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Monthly Archives: July 2010

I just want it on record that this election campaign is BORING. I mean dear god, if I’m bored, I can hardly see how the hypothetical idiot in the marginal electorates whom the major parties base their campaign strategies around aren’t falling asleep in their chairs.

If you want my advice, protest vote by voting for any minor party (excluding the Greens) first before finally circling round to the Labor/Liberal parties (or the Greens, whose performance has been absolutely lacklustre). The difficulty with that strategy is choosing a first preference minor party which isn’t a bunch of absolute retards. I suggest the Australian Sex Party.

And yes, I believe the sole concrete prediction about this election that I made was that it would certainly be interesting. Well, I was certainly wrong. Damnit.

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As a bleeding heart liberal, whose heart bleeds, I naturally have a strong affinity with the environment. Wolves come at my call and mighty steeds deign to have me ride them.

A few months ago, this massive huntsman appeared over my bedroom door which was unsurprising given how cold it was outside. Huntsman spiders rarely bite humans (and aren’t deadly anyway) so I left it alone. There’s no need for senseless killing and it does whatever a spider can; spin a web any size; catches thieves just like flies. In any case, it huntsman spiders are great for catching cockroaches and other insects. So I left it and it appeared and disappeared as it would, progressively getting smaller and smaller.

On Saturday, it appeared in one corner of my bedroom, its legs trembling. It was half its previous size. Alas, there was no superhero ending for this spider. Apparently my room (despite the piles of paper) is void of all insect life.

RIP Spidey. You were always too good for this life.

As I’ve said before, Abbott’s special skill is his almost magical power to repeat a line ad nauseam in slightly different iterations until it finally sinks in. And that special skill will be the way he wins – if he can find a sharp message against Gillard that she herself cannot spin as being sexist. (Invariably any message can be spun as sexist if it comes from the mouth of Tony Abbott).

The latest opinion polls show exactly such a message has sunken into the mind of the electorate. The message that has dominated the news, overwhelming the (few) policy-related announcements by the Government has been the Rudd-Gillard feud. As I said in my last post, I don’t think there’s much reality to the Rudd-Gillard feud, but the Opposition has very skillfully maneuverered to take advantage of it.  The latest Neilsen poll shows an overwhelming 70% of people disapprove of the way Kevin Rudd was overthrown and, as a poison pill if the Government is elected, 68% believe he should be made Foreign Minister after the election.

Moreover, because the Opposition is using Rudd as a cover for their own messaging, they avoid the misogynist subtext that Gillard might overlaid the argument (remember Hockey’s ‘handbag full of knives’ comment?).

When I had first heard the message, it seemed rather innocuous. So Rudd was overthrown. So was Hawke, Latham, Beazley, Crean and Beazley not to mention Nelson and Turnbull. I thought it would be transient. But then again, I had thought the same thing about the Liberal’s messaging over Rudd’s language skills. It’s harmless, it’s a joke. But it ultimately destroyed him. It showed a man without passion, a character flaw which combined with his (apparent) lack of conviction over the ETS lead to his downfall.

Similarly, the fall of Rudd is playing out very well in a key battleground state – Queensland. There are only two battleground states – Queensland and NSW, so it looks like the Opposition has won half the battle already.

And yes, yes, this whole series of events hasn’t been concocted like some kind of evil conspiracy by the Liberals. The Ruddbot image was concocted by Annabel Crabb. The tragedy of Rudd sonata was composed by the media. But what the Liberals did was seize the advantage of the circumstances. If anything can be said of Abbott is that he’s a tenacious fighter. He is, despite the stereotype, incredibly smart. I think he saw the advantage and relentlessly pummelled at it.

The question is, can he hammer through that message in just one month? Gillard, for one, doesn’t think so.

Edit: As an aside, this doesn’t mean I think Abbott will win. On balance, Abbott must appear Prime Ministerial in order to win. And it will be an insurmountably difficult task to constantly criticise the government in this way whilst also appearing positive and good for the country. This post is just a commentary on the current state of affairs.

The media has decided that there is now a leak war between “Gillard’s people” and “Rudd’s people”. That sounds fair enough, given that there has been a steady, if not continual stream of stories that hurt Gillard and which hurt Rudd. But that just bears the question, who are Rudd’s people?

