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Thrills and spills

So by now everyone will be aware that Australia’s first knitting Prime Minister has been stabbed in the back by her own party in favour of the former Prime Minister she stabbed in the back for labor barely three years ago. Let’s just lay that out in a time line:

  • 4th December 2006 – The Australian Labor Party decided that Kevin Rudd is the man to lead them to victory over incumbent PM John Howard in the forthcoming election.
  • 3rd December 2007 – Kevin Rudd leads the ALP to a landslide victory over incumbent PM John Howard, and in such decisive fashion that John Howard actually lost his own seat.
  • 24 June 2010 – The Australian Labor Party decide that Kevin Rudd, the same one who led them to electoral victory, is a fucking liability electorally speaking as well as a pain in the arse to work for, choosing to dump him for his deputy Julia Gillard. Having been told his time is up Rudd stands aside without a fight.
  • 21st August 2010 – As Prime Minister Julia Gillard leads the ALP to a no score draw in the election and has to form a minority government relying on the promised support of Senate Greens and some of the cross bench MPs in the House of Reprehensibles.
  • 24th February 2012 – After time in Gillard’s cabinet and then the back benches Rudd challenges for the leadership of the ALP again. Three days later the ALP votes and Gillard beats Rudd 71 votes to 31.
  • 30th January 2013 – Julia Gillard, having steadily lost popular support and, presumably, having gone quite mad, announces that the next federal election will be on 14th September 2013, about a fortnight before the last day it can legally be held (UK readers might find bells ringing from that last bit).
  • 21st March 2013 – Having continued to lose support Labor MPs seem finally to notice that many of them are likely to lose their seats and cushy jobs at the election. Rudd, having spent much of the last 13 months saying he wouldn’t challenge for the leadership again, stays silent. Simon Crean, a member of Gillard’s cabinet, called for a fresh leadership contest and announced that he supported Kevin Rudd to replace Gillard as leader and Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and Deputy PM each stand for their existing jobs and Kevin Rudd continues to stay silent. Gillard is elected unopposed and promptly fires Simon Crean, who complains that he thought Rudd would actually challenge. Rudd then states that he will never be Labor leader again.
  • Today, 26th June 2013, three months later – Rudd’s supporters petition for a Labour caucus with the intention of forcing another contest on what, due to Parliament being about to rise until the election, is for all practical purposes the last possible day they could have one. Gillard raises and calls for a contest without waiting for the petition. To negligible surprise Rudd announces that despite his promise he’s changed his mind and will stand against Gillard, and goes on to win by a dozen votes.

So there we have it, the man that Labor wanted/didn’t want/didn’t want/didn’t want/wanted all along is back, having seen off the red headed pretender who betrayed him/rescued the party/betrayed him/betrayed the party/was brilliant/was a total lost cause.

And needless to say, all this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with polling predictions that with Julia Gillard as PM Labor will be reduced to perhaps as few as 30 seats come the federal election while under Rudd it’ll be 50 at worst and if they’re lucky they might even make another draw or a tiny majority. Each and every member of the Labor caucus is thinking only of the good of the country, natch, and the kind of naked self interest that is no doubt suspected by millions is actually not a consideration at all. Honest. Although…

… if that was true then why the fuck did they ditch Kevin Rudd, not once but three times, to begin with. I was going to make a joke about Rudd asking why the ALP had disowned him three times, but since I wonder if the bastard hasn’t got a messiah complex anyway I think it’s best I don’t.

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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.

Is it an election year or something?

Click for link

It is a surprise to no one in the US that Barack Obama supports gay marriage. The only thing that has raised eyebrows is how long it took the President to stumble towards a clear public affirmation of his position.

What’s surprising? Any US president saying this kind of thing is going to piss of the Christian right, and since they’re going to vote Republican that’s no loss to a Democratic pres. But surely it’s also going to appeal to a lot of right-on types who mostly vote Democrat, which means it might be the kind of thing a Democrat president could leave until nearer the election to give any wavering support a boost. This is almost certainly not a sudden Damascene conversion for Obama but something that’s been sat on until the time was judged to be right. From his perspective it would have been a bit of a waste for him to have said this three and a half years ago in the height of his post election (and not being George W Bush) popularity, but if he’s worried that some of his own voters will be viewing the last three years with enough disappointment that they might not vote he’ll probably think it’s time to play a pocket card or two. Suddenly being all right-on about gay marriage after being quite so long could be one such card, and timing it with allegations about Romney being a homophobe in the distant past (which was also preceded by a long period of absolutely nothing being said about it despite Romney being a senator, a state governor and a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008) could be another.

