Wednesday 30 January 2013

Moving to Oz? (IX)

Amanda Pregl (25yo), a young German national visiting Sydney on a student visa, became this week a bit of an example of what may be awaiting thousands of foreign visitors or migrants to Australia.

According to Pregl, although for two weeks she worked seven days a week for a Maroubra (South Sydney suburb) pizzeria, her employer denied her any pay, apparently on the spurious grounds that she hadn't done some routine errands required of every person working in Australia.

After she told her employer she had gone to the Australian Taxation Office, she was finally paid, but at the flat rate of AUD14 an hour, two dollars less than the current minimum hourly wage, without any weekend extra pay. Two weeks later, Pregl lost her job.
" 'They were really taking advantage of me,' she said. 'But I really needed the money and so that's why I didn't say anything'." (See here)

Mind you, among the cases exposed by a recent Fairfax Media investigation, Pregl's is not the worst, neither was it particularly bad: perhaps out of sheer luck, the amount of her loss is moderate; more importantly, the situation didn't last long and didn't involve irreversible damage.

But Pregl's is not an isolated incident; nor is everybody as lucky as she was. The investigation focusing on restaurants and diners, by Sarah Whyte and Clay Lucas, revealed people not being paid at all, or being paid AUD8 an hour, flat; employers keeping the tips patrons left for the staff. Below you find some of their articles.

And Pregl's case reveals something key: employers will take advantage of your need and naivety.


But even those cases cited by Whyte and Lucas are not the worst that can happen to young tourists visiting Australia on working visas. Jessica Pera, also from Germany, is an example of the worst that can happen.

Arriving in Australia on a working holiday visa on November 17, 2010, less than a month later Pera was in Childers (Queensland), working as a fruit picker.
"In an email days before her death, Jessica anticipated temperatures of 35C to 40C. On her first day, December 10, Jessica was picking melons. This was heavy work and she found the going tough, so the next day she was sent to pick tomatoes. 
" 'With the melons there was some shade,' Mr Pera [Juergen, Jessica's father] said, 'but they tell me there was no shade in the tomato fields'." (See here)
According to the media, Pera collapsed around noon of December 11; the paramedics attempted to revive her, to no avail:
"Mr Pera said his 24-year-old daughter had been a healthy girl who was an experienced traveller.
" 'She never drank or smoked or did drugs', he said.
" 'She was a very good daughter. She had travelled a lot and she always had the proper checks before she went anywhere.'
"Mr Pera said Jessica's doctor said she was in good condition and health before she left.
" 'He
[the doctor] said there was no reason he could see for her to die,' Mr Pera said.
"The grieving father said travelling around Australia had been Jessica's lifelong dream"
. (See here)
One year and a half later, ABC News reported:
"Farm fined over backpacker death
"By Kallee Buchanan. Posted June 10, 2011 11:55:00
"A farm at Childers, in southern Queensland, has been fined $25,000 for failing to protect workers against heat stress after a backpacker died.
"German backpacker Jessica Pera, 24, died while working at Barbera farms in 2009
"The Brisbane Magistrates Court found the company failed to provide water, shade and protection from the sun on the day she died.
"Jamie Cupples from Farmsafe Queensland says the fine is appropriate.
" 'It's the lower end of the range I guess for a fatality,'
he said.
" 'For a rural industry they can go up to $60,000, but given that when they look at these things they look at the issue entirely and they look at what should have been provided and what hasn't been provided and I guess in this case the judgment has said that they didn't provide certain things for the workers'."


If you are already here, for the love of God, join a union. The Australian Council of Trade Workers Union (ACTU) should be able to indicate which union covers you.

Unions in Australia are not a magic bullet and they cost you money (tax deductible), but you'll have some support and advice: use it.

I could argue on the basis of workers' solidarity; but people nowadays are too "smart" for that. They know better than this old-fashioned class thing: it's every man for himself. I'll argue, then, in terms modern "smart" people understand. Think of unions as a kind of insurance: hopefully, you'll never need it and you'll whinge you lost your money; but you'll be sorry if you need it and you don't have it.

Let's face it, unions are less than enthusiastic about helping workers who never contributed to the union. And, in a world where everybody is "smart" and workers' solidarity counts for little, as it counts little for you, you can't blame them, can you?

