January 26, 2019

Horse 2507 - The State Of The State Of The Union

Unless things have changed by the time this is posted at 7:17am AEST in Sydney, the United States Government is still in partial shutdown, due to the political machinations of the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The idiocy of this whole thing isn't that this is over a truly petty matter but that this current government shutdown is now the longest in American history, affecting about 800,000 federal employees out of 1.8 million full-time civil servants, not counting military personnel and postal workers. Of those, about 380,000 have been furloughed, meaning that they either cannot work because the offices are shutdown and/or the more important and immediate problem is that they are not getting paid. The rest, whose positions are categorized as essential, are working without pay.
This is madness. This is idiotic. This is the second worst administration in history.

There are four basic components to this mess, that fit together like the world's most idiotic puzzle. Yet I fear that in 1776, the founding fathers would have looked at all of this and laughed with glee because their checks and balances have ensured that everything has been perfectly balanced to a big fat zero in every column and no checks are being written.
I'm going to attempt to explain those four components as I understand the state of play and why the TV Guide for Sydney which lists the State Of The Union Address for tomorrow morning, is wrong.

1 - The Budget Process
As nonsensical as this might sound to a set of Australian ears like mine, there is not one US Federal Budget but actually twelve. Instead of just the single Appropriations Bill No.1 20XX which makes perfect sense and which is what we have in Australia or the Finance Act 20XX which is what they have in the UK, the US Federal Budget is comprised of twelve bills, which the twelve Appropriations Subcommittees have determined shall be the discretionary funding for various government functions. This explains why it is possible to have a partial government shutdown because if some budget bills have been passed into law, then funding has already been secured for those functions of government; which is currently what we have now.

As it stands though, all twelve budget bills have been passed by both the House and the Senate. This means that even before the changeover date when the Democrats took control of the House, that the bills which had not yet been signed were actually all Republican bills. It might very well be possible that the newly elected Democrats would want to propose a new set of budget bills but that would need to pass the Senate before it reached the President.
President Donald Trump is actually refusing to sign the budget bills which were proposed by his own party, when the Republicans had control of all three rings under the big top that is the circus of government. To claim that this is a Democrat shutdown is simply materially untrue.

2 - Only Three of Twelve Appropriations Bills Remain
It is surprisingly difficult to work out exactly which of the twelve Appropriations Bills remain unsigned because the US Government is a rather diffuse organisation. I did eventually track them all down by looking through the lists of bills tabled before the House and Senate though.  The ones which remain outstanding and unsigned, are perhaps telling as to what the agenda of this President are:

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.
This oversees funding for the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, NASA, and other agencies. Of these, the most important to Mr Trump is the Department of Justice because within that department is the Special Counsel's Office investigation, headed by Robert Mueller, which is a counterintelligence investigation of the Russian government's efforts to interfere, with primary focus on the 2016 presidential election; and to look into a potential obstruction of justice by Trump and others associated with the 2016 Trump Campaign.
Technically, the Department of Justice is not currently funded; that includes Robert Mueller's investigation. I'm wondering if Mr Trump is hoping that by taking away the dog's dinner, that the dog will go away. I suspect though, that this only makes the dog hungrier and want to bite harder.

State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee.
The Subcommittee oversees funding for the U.S. State Department, USAID, and related programs. Mr Trump probably doesn't care about USAID or other programs and kind of wishes that they'd all just go away.
I suspect that Mr Trump has a particular gripe with the State Department because one of its former Secretaries was Hilary Clinton and one of its prime functions is to represent the United States at the United Nations. Not wanting to fund this particular part of government appears to be a matter of personal vendetta more than anything else. It is probably not a conindicence that it the the State Department who has oversight when it comes to foreign relations with the US; that means that while it is closed, the diplomatic channels which might be usful to  Special Counsel Mueller's investigation also remain closed.

Homeland Security Subcommittee.
As you would expect, this subcommittee oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security. The most public face of the DHS is at airports and so this where most people are likely to come into contact with it however, it would be the Department of Homeland Security's budget which contains the line item for the Border Wall with Mexico, or rather, does not.
By Mr Trump refusing to pass this Appropriations Bill, he is saying that he wants his wall really really badly. Admittedly $5bn out of a total budget of $4094bn is tiny but it is still enough to kick up a stick as a symbol to say that he did something as President.

