Some random thoughts on the Trump ascendancy

Well, this is fascinating to watch. I knew it could happen, but didn’t honestly think it would.

Nothing will change overnight. The inauguration isn’t until January, but even then… we’ll see how fast he moves after that.

I hope his tone will be more moderate now he’s not in campaign mode. So far he has appeared to be an extreme populist, saying whatever came into his head at the time, and what his audience wanted to hear.

His victory speech was more diplomatic. But then, they often are.

There’ll also be a lot more scrutiny now he’s in public office, compared to running a private company.

Hopefully the various checks and balances of the US governmental and political system will stop him doing anything too extreme. You’d hope his own party (given what some of them think of him) would keep him in check.

The challenge for law enforcement is to keep some of his supporters in check. The hate rhetoric shouldn’t be vindicated by his win, but those who practice it obviously feel that it is.

Remember that in the USA, the states have significant powers independent of anything the Federal Government might do.

And there are midterm elections in two years that may shift the balance of power.

American Presidential elections have ballot papers with a significant number of local referenda attached. Of interest to me is that a number included votes on public transport initiatives, and many of these passed, though some have noted many state projects in this area require Federal funding, which may dry up.

What will be fascinating is what Trump does for manufacturing jobs. Appealing to those who have lost those jobs was a major part of the campaign. But you can’t undo decades of economic continental drift in just 4 years.

Ditto some of the other bold claims he’s made. Even as President, you can’t just click your fingers and make it happen.

I’m not surprised if Obama isn’t delighted that some of his signature policies are likely to be rolled-back, particularly Obamacare. (One thing concerned Americans can do is lobby their representatives to not be too regressive.)

And the US might stall on climate science and other progress. (Trump said he’d halt Federal clean energy investment and climate change research.) The rest of the world will just have to keep pushing on.

In some ways, Trump reminds me a little of Clive Palmer. A billionaire with a taste for public office, elected on a populist ticket. Palmer never got that level of power, but he did run a senate crossbench bloc that was able to hold the balance of power.

Ultimately though Palmer got bored, and walked away, didn’t re-contest. It’ll be interesting to see what Trump does in four years.

To get better, we need to look ahead, not back

Disclaimer: this post isn’t perhaps as polished as I’d like, but it’s time to get it posted.

I love nostalgia. How many blog posts have I written that fondly look back? 78, apparently.

But I’m acutely aware that rose-coloured glasses distort our view of the past.

And while we might like to visit the past, when we think rationally about it, we wouldn’t actually want to go back there.

Daniel combining retro trains with retro video games, Steamrail Open Day 2014

The trains and trams of the past might be beautiful things to behold, but it wasn’t actually that much fun sweating in non-airconditioned carriages on hot days, waiting 40 minutes for a train on a Sunday, or having a super-slow trip to the country, and yes it was dangerous when doors didn’t close and lock by themselves.

The video games of the 80s are probably those I enjoy the most, but good stuff came afterwards, and I don’t really want to go back to when computers cost a fortune and did almost nothing (by today’s standards), programming languages were primitive, mobile technology was non-existent and the Internet was a text-only impenetrable, impossible-to-navigate jungle confined to a few big universities.

Waves of immigrants have brought the best of their culture with them for us to enjoy. Much of the food we love today came with them: Pizza, pasta, tacos, kebabs, curries, bagels, gyros, pho… and lots more. They also brought new thinking, new ideas, initiative and entrepreneurial spirit.

Whether it was acceptance of different cultures or a mix of other factors, in recent decades mainstream Australia has come to accept indigenous culture and rights. Incredibly it took until the 1960s for Aborigines to have the right to vote throughout Australia, and be counted in the census. In America, huge advances have been made in black rights. Nobody should want to go backwards to less enlightened times.

Much of the architecture of the 20th century is beautiful. (I love art deco, myself). But many of the mod cons we take for granted now at home just didn’t exist. Washing machines, fridges/freezers, microwave ovens, air-conditioning and central heating, even the humble television — none of it — or it was so expensive almost nobody could afford it.