Whether you join a union or not, don't accept being exploited. It's not fair to you, it's not fair to those already here and it's not fair to those on their way here.

The much maligned by the bosses Fair Work Ombudsman is another resource you should be aware of. It's probably a bit of a paper tiger (like all existing workplace protection and the unions themselves), as the information below suggests, but, like the unions and the crappy work protection, is better than nothing.

Ask locals about how things are supposed to be.

But, above all, understand something: your boss is not your friend or your relative; he/she doesn't care about you; what he/she cares about is making money on your work. Each and every one of them is the same, but some of them will stop at nothing.


If you are thinking about coming: you have been warned. Good luck.

Fairfax Media is asking for further information. If you know more, contact them. The article entitled "Underclass of restaurant employees in Sydney grossly underpaid" details the alternative ways.


Further Reading:

On Jessica Pera's case:
How did our daughter die? Parents demand some answers - Rick Feneley - March 13, 2010
Answers wanted for mystery death - Vanessa Marsh - Mar 13, 2010
He sacked them for pleading for water - March 13, 2010
Farm fined over backpacker death - Kallee Buchanan - June 10, 2011

On the Fairfax Media recent investigation on restaurants and diners:
Underclass of restaurant employees in Sydney grossly underpaid - Sarah Whyte and Clay Lucas - January 18, 2013
Restaurants' dirty secret revealed - Sarah Whyte, Clay Lucas - January 26, 2013
Wages of sin - January 26, 2013
Hard to swallow: restaurant staff tips taken by owners, says union - Sarah Whyte, Clay Lucas - January 29, 2013
Wages rot begins at the top - Sarah Whyte, Clay Lucas - January 27, 2013

24-08-2012. The Unions Australia website is designed to facilitate the process of joining a union. 

Friday 25 January 2013

Ben Franklin, Paper Money and LTV.

Benjamin Franklin (c. 1875),
by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis [A]
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the renowned American polymath, was "leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat".

Being such a prominent figure in American history, it's curious that two rather controversial aspects of Franklin's public life are much less mentioned: Franklin advocated the use of paper money.

To add insult to injury, in his 1729 pamphlet "A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper-Currency" Franklin also explained why labour should be the real measure of wealth. [1]

In that pamphlet, and conscious that opinions on policy matters were affected by vested interests ("Men will always be powerfully influenced in their Opinions and Actions by what appears to be their particular Interest"), Franklin first explained why some interest groups would oppose an increase in "our present stock of paper money":
"I say all such [moneylenders/bankers] will probably be against a large Addition to our present Stock of Paper Money; because a plentiful Currency will lower Interest, and make it common to lend on less Security".
To make things worse, Franklin's advocacy of paper money did not propose anchoring the value of paper money to that of precious metals, but to labour:
"For many Ages, those Parts of the World which are engaged in Commerce, have fixed upon Gold and Silver as the chief and most proper Materials for this Medium [of exchange] (...) But as Silver it self is no certain permanent Value, being worth more or less according to its Scarcity or Plenty, therefore it seems requisite to fix upon Something else, more proper to be made a Measure of Values, and this I take to be Labour.
"By Labour may the Value of Silver be measured as well as other Things. As, Suppose one Man employed to raise Corn, while another is digging and refining Silver; at the Year's End, or any other Period of Time, the compleat Produce of Corn, and that of Silver, are the natural Price of each other; and if one be twenty Bushels, and the other twenty Ounces, then an Ounce of that Silver is worth the Labour of raising a Bushel of that Corn.
"Thus the Riches of a Country are to be valued by the Quantity of Labour its Inhabitants are able to purchase, and not by the Quantity of Silver and Gold they possess; which will purchase more or less Labour, and therefore is more or less valuable, as is said before, according to its Scarcity or Plenty".
Those who've read my post Adam Smith and LTV should find the passage above quite reminiscent.

[1] And that, if I had to guess, explains why some MMT supporters found "some convoluted passages" they didn't understand in Franklin's pamphlet.

Image Credits:
[A] "Portrait of Benjamin Franklin" (c. 1875), by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis. Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Wikipedia.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Spain, Catalunya, UK and Taxes.

