Monthly Archives: February 2011

Why does the Herald Sun enjoy torturing victims of crime?

George Halvagis knows pain. His daughter Mersina was murdered in 1997 and it wasn’t until 2010 that the killer, Peter Dupas, was finally convicted and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

You’d have thought that would be enough suffering.

But this week he was contacted by some writers for the Herald Sun who were busy working on a shameless and deceptive beatup of this list of prison food procurements. And, despite knowing full well that the list revealed that prisoners were being fed meals costing on average $2.42; despite knowing that it reveals that prisoners are eating very basic meals with a disturbing lack of fresh fruit and vegetables; despite knowing all this, they decided to taunt him with this misleading rubbish:

The Herald Sun has learned murderous fiends including Peter Dupas, cop killer Bandali Debs, CBD killer Christopher Wayne Hudson and rapist John Xydias are chowing down on a smorgasbord of delicacies.

Roast turkey, porterhouse steak, prawn cutlets and smoked salmon also feature on a delectable list of items served up to inmates at Barwon Prison.

In documents obtained by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information laws, the State Government revealed inmates gorge on mountains of cheese, delicious pastries and fresh fruit.

What a distortion of the facts. “A smorgasbord of delicacies”! “A delectable list of items”! “Inmates gorge on mountains of cheese, delicious pastries and fresh fruit”! What a twisting of the knife to a grieving father.

Well, they got their quotes:

George Halvagis – father of Mersina Halvagis, who was brutally murdered by Dupas – said if inmates got one special meal a year it was one too many.

“It makes me feel sick to hear it,” he said. “They are definitely eating better than me because I can’t afford to eat these things.”

Mr Halvagis said Barwon prisoners deserved to live off bread and water, and called on the State Government to take action.

“Some of them shouldn’t be given anything. They shouldn’t be alive,” he said. “I think it’s wrong. The Government is going to say it is not their fault, but they can fix it.”

He said he recently met Minister for Corrections Andrew McIntosh, who assured him prisoners did it tough.

“The minister was saying they were having a hard time, but they’re living like kings,” Mr Halvagis said.

It made him sick to hear it. What a pity it was so unnecessary, so pointless – that the additional pain these cynical and heartless hacks deliberately caused him was so so hollow, so wrong.

Why do Herald Sun editors and journalists enjoy torturing victims of crime? Apart from that smearing such cruelly-stoked grief all over their pages is immensely profitable, obviously.

Being the bigger person

A privilege of office that neither big old party can resist abusing: drawing from the public purse to bankroll political advertising campaigns.

Labor now has a huge fight on its hands, trying to explain a difficult policy to voters in respect of which the media and certain vested interests are, it turns out, implacably hostile. Gillard – who before the election made it very clear she saw a “carbon price” and a “carbon tax” as two different things, and that whilst she ruled out the latter she believed in the former – is being pilloried by the shameless for supposedly “changing her mind”. (Misrepresenting her is easy: all you have to do is take her remark about a carbon tax out of context, pretending that she didn’t publicly support one and oppose the other, and then argue that the carbon price policy is a tax and therefore she broke her own promise according to your definition you know perfectly well she didn’t share – and made clear she didn’t share – before making the earlier remark.)

The Government will be sorely tempted to do what got John Howard’s “never ever” GST over the line: go absolutely nuts with political advertising on the public purse.

If it does, it might succeed in scraping over the line next time. But eventually the Liberals will win another election, and they’ll use the precedent to spend even more promoting their pet project (The Policy We Formerly Called WorkChoices, probably).

Whereas, if Labor stood back now and took this moment to pass legislation restricting government “education” campaigns, to put an independent, bipartisan body in charge of determining whether a campaign is political or not, and therefore whether it is to be funded by the public or supporters – well, then it would truly have achieved something for democracy. Something lasting, even, since it would be difficult for the Liberals to repeal without looking like absolute scumbags.

