Monthly Archives: August 2013

Changed Habits

What Are You Buying On-Line These Days?

There’s a bit of discussion about how soon consumers in Australia are going to head back to local retailers once they realise and feel the impact of the Australia Dollar having gone down.

David Jones boss Paul Zahra said today that he didn’t think consumers would fully register that their online purchases from, say, US rival Nordstrom, had gone up in price until they paid their credit card.
How this plays out for Australian retailers over the medium term will be interesting to watch, assuming the Australian dollar remains at this level or even falls further.

If, after the election, the government decides to impose a 10 per cent GST on online purchases under $1000, the competition game between Australian and offshore retailers will become more interesting. (The GST imposition probably isn’t close. It costs the Treasury coffers $700 million to $1 billion a year – depending whose numbers you use – in forgone tax but the cost of administration doesn’t make it compelling yet.

It certainly wouldn’t provide a cure-all for retailers and the particularly challenged premium department stores. If you exclude the small improvement in the first quarter of 2012-2013, David Jones has been experiencing quarterly sales declines for almost two years.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I was never really a shopper at David Jones or Myer/Grace Brothers so all of this is actually not an area I would dare to claim great knowledge. It seems to me that the impact on retailing of the parity period which we can roughly say was 2010-2013 was that it also coincided with the explosion of on-line shopping. The argument has always run that if the dollar wasn’t so high, the customers would head back to retailers but clearly this isn’t happening and Paul Zahra is clutching at straws as to explaining why they’re not coming back… or haven’t comeback “yet.”

Which reminds one of course of the “yet” dialogue in ‘High Fidelity’. If I said to you that you haven’t felt the pain of the lower Aussie Dollar in your credit card statement ….’yet’ … do you think that will drive you to shop at David Jones? I mean, really…

Jokes aside, the reason I didn’t shop at David Jones before was probably because they didn’t have what I wanted. it seems what I want – judging from my recent purchase is guitar gizmos which I know are not sold at David Jones or Myer – are simply not on the shelves of Australian retailers.

Take this little valve Pre-amp that arrived from China today. It’s a 12AX7 valve preamp for a guitar which I got for $40 including postage. I don’t know if it’s any good yet (there’s that word!) because I haven’t plugged it in, but it goes without saying nobody stocks it in Australia; nobody probably even knows about it in Australia, let alone a buyer; and there probably isn’t a really big market for it in Australia. I can say two more things about it that are certain. 1)  It’s disposable income I didn’t spend at David Jones or Myer or an Australian musical instrument retailer. 2) The opportunity cost of spending it on-line with some weird electronics goods seller in ShenZen China had nothing to do with GST considerations. Zilch. Nada. Absolutely none.

I suspect the real problem for retailers is that they can’t get specialist enough to compete with the truly weird and bizarre on-line sellers. I mean, let’s say on a whim I wanted a Derek Jeter rookie baseball card from 1992. Or a hand signed LP copy of Van Halen I by the guys in the band. Or one of Robert Fripp’s guitars. There’s no way a retailer in Australia is going to be able to meet that kind of demand from a random individual and simultaneously stock and sell enough of what sells to a wider, more general market, to keep trading.

And that’s just me being idiosyncratic. I imagine many other people have experienced the same thing. That they can find parts and things and bits and bobs that were so hard to get through traditional retail that they’d given up – and suddenly the options are there. The world is getting weirder and wilder in its demands and there’s not a shot in hell of keeping up with this change in demand.

So I don’t think it’s really a problem of relative pricing that is driving this move to on-line shopping. It’s actually a qualitative shift in people’s shopping preferences and they’re not coming back any time soon.

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Forgetting Other Movies Exist

Spoiler alert.

No, really. In this one I’ll definitely have to spoil it for you so if you hate spoilers, don’t read on.

Okay now? Good.

You’ve seen this movie in many guises before. It’s just been jumbled up and put together from parts of other films. It’s a film that almost looks authentic and original and it’s not. It’s a clone just like the main character.

What’s Good About It

Some marvelous cinematography and design. it’s a rare film that takes you to a place you’ve never seen and show you a light that is new and refreshing. This film has it in spades.