In short, I don’t think gays should be getting too euphoric about this. I’d say this has got fuck all to do with their rights or anyone else’s and much more to do with getting the votes in come November. On the issue itself I’d say what I always do: that defining marriage is one of the vast (and growing) number of things that should not be a government function at any level, and most certainly not at the federal level. Seriously, just scrap the legal definition of marriage altogether. Gays should be free to define marriage so as to include them and find agreeable celebrants if they want, and those whose religious beliefs mean they define it otherwise should be free to disagree and say that those marriages have no validity in the sight of their preferred man in the sky. It won’t be enough to keep either group but think of the alternative. While it remains something that government feel they can involve themselves in then both gays and the religious will be electoral pawns with nice easy hot buttons to be pressed by otherwise shit politicians who couldn’t be trusted alone in a room with your wallet. But if both the gay and religious lobbies can stick their fingers up to both lots of pollies, and providing they can agree to disagree and don’t actually come to blows over it, then both could be better off. Just one small concession is needed from each side: the gays just need to concede that certain religions will always say that butt love and going sappho is sinful and rules out their particular marriage service, and in turn those religions need to concede that they’re not the only game in town as far as marriage is concerned.

Pictured – traditional marriage

So what’s it to be? I know at least one Christian who isn’t against gay marriage in general but would oppose it in her church, and I also know at least one gay person who’s fine with letting religious prohibitions stand indefinitely provided the various churches are willing to let bi-gals be bi-gals (so to speak) but I suspect they’re both in a minority and that things to remain pretty much the same as they are right now. I hope to be wrong about this one day and wake up to find that both groups have realised that they could both be freer than either is at the moment if only they just told the presidents and prime ministers to mind their own business about it.

Good news for Queenslanders

They’ve ditched a useless bunch of self serving politicians up there.

Time travelling headlines brought to you by The Age - screen shot taken at 21:22 on 24th March

The bad news is that even without knowing anything about the incoming lot it’s a given that they’ve just elected another useless bunch of self serving politicians.

If it’s broke fix it with the thing that broke it*

Both my readers (hi Mum) will recall that since the UK election nearly two years ago I’ve often said that the Cobbleition government really doesn’t seem all that different from the Labour government that preceded it. I can’t be bothered to look back and see when it was that I began saying that it was like Labour had never lost the election but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t long. However, I can recall exactly when I said that the country may as well bring back Gordon Brown, which was late last November, my reasoning being that if all politicians who can attract enough votes to win power are hell bent on wrecking the place then real change can’t happen until things have got so bad that the people who voted for them can no longer ignore it, so you might as well have the worst of the bunch in charge so as to get the painful wrecking part of the process over and done with quickly. Not a new argument – Obonoxio the Clown was saying something similar even before the election, and I don’t think he was the only one. But what persuaded me that the current incarnation of the Tories, which at its best has only ever been a party that likes to boss people around about different things from those which Labour likes to boss people around, really are doing nothing more than prolonging the agony was Camermong’s announcement that he was going to fix the economy with the very thing that, in America, fucked the economy right in the eyes.

The Prime Minister and his deputy, Nick Clegg, will unveil proposals to help first-time buyers of new homes by carrying part of the risk of their mortgages.

Dave, Nick, say it ain’t so. Tell us that even you aren’t so monumentally stupid that you can’t see that it’s precisely this kind of policy – using taxpayers’ money to underwrite loans for overpriced housing to people who are at higher risk of being unable to repay them – that led with grim inevitability to the fucking subprime mortgage crisis in the fucking first place. And what did that lead to in its turn? Oh, yes, that’d be adding to an unsustainable bubble with a bonus prize of a banking crisis, wouldn’t it? And you two freak shows are now standing here telling us that you want to fucking do it all over again in the deluded belief it’ll get the economy moving. Folks, I think this year’s Jeff Buckley Award for being the Public Figure Most Hopelessly Out of Their Depth may end up being shared.

