looks set to continue the post-war policies to which voters are hostile. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Benefit is little more than Gordon Brown’s approach on speed.
[…]
The Work Programme, if anything, has had an even easier ride. The Government believes, for two reasons, that its approach is superior to the horrendous number of such schemes Labour introduced and endlessly refined. First, private providers will be free from most bureaucratic restraint; second, they will predominantly be paid by their results, getting their reward from the taxpayers only when they place people in work (and the longer they remain in work, the bigger the reward).
It sounds simple, but again, I doubt whether it will have a huge impact on the numbers of workless claimants, and particularly on the number of those who have never worked.
[…]
But what of those lads, barely able to read or write, who tell me they wouldn’t dream of taking a job that doesn’t pay three times the rate they gain on benefits, and who refuse those jobs available on the grounds that such work is fit only for immigrants? This group of recidivist, workless claimants know from past experience that governments leave them alone.
Again, voters have other views. Three quarters of the public – including benefit claimants themselves – believe that those who willingly refuse to seek work should lose all or a very large proportion of their benefits. Yet no government has shown any willingness to reflect voters’ views in the sanctions it imposes.

Frank Field, in case anyone needs reminding, has been a Labour MP for more than thirty years and has served both in cabinets and shadow cabinets. He may have a track record of taking a different line from his own party and of course he was the guy who set out to think the unthinkable on welfare reform, at least until Blair told him that the unthinkable was, er, unthinkable. Still, the point is we have Tories in the Cobbleition being more Labour than Labour and one of the longer serving Labour MPs is being more of a Tory than almost any of them. And for what it’s worth he’s making more sense too.

What the fuck is going on?

It’s QOTD everywhere else

Well, not really but a lot of people have talked about what Cleggy Nick said about government the other day (QOTM at the UK Libertarian for instance).

“I need to say this – you shouldn’t trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.”

Not just there either. Three days before he said that to The Observer he was saying similar things in The Teletubbygraph in support of the govenment’s disappointingly watered down and limited Freedom Bill.

The nature of power is such that, the longer a government has it, the less inclined they are to give it up. We must not take our chances. When it comes to cherished British liberties, even the most well-meaning of governments cannot be trusted.

What the hell was going on there? Is some inner classic liberal trying to claw its way out or was he temporarily channeling the spirit of Ronald Reagan?* Whatever the reason it’s important that someone reminds him of his own words every time he or the government he’s a part of falls short on that ideal, and since that seems to be almost all the time – the Freedom Bill itself being an example – I expect he’s going to wish he hadn’t said anything before long.

* Not that Reagan lived up to those words since the US government still grew during his time. Still, at least he said it like he might have believed it, or am I just cynical about that because he was an actor?

Okay, Dave, now what? UPDATED

So now that Parliament has had a vote on the issue of prisoners voting and decided by 234 to 22 that prisoners can stuff off, what does Cameramong do now? Earlier today in the Teletubbygraph Benedict Brogan thought he was going to be in an awkward position.

If as we expect the motion is passed, Mr Cameron will be duty bound then to make sure it is enforced. That’s where it gets tricky: we have so far had no indication of what the Government might do: withdraw the UK from the jurisdiction of the court? Hand responsibility for abiding by the convention to the Supreme Court? Test the link between membership for the EU and the ECHR? Mr Cameron is encouraging revolt, but he has to have a plan for what happens when MPs follow his lead. What he can’t do, as some suggest, is kick it into the long grass.

Well he certainly shouldn’t, but I wonder if it might actually be an option. I was watching a BBC video clip over at Chez Puddlecote in which Andrew Neil, who had the chore of interviewing this arsehole, suggested that the European Court ruling was simply that the UK had to review this situation.* If so then can Cameramong reply to the Court that the British parliament has reviewed it by a majority of more than ten to one and leave it to be argued over for another few years? That would be longish grass, possibly long enough for iDave’s purposes. The alternative is confrontation and possibly a move to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European Court (as argued for here). If he has the stomach for withdrawal I think a lot of people in Britain who are fed up both with the EU, the European Commission and the European Court will think better of him for getting the country out from under at least one of them. Big if, though.