And more importantly, from a political point of view, what are they trying to gain? Are they members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party? There are 115 ALP MPs, of whom 80-90 would have voted for Gillard in the leadership spill, had one been held. That means around 20-30 MPs supported Rudd, including heavy-weights such as Lindsay Tanner and Penny Wong, and of course, the former Prime Minister. But would they hope to gain? An MPs primary instinct is to keep his seat, his secondary instinct is to stay in government. Presumably if they are senior enough to be making the leaks they’re making, they have a safe seat and all they want is to keep government.* There’s absolutely zero chance of Rudd becoming Prime Minister before the next election, and given that Gillard has good chances of winning the election all an MP is doing is undermining their own chances of being re-elected to government!

*The exception being Lindsay Tanner, but he’s a Labor stalwart and unlikely to want to undermine Gillard at the expense of a potential election victory.

The other possibility is that it is Rudd himself, or one of the young pups who populated his office. In that case, their obvious motive is revenge – for the ignominy of defeat and for the thrashing of their reputation on the media. Given the most recent leak last night that Rudd didn’t attend the National Security Committee of Cabinet personally, it may be Rudd himself – otherwise, a tit for tat leaking strategy would make no sense. The former Rudd staffers don’t care about having Rudd’s reputation dragged through the mud.

Personally, I think the most likely reason is that it is merely co-incidence, combined with the story-telling tendencies of the media. I don’t see a steady stream of leaking. Rudd made no leaks immediately. He seems to be campaigning in his electorate. The only leak in the last week I can think of is Rudd going for a UN job and going overseas. This is hardly information limited to Rudd’s inner circle. And there was plenty of opportunity for UN staffers to have leaked this to the media, it’s hardly compelling evidence of a leaking conspiracy. And if you put those two “leaks” to one side, I can’t see any evidence for a leak war as opposed to the media following Kevin Rudd and reporting his slightest move.

Or, maybe Rudd’s people are the Stone Masons. Hmmm…

Every bank seems to have a “diversity” question that asks you what race you are, but Citi’s application centre seems to have a rather unique approach.

1) Are you hispanic/latino (Y/N)

2) What race are you? (White, Asian, black, hispanic etc)

Wtf?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/us/21kagan.html?_r=1&hp

The Judiciary Committee voted to approve Kagan 13:6. The only Republican to vote for Kagan was Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Democrats unanimously voted for her, but former Republican (and also a former, former Democrat) Arlen Spector (also a former Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) said he had grave concerns because she had criticised the vapidness of the confirmation process and yet displayed the exact same vapidness during her own confirmation process.

To be fair, the process post-Bork (and really, post-Roe v Wade) has become such that Kagan had no choice but to do so. I think Spector has a good head on his shoulders, and some of his thoughts on how to change the confirmation process are worth considering.

Even more interesting are Lindsey Graham’s comments – noting that the only criterion he applied was whether Kagan was qualified and of good character. Most politicians reject the litmus test (‘will you overturn Roe v Wade, will you allow gay marriage etc) but Graham went one step further and rejected any litmus test based on judicial philosophy. Very interesting.

I don’t pretend to have any solutions to this intractable problem. If the left or the right appoints a candidate who will be a judicial activist (overturning precedents simply because they don’t match their political philosophies) then why shouldn’t the Senate vote to overturn it?Senator Graham is right when he says that the Constitution vests the selection of the nominee to the President, but the Constitution also gives the Senate a broad veto power, just as the President may veto bills from the Senate for whatever reason he chooses. There should be restraint in vetoing judicial nominees, but I think enunciating exactly what that means is a task of immeasurable difficulty.

I’m watching Channel Ten’s rendition of Hawke now. My God, its awful.   Basically, its not a political thriller, its the tale of a womaniser who just so happens to be Prime Minister. In fact “just so happens to be Prime Minister” perfectly captures how the tele-movie thinks Hawke became PM. There’s about 2 minutes between when Hawke challenges Hayden for the Labor leadership then another 30 seconds before Hawke is suddenly PM. Almost nothing at all about what happened in the election campaign… I don’t think they even bothered to cast an actor to play Fraser.