But no, they did mean it. And today it turns out to be even worse.

Up to 100,000 people will get Government support to buy homes worth up to £500,000 in a Coalition move to revive the middle-class dream of home ownership, ministers will announce.

I just want to draw attention to the maths here. £500,000 times a hundred thousand people is fifty fucking billion pounds. Fifty billion! Has the country that’s recently fallen behind Brazil in the ranking of world economies actually got fifty billion to spare? Without adding to the already mind-fuckingly huge debt that’ll need to be repaid by future taxpayers?

The guarantee will allow people buying new-build properties to borrow up to 95 per cent of the value of their new home.
Since the credit crisis that began in 2007, most people seeking to buy a newly-built property have been able to borrow no more than 80 per cent of the sale price.

Can someone explain to me why this is necessarily a bad thing? Surely if you’re borrowing less then your ability to repay is easier, giving you either a cushion or the option of early repayment or more disposable income. And if being able to borrow less means you can’t afford it at all, couldn’t that possible indicate that despite adjustments property in Britain is still too fucking pricey by far?

Some estimates suggest that the average deposit required for a mortgage is close to £38,000.

This is telling. When I bought my first house, which was back when the housing market was only silly and not outright batshit insane, I think the rule of thumb was being able to borrow triple your salary. The thing is that a little googling finds that the median UK salary is in the mid £20K area, meaning that a median salary earner needs either to scrimp and save or borrow about 50% of their salary just to get the fucking deposit together. Not the mortgage, the bloody deposit. Surely that screams ‘over priced housing’, and surely this move of Cameramong’s is only going to exacerbate it. I’m no economist but I seem to recall hearing that encouraging too much money to chase too few goods is inflationary.

Though of course it might not be in the longer term if it means loans being made to people who can’t afford to repay them.

… it could also raise fears that the State could end up guaranteeing more risky borrowers.

Quite. Because that’s exactly what happened in the US to spark the whole bloody GFC off in the first place. Put a big government made and taxpayer funded safety net under businesses and eventually some of them will forget to take as much care as they should, and so inevitably banks made bad lending decisions while feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac would take care of things if they went tits up. Can someone tell me how what Cameramong and Cleggie are doing is fundamentally different?

Formally launching the mortgage guarantee today, the Prime Minister will today pledge that the NewBuy scheme will help repair a “broken” housing ladder.

“It’s no good hoping people will climb the property ladder if the bottom rung is missing. Affordable properties and available mortgages are vital,” he will say.

You’re not repairing it, you tool. You’re fucking extending it and weakening the remaining lower rungs still further. Oh, and that name? Sounds a little familiar. Not thinking of yourself as an English Roosevelt, are you? I ask only because among other things FDR’s New Deal created Fannie Mae. If you mention the hand of history I swear I’ll get on a plane, come over there, and twat you heavily about the head and neck with Tony Blair’s autobiography.

And your drones are just as moronic, by the way.

Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, said the guarantee scheme will help unlock a housing market where for many people, owning a home is “no longer a dream, but a distant fantasy.”

Turning it into a fucking nightmare should fix that.

“We want to help everyone achieve their aspirations, and feel the pride of home ownership. The NewBuy Guarantee will give thousands of prospective buyers the chance to buy a home with a fraction of the deposit normally required.”

Yeah, because you wouldn’t want to let a market of an overpriced good fall to a natural level. Oh, no. Far better to keep those prices unnaturally high by pulling magic money out of your arse with one hand while writing out “IOU – We’ll pay for everything no matter what it eventually costs. Love, the Taxpayers” with the other. Have none of these self described conservatives thought that maybe if they didn’t keep interfering with markets and pushing up prices as well as adding to the taxpayers’ bills then maybe those same taxpayers would have a better chance of being able to afford these things without help?

And this kind of shit is why this blog is beginning to swing towards overt support of Labour. Not because I have any respect or faith for that party, and certainly not in the expectation that they’ll be a significant improvement on with the Cobbleition or either of the parties in it. In fact I expect Labour to be even worse and possibly to have the capability virtually to destroy Britain even more quickly than the other two. And I’m coming to believe that virtual destruction is not only inevitable but is necessary to wake up the majority of the 26,146,419 people who voted for the Big Three for no better reason than their family has always voted that way, or because they didn’t want the other lot to win, or because they’d vote for fortnight dead roadkill if someone dropped the right colour rosette on it. It’d be far better if they’d realise the damage they’re doing by prolonging the paradigm of incompetent and destructive politicians and just start voting for someone else (though I still have concerns about them UKIP is currently my least worst option, but Christ’s sakes, anyone but the Big Three really) but I’m afraid that the majority of those 26,146,419 will carry on as they have been doing until one day dawn breaks on a Britain that is completely bankrupt, probably in more than one sense.

Only then will those destructive political parties be destroyed themselves, or at least made electorally irrelevant, because all will finally be clear and in the wreckage there will be very very few who will ever forgive the Big Three. What will happen then is anyone’s guess, but I’d very much hope it’ll be the beginning of several generations with an inherent distrust of government and big stater solutions. I can’t help but feel that if destruction is indeed a necessary condition for recovery then why put it off by voting for someone marginally less catastrophically incompetent?

That said, if destruction can be avoided altogether it goes without saying that we should, so although I’m pessimistic I really hope an alternative presents itself. Besides, voting Labour would make me want to go home and wash for about a month.

* Title from The Daily Mash.

Thanks to Kate Green everyone wants to get their hands on Top Totty

Just by having a public PC whinge about it she’s helped sell a lot of extra Top Totty beer.

Family-run Staffordshire brewer Slater’s revealed it has seen sales jump since one of its ales upset a MP Kate Green and attracted headlines around the world last week.
Slater’s sales director Fay Slater announced that the firm has been bombarded with phone calls and emails from landlords wanting to get their hands on barrels of Top Totty.
The welcome boost for the popular ale comes after the four per cent beer was removed from sale at the Strangers’ Bar, in the Houses of Parliament, after shadow equalities minister Ms Green said the pump clip, which features a half-naked lady, was offensive.
Now Slater’s says it has sold around 50 more barrels than it shifts in an average week, with around half a dozen pubs saying they want to start selling the controversial ale too.

Another pollie who’s knowledge of the Streisand Effect is sadly, or perhaps happily, lacking.

Your good health, Kate, and despite the po-faced wowser motive behind it congratulations on doing more for British business than the Prime Mentalist or that claymation figure leading your own party. May you do it again to something else you disapprove of very soon.

Partisan press

It’s now been a day and a half or so since Chris Huhne resigned, and what’s been the reaction of the low carbon, eco-friendly, windmill loving, Dirt Hour co-founding Fairfax press down here? Well, see for yourself.

That’s right, not a thing. No mention in The Age since last November and similar results in sister papers WA Today and Brisbane Times. Oddly the other big Faifax daily, The Sydney Morning Herald, does have it, though they’ve just used Bloomberg’s report. Meanwhile The Australian thinks it’s a worthy enough story to write their own article but being one of Rupert’s you have to pay to read past the second paragraph.

Make of that what you will. Maybe it’s just distance and that they know the British media don’t give much coverage of resignations here below Prime Ministerial level (unless there’s a semi-riot outside a Canberra restaurant which led to it). Or maybe it’s that resignations are rare despite the federal government often producing two or three good reasons for an Australian minister to fall on their sword in less time than it takes a British one to get home from the airport.

Let’s all just savour this one

Not much needed in the way of comment, really.

So now Cameramong and Cleggie need to sort out a replacement Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, which sounds like a matter of urgency since it seems like for the fourth or fifth winter in a row the UK is again covered with a thick layer of crisp, white global warming. I don’t suppose there’s much chance of the two being split, or better yet the Warble Gloaming bit of the ministry dumped with the work it does (yeah, I know) being pushed over to the Department for the Environment, Tesco and The Archers, but we can hope.

Don’t let the door hit you in the arse on your way out, Chris. And be safe driving home with all that snow on the roads.

Australia Day protest revisited

More has come out about the protest that caught up Julia Gillard – I’m surprised and relieved that it isn’t being called Shoegate, but I suppose it could be by Monday – along with its intended, albeit undeserved, target of Tony Abbott. It’s sounding like another person was involved.

Sources at the Aboriginal tent embassy say the mystery intermediary between Julia Gillard’s office and the protesting mob on Australia Day was Kim Sattler.

Ms Sattler is a well-connected Labor figure, who has worked with UnionsACT.

[…]

Aboriginal woman Barbara Shaw, who told the crowd of Tony Abbott’s location on Australia Day, confirmed to The Sunday Age that she believed the intermediary was Ms Sattler.

“Now I know who she is and what her position [is], it’s really disappointing,” she said.

“It breaks my heart to know who she is.”

Ms Shaw said she didn’t identify Ms Sattler on sight at the embassy rally but later confirmed her identity speaking to others who were there.

“She said I should let people know Tony Abbott is over there, so I did,” Ms Shaw said.

“I wasn’t the first person she told and the coffee shop is a public area, but there were already people from here going over there.

“I was told and I was told to tell everyone else.”

One of the founders of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Michael Anderson, said Ms Sattler had spoken to him as well.

‘‘There was a lady running around here when I was doing a radio interview and she said the prime minister’s office wants to talk to you and I thought she was joking and said I’ll talk later,’’ he told reporters.

‘‘I know that woman to be Kim Sattler.’’

[…]

Mr Anderson said he believed the protest incident outside the restaurant on Thursday was a set-up.

‘‘Someone set us up. They set the prime minister up. They set Abbott up,’’ he said.

‘‘And they knew that feelings and emotions were running high here and I think they knew that reaction would occur.’’

Lovely. It’s looking more and more like an exercise in tactical shit-stirring that backfired, though even if it had been a success inasmuch as only affecting Abbott I’d still feel that the reaction was disproportionate. Hell, even if he had actually said what the protestors thought he’d said it would have been disproportionate, but if – and I stress ‘if’ – they were given misleading info on purpose just to wind them up and provoke a confrontation I think that mitigates things somewhat. Still doesn’t excuse violence, but all the same…

What it does suggest to me is that the Tent Embassy has at least one thing it can point at to refute Abbbot’s suggestion that it’s had its day: it looks like there are still white people prepared to use and manipulate Aborigines for their own purposes.

Shame on them.

Yes, Gingerella, you can go to the ball

Okay, the handsome prince has turned out to be eBay rather than the First Bloke Tim, but at least your shoe has turned up.

Half inched from the Sydney Morning Herald

Online auction website eBay has taken a listing for Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s missing shoe off the site.

Except it might not have.

It was not clear whether it was actually Ms Gillard’s missing shoe, but it seemed unlikely as the seller used news photographs from the protest on the listing.

The outrageous bids also suggested the sale was a hoax.

Okay, mildly amusing, but funnier (in quite a not really funny way) is something that helped kickstart the whole incident off. I know from a comment by JuliaM on the Australia Day post that the Tent Embassy protest that the PM got caught up in made news in the UK, but I’m not sure how widely reported it was that the protestors were actually baying for the blood of the leader of the opposing (il)Liberal Party Tony Abbott for suggesting that the Tent Embassy was justified when it began 40 years ago but wasn’t really needed anymore.

Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. We had the proposal which is currently for national consideration to recognise indigenous people in the Constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.

Personally I don’t agree. I’m all for the right of people to protest peacefully for as long as they feel they’ve got something to protest about, and up ’til now the Tent Embassy’s been a hell of a lot better than some of the Occupod lot. In fact it’s been so unobtrusive that I’ve never even seen it myself despite visiting Canberra a few times. I don’t know, maybe they trashed the place a lot in the past and I just haven’t lived here long enough to know, but looking at Google Earth they don’t seem to be really in the way or making a mess so what’s the big deal? It’s not as if you’ll find all that many people who don’t think that they certainly had a cause to begin with – even Tony Abbott thinks that. However, for me they lost the moral high ground when they lost their shit and decided that what he meant was that it should be torn down and the protestors kicked out, which is something absent from any direct quote of Tony Abbott that I’ve seen and which he’s explicitly denied saying. Yet they went nuts about it anyway.*

And it’s not just the protestors who’ve gone down in my estimation, though to be honest since this other person is a political media advisor even rock bottom isn’t that far to fall. But what makes it funny is that it’s none other than Gingery Dullard’s own media advisor.

THE spark for the riot near the Aboriginal tent embassy that threatened Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott came from the Prime Minister’s own office when information was passed to protesters about the Opposition Leader.

One of Ms Gillard’s media advisers, Tony Hodges, resigned last night after conceding he had disclosed Mr Abbott was at The Lobby restaurant, next to the tent embassy, and information was passed to protest organisers.

Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott were surrounded by about 50 angry protesters at a medal presentation on Australia Day after a meeting outside the tent embassy was incorrectly told Mr Abbott had said that morning the 40-year-old symbolic embassy should be torn down. The crowd was told Mr Abbott was attending a function next door, which led protesters to go to the restaurant, bang on the glass walls and threaten the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

And it gets worse, or better depending on your point of view.

Ms Gillard’s office did not deny Mr Hodges had wrongly told protesters that Mr Abbott had earlier suggested the tent embassy should be “torn down” or “shut down”.

So it’s accepted that this Hodges guy sparked the incident by telling them where Abbott would be, and it sounds as if he may also have grossly distorted what Abbott had actually said. If that doesn’t grant him membership of the Jo Moore club I don’t know what will.

H/T Skepticlawyer.

* I should add emphatically that not all Aborigines involved in the Tent Embassy were involved in the bust up or lost any moral high ground.

“It defeats progress,” [Matilda House] said. “You’re not a hero for burning the Australian flag. How many Aboriginal men and women went to war and fought under the flag?”

She said the activists who launched Thursday’s violent protests against Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were trying to be heroes. “But they weren’t heroes in my eyes,” she said. “The heroes were here in 1972 and those people just destroyed everything for the 40th anniversary by going on like they did.”

Rest here, though it’s a subscription article at the Aussie and you may have to cough up to read it.

Paul 3rd in Iowa

Not the result he’d hoped for, and while I didn’t think he could win the GOP nomination anyway I felt it would at least have steered things in a different direction. How much is down to the accusations of racism in the distant past and how much to him not being seen as Republican enough (though I suspect Ron Paul himself would claim, perhaps justifiably, that he’s the only real Republican out of the lot) I can only speculate, and I really don’t know enough about US politics even to do that. At the moment it’s reported that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are 1st and 2nd, though it’s as tight as a duck’s arse, and that “Santorum takes splits Evangelical vote with Paul” (sic). If that’s saying the Santorum did well because the evangelical crowd voted for him instead of Paul I can believe it but I’m not all that they were expected to vote for Paul in the first place. This isn’t like choosing between two people with broadly similar positions on most things and then picking one over the other due to one of the few areas they do differ. They may both be fiscal conservatives but from where I sit that seems to be about where it ends. Santorum is a social conservative appealing to the religious right (who’ll surely vote Republican in November anyway) while Paul is socially fairly liberal. Perhaps it’s my remoteness leading to an inability to understand the subtleties but if these were candidates here in Oz or in the UK there’s no way in hell both would even be on my radar – if I was the kind who’d support Santorum I’d never even consider Paul and, more realistically, vice versa.

So, no new direction for the Republican race at the moment, and unless Paul can achieve a more unexpected victory elsewhere probably not at all. Does this make it more likely that November will see stock GOP candidate vs Obama, and what does that mean for the real competition?

Timely

Via the Eye.

Cain unable

I don’t know the truth behind the allegations against Herman Cain, though I suspect there’s at least a small element of how dare a black guy be a Republican among some who believe that minorities are supposed to be Democrats. Whatever, enough mud has been thrown that he’s dropped out of the contest for the GOP nomination. So, thinking back to that vote matching thing I was playing with last month, who’d get most of Cain’s support, Paul or Perry? And will the media there let Gary Johnson get any attention now?

