Monthly Archives: October 2012

In Thirteen Words

Capitalism is the enemy of humankind.

It wants to replace us with machines.

Coming Attractions

I owe this blog some reviews — of Argo, Shadow Dancer and The Mystery Of A Hansom Cab. All are remarkable in different ways, and should be seen.

Give me a couple of days.

I am going tonight to the Friels Death of a Salesman, and to the Wharf Revue again on Friday. Hopefully Bob Carr will see it with me sometime, and Jen Robinson who said she would.

Obama seems okay now after what can only be described as divine intervention.

I should stop watching television.

And so it goes.

Storms From My Father (2): The Mitt And Sandy Show

Hard to see how Romney-Ryan can win from here. Ryan proposed, this year, the end of all moneys to FEMA, the agency currently swabbing out and rebuilding Eastern America. Romney proposed, last year, its privatisation.

Romney thinks Big Government should be wound up and the taxes that fund storm repairs given back to the entrepreneurs. He thinks those who make bad choices, like buying a beachside house in the East or catching leukemia, should pay for it; bankrupt their families to pay for it, in millions if need be. Obama looks more merciful than this, and more in control of the winds and waves when crying ‘Peace, be still.’

And of history’s priorities too. On Sunday night the Geronimo film, about the SEALs that shot Bin Laden once in the face and five times in the chest, will be seen by fifty million people keen to vote on Tuesday, and on Monday downloaded by twenty million more; voters who may then judge Obama a man of iron will, and Romney a vacillating pussy. By then Romney-Ryan will no doubt have been asked by stormwashed Ohioans why, if elected, they will cut off the money for the clean-up, or reduce it.

And they may have nothing convincing to say, in this, the state they need to win. And so it will go.

As I always tend to say in weeks like this, ‘Bad policies lose votes.’ And though the Murdochists try each day to remove all hint of policy from political discussion — Craig Thomson’s imaginary strumpet is back again this morning — it all comes back to policy eventually. Had Gore got 285 more votes in Florida in 2000 there would have been no Hurricane Sandy. Had Beazley got 1000 more votes in 1998 there would have been no Iraq War.

Policy is important; and the more we avert our eyes from it the more we suffer down the track.

And this the Eastern Seaboard is discovering as we speak, and watch television, and shake our heads.


Lines For Obama (11)

  • Governor Romney’s view is that we should spend money less on emergency services, that emergency services are a luxury we cannot afford. That emergency services should be devolved to the States for the moment, and then after that be managed by the private sector, and profits made from them by wily CEOs.

    This is not a rumour, he has said these things while seeking his party’s nomination. His view is that we should elect him for a raft of similar policies, policies that ask us to spend less and less on what we need, like health care, like cleaning up after disasters, like hunting down terrorist leaders, and give the money we thereby save to billionaires. If you believe this boyish nonsense, vote for him. If he has changed his mind, he should say in what regard.

    I invite him to reply.

  • Lines For Obama (10)

    As Lincoln said, you don’t change horses in midstream.

    Lines For Obama (9)

    When a hurricane strikes, the first thing we need is the government to help us out. When an economic hurricane strikes, the last thing we need is the government to help us out.

    This is what Governor Romney thinks. If you believe it makes sense, vote for him. If you believe private enterprise should run World Wars and fire brigades and maternity wards and run them for profit, vote for him.

    Vote for the man who believes all that Sandy’s backwash needs is the unchained marketplace, picking up the pieces, or rowing away on them.

    Vote for Romney. His ideas have never worked before, but you never know.

    Classic Ellis: The Varying Price of a Roof

    (From The Capitalism Delusion)

    In September, October, November and December 2008 forty percent of the world’s money vanished.

    Where did it go? Can we print some more? Why not? The reason, we’re told, is that it never existed, or truly existed, in the first place.

    It was only the value put on property, or on the debt accruing to that property, which the various banks and corporations had or, for the moment, controlled.

    Debts for houses bought when interest rates were one percent and could no longer be paid when interest rates went up to five percent were thought to be worth, in money, the price – or the initial price in 2003 – of that house.

    But as factories closed and jobs went offshore – as economic fundamentalism, you might say, kicked in – workers in hock for the price of their houses could no longer afford them, even at one percent.

    And the houses in thousands went on the market and the prices plummeted.

    And the value of loans held by banks that were passed on to hedge funds went down, way down, grew ‘toxic’, and the assumed wealth vanished. And because each debt propped up, like a vertebra, some part of the long rickety spine of global finance, it soon fell down into shambles – the international shambles that we now call ‘The Great Recession’.

    This leads us to ask the core and fundamental question: Why is there such variation in the cost of a dwelling? Why, in short, does the price of a roof so vary?

    A roof is a human addiction. It keeps out the rain. Like certain drugs (heroin, tea, hot chocolate, beer, Xanax) it gives us a sense of calm. It prevents old people from getting pneumonia and children being scared at night by sinister shapes in the trees.

    A roof is a popular emollient. But what, as a rule, does it cost?


    There is no rule to this.

    A budget motel in Wagga Wagga costs forty-five dollars a night. A hotel in New York costs four thousand five hundred dollars a night. A hostel bed in Devonport, Tasmania, twenty-two dollars a night. A stateroom on the Queen Mary 2 a thousand dollars a night.

    The customer in each case is protected from being rained on and warm in bed with access to a colour television but he is charged inordinately for those extra things – a conference room, a minibar, a swirl- bath, an ocean view – that he doesn’t strictly need.

    He is charged, in fact, in thousands a night, for a feeling he gets of status. Of being approved, acclaimed by the surroundings in which, for a night or the length of an ocean cruise, he is monarch of all he surveys.


    The same thing is true for him when he comes to buy a house.

    He can buy in Eritrea a half-acre compound of rickety chook-houses capable of accommodating in rude comfort an eighteen-member extended family and three dogs for eight thousand five hundred dollars. Or he can buy a one-bedroom flat in Tokyo with a city view and a swirl-bath for two million dollars. This might accommodate in fair comfort two people and exclude any animals whatever. And it costs two hundred and thirty-five times as much as the Eritrea compound.

    Why the discrepancy?

    The Eritrea compound has many advantages. It has built-in babysitters and playmates for its many children. It has room to keep chickens in and a courtyard barbecue table for family gatherings. It has a feeling of mutual support and family affection, and though squabbles break out and occasional acts of marital violence, it has a unanimity of purpose and a group-hug loyalty that will leave the children largely untraumatised and ready to face the world.

    Whereas in the Tokyo flat there may be no children at all. There will be the occasional shared swirl-bath and nights at home watching TV and eating takeaway sashimi but no great immersion in human life, as we understand it, or as we want to understand it, at all.


    How does this discrepancy in house prices, and consequent ways of life, occur? How can the free market, when it comes to the price of dwellings, be said to be wise, and price regulation (as happens in command economies) be said to be just plain wrong?


    In County Galway the average price of a stone cottage went up from nine thousand Irish pounds in 1974 to three hundred thousand pounds in 2009. This meant anyone buying it at the latter price would have to give up a good deal of his or her life to service the mortgage.

    In contrast to 1979, he or she could no longer afford a weekend cruise to the Aran Islands, many restaurant meals or nights over Guinness Pie at the pub or fresh cuts of meat to cook at home or tango lessons at the church priory. To afford his stone hovel and patch of ground, a romantic dream he has had since boyhood, he has to give up most of his lifestyle.

    If the interest rates go up, as they will tend to do, he has to give up even more. One more restaurant meal. The trip he planned to take to Venice with his girlfriend.

    How did this all happen? How did the fates conspire to cost him so much happiness? How is he made by mere economics to sacrifice so much for the house of his dreams?

    How is it likely that in contrast to the peasant owners of that property two generations back, who could somehow afford twelve children, he can afford only one?


    Why has the price of a house, a flat, gone up so much?

    You can still buy a second-hand caravan for five thousand dollars; which sometimes, depending on where you park it, has a water view. Why does a flat with similar amenities – two beds, a kitchen table, a toilet, a shower, a stove, a fridge and handy access to quality shops – cost a hundred times as much? Why is a dwelling on wheels so reprehensible, and a dwelling perched on fifty other dwellings in a drug-pushing, polluted city so much better an idea?


    A similar question arose in the author’s family regarding the seaside block his father Keith bought in 1946 in Fingal, an unfashionable backwater in coastal New South Wales, on a sandy half-acre of land between a slimy lagoon and a pristine beach, for five pounds. With friends’ help he built on it, in concrete bricks manufactured on the spot, a rudimentary two-room dwelling we would go to at Christmas.

    My sister Kay eventually inherited it, and built above and around it, spending a hundred thousand dollars, a beautiful, spacious dwelling she, her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandsons now live in.

    The property is now worth one point one million dollars. Eight hundred thousand of the value is the land. It has water on either side. No assessment of inflation in the Australian economy can account for the rise in land value by eighty thousand percent.

    If the land value had gone up at the same rate as the average wage, it would now cost one thousand one hundred and two dollars. And it currently costs, if Kay cares to sell it and some poor fool to buy it, seven hundred and twenty-six times that amount.

    How did this occur?


    The economic fundamentalists would have us believe it happens naturally.

