Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa – Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

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Altern-oPod

9 03 2011

So DJ JG’s Aussie song collection for POTUS was a fizzer among the Twitterati. She also gave him the second most expensive Sherrin, which is the equivalent of not ordering lobster on your first date. I think I can do better, mostly because I am style, fashion & politics at once.

In alphabetti-spaghetti order:

AC/DC:

  • It’s A Long Way To The Top
  • Thunderstruck
  • Shook Me All Night Long
  • Highway To Hell

The Allniters:

  • Montego Bay (every list has to feature a cover)

Australian Crawl:

  • Errol
  • Reckless (Don’t Be So)
  • Boys Light Up
  • Downhearted
  • Beautiful People

Who wouldn’t want a tribute to Tasmania’s greatest pantsman? OK, Maybe more Bill Clinton’s style. Have to include Reckless if only for the accompanying subtitles.

Boom Crash Opera:

  • Dancing In The Storm
  • The Best Thing

The Cat Empire:

  • Hello
  • Days Like These

The Church: (meh, under ‘C’)

  • Under The Milky Way
  • Almost With You

Love song dedication for FLOTUS on those long return flights on Air Force One

Cold Chisel:

  • Flame Trees
  • Bow River
  • Khe Sanh
  • Saturday Night
  • Forever Now

Essential prep for 2012 campaign when visiting factories in the flyover states.

Crowded House:

  • Into Temptation (hmm, maybe one for Bill …)
  • Private Universe (because no one knows what it’s like to sit behind that desk, except the other people who have)

The Cruel Sea:

  • The Honeymoon Is Over
  • Black Stick
  • Better Get A Lawyer Son

Because let’s face it, it is.

Deborah Conway (incl. Do Ré Mi)

  • Man Overboard
  • Consider This
  • It’s Only The Beginning

Decoder Ring:

  • Out of Range

Whispy vocal has to come in at some stage, right?

Divinyls

  • Science Fiction
  • Boys In Town

Dragon: (if Crowded House count, the fucking Hunter brothers do)

  • April Sun in Cuba (derr …)
  • Get That Jive (for trips to Chicago)
  • Are You Old Enough?
  • Still In Love With You
  • Rain

The Dynamic Hepnotics:

  • Soul Kind Of Feeling

The Easybeats

  • Friday On My Mind
  • She’s So Fine

Ed Kuepper:

  • The Way I Made You Feel

The sexiest chord progression. Maybe not of all time, but it is right up there.

Eric Bogle:

  • And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

GANGgajang:

  • Sounds of Then

The Go-Betweens

  • Cattle and Cane
  • Bachelor Kisses
  • Streets Of Your Town

Hoodoo Gurus:

  • My Girl
  • Bittersweet
  • Like Wow-Wipeout!
  • Good Times

Hunters & Collectors:

  • Throw Your Arms Around Me
  • Holy Grail
  • Say Goodbye
  • Do You See What I See?

One of the seminal bands of my (misspent) youth

Icehouse:

  • Hey Little Girl

INXS:

  • Need You Tonight
  • Original Sin
  • Never Tear Us Apart
  • New Sensation
  • Don’t Change
  • What You Need
  • I Send A Message
  • Burn for You
  • Mystify
  • Devil Inside

OK … THE seminal band of my (misspent) youth. Limiting it to 10 tracks was difficult.

Jet:

  • Are You Gonna Be My Girl?

Jo Camilleri (Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons & The Black Sorrows):

  • Shape I’m In
  • Hit & Run
  • Chained To The Wheel
  • Hold On To Me

Kylie

  • Confide In Me
  • Love At First Sight
  • Come Into My World
  • Better The Devil You Know
  • I Believe In You
  • Can’t Get You Out of My Head
  • Spinning Around
  • On A Night Like This
  • Slow

Because it’s Kylie. Because she rocks.

The Loved Ones:

  • The Loved One

Machine Gun Fellatio:

  • The Girl of My Dreams Is Giving Me Nightmares

Midnight Oil:

  • US Forces (fuck him!)
  • Beds Are Burning
  • Power and the Passion
  • When The Generals Talk
  • The Dead Heart
  • Blue Sky Mine
  • River Runs Red
  • Stars of Warburton
  • Kosciusko

Models:

  • Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight
  • I Hear Motion

Mondo Rock:

  • Come Said The Boy

Nick Cave (solo, associated collaborators, bands)

  • Red Right Hand
  • The Weeping Song
  • The Ship Song
  • Where the Wild Roses Grow
  • Henry Lee

Someone’s got to growl at the man (occassionally)

Paul Kelly:

  • From St Kilda To Kings Cross
  • Before Too Long
  • How To Make Gravy
  • Sweet Guy
  • Dumb Things
  • Darling It Hurts

Powderfinger:

  • My Happiness

The Presets:

  • My People

The Reels:

  • Quasimodo’s Dream

Richard Clapton:

  • Girls on the Avenue

The Saints:

  • Stranded

Sherbet:

  • Howzat

Sia:

  • Breathe Me

Silverchair:

  • The Greatest View
  • Tomorrow
  • Straight Lines

Newcastle. Reprezent.

Skyhooks:

  • Ego Is Not A Dirty Word
  • Horror Movie

Slim Dusty

  • Pub With No Beer

Split Enz (yeh yeh, whatever. I’ve got Crowded House & Dragon.)

  • One Step Ahead
  • I Hope I Never
  • Message To My Girl
  • I See Red

Stevie Wright:

  • Evie (Parts I, II & III)

The Triffids:

  • Wide Open Road

Warumpi Band:

  • My Island Home

Wendy Matthews:

  • The Day You Went Away

The Whitlams:

  • No Aphrodisiac

Yothu Yindi:

  • Treaty




See the mountain

18 01 2011

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.”

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Acceptance Speech on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize,

Oslo, December 10, 1964

The third Monday in January is a public holiday in the United States: Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Delivering his speech before the great and the good assembled in Oslo, The Rev. Dr King became, at 35 years old, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Feted before royalty and heads of state, he then became its shortest lived, assassinated on 4 April, 1968, aged 39.

I have been thinking about The Rev. Dr King for some time. Along with several other Twitter friends, I wanted to organise drinks for people with a passion for US politics eary in the new year, and thought this past weekend would be the perfect opportunity to do so. That was until the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, the deaths of six people and wounding of 19 attending her first ‘Congress in the Community’ meeting of 2011. The frenzied tweeting; the race to be first with the news – any news (including reports that Congresswoman Giffords had died, or was sitting up in bed); the hasty conclusions, claims and counter-claims about the mental health, political affiliation, musical tastes and reading habits of the young man arrested after the shootings; the impact of political rhetoric; gun laws; healthcare; homegrown terrorism – everything about America in 2011, compacted into one tragedy. I thought about it. USPol wonkdrinks would have to wait. Chiefly, because I was astounded by the way so many people I follow on Twitter saw this crime – and it is a crime: through the bifocal lens of our political system, ignoring the multipolarity of the US system, where a Jewish woman who had been a member of the Republican Party could be elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat representing a district in urban Arizona; where her seat, or her head, could be targeted in a map of surveyors’ marks or gunsight cross-hairs; a system which identified her as a “Blue Dog”, or fiscal conservative, who voted for President Obama’s healthcare reforms; a woman who was pro-choice and pro-gun. There is a left and right in US politics, but its electoral system encourages a middle ground where individual representatives put their individual interests ahead of the collective and attach demands of bridges to nowhere for their vote on a bill, blatant pork-barrelling known as ‘earmarks’. Few seem willing to acknowledge or understand the level of resentment towards ‘Washington’ and the perception that it writes cheques it cannot afford to cash that inspired the amorphous entity we know as the ‘Tea Party’; while its adherents might also be social conservatives, they are not the cookie-cutter base of the GoP. In short, the tie that binds is fear, not of God, but of government. It is a movement that has been hijacked by politicians and purveyors of the 10 word answer, hacks and haters more notable for backing failures in the 2010 Senate mid-term elections than successful candidates in the House.