I haven't written about Spain in a while. But, what's to tell? Oh, yes.

The Parlament (nope, that's not a typo, that's how it's spelt in Catalonian) approved, 85 votes against 41, a declaration that the Catalonian people have the right to decide its own sovereignty. The Catalonian left, the Esquerra, voted in favour of it; the local PP (centre-right) and PSC (PSOE local branch) opposed. (See here, Spanish)

This leaves Artur Mas (CiU, also centre-right),  President of the Catalonian Generalit (i.e. state premier) free to call a regional referendum, to be held by the end of 2014.

It also gives Mas/CiU a two-year long honeymoon with the Catalonian people, during which the aim to achieve independence shall override any other considerations in the mind of the collective bride.

And the bride will need something to look forward to in the coming years:
"IMF Warns that 2013 will be Worse to Spain than Just Finished 2013
"The institution downgrades its forecasts and foresee a 1.5% GDP contraction for the current year.
"The recovery shall take place in 2014, with a modest 0.8% growth.
"The IMF believes the financial sector is still too big".
(See here, Spanish)

In the UK, Tory PM David Cameron (who has little to do with Spain) also promised a referendum, this time on the UK membership in the EU. The referendum should take place in 2017, conditional, of course, on Cameron/Tories being re-elected:
"Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately...  And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next Parliament". (See here, not in Spanish)
These rich, conservative people are so damned clever, subtle and original, aren't they?


Back to Spain:

Treasurer Cristóbal Montoro (centre-right PP) announced that their fiscal fraud amnesty was a big success.

The amnesty, approved without parliamentary discussion last year, was supposed to collect EUR2.5 billion by means of a 10% "regularization fee" on an estimated EUR25 billion rich Spaniards had deposited overseas without paying taxes for them.

Instead, it collected EUR1.2 billion, over some EUR40 billion, for an effective "regularization fee" of about 3%. A big success, indeed. (See here, you guessed, in Spanish)

Although he was not asked, Luis Bárcenas, former centre-right PP treasurer, would probably agree that the fiscal fraud amnesty was a big success: after all, he may have regularized up to 10 million of the EUR22 million he allegedly had deposited in a Geneva bank.

Bárcenas is currently under judicial enquiries over his also alleged commission of crimes and complicity in the commission of crimes against the public Treasury and money laundering. (See here, you know the drill)

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Adam Smith and LTV.

Imagine you are Adam Smith. It's mid-18th century Britain; following the Commercial Revolution, the Industrial Revolution is in its early stages.

Madeley wood furnaces: "Coalbrookdale by Night"
(1801), by Philip James de Loutherbourg [A]

Banking and finances, centered on London, changed remarkably in the previous decades. Physical production, which lagged behind them, began, during Smith's own time, to display unusual dynamism: new production lines, technologies and occupations appear; resulting in greater abundance and variety of goods. And with these changes come new fortunes with their own interests, not necessarily coincident with the traditional ones.

Consider the economy as a machine, as Smith, influenced by Newton, must have: stuff comes out at the right end; some of it is consumed, some flows back to the left entry point; something happens inside; even more stuff pours out.

That is economic growth. And Smith, living in a transitional time, must have been acutely aware of it.

Where does it come from? Can it be sustained? How you measure output? How is it distributed?

Smith and others attempted to understand this process.

I will focus here on a single aspect of Smith's work: how to appraise output.

We do this by using market prices (hence, nominal GDP, for instance). To us, this seems natural; to do otherwise would seem odd.

Smith, however, initially proposed the use of labour times, instead of market prices:

"In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects, seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another. If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer." (The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter VII)
Why would Smith make such a choice?

There might be several reasons. For one, assuming that science must be based on objectively observed facts, Smith's reasoning seems logically unassailable, at least within that hypothetical "early and rude state of society": there is no other objectively observable measure justifying any proportionality in exchange, as Smith himself remarked.

Further, if it were at all possible in that social state, it's not obvious that a modern system of market prices would do a better job.

For one, like market prices, virtually everything offered in the marketplace is there because someone, somewhere, spent time producing it. Unlike market prices, however, labour time is also spent to produce non-market goods and services (many of which are excluded from current statistics).

Indeed, in our own times the government's contribution to GDP is appraised in a way only a step removed from Smith's original proposal: it's valued at cost (i.e. other inputs, plus labour time).

More importantly, market prices are volatile (much more so than labour times) and in essence, in Smith's view, unpredictable. For Smith an invariant standard for measuring long-term economic change was important: it's not just growth that matters, but how much effort it costs to achieve it, a matter often overlooked nowadays.

In other words, Smith's choice was neither uninformed nor arbitrary and it may even be supported on some reasoning.

But Smith himself makes a better case for his labour times approach:

"Equal quantities of labour, at all times and places, may be said to be of equal value to the labourer. In his ordinary state of health, strength, and spirits; in the ordinary degree of his skill and dexterity, he must always lay down the same portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness. The price which he pays must always be the same, whatever may be the quantity of goods which he receives in return for it. Of these, indeed, it may sometimes purchase a greater and sometimes a smaller quantity; but it is their value which varies, not that of the labour which purchases them. At all times and places, that is dear which it is difficult to come at, or which it costs much labour to acquire; and that cheap which is to be had easily, or with very little labour. Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only." (The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter V. My emphasis)


As many other economic ideas, one can consider that the modern labour theory of value started with Adam Smith, if in an embryonic form.

Curiously, out of the many subjects Smith studied, this particular one has become highly contentious among mainstream economists. Apparently, Smith, who in general did a good job defending capitalism, in this particular case did not do a good enough job and, worse, may have furnished ammunition to critics of capitalism.

William J. Barber offers a different view of Smith's labour theory of value:
"Smith labour approach to the analysis of value has been severely criticized by later schools of economists. To one group of writers its fatal shortcoming was that it did not offer a full account of the determination of prices, and, most particularly, that it neglected the demand side of market behaviour. This criticism would carry more force had Smith sought to produce a systematic analysis of market price formation. But in fact this objective was peripheral to his main programme. He was more concerned with forging concepts that might provide leverage on the problem of measuring economic change over prolonged periods. The materials for developing a clearer analysis of the formation of short-term market prices were at his disposal. Concepts of utility and demand (which were to be used for their purpose by a later school of thought) had been part of the teaching he absorbed from Hutcheson. He chose to reject this orientation toward value theory, presumably because he regarded it as lacking relevance to his central purpose". (A History of Economic Thought. Chapter 1. Emphasis mine).
Eventually, Smith himself modified his views, to take into account later and less "rude states of society".

Ironically, it is perhaps in this change that Smith's real fault was.

Image Credits:
[A] "Coalbrookdale by Night" depicting Madeley wood furnaces (1801), by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812). Source: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. Wikipedia.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Harassing Steve Keen.

My readers, I suppose, already know that the University of Western Sydney decided that his most prominent academic, Steve Keen and economics in general were not wanted anymore. This seems short-sighted, but that's their prerogative.

This is where the situation acquires a Kafkian dimension.

It turns out now that UWS referred Prof. Keen to the ICAC, the state's corruption watchdog. UWS alleges Prof. Keen engaged in "serious misconduct".

Wow. But, what is "serious misconduct"? Michael Janda (ABC News) reports:
"Examples of serious misconduct in the university's enterprise agreement include serious bullying or harassment, fraud, theft or assault".
Call me unimaginative, but I just can't picture Keen bullying, harassing or assaulting anybody. I only met him once, a few years go, for only a few hours. But that was enough to produce an overwhelming impression: Steve Keen is mild-mannered. Extremely so.

So, what did he do? Did he steal something or tried to make money illegitimately?

This is Janda reporting Keen's answer:
"SK: I told the students that I would not fail anyone given the circumstance that their subject was quite possibly being abolished and they were told about it two weeks before the exam for that subject would take place; and of course if they failed, there wouldn't necessarily be a subject there for them to repeat the following year and I certainly wouldn't be teaching it. So, in that situation I just couldn't see how I could fail anybody.
"MJ: Can you see why the university might be concerned about such a posting?
"SK: Yeah. I mean, certainly. I probably overstepped the mark and I should have said I'd take that into account rather than being as, you know, definite as I was".
So, no. There is neither theft, nor bullying, harassing, or assaulting.

Again, Janda reports what the UWS precisely accuses Keen of: "In a statement, UWS says it's obliged to take any allegation of soft marking seriously - so seriously that in this case it has also referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption".

So, no. There is no fraud, either. Steve Keen is not making any money out of that.

They accuse Steve Keen of being too lenient with his students...


I am no lawyer and I might be mistaken, but I feel that if one wanted to accuse someoneof serious misconduct, one could do better than looking at Steve Keen.

This is how TheFreeDictionary defines harassment:
harassment n. the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious. Such activities may be the basis for a lawsuit if due to discrimination based on race or sex, a violation on the statutory limitations on collection agencies, involve revenge by an ex-spouse, or be shown to be a form of blackmail ('I'll stop bothering you, if you'll go to bed with me'). The victim may file a petition for a 'stay away' (restraining) order, intended to prevent contact by the offensive party. A systematic pattern of harassment by an employee against another worker may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the worker.
Maybe the UWS authorities should consult a lawyer. I hear that other universities have some good ones.

Friday 18 January 2013

Sydney: 45.85 Degrees Celsius.

Bushfire in NSW.[A]

I'll de honest with the readers: I don't know much about weather. Actually, I know nothing about weather. That's why I abstain from writing about it.

Yes, I know, lots of scientists say the weather is changing and it's due to human action.

Yes, I am aware that some disagree with that. It's the sun, or something, they say.

While I see no a priori reason to doubt the human-induced climate change scientists (what do they have to gain by lying? nothing that I can see), I notice that among those in disagreement there's a number of "opinion whores": people who "firmly believe" in whatever they are paid to believe firmly.

But, other than that, there is little else I can feel personally confident to say.

However, while a total ignoramus on all matters weather, I know something: I know how to read a thermometer and my thermometer told me yesterday was fucking hot in Sydney, hotter than ever in my experience. In fact, between about 6:00 am, when I first saw the thermometer, and about 3:00 pm, the temperature rose to near 46 degrees Celsius, some 25 degrees higher than early in the morning.

I don't care how one might spin that. That's not normal: too many "abnormalities" in a row, for my taste.

I don't know about the reader, but if I have to believe someone as a matter of faith, I would never chose an "opinion whore".

Further Reading:
Heat records fall as Sydney sizzles. ABC News. 18-01-2013
City sizzles in record heat. Fairfax Media. 18-01-2013
2012–13 Australian bushfire season. Wikipedia. Accessed 19-01-2013

Image Credit:
[A] "Oura grass fire, viewed from Willans Hill in Wagga Wagga", 07-01-2013, by Bidgee. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence. Wikipedia. My use of the file does not in any way suggests its author endorses me or my use of the work.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Papaconstantinou and "Them".

George Papaconstantinou [A]
Last year George Papaconstantinou was passing judgement on the whole Greek nation and a harsh judgement it was. (See here)

Papaconstantinou (economics graduate from LSE and New York University and former Greek Finance minister) excoriated smaller parties for, in his views, their part in the fiscal chaos involving their nation:
"I didn't hear any smaller party ever being against an additional measure of including more people in the public sector. I did not hear them be against any kind of extension of benefits, even if they were going to the wrong side".
Once started, Papaconstantinou would not so easily stop, either. Everybody in Greece was equally at fault and he was there to tell them so:
"We cannot have a private sector which doesn't take its obligation seriously, and we cannot have people not paying their taxes and I'm sorry, this is the vast majority of the population which is somehow evading their taxes.
"So nobody is outside this, nobody is innocent to the crime. Of course politicians bear the biggest burden, and of course they will be punished for this, as they are being punished, but let's understand that this is a mentality change, we need a regime shift, but one that is based on Greece staying in the euro and Greece being true to its obligations".
Since then and for almost a whole year they (the politicians, that is) went unpunished, largely thanks to Papaconstantinou losing the infamous Lagarde list.