    As the population increases, they assert, and the number of seaside blocks does not increase, the natural workings of the market force up the value of my dad’s five-pound purchase to eight hundred thousand dollars. And if the poor fool has to spend forty-two percent of his household income paying it off, well, tough on him. The Unseen Hand has decided things be this way, and There Is No Alternative, TINA, as Mrs Thatcher used to say.

    (We’ll come to her in a minute.)

    This is what they say, these level-playing-field apostles of the Economic Inevitable, the way things have to be.

    But is it in fact the case? Does it really happen this way? It did, surely, didn’t it?


    No, actually.

    I am told by secret informants that this is wrong. I am told that if you believe this fancy Mendelian hypothesis you are fallen into error.

    Australia has a small population and one of the longest coastlines of any country in the world. Beachfront properties, and water-view properties, should not be, as they are, as expensive as luxury apartments overlooking Central Park in trendier, more crowded New York. Why do they cost as much in a country so sparsely populated with so much land to acquire and develop and so many water views?

    What actually happens (I am told) is this.

    A bank buys four houses in the same street for a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars each. A year later, it sells one of them, by prearrangement, to another part of the bank, or an affiliated bank or financial entity, for a hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

    Six months later this entity sells it back to the bank for two hundred and forty thousand dollars. A year later the bank puts it on the market for three hundred and ten thousand dollars and lends money at eight percent to the poor fool who buys it. He feels he has to buy it because the prices are currently going up so fast. He has to get in now, or he will never get in.

    The bank then sells the other three properties in the same street, having rented them out in the meantime, to three other fools for three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars each, a mark-up of two hundred thousand dollars, or one hundred and sixty percent, in two and a half years.

    And, seeing what people are paying for indifferent inner-suburban or beach suburb houses with tiny lawns, the real estate agents begin to put similar prices on similar clapped-out wood-and-fibro dwellings, and the prices inexorably rise.

    And the banks lend money at eight percent, and in some years seventeen percent, to the fools who buy them at that price.

    And the real estate agents pocket up to four percent, that is twenty-five thousand dollars or so, of each new high price.


    The result has been a social catastrophe.

    The average working Australian does not spend any more, as he did in the 1950s, nineteen percent of his wage on his mortgage, but thirty-eight percent. His wife works too in at least a part-time job to make ends meet and because of the financial pressure she delays having children until her early or middle thirties – or her late thirties or early forties – and has, on average, only 1.93 of them, where her grandmother in 1961 had 3.5. She has at least one miscarriage and neglects the one or two children that have survived because she is working, and is in no fit state to gratify her exhausted husband when he comes home after working late in a job he detests and goes drinking, and sometimes skirt-chasing, because of.

    He so exhausts himself in his prime years, his thirties and forties, shovelling banknotes into the furnace of his mortgage and shouting at his wife and avoiding his children and chasing muff, that in time, pretty often, a divorce results, and the house he gave up so much for is sold, and in two grimy flats in less appealing suburbs, he, his wife and his traumatised and divided children (already smoking tobacco and drinking vodka and keen to try worse drugs) regard the ashes of their marriage, their grand illusion, with discontentment, find other partners, have or adopt other children, have side affairs and take on other mortgages on other worse houses that still cost too much.


    If their first house (a Coogee hovel with a sliver of water view) had cost not seven hundred and eighty thousand but one hundred and eighty thousand, their lives would have been different.

    She would not have had to work in her prime, child-bearing years. They could have afforded more children. The children, with siblings and an available consoling mother, would have grown up less alone. They would not have had to move to another suburb, losing their peer group, after the divorce. They would not now be, as some of them are, on crack cocaine.

    The economy, moreover, would be the better for it. More money, much more money, would have been spent on soap and soup and shoes and schoolbooks, on cinema tickets and elective dental crowns and lean meat and fresh fruit and family vacations in caravan parks and seaside hotels and memorable rides on luxury trains and ski holidays.

    The economy would have been booming, as it was in the 1950s, when a one-job couple spent only nineteen percent of their household income on a mortgage, or eleven percent on house rental.

    There was more spending money around in those days. And it was spent, in the human way, on pleasurable things.


    It isn’t now, because houses and rents cost too much. An average house in Melbourne required in 2008 an average mortgage payment of seven hundred and eighty percent of an average wage.

    This is the central fact of the western economies and nobody till August 2008 (when house prices dropped to a dollar in Michigan) did anything about it.


    This was when some leading, respected economists discovered, surprise, surprise, that a man who can afford to buy an one hundred and forty-thousand-dollar house in Michigan when he has a job, at an interest rate of one percent, cannot keep up payments on that house when he loses that job and the interest rates go up to four and five percent.

    When the amount he has to pay weekly quadruples.

    A year ago I wrote in a column that is widely read that house prices that were three and four times what they ought to be were ‘the elephant in the room’, and if they kept rising, and if the interest rates kept rising, ‘then everything would go to hell’.


    And so it has come to pass.

    And we have to begin to decide, as if starting from scratch, what is, and what should be, the variable cost of a roof. And what a fair rent should be. And whether it is fair that a couple who can only afford a one-bedroom flat in a grimy suburb should in fear and longing and solemn yearning decide they can’t afford to have any children at all.

    There are millions of worthy, intelligent people not being born because of economic fundamentalism; discuss.

    But … there is no alternative.

    Even though the 1950s worked quite well, with fewer divorces, drug busts, alcoholics, murders, fatal car crashes, teenage mothers, drug-addled prostitutes, hit men, gang wars, enslaved illegal immigrants and the rest of it.


    ‘There is no alternative’ (TINA) is what Mrs Thatcher used to say.

    The woman who with some harsh, emphatic, half-cocked simplicities caused the greedy eighties and wrecked the world. Her husband was an oil executive who subsidised with millions that she never earned (nor he either, really) her brilliant career. He called her ‘the boss’ and she was very bossy.

    She told the non-millionaires of England they were ‘moaning Minnies’ who should ‘get on their bike’ when they lost their job and find another.

    She closed the coal mines down when she didn’t have to, destroying many working class lives, the way she liked to, turning young men into street beggars living in cardboard boxes with their pit-bull terriers in the Strand, and was told by Ronald Reagan and other economic fundamentalists that she had ‘balls’ and was ‘the toughest man in England’, because she didn’t mind wrecking lives in her hot pursuit of the bottom line.

    The number of suicides she caused is unknown but would be in the tens of thousands.

    Think about that for a while. There was an alternative, that these dry bones might live, and she chose that they would die.

    What a cruel, crazy bitch she is. But more of her later.


    Summing up thus far.

    We have seen, thus far, that CEOs’ wages and house prices are far too high and share price hikes far too cruelly achieved and these three things bring such evil in their train that all the western economies are now in danger, and in part because of them, because of these things in part, capitalism is becoming seen by many thinking observers, and many ordinary people, to have failed. To have been a delusion, a snare and a delusion.

    This book will show they are not the only causes of why it has failed, if it ever in fact was tried, which the author will argue it was not, but they are some of them.


    So what do we do?

    There is no particular difficulty in limiting by legislation what CEOs get for their incompetent sloth, limiting it, say, to four times the wage of the President of the United States, and making them give back their bonuses when they stuff the company up.

    But what else do we do?

    About house prices, the early-onset diabetes of the economy of the world?

    …No, no, not yet.

    More of this later. Till then let us look at a few more delusions.

    Storms From My Father

    The coming storms will help Obama. They will allow him to say, or show, that Government has a big role when disaster strikes, and letting the market decide who picks up the pieces, which is Romney’s plan, and Ryan’s, is a foolish one, as foolish as privatising the weaponry, chain of command and boots on the ground of World War 2.

    He can say, or show, he is Commander-in-Chief, the one who when the odds were only fifty-fifty took out Bin Laden even after a helicopter crashed at midnight and got every SEAL home alive. The one who got us out of Iraq, ‘a war that should never have been authorised and should never have been fought’. The one who got the heroes of 9/11 free health care, despite the pre-existing conditions of some of their dusted lungs. The one who got the jobs coming back, and the house prices upswinging again, and the cars coming off the assembly lines in Ohio, Illinois and Michigan.

    It’s probably enough. But it won’t wrest the House from the Tea Party. Nor will bring on the tax rises that else woud stop the economy from tanking.

    Obama is lucky; a curious quality some politicians have, like Hawke, and Carr, and Blair, and Rann, and others, like Beazley, and Rees, and Crean, and Firth do not. He will be okay. But it may be 2015 before he gets anything more worth doing done.

    And it’s a pity.

    Certain Housekeeping Matters (8)

    I have been unwell and perhaps impatient, but my several bannings for life will stand. They include Shad, Phill, Noel, Broomhilde and Terry Vanuatu. They seem to me to be mischievous and insincere. I print Frank and M Ryutin because, although they disagree with me, they display some intellectual superstructure and some conscience. I do not print Marilyn and Jim, who mostly agree with me, because of their sins against the English language.

    It is worth noting I do not like people who say ‘tee hee’ or ‘darls’ or print their utterances in intermittent capitals.

    No appeals will be considered or entered into.

    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (67): The O’Farrell Newspoll Exposed As A Lie

    Yesterday’s Newspoll showed Labor on 43, two party preferred, in New South Wales. And next Tuesday’s Newspoll will show Labor, probably, on 49 federally.

