28 Apr. 2009

Grants culture

I am embarrassed to be posting this only now, over a year after it first appeared, but I have only just come across it: Stephen Buckle's 'Starved for some loving attention' which is I think a near-perfect analysis of What Howard Has Done To The Humanities in Australia.

23 Apr. 2009

"All good things must come to an end"

This is the incredible comment made by KRudd in relation to the bonus first homebuyer's grant (SMH article), despite the unwillingness of Rudd and the rest of the Australian political class to acknowledge this in relation to the broader economy.

Pulling the plug on these grants as of 30 June will cause two things to happen. Firstly, it will further overheat the housing market, as thousands upon thousands of buyers scramble to get on the property ladder. Sensible sellers will also be scrambling to sell at the same time. In fact, if you want to move, make sure to sell your house before 30 June and buy after the 30 June, because for once we have advance warning of the date on which a property bubble will collapse. The collapse in value we will see starting on 1 July will exceed the value of the first homebuyers' bonus. It will be an implosion of property prices across Australia, probably unprecedented, since this will occur exactly as the global depression really starts to slam into the country. That is, it doesn't make sense to buy a house before June 30, only to sell one.

The use of a homebuyers' grant as a form of economic stimulus only works if it is supposed to keep values up throughout a recession - yet Rudd is abandoning it exactly as the recession starts to take hold. The obvious conclusion is that that I made as soon as the grant was announced: this is not a stimulus package at all, but rather a bailout of petty bourgeois 'buy-to-let' property speculators, which includes most of the political class itself.

Camden

The news from Camden is unbelievable Islamophobic twaddle: local residents believe that Islam is a religion of world domination, terrorism and intolerance. I can't help but find their comments hilarious, though doubtless there is very great cause for concern here. I suspect the reaction of most will be to rail against the ignorance and bigotry of the individuals involved, but this I think misses the point, which is that such Islamophobic discourses are alive and circulating in Australia today, discourses which are the Protocols of the Elders of Zion of Islamophobia. These people are simply repeating what they've been told. What we are dealing with here is a wider culture of Islamophobia, not some isolated cluster in the backcountry.

22 Apr. 2009

Advice to first-home-buyers

Jessica Irvine's article in this morning's SMH is simply excellent – I couldn't have put it better myself.

20 Apr. 2009

Australia adamant in defence of Zionist racism

Not much media prominence here for the Australian government announcement that they will follow the widely reported announcement of the racist Obama administration that Australia will boycott a UN summit on racism (SMH report).

It would seem that for the Australian government, as for the US government, criticism of Apartheid in Palestine is something that cannot be countenanced, even if this means refusing international cooperation against racism. That is, support for Israel trumps both the UN system and anti-racism. Of course, we knew this: anyone who is genuinely anti-racist could never support Israel, nor could anyone who has any respect for the UN system.

Notable is that the Australian Human Rights Commission, which seems to be operating rather independently of and occasionally in opposition too the Australian government, are nonetheless sending their own delegation.

14 Apr. 2009

ATM charges

Just over a month ago, Australia introduced, for some reason, rules by which all banks would charge the customers of competing banks to use their ATMs, typically $2 a withdrawal. This has kind of fucked those of us who use a credit union, since credit unions don't have big ATM networks of their own. I expect this will in turn fuck credit unions, since customers would save money by moving to a bank with the largest networks. In general, the bank with the largest network will tend to profit from this – it's essentially an engine of monopolisation and not, as the RBA claim, an attempt to increase competition. In light of big banks in the UK and US getting into such trouble of late, it's possible for banks to demand that the government funnel all cash into them to keep them solvent, and I suspect that this is what's happening here.

The big news is a tiny bank, Bankwest, which pays its customers' charges at rivals' ATMs for them. However, the only reason Bankwest does this is because it will has to – this may also be the case for the credit unions, but whether they will be able to, or whether Bankwest can keep this up, remains to be seen. If people move their accounts to Bankwest in sufficient numbers, something might be done, I suppose, but there's not much inducement for people to do this if their current bank has a sufficiently large network, hence little inducement for the large operators to change their undoubtedly lucrative new charging policy.

11 Apr. 2009

Fibreoptic rollout

This article by Peter Hartcher makes for fairly extraordinary reading.

Kevin Rudd's bold election promise in respect of internet access in Australia indeed played a key role in his victory, largely because it was perhaps the most important thing that wooed Rupert Murdoch to his cause (the next most important thing was Howard's contempt for the education system, or perhaps just Howard's arrogance more generally).

Rudd proceeded on his plan by attempting to find a private contractor to do the job. This failed, since there were none willing or able. The main obstacle was that basically the only entity that is able is the telecommunications monopoly, Telstra, and they have an arrogance to fit their monopoly status, combined with the greed of a private-sector corporation.

Rudd's solution here is exactly what one would advise: he decides to do the whole thing as a public-sector project (though one presumes much of the work will still be through private contractors). The main problem for this is that the project as he originally envisaged it, fibre-to-the-node, relied on the usage of Telstra's local copper wire networks. The boldest step of all then, is to simply roll fibreoptic cable to every household in the country, at a gigantic cost of over $40 billion, 49% of the funding of which is to come from public or private subscription.

The genius of this is that it not just sidesteps, but ultimately kills, the privatised behemoth Telstra: Telstra's copper wire network will be reduced to its scrap value once every household has fibreoptic cable.

But of course, this is hardly socialism: it's the government stepping in to do what business demands in terms of providing infrastructure. It's being done on a maximally market model, though there is perhaps here at best a synergy of public and private interest that indicates that capitalism hasn't completely outlived its usefulness to humanity.