The Rev. Dr King has been playing on my mind for weeks. His leadership of another amorphous entity, the civil rights movement; its expansion from the bigotry in Montgomery, Alabama, through to the March on Washington and his final push against the Vietnam War and poverty, whoever and wherever it marked. I was mindful in the early hours of this morning of other quotes from a preacher of the doctrine of non-violent civil disobedience, that, ‘a riot, is at bottom, the language of the unheard’; that ‘a man who won’t die for something is unfit to live’. He remains forefront in my mind as I read more claims and counter-claims regarding the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia and whether it was fomented by social media.

I say a resounding ‘no’. There is a breathtaking, post-colonial arrogance at the suggestion that Tunisians took to the streets to protest, and eventually ouster the despot Ben Ali, because social media made it so; that the truth of a leaked American diplomatic cable alerted the Global North to what Tunisians have known for years – that Ben Ali and his family and hangers on were corrupt; that educated young men have no prospect of employment, and were willing – nay, acted, on their despair – willing to die by their own hand in the belief, as the Rev. Dr King states, that, ‘freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed’. Acts of self-immolation have spread from Tunisia to Algeria, and now, Egypt. I see monks burning themselves in Vietnam, a war which cost America Johnson’s Great Society, according to King. The dictators of the Maghreb Union and Arab League may yet follow Ben Ali into the arms of the House of ibn Saud – but it will be in real life, at the cost of lives, not thanks to a Twibbon. We may know more – and information may spread faster – thanks to social media, but does it play that different a role to the French pamphleteers of 1789 – particularly in Tunisia, where al-Jazeera was not welcome and the internet and press censored and strangled?

Networks exist, but I cannot ascribe the fleeing of self-styled kings to ‘social networks’ as we know them. They are the palpable cry of people against networks of influence which free political actors from formal constraints of governance – the rules of representation, accountability and transparency; networks that coalesce around influential individuals, and infiltrate every element of the political process, helping those in power to keep it by manipulating the national polity and cultivating a culture of cronyism, solidifying a power base – such as Ben Ali’s – for 23 years – and making the machinery of government inefficient and susceptible to corruption. Such networks flourish in states where power is not diffused, making it difficult for opposition voices to be heard legitimately. When a society is wracked by what Kennes terms the ‘banalization of corruption and theft’, the nomenclature of the state ceases to bear meaning other than as a rallying cry for opposition. If the perception arises that just about anyone can do just about anything, longstanding norms and behaviours are turned on their head – suddenly and shockingly to us, as we read 140 character updates. If the norm-reversal extends across North Africa, then we must do more than hope that these ancien regimes will recede into the darkness. We must see the mountain, as Martin Luther King, Jr did in the final days of his life. We must say no to injustice, everywhere, wherever it exists. We can use social media as a tool, as Gabby Giffords did, inviting her community to be a part of her work in Congress; but in doing so, we must open ourselves to multiple voices, not simply amplify the ones we want to hear. Dismissing the dissenting opinion without applying critical thinking invites closed networks to flourish.





The Gitmo Archipelago, or how I learned to stop worrying and fell out of love with Barack Obama (Part I)

9 11 2010

“I’m sorry, Kimberley, but I’m an American. I don’t vote for the President of the world. I vote for the President of the United States of America. I’m from Chicago. Barack Obama is NOT what he represents himself to be. You don’t get in, or out of Chicago politics, as squeaky clean as people think this guy is. I’m for freedom, not socialism. I don’t want to be told what doctor I can see, or have my taxes support people who want to have five kids on welfare and never work. You bet I’ll vote for Sarah Palin if she runs in 2012.”

I’m sitting next to ‘Tom’, a businessman from Illinois, at a great restaurant in the West Village, New York City. It’s my last night here, and the antipathy towards President Obama is troubling me. I understand part of his argument: the US economy is up shit creek, and for many people, the paddle is out of reach. Every second ad on cable TV is for bankruptcy specialists. What I do not understand is why President Obama is not kicking against the pricks. I know you can’t blame the other side for everything, but President Bush rode his horse out of town with nary a bad word said against his economic record; the obsession with tax cuts while running a parallel, war-fuelled deficit defies belief; but he did it. It is four months before the midterm elections. Unemployment is running at almost 11 per cent. I walk around the financial district & it is though nothing, bar September 11, has hit the place. The investment houses, bailed out by the taxpayer, have returned to profitability. I feel sick that Australians, in general, do not understand how a combination of sound regulation of the financial industry and measured (though highly criticised) stimulus spending saved our country from this pain, and I am staying in one of the best neighbourhoods in New York. Poverty is not immediately evident, but former Mayor Rudy Giuliani did a good job of sweeping out the homeless. I may not agree with Tom, but he is considered, measured and engaged in the political process, and we agree to disagree, which is my default position on almost everything.

“Tom, I’m sorry – You’re the only superpower left. With that position comes responsibility. I’m not asking you to vote for Barack Obama because he’s a Democrat. Give me an intelligent, moderate Republican and go for your lives – but Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin negotiating Middle East peace talks? My country is at war because our then-government followed you. Socialised medicine? How many daughters did you say you have, Tom? Two? What are your daughters going to do if, god forbid, you’re in an accident and can’t work for six months. What if they have a genetic test, and they find out that they have the ‘breast cancer gene’? Will they be covered under your insurance? Will it be considered a pre-existing condition? What use is it to have the greatest pharmaceutical companies in the world if you cannot afford to buy medicine? How is access to a doctor ‘socialism’?”

We buy each other a drink. It’s hot, and a hot New York is not where Tom wants to be. He blames Barack Obama for almost everything, from the state of the economy to single mothers with five kids sucking the marrow out of his tax dollar to healthcare reform. If he thought big government controlled the weather, he would blame the President for that as well. 

The next day, I leave the Village for Penn Station and the Acela Express to Washington, D.C. – meeting my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen for 15 years. She married an American she met in Sydney, and become a citizen in time to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election. I page her, she pages me, and I am mortified when a ‘red cap’ (Amtrak porter) grabs my bags as we squeal and hug. “I’ve got these, Ma’am. Don’t worry, you’re with me now,” he says, but it’s a struggle. I’m used to it – my rule is that if I can’t carry it all, I can’t buy anymore. The red cap won’t hear of it, and my friend keeps walking and talking. I tip him $10 as we board the train, mostly from sheer embarrassment. My friend berates me as she juggles a handbag, laptop, iPhone & squeals at her business partner in an accent that is neither that of her birth, or home. She lectures me on tipping etiquette. I hold firm with my own tipping regime. I tipped $1 in Williamsburg on Sunday for $2 beers! How is that fair to a guy in his 50s hauling 30 kilos of shoes, handbags and cosmetics while we squawk like battery hens? Well, in this economy, she says, people are lucky to be working. I voted for Obama and now, I don’t know. We don’t see him enough. I mean, what’s he doing? You’re in politics, surely you think it’s not good that we don’t see him? I look at the gadgets and listen to the conversations about crazy clients she’s firing. Yes. In this economy. Maybe the President is working, I muse aloud; he was dealt a pretty crap hand. That said, if I was his comms director, I would have him do more Presidential press conferences – he’s done fewer than Dubya. That part I do understand. As a candidate, Barack Obama travelled overseas and was feted in the capitals of Europe. My friend voted for hope, audacity and change; for a candidate whose oratory captivated the world.  Now my friend has a President, and rarely hears his voice. He’s not a candidate; he’s not leader of a movement – he’s the POTUS. You need to kick arse when circumstances warrant it. People and pundits talk about consensus politics, reaching bipartisan solutions to national problems. It’s bullshit. Politics is adversarial. In a few short months, the Democrat majority in Congress is going to be put to the test and NO ONE does nasty adversarial politics better than the Republican Party. The GOP in full flight is a sight to behold. President Obama is being hit from the left and the right, and he’s doing a pretty good, Ali-style ‘ rope-a-dope’, taking a metaphysical pounding from George Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, round after round. President Obama is well into round two. He and the Democrat machine need to start bloodying the nose of the right. It’s July, 2010 and New York City feels as steamy as 1974 Zaire.

To be continued …