    But these two polls do not add up, and O’Shannessy, on Murdoch’s orders, has cheated the figures again after hiding the 50-50 he got last Tuesday. Let me explain.

    On Thursday he showed Labor in Victoria on 55 two party preferred, and he has Labor on 43 in South Australia.

    Victoria has 3.8 million voters in it, 2,090,000 voting or preferring Labor. New South Wales has five million voters in it, 2.15 million voting or preferring Labor. South Australia has 1.3 million voters in it, 688,000 voting or preferring Labor.

    This means for Labor to achieve 49 percent Australia wide, 69 percent of Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory has to vote Labor or prefer it.

    This is a measure — in my view — of how much Newspoll likes to lie to us between elections, though it gets the numbers right, or nearly right, on the day.

    What is probable is Labor is on 48 or 50 percent in New South Wales, and 51 or 52 percent in Queensland, and 57 or 58 percent in Victoria. Then it starts to add up.

    Which means Newspoll has been understating these numbers for months now. I wonder why.

    I will check these figures and get back to you.

    In the meantime, discuss.

    James Button’s Quiet Masterpiece

    (First published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 27 October, 2012)

    James Button writes of looking up suddenly at night and thinking his father is looking down at him from a particular parliamentary window. And we feel intensely what this beautifully written book is about: a journey around a mostly absent father, the warm, sad, humorous, brilliant public figure, and Labor hero, he wishes he had known better.

    His dead brother David simmers at the heart of this memoir/essay on speechwriting and Labor history and family obligation, and the curious honour of the Public Service, a jumpy, clunky, difficult abrasive young brother he, James, mocked, and their father John might have saved from death by overdose had he been more often home and not away with other women or building his career. Survivor’s guilt, it is called, and I who lost a sister have it, and Bob Carr, who lost a brother, and Simon Crean and John Bannon and Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley; you feel the wrong brother might have been taken: it should have been you. And you write a love letter to the dead, and try to get on with it, and you can’t.

    James came back from England to watch his father die: ‘I mostly forgot that he had ever been a politician. He was my father, both near to me and disappearing, setting his face to the job of dying, and silently getting on with it.’ And then in a mood of atonement he tried his father’s place of work in Canberra, speechwriting, for Kevin Rudd. It ended badly and soon, but he hung around in the public service, coming to admire that underpraised institution, and its exact and copious way of speech, and with gems of wisdom, tells us how it was.

    Speechwriting is like what Raymond Chandler said of screenwriting: you are wearing your second best suit, professionally speaking. You must learn to care, but not too much. James finds himself toned down, redistributed, chopped in fragments, discarded, lied to. Huge topics (population limits, the collapse of credit markets, the trauma of Gallipoli, the multiculture) are winnowed into banalities. Rudd’s restless, improvisatory, jaded indecision, his need to own every word, and therefore rewrite it, is impossible to service, and soon he has lost caste, and after a Prime Ministerial tantrum is drop-kicked into the public service. And there he has time to look at his nation, and how it’s going, and ruminate on it.

    He sees journalism, and the Labor Party, and all sense of community vanishing before his eyes, and the narrow individualistic fantasy of the social media replacing it. He sees the ‘on-message’ new puritanism of political discourse strangling every new thought in it. He sees Rudd fall, knows why – he was both ‘obsessed with order and a peddler of chaos’ – and wonders what made him so.

    And absent father perhaps; or a God-botherer’s belief that he is Chosen and all his advisors a mere applauding audience of his angel-wrestle with his Mission, if only he could remember what it was. ‘Tense, defensive’, he calls him; fretful, sarcastic, impatient, ungrateful. What a pity. What a national waste.

    But by then James is gone, back to his young family in Melbourne. He thinks of speechwriting for Gillard; is not hired; is offered a job instead with Kim Carr; decides not to chance it again; not now.

    He turns fifty; reads a portrait of John Button when young; finds that his father beat him (‘this will hurt me more than it hurts you’) and his mother wept at the foot of the stairs as he was nightly thrashed for imagined iniquities. He reads up on that grandfather, Norman, a cultured, stylish, poor-born English cleric, stifling in barbarous Ballarat, unpromoted, unhonoured, unliked, hating his life; a thwarted writer too, like all his descendants, like Rudd a bit.

    Some of it makes sense; to understand is to forgive, Ben Chifley said. Hardest to bear though is his father leaving his mother when he was thirteen and David twelve, and then, worse, coming back a year later, and leaving again. It’s probable David died of this first absence, or the second, and though James wants to, he can’t forgive it.

    Those of us who loved John Button, and we are legion, did so at a comic distance he shrewdly, amusedly, melancholically maintained from a tragedy he could not outrun: a beloved, awkward, smack-head son, dead on the eve of his uplifting into power and fame.

    Few more loving books have been written by a son of a father – Winston Churchill’s on Lord Randolph, Martin Amis’s on Kingsley. Few more searching books on our civil processes, our law-making, our public discourse, or the words we tell our big stories in. This is a quiet masterpiece, and should be savoured.

    Lines For Obama (8)

    Does Paul Ryan believe a baby made by rape is a gift from God? What will he do about it when he is President?

    Lines For Obama (7)

    Will Paul Ryan say what punishment he as President will propose for a twelve-year-old girl who is raped and knocked up by her father and then, without his permission, has an abortion? Five years? Ten years? Two years baby minding? Twenty years of solitary for the guilty accomplice doctor? Fifteen? Will he take take her out of school? Will he say what he will do with her? Will he do so now please.

    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (66): Obama, Invisible Man

    The Murdoch Big Lie Technique was again in play this week when Donald Trump on Fox News claimed, unchallenged, that Obama was ‘the least transparent President in our history.’

    This is not just not true. It’s not even close.

    Obama wrote, for instance, one of the best regarded American autobiographies, Dreams From My Father, which dealt with his white girl friends, his crack cocaine taking, his work among criminals in the Projects, his rackety bigamous father, alcoholic African relatives, his dead young brother David, his Muslim stepfather, his difficulties with Christianity and a good deal more, in some of the best prose since Scott Fitzgerald. And Trump, uncontradicted by Fox, called him untransparent.

    ‘You can say anything,’ Ingmar Bergman once said, ‘about anyone. Somehow it always fits.’

    Obama has no agenda, says Fox News, after ending two wars, bringing in universal health care, pushing for massive improvements to education, pushing for new forms of energy, and so on. No agenda. Somehow it always fits.

    Obama is a bit lucky, and the happy antiphonal alliance of Murdoch and Mourdock (rape is a gift from God) will help him in the home stretch. It may be, though, that the voting machines will be fixed in Ohio as they were in 2004, and you never know.

    The one to watch in the next day or so is Paul Ryan. He too believes — sincerely — that thirteen year olds raped by their father should have the baby and he may be prevailed on to stipulate what time in gaol they deserve if they do not.

    This is not theoretical stuff. The next President will nominate perhaps two Supreme Court judges, numbers enough to overthrow Roe v Wade if he is in the mood, and abolish universal health care, and this transformation of the US into a Pinochet-style police state is now a possibility.


    How To Fix Australia

    A levy of two percent of the profits of mining companies to go into a fund, administered by Noel Pearson, that improves Aboriginal towns and the jobs in them. A one-off levy of sixteen billion over two years from the personal income of Gina Rinehart, which provides free dental health care to everyone in perpetuity. A land grant the size of Eden Monaro in western Queensland to twenty thousand Hazara small farmers. A delay of a year of all the migrants at the head of the queue, and the letting in of 170,000 waiting, or boat-arriving refugees. A moratorium on all rents and mortgage payments for two years, the landlords to be given the dole in recompense. A law limiting the price of houses in this, the most expensive country in the world. A limit of bank CEOs’ incomes to a million dollars a year.


    Holmes And The Dog That Did Not Bark

    ‘The Newspoll that did not bark in the nighttime, Watson,’ my great friend said as he primed his meerschaum with crack cocaine, ‘has borne cubs since midnight Monday.’

    ‘Cubs, Holmes?’ I weary sometimes of my manic colleague’s feverish insights on our snowy walks down Baker Street.

    ‘Rupert Murdoch, Watson,’ Holmes persisted, and my dread grew, ‘cancelled the Tuesday Newspoll not only because it showed Labor on 51, two party preferred…’

    ‘That is well known.’ I studied the contents of a passing pastry shop, wistfully.

    ‘… but also because of the coincident collision, Watson, of the 49 of Neilsen and the 50.5 of Morgan in the previous twelve hours … ‘

    ‘Wise of him to do so.’

    ‘ … which would have caused a wildfire of headlines that would have brought Mr Anthony Adverse to ruin.’

    ‘Anthony Abbott.’

    ‘I like to think of his surname as more contrarian. More angry. More … relentlessly negative. Forgive me, Watson.’

    ‘Always, Holmes.’

    ‘But Murdoch,’ my old friend returned to his fevered theme, ‘was cognisant of the contents of the missing Tuesday Newspoll …’

    ‘And the cause of it, Holmes.’

    ‘And needed, lest he be arrested for fraud, something which would cover the gaping manhole over the reeking excrement of that Newspoll’s actual findings.’

    ‘Which was, Holmes?’

    ‘The cub of which I speak. A Newspoll on Thursday showing Labor winning fifty-five percent of the vote in Victoria.’

