Saturday 31 March 2012

Moving to Oz?

Sometimes I come across with questions about living conditions in Australia: the kind of questions people thinking about moving to Australia make (the economy, lifestyle, weather, racism/xenophobia...).

It's easy to imagine why: the SMH reported about this last March, 11 (if you are in that situation, you should read it: here).

This puts me in a rather uncomfortable situation. Whatever I say, people listening to it might be negatively affected; and people are bound to take exception. But it is a legitimate question.

In spite of my reluctance, I've finally decided to broach this subject.

The first thing to bear in mind: I can only give personal opinions, without any guarantee. I'm neither a professional in this area (which changes often), nor I am writing this for money: the final decision and responsibility for the outcome falls entirely on the readers.

With this caveat in place, I'd say Australia is not a bad place to live. It's no paradise, either.

The second thing to realize is that things in Australia are bound to be different, to a larger or lesser degree, from your experience back home. If this had no other effect, it puts you at a disadvantage when dealing with local employers: you don't know the local labour market and laws, and what the usual working conditions are; your English may not be up to scratch.

Trust me here: local employers know this and many are willing to bank on it.

The third thing to keep in mind is that presently unemployment is lower in Australia than in pretty much all European or Latin American countries, which is good. But that isn't the whole story: chances are you will be initially unemployed and needing a job badly.

As the lack of local labour market knowledge mentioned before, this also puts you at a serious disadvantage.

A fourth thing to have in mind is that there are different paths to arrive legally to Australia, each with its own unique legal implications, but not all available to all possible migrants (some, like working-holiday tourists are open only to nationals of countries with special arrangements with Australia). Broadly speaking, you can arrive
  1. at your sole initiative (as a migrant, tourist or student);
  2. to work directly for an employer (457 visa).
Let's leave the second category (457 temporary work visa) for a future opportunity.

In what follows, I am referring to the first category: migrants, tourists and students (those arriving at their sole initiative).

However, even if you are planning to come to Australia under a 457 temporary work visa, you might still find some of the following discussion relevant. So, I invite you to read on.

Independent Skilled Migrants, Students and Working-Holiday Tourists

As an independent skilled migrant, student or working-holiday tourist, you start off unemployed. Unlike students and tourists, migrants have permanent residence. But, as a migrant, you'll probably need to have your educational qualifications recognized, too, and this takes time.

Regardless of whether you are a migrant, tourist or student, I believe you'll receive no financial help from the Government for a number of years. So, no dole for you: you are unemployed and alone in a foreign country.

This is where the unemployment figures become misleading. Migrant graduates (or similar level foreign job-seekers) often find a catch-22 condition, explicit or implicit, in job openings: "local experience" or "local work history" are required:

Click on the ad for a larger image.

But if this frequently happens with top tier job openings, as the one above, one can also find it much lower down the food chain:

Click on the ad for a larger image.

This means that, no matter how qualified "on paper", or how "on demand" your occupation is, it's likely you won't get the job, unless you already had a similar job in Australia.

You see the problem, don't you?

This leaves you in a situation where you'll probably have to take on any job you find. And I do mean any job. That's how I've met Iranian 747 pilots driving buses and Latin American engineers flipping burgers.

If you are already in Australia, ask any cleaners, taxi drivers, or check-out chicks their nationality, occupation and education level, and ask yourself why this person is doing that kind of work.

Put yourself in their shoes. You are a newbie and in serious need of a job: a potential patsy. The second thing to have in mind mentioned above applies to you.

This means that there is a good chance that you will be underpaid and made to work under conditions that locals, more knowledgeable and less pressed, would not tolerate.

You won't find many people talking about the experience of being a lower-class Aussie. But there's a good chance you'll find out, at least temporarily: wages in Australia can be low, given the local cost of living.

There are legal ways around, of course. It would make the post too long to go into them (I may touch this in another occasion). I have in mind things like "unpaid work experiences" (mostly for graduate migrants), temporary jobs (tourists), and getting a local vocational qualification (popular among young Asian and Latin American students).

For instance, this is what "unpaid work experiences" are: you work for a limited time for a local employer in your field, but are not paid for that. You get the "local experience", they get your work for free.

