Saturday, July 30, 2011

The cult of 'balance' discernible in US media also infecting our politics

I was struck by an article by Paul Krugman writing in the NY Times. He writes:

"The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation."

It does not stretch credulity too far by suggesting the same is happening here over the carbon tax imbroglio. The difference is that Abbott has not been able to take Australia hostage yet, but it is not through a want of trying. Krugman goes on,

"Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault."

Now that resonates with our experience. Our media has caught the same virus that sees extremist wing-nuts being trotted out on mainstream media platforms to sprout their propaganda, all in the name of 'balance'. On the ABC we get reactionary commentators and think tank apparatchiks spruiking extremism on a daily basis, lambasting the PM and vilifying the science on carbon warming. Cogent debate is sidelined by gross misrepresentation of facts, and shock jocks are given more credence than serious investigative journalists. Krugman again, with inserts by moi:

The problem with American/Australian politics right now is Republican/Coalition extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Our ABC - 7.30 plumbs new depths with Nixon interview

I had the misfortune to catch the Sales interview with Nixon tonight. What an awful interrogation. Thought I'd drop them a line, as follows:

"I have been underwhelmed by the quality of interviews on the re-vamped 7.30 but was prepared to give it another go as it can take time for front people to find their footing. I don't think there is much chance for Uhlmann as he just projects his own narrow take on most items. However, I had thought Sales had more substance.

After tonight's interview with Christine Nixon I have concluded it is a lost cause. We were treated to an aggressive, simple-minded interrogation that would have done Fox News proud. I am thoroughly sick of the ABC presenting as a 'soft' arm of News Ltd.

Nixon rattled corrupt male cages within Vicpol and was targeted as a result. It is a great shame that honest cops are subject to this type of demonization but welcome to modern leadership - Australia style! If you happen to be a woman the white-anting will be relentless and largely unquestioned by our fearless media."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Any lessons for Australia from Norway atrocity?

We have learned over the last couple of days that the Oslo mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, was a reactionary Islamophobe with a messianic bent. Progressive politics was conceived by him as the arch enemy of his crusade to reprise a 'christian', white Norway under a Templar banner. Overtones of Third Reich mythologizing and racial theory are discernible in his largely plagiarized manifesto. He appears to be a self-obsessed sociopath with little or no empathy with his fellow citizens. No doubt the full extent of his pathology will emerge over the next days, weeks and months, and to what extent he had links with internal and external players. It is of passing note that he appears to have been drawn to the ideas of John Howard, Cardinal Pell and Keith Windschuttle. I'm sure all of these men would be horrified by this connection but why are they in the picture at all?

A shameful xenophobia has been whipped up in this country by politicians and their apologists, particularly targeting Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers, whenever they need to shore up electoral support. They pander to a dark underbelly, where sub-cultures lurk that frequently find voice through an 'easy racism'. One Nation tapped into this phenomenon and a key legacy of the Howard years sees Coalition politicians exploiting this tendency ruthlessly. Misrepresentation of facts and ethnic stereotyping are the calling cards (or ‘dog whistles’) of ‘culture warriors’ within politics and the media, pandering to the ignorant and misinformed.

The Coalition has gained rich pickings from fear-mongering, as evidenced by the Queensland vote at the last general election. The 'tea party' rump of the One Nation party has drifted back to the LNP, in thrall to simple minded messages on debt & deficit, the carbon & mining taxes and good ole migrant & refugee bashing. The relentless banging of the fear drum on immigration and asylum seekers has enabled large swathes of the reactionary commentariat to shape public opinion in an unhealthy way. Commercial TV has been a disgrace for a long time in reporting immigration & asylum seekers issues.

The trend in recent times has been for serious current affairs programs to use Fox News style approaches to covering political issues. We get the constant crosses to so-called 'expert' commentators, many of whom are so politically biased as to verge on the farcical. There is also the tendency to use the lumpen media stalwarts as guest commentators. ABC News 24 constantly relies on so-called 'expert' commentary to 'fill' the analysis pieces - whose regular currency in trade is indictment of progressive policies and glad handling of reactionary approaches.

The skewed opinion settings of the mainstream media have galled me for a long time. Narrow sectional interests get a helpful leg up in most areas of debate on public policy. We also get a diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers; a plethora of important areas of public policy are 'spun' through the lens of media celebrities who survive on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, 'gotcha' moments and limpid sensationalism. Political analysis has been reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with the concentration span of a distracted gnat.

As a result of our simple-minded and largely mean-spirited approach to asylum seekers:

. We still see children behind bars because their parents or guardians had the courage & temerity to arrive on our shores unannounced

. Many accepted refugees struggle to find public housing and to get a toe hold on the economic ladder

. Asylum seekers in the twilight limbo of our detention centres are self-harming again out of desperation with a system that grinds painfully slowly and which treats them like criminals

. Trash language such as 'illegals', 'boat people', 'queue jumpers' and the rest of the nasty lexicon continues to pepper our air waves and be bandied about by politicians, shock jocks and right wing pamphleteers so as to press the buttons of the permanently credulous and the pygmy intellects of the lumpen mob

. A promise to reprise the Pacific Solution and to punish refugees with reinstatement of the draconian TPV regime remains a centerpiece of the Coalition's policy platform - twin violations of international human rights and refugee instruments

. The Government has been forced into harsh arrangements with neighbouring countries to counter the political wedge shaped around fear of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

. Migrants of Islamic faith continue to feel marginalized and demonized by the 'hate' media and fear-mongering demagogues whose dog-whistling clearly influenced a disturbed mind in Norway.

On another front we find the 32-year-old Norwegian Christian fundamentalist also accepted the conspiratorial thinking of some climate sceptics. Crikey has the story.

Thanks to Larvatus Prodeo

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bombs in Oslo - appalling coverage on our ABC

I sent the following feedback to ABC24 this morning:

"What a woeful coverage. Constant speculation whether it was a mad man, a terrorist or an alien. Constant simple-minded analysis as to Norway's international engagement, which is substantial and complex. Constant nonsense over whether Norway is prone to extremist politics which, like every country in the region, it clearly is through just a cursory analysis of the last few decades. There is a growing extreme right wing fundamentalism that has international links and there are home grown jihadi groups with possible aspirations to take domestic action in protest over Norway's involvement in Afghanistan.

Perhaps if you spent less time worrying about the nonsense on social media sites and more time employing people with some knowledge of international affairs you might do better. Our ABC has caught the dumbing down bug which inhabits commercial media. At least some of your interlocutors have tried to make some sense of the situation, warning against jumping to conclusions.

The immediate protocol for an event like this is locking down the crime scene, forensic analysis of the explosion area and an ever widening net of investigation based on evidence. This can take quite a while. Idle speculation on behalf of dim-witted journalists trying to get ahead of the facts is extremely counter-productive."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Abbott's 3m vision - misogyny, mediocrity and mendacity

The current Abbott stratagem is working a treat. He is tapping into tendencies in the Oz body politic that have endured over many generations. There are many that distrust and dislike well educated forceful women. I continually hear opprobrium bandied about on Gillard's marital status, her childlessness, her atheism, her industrial advocacy background (she must be a socialist). A nasty legend has been woven by misogynistic spin meisters who want their boy in power, and they will do anything (within the law presumably) to achieve it.

And then there's mediocrity. What has passed for journalism over the last months has been truly sad. Misinformation and outright disinformation have been the currency of many mainstream commentators. The template for this was set up with the formation of a minority government. Many in the print, radio and television media did not like this result. They did not anticipate it, they have no control over it, and they want it gone. As Keating said the other day in describing Abbott's response, 'if you are not going to give me the job I'll wreck the place'. Well yes, and he has friends to help him.

However, to get away with such a strategy you have to presume a highly credulous audience. Why do people fall for demagoguery in the first place? It taps into predilections & prejudices and panders to fear and ignorance. The anti-carbon tax campaign does all these things. Informed analysis is ignored by many in favour of dissemblers and hate-mongers. This is how the tea party operates in the US. As the esteemed intellectual Harold Bloom summed it up in a RN interview recently, the tea party signifies the growth of oligarchy in America and a creeping fascism.

Oh, and of course the whole stratagem is underpinned by mendacity. To make this work you have to paint your opponent as the 'liar'. I haven't heard an ounce of truth from any of Abbott's apologists, and certainly not from the man himself. He lies for a living and as good as admitted it in a notorious 7.30 report interview. Yet, he has the gall to fashion a political scare campaign around the central motif of the PM having lied about a carbon tax. Why does this work? The answer comes back to misogyny and mediocrity. We are mired in a reactionary mindset that enables this type of low-rent politics to succeed. Howard did it and now Abbott is doing it, and we are having it done to us.