This is Papaconstantinou now:
"Greek ex-minister Papaconstantinou faces tax probe
"Greek MPS have voted to launch a criminal investigation into ex-Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou.
"He is accused of tampering with a list of suspected tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts.
"Three of Mr Papaconstantinou's relatives were removed from the list. He has denied involvement.
"But MPs voted against extending the probe to another ex-finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, and former PMs Lucas Papademos and George Papandreou"
. (See here)

Papaconstantinou no longer points his righteous finger at them. He now claims he was singled out among them for punishment: he is being made a scapegoat (see here).

And, you know what, now I believe him:
"'Horrible Citizens': The Life of Greece's One Percent
"The Greek economy has been tanking for years now as the country struggles to balance its budget by imposing deep austerity measures. But the country's richest residents haven't noticed. Many aren't taxed at all, and some of those that are prefer to dodge their obligation to the state instead".
(See here)


Does that leave the little fish off the hook? Not at all. But there are two differences among the little and the big fish.

Firstly, because the bigger the fish, the bigger the bite:
"I won a public works contract through an open tender. I met the local mayor and he proposed giving me another works contract. But he tells me straight - you get 2,000 euros, and I get 8,000 euros. Well, I was really disillusioned and I wasn't having any of this. So the mayor gave the contract to another company instead."
"My driving school teacher told me that if I wanted to pass the driver's test I had to give 200 euros to the examiners, otherwise they would fail me. I asked him what I should say if they had any technical questions about the car's mechanics. He said, 'Just tell them there's 200 euros under the hood and they'll get the message'."
Secondly, the little fish are trying to change things (See here). The big fish are happy with things as they are.

As long as the big fish remain big, the little fish will have to put up with them...

Image Credit:
[A] "Greek politician Giorgos Papakonstantinou on September 30, 2009". File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence. Wikipedia. My use of the file does not in any way suggests its author endorses me or my use of the work.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Murder is Murder...

...Whether You Use a Gun, an Unmanned Drone, Judicial Harassment or Other Means.

While not a single bankster has been (or will be) prosecuted for defrauding billions of dollars, Aaron Swarz, a talented young American, was hounded to death by his own Government.

Aaron Swartz, RIP. [A]

His crime?
"At the time of his death, Aaron was being prosecuted [...] for the crime of-- and I'm not exaggerating here-- 'Downloading too many free articles'" (See here)

Make no mistake, the particular details of the cases vary, but, as a victim of the powerful, Swarz is no different from thousands around the world. You know, Afghans, Greeks, Palestinians, Spaniards, Syrians, Tibetans.

In Swarz' case, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz decided that Swarz had to pay for the crime of not giving his money to a publisher of papers written by people who didn't charge for them.

Was she honestly convinced of the justice of her actions, or was she only trying to further her own career? Was she trying to please JSTOR, owner of the articles downloaded? Maybe a bit of the three things?

In any case, we'll never know and it really isn't relevant. What's relevant is that for her, Swarz was not important, just like the "collateral damage" of an unmanned drone attack is not important for the pilot's commanding officer back in the US, or old pensioners like Dimitris Christoulas are unimportant for the Greek government and the troika.

Important, for her, was that Swarz paid, just like Christoulas needed to pay.

It's not a matter of race, age, gender, nationality, or religion. It's a matter of class, money, friends in high places, networks, influence, connections, clout.

That's why the banksters will never be prosecuted: give them your money, they are important.

We aren't. It's time you face this fact.

14-01-2013. A friend of Swarz', Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, speaks his mind on this case: Prosecutor as Bully.

Image Credit:
[A] "Swartz at 2009 Boston Wikipedia Meetup", by Sage Ross. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence. Wikipedia. My use of the file does not in any way suggests Sage Ross endorses me or my use of the work.

Friday 11 January 2013

Talking Heads.

"O'Farrell Decides, but Packer's Man Has Last Word", says Sean Nicholls, from Fairfax Media, in exclusive note published today.

I don't think Nicholls' note needs much comment:
"A senior executive at James Packer's Crown Limited was allowed to rewrite a media release before it was issued by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, announcing initial government backing of the company's plans for a $1 billion hotel and casino at Barangaroo."
Spokesmen for NSW premier O'Farrell and Crown did not deny the fact, but declined to say whether O'Farrell had personally approved the rewritten version of the release. There was "nothing unusual" about this, which is a "common practice", they said.

