Some more American things


Technology in the US is a strange mix of ahead-of-the-rest-of-the-world, behind-the-rest-of-the-world and on-another-planet entirely.

Internet: ahead of the world if you can pay for it, a long way behind if you can’t. That’s why companies who sell fast broadband still compare their speeds to dial-up.

Phones: all of the above. The US is on another planet with its strange collection of CDMA networks and small GSM providers that operate on different frequencies to the rest of the world. Phone plans are expensive, dumb phones remain in the ascendancy and mobile data is priced as a luxury add-on and not an essential part of a 21st century phone plan. But at the same time LTE is becoming more available every day.

Internet shopping: not a thing. I’m struggling to get my head around this, but being a long way from Asia, having lots of cheap land and fuel and labor at $7.25/hr means that bricks-and-mortar retail stores are actually cheaper than their online equivalents.

I already wrote about cheques being used for everything, and the not-yet-existence of internet banking. There’s also this.

The environment

What environment?

Recycling is opt-in, biweekly and who knows how much actually gets recycled. People use air conditioners all the time, including the 18 or so hours of each day when it’s actually not hot outside. People dry all their laundry in driers, which provide pretty damning and instant evidence of the existence of anthropogenic climate change (I know this because the drier for our apartment block is right outside our door, in a little sauna).

People drive big cars big distances, burn lots of cheap and nasty fuel, and eat industrially produced foods that travel all around the country in big refrigerated trucks.

Not everyone lives like this, of course, but those that do make me wonder how Australia could possibly emit even more CO2 per capita than the USA. That’s a bit embarrassing.

Also, bizarrely, dual flush toilets don’t exist.

Drive thrus

In most of the world running a morning’s errands means driving or taking public transport to some kind of central location, like a mall or a town square or a main street or a business district, and walking around it. In the US it’s kind of the same but the central location is spread out over several miles and instead of your feet you have a car.

You can drive thru at the bank, the drug store, the coffee shop, the bread shop, the post office, the restaurant, the liquor store, and the supermarket (though I believe you have to order ahead for that one). When you’re not driving thru you drive right up to the store, swap your car for a trolley (called a cart, so it still feels like you’re driving a car), and then proceed to drive it around collecting consumables. It’s like the Game of Life.

Thrift stores, antique malls and yard sales

Cheap retail means even cheaper second-hand retail, and on this point America definitely wins. Which reminds me, I need to buy some coffee for that nice little espresso maker I bought!

Life goes on

Well, there goes the NBN, the carbon price, etc. etc.

A more selfish Australia? Pretty close to the mark. Maybe a government more in line with the (hopefully momentary) selfishness of its voters and backers.

It will be fun watching the great negotiator in action with the likes of the Liberal Democrats, the First Nations Party, Clive Palmer’s PAP and The Greens. And the Nationals, and his own party for that matter. If Labor starts to look united a double dissolution might not turn out the way Tony plans.

As for that part of the population that believes in social justice, progressive politics, sustainability and a fair go?

Over the past few years it shrunk. Over the past few months it strengthened.

And for the next few it may take solace in the fact that Australia might be the only place on earth where it’s just about acceptable to call the sitting Prime Minister a cunt.

Forget Labor, this is Abbott’s victory

It’s time to be clear about something: if the coalition is elected to govern on Saturday, it’s not just because they’re not Labor.

That’s the story we’ve been hearing for months, if not years. The story many of us have wound up believing. The Labor party is so bad, and have governed so poorly over the last six years, that all Tony Abbott had to do was show up – and often not show up – and he’d walk into power almost unopposed.

But to paint Abbott as a passive beneficiary ignores his vital, unique contribution. For Abbott has done a lot more than wait idly for the crown to fall on his head.

To start with he led the most prolonged, most negative, most distasteful series of attacks on a sitting Prime Minister that most of us can remember. For three years he refused to address PM Gillard by any more than her first name, repeatedly turned his back on her in parliament (when he was there at all), repeatedly attacked her character, her personality, her ability and, yes, her gender.

He chased her for months and months over allegations of improper conduct in some kind of union thing. He told us every day that she “still had questions to answer”, while unable to tell us just what those questions were.

He sank to the level of Alan Jones, and then even lower, suggesting that her government should’ve “died of shame”. As low a blow as the House has heard.

Few of us could carry out an attack so completely devoid of compassion. Julia Gillard certainly couldn’t have done it.

Then he had to lie. Constantly.

He lied to us each time he said the government was “paralysed”, couldn’t get anything through its parliament, and had lost the confidence of parliament. The Gillard minority government passed hundreds of pieces of legislation; Abbott’s coalition supported 87% of them.