Normally, local employers are not obliged to hire you after finishing the "work experience": their obligation is to provide you with a reference (hopefully written), so that you can say in job interviews with other employers: "Yes, I do have local work experience; here's the paper to prove it".

If you can afford that, then, realistically, that's an option. Note that I am not talking about fairness, or how this affects the local jobs market; about how feasible it is to get these "work experiences" (I suspect they are not that abundant) or even how effective they are as a means to solve your problem: naturally, it's always a potential employer's prerogative to accept or reject your particular "local work experience".

Note also that the reference involves an assessment of your performance. And this assessment is up to the employer offering you the unpaid work experience.

So, in short, many new arrivals in this category (migrants, tourists, students) will not get a permanent job in their field from the get go. Some of them will, no doubt, never get one; some might get one relatively fast. I have no figures about how prevalent these conditions are, or how long "relatively fast" is.

To make things more confusing, the relative ease to get a job might depend on things like ethnicity and religion (see here). On top, the jobs market place may be changing, too (see here).


It's a difficult decision and it's not for me to tell you what to do.

But I will take the liberty to give you a free advice. Probably the best thing for you would be to assess realistically what your expectations are and how bad things are back home. In economic matters, in Australia things are probably better for now; how much better, it's impossible for me to say, as it's impossible for me to say if things here will remain better much longer.

Your personal circumstances should also be considered: the younger and less committed you are, the more options you have. If I were you, I'd try to discuss this matter with other people and I'd try to hear other points of view.

I'm afraid that's about the extent of the advice I can offer on employment matters, for potential migrants, students and tourists.

Although what I discussed here refers mainly to migrants, students and tourists, obviously it may have implications to 457 visa holders, which were not directly considered.

Conversely, if you are a potential migrant, student or tourist, you should keep an eye open for a following post on the 457 Visa, as it could contain material relevant to you.

There are other subjects I am often asked (racism, personal security, lifestyle, etc). I will leave them for a future opportunity.

You could also check at the Fairfax Media job site or the official Australian Job Search site. Over the years, the Fairfax Media/SMH has also published lots of stories about migrants/"new arrivals" (as sometimes they are called). Search their archive using keywords like "backpacker", "fruit picker", "Visa 457", "Indian Student".

02-04-2012. Searching for a job, I found this much more candid ad. Note that the 2 positions are urgently needed, but the need, evidently, is not so great as to make overseas applicants welcome. Overseas readers can draw their own conclusions.

Click on the ad for a larger image.

The Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, published an article yesterday about the so-called internships or "work experiences".

If you are thinking about getting one of those, you must read it. This passage is copied verbatim from the article:

"Yet, it can also be drawn that arrangements which take only labour and give nothing but a vague promise of experience or a future role, will probably not be legitimate." (See here)

Waiting for Rajoy.

"Waiting for Godot set"
by KlickingKarl. [A]
Where the fuck is Mariano Rajoy?

"Aquí hay un presidente del Gobierno que va a dar la cara y no se va a esconder" ("here is a president of the Government [Prime Minister] who will face the people and not run away", my translation, see here in Spanish), Mariano Rajoy reportedly said in interview with EFE news agency boss, Alex Grijelmo in January 10, 2012.

Ever since, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Rajoy's second in command, has had to face the people and make the official announcements.

So, for a change, the "Rajoy austerity package" had to be announced by Sáenz de Santamaría.

In a nutshell:
  1. 27bn euros (AU$ 35bn) budget cuts: 2.3% to 2.5% of estimated 2011 GDP.
  2. Average ministerial budget cuts: 16.9%. But public works cuts to reach 34%.
  3. Public sector wages and salaries frozen.
  4. Electricity and gas, increase by 7% and 5%.
  5. Housing subsidies and employment policy cuts: 2bn euros (AU$ 2.6bn).
  6. 12.3bn euros (AU$15.9bn) tax increases, supposedly from big corporations but including fiscal fraud amnesty fees (10% of the fiscal debt!); personal income tax (1.9% increase) (See here. Spanish)
VAT remains unchanged, unemployment benefits frozen, age pensions indexed by CPI.


While in opposition, Mariano Rajoy rejected changes in industrial relations laws and personal income tax increases.

María Dolores de Cospedal, general secretary of the ironically called People's Party, had called fiscal fraud amnesty "unthinkable", "unfair" and "anti-social". (See here. Spanish)

Incidentally, for readers whose Spanish is a bit rusty: the adjective "anti-social", in Spanish, has the connotation of "criminal".

Clearly, Rojoy's "mandate" exempts him from delivering his and his party's electoral promises.


Together with the labour market reforms already announced and previously rejected by Rajoy, these measures prompted the BBC's Gavin Hewitt to write:
"Privately some in government accept these calculations involve a risk.
"The economy is in recession and some predict it will shrink by around 2% this year - even before these savings are made.
"The fear is that Spain could be tipped into a downward spiral.
"It is also unclear how the public will react to more austerity. The unions held a general strike yesterday and are threatening further disruption."
(See here)
In plain English: that's just the beginning.


With views like the above in mind, the El País op-ed page, often a reliably moderate voice, sounds pathetically confused, almost to a grotesque extreme:
"Más allá de los incidentes y de los que pronostican finales apocalípticos, la cuestión de fondo es que ni la economía ni la confianza de los inversores necesitaban este paro. Menos aún otras posibles huelgas venideras."("Beyond the incidents and the apocalyptic prognostications, the underlying issue is that neither the economy, nor the investors' confidence, needed this strike. Even less other future strikes"). (See here. Spanish. My translation)
No, estimados señores, lo que está fuera de lugar es vuestra preocupación con los sentimientos de los inversores y las necesidades de "la economía", cuando España, enferma de severa anemia, es obligada a desangrarse.

No es el pataleo lo que está matando a España. Es la hemorragia.

La muerte del paciente no tranquilizará a los inversores, ni les dará "confianza", porque no recuperarán sus préstamos. Y una muerte lenta, como la de Grecia, es lo que le espera. Los inversores lo saben, aún si vosotros os negáis a reconocerlo.

Pero, aún si el sacrificio de España sirviera para apaciguar al demonio de "la economía",  y devolviera a los inversores su preciosa "confianza", de vosotros, yo me preocuparía primero por España.

Image Credit:
[A] "Waiting for Godot set. Theatre Royal Haymarket 2009", by KlickingKarl. Wikipedia. My use of the photo does not imply KlickingKarl endorses me or my use of it. It doesn't imply the opposite, either!

Friday 30 March 2012

Magpie's Law.

I'm sure you have already come across "Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies". Mike Godwin, who named the law, first made reference to it in an article in Wired in 1994.

This is how Godwin defined it: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one". (See here)

Under a logical perspective, these gratuitous comparisons are considered fallacies and are called humorously "reductio ad Hitlerum", inspired in the reductio ad absurdum: "Reductio ad Hitlerum is no more than guilt by association, a form of association fallacy. The fallacy claims that a policy leads to-or is the same as-one advocated or implemented by Adolf Hitler or the Third Reich, and so 'proves' that the original policy is undesirable".

With this, Godwin's Law is re-stated thus: as an online discussion grows longer, someone is bound to fall in the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy.

I ain't no Mike Godwin, but I think I have identified a similar phenomenon in economics. It goes like this: the probability of using the mysticism/metaphysics charge increases as a discussant is challenged by views he/she dislikes but doesn't understand. And I call it: Magpie's Law!

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Steve Keen. [A]
Here are two excellent examples: Paul Krugman replies to Steve Keen (Keen's first post, and reply to Krugman).

Paul Krugman states that, as a working economist, the reason he reads "old books is for insight, not authority". Here Krugman is professing to be a logical thinker (therefore, immune to appeals to authority) and a pragmatist. Fair enough.

If something in those old books "helps crystallize an idea in your mind (...) that’s really good". He goes on to say: "but if where you take the idea is very different from what the great man said somewhere else in his book, so what?"

Krugman goes further: "my basic reaction to discussions about what Minsky really meant (...) is, I don't care".

So, if there are two different views, what to do then? Just pick the one you like?

Paul Krugman. [B]
Let's think about it. What if the two views aren't very different at all, only you didn't understand them in the first place and that's why you think they are different? What if they are indeed very different and you picked the wrong one? What if you picked the right one, and those opposing you picked the wrong one. Couldn't you use that to strengthen your case?

What kind of insight can one get from an old book, if one is not sure one actually understands what the great man who wrote it really meant?

That's not Talmudic scholarship or banking mysticism, Prof. Krugman. It's plain common sense.

And by the looks of it, Krugman didn't understand what the great man said:
"In particular, he [Steve Keen] asserts that putting banks in the story is essential. Now, I'm all for including the banking sector in stories where it's relevant; but why is it so crucial to a story about debt and leverage?"
A story about debt and leverage... without banks (!?). I rest my case.


For another great way to cover one's ass when one is losing an argument, see Circular Reasoning!

Image Credits:
[A] Steve Keen. Wikipedia.
[B] Paul Krugman. Wikipedia.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Spanish Patriotism.

The Countess of Murillo. [A]
The Most Excellent Esperanza Aguirre y Gil de Biedma, The Countess of Murillo, Grandee of Spain, Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and lastly, President of the Madrid Community, called the "trade-unionists anti-patriots, willing to transform Spain into Greece" due to the general strike. (See here, My translation from Spanish).

It is ironic that the Spanish people are being charged with being anti-patriots willing to transform Spain into Greece, when it is the so-called People's Party the one applying in Spain the same economic shock policies applied in Greece, to benefit foreign bankers in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels and London.

If I may, I would remind Her Excellency that Spaniards are not bound by loyalty to those foreign elites. If Her Excellency is confused on that, perhaps she should reconsider where her loyalties lie.


I would also remind Her Excellency that her salary is paid by the Spanish taxpayer. Therefore, while this may be unsavory to Her Excellency, the Spanish people, even though commoners, are her employer.

If Her Excellency finds it burdensome to loyally satisfy her employer, or finds it in her interests to serve another master, perhaps Her Excellency should resign.

Alternatively, the Rajoy Government should legislate to make it easier for the Spanish people to sack their public employees, even Grandees of Spain.

Image Credits:
[A] The Countess of Murillo. Wikipedia.
[B] The Spanish flag. Wikipedia.

Monday 26 March 2012

The Deliberate Auto Goal.

Soccer team formation [A]
A long time ago, in a place far, far away...

Believe it or not, when I was a kid I was the crappiest soccer player in town.

In fact, my only virtue was my size: taller and stronger than average, I shouldn't have been such a bad defender (for instance, the blue dots in the figure). Or, at least, that's what my teammates hoped.

You see, a big defender can be clumsy with the ball and not particularly fast running; he mainly needs to kick the opponent attackers' shins, and that's not terribly difficult to do.

When a penalty comes around, he is placed in front of the ball, as part of the barrier, to take a ball for the team. You see now why height is an advantage.

The problem arises if the other team brings in a big, strong forward and you are placed right in front of him, in the barrier. And that day, a powerful kick, deliberately or not, propelled the ball straight to my crotch.

If you ask me now, I couldn't say what happened exactly. In spite of crossing my hands to cover myself, I was hit right there; I think I bent over and somehow I must have kicked the ball... Next thing I knew, it was an auto goal.

While our opponents were understandably amused and delighted, my frustrated teammates asked me what had just happened. A very embarrassed and astounded 10-11 year-old version of me couldn't come up with a better excuse than: "I wanted the other team to win; the striker is my mate" or something to that effect (!!!).

Somehow I was reminded of that episode by these two notes:

ABC News Online: "Palmer Hints CIA Claims a Poll Distraction Ploy" (26-03-2012)

Fairfax Media/SMH Online: "Palmer does Not Regret CIA Claim" (26-03-2012)

Don't worry, Clive. I believe you. Campbell Newman wouldn't have gained in QLD without your auto goal. (See here)


So that you don't think it's only me making this kind of auto goals, just look at this:

Needless to say, that was the end of my soccer career!

Image Credit:
[A] 4-4-2 modern soccer formation. Wikipedia.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Democratic Oligarchs.

Immature and mature forms of HIV [A]
"Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort." (Richard Dawkins, Viruses of the Mind)


Although the idea of meme already existed, Richard Dawkins, who coined the term, may have been onto something when he described meme as an infectious agent of the mind.