I think the worst scene is when Hawke hosts some kind of summit between business, unions, church groups etc in relation to the Accord. But then, some advisor tells him he can’t hold it in the chamber of the House because the public can’t enter the House. The scene ends. The next scene is a bunch of business men, community members etc entering the House. WTF?

This is exactly why I don’t watch Australian films. I’ve never seen anything so awfully done. The characters are unsympathetic, the plot is downright boring (even to me!) People weave in and out of the plot and because they bear no resemblance to the real politicians I have no idea who they are aside from “advisor #2 advises Hawke that what he is doing is a bad idea”. I think Hawke’s secretary would make a brilliant actor for Elena Kagan though.

How can Keating! the Musical have been so much better in every way? It’s a musical full of jingles but the dialogue is so much more compelling. The characters, even when dressed in top hats dancing, seem so much more realistic. Dear god. Dear, mother-fucking God.

Australia’s stance on asylum seekers is tragically unsympathetic and even worse, it is downright discompassionate and cruel. But to cast Australia as the lone country with such an outrageous immigration policy is disingenuous at best. Italy, the UK and the US all have far worse asylum seeker problems (and hence have far more stringent asylum seeker policies). Even liberal, liberal France with its liberte, egalite, fraternite has a pretty horrible record.

To put things in context, here’s an email I received from the ACLU:

Why is the U.S. locking up asylum-seekers?

Restore the U.S. as a beacon of hope

Balasundaram & Rotolo

Baskaran Balasundaram, shown here with ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney Laura Rótolo, fled the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, only to be locked up for nearly two years by the Department of Homeland Security when he reached Boston.

The ACLU of Massachusetts helped to win his release earlier this month, but we must do more to help, instead of adding insult to injury.

Urge Congress to pass the Refugee Protection Act.

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Today Baskaran Balasundaram, an asylum-seeker from Sri Lanka, is settling into a new life in Boston—but getting to this point should never have been this hard.

After imprisonment and torture by both sides in his homeland’s bloody civil war, Balasundaram, a 27-year-old farmer, managed to escape to the United States. Unfortunately, however, when he arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport in July 2008, the Department of Homeland Security took him into custody.

That’s right—the country he came to for refuge locked him up for nearly two years. Despite being granted asylum in February 2009 by an immigration judge in Boston, who found that his account of torture and persecution were credible, Balasundaram remained in immigration detention until this month, when work by the ACLU of Massachusetts to win his release finally paid off. Learn more about the case.

It’s great that Balasundaram is finally out of detention, but he still faces legal hurdles on his asylum claim, and he is just one of the many people affected by outdated laws that prolong refugees’ ordeals instead of offering help to those who have been driven from their home country.

Urge Congress to pass the Refugee Protection Act (RPA) of 2010 and restore the U.S. as a beacon of hope.

Earlier this year, Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Carl Levin of Michigan introduced the RPA to ensure that refugees and asylum-seekers with genuine claims are protected by the United States. The RPA would make changes to the law that would have helped Baskaran Balasundaram, such as:

  • updating legal definitions to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection, while still ensuring that those with genuine ties to terrorist activity will be denied entry;
  • requiring changes in the immigration detention system to ensure asylum seekers have access to legal counsel, medical care, religious practice, and visits from family;
  • ensuring that asylum seekers are interviewed to determine the credibility of their claims;
  • eliminating the one-year waiting period for refugees and asylees to apply for a green card.

Historically, the United States has been a world leader in protecting and assisting refugees. The number of refugees around the world is increasing, however, and it’s time to update our laws to offer help, not to confront asylum seekers with new burdens and obstacles. Help pass the Refugee Protection Act today.

ACLU of Massachusetts

The election date has been declared. August 21, in just over a month. Personally, I’m annoyed about the date because it falls right during my mid-semester exams so I won’t be able to campaign for anyone.

My tentative prediction? Right now, its very hard to make predictions based on nationwide swings – in fact, it may even be misleading. In the last few years, we’ve seen the importance of marginal seats increase relative to the Australia-wide popular swing as the major parties have intensified their focus on these seats (yes, even relative to earlier years). Apparently, both parties’ polling is showing vastly different reactions to Gillard even between neighbouring seats.

I’m leaning towards a ALP victory but with a reduced number of seats. When making predictions about how many seats will be won and lost, I think its very important to remember that Kevin07 won a record swing towards him nationally. Therefore, any seats that weren’t won last election are unlikely to be won this year. Unlike last year, we don’t have an untarnished Labor leader (Kevin Rudd), we have Gillard who has the baggage of all those unpopular decisions she has made. Unlike last year, we don’t have an incumbent Liberal leader with severe policy baggage. It is therefore highly unlikely that Labor, whether under Rudd or Gillard, would have won more seats.

The ALP needs to lose a reasonably large number of seats (17) to lose government, but many of these seats are not held by sitting members due to retirement etc – those are easily lost. Furthermore, most of the marginal seats are in Queensland and NSW. Crucially, many of those Queensland seats are mining seats and all of them are in Kevin Rudd’s home state (funny that). The NSW seats are in the so-called mortgage belt, full of racist bogans who want to turn back the boats and who fear further mortgage stress from a growing population. These issues are not conducive to a Labor frame of mind. And in the race to the bottom, Abbott is much better at showing how much of an ass he is compared to Gillard – especially in a pair of budgie smugglers. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to think that Labor will lose this next election.

But I don’t think that will happen. Firstly, Abbott is a great Opposition Leader, but he does not look Prime Ministerial. He’s great at sharpening swords – fine-tuning attack arguments and repeating them ad nauseum till they sink into the mind of the mindless, racist marginal seat voter. That quality allowed him to defeat Rudd. But that very style precludes him from making serious policies. So far, the Coalition has been a highly negative party which has abandoned every pretence of making real policy (with the two notable exceptions of the maternity leave scheme and the mental health scheme). During the GFC, their trenchantly right-wing opposition to the bailout could have endangered Australia’s prosperity. Their opposition to any number of sensible policies shows they are unfit to govern because they don’t have Australia’s interests at heart. And this can be discerned by both politics nerds and the dumb, marginal voter. Who can look at the maternity leave scheme and think “well, gee, Abbott truly believes in this?”. Who can listen to his denial of Workchoices and think that?

If you combine Abbott’s lack of Prime Ministerial gumption with Gillard’s finesse, you can see Gillard coming out on top. The ALP’s recent round of backflips has been solidly designed to neutralise those key weaknesses I outlined – a tack to the Right on migration, a reduced mining tax. Already we have seen the gains made there, at least in WA. Now, the path has been set for Gillard to launch a more positive, offense campaign where she can set the battleground – perhaps in health, perhaps in education – but she can frame the campaign in Labor’s favour.

Am I confident that Gillard will win? Not really. Am I confident that Labor will lose seats? Yes, I am – but in politics a month can be an eternity. Just ask Kevin Rudd.

*Title shamelessly stolen from the Chaser’s new election special.

A wry thought came to me the other day. The Right is always insisting that government regulation is strangling industry. That the need to comply with all these unnecessary regulations (like respecting women’s rights or washing your hands after going to the toilet) would crush the backs of small business owners – you know, true entrepreneurs and the engineroom of the Australian economy.

Phillip Ruddock insisted that the way to stop illegal asylum seekers was to stop people smugglers and that he always thought of people smugglers as like entrepreneurs. Therefore, the way to stop the people smugglers was to make their product worth less – for example, through more limited Temporary Protection Visas with no power for family reunion if the asylum seekers and found not to be genuine refugees. In other words, the government must actually crush these entrepreneurs through ham-fisted regulation.

And yet, despite all their efforts and breaching of various human rights and international law norms, the government has failed to crush the entrepreneurial spirit of those evil people smugglers. Now the Left, with their much vaunted logic, would argue that this shows that entrepreneurialism is a lot more resilient to regulation than the Right believes. But on the contrary, surely it shows the incompetence of the government at what it does best – regulation. When it wants to destroy private enterprise, it seems woefully incapable of doing so. When it doesn’t want to, it can have such devastating effects on small businessmen. Such a shame. Perhaps we should privatise the entire government. That would solve everything.