The UTCC (The Ubiquitous Tom Cruise Character) isn’t too annoying in this film, unlike say, in ‘Jack Reacher’. In this one, he is playing a character imaginatively named Jack Harper. That should’ve been the give away that the main character was going to be some kind of clone. Perhaps it’s even a kind of meta-textual irony, as in: “Hey look, all his characters are the same!”

It’s hard to say because in most part the film takes itself pretty seriously. In most instances, that would be good except…

What’s Bad About It

… this film is like an identikit science fiction movie. Post-Apocalyptic settings don’t come more hard and fast than this movie. The New York City in ruins harks back to both ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘A.I.’. The helicopter harks back to the sky-hover vehicles in ‘Minority Report’ and hey, Tom cruise was in that one too. There are scavengers on the Post Apocalyptic landscape, an they’re like something right out of ‘Mad Max’. Then these drones come around and attack people – and they’re unrelenting like the robots in ‘I Robot’. The Robot Drones have a POV shot, and lo and behold it’s like the Termo-vision from ‘The Terminator’. Weirder still, for a machine designed by aliens, it’s conveniently  got English text in the read outs. So Tom Cruise’s Jack sets off to find one of these drones and finds himself in the library having a shoot out with the post-Apocalyptic scavengers in a defunct library in a sequence that looks like ‘I Am Legend’ and look, he gets his foot trapped and dragged across the floor by a trap pulley, just as Will Smith was catching monsters… Eventually Jack is talking to a wise old black guy who fills him in on the exposition and of course you’d swear that could’ve been  Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’, but it’s not, it’s Morgan Freeman playing a version of a guy that could have been Morpheus. Then Jack meets his clone self and realises he is one of many clones all kept apart artificially, but sharing memory fragments, just like Sam Rockwell in ‘Moon’. The memory fragments feature the moment he proposed to his wife on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and of course this harks back to ‘Sleepless In Seattle’ which took its cue from ‘An Affair to Remember’. Finally, he heads up to confront the alien craft in the sky and is taken in by the big mothership, like ‘Independence Day’ there, he sees banks upon banks of himself as clones – a bit like Buzz Lightyear does in ‘Toy Story’. Eventually, he comes to a platform, and confronts an alien AI, that speaks through a red singular eye (Machine Messiah!). the red singular eye is suspiciously like the red light of HAL 9000 from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Then, Jack blows them all up by flicking a switch, much like Bruce Willis does in the climactic moment of Armageddon’.

I’m sure I missed a few more. And it all could have been a wonderful film if you didn’t know any of these other good films.

What’s Interesting About It

If it weren’t for all the bad bits mentioned above, it’s probably an okay movie.  You sort of wonder about the producers who let a director do this sort of thing. Talk about not having any original ideas, yet still managing to make a movie that went to market. It’s a bit like if I made a car out of all these different bits of cars from different makes and then sold it as something original.

The Post-Apocalypse Fantasy

This sub-genre has been growing for a while. Maybe it started with ‘On the Beach’ where everywhere but Australia gets nuked and people quietly await their radiation death in Australia. Somehow I doubt it would go that way if it ever happened that Australia was the last outpost of civilisation remaining. It would be more like Satyricon or the last days of Rome. ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Mad Max’ both couch their stories as after our civilisation has fallen. As the genre grows it seems we really like this idea that people would band together in paramilitary enclaves. So much so the survivalist fantasies seem to meld into one vision of huddled masses living in industrial buildings.

Somehow I don’t think that’s how it would go. We’d sooner become each man for himself and behave like the kids in ‘Lord of the Flies’ than turn into bands of resistance we see so often in these movies. It’s almost worth doing a ‘Lord of the Flies’ for adults. I guess ‘Lost’ was meant to be that, but went off into a weird direction and lived up to its name.