He lied daily about the perilous state of the economy – Joe Hockey’s belated policy costings show us once and for all that the Liberal Party have no real concern about Labor’s levels of spending. Not that we needed them to confirm what economists have been telling us all along.

He lied daily about those costings – a day out from voting we are yet to see the properly detailed costings that we were promised “in good time” before the election.

He lied about Australia’s debt, again and again and again, not just about its size but its relevance, which is close to zero.

He lied about the coalition’s policy on climate change, “direct action”. He told us that he was committed to action on climate change, only to admit that he doesn’t care whether or not the scheme actually meets its targets.

He lied about his alternative to the government’s NBN. He lied by telling us his FTTN plan would offer anything near the level of improvement that the NBN promises. He lied by telling us that his plan was billions of dollars cheaper than the NBN, while ignoring the ongoing costs of maintaining badly deteriorating copper and the revenue that Labor expects to be generated by its completed network.

He lied about asylum seekers, repeatedly talking of “illegal arrivals” and “illegal boats”. He kept up this language despite being reminded on numerous occasions of its inaccuracy.

He lied about the carbon tax, so consistently, so boldly and so infuriatingly that a proper rebuttal would probably constitute a PhD. To start with, it wasn’t really a tax. It didn’t wreck the economy. It wasn’t a wrecking ball, a python, or any other bizarre metaphor. Neither Whyalla nor any town like it was wiped off the map. It wasn’t responsible for massive hikes in the price of power, water, rent, petrol or lamb roasts. Carbon emissions fell.

He lied each time he said the government was illegitimate. If being elected doesn’t make a government legitimate nothing does.

He was happy to use his daughters as ornaments to make himself look a little better in the final weeks of the campaign. He was willing to spruik their bodies – not their brains, not their nature, not anything relevant, just their looks – to a national TV audience in the hope of a few more votes. He did the same with his female candidates. 

He was frequently willing to say one thing to one audience and the opposite to another. It took a breathtaking display of arrogance to give us “direct action” on one hand, “complete crap” on the other. To talk fiscal conservativism and cuts while promising billions upon billions of dollars of new spending. To cut the tax rate by 1.5% and replace it immediately with a 1.5% levy. To sell low-taxing government one day; speak of slashing the tax-free threshold and refusing to rule out GST hikes the next. To have his ministers deny and downplay his promises to people who might have been put out by them. His hatred of Gillard was accompanied by calls for kinder, more positive politics. His only consistent stance has been his hardline hatred of asylum seekers, contradicted only by his claimed love of Jesus.

Time and again he ran from questions, even at press conferences he’d called. He refused to be interviewed on the ABC after he was correctly called out for commenting on documents he hadn’t read. He refused to appear on Q and A and face the audience’s questions. And at the same time he had the temerity to put himself forward as a serious candidate to lead the nation.

To pull off such a campaign took a whole lot more than just being there. It took more than Labor shooting itself in the foot, time and again. It took more than a complicit and uncritical media. It took more than the apathy of the public to a band of politicians they were sick of.

It required, on Abbott’s part, a level of meanness, of arrogance, of gall, of disdain that few in the community could even imagine possessing. And perhaps that’s why it took so long for us to see it for what it was.

Some random adventures on Youtube

Kevin Rudd went on Q and A on Monday night, ostensibly to debate Tony Abbott, who wasn’t there. No-one really expected him to be there, because Tony Abbott realised a few years ago that he looks more stupid when he’s talking than when he’s on his bike or in his budgie smugglers. Which is saying something.

Anyway, Kevin Rudd’s response to one of the questions on Q and A has “gone viral”, according to the ABC. It wasn’t Obama in full flight but it was a good response to an increasingly outdated view, and you can watch it here. It’s the most watched Kevin Rudd video on Youtube.

Last year, of course, Julia Gillard’s attack on the “misogynist” Abbott also went viral. It was praised around the world and pilloried in Australia, which should hardly be surprising. It has far more views and likes and comments on Youtube than any other piece of Australian political anything. It’s right from the heart, mostly off the cuff, and very impressive.

So, I wondered, just how many Youtube results do you have to trawl through before you find Tony saying something impressive.

You have to go down a long way.

Past Tony being called out by Leigh Sales.

Past the bloke who called Tony a dickhead in a shop one day.

Past the time Tony stared weirdly and threateningly at a reporter who asked him a question. For ages.

Past the time Craig Reucassel pointed out that Tony didn’t understand the first thing about debt.

Past a whole series of GetUp ads that do nothing more than put Tony’s words into the mouths of ordinary Australians.

Past Paul Keating’s views on Tony.