    ‘But that, surely, Holmes …’

    ‘Was widely suspected already!’ My friend was growing excitable, and a milkman’s horse looked round apprehensively. ‘Exactly, Watson! And it returned a whiff of credibility to a man judged lately by the Mother of Parliaments unfit to run a world-wide news organisation!’

    ‘And that whiff of credibility …’

    ‘Will be there on Tuesday, when he shows, to his disgust, Labor scoring a mere forty-seven percent!’

    ‘But that would mean a loss, in Victoria alone …’

    ‘Of six hundred thousand Labor votes in a week! Exactly!’

    ‘And why, in his view, will so many have changed their minds in a mere four days?’

    ‘The failure of the mining tax to fill Swan’s coffers with a single penny.’

    Holmes paused, to strike a match on his boot and ignite, again, the toxic mixture in his pipe. I revolved in my mind what had just been said.

    ‘By George, Holmes, this Murdoch …’

    ‘Cheats, Watson, always cheats, and does so very effectively. Sometimes I am lost in admiration. He is the Moriarty of the modern media. I sometimes envy his influence and cunning. And his lean, mean, vengeful Asiatic wife, of course.’

    ‘Goes without saying, Holmes.’

    ‘Indeed it does, Watson, indeed it does.’

    ‘Yellow fever, the condition is called.’

    ‘I remember it well. She makes me wish I were a hundred and twenty again. Ah, here we are.’

    We went, unchallenged, into the Cafe Royal, ordered kippers, and read in The Times that Romney was far ahead in the presidential race and likely to be a fine world leader. Like rust, Murdoch never sleeps.

    And so it went.

    Lines For Obama (6)

    What punishment would you enact, Mr Mourdock and Mr Ryan, for a twelve-year-old girl raped and knocked up by her thirteen year-old first cousin if she has a secret abortion? A year in gaol? Ten years in gaol? Two years’ community service as a baby sitter? Would she be taken out of school? How do you propose to enforce your law against abortion in all but one circumstance? Please give details.

    The Year So Far

    (First published in honi soit)

    This year saw the end of Rudd, the return of Carr, the revival of Gillard, and the slow crumbling of the Liberal adventure across Australia. Newman sacking nurses, O’Farrell and Baillieu eroding TAFEs and sacking teachers, Redmond offering her job, in vain, to Alexander Downer, and, in Canberra, Pyne and Abbott running from the chamber when a duly elected member voted on their side, showed how cack-headed that side of politics had become, and the getting of Slipper for a Les Patterson-style simile uttered in private showed how fascist we all were getting, with every stand-up comedian and cartoonist now theoretically in danger, and the phrase I grew up with, ‘not in front of the ladies’, once more the rule in Australia.

    Overseas, the slaughter in Syria continued, taking out the Che, the Orwell, Attlee, Camus, Mandela, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, FDR, Lincoln and Jefferson of that country among tens of thousands of lesser lights and innocent bystanders because no-one offered sanctuary to Assad and his court as others did Amin and the Shah, and the UN insisted he accede to his own beheading. This killing by the better armed side will go on for years, and it’s a pity.

    Greece and Spain are being asked to sack more and more people and starve more and more pensioners to pay unmeetable debts in a currency, the euro, that cannot long survive, when the solution, a second, shrinkable banknote – the drachma, the peso – was all that was needed; plus, perhaps, a two-year moratorium on rents and mortgage payments so money could begin to move around again.

    Arctic ice grew very thin, and it was thought the seas would engulf Marrickville and Woy Woy till it was then discovered Antarctic ice was thickening because the ozone hole above it let the heat out. Which means the answer may be there after all: less ozone, less heat, more aerosol, more sunscreen, the ice comes back that feeds the Ganges, and all will be well.

    Chavez kicked cancer and won an election that showed how to do things in this age: let the money made from oil uplift the poor and fund good government jobs that spread prosperity. Castro, his idol, watched approvingly, and capitalism elsewhere bit off its own arm in its final, fatal thrashings and blamings, and twenty thousand children died, mostly of bad water, every day in countries it had foreclosed on, and ‘privatised’ into needless misery in its weird pursuit of billions for the few, the very few. Gina Rinehart made two hundred thousand dollars while you read this article and will make in the next hour three times Obama’s annual wage, and it’s hard to see why, and in what measure she deserves it.

    This week, Obama retrieved his advantage in a debate performance – the best, perhaps, in world history – that may save the West from Tea Party fascist barbarity for a few more years perhaps, perhaps. What he will do with his victory is as yet unknowable, but it is better, surely, than the plans of a man who for forty years of his life believed no Negro could enter heaven and drinking coffee attracts hellfire.

    In Australia, Abbott’s view that fifty cents per year per taxpayer was too big a price to buy us onto the world’s High Court will do him a bit more harm than the hundreds weekly inundating his Final Solution, Nauru, and will make impossible his other major policy, piracy, and he will fall by year’s end and Turnbull, resurgent, cause Labor to reconsider its leadership, probably.

    A terrible wowser century looms if we are not careful. We are permitted to borrow Mein Kampf from North Sydney Library but not say ‘mussel’ to our gay lover to describe female genitalia, on pain of a half million dollar fine and social ruin. It should be noted that free speech is unpunished speech, and Assange and Alan Jones, and Murdoch, and Slipper, and Austin Tayshus equally deserve that freedom. It is a human right.

    And so it goes.

    In Thirty-One Words

    God wants your daughter raped and knocked up sometimes and you better bow down and thank Him for the ensuing baby. My name is Paul Ryan and I approved this message.

    In The Twilight Of Desire

    Following orders, I kissed Ricky Ponting’s wife for a long time, and then kissed her again, and Rhys Muldoon, who likes that sort of thing, filmed from several angles what will seem for the rest of my life a lingering, pleasurable dream of infinite possibility among the rat pack or the jet set or whatever it is he inhabits and lets me into now and then.

    This is the sort of thing that happens when I venture south of the harbour and I should go there, I think, more often. My collaborator Chris Neal of Avalon says he tries not to go south of the bridge, ‘the Narrabeen Bridge, that is’, and I grow more and more like him in my chumbling eighth decade and I am a damn fool, clearly, and should reorder my priorities and my latitude.

    Peter Van Onselen was at the lunch too and I liked him and he asked me to be on his TV show and I will, and this too convinces me I erred in coming north 1975 and losing the Kings Cross flat we had till 1992 and getting slowly but significantly out of the loop.

    She took the kiss in good part though I had lately, imperfectly hacked off my bushy grey beard, and told her how Ali Bakhtiyari had asked if Ricky was an Afghan when he saw him on our television set and how I thought he looked like one and had visions thereafter of boatloads of Pontings looking pissed off as they fell into high seas off Christmas Island. It was at the Chiswick restaurant which I had been to last in 1969 and was surprised to see still there tucked away in its lush vegetative grounds on a block of land worth twenty million by now and still, heroically, undeveloped and unsold in Ocean Street Woollahra, a perfect time capsule of the 1920s.

    ‘In the twilight of desire’ was a phrase I thought of then as a title for a murmurous book of sexual nostalgia I might now offer to my publisher, stirred by Mrs Ponting, who is about twenty-two and blonde and beautiful and sonnet-worthy as few are, though I do fear being soundly thrashed with a cricket stump if I word it untactfully.

    What a lovely lunch it was. I wouldn’t be dead for quids.

    The Ellis Conspiracy Theories (1)

    After Abbott had another dumb, dumb, hectic day that went viral across the world and had to apologise for it, or sort of apologize for it, for his having accused the Prime Minister of childlessness and ignorance and fear of nappies, his friends O’Farrell and Baillieu conspired to shift the public gaze away from him. They had police arrive in Bateau Bay and ask Craig Thomson, now thought innocent of everything, if he had incriminating papers in his house or office he hadn’t burned or shredded and would he now unveil them please. Kate McClymont, who distressed and abashed my family once with a needless noisome targeted smear, was coincidentally there and so was Ray Hadley, on holiday adjacently but soon agog  and huffing and puffing on the street outside.

    Thus it is, and so it goes, that the television headlines tonight will not be about Abbott’s latest cock-up going viral and incensing western womanhood and making him unelectable, but about some cops once again smearing someone Abbott thinks even viler than himself, and a worse rat with women than even he, who left his pregnant fiancee at the altar and became a priest.

    What a coincidence.


    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (63): The Missing Newspoll, And What It Bodes

    If Newspoll had appeared this week and showed, as I think it probably did, a 50-50 federal split after Morgan’s 50.5 for Labor and Nielsen’s 49 for Labor, it would have spelt Abbott’s destruction and the Liberals’ cataclysmic self-immolation, and so it was, and so it came to pass, that it did not appear; of course it did not; on Rupert’s orders, probably, a corrupt and craven outcome and shakedown that raises many, many questions — of crime, punishment, propriety, honour and sliminess.

    One of them is what other such results have been suppressed, or altered.

    It is hard to believe, for instance, that Labor is on 43 in South Australia after Isobel Redmond invited Alexander Downer to take over if she stepped down, and the Liberals on 57. It is hard to believe that Katterism has vanished from Newman’s Queensland overnight. It is hard to imagine O’Farrell is doing as well in New South Wales, after trashing TAFE and losing Carr’s AAA rating, as he was last year. It’s hard to believe four million Australians love Rudd so much, and Gillard so little, they would vote against Abbott if he was leader, and for Abbott if he was not.

