So, It’s Trump.

There’s no way to sugar-coat this.
Ignorance, fear, racism and misinformation have put a tiny-fingered, misogynist, bigoted, fact-fearing child in the White House. And next to him an evil, homophobic, evangelical climate-change denier as his Vice President. In the prophetic words of River Tam, things are going to get much, much worse.

river-tam-things-much-worse

I was going to write about how this happened. I was going to look at who’s to blame – was it the media? Was it the DNC or even Hillary herself? Was it all FBI Director James Comey’s fault?
But that’s not my place yet. More knowledgeable and experienced people will be writing about that. There will be weeks and weeks of analysis. There will be op-eds and infographics and charts and finger-pointing.
But what we need right now, I think, is some perspective.
Before we had Obama, we had Dubya. Before we had Justin Trudeau, we had Stephen Harper. Before we had the most productive Australian Prime Minister, we had eleven years of John Howard. Sometimes to take two steps forward you have to take a step back.
Social change is slow. If you try and rush it you get push back, because it’s largely generational. For hundreds of years, each generation has been more progressive than the one before it. 150 years ago, women couldn’t vote. 60 years ago, American schools were segregated. 20 years ago, same-sex couples couldn’t get married.
Older white people voted for Trump. Older white people voted for Brexit.
Two weeks before the election, SurveyMonkey published this map of the electoral college if only millennials voted:

millenial-electoral-college
Source: SurveyMonkey

So the upcoming generation has progressive ideals. Unfortunately, fewer millennials voted this election. So maybe we need to reach out to the kids better. Maybe we need to inspire them more, like Obama did in 2008 and 2012. I don’t know.
But I do know that giving up won’t help. I do know that we can’t just accept the world the way it is. Women weren’t given the right to vote, people stood up and called for it. Desegregation didn’t just happen, civil rights campaigners stood up and demanded it. Marriage equality is happening around the world because people are fighting for it.
So we can’t just give up. We need to take action. We need to see Trump’s election as a wake-up call. A call to action.
So take action. Engage with people who think climate change is a hoax. Campaign to your elected officials for humane treatment of refugees. Speak up when you witness or experience sexism, racism, bigotry. And support the victims of sexism, racism and bigotry.

And above all, be the change you want to see in the world. Nate Silver on the FiveThirtyEight Election podcast talks about the ‘smugness’ shown by many of the commentariat – especially on the left and in parts of the media. That doesn’t help. Be better than that. If you can comport yourself with all the restraint, patience, dignity and wisdom that Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated – time and time again – you’ll be helping to make the world better.

There is hope. Change will happen. It won’t happen fast enough, and many people will be hurt in the process. But if we keep the pressure on, we will get there.

Fired up?

Ready to go?

Meanwhile, In America

Safe to say that since the election, Australia’s going to poo. We no longer have a Science ministry but we have a Minister for Sport. The Communications Minister has sacked asked the Board of NBN Co to resign. The Climate Change Commission has been dismantled, a same-sex marriage law is being challenged, and perhaps most worrying of all a cloud of secrecy is descending on the Drown Them All In Indonesia Turn Back The Boats plan.

But in America, where things have been poo for some time, they may be getting… um… pooer.

You might have heard of Obamacare. It’s actually the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but it’s Obama’s idea and Republicans hate that so they call it Obamacare. Anyway, it’s a federal law that represents a massive overhaul of America’s healthcare system.

Like most good things, the Republicans oppose it. They’ve tried 42 times to repeal it, and failed. It’s been passed into law (after Obama won re-election with it as his main platform) and comes into effect on 1 October 2013. Under the law, insurance companies will not be allowed to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions. Significantly more people will be insured, especially amongst the poor. And it’ll lower the government deficit and reduce government spending on Medicare. Good things, mostly.

Although it’s not perfect – Dan Savage described it as ‘the lesser of two evils’ on the Colbert Report. (If you clicked that link, stop looking at his amazing biceps and please ignore that I just linked to an arsehole’s blog. I didn’t want to but it had the relevant transcript.)

WARNING: The next paragraph contains the rudest of all rude words. I feel it is used entirely justifiably, but if it offends you please just replace it with “George Pell” in your head, because he is also one. 

The Koch brothers are evil cunts. Having inherited an oil fortune of an estimated $100 billion, they have ‘funded’ numerous climate change denying ‘scientists’, supported the Tea Party movement and fought Obamacare wherever possible. Their most recent effort – a scaremongering ad campaign – is, frankly, disgusting. It’s the most insane, duplicitous, vile thing I’ve seen in a long time. Watch:

Is that not awful?

And as for ‘don’t let the government play doctor’ – remember it’s always Republicans who want to introduce mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds. It’s always the Conservatives that want to control women’s uteri. It’s always the right-wing that wants the housewives doing the ironing.

Budget 2011

I did not watch the budget last night. It was that or watching episodes of Yes Minister, and the bureaucratic poetry of Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) was a clear winner. I have, however, had a quick look over various summaries and overviews of the budget and formed some observations.