Our great industries used to spew untold amounts of pollution into the air, with dire consequences — some obvious, others not well understood until more recently.

We can learn lessons from the past, but we don’t really want to go back there.

We can get better. But we can’t go backwards.

Trump’s cry to “Make America Great Again” smacks of this. And Australians such as Cory Bernadi and Pauline Hanson apparently share this view.

Let’s assume for a moment that Trump doesn’t want to reverse gear back to some mythical golden age; he just wants to resurrect factory jobs.

The idea that you can resurrect the great American industrial age of manufacturing might come from the heart, but the world economy has moved on. Western world wages and living standards have increased. The economies of Asia have developed enough that they can do many of those manufacturing jobs more cheaply, so of course companies and consumers have switched allegiances.

Western economies have moved instead into services and research & development and tech. Things have moved on. You can’t magically isolate one sector of the economy from everything else and hit the Rewind button.

And even now, America is great.

In my house, we have computers, and iPads, and mobile phones, and Sonos. All invented in America, but manufactured in China.

A similar shift has happened in Australia. You’d struggle to find Australian-made clothing in the shops these days, and local car manufacturing is winding up.

The coming closure of the Hazelwood power station is another shift. The displaced workers have to be taken care of, given assistance to help them find new jobs. But it doesn’t mean we can keep propping up nonviable industries.

In true Trump style of course, he doesn’t really articulate how he would make America great again. It’s motherhood statements, telling people who have been through the economic wringer what they want to hear.

There are plenty of other reasons not to vote for him of course. As the Huffington Post so neatly summarises in the footer of some of its articles: Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims – 1.6 billion members of an entire religion – from entering the U.S.

Hopefully America will do the right thing today. Hillary may be a long way from perfect, but a President Trump would have dire consequences for everyone. We’ll know in the next 24-48 hours.

Council elections – if party affiliations aren’t obvious, look for the clues

As already noted, it’s council voting time.

In some council areas, including here in Glen Eira, council candidates aren’t overtly aligned with political parties.

But a number of candidates have affiliations. You just have to look for clues.

  • Look for photos of candidates with state or federal MPs, ministers and leaders, particularly at events not publicised in advance (eg party events)
  • Candidate preferences will link them to other aligned candidates, and against those nominally in their “opposition” party
  • If local MPs recommend particular candidates, that’s often a sign of affiliation

Glen Eira council election posters 2016

For instance, in my area, Tucker Ward (Glen Eira), we have 14 candidates vying for 3 vacancies. Here are some of the clues I’ve noticed:

Nina Taylor – Labor aligned – flyer shows a pic of Mark Dreyfus, and it’s authorised by someone I know to be a Labor campaign manager. Preferences exchanged with Rodney Andonopoulos, who is also Labor aligned.

Jamie Hyams – Liberal aligned – flyer is authorised by an ex-Liberal state MP, and flyer shows a photo with new Federal Liberal member Tim Wilson.

Philip De’ath – Liberal aligned – he and Hyams are preferencing each other, and their flyers arrived in the mailbox together. De’ath’s flyer also has a photo of him with former Liberal MP Elizabeth Miller. De’ath and Hyams both preference Anne-Marie Cade third; so far she’s been invisible in the campaign.

Joshua Bonney – unclear – being preferenced by Karina Okotel, who is apparently his sister! Karina was a Liberal senate candidate, though it’s unclear if Bonney is similarly aligned.

Michael Searle and Neil Brewster – declare themselves to be independents, and are preferencing each other.

Donna Elliot and Michael Karlik also say they are independent. Karlik preferences Bonney.

Jim Magee preferences independents and Labor candidates above others.

Oscar Lobo, who I thought was Labor aligned, actually preferences independents above known Labor candidates. He’s put his fellow current councillors (Hyams and Magee) last.

It’s important to remember that any affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean a councillor will automatically align themselves with that party and its policies.

It may give some more insights into their views on particular issues. But I think the best way of determining that is to read the material carefully and discuss the issues that matter to you with the candidates — many of them have been seen at local railway stations and even schools in the past week, and all have a contact phone number and/or email address. Some are also on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Based on my contact with candidates, it looks like my top three preferences will be one each of a Lib, a Lab and an independent. And while I don’t have major problems with council services or overall management, recent kerfuffles at council meetings makes me think some new blood would be nice. But I’ll do some more reading in the next few days before sending my forms in.

Bentleigh Uniting Church takes a stand

Many around Australia would know of the Gosford Anglican Church, thanks to Father Rod Bower and his famous signs.

A couple of weeks ago this sign appeared at the Bentleigh Uniting Church. It now seems to have disappeared in favour their more usual list of events.

It pleases me to see messages like this.

Immigration, and the mandatory detention of refugees, is a difficult issue. I’m not going to pretend that I know of a simple answer that both treats people humanely and deters and prevents drownings at sea, but the current position of taking desperate people, locking them up off-shore at arms length from Australian law and responsibility, often ignoring concerns, and particularly the secrecy involved, is something that troubles me greatly.

Right now we as a nation are trying to put past crimes, such as church sexual abuse, in the spotlight. I wonder if in decades to come we’ll be regretting and investigating our current treatment of asylum seekers in a similar way.

I hope the sign got a few people thinking more about this issue, and possible solutions.

Border Force farce

If you haven’t heard about Friday’s Australian Border Force debacle in Melbourne, here’s the background: Timeline: How Operation Fortitude unravelled

It started with their Friday morning statement, which said, among other things:

“ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with.”

The media dutifully reported it. The prospect of officers stopping people on the street and demanding proof of immigration status was, of course, bound to get a negative reaction.

Cue a backpedal from ABF:

“The Australian Border Force (ABF) will not be ‘stopping people at random’ in Melbourne to ‘check people’s papers’ as reported in media this morning regarding Operation Fortitude.”

As pretty much reported in your own statement, actually.

The original release also noted a media launch at 2pm at Flinders Street station, and with a rapidly rising level of outrage over what it all meant, that was enough to get a protest.

As it was more-or-less lunchtime, I wandered down. I came through the station, and saw an ABF officer, a Victoria Police officer and a uniformed Metro employee in a huddle, looking furtively towards the protesting crowd nearby.

I stood nearby and watched the protests for a while. It was not a huge crowd — media later estimated 300 — but they were doing plenty of chanting. Given the type of protest, there were of course some with Socialist Alliance banners, but it didn’t appear that they were in the majority.

When I left, the protesters had moved into the intersection, and were blocking traffic. (Note the sign on St Paul’s Cathedral.)

Border Force protest, 28/8/2015

While I was there it was peaceful but noisy, and it was enough to get the official media event cancelled… but of course, having gathered protesters and media to the site, coverage was guaranteed.

Shortly afterwards, Victoria Police advised that the entire operation was cancelled.

Subsequently the Victorian Police Minister issued a press release, expressing something less than complete happiness at what had occurred.

Operation Fortitude was intended to be a standard police operation.

We fully support the decision by Victoria Police to cancel the operation after the unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force today.

So now we’ve all heard of Border Force

It strikes me that if it was an exercise in brand recognition, then it was a resounding success… but really it’s all about politics, and in those terms, it was a disaster.

Even the name is overly political. The ABC explains that the ABF merged the frontline functions of Customs and Immigration.

But the name isn’t as utilitarian as Customs or Immigration. Australian Border Force is a macho, action-man name evidently designed, along with current immigration policies, to make the government look tough.

Remember, the launch was botched: at the announcement in July 2014, they managed to prominently use an image of a faceless authoritarian tough guy that was never intended to be used as a standalone logo, leading to numerous parodies and the graphic designer to remark “It was never meant to be a logo; it was just a small icon. It’s been overemphasised and so I can understand the reaction.”

As for Friday’s cancelled operation, why would anybody think sending these guys in to piggyback on a Victoria Police operation was a good idea in the central business district of Australia’s most left-wing capital city, and one of its most multi-cultural?

I’m betting they won’t try that again in a hurry.