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Don’t misunderestimate the recession

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

George W Bush grasps the seriousness of the financial crisis crunching the globe.

“We are in the midst of a serious financial crisis,” he said before hosting unprecedented crisis talks. “Our entire economy is in danger.” (Source: The Australian)

On ABC:

“There has been a widespread loss of confidence and major sectors of America’s financial system are at risk of shutting down,” Mr Bush told the nation from the White House, using some of the bleakest language of the crisis so far.

“The government’s top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold,” Mr Bush said, in a rare televised appearance.

“With the situation becoming more precarious by the day, I faced a choice – to step in with dramatic government action, or to stand back and allow the irresponsible actions of some to undermine the financial security of all,” he said.

Mr Bush – finally taking a front and centre role in crisis – listed the prospect that more banks could fail and the possibility the US economy could be driven into recession as more reasons that the massive rescue must be approved.

He punched home the message by referring to the impact such a scenario would have on the lives of ordinary Americans and acknowledging the validity , saying that while tens of thousands of people had have lost their homes.

Acknowledging deep American anger that such huge sums of money – amounting to five per cent of American GDP – are being contemplated for those who created the financial strife in the first place, Mr Bush said that nevertheless, not acting now would cost Americans much more later.

Bush’s heir hopeful, John McCain has suspended his election campaign with all the gravity the Republican war veteran can muster.

His opponent Barack Obama says this is the time presidential candidates (you know, those wanting to be President of the United States of America) should start talking about the economy.

McCain is backed into a corner with Sarah Palin as his running mate. She has shown zero capacity for original, analytical thought and between the pair of them, they seem to have trouble pronouncing economy, for all they have avoided the topic.

I have avoided discussing the American campaign as my blog is predominantly about West Australian, and to a lesser degree Australian, current affairs but as the characters develop more and the financial crisis threatens to engulf all of us, I’m wading in. Since late 2006, I have listened to podcasts from Slate magazine and The New Yorker, so that they have become a weekly serial of heroes and villains and jesters all culminating in a series finale in November. (Although if I hear the word ‘narrative’ to describe a current affairs event one more time I’ll scream – and that means you too Crikey crew.)

So I’m trying to draw some meaningful lesson from across the Pacific that we can apply here. And my main concern is this: Please let’s never get in the situation they have in America where a VP candidate (Palin) is allowed to build a cult following without facing questions from the press. No person running for any office, let alone high office, should be unaccountable – BEFORE THEY’RE EVEN ELECTED.

We saw a little of the cult of personality in the Kevin O7 election last year and our leaders face off first as characters, then politicians with policies (think Nelson v Turnbull last week and Buswell for much of this year). But to allow a candidate escape questioning and scrutiny – from reporters or bloggers or voters or anyone – is totally insane. You get what you deserve if you let this happen.

Back to McCain. Slate’s John Dickerson had this to say:

John McCain has launched his second Hail Mary pass in a month. On Wednesday he called for a suspension of the presidential campaign—no events, no ads, and no debate Friday—so that he and Barack Obama can head to Washington to forge a bipartisan solution. Even more than his selection of Sarah Palin as running mate, this gambit feels like a wild improvisation someone in the McCain team mapped out on his chest: OK, you run to the fire hydrant, cut left, and then when he gets to the Buick, John, you heave it.

Dickerson might overuse the word narrative but he knows how to put politics into language we understand.

Posted in Australian politics, Foreign affairs, Media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A lesson for the Carpenator

Posted by occidentprone on August 1, 2008

 The West Australian reports the WA teachers pay negotiations with the state government have broken down. 

The teachers’ proposed pay deal was on the brink of collapse yesterday, with almost half the union’s governing body breaking ranks to reveal they do not support the agreement struck with the State Government last week. 
   
More than a week after the pay offer was approved by the union’s executive and presented by the Government and union president Anne Gisborne as a fait accompli, seven out of 17 members of the executive have broken ranks to condemn it publicly. 
   