Then again, the pessimist in me says that not enough voters would even care. Labor could hobble itself in this fight and thereby lose the next election, and the Liberals would promptly come in and repeal the Act. And, although the hypocrisy of claiming to be the “small government” party whilst taxing voters to pay for their own ads might seem embarrassing, it will only be a problem for them if the media make it a problem. Which, since the media are the beneficiary of those advertising dollars, they almost certainly won’t.

That’s the problem with being principled in politics – it just helps your more unprincipled opponents win, and thereby helps them destroy all your other principles.

If only political discourse in this country was at a level where not wasting public money on self-promotion was actually a drawback for a political party in Government, rather than a prerequisite.

ELSEWHERE: Talking of corruptly taking benefits from incumbency, US Republicans are boasting about how they’re going to be able to use their control of specific states to gerrymander the hell out of the next Presidential election. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to be ashamed of what is a flagrantly undemocratic scheme – they’re quite open about it.

US moves towards equality… slowly

I’d like to take a moment to recognise the significant step forward for equality in America with the Obama Administration no longer defending the Orwellian-named “Defense of Marriage Act” (an act which actually attacked Americans’ right to marry the consenting adult of their choice).

Fred Clark, as usual, puts it best:

This fumbling about for a nonsectarian argument is itself a reason that the antigay lobby is rapidly losing any pretense of credibility. It has become glaringly obvious that theirs is a sectarian, religious claim desperately seeking a nonsectarian excuse, meaning that whatever purported legal argument they eventually concoct will be hard for anyone to take seriously. It will be clear to all that they haven’t arrived at a conclusion based on the compelling logic of nonsectarian reasoning, but that they started out with sectarian biases for which they later latched onto dubious arguments as a mask.

Those dubious arguments — if they ever come up with any — clearly aren’t worth the expense of taxpayer money it would have taken for the Department of Justice to try to defend. Paying government attorneys to defend the indefensible in court would be a classic example of the “waste, fraud and abuse” everyone says they want to eliminate from the federal govenment.

Kudos to Holder and Obama for recognizing that and for refusing to continue playing this absurd game of pretending this is an argument between two legal, constitutional or rational viewpoints.

Congratulations to the Democrats for finally standing for something positive.

Or at least not actively standing against something positive. It’s not like the Demcorats are actually proposing a real pro-Marriage Act that removes discrimination against Americans who wish to marry: and it’s not like the present Congress would pass it if they did.

But it’s a step, a noticeable step, in the right direction.

ELSEWHERE: The extraordinarily homophobic regime of Museveni has been returned in Uganda, after a far from fair election. Whilst he did resile slightly from the recent “let’s execute the gays” legislation, he’s still spent 20 years stoking homophobia and demanding ridiculous punishments for homosexuality. Uganda is a country where newspapers “out” gays, who are then brutally murdered by psychotics.

Uganda is reported to be 84% “Christian” and its anti-gay policies were heavily influenced by the US Christian Right. Apparently if you can encourage other countries to be even nastier to gays, it makes your discrimination look mild by comparison.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands Ugandans are starving.

iiNet’s pyrrhic victory over the copyright parasites

Australians celebrating iiNet’s win over the copyright parasites may want to reconsider their elation:

[The appeal court] considered that iiNet, by sitting on its hands, would have been liable for authorising the infringements if the notices had contained more verified and more specific information. However the notices given by the film companies were, in the form that they were given, insufficient to require iiNet to take steps to prevent the infringements. The appeal court also rejected the trial court’s view that iiNet had adopted a repeat-infringer account termination policy that qualified iiNet for an immunity from damages.

Although iiNet won the appeal, this was simply because of the shortcomings in the way that the notices had been given.

Australians who wish to access content that the copyright industry has deemed unsuitable for our eyes and ears (mainly because it can’t be bothered releasing it here), or in relation to which it has decided to charge us punitive pricing because it thinks it can get away with it, should be aware that the IP industry will be waiting to pounce.