3 - Pelosi Closing The House Of Representatives
Nancy Pelosi who is now the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, can also direct the day to day functioning of the House. Just like our own  United States House of Representatives, the Speaker has the authority to direct the Sergeant at Arms of the House. Functionally this is identical to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who has the ability and responsibility to open and close the doors of the legislative chamber. This is important because just like our own House of Representatives or the United Kingdom's House of Commons, the head of state is not allowed into the legislature without express permission.
Ms Pelosi as the Speaker, is completely entitled to refuse permission to the President in any and all circumstances; especially in a case like this where both houses of Congress have done their job and he refuses to do his.

4 - The State of the Union Address 

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states:
He (the President) shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.

The President is required by the Constitution to give to the Congress information of the state of the union, however the Constitution does not in any way shape or form, prescribe the manner in which it should be done. Up until about 1914 the vast majority of the State of the Union adressses were simply written and sent to the Congress wherein they would be read aloud. Woodrow Wilson was probably the first president to be physically present when delivering the State of the Union Address, on an annual basis. There have been addresses presented in the Senate chamber and in the case of FDR, his 1944 State of the Union Address was delivered on the radio because he had had the flu. The main reason that I can see why the The President delivers the State of the Union Address in the chamber of the House is because there's more seats in there.

The thing to remember though is that although Ms Pelosi controls the functioning of the House, President Trump could if he wanted to, "convene both Houses", "as he shall think proper". That means by extension that he could, if he really wanted to, force all 538 members of Congress to attend a rally, or deliver his State of the Union Address from the car park of a Burger King.

Where we are:
Trump could sign the three appropriations bills into law at a moment's notice and end this. They have already passed the House and Senate and are sitting there in the Oval Office. This is entirely, 100%, without question, absolutely his fault and nobody else's. Instead of bothering to do any proper negotiation, the supposed author of "The Art Of The Deal", has decided that the best way to move forward is to hold the wages of 1.8 million full-time civil servants to ransom, just so he can get his stupid wall.
There you go. That is The State of the Union. It is one giant mess; caused by one man who probably shouldn't be there and who is probably obstructing justice as well as the normal functioning of government, just so he can get a legacy promise built.

And by the way... Happy Invasion Day.

Speaking on day 35 of the shutdown in the White House Rose Garden, Mr Trump said he was "very proud to announce" the agreement would fund the government until 15 February.
He said federal workers affected by the political imbroglio, whom he called "incredible patriots", would receive full back-pay.
- BBC News, 26th Jan 2019

January 25, 2019

Horse 2506 - Fragments IX: Part 9 Debt Agreements Have Serious Consequences

ST23 - The Sirius Tower Is Siriusly Hidius

I honestly can not think of anyone who likes the asthetics of the Sirius Tower. As Australia is almost always late to the party, the tower designed by Tao Gofers in a decidedly Brutalist style, was only commissioned pretty well much after the rest of the world had abandoned the movement. I think that the NSW Heritage Minister, Mark Speakman, quite rightly rejected the application to have this monstrosity heritage listed and although I defnitiely feel sorry for the people who have been displaced, having this awful and unsightly building on Sydney Harbour is a disgrace.
I think that this building looks like a nuclear bunker, which instead of being built underground, was mistakenly allowed to be placed above ground.

On the appeal to the Land and Environment Court, the new Minister for Heritage, Gabrielle Upton wrote that:
"My role is to decide whether the building has aesthetic value and, if so, whether that value is such as to satisfy heritage value at a state level; while the Sirius building is distinctive, in my view, it is not a landmark worthy of state heritage protection."

I couldn't have said it any better myself.

DS-1 - The DS-1 Workshop Manual

I was in Kinokuniya looking for a copy of the Master Tax Guide for the beginning of 2019 when just a couple of shelves along; in the technical section I saw one of these:

The first thing that struck me was that this wasn't included in the humour section of the book shop; which means that whoever filed this either didn't know what it was and put it with the other manuals, or else they did know what it was and played this straight and deadpan.

What I find worrying is that there IS a Haynes manual for a DS-1 Orbital Battle Station. It is never completely explained in the films but you'd think that with a thing of that size and magnitude that someone, somewhere, must've seen what was going on. How exactly do you hide something of this magnitude.
With something as big as this, there must be technical manuals for every single system on board; and if that's the case then how come the Rebels didn't just buy one of these in the films? The whole point of Rogue One is therefore pointless. You don't need some clandestine mission to steal secret plans when you can just go to some bookshop in Kettering and ask for a copy.

Also, considering that this is a Haynes manual, there is a good chance that the Defense-Sphere 1 had Lucas electrics throughout; in which case one needn't have gone to the effort of blowing it up - just sending it through the drive-through car wash would have been enough.

PKMN - Where Are The Fast Food Joints in Pokemon?

My experience with the entire world of Pokemon isn't quite as large as other people and admittedly I am something of a Genwunner because 151 of the things is already beyond my ability to remember; rather than having some weird kind of hatred for Vanillite which is an ice-cream cone and Trubbish and Garbodor which are garbage bags. It's a weird game. Get over it.

I do not remember there being anything in the towns by way of restaurants or fast food places. There are Poke Centres and Shops and there's even department stores but there seems to be a distinct lack of pubs, taverns, coffee shops, or other places that in other games you might recruit adventurers. The premise of "everyone meets in an inn" is so old that Chaucer started out The Canterbury Tales with his merry band of pilgrims meeting in an inn.

I suspect the reason that there are no pubs, taverns, coffee shops, or restaurants, is that that means that there has to be food and drink at these places. You probably can not have places selling alcohol in a children's game, which is fair enough, but as soon as you introduce restaurants to the world then that means that people are going to want to eat meat.
How do you tell all the Miltanks, Tauros, and Flaffys that they are now on the menu? This is rather the same dilemma that the makers of Star Wars Episode VIII have when Chewbacca suddenly develops a conscience and shudders at the thought of eating Porgs. In universe though, the Pokemon have no problems being right royal jerks to each other. They already fight each other and presumably if the people weren't around, they'd just fight and eat each other anyway.

This is why you need Charizard. Charizard is one of that rare class of Pokemon who couldn't give a hoot about anyone else. Charizard will burn your house down for fun. If you could somehow tame that rage for good, he might be useful.
Would Charizard or do well at a Burger King? It's the home of the flame-grilled Whopper. He could be out the back cooking the burgers to flame grilled perfection. Then again, Charizard would probably get tired of working for a spotty teenager boss and just as easily burn down the whole Burger King.
Maybe you want Charizard for a tailgate. He could be there with sausages and hot dogs; just sort of burning them. No. Check that. You don't want Charizard for a tailgate.

ZB-11 - ZB Commodore Is Absent

I went on an excursion on my last day of holidays to look for a guitar amp and some strings. Having acquired the necessary equipment to make my fingers hurt (I haven't yet acquired sufficient skill to make cool licks happen), I dropped in at two car yards because I think that that is fun. I sat in a Mazda CX-3 and came to the conclusion that there is virtually no difference at all inside the cabin to the Mazda 2 which I own, and I reached the same conclusion about the Mazda MX-5. Basically, get the Mazda 2. I then headed north on my journey home and walked through the Holden dealership wherein I saw precisely zero ZB Commodores.

I think that General Motors have more or less reached the conclusion that they are a spent force in Australia. Both the Astra and Cruze sedan which is sold as an Astra are massively underrepresented on the roads, the Barina is sort of there but the dealers don't like to sell them because there's hardly any profit in it for them, the Colorado is outclassed by the Ranger and the Hilux and the BT-50 and the Amarok and the Triton and even Great Wall's V240, and despite wanting to promote the ZB Commodore in the Supercars, demand for them has fallen off a cliff to such an extent worldwide, that Opel keeps on suspending production. There is of course no replacement plan for the Chevrolet Impala and so Holden is completely helpless in this respect when the contract with Opel ends in 2021.
Not that it matters much because if there are literally zero on the lot, they can not sell what they do not have.

PH-10 - Dark Dark Local History

What exactly was going on in this part of the world in the early 1800s?
The main drag of the suburb that I live in is named after a guy who made a small fortune in the early days of the colony of New South Wales by collecting bounty payments for the heads of dead Aboriginal people. The myth that before 1967 that the first peoples of this land were considered to be fauna is indeed erroneous but the truth is even crueler, as they were actually treated like vermin with an extermination price on their heads.
In addition to that, a suburb four stations down the railway line is called Pendle Hill. It is named after the Pendle Hill in Lancashire and is perhaps most famous for the series of witch trials and exterminations during the 17th century. I suspect that most witches were probably just old ladies who had no means of support and had to live by foraging from the land. Through experience they learned which things were edible and I bet that a bunch of so called witch's potions and remedies were actually just ad hoc medicine which had to be invented so that they wouldn't starve to death.
In the other direction, there is a suburb called Quakers Hill; so in between native people genocide and rounding them up into a place called Blacktown, and religious zealotry and a place named for where they killed witches, it must be said that I live in a pretty macabrely named kind of place.

BRx-19 - Brexit Means Brexit. Cameron Means Bad Man.

Of course the one who is standing out of the limelight and laughing his wee ickle head off into the history books is David Cameron. After having won an election and then announcing the referendum on Brexit to appease the more idiotic and racist parts of the Tory Party (and the walking punchline to a joke that gets progressively less funny the more times it is told, Nigel Farage) he then resigned after the Leave vote won and instead of staying in the parliament to help guide some semblance of sanity in the way that John Major did, he resigned to the Chiltern Hundreds and disappeared on a pedalo made of smoke; into the ether and never to be heard from again. He then assigned all of the 'miserable ghost at the feast' powers to Teresa May, who it must be said has the hardest job in the world of politics today. That job has been given an extra degree of difficulty with the barking insanity of Jacob Rees-Mogg (Minister for the 1920s) and Boris Johnson (Minister for Wiff-Waff), acting as Opposition Leaders from within and Jeremy Corbyn (as Shadow Secretary for Corduroy) as Opposition Leader from without.

Having successfully made it to January with nothing to give to Brussels (for them to reject out of hand regardless), and kind of holding on to the premiership but occasionally losing control of the House Of Commons, instead of a hardboiled or soft boiled Brexit, or even a half-baked Brexit with a soggy bottom and a soft border, Britain will be taking back control with a no deal, unbaked Brexit. If you have a no deal and it is unbaked, then when it is time to open the golden suitcase and see what you've won, then all you get is a mess of cracked eggs, flour, milk dribbling all over the place, and a giant mess on the floor of both the House Of Commons and the Euro Bureau. That's what you get when you try to bake a democracy cake in a suitcase. It was always a terrible idea and David Cameron doesn't have to clean any of the mess up.

BT - 12 - Twelve Buck Sandwiches?

Unlike the business world before the 1990s which I imagine was either fuelled by booze, cocaine, and tobacco, the modern business world is increasingly powered by caffeine and smug. Granted that it was caffeine that powered the first golden age of journalism and probably most of the enlightenment, it was tea that lubricated the British Empire, and coffee and sleeplessness that sent the Americans to the moon but I just don't see what this world of caffeine and smug is going to do except build more smug.
There is a café in the city which I whizz by every day while on the top deck of a bus, which sells a super fancy version of the classic BLT which they call a BRAT - Bacon, Roquette (sic.), Avocado and Tomato sandwich - price $12. To be honest I am horrified at the thought of paying as much for a single sandwich as I would in a week of making my own.
The first time that I noticed this dozenal dollar item on the shop's board out front, I immediately thought of Bernard Salt's now infamous column talking about Smashed Avocado sandwiches which cost $22. In that column which is probably a work of satire that he prefaces the whole thing by vaingloriously proclaiming the virtue of his generation for comedic effect, he talks about young people not being able to afford a house because they're all loading up on Smashed Avocado sandwiches. My experience of working in Mosman for a decade and a half, coupled with being sent into the city on multiple occasions, as well as observation of looking to see who is in these cafés leads me to believe that there are no young people in there because they like me, baulk at the idea of paying more for a sandwich than an hourly wage.
I told Mrs Rollo about this and she jubilantly suggested that if you replaced the Bacon with Prosciutto for even greater fanciness, then this sandwich would be called a PRAT.

January 24, 2019

Horse 2505 - Australia Day And The Virtue That We Are Signalling

Everyone has an opinion on Australia Day, from Aboriginal peoples who will quite rightly tell you that according to the Crown, the 26th of January marks the day which Australia was formally annexed by occupation (also see the principle in action in Mabo v. Queensland No.2 (1992), to Scott Morrison who thought that it was disrespectful to wear a t-shirt and thongs despite the fact that it's likely to be more that 40°C on Australia Day (which is 104°F); to the Liberal Party who have decided to go full-on culturally fascist with the remark:

The Government is taking action to protect Australia Day from activists.  Click here to show your support for our national day:
- Liberal Party of Australia, 21st Jan 2019