In what could prove to be a major embarrassment for the Government in the weeks leading up to the next State election, the union rebels are urging teachers to seriously question the deal when voting starts this month. 

…The Government has offered teachers pay rises of between 15 and 21 per cent over three years and annual allowances of between $3000 and $19,000 to those who teach in tough city schools and remote schools. Education Minister Mark McGowan says the deal would make WA teachers better paid than those in other States. 
   
But the seven rebels told The West Australian in a statement yesterday that the agreement would only keep pace with inflation. 

This is a tenuous link but under the subgenre of food for thought: What are our public servants to make of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s move to sack 22,000 California state workers and cut the pay of 200,000 more to minimum wage?

Here in WA the government is crying poor every time some two-bit irrelevant section of the public service, like say teachers or nurses or coppers, wants more money for the cushy jobs they do.

“Most of those laid off are seasonal and part-time staff, while the 200,000 remaining state employees would have their full salaries restored when a budget was agreed, the governor said.

“Today I am exercising my executive authority to avoid a full-blown crisis and keep our state moving forward,” he said.

“This is not an action I take lightly but we do not have a budget and, as governor, I have a responsibility to make sure our state has enough money to pay its bills.” 

… Asked whether his administration would sue the state financial controller’s office if it did not comply with the executive order, Mr Schwarzenegger said:

“If that’s what it takes. I’m here to make sure that our state functions, and whatever it takes, I will do it.” (Source: BBC

Alan Carpenter is no superhero like Arnie and our political system doesn’t allow the premier to sign away workers in the stroke of a pen on an executive order as has happened in the US. But in WA, where we have a worker shortage, the state is not going to function at all without happy teachers or nurses or coppers.

Like the man said, whatever it takes.

Posted in Diversions, Foreign affairs, Industrial relations, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Forget the flat white, get yourself a good book

Posted by occidentprone on July 28, 2008

Yesterday I popped down to Cino to Go in Mt Lawley to get a feel for what Stephen Smith might have been thinking when he took the US Secretary of State there on Friday, and to just be where she had been.

This is by no means a plug for Cino because there are heaps of great coffee spots in Mt Lawley.  Though I found they’re sprinkling real chocolate on the top of the cappuccino so maybe that’s why our Foreign Affairs Minister finds it appealing.

But if he really wanted to make an impression he should have taken Dr Rice – chaperoned by his parents of course – to Planet Books. She has said she sends friends to do her clothes shopping but bookshop browsing is not something you can delegate. Even the endlessness of Amazon is no match for the smell, see, feel, hear assault you get by craning your neck through all the shelves and flicking through the ones that catch your eye.

Planet, along with the smaller Oxford Books in Leederville, are bastions for the slow browsers. I have easily spent an hour just looking – and not even buying in the end but still feeling as though it was an afternoon well spent.

I can see Condi, brow furrowed before the bank of political and current affairs books, pondering the anti-Bush and anti-US themes, and suddenly having a lightbulb moment – PING – Time for the US to get out of Iraq, time to use this international influence for good, to not just bide time by Bush’s side, to recognise America is no longer the prestigious hemisphere it once was, that its “brand” is tarnished.

Maybe Smith could point her towards a John Pilger rant or the Latham Diaries (any of those still around?) for a bit of perspective.

Or the talented pianist could just buy a biography on Brahms. Either way Rice could see there’s a lot going on outside Planet Bush.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

International relations amid the art deco of Mt Lawley

Posted by occidentprone on July 26, 2008

“And here’s one of little Stevie on the first day of school – yes he was potty trained, he was just nervous.” A proud mum tells her adult son’s new friend everything she needs to know for a fruitful relationship.

Here’s what it is: The most powerful woman in the world comes to Perth, home of Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister and he takes Condoleezza Rice to Cino To Go in Mt Lawley with his parents.

The Australian today has a pic of little Stevie with the very important Dr Rice and his mum and dad, in an ordinary Perth coffee shop.

For shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Cino To Go, hell I even like Smith. He’s been my federal member for some years and like his mum I’ve always believed in him and wanted him to do well. But this is an embarrassment and I’m not so sure he’s the man we need representing our sophisticated, modern face to the world.