What I like:

Cuts to middle-class welfare. Sorry, but if you have a combined income of $150,00 a year and STILL need government hand-outs, you need to reassess your lifestyle.

A huge focus on skills and training. Apprenticeships getting a $200 million funding boost and a complete overhaul, 15,000 visas for skilled workers and 130,000 new training places.

Money going to health. $1.8 billion for regional health facilities, $16.4 billion over six years for growth money for hospitals. Emergency departments are getting an extra $3.4 billion over four years, and finally mental health is getting some money: $2.2 billion. These are areas that – particularly in the case of mental health – have been neglected for years, and hopefully this budget will turn that around.

Cuts of $4.3 billion to our unnecessarily large defense force.

John Howard has slammed the budget. This has to be a good thing.

What I don’t like:

I am SO happy that the rumored $400 million cuts to the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) didn’t eventuate. However, in April Life Scientist reported on speculation that the rumours were to ‘soften the blow’ of lesser cuts: almost as if the Government was saying “we COULD cut $400 million, so don’t complain when we cut less than that”. And it seems to me that that’s what happened, as funding was cut to Cooperative Research Centres ($33.4 million over four years) and Collaborative Research Networks program ($20.7 million over last two years of forward estimates).  This is a shame, and even more disappointing is that no scientific funding was increased – the Australian Society for Medical Research made a request in January for a three per cent increase funding to the NHMRC.

More than $200 million to expand the National Schools Chaplaincy Program. Seriously, school’s bad enough without the God-botherers indoctrinating children. Separation of Church and State? What separation?

A new program, costing $425 million, that will reward the top performing teachers. I’m not sure this is a good idea. I like that teachers are all supportive and more-or-less ‘equal’. I don’t think this is an area where competition will be a good thing. Plus, I don’t think teachers are slacking off because they’re not paid much – I don’t think they’re slacking off at all. Quite simply, if you want to make money then teaching is NOT the job for you – never has been. That said, I’m all in favour of raising teachers’ salaries across the board.

Conclusion

These are preliminary thoughts. All in all I think it’s a mostly good budget – the cuts have not been too brutal and the bunk projects are fairly minimal. The rush to return to surplus is purely political – as long as the trend is towards surplus I’m happy. So essentially, it’s a fairly boring budget – could be better, could be far worse.

Of Monarchy, Fools and Speech

Last night I saw The King’s Speech and I must admit, it is as good as everyone says it is. Yes it’s in many ways a conventional Hollywood period piece, but it does a number of things incredibly well. It is funny, it is entertaining, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

And it is beautifully filmed.

It’s a movie that sucks you in, makes you believe you’re there. You feel the awkwardness, the nervousness, the joy and heartache of the characters. I was worried it was overhyped, but I’m happy to say it definitely lived up to the hype. Thoroughly recommended.

It did reinforce my anti-monarchist beliefs, though. In Australia, the government can be sacked by someone appointed by someone in the UK. This makes no sense to me, and I fail to see any advantage in it. And I fail to see how ‘divine right’ and birthright are suitable qualities for a head of state.

Which is why I particularly liked UK paper The Guardian’s April Fools Joke. Probably the best paper in the UK, The Guardian has long called for debate about the monarchy, but published on April 1 an editorial pledging “full-throated support for the British monarchy”.

The editorial claims it’s now time to get behind the Royal Family now that “Prince William has shown that he can be a new kind of king”, and “Prince Andrew [has used] his personal connections to plant the seeds of democracy in repressive regimes worldwide.”

“When the time comes,” the paper suggests, “we urge Prince Charles to redouble his focus on his important work in the field of alternative medicine, and to pass the mantle of head of state to his son.”

It’s clearly a joke. The paper even announces a 24-hour live blog of the preparations for the ceremony, asking “What music would you choose for the royal wedding?” and announcing the latest scoops: “For one of the royal wedding cakes, Prince William has requested a concoction of biscuits and condensed milk.”

But the sweetest  part of all comes from here in Australia. Our largest pro-monarchy organisation, Australians For  A Constitutional Monachy, appear to have fallen for the joke hook, line and sinker. They’ve published on their website a triumphant article celebrating The Guardian’s change of tune, offering “a welcome back to the prodigal son.” This endorsement from a leading progressive newspaper, the ACM believes, “will make it acceptable for ALP politicians to admit that they support the existing constitution”.

Brilliant. The King is dead, long live The G-g-g-guardian!

I still think you should see The King’s Speech, if you haven’t already. Alternatively, this is more or less the entire story:

Is Older Always Better?

You may remember Jen McCreight. When an Iranian clerk blamed women wearing revealing clothes for causing earthquakes, she accidentally started a global event called Boobquake, which scientifically proved him wrong.

This year her father, Mike, also got into the newfangled blogging game, and started If I Were King, a little place for him to write about whatever is pissing him off at the time. He’s a smart guy. He makes a lot of good points, and his blog is always an interesting read.

