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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 »

Save the whale stories

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

Another day, another whale story. This time a baby humpback is stranded at Jurien Bay. It’s not just a whale, it’s a baby whale and this ill kid can’t be saved.

The media love a good whale story. Human reporters and near-human editors like to anthropomorphise animals of all stripes. What good is a fantastic creature picture if people aren’t ascribing human emotions and features to the characters in it?

Here in WA, a famous case is the picture of giraffe Makulu by West Australian photographer Ron D’Raine. The picture is aesthetically cute on its own but once we project our own very human feelings about motherhood and babies on to it, the image of mother giraffe kissing the top of baby giraffe’s head is unforgettable.

So back to the big lumps of blubber in the ocean. What’s the attraction?

Whales are mysterious creatures. They’re mammals, like us, but dwell in the depths of the unknown. It’s a primal thing maybe or perhaps we look for twists on Biblical Jonah’s journey into the belly of the whale. And that whale song – talk about haunting.

Every permutation on a whale story is exploited in newspapers and on telly  – us humans offering help to stranded whales, like mythical mermaids caught twixt land and sea; the barbaric foreigners harming whales for base purposes – food; whale watching as faux connection with nature.

Some whale stories from around the world:

‘Orphaned’ whale thinks mother is yacht. (NineMSN)

Japan might kill world’s only white whale (The Telegraph)

Adding Weight to Suspicion, Sonar Is Linked to Whale Deaths (New York Times)

Study fails to link naval sonar with whale strandings (New Scientist)

So save the whale stories, I say. More whale yarns for everyone and if they’re sad we can have a blubber.

Read more about strandings world wide at whales.org.au. The site also has a clip of Sir Anthony Hopkins speaking out for whales (good with some fava beans and a nice little chianti, no doubt).

Posted in Diversions, Environment, Media | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Alan Bond threatens old haunts

Posted by occidentprone on September 21, 2008

Alan Carpenter was haunted by Brian Burke. Now Colin Barnett could face the spectre of Alan Bond moving from past to present.

The page 1 headline in The Sunday Times today read: “Bondy’s back – and reveals he wants to stay for good this time.” 

Inside Bond made a comment that “I will be back here full time in about 12 months”. Maybe he said it in passing, maybe it’s something he’s thought about seriously. Anyway, the paper made it into it’s big story for the week though it’s not on the website so maybe they’ve since changed their mind.

The people most haunted by Bond are the shareholders who were ruined after their trust in Bond in the 80s and early 90s. But like any master of reinvention, he’s shed that skin. He told the Sunday Times

“I think you go through life  and learn many lessons. And I think today I am a better businessman than I was then even, because you get the yin and yang.

There was a downturn in the economy, the banks that were lending to us went broke, a number went at the same time.

Unfortunately, because I was one of the highest profiles, I took a lot of the flak.

If your gearing is too high, as it is around the world with a lot of people, you are going to get hurt at some stage if the music stops.”

Unless you are a crook, of course.

I like the stuff about yin and yang. I wonder if Bond’s earthy yearning for home, where he and Di Bliss have a house at Cottesloe, has anything to do with the fact WA’s going gangbusters and there’s gold in them thar suckers.

Another Sunday Times non-story or not, there’s an interesting hypothetical.

What if Bond comes back? Is it a metaphor for the bad old days of big business rorts, just as Burke was a symbol of political rorts. Labor thought it had exorcised its demons then let Burke back in. And how did that turn for you Mr Carpenter?

Bond had been keeping a low profile but then he popped up on the BRW rich list this year and this week showed up to celebrate some old yachting victory. As we’ve said before, he deserves recognition for all he’s contributed to the people of this state.

The Barnett government has already waved the flag for development so it’s like the 80s all over again. Complete with ghosts of crimes past.

 


Posted in Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Suburban mums fall prey to the dark side

Posted by occidentprone on September 17, 2008

Big news in the war against drugs – the drugs are winning. Now those darn drugs have recruited suburban mums in the fight.

That august record,  PerthNow website reports:

Suburban mums are among the over-30s who have emerged as the new users of the illicit drug ecstasy, a national study has found.

Once considered a “young person’s drug”, ecstasy has a new following in more mature users who see it as a harmless alternative to alcohol.

Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia’s Paul Dillon described the results as shocking. “Everyone is stunned. Everyone is thinking it’s a really young person’s drug but it’s not,” he said. 

The recently released 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey has revealed that since 1995, the number of people aged 30 to 39 using ecstasy has increased 5.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent for men, and 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent for women. 

Mr Dillon said mature people were turning to the drug because of misinformation about its effects. 

“I talked to two women in their 30s two weeks ago and these were both divorcees, they have recently split from their husbands, they’ve got 15 and 16-year-old kids and they’ve basically discovered their second childhood,” he said. 

“The reason they’re taking ecstasy is because they don’t want to drink, because with drinking they get out of control.” 

School car parks, playgrounds are populated with MDMA-ravaged mothers saying “I love you” to random strangers. 

Mums who don’t want to get out control.  Mums who probably haven’t felt in control since the second trimester of their first pregnancy.

If only …

In real life, mums are people who just say no to euphoria.

And if they were delving into the illicit drug scene en masse, it would surely be speed. A little amphetamine enhancement would make all the sports practice / music / play date chaos run a little more to schedule and deliver the oomph to be heard above the dinnertime din. Or coke for extra confidence in dealing with slouching, sulking, surly teens.

Ok, so I’m generalising and playing on stereotypes. I admit it – what about you PerthNow?

Posted in Diversions, Media | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stokes like a kid in a toy shop

Posted by occidentprone on September 16, 2008

Some blokes play train sets as they chuff into retirement, some buy the sexy sports car they couldn’t afford 20 years before when they would have looked good in it. Kerry Stokes’ preoccupation into his autumn years is The West Australian.

After a failed tilt earlier this year, Stokes is finally getting his train set.

Seven Network chairman Kerry Stokes and his deputy Peter Gammell have been invited to join the board of West Australian Newspapers, WAN chairman Peter Mansell said today.

The Seven Network is WAN’s largest shareholder with about 22.4 per cent of WAN’s ordinary shares.

The move comes five months after Seven made an unsuccessful bid to oust members of the WAN board, including Mr Mansell, in favour of Mr Stokes and Mr Gammell. (Source: WAToday)

The West tells it like this:

Less than five months ago, Mr Stokes lost his bid to win two seats on the WAN board.

The move to appoint Mr Stokes and Mr Gammell was rejected by a shareholder vote at a meeting in Perth of 800 investors.

The billionaire had then argued that the WAN board needed to be “refreshed”, citing the company’s recent financial performance and newspaper distribution problems.

Does this mean the writing is on the wall for The West‘s Little Editor Who Could, Paul Armstrong? Stokes has made no secret of his desire for a different kind of newspaper and now he has the shares and the board influence to start cracking skulls.

Crikey says: 

The West Australian’s editor Paul Armstrong might have finally prevailed over his bitter political enemies Alan Carpenter and Jim McGinty with the defeat of the Labor state government, but it will probably be a short-lived victory as Stokes and most independent observers clearly believe he should go.

The fate of Armstrong will be the first big test of whether Stokes is exercising control, because Armstrong ran quite a partisan campaign against the billionaire during this year’s proxy battle.

Then there’s the issue of Seven being more than $100 million under water on its 23% stake in WAN and the stock is down another 23c at $8.52 this morning.

Stokes will want some fast action on things like The West’s lame website, falling circulation and the ongoing disputes with newsagents.

Posted in Media, Perth | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Games are over, time to get serious

Posted by occidentprone on August 27, 2008

After two weeks spent presiding over Olympic fencing, dusting chalk from gymnasts and a stint in a re-education camp, this blogger is back. 

The biggest challenge of the Games was trying to assess why the Chinese Central Government’s nationalistic party-speak and tight stage management of every facet was bad and Australia’s jingoistic and patriotic jargon – from media, athletes, Rudd, Coates, the neighbours and colleagues – was good.

The games and everything they symbolise have been raked over by smarter people than me so I’ll leave it to the experts and instead explore what I’ve missed in the interim.

Before the hibernation I remember an election being called but it’s hard to tell the poll stuff from the Olympics stuff, so entwined were the cliches. Backflips, poll vault, race-this-and-that.

Over the few weeks remaining before the election, I’ll be carbo-loading and sprint training to get on top of the WA election before we scratch our markings on ballots at the local primary school.

Meantime, send your thoughts, grievances, score cards.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Mysteries, mass media and mixed metaphors

Posted by occidentprone on August 6, 2008

It’s like the Twilight Zone here at the moment with the missing and mysterious filling the pages of the paper and websites this morning.

An inquest into the disappeared Kaz II crew is sitting in Townsville his week and has heard how three Yunderup men went missing off the Queensland coast last year. The catamaran has been called a ghost ship, with reporters yanking descriptives from their Mary Celeste imagery grab bag. But from inquest evidence in the last few days, it seems there were technical issues and nervous preparation before they set off.

One of two brothers fishing off Walpole is also missing this morning. The 82-year-old Manjimup man was fishing in Broke Inlet with his younger brother on Monday when they were swept out to sea. The 75-year-old swam to shore and searchers resumed the search for his brother this morning.

There has been a search of a different kind at a Chittering property for drug dealer Frank La Rosa who, with his wife Kim, is missing.

Frank La Rosa spent 12 years in jail for his part in a clandestine amphetamine factory and was due in court on further drug trafficking charges in July.

Police are treating his disappearance as suspicious, but have stopped short of describing the inquiry as a homicide investigation.

The property being searched today was once owned by La Rosa. (Source: ABC)

Elswhere, new Liberal leader Colin Barnett is missing the days of loyalty to the party, Varanus Island gas is back online but we are still longing for full gas, which won’t be back to pre-crisis levels till Christmas time, and we are all saying a teary farewell to our privacy as Street View is launched in Australia.

The media has been so outraged at Google’s latest venture that they’ve had to spell out exactly what sensitive landmarks will be exposed – Swanbourne Barracks, the WA police training centre, the PM’s house – to guarantee a free kick to Google and voyerism.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

I like the new stuff better than the old stuff

Posted by occidentprone on July 16, 2008

Apologies to Regurgitator but the old media is getting a battering in the new media and it’s all their own fault.

An excellent piece in Crikey today led me to the author, Stilgherrian, who makes an argument for bloggers and why we should hail them even though they mightn’t be REAL journalists.

Here’s an excerpt:

What’s tiring about this false dichotomy is that it compares the highest ideal of journalism with the lowest grade of personal blogging about what the cat did yesterday and — lo and behold! — they’re not the same. Gosh.

How much everyday journalism actually conforms to the high ideal? Not much. For every Walkley-nominated episode of Four Corners there’s a hundred tawdry yarns about miracle fat cures or shonky builders with a camera shoved in their face. For every investigative scoop there’s a thousand mundane little 5-paragraph yarns that merely quote what someone said at a press conference, and then quote their opponent. Or recycle a media release, putting the journo’s byline where the PR firm’s logo used to be. Or misappropriate statistics to beat up some shock-horror non-existent “crime wave”.

What we should make of journalist “bloggers” attached to newspaper and broadcaster websites is another thing entirely.

Posted in Media | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Ledger frenzy builds

Posted by occidentprone on July 15, 2008

Batman fever is nothing in Perth compared to Heath Ledger fever. The two macabre pasttimes crashed last night when The Dark Knight, featuring home boy Ledger, premiered.

Now PerthNow reports that Ledger’s last will and testament will be played out in a West Australian court.

Heath Ledger’s daughter Matilda Rose’s claim to his estate will be decided in a West Australian court, after he left everything to his parents and sisters.