Of all the hopes and aspirations political commentators and international affairs observers had for Rice’s visit – an insight into US foreign policy, a hint on future moves in Afghanistan and the Middle East – and Smith takes the US Secretary of State to his daughter’s school and his local cafe.

A few days ago commenter Skink said he too was represented by Smith and maybe the good minister could take Condi to Charcoal Chicken for a feed. I thought Skink was taking the piss but he must have had a peek in Smith’s diary. Maybe the chook shop was shut. Maybe Condi was over chicken after ASEAN. Maybe he’s trying to help Labor’s Karen Brown win the state seat of Mt Lawley. Maybe this is all a bad dream.

Here’s what The West had to say about the visit:

On lighter matters, Dr Rice revealed she and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had spent time explaining the rules of cricket and American football to one another.

She said she had enjoyed meeting Mr Smith’s family, and now loves “flat whites” after tasting one at a Perth coffee shop earlier today.

On an overcast day, Dr Rice’s luck held out with the rain starting to fall shortly after she left the park to head to the airport to fly on to New Zealand.

Dr Rice praised Perth as a beautiful city and a special part of Australia and said its openness and optimism reminded her of western America, which is her heart’s home.

Speaking of flat whites, maybe Smith had to cram the cringe-worthy family meetings into Rice’s itinerary (she also met his daughter and son) because he’s aware this gig is short-lived.

And if he wants the open and optimistic relationship with the States to continue Smith should start professing his love for long blacks.

Posted in Australian politics, Diversions, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Condoleezza Rice goes bush

Posted by occidentprone on July 21, 2008

Condoleezza Rice is coming to Perth on Thursday and Friday. The first and last time a US secretary of state visited Perth was 1985.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says Condi’s visit will focus on energy security and minerals wealth. His statement, published pretty much the same on Fairfax, West, and Murdoch websites, is filled with vacuous platitudes about “alliance relationship” and “significant economic and social contribution” and “responsive to climate change difficulties” and other bureacracy-speak blah-blah. (He must have swallowed the same public service jargon manual as Rudd for all emotion and excitement to be stripped out of every event.)

Just as the Rudd Government is extricating itself from Howard’s tagalong with Bush’s wars, and Rice is coming to the end of her tenure, she is taking time to use all her travel chits:

“She describes it as a home town visit, she’s never been to Perth before and she wants to see the delights of Perth and we will do our best to accommodate that,” Mr Smith said.
“So there’ll be serious business to attend to but she also wants to see some of the beauty of Perth and that’s as it should be.”

Her complicity with Bush’s foreign affairs catastrophes aside, Dr Rice’s trip to Perth is a coup for the city and for Smith. Get your phone cameras ready for Condiwatch.

See Stephen Smith’s transcript of his meeting with Dr Rice in January here.

Posted in Australian politics, Foreign affairs, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

All care, no responsibility

Posted by occidentprone on June 16, 2008

Two WA Federal Liberal MPs are outraged by Robert Mugabe and his undemocratic actions which are defiling Zimbabwe. It’s disgraceful and disgusting, Don Randall and ex-South African Dennis Jensen say.

 “A lot of people are very concerned about it, I’m personally concerned about it,” Liberal MP and former South African Dennis Jensen told reporters today.

“I just find the situation in Zimbabwe disgraceful. What Mugabe has got to do is just go for the sake of his own people.

“When it comes down to it, it’s war against his own people.”
 
Fellow WA Liberal Don Randall told reporters “there’s an absolute disgust at Mugabe trying to steal back a democratically-elected result”. (Source: WA Today)

Opposition is a very cushy role because you don’t have to take a lot of responsibility, except for a beating straight after an election. Unless you are Morgan Tsvangirai, then you have to take a lot of responsibility and a beating.

Postscript: Post updated further to Dr Jensen’s edifying comments – apologies extended and post amended.

Posted in Australian politics, Foreign affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »