Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Ones You Love Always Hurt The Most

If there's anyone out there who's been hanging around this trainwreck since the dark, early days of the Xander and Nico Pod, you may remember it was a recurring theme that I was sick all the time. Back in my early twenties, I smoked heavily, and drank, and dabbled in bad stuff, and reaped the benefits of such a lifestyle; an inability to digest food, exhaustion, fainting spells. As I got myself together later in my twenties I cut back on the booze, but still smoked, and was still pretty unwell. I met DH a few months before my 30th, and laughed at the irony at falling in love with a man who has never taken a drag on a cigarette, never tried any drugs whatsoever, and only been drunk a very handful of times in his life. I always meant to quit smoking of course, but struggled, until the night of May 4, 2009, when sitting outside my flat at Summer Hill having an evening cigarette, I started to cough, and coughed some more, and started coughing heavily, and coughed up blood.

 I remember that day; it's like a second birthday. I haven't had a cigarette since. I didn't feel instantly better, of course; I was quite out of sorts for a while. But a week or so later, bored one day, I decided to tackle the Coogee to Maroubra walk. With all my health issues, I hadn't exactly been a great fan of walking for pleasure, but it was a gorgeous day and what the heck, off I set.

Inspiring. Image from Bondi to Coogee Walk
As I strode along, engergised by the sea breeze and sunshine, I began to notice something. I felt healthy. I felt strong. I felt good, pacing along the boardwalks, passing other walkers, well and healthy and a normal person. It was like coming back to life, and I may have let out a primal cry of delight. Soon after that, I took up running in Centennial Park, then roller derby, and although I've struggled with my weight some, ever since then I've been healthy and well, and enjoyed exercise. I had a horror pregnancy and birth, but there was nothing I could have done to prevent that - indeed, if I'd been a bit less healthy, maybe I'd have had a smaller baby with fewer ongoing issues with my back and hips. And Kegel exercises? Forget it.

 I was healthy and well, until recently when I've been feeling...off. I've been tired all the time, and had weird niggling aches and pains in my abdomen, and horrendous backaches even for me. I've chalked it up to my insane schedule - oh, just full time work, and uni, and campaigning for the Greens, and having a toddler at home - until last Monday. Can I give a word of warning? No matter how early it is...no matter how tired you are...no matter how desperately you need coffee...please, please, please check the expiration dates on the cream before you add it to the coffee. I was in such a hurry I was having instant coffee instead of making it properly, and that tastes so unpleasant I couldn't tell the cream was off. A whole week off, in fact. I felt increasingly unwell all day at work, was so sick I had to skip uni, and spent much of that night and into the next morning wishing I were dead.

Food poisoning, we thought. It will go away in a couple days, we thought. But it didn't go away. And my symptoms were so icky and bizarre that after describing them to DH (not a conversation you want to have with someone you have sex with, but he is a registered nurse), he came to the conclusion I have a gall bladder problem. And after seeing the effects of eating, then not eating, fatty food over the past few days, I think he's right. I'm off to the doctor to make sure, but in the meantime, it seems I better stick to a low fat diet.

Remember how I said I have a tendency to weight issues? This is because I bloody love food. Fats? Those are my favourites. Yes a salad of fresh summer fruit can be exquisite but to me there's no comparison to deep dish pizza, blue cheese alfredo, duck fat potatoes, sour cream on everything. For the sake of my health, I must abandon all my favourite foods. And it's not a question of "if I eat this I might have a heart attack one day", it's "if I eat this I'll shortly be in great pain, and unable to leave the house". I'm going to have to learn a whole new way of eating. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I have a possibly unhealthy attitude to food - that after my family it is my main hope and reward for getting through the day. This is going to be worse than quitting smoking. The food of my dreams has become my worst nightmare.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Labor's Debt Problem

If there's one thing you'd think even the federal Labor government's most fervent opponents could grudgingly concede, it's that Labor did quite a good job steering us through the GFC. We've low unemployment, low interest rates, low inflation, the economy has grown 9% since 2010. Instead of giving credit to the economic management of Gillard and Swan, however, the conservative line runs that they have achieved all this solely by running up massive debt - $200 billion is the figure often thrown around. It's an appalling number. But is it true? Where does it come from?

The closest I could find to a credible source for this figure was an article in The Australian which claims government borrowings in the form of commonwealth securities will reach $249.7bn within 4 years. $250 billion within 4 years! It's worse than we thought. Wait. Not debt. "Commonwealth securities". What are those exactly? Well, they're also known as treasury bonds. $250 billion of government treasury bonds doesn't have quite the same alarmist ring to it as crippling government debt. Also, it is often claimed that Australia had no government debt when Howard and Costello left office. The truth is Australia had $58 billion of government securities issued at 30 June 2007. Howard left Australia with a $58bn dollar debt! The thing is, why? Bonds are usually issued at times of war or crisis, to make up for a shortfall in revenue, such as the massive fall in tax revenue during the GFC. The Howard government faced no such event. In fact they were such hoarding, miserly economic managers they left their much vaunted $20 billion surplus, as if governments were corporations with a responsibility to turn a profit, instead of that money being stolen from every taxpayer in Australia to make themselves look good to people who don't understand how economies work. What the hell did Howard and Costello spend that $58bn on? Where were the hand-wringing editorials about how our children would ever pay it back?

Of course, it could be argued that Labor was reckless to spend all that money on economic stimulus; they should have reduced spending to reflect revenue, as a Coalition government would presumably have done, and waited to ride the GFC out. Would be better off? We'll never know. But I doubt it. As the worst of the GFC failed to hit Australia, people don't realise the massive calamity we have been spared, seen in nations where the path of austerity was taken. So I suppose you can forgive some conservatives for thinking, "well, Labor did okay...but the Coalition would have been even better."

Then there's the lunatic fringe, who think Australia isn't doing so well. Australia is doing bloody awful, in fact, and the only reason we have a AAA credit rating from Fitch, Moody's, and Standard and Poor's; the only reason we are rated as one of he world's strongest economies - and Wayne Swan as world's best treasurer - is that global economists believe the false economic data fed to them by the government. Just think, Australia is in the toilet financially, but Gillard is such an international super-liar she has managed to convince the world's best economic analysts that we're doing great. No investigation necessary, they've taken the lies from the Reserve Bank in toto. And drawing on this thesis, not only does Alan Jones know more about global weather patterns than climate scientists, he also knows more about the economy than the world's best economic analysts, who have trillions of dollars invested in determining risk. He truly is a polymath and great thinker and we are lucky to have him. Presumably Botswana will now claim they have a $600bn economy, since global financial markets believe what ever the country in question tells them.

Really, the only was to claim the government has racked up massive debt and left the country in a terrible position is to at best blur figures and at worst, lie. It's simply untrue to say Labor has left a $200bn debt without  mentioning the $58bn from Howard and Costello. It's also a lie to count out  surpluses to pay the figure off - they are paid from tax revenues, which we wouldn't have under a Coalition government. We'd be in a deeper hole, in fact, and no amount of overstating the less than 20% of GDP accrued from the mining sector can change that. I've my problems with Labor, but it seems damn ungrateful to toss out the government who did all this in favour of one that will run the economy into the ground and blame them for it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Rally Against T4



Newcastle is built on coal and steel, but we've put much of that tradition behind us. Newcastle is losing it's reputation as a gritty, grimy industrial city and embracing a more cosmopolitan future. Yet for all that, Newcastle is still the world's biggest coal port. In the face of climate change, decreasing supplies of fossil fuels and new energy technologies, Newcastle continues to bring pollution to the world; every time Beijing suffers through unbreathable air, it's coal from Newcastle helping to poison Chinese citizens.. I hope one day that changes. So it seemed like insanity when I heard of T4, the proposed new fourth coal terminal for Newcastle harbour. T4 is not just another coal loader - it would more than double the existing capacity of the port. Twice as much coal. It's hard to imagine. I mean, we live less than 2km from the existing coal loaders - and 500 metres from the main rail line feeding them - and every surface in our house is covered in coal dust. We have to wash down the picnic table in our garden every time we eat there, clean coal dust off the clothesline before hanging up laundry, brush down the walls. If the coal dust was twice as bad, we'd just have to move. The suburb would be uninhabitable. Not in my backyard? I'm issuing an open invitation to any journalist or politician who wants to see what the coal dust here is like now. Please drop me a line, come and see my backyard, and tell me you'd be happy to have dust twice as bad in yours, with your children breathing it in.

Anyway I'm not the only one who feels this way, thank goodness. Yesterday DH, BabyG and I joined over 1000 other committed folks - some who'd travelled from areas as far afield as Mudgee, Sydney and Gloucester - to protest T4. T4 isn't a job creating new development opposed by a bunch of Greenies (as it is, currently Port Waratah coal services employs only a handful of people, so this is not about job creation - even the PWCS T4 page fails to mention any new jobs). It's not that we oppose progression or want to go back to the dark ages. Personally, I love electricity, love my gadgets. But coal is a dead technology. Coal burning electricity is on the way out, and those who've invested in this know it, and that's why they're rushing to build T4 to extract as much money as they can before their investments become worthless. T4 will not guarantee a comfortable life for many workers - it will only serve to make a few rich people even richer whilst thousands suffer, communities strip mined, residents throughout the Hunter breathing in coal dust from the (uncovered) coal trains, us poor saps near the terminal forced to cope with filth and fearing for our children's health. We're not a bunch of NIMBY hippies, just people gravely concerned with what T4 will mean for our region and the world.
Setting off
Mascot for the day, King Coal
Living with coal dust, this is only half funny if it is completely cute
Heartening to see the great turn out

We're angry and we are not just going to take this

You can just make out the office of State MP for Newcastle Tim Owen in the background. He supports T4  - I'm sure he does, the people who want this thing to go ahead are prepared to spend a lot of money to make it happen. All we have on our side is our voices. I for one will keep fighting this. If you've a few minutes you can help too - please send an email letting Tim Owen and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell know you're opposed. This isn't about new jobs or helping an ailing economy. It's about 15 new open cut coal mines, 50 extra coal trains per day disgorging coal dust through the Hunter, increasing our already overlarge contribution to global warming. We must stop T4.