All these films ignore just how much our lives are sitting atop the giant edifice of knowledge and structure of society built up over thousands of years. The survivalists are hoping that suddenly these restrictive laws and governments would suddenly vanish and leave behind these weird kinds of utopias but it won’t happen that way for the simple reason that even the rudimentary of our lives depends on resources we cannot mine unless we have the great apparatus of civilisation. The more they make these films, the more hokey and silly the vision of a post-apocalypse becomes. When civilisation ends, it will be just that – the end of the world of homo sapiens. There won’t be these heroic adventures.  Just death.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 26/Aug/2013

Mr. Rabbit On The Loose

I guess I’m not the only person a little perturbed by the polls suggesting a win by the Coalition on the 7th. Pleiades sent in this link that pretty much sums up the consternation:

The electoral atmosphere is surreal. We have a government on the back foot over its economic record – which has been outstanding when the global economic environment is taken into account.

And we have an opposition that appears to have successfully undermined the government’s credibility, based on the government’s record of fiscal debt and deficit, which has, in fact, been the foundation of the nation’s success in avoiding the global financial crisis.

The Coalition tactic recalls the 1996 election. At every outdoor political event the opposition’s debt truck would be lurking in the background, showing Australia’s foreign debt ticking over at an alarming rate. Immediately after the election the truck was put way, never to be seen again. Nor was any policy – serious or otherwise – advanced by the Howard government to reverse this alarming growth in debt.

So it will be this time unless Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are silly enough in office to ride roughshod over their advisers in Treasury, Finance and the Reserve Bank and impose austerity policies involving massive cuts in government spending. Such policies have proved spectacularly unsuccessful elsewhere in reducing deficits or unemployment.

The article goes on to say that climate policy is getting short shrift as a result of the major parties dumbing down their pitch. Well, climate policy itself is in danger of being obliterated if an Abbott-led Coalition wins. I’m a little surprised that the swinging voters who voted in Kevin Rudd with a mandate to put in an ETS, then turned on him when he couldn’t get a deal in Copenhagen and decided to kick the can down, are now seriously contemplating voting in Tony Abbott who is clearly on record as a Climate Change Denier. I mean, really? Is that where we’re headed?

But That’s Not All! There’s The Boats!

Here’s another one from Pleaides… Out in Jakarta, they’re a little alarmed that we’re about to vote in Tony Abbott with his turn back the boats slogans.

The Australian opposition’s plan to disburse millions of dollars to Indonesian fishermen, which is partly to stem the flow of asylum seekers, is an insult to Indonesia as a nation, an international affairs expert has said.

Hikmahanto Juwana of the University of Indonesia criticized the plan and called it “humiliating” because it made Indonesian fishermen just “look like mercenaries who did dirty jobs.”

“I think the government should voice protests to the coalition’s very insensitive plan which clearly shows their poor knowledge about the situation in Indonesia,” he said in a statement made available to The Jakarta Post over the weekend.

The Australia’s opposition coalition has unveiled its plan for more regional action to stop people smuggling, pledging A$420 million for policy measures that include paying Indonesian villagers for information about smugglers and buying unseaworthy boats, according to Australian media.

When you spell it out like that, why yes, it is patronising and  reeks of Colonialist Paternalism. Of course Tony Abbott would be tone deaf (pardon the pun) to such sensitivities.  Though, it gets me that in this day and age that a leading politician from Australia basically has this kind of witheringly contemptuous outlook on Indonesia. How the hell is he going to get Indonesia to play ball with his idiotic plan if he’s already starting on the “you’re bunch of money-grubbing yokels” foot.

Not to mention that fact that the Coalition is going to do this on taxpayers’ money having harangued the ALP government about bad management of funds. I guess that’s Chutzpah for you.

The ALP’s Just Losin’ It All By Themselves

I’m sort of detached from the daily coverage of this election because a) I’ve made up my mind I’m not voting for Tony Abbott and the Coalition and; b) I hate being lied to so brazenly and c) I’m satisfied Julia Gillard isn’t part of the equation; I’m happy not to go into the nitty-gritty of what’s being said. Occasionally Clive Palmer makes me laugh with his handout of DVDs that has a bonus video of him wanting to make the Titanic II with people referring to him as “Professor Palmer”. Yes, it’s side-splittingly funny – so much so that I laughed so hard I hurt my intercostal muscles.