Probably no to the last one but out of interest I went back to that vote matcher and gave the same answers as last time but dropped Cain, and this was what I got.

That’s 4% more for Ron Paul and Michelle Bachman, and everyone else remains unchanged. Not what I expected at all.

Contrasting receptions

Peter Costello, former Liberal party MP and Federal government Treasurer for the Coalition under John Howard, writes in The Age on an interesting difference in receptions given to US Presidents.

When the American president addressed joint Houses of the Australian Parliament back in 2003, Greens Senator Bob Brown interjected. In fact so worked up was he that the Speaker ordered his removal from the chamber. He was yelling about Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

This time Brown joined a conga line of MPs clamouring to shake hands with the President, Barack Obama. He had to jostle with Greens MP Adam Bandt (who has a PhD on Marxism) to get his chance. Both of them were beaming. It was a good speech. The President declared America’s commitment to a military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including a new proposal to train up to 2500 marines in the Northern Territory. One can only imagine what Bob’s reaction would have been had George Bush announced that 2500 US marines would be stationed on Australian soil. They would have had to cart him out of the House of Representatives.

[…]

Bob Brown was all worked up about Guantanamo Bay when George Bush visited Australia, but he does not seem to worry so much now that Obama is in charge. Julia Gillard used to complain that Australia was subservient to America. Now she claims she has made our alliance stronger than ever before.

In opposition, Labor harvested votes on the left. In government it wants to appeal to conservatives….

[…]

Labor MPs may feel happy to see Obama and Gillard standing in front of troops in the Northern Territory – it is a great photo opportunity for their side of politics. But alliances are between countries. They are designed to outlive the political office-holders of the day. In the future it could be Newt Gingrich and Tony Abbott standing there being cheered by US marines in the NT. The principle is either right or it is wrong and it doesn’t turn on who happens to be in office.

That is why it is so useful to have the left of Australian politics now locked in to traditional Coalition policies. Bipartisan support has been firmly established. And in the future if there is ever a complaint about marines based in Australia, just pull out the footage of a beaming Bob Brown grasping the hand of the president who announced it.

Some excellent points made there, and while I have no more love for Peter Costello’s party than the ALP – in one sense rather less love because the bastardisation of the word ‘liberal’ to describe a party of paternalists that like telling other people how to live their lives simply infuriates me – I can’t argue that Leftists can be pretty inconsistent if not hypocritical when it comes to the US. The bottom line is this: all the things I disliked about George W Bush, the wars, Gitmo, the loss of individual liberties, cosying up to big business and lobbyists, have by and large continued under Obama.

I’m aware some that Rightists care less about what is done than that it’s one of their men doing it – witness David Cameron’s actions of late and the deafening silence from his supposedly right of centre party – but if anything it seems to be even more true of Leftists. Is something bad done by a right winger made less bad when a left winger takes over and carries on?

That’s you lot told

Click for linky

Wolfgang Schäuble said that, despite the current crisis in the eurozone, the euro will ultimately emerge as the common currency of the entire European Union. He said he “respects” Britain’s decision to keep the pound, but insisted that the survival and eventual stabilisation of the euro will convince non-members to join the currency club. “This may happen more quickly than some people in the British Isles currently believe,” he added.

The message to the UK is obvious – it’s not your country anymore. But there is another way of reading it, another subtext below the one which really barely qualifies as subtext: we’ve nailed our colours to the Euro mast and its unravelling, and we’re hoping like hell another big economy jumping on board will manage to keep it going and save our careers and/or reputations. I’m not sure that isn’t a bit optimistic given Britain’s level of debt and the fact that the Cobbleition government are really no less profligate with other people’s money than their predecessors, but from here it seems like time is running out. The Euro car had a dodgy handbrake and was parked on a hill by a cliff, and now the bugger’s rolling toward the edge and everyone who helped pay for the car is running like hell after it hoping to stop it in time. Getting a country with a good credit rating on board (though fuck knows why the UK still has a good rating) might buy them some more. Either that or when the car reaches the cliff Britain won’t have an advantage over those that kept running after it right over the edge.

The alternative is pretty clear. Herr Schäuble must be told, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.