The revelation comes after Fairfax published last November "that strict guidelines for when the government could bypass a competitive-tender process for major projects were watered down shortly before Mr Packer put forward his plan."


What is it people say about governments being independent arbiters? Something related to the Road to Serfdom, maybe?

Image Credit:
[A] I don't know who created the file, but whoever it was, my usage does not imply they endorse me or my usage of the work. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Wikipedia.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Ave Aussie Masters, Morituri te Salutant.

"Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant", by Jean-Léon Gérôme
(1859), depicting gladiators greeting Vitellius. [A]

The federal government (Labor) and the NSW state government (Coalition) are doing their best to make of poverty a distant memory in NSW. Ask Amy Corderoy, Health editor from Fairfax Media:
"The [Fairfax Media] analysis [of health statistics] reveals stark differences in the health of the rich and poor in Sydney, with almost all the highest rates of deaths and hospitalisations linked to conditions such as diabetes, body mass and heart disease clustered in the poorest areas." (See here)
Keep up the good work, PM Gillard and Premier O'Farrell.


And, you remember, don't you, that piece of wisdom, beloved by rich people all over the world:
"If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself - spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working." (See here)
Well, this is what the Fairfax Media report says:
"Hospitalisations linked to alcohol use were highest in the wealthiest parts of Sydney, with Manly having a higher rate than any other local government area for the second year in a row, and Sydney, Mosman, Hunters Hill and North Sydney were not far behind.
"The figures, from Health Statistics NSW, show the problem is getting worse. In all but Hunters Hill the rate of hospitalisations increased between 2009 and 2011."
Image Credits:
[A] "Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant", by Jean-Léon Gérôme
(1859), depicting gladiators greeting Vitellius. Wikipedia.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Dole, Macklin and Silliness.

Jenny Macklin (2005). [A]
Federal Families minister, Jenny Macklin (Labor), started the year with the wrong foot.

Hosting a doorstop press conference, an attending journalist insisted on asking Macklin whether she (i.e. Macklin) could live on the dole.

The issue of the low dole rate has been around for a while and has inspired many posts in this blog since at least 2011 (see here); it resurfaces again, as the Gillard government decided to take away some extras given to single-parent families with kids (some 80,000 families), leaving them now on the dole, pure and simple. You know, they need to show their "economic management" credentials and what better way than whipping those on the dole?

John Quiggin summarizes the facts of the press conference very well and links to the video:
"Could Jenny Macklin live on the dole?
"She says 'I could', but you watch the video, Jenny Macklin's answer here is very odd. She ducks the question once, has it put again, and is asked 'Could you live on the dole'. She says 'I could', without any elaboration then goes straight back to spin. Her office then tries to delete it from the transcript".


This was enough to start another of those surreal debates Australians need to put up with every now and then.

Dan Harrison, writing for Fairfax Media, notices that the transcript offered by the Families Department omits the relevant passages. Very suspicious.

Brigid Delaney, who once was on the dole, writes an op-ed asking Macklin her secret to live on AUD35 a week. Very ironic.

The Australian Council of Social Services chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said "the changes would leave vulnerable people - the majority of them women - between $60 and $110 a week worse off". Very moving.

Acting Greens leader, Adam Bandt, challenged Macklin to live on the dole for one week, presumably so that she can learn the reality of living on AUD35 a day, as Greens senator Rachel Siewert did last April. Very challenging.

Radical contrarian federal opposition leader, Tony Abbott, the man who never loses a TV opportunity to denounce the ineptitude of the Labor government, is declared MIA. Very silent.


People, let's be clear on something: Macklin answered "I could" because it was the first thing that crossed her mind, not necessarily because she believes it. This would explain the oddness Quiggin noticed: she just wanted the journalist to stop pestering her and that was the way she found.

You know, answering "I don't care", "I don't give a shit" would probably be more accurate, but it sure sounds worse.

Now, if you are among the 80,000 families downgraded, or among the dole bludgers, remember this when voting.

Image Credits:
[A] "Jenny Macklin, Australian Labor Party MP and government minister", by w:en:User:Adam Carr. Wikipedia.