On the issue itself I’ve always felt the simplest answer is to agree that they have the right to go and vote but point out that while serving prison sentences their right to liberty is temporarily suspended, so getting to the polling station in time is going to be a bit of a challenge. If this was combined with an overhaul of the abuse-prone postal and proxy vote system so that the latter was restricted to people actually out of the country and the former dropped altogether then the only prisoners actually able to vote would be a relative handful of low risk types who’d been let out on day release or something.

The right to vote shouldn’t necessarily come with the right to be able to use it if your own actions have deprived you of your liberty.

UPDATE – very good question asked by Max Farquar.

All the MPs in the HoC had a free vote today, a chance to show their disdain for something that they almost all found totally unacceptable. Rightly so. That’s how it should be. So …. when are we going to be offered the same opportunity to be able to show our overwhelming disdain for all things EU. When are we going to have our free vote Dave. An EU Referendum. You know … the one with the cast iron guarantee.

See my point?

I do indeed, Max. That’s a question worth asking again and again, louder and louder, until someone comes up with an answer.

* If he can call someone a Paki then I can call him an arsehole.

New Labour, Cobbleition Tories, very few meaningful differences.

I’ve said this already often enough but Douglas Carswell spells it out loud and clear today.

… From where I’m sitting, the problem is not that the Coalition is failing to be traditionally Tory. Rather it is that ministers are not being radical enough. Yes, the talk is bold, but how much has public policy really altered since May?

Cutting the deficit? Ministers say so, but not the maths. Borrowing is up. Like pretty much every other post-war government, this one seems to be using higher taxes and inflation to solve its debt problems, rather than seriously curb state largesse.

Political reform? All those interesting ideas, mooted at the height of the expense scandal, including recall and open primaries, seem forgotten. Instead we’re to have a referendum on AV – which was in neither Coalition party’s manifesto.

Bonfire of the quangos? It’s gone out.

Localism? Maybe. But what about the localising the money?

Great Repeal Bill? Try googling it.

Europe? This afternoon the government will announce we’re opting into yet another EU proposal on criminal justice. Plus ca change.

Welfare reform? Full marks. But is this a change of policy or an acceleration of the reforms Labour’s James Purnell piloted.

Defence? We carry on cutting what we need, while spending on ruinous contracts we can ill-afford.

New politics? Same sofa.

Quite, and since Douglas Carswell is a Conservative MP and presumably better able than most to see what’s going on in his party it’s a fairly safe bet the rest of us who thought the new government was depressingly similar to the old one didn’t imagine it. But it does raise one intriguing question.

Why the hell is Douglas Carswell still a Conservative when the party isn’t?

Thank you for using Johnnytube.

Over at the Adam Smith Institute blog there’s news that Boris Johnson has again taken a brief break from quoting Homer in which he squeezed the idea that London’s tube network might have driverless trains because, as the ASI note, the damn things don’t keep going on strike. I have to admit that the idea of driverless trains didn’t thrill me when it was suggested and then implemented on London’s Docklands Light Railway more than 20 years ago, but having used it a few times since then as a passenger I’m completely comfortable with the idea of automation. Wikipedia mentions only two accidents since 1987, one of which was due to unauthorised testing (a human decision presumably) before the line opened, and there are similar systems in operation all over the world. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the Total Recall Johnnycab type taxi I referenced in the title, or even a Johnnytram since if I’m not driving that’s my usual public transport choice – they have to share the roads with cars, trucks, cyclists, pedestrians and animals, and I feel the environment is just too random for automation. But lay out some track that the automated system has all to itself so that everything moving on it is under its control, and I think experience shows that it can work just fine. The Tube network seems ideally suited to it, and in fact is already largely automated on the Victoria, Central and Jubilee lines according to BoJo. It might have been more but he’d slipped into Latin again and nobody understood a word.

Needless to say this has not gone down well with the union bruvvers, as reported by the Socialist Worker.

London mayor Boris Johnson signalled his intent to keep up the attacks last week when he told a collection of bankers and City grandees about his plans for “driverless trains” on the tube network.

He said, “Anybody in this room could in a matter of a few weeks acquire the qualifications to supervise an underground train.”

Bob Crow responded by saying, “Boris Johnson’s comments show he has complete and utter contempt for the staff who ensure safe transport of Londoners every day.

“It is clear he is planning to sack thousands of tube drivers and that act of provocation will be met with fierce resistance.”