So it takes me by surprise that the ALP is doing so badly in the polls. What drugs are people on? Peter Hartcher’s explanation is that Tony Abbott hasn’t changed one bit; it’s the ALP that’s just going about losing support.

But most politically telling was the fact that Abbott’s big speech was substantially the same one he gave on the same Brisbane stage at the same event three years ago. This conveys four central realities of Australian politics.

First, it tells us that this election is a case where the opposition is not winning, but where the government is losing. Australia is not rushing gleefully to embrace Abbott’s Coalition but is instead rejecting Kevin Rudd and Labor.

You can tell because the main difference between the Abbott pitch of three years ago and his pitch on Sunday is that last time he wasn’t winning the election campaign, and this time he is. Abbott is standing in the same place. The electorate is moving to him, not the other way around.

Second, it tells us that Abbott’s Coalition has held its nerve, an unusual thing in a high-stakes contest. Instead of seeking to ingratiate itself by offering new goodies, the Liberal leader announced no new billion-dollar bonanzas, only some modest new help for apprentices, self-funded retirees and dementia research.

While John Howard’s campaign launches were laden with billion-dollar offerings, the only billions in Abbott’s speech were references to Labor deficits.

Third, this also tells us something about Australia. Abbott is appealing to a country disillusioned with politicians and their promises. The only credible promises are modest ones.

Abbott explicitly warns Australia ”don’t expect miracles”. A Coalition government would ”respect the limits of government as well as its potential”.

At core, Abbott’s promise is limited to uprooting much of Labor’s legacy, while preserving work on a national disability insurance scheme and enlarging Australia’s parental leave scheme.

Fourth, Abbott continues conspicuously to avoid the great, glaring problem at the centre of his policy structure: his budget. It was a mess at the last election, and remains unsolved to this day.

Be patient, and wait another week, the Liberals tell us.

What a joke, and we’re falling for it like the fascists we are.

I’ve been thinking a bit about this and I imagine that there are basically a lot of old baby boomers who are unhappy with being shackled with the carbon pricing in their old age, translating into higher power bills when they don’t even believe climate change. One also imagines a lot of Gen X people who are neck deep in mortgage hell wanting to punish the ALP government for the GFC and its aftermath. And I can well imagine there are quite a few misguided Gen Y types who -being Gen Y – want a laissez faire arrangement and they don’t care how much they pay for their education. I meet these types now and then and it always strikes me that democracy is wasted on the free world. They have the vote; the right to vote in a free country in the first world and they want to waste it on a sloganeering blowhard.

Of all the things people could do, the worst thing would be to vote for Tony Abbott’s coalition.  His government is not going to do anything but widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor and make us an even more hateful, self-possessed, mean-spirited country. He will be a Prime Minster you’d be ashamed to show anybody. But then, he did learn from the master of that sort of thing in John Howard.

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The End Of The End Of World War II As We Know It

The events leading up to the surrender of Japan on 15th August 1945 is an interesting topic. There was quite a bit of politicking carried out by the heads of the military in Japan. Some of the meetings were pretty dramatic and poignant. The angst and the pride of proud men on the line, trying to salvage the un-salvage-able, hit a crescendo in early August 1945.  It’s great fodder for an excellent movie. As it turns out (as Apple staff are told to say instead of “unfortunately”), this is not that movie.

What we have instead is a fairly ill-informed, loosely told crappy reconstruction of the earliest days of the MacArthur GHQ. For  start General Bonner Fellers is the romantic lead. Why, they could have had Curtis LeMay as the comic relief!

What’s Good About It

Somebody had to approach the topic at some point in time; why on Earth did MacArthur let the Emperor of Japan avoid going to trial a the Tokyo Trials? It’s a worthy question.  Of course, then they smother it in a bullshit romance flashback, but the film sort of gropes at a fairly interesting point about Japan between 1868 and 1945: Japan was a constitutional monarchy. So the immediate thrust of the film is try and pin the blame on the Emperor and the throne, only to find the Emperor as having been a sort of passenger of history who rubber stamped things.

All of this is handled in a very ham-fisted way, but the core of it is that they can’t stick the Emperor on trial not only for reasons of realpolitik, but basically because the roles ascribed to the Emperor doesn’t line up with dictators like Hitler or Mussolini.

What’s Bad About It

The romantic subplot is terrible. It’s just awful. And it takes up lots of screen time.

The directing is even worse. I don’t know where they find these crappy directors. This Peter Webber fellow can’t set up a scene without crossing the line over and over again. He’s also a terrible director of actors, and seems to have no idea how editing works, so consequently seems to create scenes with no tension or rhythm. The sense of narrative is a mess and on the whole he seems to have been interested in all the wrong things, just so he can tell his crappy romantic story which probably has no basis in real life whatsoever. I thought Baz Luhrman was a particularly awkward, technically deficient director, but this Peter Webber is even worse. He has himself a really interesting topic and makes an utter balls up of it.

I don’t know what else to say but this is a really crappy movie entertainment-wise as well as being a particularly shitty bit of film making.

What’s Interesting About It

They keep making and remaking these Pocahontas stories where some white dude goes to another culture and falls in love with some local girl. Then the dude ends up being the meat in the sandwich of the story and well, you only have to look at successful examples like ‘Witness’ (the Amish) or ‘Avatar’ (aliens with blue skin) to see it’s a ruse to get you an ‘in’ on the narrative about “the other”. Of course the other painful one is ‘The Last Samurai’ which was preceded by ‘James Clavell’s Shogun’ many years ago. You’d think that white people could get to Japan and just get on with whatever it is they need to do in the story instead having to spend 40minutes chasing skirt. But you know how it goes.

Some films are more deft at doing this insertion-of-romantic-hocus-pocus while films like this one stick out as a monument to the stupidity of the trope. Other films are worse on this count – like ‘Dances With Wolves’ where it turns out there’s already a white woman who’s gone native on the other side waiting or the white male hero to show up. It’s the kind of narrative move that strains credulity but for the sake of getting on with the story, you grin and bear these bits. Sometimes there is what I like to call the ‘Tatanka’ where the white guy swaps vocab with the locals. Which sometimes has narrative bearing, but usually it’s just another ruse to establish the white male hero is getting to see things form the perspective of the other. “our people think… blah-blah-blah.”

The point being you’d think that sometimes sensible producers would say to their writers “look, that story trope has been done to death and it’s harder and harder to do it better. If you don’t have a good story angle, don’t do it.” The producers on this one, displaying an incredible naivety and possibly mediocre sensibilities, chose to go hard with the insertion-of-romantic-hocus-pocus, the Tatanka, and the obligatory “our people think blah-blah-blah”.

Well, I  point both my index fingers at the heavens by my temple and say “Tatanka” to you!

Sometimes It’s Shrouded In Secrecy, Sometimes It’s Shrouded In Myth, But Sometimes It’s Just Coated With Bullshit

Western historians really don’t want to hear this but the two atomic bombs didn’t really figure that much into the thinking of the ministers meeting with the Emperor in the days leading up to the end of the war. The records of what was discussed is actually out there, published long ago. Plenty of historians have gone through this material and it’s pretty clear that when they dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima, the news merely dampened the mood in that room even further. You have to understand that Generals Anami and Itagaki were pretty keen to fight the Americans on land, hand to hand on the streets and inflict as much casualty on everybody and everything. That’s what the generals wanted and were willing to repeat the Battle of Okinawa all over Japan.

You can just imagine the Emperor impassively listening to this tirade thinking, “what are these lunatics talking about?”

So what were they talking about? They were talking about the Potsdam Declaration. In particular they were particularly concerned as to how to interpret ‘…subject to…’ and whether this meant that the Emperor would become the subject of the President of the United States or whether the people of Japan would become slaves. On the 9th the news of Nagasaki being bombed by the second atomic bomb came in and they were still arguing about what ‘…subject to…’ meant. One can imagine remarks like the Clintonian “that would depend on what you meant by ‘subject’ and what you meant by ‘to'” that would fit perfectly in such conversations.