So, what's the problem I'm addressing? As summarized by SMH's Wright, Ireland and Grattan:
"Mr Swan accused Mr Palmer and other mining bosses Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest of wielding too much power and being a threat to democracy". (See here)
And what's the solution? Let's list the, to me, logical options:
  1. Do nothing. This is not such a problem, perhaps some readers would say; or, if those readers concede that is a problem, maybe they would argue that any solution would be worse: so, just leave things as they are;
  2. To do nothing is inconceivable, I'd say. We must do something: expropriate their wealth (no money, no power);
  3. Tax them good, so they have less money/power: a moderate variant of (2);
  4. None of the above.
Peter Hartcher, it seems, is much more imaginative. For him the options above are unthinkable, except for (4): his answer is none of the above. And he offers an innovative solution.

Quoting the authoritative figure of the "Father to Oligarchs", Anatoly Chubais:
" 'The existence of these guys [billionaires/oligarchs] is not the problem,' he [Chubais] told me in 1999. 'There are two real problems. First is the problem of political strength of government'.
" 'The solution is to strengthen the government, and in Russia that is a challenge for the next government and the next president'.
" 'The other problem is not that there are too many oligarchs but too few. We need more billionaires'."
(See here)
So, those are Hartcher's premises: there is a problem, and we need to do something.

But this is his solution: the problem democracy faces when some people have too much economic power can be solved by having even more people with too much economic power. We need more billionaires! These new billionaires would be, presumably, nicer, more civically minded, than the previously existent billionaires.

In this he coincides with Bronte Capital's theory, which I summarized a few weeks ago:
"If billionaire A pushed public opinion and the government in the direction her vested interests pointed; well, perhaps then billionaire B could push public opinion and the government in the opposite direction."
There is only one teeny weeny little question I don't see these guys asking: what the fuck would stop billionaires A and B from colluding and gaining control of government? Oh, I see: billionaire B is a nice guy.


So, there: we give up democracy in exchange for an enlightened oligarchy, trusting that the nice billionaires will push things in the right direction.

And we'll do that based on the expert advice of Anatoly Chubais:
"We were perfectly aware that we were creating a new class of owners. The privatisation was not a question of ideology or some abstract values; it was a question of a real, political daily struggle. (...)
"We did not have a choice between an 'honest' privatisation and a 'dishonest' one, because an honest privatisation means clear rules imposed by a strong state that can enforce its laws. In the early 1990s, we had no state and no law enforcement." (See "Father to Oligarchs", above)
In other words, for Chubais, the looting of public property was a reasonable price to pay. In exchange, one gains political support and on top deprives one's political enemies of positions of authority. If one becomes dependent upon our new allies and screws the livelihoods of pretty much everybody else, it is still a  reasonable trade-off.

Undoubtedly, in Chubais's case, the personal advantages he might have gained did not play any role in his choices, so we can safely follow his advice. (See also  here, here, and here)


Now you see why this particular meme of the "democratic oligarchs" is indeed a disease of the mind. A potentially deadly disease for which immune-deficiency is quite common, it seems.

Image Credit:
[A] Diagram of the immature and mature forms of HIV. Wikipedia.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The CIA Goes Green (!?)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned this statement by the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey:
"Australia runs as a meritocracy. We earn rewards based on merit and effort".

One of the richest Australians, billionaire Clive Palmer, was quoted today by ABC News in these terms:
"Queensland businessman Clive Palmer has accused green groups of being funded by America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
"Mr Palmer has referred to a paper produced by environmental group Greenpeace which calls for action to stop the expansion of the Queensland coal industry.
"He says it is tantamount to treason.
" 'This is a serious matter indeed because it goes to the political independence of all Australians', Mr Palmer said". (See here)

The Fairfax Media Online (Brisbane Times):
"While brandishing a copy of the report this afternoon, Mr Palmer said it was the result of a CIA conspiracy involving the US-based Rockefeller Foundation.
" 'This is funded by the CIA,' he said.
" 'You only have to go back and read ... the report to the US Congress that sets up the Rockefeller Foundation as a conduit of CIA funding'.
" 'You only have to look at the secret budget which was passed by Congress last year - bigger than our whole national economy - with the CIA to ensure that'.
" 'You only have to read the reports to US Congress where the CIA reported to the president that their role was to ensure the US competitive advantage - that's how you know it's funded by the CIA'." (See here)
Updated on 21-03-2012: Fairfax Media video link.