But today he wrote something I found myself disagreeing strongly with. Writing about the US Supreme Court, he argues that life time appointments for justices are no longer a good thing. Justices no longer vote by their conscience – politics be damned – but instead vote according to ideology. “Now justices vote along straight political lines. The new strategy for appointments is to send justices to the Supreme Court at an early age and make damn sure their political ideology is aligned to the party in power.” This, of course, is the part of his post I agree with. Since justices have life terms, political parties make all kinds of manoeuvrings to get someone who’ll vote their way on the bench. And having the same people in their jobs for such a long time reduces the likelihood of change or reform. Decisions that may have been applicable thirty years ago may now, in a different culture, be appropriately overturned. But that won’t necessarily happen if the same people are on the bench, and their opinions haven’t kept up with the changing attitudes of society. Just as the executive branch of government has fixed term lengths, I think the judiciary should too. I like Mike’s suggestion of 15 years.

What I disagree with, though, is Mike’s idea of a minimum age. He proposes that to be nominated, a justice must be at least 55 years old. As I said, an aging Supreme Court is not necessarily a good thing. I certainly respect the advantages of age and experience, but I don’t think it’s impossible to find similar experience and wisdom in a 45 year old, for example. So I agree and disagree with Mike: fixed 15 year terms would be great, but I don’t think a minimum age of 55 is the way to go.

What do you think? Are life terms a good idea? Should there be a minimum age?

Who’s Afraid of Islam? America Is.

Artist rendition of the “Ground Zero Mosque”Can’t we all move past the whole “They’re different to me, I’m scared” thing?

Last month the Pew Research Center released a report showing that most Americans don’t know what religion their own President is. The survey found that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) think Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Nearly half (43%) say they do not know what his religion is. He is, actually, a Christian – a fact that only a third of adults (34%) correctly answered, down from 48% in 2009.

Well, he says he’s a Christian, anyway. While in Australia we don’t have a problem with an atheist Prime Minister, in the US it’s almost political suicide. As Bill Maher said in an interview on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show: “He of course has to SAY he is, because he’s running for President in the ‘United Stupid of America’”. Of course, a leader’s religion isn’t necessarily a big deal. Politicians should, ideally, be elected based on their policies, not beliefs. But there are times – fortunately not very often – when politicians will need to comment on religious topics. And a week after that survey was released, Obama did just that: he spoke out in support of what the media has dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque”.

Which isn’t at Ground Zero.

And isn’t really a mosque.

It’s a 13-story building with an auditorium, theater and performing arts center. It has a gym, swimming pool and basketball court; a creche, a bookstore, a culinary school, art studio, and food court. It also has a September 11 memorial, AND a mosque.

But because it’s planned to be built 200m away from the site of the World Trade Center, it’s become a hotbed of controversy. With many opposing its construction complaining it’s an insult to the memories of those who died there. Even though, as Matt Sledge writes for the Huffington Post, “Muslim prayers are already taking place right on the edge of the construction site … Families are going there to pray – for the souls of the dozens of innocent Muslim victims who died on September 11”.

It’s been nine years and Islamophobia is still widespread in America. It’s well time to move on. The 19 hijackers on September 11 were no more Muslim than the Westboro Baptist Church lunatic, Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps is Christian. They were a tiny, extremist element of an otherwise peaceful religion.

Stability Alone Is Not Enough

Ever since Australian voters couldn’t make up their minds about who they want to run the country, I’ve gotten a bit sick of hearing the word “stability”. The independents say they want it, both parties say they can deliver it, and the other team can’t. Everyone’s focused on making sure that whatever government forms out of the democratic no-man’s land we’ve created, it will be built to last.

Since when has that been all that matters?

There’s no point being in power if you’re not going to do anything – or worse, do bad things that damage the country. The new government will need forward-thinking policies and a plan for real progress – two things mostly lacking in the campaign. With such a small minority, it’ll be hard to get any major legislation passed, and anything visionary will be watered down to the lowest common denominator that gets approval from everyone. A government of slow, stable, mediocrity.

French intellectual and writer Joseph de Maistre once famously said “every nation gets the government it deserves”. Marieke Hardy says that’s exactly what happened, and the government we got was: “half of each plus a couple of farmers, a hippy, a whistleblower and the unclassifiably deranged Bob ‘Many times I’ve gone to bed as a cockle-doodle-doo and woke up the next morning as a feather duster’ Katter”. It’s a brilliant (and delightfully poetic) analysis. Nobody has any confidence in the leaders of either major party. The Greens, with their first ever seat in the lower house, are too new and inexperienced to lead the country. And an independent as Prime Minister makes about as much sense as a Family First member – none at all.

I can’t see a minority govenment lasting very long. The last hung parliament we had, 70 years ago, the government formed from that lasted less than a year. But maybe that’s what we need. A year of doing nothing, while the parties take a good long look at themselves. And after a bit of navel gazing, perhaps next year we can have another election. An election where each party realigns its policies with the core values of its members and supporters – not the latest poll results. An election where all parties campaign on their strengths, not the weaknesses of their opponents. An election with substance. With vision.

And hopefully, by then we’ll deserve it.