Out of sight, out of mind.

Manus Island, even further out than Villawood.

Manus Island, even further out than Villawood.

The Gillard Government has been revealed to be organising the reopening of the detention centre on Manus Island, to be used for the purposes of incarcerating  processing offshore refugee claimants. More than anything else, this is about pushing the asylum seeker issue, and all the hysteria that surrounds it, further away from our backyards.

The result of this is less compassion for asylum seekers and an inflammation of already-existing hostilities towards them on the mainland. Not content for asylum seekers to just be faceless Others behind a wired fence, they have to be faceless Others thousands of kilometres away with their singularity fully stripped of them. This is not the primary purpose of the soon-to-be policy, but it will be the result.

There’s not much to say about the issue that hasn’t been said. All I want to re-iterate is my bewilderment at ALP apologists who claim these policies are the consequence of them “ceding their ground” to the Liberals or (slightly more persuasively) allowing issues to be “fought on conservative turf”. People on the left need to begin to ask themselves how long they’re going to pretend the ALP are just weak-willed submissives bowing to conservative and suburban pressure.

That thesis might be more palatable to them, but it’s not borne out by the ALP’s policy or public position (across a range of matters, but particularly this). No, perhaps this is just what most people in the ALP want and believe. The left needs to stop blaming the media and the ALP’s media bozos for policies the ALP writes.

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Twitter SCANDAL #73267321

Jim Wallace: basically a massive poo-face.

I woke this morning (yes I slept in (well) beyond the dawn service – shame, shame, shame etc) to the ever-fascinating dynamics of another TWITTER SCANDAL. This time it was some clown from the ACL who is painfully irrelevant to all but the tiniest portion of Australians. One of those people who purports to speak for a powerful and broad range of people, but actually doesn’t etc.

He tweeted something about teh gayz, the Muzzies and OUR diggers. As sure as the sun, twitter went into meltdown. I want to say from the outset that my reaction was one of UTTER, COMPLETE, SEETHING, DOWNRIGHT…indifference…

It was an awful, classless thing to say but someone spare me from another round of collective indignation. Aside from the fact that every ANZAC Day is sullied by some petty culture war sniping, the routine leaping from one scandal to the next on twitter is becoming tiresome.

Maybe I’m a bit of a grump, but I would prefer to see twitter’s collective energies directed towards something more worthwhile. I wouldn’t go as far as to say twitter’s lifeblood is these minor scandals/collective reprimands, but it clearly is the lifeblood of many tweeter’s participation on the platform. It’s basically akin to a public lynching. The crowd is worked into a frenzy and their insatiable need for another round of brow furrowing is released onto the offending tweeter.

In the end Wallace apologised (though only for the tweet’s context) so I suppose the twitter meltdown was vindicated to some extent. But I remain scepitcal about the point of these responses. People who put themselves in the public eye deserve to be reprimanded for their comments more than ordinary folk, but this sort of mob justice is not an appealing aspect of twitter. Using a tweet as a vehicle to vent your frustrations at a worldview (as The Australian have demonstrated ever-so-embarrassingly in the past fortnight) is an entirely disproportionate reaction to the (mis)use of the medium. It makes you neither clever nor witty to be shrieking and hollering away with the rest of the mob engaging in a sort of mutual gratification of one another’s real or feigned offence.

People ought to be disappointed and maybe even a little bit outraged by Wallace’s comments – which were risible, but deeply insensitive – but perhaps we all need to take a collective breath before we embark on what is becoming a routine occurrence on twitter.

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Music I like. #5. Witch Hats.

Witch Hats are descendants of the fine tradition of Australian music that has followed bands like The Birthday Party and The Scientists. Visceral, engaging and unapologetically loud. Their album Cellulite Soul was definitely one of the best records of 2008. Their songs always seem to be teetering on the verge of collapse, but there’s a very clear narrative to each of their records holding them together. Best given your full attention.

They need to bring out a new EP soon. Until then, you need to listen to this track off their excellent 2006 ep, Wound of a Little Horse.

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Surplus or bust.

Wayne Swan: "You're cut."

I remarked in a previous post of mine, regarding the flood levy, that the political nature of the decision to return to surplus in 2012-13 bothered me, and it still does. What I’ve seen in the media is the unflinching acceptance of the apparent truth that the budget bottom line signifies the inner reality of the country’s economic position. I’ve noted before that I’m nowhere near an economist, or even a lay, arm-chair one. Throw a few numbers at me and I’ll look back at you with a bit of bewilderment. I’m capable of following the logical sequence until graphs and modelling and whatnot are involved – at which point I defer to those who I trust know better.

I suspect most in the Australian community are in a similar position. We rely upon the media in the realm of economics possibly more than any other area in political discourse. We need the media to describe to us the state of the economy, and to analyse the quality of proposed economic policy. All policy areas are complex (many deceptively so), but few areas rely so heavily on a few received assumptions reinforced by the media class.

One of these assumptions, as I’ve mentioned, is that the state of the budget bottom line is reflective of our economic situation. Moreover, that reaching this state is a prudent (maybe even virtuous?) goal.

Uni of Newcastle professor and blogger Bill Mitchell sums up the situation nicely as such:

I imagine it goes like this. Your driving along listening to the radio and the Australia Treasurer comes on and is saying that we need a budget surplus because we have a once-in-a-hundred years mining boom and are near full capacity but given the government tax take is seriously below the forward estimates because growth is slowing, the government has to have even more drastic cuts in spending in the upcoming May budget than first thought. Why? To achieve the budget surplus! Then the Opposition spokesperson for matters economic says we are running out of money. And us ordinary citizens take it all in because it is headline news this lunchtime and we become entrapped by the logic of the situation as set out by the journalist who fuels the discussion along these lines.

Mitchell though, as he points out, is “not an ordinary citizen in this context” and deconstructs the media groupthink that surrounds this issue in his latest blog post. Is Mitchell right or wrong? Who am I to say. What I can say is that to a layman Mitchell’s posts are consistently more persuasive than anything in the mainstream media.

The assertion that we can ascertain our economic prosperity from an arbitrary over/under figure indeed seems to me to be deeply problematic. I’m yet to be convinced that the return to surplus is anything but a political goal dictated unashamedly to us, the audience, by (1) the hollow shell of the Labor Party led by a vacuous, uninspiring leader and a narcissistic, cynical party machine; and (2) the neoliberals in the print media and the Coalition.

So forgive me, if amidst all this talk of “tough budgets” and “regrettable cuts” I dismiss the Gillard/Swan budget package as a political fix designed to make the ALP look more neoliberal than the neoliberals. I’ve love for the media to convince me otherwise, though… It’d certainly make me a lot more optimistic about our future.

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Music I like. #4. Talk Talk.

I could go on – you might say “talk” even ho ho ho – for a long time about Talk Talk’s brilliant record from 1991, Laughing Stock. Talk Talk is one of those bands you hear name-dropped often, but just as easily dismiss. After recalling songs of theirs like “Life’s What You Make It” it’s pretty easy to dismiss them as an uninteresting, fairly rote New Wave band. To do that would be to do yourself a disservice, though, especially if you’re at all interested in post-rock as a genre.

Laughing Stock is a record that has been recreated many times over but never as captivatingly. It’s one of those albums that I’m so thankful I discovered because it’s become one of my favourite records of the 90s. It’s always a little sweeter when that occurs completely by surprise. This record is almost meditative and creates an all-encompassing sound that is other-worldly.

One of the most under-appreciated albums of all time. Ignore all you think you know about Talk Talk and listen to this record.

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“Great journalism has always been exceptional, not the norm”

The quote in the title from Carl Bernstein neatly conceptualises why there is a space for new facilitators of information dissemination like Wikileaks. It doesn’t, however, acknowledge, why there is an absolute urgency for new forms of journalism to supplement the failings of the old media. It’s a well-worn debate, and not one I intend to contribute to in any meaningful sense lest I be bogged down in some banal discussion about resources and groupthink.

What is important to recognise is the proximity of old media to sites of power. Far from being merely unexceptional, the vast majority of journalism in the old, “respected” media is embedded and it is deficient. In this, I do not mean to argue that old media types and powerful journos are too close to government officials, party hacks and so forth. That would be completely missing the point.

Power in our society is diffuse and imparts itself upon others in many more sites than merely, da guvarment and da big corporations. The greater concern, for me, is the way that contemporary journalism merely reinforces power relationships in our society. Too little are we treated to investigative work that actively attempts to undermine, or at least expose, these received structures.

The video is another case in point of Al Jazeera promoting a depth and quality of discussion seldom seen in other media outlets. Journalists should stop asking whether Assange and others like him are “real” journalists or not (does it matter in any real sense?) and start asking themselves why there is more than a space, but a need for them to exist.

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Why I oppose the flood levy.

The bridge to where I growed up.

Another quick post today as I’m not in the right mood for blogging and don’t really have anything interesting to say.

Today for some reason I started thinking again about the flood levy – an issue I was quite worked up about prior to starting this blog. As a Queenslander I hope to see the state rebuild quickly and effectively from the floods. I live in Canberra now, but was back home when the floods hit, and the proximity to the damage and despair really amplified my feelings for those who were effected (or is “it affected”?…I still get those confused after numerous explanations).

Nevertheless, I do not support the Government’s flood levy. I’m no economisticianianado, but I trust my judgement to spot a dud policy when I see one. The policy may be, according to certain economists, good fiscal policy or bad fiscal policy, but that’s not my primary concern with it. My concern is the reiteration of this debt crisis false-alarm and the ensuing impulse towards austerity. I cannot support an economic policy which has, as its prime goal, political face-saving.

The only reason. I repeat, the ONLY reason there is an imposition of a levy is to return to surplus in 2012-13. To reach some artificial indicator that Gillard and Swan decided was politically expedient. And what does it indicate? The health of the economy? Not on your life. A figure, an artificial bloody figure. And for that, we simply must cut important public expenditure in health, science and welfare (it’s coming).

This obsession with budget surpluses is a cancer on our democracy. There are no sensible economic policy debates anymore just a slavish acceptance that SurplusGood, DeficitBad, end of discussion. And it pervades every aspect of political decision-making.

The day I think cuts to expenditure are founded on genuine economic concerns is the day the Government proposes to trim the fat of middle-class welfare. That’ll be the day! Much easier to demonise the poorest members of our society instead.

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