You be the judge, or see here for more comedy-grade political debate.

Oh, man! You've gotta love this march:

21-03-2012.  The comedy continues!

Asked last night about Palmer's comment, federal opposition leader Tony Abbott, the man whose self-professed place is not to defend some of the richest people in Australia, said:
" 'He's a larger-than-life character and I think when he says that the Greens want to stop the coal industry he's absolutely right - of course the Greens want to stop the coal industry,' Mr Abbott told Channel 10". (See here)

I can't blame him for that, though: Palmer is known of his donations to the QLD and federal opposition.

Still reading from ABC News:
"A CIA spokesman has told the ABC via email that the claims are wrong.
" 'Simply put, these allegations are false,' he said"
. (See above link)
And who is this unnamed spokesman? -one might feel tempted to ask the ABC journalist. I guess he can't be named: that would be top secret!

But the fun doesn't stop there, no siree Bob!

Drew Hutton, an environmentalist and QLD Green big-wig named by Palmer, is considering to sue Palmer for defamation:
"Queensland Greens founder Drew Hutton plans to sue billionaire Clive Palmer, saying the mining magnate has accused him of treason. (...)
"The Greens were being funded by 'an offshore political power' and that was tantamount to treason, Mr Palmer said.
" 'Treason is a capital offence in many countries,' Mr Hutton said. 'As a proud Australian, I am disgusted by these bizarre and dishonest allegations'."
(See here)
So, what's the fun in that? Well, Palmer himself has initiated his fair share of law suits. (See here and here)

Just to celebrate, click once more the YouTube link above!


25-03-2012. I'm one of Annabel Crabb's biggest fans. The ABC Online's political writer, now apparently back to Fairfax Media's stable, is great fun to read.

Her pieces are always witty and, frankly, I often end up laughing my ass off with them.

But she is also perceptive. She notes that we don't hear much about BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata these days.

She's right. We don't hear much about these 3 "behemoths", and least of all from federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who's focused on Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer.

At one hand, that's understandable: the 3 Aussie gazillionaires have their own way of making themselves the centre of attention.

But is there more to it than that? "That's because they [BHP Billiton's Marius Kloppers, Rio Tinto's Tom Albanese, and Xstrata's Mick Davis] got what they wanted", says Annabel.

She might be onto something here. See my observation:
"Of course, you don't expect Swan to acknowledge the ministry he's a part of exemplifies the inordinate level of influence those vested interests exert, do you?" (here)
Maybe I should have added unmentioned to the "those vested interests" bit.

Friday 9 March 2012

Europe: Baled Out (?)

Upon news that private Greek government bondholders agreed to have their holdings reduced by up to 74% of their face value, it appears the requirements for the second Greek bailout were fulfilled.

Stockmarkets around the world seemed subdued, however:

Dow Jones  +14.08 (+0.11%)
FTSE 100   +27.76 (+0.47%)
Dax        +45.67 (+0.67%)
Cac 40      +9.12 (+0.25%)
(See here)

Have we seen the last of this slow motion train wreck? Maybe.

Business Spectator/AAP:
"The agency that oversees financial derivatives [ISDA] says a massive debt relief deal for Greece constitutes a so-called credit event, meaning it will trigger payouts on bond insurance [CDS].(…)
"That means holders of credit default swaps on Greek bonds will be able to claim insurance payments as a result of Greece's decision to force its debt holders into a bond swap."
(See here)
In the Greek case, these payouts are estimated at US$3.2 bn.

At one hand, this averted Robert Peston's scenario. (See here)

At the other hand, the debts of other European nations, like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are similarly covered by CDS (altogether, some US$2.7tn in CDS in circulation).  And after Greece, it is not inconceivable that a nation could trigger a credit event. (See here)

Baled Out!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Greece 'Closes in' on Debt Swap as Deadline Looms.

That's the title both BBC and Bloomberg's were showing.

As of writing this (5:15am Australian time), the BBC news item (8 March 2012) had been last updated  at 16:52 GMT. (See here)

Frankfurt and Paris were up.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

There We Go, Again...

At 4:27 local Australian time, this the BBC World News Finance (Update as of 17:23 GMT):

"Stock markets down on Greek swap fears.
"Stock markets have declined sharply on concerns ahead of a key deadline to secure Greece's future in the euro."

Dow Jones -176.38 (-1.36%)
FTSE 100   -44.75 (-1.52%)
Dax       -233.35 (-3.40%)
Cac 40    -124.98 (-3.58%)

See here

Money Politics.

Abraham Lincoln [A]
So now Aussie blogs are talking about "money politics - American style" (h/t HnH)

Bronte Capital:
"Indeed American style money politics in Australia is far more insidious than in the US because our billionaires are far less diverse. A diversity in billionaires (and in the way they make their money) gives us a diversity of billionaire opinion." (See here)
Don't get me wrong, I think I get the idea: if billionaire A pushed public opinion and the government in the direction her vested interests pointed; well, perhaps then billionaire B could push public opinion and the government in the opposite direction.

Say, in the US the Koch brothers push towards lower taxes for the wealthy, Warren Buffett, who appears to be a nice guy, pushes for higher taxes.

Some kind of balance, I suppose: one billionaire, one vote. Nice billionaire B against not-so-nice billionaire A.

That might be better than a situation where not-so-nice-guy billionaire A pushes unopposed. So, I guess there is some clever political thinking there, if it were applied in the Australian scenario.

But there is something I don't quite understand: wasn't Australia supposed to be a democracy? You know, one person, one vote, no matter how much money, skin color, gender, religion. The regime Abe Lincoln (precisely from the US) speaking at Gettysburg, once supposedly described as being "of the people, by the people, for the people".

Gettysburg Address. Hay copy [B]

Are we ready to give that up?

Image Credit:
[A] Abraham Lincoln. Wikipedia.
[B] Hay Copy of the Gettysburg Address. Wikipedia.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Vested Interests vs Class Warfare (II).

I knew Wayne Swan's article had a tail...

The first sign the wheels were in motion came today real early.

Liberal frontbencher Joe Hockey, who must have spent a good part of his weekend laboriously writing, published an op-ed at the SMH titled "Politics of Division will Kill Ambition". Notice the cleverly crafted "politics of division", avoiding the charge that he is using the "politics of envy" American Tea Party cliché. (See here)

By about 10:00 am (local time) Fairfax Media SMH Online was abuzz with comments to Peter Martin's and Julie Robotham's "Mining Magnates Hit Back at Swan" (229 comments by 12:08 pm).

Martin and Robotham:
"Mining barons Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest have taken on the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, the first labelling him an 'intellectual pygmy' who does not understand economics and the second launching a national advertising campaign against him." (Emphasis added. See here)
Readers will recognize the devilish subtlety in this approach. I mean, replying to Swan's accusations ("The combination of [mining] industry deep pockets, conservative political support, biased editorial policy and shock-jock ranting has been mobilised in an attempt to protect vested interest") by launching a national media campaign… It takes sheer genius.


Clive Palmer did not lag far behind. Earlier in the morning, Palmer (who coincidentally was awarded the title of National Living Treasure (!) last weekend) in declarations to ABC, slammed Swan as an "incompetent" who does not know how the economy works:
" 'Really he knows that, if the public doesn't know it, he knows he doesn't know how it works,' he said." (See here)
But coincidences were far from over. As Hockey, Palmer also decided to publish a piece at the SMH Online. In that piece, a clearly hurt Palmer claims Swan doesn't know him. The piece was published with the title "Wayne Swan Knows Nothing about Me, or our Democracy". (See here)

For some strange reason, I was reminded of the popular Kelly Clarkson song:


From Hockey's piece:
"Australia runs as a meritocracy. We earn rewards based on merit and effort".

I don't know the readers, but I suspect subtlety, intelligence or plain common sense are not among the merits of our elite. And I have difficulty visualising the kind of effort worth the billions these people own.

Perhaps I am biased, but to me, it sounds like a complex mix of arrogance, greed and folly.

And yet, we let these people own the country, run Parliament and decide for us. Who's really at fault here?

Friday 2 March 2012

Vested Interests vs Class Warfare

Entry ticket for movie theatre in Berchtesgaden [A]
Politics in Australia is great fun, full of ironies, and way cheaper than a movie ticket.

Don't believe me? Let me give you a sample:

The week started with Kevin Rudd's failed bid to dethrone fellow Labor PM Julia Gillard, who back in 2010 dethroned him. At the time, big miners in Oz were on the warpath, due to the new Rudd mining rent tax. Gillard dethroned Rudd to appease said miners. I've recently reminded readers of this.

Rudd went to the backbench exile and, lo and behold, Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan (Labor) two days ago (March, 1) published an essay in high-brow publication The Monthly: "The 0.01 Per Cent: The Rising Influence of Vested Interests in Australia".

Readers are encouraged to read the essay, but the title sums it up reasonably well.

In any case, it states many things obvious to those following local developments. So obvious, in fact, that even your humble correspondent has already mentioned many of them!

After illustrating with the US example how a minority hijacked and thwarted an otherwise reasonable capitalism (!?) into serving their own interests, Swan warns that:
"The combination of [mining] industry deep pockets, conservative political support, biased editorial policy and shock-jock ranting has been mobilised in an attempt to protect vested interest. It's reflected in how the Coalition under Tony Abbott has recently radicalised itself into an Australian version of the Tea Party (...)
"What characterises the vested interests that I'm concerned about is how they misrepresent their self-interest as the national interest. There has been a perceptible shift in this country in recent years, and it is sadly very much in the American direction of stronger and stronger influence being wielded by a smaller and smaller minority of vested interests."
Can't say I disagree. Of course, you don't expect Swan to acknowledge the ministry he's a part of exemplifies the inordinate level of influence those vested interests exert, do you?

But that's not the end of the irony! Not by a long shot.

After clarifying that "it was not for him to defend some of the richest people in the country", opposition leader Tony Abbott, self-proclaimed champion of Aussie battlers, jumped to the defense of some of the richest people in the country:
" 'But they [big miners Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest] are wealth creators. Wayne Swan is a wealth waster,' Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
" 'They create jobs, they create investment, they create prosperity for the families of Australia'."
(Emphasis added. See here)
Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne:

" 'Labor always falls back on class warfare and the politics of envy when they have nothing left in the cupboard to talk about of any substance,' he told ABC Radio today.
"Mr Pyne rejected suggestions Australia was a less fair nation than it was 20-30 years ago, and that the gap between rich and poor is widening.
" 'I think Australia is very much the country it has always been,' he said."
(Emphasis added. See here)
Overseas readers, particularly American readers, would immediately recognize such conservative clichés like "job-creators", "politics of envy" and "class warfare", used shamelessly by Aussie politicians.

Undoubtedly local "right-of-centre" fans, never guilty of the sin of being perceptive, will not sense the irony here. So, it falls upon yours truly to spell it out: Pyne and Abbott are conceding Swan's point: "the Coalition under Tony Abbott has recently radicalised itself into an Australian version of the Tea Party", to the point of using the same clichés.

For once summarizing things accurately (maybe because the text was included unedited from its originator, AAP), News Ltd publications Sun Herald and The Australian described the situation like this: "The opposition has dismissed Treasurer Wayne Swan's attack on vested interests as a form of class warfare". (See here and here)

Yes, indeed, it's class warfare when one neoliberal Labor politician denounces rich people's vested interests.

It ain't no class warfare when two neoliberal Coalition politicians support rich people's vested interests. Let alone when "the vested interests that I'm concerned about (...) misrepresent their self-interest as the national interest". Imagine you called that "politics of greed"!

Now you see why Aussie politics is great fun.

But I'll be fair: that's your chance to do something well, Swan. We all know what they say: talk is cheap. Back your fighting words with combative deeds.

I'll leave Pyne's spectacularly wrongheaded remark on unchanging inequality in Oz for another day. I've gotta find another job, as I lost one of my 2 part-times, thank you very much.

Looking at things on the bright side, I've got more time to expose bullshit and somehow I feel remarkably motivated to give back some of the shit I am taking.

Image Credits:
[A] Eintrittskarte, Berchtesgadener Kurkino. Wikipedia.