    In America, Murdoch’s polling always favours Romney more than any other poll, on a regular basis. That there is no such chicanery here, and O’Shannessy is not a part of it, is a hard case to argue. Murdoch is famous for cheating. It’s what he does.

    And, like Lance Armstrong, he should be brought to book for it.

    I ask the Senate to enquire into the missing Newspoll, and see what turns up.

    Invisible Victory: The Third Presidential Debate

    The CNN version of the last presidential debate showed Obama trashing Romney, and the SBS version more like a draw.

    This was because the side-by-side images of the two men over the Worm on CNN signalled Romney’s wistful fraudulence and simian stupidity while Obama, framed beside him, spoke with angelic fire and Lincolnesque rationality and won each point, but on SBS each man commanded the screen alone with his own particular charisma (and Romney, who sounds like Reagan and looks like George Clooney is, alas, charismatic), unheckled and unencumbered by the watchfulness of the other. The Worm on CNN gave it to Obama decisively, but on any other broadcast entity, it felt closer.

    …So I don’t know how it’s going, really. Rasmussen, a Murdoch employee, now has Romney on 50 and Obama on 45 in the battleground states and Florida already gone to Romney; but he would, wouldn’t he. He’s probably been getting the same Rupert midnight phone calls poor, harried O’Shannessy, I guess, got before he was made to cancel yesterday’s Newspoll, and going to the outer limits of his margin of error after getting 48-47 Obama’s way, and drinking a lot.

    But it’s possible he may be right, and people yearning for a reason to vote out a black man after they’d lost their job and their house found one at last, alas, in a lacklustre performance by the greatest orator in world history thus far, and an hour of plausibility from a shifty, lumbering mediocrity. Obama’s error was to celebrate prematurely, like Von Stauffenberg, a victory yet to occur, and turn up tired and unprepped, and it may do for him.

    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (62): The Curious Case Of The Newspoll That Did Not Bark In The Nighttime

    Hard to see how Newspoll’s non-appearance today in the wake of Nielsen’s 49 for Labor and Morgan’s 50.5, a winning margin, does not suggest continuing, ongoing, lamentable corruption in that vote-predicting body.

    I have been saying this for years. Half a million votes go from Labor to Liberal in a fortnight without any plausible reason or anybody in any neighbourhood saying he has changed his mind, or she hers. Numbers gathered on holiday long weekends, or Christmas holidays, when people under forty-five are usually away from their home phone. Home phones rung on Friday night when most young people are out of the house. Home phones rung on Saturday morning when most mothers are out of the house. In this way it is possible for Murdoch, who hates social democrat parties, to get the results he likes. The Newspolls have only to be accurate on election day, and they usually are. But before then it is possible to play any funny buggers they like.

    Beazley was brought down by Newspolls that showed him way behind Howard when Labor was on 54. Arbib, the fool, believed this weird misprision and brought Kim down. Beazley less popular than Howard, who lost his seat a year later? Really? Really?

    A Senate enquiry into Newspoll should start immediately. The first question should be why Newspoll did not come out today.

    That answered, all else follows.

    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (61): The Newspoll Bottom Line

    The Newspoll due out today has not appeared.

    There can be no reason for this that is not corrupt.

    I ask poor harried O’Shannessy to explain himself.

    Morgan’s Bottom Line

    Morgan Polls this evening has Gillard Labor on 50.5 percent, enough to give them government in their own right.

    I await with interest what poor harried O’Shannessy will do now.

    50-50 I predict.

    We’ll know at about 11 pm.

    Nielsen’s Bottom Line

    The most interesting thing about the Nielsen Poll in the smh this morning is, in Phillip Coorey’s words:

    ‘When those polled nominated how they would direct their preferences, rather than allocate them in line with how they fell at the last election, the two-party-preferred vote closed to 49 percent to 51 percent.’

    This means a combination of Labor, Greens and Independents woud retain power, probably, when the true preferences were distributed, and not the notional ones we have been looking at for two years.

    It also means all polls have been one or two percent wrong for a year.

    In that time, the Katter Party was formed, and its fans have been following Bob’s own tendency, to favour Labor’s policies more than the Coalition’s.

    Which means, really, Labor with a good campaign can landslide in.

    As I have always said.

    The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (60): The Misogyny Newspoll, Prophesied

    We may expect one of Murdoch’s ‘funnily enough’ Newspolls tomorrow. Funnily enough, despite Carr’s UN coup, and despite Gillard’s world famed ‘misogynist’ haymaker, despite the swing to Labor in the ACT and the Liberals’ leadership mud-wrestle in South Australia, and the growing detestation of Newman in Queensland in this, the week when the Literary Awards occurred in spite of his abolition of them, despite the vanishing Australia-wide of the Carbon Tax bogeyman and spifflication of the Nauru Solution (more boat people come in a week now than in the whole Howard era), funnily enough, funnily enough, paradoxically, amazingly, the Liberals have gained ground and Abbott is once again the preferred Prime Minister, or nearly, and the Coalition is on 57.

    It will be a lie, of course, or a tweaking. All you need to know about Murdoch’s minions’ ‘methodology’ (I’m Bill O’Reilly and this is the no-spin zone) is that in the Fox Newspoll Romney always does better than in any other poll, on average, and Obama worse. Always.

    This can only mean that Fox Newspoll is corrupt; it is hard, comrade, to read the evidence in any other way.

    Does this mean O’Shannessy’s Newspoll, out tomorrow and ringing, as always, no mobile phones and doorknocking nobody anywhere, will show Gillard losing, not gaining votes after the ‘sexism’ donnybrook that so excited the gaping planet? Would O’Shannessy dare?

    Of course he would. He doesn’t like it, but he has to. He has, like Don Draper, a customer to serve. Newspoll has I think a CEO for no other reason. Why does a number counting agency need a CEO? To tweak the figures? Massage them? Bodgy up the samples? Heaven forbid.

    Of course he would.

    Whether he will is another question.

    He may want Gillard to survive, and be therefore easier to beat than Rudd or Carr or Shorten. Or he may want Rudd, as PM, floundering, as always, to answer what happened at Scores, and why he went there, a tactic that worked so well against Mike Rann.

    The actual figures, 50-50, we won’t see till Nielsen, the honest poll, brings them out next Monday.

    Prove that I lie.

    PS. Hmm. Nielsen has come out a week early, with such figures, 52-48, as may scare O’Shannessy into honesty this week, and render all of the above unlikely. I will let it stand, however. We need always to be reminded of Murdoch’s past wickedness lest we be oversurprised by its return. And so it goes.

    The Lone Madman, Revisited

    The scornful phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ arrived in the language in 1967 when Jim Garrison went after Clay Shaw and some Cubans claiming they had hit John Kennedy. It soon scorned the idea as well that James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King, and Sirhan Sirhan, who killed Bobby Kennedy in a kitchen someone led him into, were helped by others to do so.

    The ‘lone madman’ theory then became the norm. Only a lone madman would kill, say, Barack Obama, the theory goes, and none of the hundred million armed Americans who hate him would ever conspire to do so. By this logic, a lone madman killed Osama Bin Laden, another lone madman killed Moammar Ghadafi, another Indira Ghandi, another Anwar Sadat, another Olaf Palme, another John Newman, another Victor Chang, another Abraham Lincoln, another Julius Caesar, another Philip of Macedon, and so on.

    It has been all up a most successful Big Lie, invented to protect the killers of John Kennedy (Hoover? Dulles? Johnson? Bebe Rebozo? Jimmy Hoffa?) and continuing still. It ruined Garrison who was himself soon judged a lone madman also, his big bug eyes advancing that cold thesis wonderfully.

    His mistake, I think, was to put Clay Shaw’s friend Lee Oswald in his narrative of the Dallas conspiracy, for it is clear now he had nothing to do with it. Everything that he is known to have said in the last three days of his life, as revealed in The People’s Almanac #3 by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, makes no mention of Kennedy at all. Which means he did not wish to secure a public platform to advance his Marxist cause, and proclaim his Marxist cause, because he did not mention that either.

    He did say he did not own a rifle, he could not afford one on his wage, but he did go home in a taxi to get his pistol after the assassination, and, knowing no work would be done that afternoon and the streets might be dangerous, went to the pictures. What else he said in a thirty-hour interrogation, during which he was punched, was not recorded, or, amazingly written down, we are told; for the reason, probably, that it clearly established he was innocent, and he liked Kennedy, probably, for saving Cuba and Russia from being nuked a year before. There can be no other reason for the disappearance of this testimony; it is very hard to think of one.

    As I watched, again, as I tend to do, Three Shots That Changed The World in the small hours of last night on Foxtel it occurred to me again what a bungled CIA conspiracy it was, just like the Bay of Pigs. Oswald had no motive. He had no weapon. He did not leave town in a stolen car at high speed but hung around and went to the pictures. A dozen witnesses heard two shots from behind them, on the grassy knoll. Jackie heard four shots, not three. The car was washed of its bits of brain and blood immediately lest further fragments of other bullets be found. A film was made of the autopsy and then destroyed. The Zapruder film, which showed the effect of a shot from the front, not behind, was locked up and not shown for nine years. The Warren Commission was told not to ask who killed John Kennedy but why Lee Harvey Oswald killed him, what drove him to it. No other candidate would be considered.

    In millions of words they failed in this as well. That Oswald, a father of two, the only assassin so encumbered in American history, would kill the saviour of Cuba and Russia and so elect Johnson, a foreign policy ignoramus keen to immolate Vietnam, a Communist country, seems an odd life choice. That he did not talk about Kennedy seems impossible.

    But he did not. He talked about the welfare of his daughters, as an innocent so placed would, and he asked again and again for a lawyer, and complained of being beaten. And that was it.

    So … he had to be a lone madman, didn’t he, confused in his mind, or he was innocent as charged. And then … another lone madman killed him. Two lone madmen in one town in three days. Wow. And anybody who believes in a more populated narrative is a ‘conspiracy theorist’ deserving of riotous derision; like those cockamamie paranoid fools who still believe a conspiracy of the White House, the CIA and the upper echelons of the US Navy took out Osama Bin Laden; or that a conspiracy of Indira Ghandi’s enemies and bodyguards killed her; or that Brutus did not act alone.

    It was not thought crazy, though, to imagine conspirators effected the Bali Bombing; or the Tube Bombing; or the Madrid Bombing; or 9/11; or the several green-on-blue assassinations now worrying world history. But they are, of course, mad assassins, with, like Lee Harvey Oswald, no possible motive to kill anybody. Mad, they are. That’s all. Mad.

    How wickedly we are manipulated; and how often.


    Classic Ellis: Our Better Angel, November 2011

    Wednesday, 16 November

    Our sniper’s eye view of him, very thin, surprisingly tall and a little stooped and melancholy below us in the courtyard and then smiling and waving upward as we watched from the Minister’s window and he got in the car and smiled and waved upward again from behind black bullet-proof glass, was all we saw of him in on that first day, a long time ago it seems already, now that he’s gone.

    Three hours before that we’d seen the firing guns and heard a second later the shattering noise as the smoke obliterated Parliament House and a misty thin rain listlessly drizzled. We were standing among 2,000 other patchwork eccentrics on what I whispered to Joel was the Grassy Knoll, watching the soldiers distantly parade and the brass band play unheard and the big black cars foregather and wondering which one was the always attendant ambulance and which the official ice cream van, and whom in Christ’s name the fighter jets roaring overhead imagined they were protecting him from - Gundagai scuds, I suppose.

    There was a giant airborne plastic marijuana joint floating above us and a Legalise Marijuana banner flapping and what seemed the world’s oldest Nimbin hippy (grey stubble, brown horse’s tail) portentously declaring Obama was “a serious marihuana user when young” and beseechingoo him to make it legal now and do commercials for it, in his studio perhaps in Byron Bay. Joel showed him his ‘Obama in ’08′ tattoo and he was very impressed and photographed it.

    Eventually the barriers went down and we laboured up the hill and got into Parliament House and were escorted by a big, strapping girl down corridors past phalanx after phalanx of American coppers all sworn, I guess, to take a bullet for him, and up the stairs and hung round Shorten’s increasingly crowded office drinking beer and eating crisps with a goodly number of the Right and their wives who preferred champagne. The office girls were very keen on the Visitor and one of them said, “If Barack asked me for any reason to go to Bali with him, I’d say to my boyfriend, if I’m not back in two years, it’s over.”

    Chloe Shorten, watching the television, likewise envied her mother the GG’s lingering handshake with him on the airfield and tartly noted that “she’s worn three different colours in an hour”. She herself then changed her dress three times in the toilet, preparatory to the dinner, undecided.

    Joel and I sat on the floor and watched the press conference on television while everyone above us voluminously ignored it, talking of other, more pressing factional matters. On screen the Prime Minister seemed awed, overcome and choking with emotion as she introduced him but we were afterwards told that Obama had run up the stairs, a cheery athletic habit of his, and she had obediently run after him, with shorter legs in higher heels, trying to keep up with him, and ended gasping and stumbling and began her effusive introduction before she’d caught her breath.

    And then he spoke, and was very impressive. Not just because he was announcing a new Cold War on China but because of what someone called his “luminous professionalism”, pushing through jet-lag and ceremonial gunfire and bugle blowing and flesh-pressing that handsome forceful tranquillity and self-mockery that formed his particular magnetism, that quality of leadership which, in my phrase, “both excites and relaxes you”. For watching him we knew we were in good hands, although he proposed troop-movements as menacing to the Chinese as 2,000 crack Chinese troops ‘rotating’ through Port Moresby and doing ‘exercises’ on Lord Howe would be to us.

    We watched the President get into his car and took our cross-hair shots and the invitees went downstairs and we drank more beer. And so it went. It was noted that Kamahl had got his long-sought invitation to the dinner through Shorten’s intervention, it seemed, after anguished beseechments from the Liberal Senator John Williams, so the two Nat King Cole impersonators - one musical, one political - would soon meet and speak of their similar diasporic origins (Tamil, Malaysia; American, Indonesia) and sing Old Man River in duet if they had a mind to. I’d warned Kamahl that his having sung at a benefit for John Howard who had called Obama a ‘friend of terrorists’ might prove an impediment to his latest high-vaulting social ascension, but there he was, in the room, as always.

    John McTernan joined us, and we talked for a while. He was an Adelaide Thinker In Residence, a Gordon Brown backroomer and the original, some said, of the smaller explosive Scotsman in In The Loop and The Thick Of It, and Julia’s media advisor now. I asked him if he had ever, in fact, attacked and destroyed office machinery and he said, ‘only when I was angry.’ Joel asked him if Gillard Labor could win, and he said, ‘There’s a narrow path to victory if we can stay on it. Outright victory. But it’s very, very narrow, and it’s the only one.’ He then started texting absorbedly and we watched the Dinner.

    Abbott was very good, recounting how the word ‘Liberal’ meant something different in America and his hosts there forbade him contact with any Republicans and intriduced him only to elderly, clapped-out Communists. Obama did not again attack Vegemite, though he mentioned it, and instead admiringly listed cerain beguiling Australianisms, according special praise to ‘earbashing’, which he sore he would popularise in Washington.

    Soon there was no-one but Joel and me in the room – illegally, since we had to be accompanied at all times – and we watched again from the sniper’s window the esteemed visitor in more darkness now get into his car unwaving and drive away. I suggested I throw my mobile phone at him and see if they machine-gunned us for it in the usual hyperbolic American over-reaction, but Joel said I was drunk, and we should drink some more, comrade, elsewhere.

    We went down empty corridors unaccompanied until a mortified Australian security guard begged us to leave the building now or he’d have to arrest and torture us and he wanted to get home.

    We got a lift in the carpark to a pub called the Realm, where Paul Howes, allowing himself a single Obama-like once-a-day cigarette in the tiny designated area, spiritedly averred I was wrong about Gillard and ‘she’s the one, mate, she’s the one’. I asked when he was giving his big China-bagging speech and he said ‘tomorrow’; an Obama-Gillard-Howes conspiracy, clearly, to repudiate all Chinese debt and bomb them back to the Stone Age.

    I had another beer and shared a good pizza with Joel and some young staffers, whom I told that Barack on Saturday would have been in office for as many days as John F. Kennedy and hoped this did not forebode in Bali, an address in the past of other terrorists, a similar quietus.

    Across the world Greece abandoned, as it tends to now and then, its invention democracy and put in its place a Committee of Public Safety of economists and the like, men determined to punish the poor for the sins of the rich. And so it went. And so, in a far distant motel in a big family room, to bed.


    We sat in the Reps front entrance for two hours waiting for someone to answer our calls, nursing two big black bags that might have contained bombs while MPs went by, before we were asked why we’d been there so long. Tony Abbott came in and greeted me and I said he’d given a good speech and he brightened a bit. He looked haggard, scaly, dead-beat and scared, and said in explanation it was “month-long flu” and a need for two weeks off “which of course my present job doesn’t afford”. In Opposition you only have words, and you have to keep “pushing them out”. He was limping still and I urged on him again my Mona Vale chiropractor, and he was in sufficient pain to say he’d go this time, and asked his phone number. I wish him well for some reason, but not victory of course, though ‘well’ can mean nothing else. It’s strange.
    From a balcony above the downstairs marble entrance to the Reps we waited and waited and waited for Obama, finally, to saunter almost invisibly in through the door ten minutes late, not looking up, moved perhaps by his time at the War Memorial. One of the crowd around us was a Julia Gillard clone, same hairdo, same profile,made up to look uncannily like her.

    We’d got in at last at nine and been escorted to Aussie’s and queued with Windsor, Oakeshott, Plibersek, Smith and Brown in a very long time for tepid bacon and eggs and coffee and grew old awaiting their sluggish preparation. As always it was lovely to be there, among mild famous faces inconvenienced like us by slow service, tiny tables and abrasive propinquity, and warming to all of them, even Eric Abetz, because of it. It was a sort of Stockholm Syndrome: we’re all in this together, comrades, comrades in battle, awaiting Aussie’s eventually excellent coffee, and watching on an always silent screen Obama hugging a schoolgirl, an act which normally in the ACT would lose him his position, consensual though it be, and put him in prison, awaiting trial.

    The speeches occurred, and the handshakes and smiles, and the historic shift of world strategies that signalled the end of America’s power, which we watched on Shorten’s television. I tweaked a speech for him at a conference that afternoon of Financial Planners in Surfers Paradise, a segue he did not relish. Obama gave a speech as good as Kennedy’s inaugural and we all agreed it was “not his best”, though its naming of the battles we and America fought in freedom’s cause, or a simulacrum of freedom’s cause, moved me, and I am old, to the edge of tears.

    And he visited some schoolkids and flew away. And we ate good beef in the canteen with Viv, and drove tediously for six hours, through abominable traffic, to Mona Vale.

    On the way we discussed Obama’s principal difficulty: that he spoke so well and looked so like a stained-glass saint that his voters mistook him for a benign interplanetary visitor like Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still, there to set the planet right, using supernatural powers. And when he proved only human, and sometimes mistaken, and sometimes legislatively impotent, he became in their minds a Fallen Angel, felled by the kryptonite of corrupt American democracy, the imperfections of the real world, a world in which a man of his high rhetoric and high- vaulting ideals did not belong, however craftily he tried to fit in.

    And so it went.
    I dropped Joel off at his car, drove home to Palm Beach, watched The Slap and started writing.

    In Forty Words

    If Tony Abbott continues to advocate piracy can Bob Carr, on the UN Security Council, recommend that he be arrested and extradited to The Hague for questioning over his public proposal to order the navy to breach the laws of the sea, and, in some instances, commit war crimes there?

    In Eighty-Six Words

    Australia Full Up Go Away Please is as vile an idea as Terra Nullius. There is twice as much liveable land in Australia as there is in Europe. We should therefore delay for a year the seventy-three thousand incompetent Chinese waitresses currently at the head of the queue and let in all the Hazaras, now. Or, if it suits us, leave them all to serial beheading by the Pakistani Taliban by 2020.

    There is no other choice that makes any sense.


    Arrivederci, Woody

    For the correct view of Woody’s new film To Rome With Love please read Evan Williams in The Weekend Australian today, October 20.

    Lines For Albo (30)

    We’re upgrading Tony Abbott from ‘relentless negativity’ to ‘catastrophic negativity’. This is because his preferred foreign policy — piracy — would get us kicked off the Security Council by a simple majority vote of the United Nations.

    We don’t do war crimes. He does. And he should be told not to.

    How Obama Won

    A week ago, it was widely thought Barack Obama was a good speaker but a bad debater — unmanned, some said, by the lack of a teleprompter. When, three days ago, he gave the best debating performance in world history, the Murdochists who said he was no good at it did not retract what they had said, they moved on to the next Big Lie, that the debate was a draw and Obama five points behind and his campaign office now in a panic.

    The bigger the lie, Goebbels said, the more readily it is believed. John Kerry is not a war hero, he is a war criminal. Barack Obama had ‘nothing to do’ with the ordered killing of Osama Bin Laden. John and Bobby Kennedy ordered the killing of Marilyn Monroe. Teddy Kennedy deliberately drowned his pregnant virgin girlfriend when he could more easily have ordered her poisoning, or shooting, when he was miles away, and paid for it handsomely. Fidel Castro was dead in 1955 and 1961 and 2001 and 2004, Osama Bin Laden frequently dead or on dialysis in a dripping cave and fading fast, caring mothers threw their suckling babies into stormy seas because they were bad, bad people, and so on.

    The latest Big Lie was that Obama was hopeless without a teleprompter and ‘debating is not his forte’. It is like saying Muhammad Ali was no good at boxing.

    He won because he wasn’t, this time, physically exhausted; because the new rules suited him (he likes to be on his feet, prowling with a microphone, engaging his crowded audience); because the facts were on his side; and because Romney couldn’t remember what they were.

    Also because Romney’s IQ is thirty points lower than Obama’s, he was pretty tired, and he had changed position so many times (on abortion, on wetbacks, on coal, on medical care) that he was not secure in his grasp of what he was currently supposed to believe, or the agreed-on spin words wherewith he was currently to say he believed it, whatever it was.

    Most of all the he won it because of what might be called his aggressive nobility. Romney, who has never been to a dead young soldier’s funeral or watched with his parents the coffin come off a plane, was unwise to trigger these memories in Obama, who has suffered greatly, as humans do, over deaths he might with craven pacifistic weakness have prevented. You do not accuse Obama of misunderstanding or misrepresenting acts of war. You do not accuse him of misunderstanding anything.

    Romney, who has not yet had an alcoholic drink, or sex before his wedding with anyone but his wife, who was born extremely rich and proselytised from door to door a religion which excluded Negroes from heaven, had little life experience to draw on when Obama with his multicultural, multilingual, multi-racial bootstrap story of constant migration and working in the Projects and studying at Harvard had much, much more, and he seemed the adult, the grown-up, the wiser man in the room.

    And the leader. What he did in this debate was the equivalent of John Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He considered, carefully, what was at stake, and found the otherwise unreachable words that no other leader could, in that mortal instant reacting with vigour and wisdom, have reached for and found and spoken.

    It was his finest hour, and it is not unfair to say that with it he probably saved the civilised world from the jackal economics and moral barbarity the Tea Party would impose upon it.


    (First published Independent Australia)

    Lines For Albo (29)

    Tony Abbott says the fifty cents a year each taxpayer spent getting us into the Security Council in the last five years was too much, too much money.

    Can he say what was the right amount?

    Thirty cents a year, perhaps?

    He should give us a clue.

    How Carr’s UN Coup Changed the Narrative

    It is impossible now for Kevin Rudd to return to high office of any sort. He resigned as Foreign Minister when he should have been campaigning, as his successor shrewdly did, for Australia’s place on the High Court Bench of the United Nations. He destabilised a government getting on with a good agenda.

    Had he become Prime Minister in March he would never have made Bob Carr Foreign Minister. He would have blocked his advance as he did that of Beazley, Debus, McMullan, Faulkner, Shorten, McKew and Kerr because he hates competition. He would have bored where Bob Carr has excited, resisted the Nauru Compromise, kept our troops in Afghanistan, choked off the move to gay marriage, arrested Bill Henson and wasted, again, with pettifogging delays a decade of possible progress under Labor.

    It is important he not be listened to again. Anyone in doubt should read James Button’s fine book Speechless, reviewed by me in, I think, tomorrow’s smh.

    And it is time too Peter Hartcher stopped calling him an alternative Prime Minister. He never had the numbers and he lost all the credibility as Foreign Minister when he resigned from that office that Bob Carr has now seized. His chronic indecisiveness, like Romney’s flip-flopping, is a character flaw no decent, progressive social democrat nation like ours, and no party like Labor, can any longer afford. He should be made to shut his bib. And threatened with deselection.

    Or these are the things I believe.

    Carr’s triumph, meanwhile, has made the Gillard government’s re-election likely and put an end to the kindergarten sandpit politics of Tony Abbott, who now must explain how ‘turning back the boats’ would have won those African delegates’ votes that got us onto the Security Council. He must say why the fifty cents a year each taxpayer spent over the last five years to get us onto the Security Council was wasted. He must congratulate Bob Carr, who has called him ‘a cheapskate hypnotist in a rundown circus’, for uplifting Australia’s self-image as never before, or he must say why he will not, and in what way Julie Bishop would have achieved more acclaim from the world body.

    The game is up for the Liberals, and they cannot now (like Romney) be rescued from the foolish things they have lately said, and the dunderheaded policies they now daily improvise in the hectic pursuit of headlines. Some of them soon will be sued by David Hicks, and Muhamed Haneef, and Craig Thompson, and Peter Slipper, and half the people on the Tampa, and be seriously out of pocket in an election year.

    It is good times for Labor at last, deservedly.

    Prove that I lie.

    Classic Ellis: Bob Carr, March 1999

    Bob Carr is a Labor hero now, and his rather ordinary life, I suppose, will take on, like Chifley’s, legendary force.

    The fibro beginnings and swottish boyhood. The day he came in short pants holding an ice-cream cone to join, at fourteen, a train driver’s son, the Party. The apprenticeship of fire in the Young Labor movement of Keating, Richo, Laurie Brereton. The academic triumphs at Matraville High and UNSW. Years of thoughtful journalism with Packer and the ABC. The life plan to be, at forty-five, Australia’s Foreign Minister. The state seat that was to lead to the federal seat, and then, at thirty-eight, the Environmental Ministry. The Labor debacle of 1988, when six potential Premiers lost their seats, and he alone was left standing. His unwilling acceptance of the leadership, and the end of his life plan. The sour but bracing years of Opposition, the near miss of ’91, the leadership threats and ugly photos and mocking headlines, the wilderness years of bushwalking, Proust, the uncompleted novel, the parliamentary harassment of the hated enemy. The narrow victory of ’95. The uncertain years since then. And then last Saturday night, and the speech that echoed Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath: wherever there’s a poor guy who’s lost his job, I’ll be there. A new iconic presence. A new story. The novelist as politician. An Australian Adlai Stevenson, Roy Jenkins, Michael Foot, but one that wins. The intellectual’s via dolorosa, nose to book, as the horny-handed multitude throw bricks and mock him on his way. But see how the story ends.

    I’ve known Bob for eighteen years now. I’ve spent a lot of nights with him, at the theatre and over Italian and Chinese meals, and collaborated on speeches with him and talked at length on the phone, but I don’t know him well. ‘We are intimate,’ I would say, ‘but not close.’ He has, like many politicians, a force-field of humorous reserve around him that seals out intruders, and only a few people – Helena his wife, John McCarthy his old Young Labor comrade, Kris Neill his female Chief of Staff, his fellow diarist Rodney Cavalier, his former minders Bruce Hawker and Graeme Wedderburn, Paul Keating perhaps – can penetrate. He reveals much to us others, in selective flashes of lightning, but not all. He does his nightclub acts, the devilish mimicry, the delightful spontaneous self-mocking heroic soliloquies. But we do not know him.

    He wept on the night before the poll in 1995, thinking all was lost, alone in his darkened office among the vain cardboard boxes of press releases of seven years, high above the lights of the city. He wept at the funeral of a young policeman killed off-duty, of a young firefighter with children. Sometimes his famous carapace of cool and tireless and ironic professionalism drops, not often.

    He acted quickly and formidably in my presence, for instance, when Franca Arena accused him and others of protecting paedophiles. Within half an hour there was a judge, an enquiry, a set of guidelines, no panic, brilliant lines given on the radio, and Franca’s eventual doom. He evinces cold fire sometimes when talking of heroin, the drug that killed his brother at twenty-nine, after a year of coma, but deals with the issue justly and objectively. He is not convinced, he says, that supplying free an addictive poison to its pathetic victims helps the world much, but he will hear the arguments. And after heroin what? Crack? Cocaine? White lightning? Why not?

    His voice is the best and most durable in Australian politics. Baritone, classless, inclusive, big enough to command a thousand people without amplification, and pinion interjectors with a subclause, it is bigger somehow than his lean, Clark Kentish frame. It adds to him what I call that quality of ‘authoritative tenderness’ that woos an audience, a radio audience in particular, and wins elections. A tenderness deepened, perhaps, by the death of a sibling, his childlessness and other thwartings. ‘That’s a voice I’d kill for,’ said Paul Keating simply.

    Like many good leaders. Beazley for instance, he both excites and relaxes you. He makes friends across unusual gulfs of belief and culture. Cavalier on the left, Alan Jones on the right regard him highly, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer are pen pals and overseas hosts. He loves America and Europe, and once in a rush caught two acts of Don Giovanni on his way from his hotel to Frankfurt airport, and nearly missed his plane. Nick Greiner once called a by-election in January and thus prevented him seeing The Madness of George III on stage in London. ‘It was at that point,’ he said, ‘I determined to destroy him.’ If he were not bound up in his unsought destiny as Labor saviour, he would be, I think, opera critic of the London Guardian, or roving correspondent, like Hitchens, of Vanity Fair.

    He has an intricate inner life. At one point he told me he was half-convinced there was a parallel universe in which John Fahey was still Premier and he was a fading disc jockey in Queanbeyan. He admires Idlewild, a novel in which Jack Kennedy survives his assassination, and Marilyn Monroe survives her suicide, and they meet again in the 1990s, and the world is very different. He is intrigued not only by what happened, and how it happened, but what else might have happened.

    He is famously and copiously a reader (Anthony Powell he now ranks higher than Proust, having read both novel-cycles while in office), but more secretly a writer too – of diaries, passionate book reviews (Lincoln and the American Civil War his specialty) and, endlessly, his novel on Young Labor people in 1971. Keating is in it under his own name, vividly and buoyantly evoked, others more disguised. Publishers are tussling for it, but may have to wait.

    He bushwalks still, strolls beaches, drinks coffee, has late-night conversations like the student he has never ceased to be. He strives always to find out what happened, and the full context of why it happened. The Kennedy White House. Chifley’s defeat.

    He is loyal and kindly to the most wayward friends. Malcolm MacGregor worked for him, left him, worked for the Liberals, attacked him personally in print, went off the grog, rebefriended him, invited him as Premier to his fortieth birthday party, and Bob came. His staff, the best in political Australia, worked seven days a week for him since Christmas, as they would for no other. He ran, and amazingly won, a campaign of no big promises, standing on his record, and not criticising the Opposition. That took some doing.

    He stood on a table last Friday night, and thanked his staff in a remarkable, tired, unconfident, self-effacing speech. There were lines on his face, and a searing of his spirit, a cathartic gathering of inner exhaustions that weren’t there a year ago. He looked and felt like Chifley, or Dunstan, a Labor hero. He had become a part of the story, the big story, he had for so long studied. Like an archaeologist time-travelling in his favourite Egyptian dynasty, he had arrived at last, in full focus, in the prime of his intellect and curiosity, a leader, a man for all seasons, at the hub of things.

    I will watch what he does now, as a friend, an admirer, with interest.

    (First published in The Age)

    In Forty-Five Words

    The fifty cents per taxpayer per year we spent getting us onto the UN Security Council was more money than we could afford and the Government should be voted out for it. My name is Tony Abbott and I am a whiz at foreign affairs.

    In Forty-Two Words

    It is good that some Australian bank CEOs get thirty-two times the wage of Barack Obama. It is bad that some Queensland nurses get a thousand dollars a week. This makes them unaffordable, and Campbell Newman is right to sack them.

    Lines For Obama (4)

    What penalty will you seek to legislate for teenage girls who have abortions, and for the doctors who carry them out? How many years in gaol?

    Guantanamo, Abbott Style

    It is reasonably clear what Abbott and Pyne are up to. It is to torture Thomson and Slipper into madness and suicidal thoughts and drive them out of politics so their seats can be captured in by-elections and an election brought on early.

    It is very much the tactic of the dorm bully — isolate, humiliate, jeer, put the victim’s head down the toilet, convince him he’s worthless and useless till his parents take him out of there, to another school.

    It nearly worked with Slipper on Tuesday last. If not he, then some family member was contemplating suicide if Tony Windsor’s careful account of it is to be correctly deciphered.

    What a pair of criminals they are.

    If this is not workplace harassment, what is?

    How To Fix Europe (2)

    There us a way to solve the debt problem of both Greece and Spain, I think, and the rest of Europe as well.

    It is to cancel all rents and mortgage payments for two years and add ten percent to all taxes, for those two years.

    This would leave people with twenty-five or thirty percent more money to spend, which would stimulate the economy and allow them to offer cheaper holidays to tourists.

    It would annoy some bankers and landlords but these are, at best, eight percent of the population. The other ninety-two percent would be better off.

    The austerity theory has never worked, because it means more and more people are sacked and there is less and less tax to pay debts with.

    And it is appropriate the bankers, who caused the trouble, be the ones who suffer most. And the landlords, who are usually swine.

    It would also bring house prices down and rents down. All over the world, they are three or six times what they should be.

    This would work, I think.

    I invite contributions.

    In Twenty-One Words

    If he’d compared them to clams, or pippies, or peaches, or nectarines, or brazil nuts, he would have kept his job.

    Fifty Years After Cuba, A Little Wisdom

    My interview with Richard Fidler on 702 about the Cuban Missile Crisis yesterday brought a few things back. One was how consumed we were then with alluring nighmares — the finger on the nuclear button, the accidental atomic war, or how we would behave in the last months before, as in On The Beach, the radioactive cloud floating west across the Pacific enveloped us. My flight to the mountains with Penny McNicoll was, I now realise,a good bit like boat people now: imagining one can escape from decapitation by the Taliban if one merely takes the journey into cowardice and mendicant beseeching of strangers for sanctuary. I did not realise then, as I do now, that the herd does not forgive the herd-member who in an hour of crisis defects from it, and there is no going home again.

    We, however, think there is. That a man who sells up everything and gets with his family on a boat has a future in Sri Lanka where his uncle was killed, and he can find a job in the valley now run by his uncle’s killers. How little we imagine, or care about, what happens to those who go back. The little girl who was shot in the head is the fate, no doubt, of a good many.

    And we would have sent her back too. As a Pakistani, of a country not officially at war with us, or anyone, or in the throes of civil war, she would be safe there, surely. How little we know. And how cruel we are. And so it goes.

    Lines For Obama (3)

    Do you believe good Mormons get their own planet after death, and non-Mormons fry in Hell? Why then should most Americans think you have their interests at heart? You want them to burn, don’t you? If they drink tea or coffee? You want them to burn.

    Lines For Albo (28)

    Now that the threat of Nauru has quite predicably tripled the daily average number of boat arrivals, I now ask Tony Abbott, does he have any better ideas? Torpedoes? Helicopter-gunships? Cluster bombs?

    Will he now tell the House what his second thoughts are?

    We’re all very eager to hear.

    In Fifteen Words

    If we shoot their breadwinners, and blow up their farmhouses, they’ll treat their women better.

    Lines For Obama (2)

    So a twelve year old girl made pregnant by consensual sex with her thirteen year old first cousin must have the baby, must she? Is that what you believe?

    Why do you differ with Congressman Ryan on this? What Is your policy? Be clear.

    In Eighty-Nine Words

    Does eighty percent of the nation regard Slipper with fear, disgust and loathing?

    Does eighty percent of the nation regard Thomson with fear, disgust and loathing?


    Does sixty percent of the nation treat them with measure of human sympathy?


    Does anyone think that either of them should be in gaol?


    Then the Abbott strategy has failed.

    And it should never have been tried.

    Because everyone is talking about him now, and what sort of a man he is, and who he goes to bed with.