Past Kerry O’Brien trying to work out when Tony is to be listened to and when he isn’t.

Past the time he hit on the apprentice at the factory he was visiting.

Past Keating again.

At this point – towards the end of the second page of results at just over 70 000 views – I thought there might finally have been a video of Abbott saying something intelligent, as I came across something titled “Tony Abbott Grand Slam”.

But it turned out to be former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser’s turn to put the boot in.

So we continue, past Tony walking away from questions at his own press conferences.

Past Tony being kicked out of parliament.

Past Independent MP Tony Windsor’s views on Tony.

Past Tony trying to run out of parliament.

And so on, until eventually, at the bottom of the third page of Youtube hits, with just over 30 000 views, we get something promising to be “a classy, fiery display of modern political oratory.” Watch it and weep, Australia.

(By the way, I’m following Tony’s precedent here, and as far as I’m concerned he has neither a title nor a surname.)

(And also, if you’d rather not click on all those links you can sit back and relax with Tony Abbott the Movie instead.)

The irony of it all

So Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister, it seems, because the nation hates Labor. Not necessarily because of any of Labor’s policies, or their successes or failure, but because of who they are. Because of what they represent. Because they fought with each other for almost all their six years in power, and couldn’t put their petty squabbles aside in the interests of the nation.

In short, we as a nation are going to go out in droves and vote Labor out of power over a petty squabble between ourselves and Labor.

We are going to condemn Labor for its personality, its failure to sell its policies through an openly hostile mainstream media, and because it doesn’t seem to be led by good honest Aussie blokes, but by politicians.

Wouldn’t you think the nation could put the personal bickering aside for just one moment and focus on the interests of…itself?

Wouldn’t you think that just once since the 2010 election we could have forgotten how much we hated Labor, or Gillard, or Rudd, and just tried to work together for the sake of our own future?

Nope. Not Labor, and not us either.

We hate Labor so much they have already made up our mind to elect an alternative prime minister who hasn’t even released all his policies yet. He’s released some good ones, the vote-winning kind, the ones that spend heaps of our money, but nowhere near enough of the ones that save money. Isn’t that what we’re meant to hate about Labor, the way they spend too much of our money and don’t save enough?

We hate Labor so much that we are willing to have what would be one of the most important and enduring infrastructure updates in the nation’s recent history torn out of the ground, and replaced by another few decades of internet that is about as fast as you can get on a mobile phone in a capital city today, in 2013.

We hate Labor so much we are prepared to dismantle an emissions trading scheme that represents our best, and possibly only, chance to make a serious contribution as a nation to the global fight against climate change. We voted overwhelmingly for this scheme in 2007, we voted for it again in 2010 – though the novelty of the hung parliament and a few slips of the tongue by the then-prime minister made that kind of hard for us to understand – and finally, after several years of hard work by Labor to get it up and running, we are going to get rid of it. Because we hate Labor.

But we have morals, and we take the good with the bad. When we get rid of the ETS we’re also going to hand back the Labor bribes that we were given to compensate for it. We’re not going to stand for Labor’s Robin Hood act of taking money from rich polluters and putting it back in our pockets to help pay for any costs that are passed on. Oh no, we’re going to throw back our compensation payments, slash that income tax-free threshold back down to $6000 and each pay a couple of thousand dollars more tax, because we hate Labor. And if it hurts, it won’t hurt, because that’s just the price of hurting Labor.

We’re not new to this, of course. When Labor tried to put a tax on poker machine profits so that the money spent by problem gamblers could be redirected to serve the best interests of the nation, we rose up as one and condemned them, because we hate them. We did the same when they tried to play Robin Hood again and take money from the richest of the rich miners like Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart, people who we identify with because they are good Australians and worked hard for their fortunes. We even managed to stop Labor from passing laws to make the media a little more honest with us, in part because we hate them, and in part because Rupert Murdoch is a great Australian bloke, and has done far more for this nation than Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard will ever do.

And no-one would ever call us inconsistent. We have faith. We don’t listen to facts, or rational argument, or Labor propaganda, because we hate Labor. When Kevin Rudd speaks we turn off the TV, put our fingers in our ears and run outside, because you can never be far enough away from the stench of Labor. When people tell us to take a step back, think about our nation’s future and what we could do to improve it, what an ideal Australia would look like, we stop them right there. We can spot a brainwashed Labor stooge a mile off. This is the Australia we want to live in, and Labor is taking it away from us.

So when we go to the polls on Saturday, we’ll vote Liberal, National, Abbott, Hockey, Palmer, Katter, even Sophie Mirabella. We’ll vote for anyone who hates Labor, because anyone who hates Labor is our friend.

Except the Greens, because they hate jobs.