There’s only one thing that will restore Australian consumers’ rights, and that’s an Australian government with the guts to repeal the copyright provisions of Howard’s FTA with the US. And Julia’s got a better chance of getting her carbon price through than of getting anything like a fair hearing in the commercial media on this subject.

Not foreigners

Tony Abbott explains to the Parliament why people like him are so much more concerned about the plight of the victims of this week natural disaster in New Zealand than they have been when even more devastating disasters, with even greater loss of life, have recently occurred in other countries:

New Zealanders are family, they’re not foreigners and that’s why this disaster has especially touched the hearts of every Australian. Whatever New Zealand asks, Australia will give. Whatever the Government does, the Coalition will back.

Of course! THEY’RE NOT FOREIGNERS. Well, sure, technically they are, but, well, you know what he means.

You don’t know what he means because it’s an absurd thing to say?

He means that many of them are of Anglo-Saxon descent who speak English as a first language – just like the kind of Australians he thinks of when he’s trying to figure out who’s “foreign” or not.

This one’s even a Roman Catholic like me!

Yes, apparently “that’s why” the Coalition is 100% on board this time, why no expense is to be spared. But remember the qualification. If they weren’t “family” – ie, ethnically similar to Tony Abbott – then things would, it seems, be quite different.

Tony’s unsympathetic attitude towards asylum seekers from non-English-speaking countries makes a lot more sense after that admission.

UPDATE (26/2): The full Hansard record of that debate is now online (it wasn’t when I wrote this post). I’d only heard Abbott’s remarks; turns out Julia Gillard said something similar moments earlier:

I know that the thoughts of all Australians are with New Zealanders as we have watched the devastation on our TV screens. New Zealanders are like family to us. They are like family in good times and bad.

She didn’t make the link between their alleged “family” status and support quite as explicitly as Abbott (whose full remarks, unedited by the ABC, are also available on the above link – he also added, rather unbelievably, that “Almost all of us have family and friends across the Tasman”), but the sentiment was still that New Zealanders are “family” in a way that those in other countries aren’t, and we should therefore care more when they’re suffering. You draw your own conclusions as to the assumptions on which she was relying to make that claim.

That said, only Abbott went on about which “foreigners” aren’t really “foreigners”.


American Christians say NO to the world’s poor:

Overall, evangelicals were more likely to favor reductions in federal spending, but like other Americans, they wanted most areas to remain the same or increased.

The top choices among evangelicals for the chopping block are economic assistance to needy people around the world (56 percent), government assistance for the unemployed (40 percent), and environmental protection (38 percent). In each of these categories, evangelicals were more supportive of decreasing spending than are other Americans. In fact, evangelicals were more supportive of funding cuts in every area except military defense, terrorism defense, aid to veterans, and energy.

Slacktivist’s typically eloquent response:

To think that cutting humanitarian foreign aid will be of any consequence for balancing America’s federal budget is, in fact, stupid — it betrays an ignorance or rejection of readily available facts. To prioritize cuts to such programs is, in fact, selfish. The priorities revealed in this poll also demonstrate that evangelical voters aren’t really concerned about deficits per se — someone actually concerned about deficits would be obliged to learn at least the most basic facts of the federal budget — but are instead driven by the fear that somebody else somewhere else might be receiving some benefit that they are not receiving. That is resentment for resentment’s sake….

The zombie lie that budgets could be balanced if only we stopped giving away such generous foreign humanitarian aid is actually two lies combined. First there is the lie that America’s foreign humanitarian aid is particularly generous. It’s not. And second there is the lie that a reduction, or even an elimination, of this spending would have any noticeable or meaningful impact on the federal budget. The graph above shows what we are talking about — a tiny, tiny sliver of overall discretionary spending, which is itself a smallish portion of the overall budget.

I just don’t get how anyone who is opposed to the stuff the Jesus of the Bible actually talked about (sacrificing yourself to help the poor) can call themselves “Christian”.

And no, relentlessly campaigning against stuff he never mentioned like gay people and abortion doesn’t make up for it. It doesn’t make up for it at all.


The Sea Shepherd has defeated the whalers?

I thought nothing was going to work against that industry. They seriously gave up, even after seizing that Sea Shepherd crew member, after successfully using the “scientific research” excuse for so long even other groups had started adopting it, after thumbing their noses at the world for so many years?

Then again, I didn’t really believe Mubarak was actually going to go until he went, either.

I may have become a pessimist.

And they wonder why Australians rebel

Australians have, quite unsurprisingly, come to loathe region coding, particularly in the age of digital media.

Not only do we pay significantly more for the same products for no decent reason, but they often arrive late – after their moment has passed – or, indeed, not at all.

And, naturally, the media companies committed to trying to wring every possible ounce of profit out of us, who don’t have any respect for their responsibilities as the custodians of the material over which our governments have granted them a temporary monopoly, are determined to prevent us doing something about it. Hence media players that refuse to let us view content purchased lawfully overseas, regardless of the fact that parallel importing is quite legal here.

Which brings us to this post on Kotaku the other week about modchipping consoles. In short, the High Court formerly held that modchips were fine if they had a lawful purpose such as overcoming region coding – if the console manufacturers insisted on making the part of their system that prevented the playing of pirated software the same system that prevented lawful use, then they couldn’t expect our courts to ban such devices.

That was a good ruling. It gave these manufacturers an incentive to not screw over Australians – you don’t try to impose something you have no right to impose, and we’ll look after your copyright.

Unfortunately, then John Howard signed us up to the disastrously one-sided “Free Trade” Agreement with the US, which now essentially reverses that position: if a device gets around region coding but also enables piracy, it’s prohibited. (Supposedly – it doesn’t appear to have been tested in the High Court yet.) So now the console manufacturers are rewarded for tying those systems together, and they get to enforce their abuse of monopoly privileges on the rest of us.

So, with the next generation of such hardware re-implementing region coding technology with increased vigour, is there any hope for Australian consumers? Will the ACCC finally stand up and fight against this abuse of competition? Will an Australian government undo the damage from Howard’s sucking-up to George Bush? Will one of these companies finally learn the lesson from Steam that not ripping off your customers is actually vastly more profitable?

Or will they continue to be surprised that Australia has such a high piracy rate?

Broadmeadows by-election 2011

If you’re voting in the Broadmeadows by-election today, you might be interested to read the candidates’ responses to an Australian Family Lobby questionnaire.

Because the AFL is fairly new, we didn’t get responses from all the candidates – and voters might want to consider how much they’d trust the candidates who refused to answer these fairly straightforward and entirely reasonable questions.

We’ll be doing a similar one for the upcoming NSW election and will send it off to the parties shortly.

ELSEWHERE: Not that if you relied on the state media you’d know it was on, of course.

Whew: mining corps, banks, got through okay

With mining companies (which we’ll call “miners” to make it sound like we’re talking about the workers instead of the investors who actually get the money) and banks posting frankly hilarious profits, this is a good time to take a moment to remember how close we came to destroying them with the RSPT (in the sense of slightly reducing their profiteering as they plunder our one-off resources), and how staggeringly inconvenient any similar move on the banks would be.


If you look at their enormous profits and then subtract 40% of the part of those profits over a particular absurd amount, then they’d only have their full profits plus 60% of the unprecedented extra. Only 60% of a huge amount of money? What would be the point of going on? What kind of investor would participate in such an industry?

Most of them Not a single one.

Anyway, we might not quite have had a total crushing defeat for Labor at the polls, but their spines were broken and they’ll never dare threaten this country’s prosperity – by which of course I mean the prosperity of the richest tiny portion of the country and overseas investors – ever again. And in the end, maybe that’s even more satisfying than the victory on the tax.

Suck it, ordinary Australians.