Okay, and of course I’m all for the right to strike, being at its most basic people being at liberty to withhold their labour. But it’s all a bit one sided, isn’t it? I’m also for employers being at liberty to keep their business functioning while a strike is on, which must mean that if some of the strikers find their jobs have been filled by other people while they were waving signs and standing round braziers, fucking tough. As things stand they can have their cake and eat it, knowing that striking doesn’t put their jobs at risk. At least not directly.

And what of the commuters, because these strikes do keep buggering up everyone’s commute, don’t they? There may be a certain amount of sympathy from a handful but if the Tube staff were universally loved and thought of as heroes who keep the capital moving then it seems unlikely that this would ever have been made.

Instead the reality is that a couple of doctors sang a song in which they called Tube drivers lazy and greedy and fucking useless cunts, and as I recall far from being widely condemned (outside the unions obviously – I’m sure they spat a few dummies) it got emailed all over the place with subject lines like ‘LOL, sooooo true’ – I got it at least twice from separate sources. Harshly put maybe, but many people agreed.

And then the SW sticks its head in the sand.

Few believe that Johnson’s boast is anything more than rhetoric. It would cost millions to upgrade the tube network in the way the mayor is fantasising about.

And yes, the whole country is boracic at the moment, but that’s kind of the point. Right at the time the UK needs to tighten its belt and make some serious economies Tube drivers and staff are taking industrial action. Again. And as the ASI note:

The London Chamber of Commerce calculated that each day that the Underground is closed costs the UK economy £48million. So the five strikes cost us £240million last year, whilst it has also been argued that once all the Tube trains are converted to automatic systems it would save a further £141million a year.

So yes, while it would undoubtably cost millions to upgrade the network it would also save millions, which is the object of the exercise.

Still, the SW have got Boris bang to rights on one point.

And, far from destoying the unions, workers still retain power on driverless systems—as a strike by RMT members on the DLR system this week will prove. [Since cancelled, I believe – AE]

And they say that like it’s a good thing.

Wa-wa-wankers.

PS – this marks the second use of my Politicians Getting Things Right For A Change tag.

That took its sweet time.

Finally! ID cards are at last dead and decently buried, despite the best efforts of some to hold things up by insisting that the 12,000 or so useful idiots and government hirelings* who bought one of the bloody things could have a refund. As I said in September, caveat emptor always applies whether it’s a crap first car that a young Exile bought against the advice of older and wiser heads or an ID card that always stood a better than evens chance of being abolished before long.

You had the option to not buy something from a relatively unpopular government being lead by a hugely unpopular mucus munching madman, something that the opposition parties made clear they would scrap if they got in, but in spite of that you went ahead. Too fucking bad. Am I going to get a refund on all that NI I paid if, as I expect, the UK state pension pot has gone tits up by the time I reach retirement age? No, I highly fucking doubt it too. Fucking thousands taking from me under threat of violence, fucking thousands. And you peck sniffing, blister palmed, pox ridden cockslots are whinging about your thirty fucking quid even though it cost the rest of the taxpayers twenty grand between them for that bit of plastic.

Fuck. You. All. Fuck you right in the face.

And well done, Cobbleition. Now… what the fuck’s going on with all the rest of that civil liberty stuff you were talking about?

* I can’t recall where I read it and can’t now find the link but I’m sure I saw somewhere that a large number of the ID cards issued had been to people who worked in the department issuing ID cards and other public sector employees.

Dodged that bullet.

Aw, shame.

Australia received a single solitary vote and was the first nation eliminated in the fight for the right to host the 2022 World Cup. It ended up being a fourth-round battle between Qatar and the United States with the Middle Eastern nation winning 14-8.

Goodoh. That means the Qataris pay for it and not us. In Victoria we spunk away millions every fucking year on hosting the Grand Prix alone, and despite being a motor racing fan I bloody object to that. The soccer World Cup? You can bloody keep it.

And it’s also bad news for British fans, though good news for their wallets.

There’s a very strong suggestion that England was eliminated in the first round of voting for the 2018 tournament. Serious questions will be asked. Did yesterday’s crowd violence in the Birmingham-Aston Villa EPL match have any late impact on voting? What about the BBC program?