The executors of the late actor’s will, drawn up before Matilda’s birth, have applied for probate in the WA Supreme Court in Perth. 

While Ledger left everything to his parents and three sisters, it is understood they have legal advice that under WA law, the toddler is entitled to the lion’s share. 

However her mother, actor Michelle Williams, will have to officially lodge a claim with the court supported by an affidavit which could end up in the public domain, legal experts said.

The executors of Ledger’s estate, businessman Robert Collins and accountant Mark Dyson, late last week advertised in Perth’s daily newspaper for “creditors and other persons” having claims on the estate to lodge them by August 11.

This is to ensure all debts are paid before the estate is distributed, local lawyer Edwin Abdo said.

According to documents filed in a New York court after Ledger died in January, he only had $145,000 worth of assets in the US, but his entire fortune, mostly held in Australian trusts, is likely to be worth up to $20 million.

Perth’s share of hysterical and hyper-parochial media is frothing at the mouth no doubt. This morning PerthNow, WAToday and The West all had breathless reports about Ledger’s swan song and the premieres, including in New York and that other gothic metropolis – sunny Perth. A court case of that magnitude and featuring anyone who can even spell Hollywood, let alone met the troubled genius, will render the city’s professional gawpers paralysed.

PerthNow has even come up trumps with a story about another tragedy in ledger’s inner circle. Get this:

More tragedy for Dark Knight’s Heath Ledger

AS his lauded performance in The Dark Knight drew continued focus on his sad passing, more tragedy has hit Heath Ledger’s Hollywood circle.

The Aussie actor’s make-up artist, Lucy Crawford, is battling serious injuries after she was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident.

A woman driver was charged over the weekend in relation to the July 2 incident which has left the British-born creative professional with a crushed pelvis, head wounds and internal injuries.

I feel a conspiracy theory coming on.

Posted in Diversions, Media, Perth | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Journalist’s contempt or contempt for journalists?

Posted by occidentprone on July 7, 2008

Refusing to name sources could land a Sunday Times journalist in jail.

ABC reports that Paul Lampathakis today appeared before an Upper House committee investigating the April raid on the Times‘ offices.

(Lampathakis)  refused to answer questions on who leaked confidential Cabinet information to him that formed the basis of his story.

The Chairman of the Select Committee George Cash told Mr Lampathakis that his refusal to answer the question could amount to a contempt of the Parliament punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

Mr Cash also warned it could be regarded as a breach of the Criminal Code which would carry a penalty of two years imprisonment or a $24,000 fine.

Mr Cash said the Upper House would need to consider the matter when it next sits.

Lampathakis is cause celebre at Mothership Murdoch and PerthNow

Mr Lampathakis was asked three times to name the whistleblower and three times he refused to answer. 

Mr Lampathakis also declined to answer questions which could identify the source of the information used in the story, saying it was not relevant to the committee’s terms of reference and went against the journalistic code of ethics which protected the identity of whistleblowers.

…During the hearing, committee member Adele Farina asked Mr Lampathakis if he believed he or his sources were above the law, to which he answered no.

She also asked the reporter if he would protect the identity of a source if he knew that person was going to commit murder.

Mr Lampathakis rejected the comparision between a “horrible crime” and a political story.

Let’s think about this. Breaching cabinet confidentiality is an offence. Except if it’s in the government’s interests presumably? Like pre-budget leaks. But what harm has been done to the government in this case apart from ministerial pride injured?

Journalists do not have the protection afforded doctors and priests and lawyers – and nor should they. And many are not living up to community expectations of them but that does not justify witchhunts. Hopefully the community will resist the newsstands and switch off the telly when the service is not ethical and not up to scratch but the community should still expect that their news is not censored in any way – by government or self-censored by a cowed media. 

  • View the MEAA’s journalist’s code of ethics here and count the ways this state’s newspapers, telly, radio and net media can improve.

Posted in Media, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »