The 2014 Australian budget

The Guardian calls this budget a ‘massive moral failure’ and that is about right. From the cutting of the foreign aid budget to the further disadvantaging of those who already have little (students, the sick, families, the poor and unemployed), this budget is for the top 1% and the billionaires they aspire to become.

It’s also a huge affront to Australian democracy in general. It would seem that the banks, billionaires, mining companies and an international medical industry has voted in this excuse for a government. Those who tried to punish Labor by voting Liberal are now surely regretting their short sighted decision.

The vision of Australia that is emerging here is a nasty, distorted one that harks back to the pre-welfare era where there was nothing for so-called neo-liberal economics to destroy yet. The same semi-feudal zero-opportunity society that Pikkety’s famous new work describes from the past and paints as our new future: where wealth inequality rules reality and only inheritance determines your life chances. In other words the top 1% get everything and everyone else can toil for little, get sick and die without much help and only a massive societal upheaval (such as the Great Depression and two World Wars) can tilt the order back towards more equality and democratisation. But this time we may not have those forces.

Australia is probably one of the few societies left that can easily afford to play nice internationally, help prevent an environmental catastrophe, keep it’s relative equality and maintain its egalitarian outlook without being utterly misguided about its actual reality. And yet we have again squandered that chance with a ruthless conservative government who is now shamelessly dismantling what was left after the Howard government’s wholesale vandalism.

Looking forward to the revolt. Because revolt we must or risk our future replicating a nasty past we do not want to see ever again.

20140514-121952.jpg

Hipster gender reversal

Hipster gender reversal

These gender reversal exercises are becoming very popular and indeed, they do show up the differences between how men and women are portrayed in the popular media and advertising, the glaring double standards and how women are objectified while men continue to be portrayed as the ones with the active gaze and power.

This ones has a delicious twist to it: the Bondi hipster duo is imitating Miranda Kerr photos with hilarious satirical results. I may have to use this for my upcoming gender lecture!

The working poor of Academia

The working poor of Academia

Recently an American woman in her 80s died suddenly. She had no health benefits, no superannuation, no money. She wasn’t homeless or even without education or a profession. In fact, she was an adjunct professor at a university.

This story demonstrates the insidious tendency of universities employing academics under conditions that perhaps only non-educated fast food workers and the homeless endure. This maybe an American story but Australis is heading in the same direction with more than half of undergraduate teaching carried out by poorly paid postgrads, casuals of all sorts, part-timers and those on non-tenure track positions.

They are the dirty little secret of contemporary higher education. While universities tell students that getting educated is a ticket to a better life, those who are doing the teaching are sometimes destitute or frustrated to the max because recourse and change are impossible and they have wasted decades of their lives acquiring an education and a doctorate that leads to no decent professional life, sometimes not even a humane one.

“The dirty little secret is that higher education is staffed with an insufficiently resourced, egregiously exploited, contingent “new faculty majority.” In addition to the 49.3% of faculty in part-time positions (70% in community colleges), another 19% are full-time, nontenure-track. (These numbers do not include graduate assistants or postdocs.)

Adjunct professors, like many hard-working Americans, are the working poor. They are one step away from “We don’t need your services anymore” or one medical emergency away from being destitute, like Vojtko.”

Rhodes: Adjunct profs the new working poor

This is not the sign of a decent, rich, self-respecting or civil society.

The US of A’s ‘disposition matrix’

The US of A's 'disposition matrix'

What sort of monster has the US of A become? Orwell is crying in his grave. The Cold War sure was awful but this uni-polar world is starting to get really really nasty too.

Barack Obama’s weekly counter-terrorism meetings get to decide on what happens to drawn up targets from around the world. We are talking about human targets, Al-Shabaab figures or anyone else that US wants killed or silenced. The NSA no doubt plays a role in ferreting out where each person might be and the extensive network of military bases and drones play their role in carrying out the killings. The list is a secret and there is no rule for getting on it though the CIA and the military certainly contribute.

In Pakistan some 400 people have been killed in almost as many drone attacks since 9/11. A special court could be given oversight of these targeted, mostly extra-judicial killings. Others, who aren’t killed, could end up in black sites across the world, unknown prisons maintained by the US where people can be kept beyond international law or much legal oversight. No doubt some will be interrogated, tortured or otherwise pressured into confessions of some sort.

It seems the US is playing the international sheriff role and doing it in a wild west style as well: no international oversight, no democratic checks and balances, no proper procedures of justice. While I do not doubt there are some incredibly pesky terrorists around the world (small numbers, not very well armed or organised in general compared to the US) that the US deems to be against its interests. However, I cannot see why it would be of any benefit to the US or to anyone else to be acting in the above manner and creating a vast, complex, secret net of institutions that continues to carry out these killings.

However I can see a lot that the US and other supposedly fully democratic countries stand to lose: basic democratic principles such as fairness, justice and oversight. Sacrificing the most cherished basic values is a good recipe to losing the most basic meaning and values of a state. I also doubt most people want to live in a world that hurtles towards less security, less fairness and a setup in which one country and its allies are the only ones truly making the rules. What will be the checks, who will even know about these secret killings? What if they extend to others who are not exactly terrorists or are completely innocent of any crime and how will we ever know?

This is very scary. With the codename ‘disposition matrix’ it is also decidedly Orwellian. This is most definitely not the future anyone was hoping for when the Cold War ended.