It’s painful to read this stuff. Whole cities were being laid to waste and the blowhard chiefs of the General Staff and Army minster Anami going on about how everybody in Japan was going to die in battle. Ascribing the end of the Pacific War to the 2 atomic bombs is incredibly optimistic reading of the impact of technology. If anything it was a bonus side show, as it didn’t really sink into the retrograde heads of the General Staff and Army minister Anami.

One’s natural inclination is to think  there must be more to the end of the war and the two atomic bombs than this; we are often betrayed by just how banal and prosaic the actors are, on history’s great stage.

Showa Emperor Hirohito And Culpability

The more things I read and see about the late Showa Emperor, the more I’m persuaded to think that he didn’t speak up enough. he didn’t speak up much at all from what we can gather, and when he was a young man, it’s easy to believe he he was totally cowered and intimidated by the great admirals and generals that fought in the war against Russia in 1904-1905. Even in the 16th year of his reign as Japan stumbled along into war with America, one feels he could have spoken out a bit more than insist on peace.

Some western and Chinese historians have decided that the Showa Emperor had a sideline in being a villainous conspirator with the Army generals and gave them tacit support for the push into China and Manchuria, but this is contradicted by the extensive Kido diaries. The man was a lot more alone and isolated on the throne. The film comes close to capturing just how isolated the Emperor was from his people. What it doesn’t do is fill the gap in between with any kind of explanation or meaning. There’s just this sable black gulf of willful ignorance and Rumsfeld-ian unknonwn-unknowns.

From all accounts, he interpreted his position under the Meiji Constitution as being a  ceremonious head of state who rubber stamped the decisions made in cabinet. He sat through his cabinet meetings, stony faced and impassive, but always keeping his opinions to himself and away from the ministers. During the ‘February 26 Incident‘, when junior Army officers attempted to mount a coup in his name, he refused to lend any support to them, berated them for killing cabinet minsters, and threatened to lead the Imperial guard divisions himself to root out the young officers.

You sort of wonder why he didn’t tell these crazy generals to get back in their box more often, in the lead up to the war.

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The Money That’s Not There

Deficits? What Deficits?

A few weeks ago I made an observation over elsewhere on the interwebs which I forgot to note over here. Once upon a time in the 90’s when Pauline Hanson was a tyro crank politician, she was much ridiculed for her views. They were in most part totally outlandish and powered by a kind of backward looking xenophobia that made your skin crawl, but in particular she had a solution for Australia’s debt problem, which was “print more money.”

The press went to town on this statement as a clear indication that this would not work because printing money wold cause a massive outbreak of inflation; the likes of which crippled the Weimar Republic, so clearly this was a stupid idea born out of a stupid person. So the narrative went. And who amongst us who bothered to study modern history didn’t know of the crazy inflation that engulfed inter-war Germany as the Weimar Republic busily printed money to pay their reparations for World War I? Print money, you get Weimar Republic.

Fast forward 15 years and 5 years on from the GFC we find, in fact that is exactly the US Federal Reserve Bank is doing in its guise of Quantitative Easing, and even the Bank of Japan has joined the ranks of central banks ‘printing money’ with the celebrated ‘Abenomics’ in progress. The interesting thing is that inflation – the kind we read about in history books about the Weimar Republic – hasn’t exactly broken out in neither the USA nor Japan. In fact the Bank of Japan is running the printing presses much faster than the US Fed, and it might not make its inflation target of 2%. Go figure that one out.

No Inflation. All that money printed, and still no inflation. If anything central banks in the advanced economies are scared shitless of a collapse in asset prices.

I hate to say all this because I really dislike Pauline Hanson, but if the amount of deficit of the Australian Government was the size that it was – such that it could be paid off by the selling of assets under John Howard – maybe the Hanson plan of printing money back then might have been better? That way, the Federal Government, and by extension we the people would still have those assets.

Or maybe government debt isn’t as big a deal as the private sector is making out. What’s really bad about Greece and the other distressed euro economies probably is the fact that they can’t devalue their currency by printing their own money. But if we go by the – ahem, *gulp* – “Hansonomics”, Greece ought to quit the Euro zone and just print whatever money it likes to pay its freaking debts. And as crazy as that sounds to educated minds the evidence seems to be the case. Stick that into your objectivity pipe and smoke it.

This brings me to this article here.

In a 34-page review for clients of how a Coalition government might change economic management, Mr Eslake, chief Australian economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, also highlights the potential for “significant and ongoing tensions” in an Abbott government between its “genuine economic liberals”, such as shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, and those who are “more sceptical about markets … including in many cases Tony Abbott as Prime Minister”.

He predicts that the Coalition will ultimately adopt all of Labor’s proposed budget savings measures, except for ending the tax break for cars bought through salary sacrifice.

Even so, Mr Eslake estimates, the Coalition has so far committed to $28.4 billion of tax cuts and $14.8 billion on new spending in the next four years, a total of $43.25 billion. But he estimates the nine savings measures the Coalition has announced so far would save only $13.44 billion over the same period.

“By our reckoning, over the remainder of the election campaign, the Coalition needs to announce additional savings measures totally in the vicinity of $30 billion over the four years to 2016-17 in order to be able credibly to claim that it would produce better bottom line outcomes than those projected (by Treasury and the Department of Finance), he said.”

“That is a substantial sum, although it is considerably less than the $70 billion ‘black hole’ suggested by the government.”

And that ought to give you a bit of a scare. If the polls are to be believed the incoming Liberal National Coalition Government is selling itself on being fiscal hawks and that 30billion will come out of something somewhere along the way in a fit of austerity worship. I don’t know where it will come from, and by the sounds of it, neither does treasurer-to-be Jolly Joe Hockey, but knowing their political persuasion it’s likely to come out of welfare cheques and education budgets.

Yet in a bigger picture sense, all this pain it will inflict on millions of people will basically hurt the economy anyway while doing not much good. It’s almost enough for you to endorse Hansonomic Printing Presses and ask them to simply print the money to pay the freaking debt. It’s what grown up countries do.

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Intractable Mess

ALP In The Middle
Pleiades sent in this link today for a quick look. It’s an article by Antony Green – famous for his election coverage and breakdown of numbers – talking about just how difficult the Asylum Seeker issue has become.

With asylum seeker boat arrivals a very live debate in the 2013 election campaign, Vote Compass asked four questions on asylum seekers and immigration issues.

The results reveal a polarised electorate, but one where Coalition and Green supporters find themselves comfortably aligned with their parties’ policy positions.

The real division was among Labor voters. Overall 48 per cent of intending Labor voters oppose the new Labor policy while 40 per cent support it. Labor has made a major policy shift to ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from settling in Australia, but either Labor supporters have yet to adjust their position on the new policy, or just as likely, there are differing opinions on the subject within Labor’s support base.

Since 2001 the Labor Party has struggled to produce policies on asylum seekers that straddle the divide between being tough and being compassionate. This struggle is reflected in the Vote Compass data for intended Labor voters.

It’s clear that the polarisation surrounding this issue is actually making things intractable. I’ve been thinking about this very point for some time in as much as I can’t seem to find too many people who wanted to try the Malaysian solution when Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen had that project as the desired policy course. Most people I knew either wanted to go the Abbott way and send boats back forcibly, or they wanted to just let anybody in without so much as a due process.

Even ringers like Clive Palmer has a policy position on this, and his is immediate on the spot processing and if they are found to be not refugees, they get sent back immediately. Which is all very nice for Clive but the reality is that some of these people are destroying their paperwork as they get on the boats to make it harder for immigration officials.

And this sort of brings me to the next point. The people on the far left of the spectrum who vehemently criticise the also numerous other end of the spectrum don’t seem to want to have any process at all. This is sort of interesting in as much as it seems those people want to do away with the department of immigration entirely. If you listen closely to the far left, they’re saying, let anybody who comes to Australia by boat, stay. They don’t seem to understand that this massively incentivises people to get on boats; and that the people getting on the boats are counting on a sizable portion of Australians to feel pity and just let them in (“and why the hell not?” I hear them say).

All of this is surprising because Australia probably is well-served by its immigration department in most instances. Why the department and its processes don’t get the benefit of the doubt and aren’t allowed to process the asylum seekers actually escapes me.

Antony Green also goes on to point out that lack of education and income (or the lack thereof) also correlates with support or opposition to the policy. This is understandable given that they would be the most vulnerable to added competition from a sudden influx of low-skilled workers. They’re not dumb. They know it means more competition and lowering of their bargaining power. And while the term xenophobia gets bandied about readily, you’d have to give the lowly-educated low-income demographic a break for being anxious. After all, we’re living in a hollowing out economy where their jobs are more likely to be exported to ‘Chindia’ than those of the white collar demographic.

Similarly, the opposition to letting asylum seekers correlates with age as well. The older you are, the more likely you are to object – which, let’s be fair, is probably an overhang of the White Australia Policy so that one probably deserves the ‘xenophobia’ label.

In any case it’s clear that the ALP has got a real problem on its hands because  the issue sits exactly at the point where it splits the traditional blue collar voters from the varsity educated progressives. If the ALP ran on the most left-leaning policy of letting all Asylum Seekers that arrive by boats into Australia, they might feel better about themselves but the numbers say they will lose. So you can see how this necessitates the PNG solution. You wonder how the white collar ALP voter feels about this (seeing that they were the most likely Gillard supporters) on the day the ballot is cast. …or will they donkey vote? it’s 3 more weeks to wrestle with their consciences because like it or not, donkey voting will bring in Tony Abbott.

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‘The Numbers Station’

Grosse Pointe Blunt

It was late on a Sunday night, and it was either this film or the Tom Cruise movie ‘Oblivion’ on offer. ‘Oblivion’ is over 2 hours long, while ‘The Numbers Station’ is a mere 1 hour 29minutes. That sealed the deal.  Afterwards I was able to watch episode 3 of ‘Vikings’ on SBS catchup TV.

It’s a film that came and went with nary a bit of promotion in Australia. It’s hard to be heard in the din and clamour for more and more comic book superhero movies, but sometimes a film is simply too small to get any purchase on the zeitgeist. It’s a bit of a shame because it means that the thoughtful little films that made cinema truly wonderful are more likely to be missed, and then become infrequent.

This film isn’t one of those deep and meaningful little films, it just seems to be a little pot-boiler made by indies.

What’s Good About It

It’s a tense little thriller, mostly set in one location. So it must have been relatively low budget. Considering the relatively low budget, it was a credible little action thriller. A bit of shooting, a bit of fighting, a bit of tense stand offs, and all the other trappings. It has one good trick in it.

What’s Bad About It

The political landscape that affords the story is left deliberately blank in this film. This helps to make the conflict rather abstract, but at the same time robs us of the ability to empathise with the cause. Without a cause there’s no rationalising away the feeling of “why are they doing all this any way?” It’s the dead opposite of ‘A Few Good Men’ where Jack Nicholson gets up and tells the court why he’s such a brutal bastard. This movie progresses on the assumption the cause doesn’t matter but having watched it, I sort of disagree.

Maybe part of the problem of the creeping fascism engulfing the West is that it really does not allow itself to be opened up for inspection and dissection. It’s a lurch to the  brutish side of life without nary an explanation. Plenty of films touch upon this as a problem but this film sort of blithely slips by, thus making it a more or less empty exercise.

What’s Interesting About It

There’s a bit in it where John Cusack’s character Emerson describes his psychological profile. It’s surprisingly similar to Martin Q. Blank’s profile, as told by Martin Q. Blank in ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’. I was thinking that maybe this film was the sequel to ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’. It might have been, had it had a modicum of humour. Instead it’s decidedly bleak and largely mannered – The affectations of the genre are a bit on the nose instead being turned on its head.

An Odd Look

It’s not every day you come across a film that has a truly odd look,but this film has it. It is strangely grainy and under exposed in parts and yet some of the colours like yellows and greens seem to be saturated. So much so that it’s hard to believe it was shot on 35mm. If somebody said it was a RED camera or some kind of digital format like the one used on ‘Drive’, I’d believe it.

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