Who’d have thought it. A bunch of fighty fans and the BBC may have combined to save the country a lot of money. I mean, what the fuck were they thinking when they bid for the bloody thing anyway? Were they expecting to fund it with the huge profits they’re going to make from the Olympics?

Profit? In your dreams, buddy.

Look, I like watching sport. No, in fact I love it and there aren’t many things I won’t watch (soccer is one of them as it happens). But let’s get the principle of the money sorted out once and for all – it is not the job of a government, whether state or federal/national, to act as a fucking sports promoter, okay? It’s simply not a government function. By all means talk it up and support it verbally but do not, repeat do fucking not, go putting your sticky fucking mitts into taxpayers pockets to pay for it.

And there’s a reason for that. Aside from not unnecessarily separating taxpayers from yet more of their hard earned, which incidentally is reason enough on it’s own, what do you think happens when sport thinks it has a practically endless pool of money to dive into courtesy of its good friends in government? It fucking gets more expensive, of course. Again, take the Melbourne Grand Prix or the London Olympics as an example. Do they actually have to cost as much to stage as the governments have to fork over, and if it they do is it worth it? If the answer to both is yes then surely it should be no great challenge to persuade all the private enterprises who benefit from it to chip in instead of robbing everyone from fucking Mildura to Mallacoota to pay for a Melbourne event and Land’s End to John O’ Groats to fund a London event. And when something is funded with private money value is sought after and normally got, because otherwise the money will stop flowing. However, the fact that Britain has been struggling to get private money in to cover even the minority of Olympic costs that weren’t planned to be met willing or otherwise by the taxpayer does rather suggest the answer is in fact no.

As I said, I like watching sport. I’ll watch the London Olympics and the Melbourne Grand Prix – I’ve even paid to go a couple of times – but I’m in it for the sport, not for all the bullshit presentation and pomp that goes with it and that drives the costs up to the point that often only governments, with their ability to rob whole populations en masse, can fucking afford to pay for it. What’s needed is a reality check for sporting bodies such as the IOC, FIFA, IRB, FIA and anyone else from the alphabetti spaghetti gang. What’s needed is for the bids from governments to host these increasingly lavish and costly events to dwindle away to the point that the sporting bodies have to tone down their expectations for huge opening ceremonies with twenty thousand performers doing something culturally significant yet also utterly mystifying followed by enough fireworks to make the Americans think another war has started, and approach private investors who’ll actually expect a more tangible ROI than, “It’ll be a great opportunity to showcase the city/state/country”.

Normally I’d finish off this kind of rant with some comment to the effect that I’m pretty pessimistic about the chances of this actually happening, but also in the sports news this morning is something that holds out a slim ray of hope that this might be beginning. The Victorian taxpayers’ regular contributions to Tiger Woods’ ex-wife’s lawyer’s bank balance has also been an occasional topic of froth spitting rage on these pages, and happily that’s going to stop.

THE Tiger Woods gravy train in Melbourne appears to have been derailed by the new state government.

Woods’s appearance in the Australian Masters, the tournament he has single-handedly reinvigorated in the past two years, is in doubt because Premier-elect Ted Baillieu said the government would not fund a visit by the world’s most famous golfer.

The Brumby government – through its Victorian Major Events Corporation – contributed about $1.5 million in each of the past two years towards a $3 million appearance fee for Woods, which was slightly below the standard rate.

But Baillieu has previously said that a Coalition government would not countenance the payment of a fee, and he repeated it yesterday.

And fucking right too. I don’t care one way or the other about the dick swinging stick swinger or whether he comes to Melbourne to play a few holes, or even some golf. But the cost of persuading him to stop having sex long enough to get on a plane and compete here should be borne by those who actually want him, and if he’s priced himself out of the market that’s up to him. Needless to say I’m quite pleased about this. I was glad to see the back of the Labor state government but naturally I didn’t expect to be any fan of the replacement. I’m not eating my words here but I am having a small nibble on the corner of one letter. Credit where it’s due, Ted Baillieu is spot on here, and I hope it sets a trend of pollies and governments refusing to further enrich already wealthy sportspeople and bodies.

As a result I’m creating a new tag: “Politicians getting things right for a change”. It probably isn’t going to see an awful lot of use, but let’s hope I’m wrong about that too.