The only way to counter this approach is to keep stating the simple truth. Opinion is malleable but the facts don't lie. The nay-sayers on climate change action can find comfort in Abbott's magic pudding, but it is illusory and will end in tears for generations to come. Putting a price on carbon is essential to achieving structural change in our economy; structural change is necessary to achieve the investment in clean energy solutions; clean energy solutions are essential for a sustainable future. It ain't rocket science, but a difficult pill to swallow in challenging economic times. Is this country to become a model for positive change or a sniveling, whingeing echo of the tea party phenomenon? Australians must be very careful what they wish for.....and keep the faith folks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The editorializing virus sweeping the ABC strikes the World Today

The Political Sword deconstructed an interview by Sabra Lane on RN the other day.

Lane was at again today on the World Today with a typically one-sided interview with Swan.

I sent the following feedback to the World Today website:

"As with an earlier interview on RN Lane has conducted a rude, simple-minded interview completely lacking in balance and cogent reasoning. It came across as a Coalition inspired attack on the most important structural change to our economy in well over a decade.

An excellent deconstruction of Lane's earlier interview with Swan can be found at

Every step of the way ABC reporters are out digging for negative reactions to the package, whipping up more fear in place of reasoned analysis of the package as a whole.

Why isn't the focus on the reactions of people who actually know a thing or two about the implications of the package. I did'nt hear any question from Lane on today's survey of the reaction of economists to climate change policies. This type of journalism is execrable and doing our country a great disservice.

Many people are sick of the editorializing virus that is sweeping the ABC, seeking to shift opinion on the major issues of the day. In your quest for so-called 'balance' some dreadful 'pamphleteers' get a regular airing, such as those from thoroughly compromised think tanks such as the IPA.

No wonder the PM's polling is going south on matters of national importance such as carbon pricing. Our ABC is out there doing the reactionary's job for them. Journalists like Lane need to go back to journalism school. Poor fella my country...."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our ABC losing the plot again on carbon pricing - Q & A becomes a parody of itself

And so it goes. Labor continues to receive the worst polling in living memory and the national broadcaster continues to operate as it if it was a promotional arm of the Coalition's media machine.

I think the msm have never forgiven JG for stitching up a deal for minority govt. Few, if any, of the gallery predicted the minority govt result and they gave Gillard a snow ball's chance of negotiating with the rural independents and then expected the deal would go to hell in a hand-basket under the relentless fear campaign of Abbott. In fact the legislative record of this govt is pretty impressive.

ABC 24 is littered with one liners and headlines slamming the carbon price package. It is relentless. Every step of the way ABC reporters are out digging for negative reactions to the package, whipping up more fear in place of reasoned analysis of the package as a whole.

An excellent deconstruction of a Radio National interview with Swan can be found at the Political Sword blog.

What will be a truly important structural change for this economy was excoriated by a relentless patter of negativity and spleen from those who are either the authors of, or who have swallowed, the fear and misinformation campaign of vested interests and the Abbott Coalition.

At one of the meetings attended by Hockey, an idiot suggested it was time guns were used to convey their opposition to the carbon tax. This is what comes of a fear and loathing campaign. I can't help but think a big whack of misogynistic bigotry underpins a lot of the mindless opprobrium hurled at the PM. It truly reeks.

Yesterday we had Q & A served up to us. I gave up watching the show some time back as I thought it had become a vehicle for Jones to interpolate his oh so clever interrogations of Labor politicians in a captive state. All pretty poor form & tedious, redolent with gotcha and simple-minded "oh I know what you knew when someone else thought you knew" moments (argghhh).

I followed a ball by ball account of the show on one of our national political blogs and sent the following bouquet:

"I didn't watch your show as I foresaw Jones grandstanding as usual, being gratuitously rude to the PM with his oh so clever interruptions (there's something about strong women that gets your Tone), and the usual ill-informed, half-baked questions that suggest a critical acuity of minus 3.

I have been following reporting of tonight's show on several political websites and the overall verdict is the PM was excellent under fire and the audience was completely negative.

Tone should take the time to read Lyndsay Tanner's Sideshow and think a little about the profession of journalism, and then take a hard look at what passes for 'analysis' under the guise of political commentary on our ABC. Then he should ask himself, 'did I make a difference'?

As it stood, prior to his joining the 'let's destroy Julia' crowd (group/hive think courtesy of that bastion of balanced journalism, Uncle Rupe) I would have said he was holding his own.

With performances like tonight's and so many in recent times on Q & A he has become part of the problem with today's msm - all gotcha moments and simple-minded wind. Keep up the great work.......Poor fella my country."

Meanwhile Abbott has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true 'man of the people' with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink)...Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they're being conned again.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Asylum seekers in Australia: Memories of Tampa, a leaky boat and a dodgy government

ABC Online is reporting this morning that "former Defence Force personnel have spoken out about the Tampa and children overboard affair, accusing the Howard government of manipulating events for political purposes".

I was in harness in PNG when the Tampa situation arose. My heart sank and my stomach churned as I knew Howard was the type of politician to twist these circumstances to his political benefit. Little did I know to what extent I would be dragged into the disgusting quagmire that became known as the Pacific Solution.

I have mused on the experience as follows:

"In August 2001 news reports began filtering through that the Australian Government led by John Howard as Prime Minister had detained a boatload of mainly Afghani refugees on the high seas. The cargo vessel was the Tampa, a word that has become etched indelibly into my consciousness. The ‘boat people’ saga had begun. Ten weeks later the Australian people returned the Howard Government to office in a general election and the ignominious strategy to label offshore asylum seekers ‘illegals’ and detain them in third countries had been labelled the Pacific Solution.

I am haunted by this epithet as it is resonates with sinister ‘solutions’ found elsewhere in the twentieth century in the name of national security and identity. The cover notes to David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s chilling account of events that “shattered many of the myths Australia has about itself and changed profoundly the way it is seen in the eyes of the world” summarize events concisely:

They put lives at risk. They twisted the law. They drew the military into the heart of an election campaign. They muzzled the press. They misused intelligence services, defied the United Nations, antagonized Indonesia and bribed poverty stricken Pacific states. They closed Australia to refugees – and won a mighty election victory.

At the time I was well into the second year of a diplomatic posting to Papua New Guinea (PNG). I worked for Australia’s overseas aid agency, AusAID. My career had involved me in human rights and refugee activities in several countries, including Southern African states on the front line against apartheid, Nepal, India and PNG. During my working life Australia had held out a helping hand to refugees from various conflicts, including Tibet, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Now we were turning our back on Afghanis fleeing the most repressive and murderous regime to emerge out of the ruins of the Soviet invasion, the Taliban.

I traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1970s as part of a wave of adventurous backpackers criss-crossing the Middle East and South Asia during those halcyon years. A Russian military presence was evident in Kabul but the hell of military invasion was yet to unfold. Young Afghani students in western dress gathered in coffee shops, tourists mixed with locals in cheap eating houses and live music could be heard in the evenings, emanating from a myriad small guest houses and hotels.

Kabul was a welcoming, relaxed haven for travelers en route to exotic destinations in this ancient tribal fiefdom, and Iran or Pakistan. Later as a doctoral student in India I had the great fortune to form deep friendships with both Afghanis and Iranians. Some were escaping the strictures of the Khomeini regime in Iran and the terrors of war in Afghanistan. India provided a safe sanctuary and a place to study.

The brutalization of Afghanis and others under Australia’s refugee policies was not only an affront to ideals that drew me into the arena of overseas aid, but hurt at a more subtle emotional level as I projected what it would mean for my erstwhile friends.

The Tampa affair and the crushing reality of the punitive policies it spawned saw me withdraw iteratively from a state machine that was imprisoning refugees in desert gulags, endangering lives of desperate people at sea, engineering and re-engineering the Pacific Solution and the cruel regime of temporary protection visas.

I had been involved on the margins of the Pacific Solution in PNG but the crunch came in an ironic twist. On return from PNG I was thrust into the midst of a whole-of-government stratagem to punish refugees. As part of what I perceived to be an orchestrated marginalization process by senior managers, I was put in charge of aid to Nauru. This ill-begotten program was a bribe to a failed state to accept complicity in our politically motivated violation of the rights of the people dumped on Nauru. It ran contrary to the various manifestos of sustainable development and good governance we belaboured in our dealings with other Pacific states dependent on Australian aid.

By default I became a member of the Prime Minister’s task force on offshore asylum seekers or ‘illegal migrants’ or ‘boat people’, depending on the agenda of the day. The core business of this group of senior public service, police and defence assets was to construct, deconstruct and re-engineer the legal, logistical and administrative underpinnings of boat arrivals policy and to shape (spin) the official line for their political masters. Lawyers were central to the exercise to test and tweak the legal ramifications and inner workings of excising chunks of Australia from the migration zone.

The most extreme construct involved excision of the total Australian landmass from the migration zone. It would be ‘pythonesque’ if the consequences were not so tragic for the victims. I became a member of the Immigration Department’s coordination committee on the Nauru detention facilities, which regularly and perfunctorily discussed how to manage detainees who had self-harmed or adopted other forms of protest. It was a dehumanizing, soul-destroying experience."

This is a short excerpt from a memoir I have tried to pen on these unsavoury events.