Australia Day is a day for unity and coming together. As Australians, we have much to celebrate, including our freedoms, our values and our unique Australian way of life.
It is a day for looking forward to our future together.
Unfortunately, the Greens and some activists are seeking to divide Australians, waging political campaigns to change Australia Day. Some Labor MPs are also advocating changing the date.
The Government has taken action to stop activist Councils to stop undermining Australia Day, by requiring them to hold citizenship ceremonies on our national day.
Let's celebrate Australia Day. Please sign up here to show your support.
- Liberal Party of Australia, 21st Jan 2019

In other words, the government wants to tell you what to wear and to enjoy a day of compulsory fun. I have to say to the Liberal Party of Australia, which in this case is not acting particularly all that 'small l' liberally, that the most Australian Australian thing possible, is to take the mickey out of a thing and especially the government. We don't do patriotism particularly all that well in this country; nor should we. Being overly patriotic unless it is a sporting is unAustralian.

In the run up to this Australia Day, as we do every year, people on the opposing sides of whether or not we should continue to have this as a day of national celebration, accuse each other of either virtue signalling or perhaps of vice signalling.

I think that virtue signalling in the first place is based on a completely false assumption. That assumption is that somehow (don't ask me how because I don't understand a thing I don't understand), it is invalid to express an opinion unless the person expressing said opinion either takes concrete steps to make it happen, or is a member of the group which the opinion is about. The theory it seems is that the person doing the signalling, only does so because they want to make themselves look virtuous (hence the label of virtue signalling). As a rational (mostly), thinking and feeling indivual, nothing could be further from the truth.
I don't really care about looking virtuous the majority of the time. Especially if I am expressing an opinion on something like government policy, or the provision of services, or complaining about injustice, I know that I have very little ability to achieve action; hence the reason why I am expressing an opinion. Further to that, opinion doesn't even have to be well thought out to be expressed either. By the same token, complaining about virtue signalling is itself virtue signalling. In this case it is saying that the thing being signalled by the other party aught not to be signalled and that the things that they are signalling aught to be.

This bring us nicely to the subject of Australia Day itself and the very essense of what a public holiday is. Unless the public holiday is a public holiday for the sake of having a public holiday such as New Year's Day or the Spring and August Bank Holiday in the UK, then every single public holiday is a government sanctioned case of virtue signalling. It is the government saying that the thing being celebrated or remembered aught to be  celebrated or remembered. In the case of Australia which is a day for patriotic jingoism, it is exclusively for waving the the flag around and being as  Australian as possible.

When it comes to the national day of a nation, that usually indicates some key event in the formation of the nation. France has the storming on the Bastille on the 14th of July, the United States chooses the 4th of July which is the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Canada Day on July 1st is the date that the Constitution Act 1867 came into effect; but Australia, by virtue of coming into existence on January 1st 1900, chooses not to celebrate that day because it already is New Year's Day.
We could have chosen the 31st of July; which was the date in 1900 when Western Australia voted in favour of Federation in the referendum; which approved the Constitution of Australia Act 1900 and hence the actual formation of the nation but we choose not to. To be fair I'd rather that the virtue signalling being done through the nation day tell the story of the actual formation of the nation; but we can not have that. Instead, it seems to be imperative that we absolutely must choose January 26; and hence celebrate the annexation and the perpetual refusal to ever address the issue properly.

What I find especially worrying is that rather than showing any attempt to be either conciliatory or any spirit of reconciliation, the Prime Minister appears to be doubling down on this refusal to address the story of this nation:

“Bill Shorten can sneer at our history if he wants. He can disrespect having an understanding of what our history means. For years; decades; we have had political correctness in this country which I fear is raising kids in our country today to despise our history, to despise how we have grown as a nation, and I am disappointed that Bill Shorten would want to feed into that.”
- Scott Morrison, 23rd Jan 2019.

I don't know how you can come to arriving at a proper "understanding of what our history means" without first reading it. Coming to terms with the fact that there was an original injury, which has never been corrected and which has been turned into some kind of glorious settler myth as part of patriotic virtue signalling, should be a very big part of "understanding of what our history means".
I will also say that just as a day can be lionised and turned into a vehicle for the kind of virtue signalling that a government wants to do as part of its own agenda, the abandonment of a holiday can also be just as useful. In the United States, the observance of Columbus Day has gradually fallen out of favour a because the day marks the beginning of the waves of genocide (though sometimes not intentional) of the American Indians. For the same reason, I would argue that the continuance of Australia Day as a thing, very much continues to paper over the ongoing actions and injustices by current government towards the indigenous peoples; who are the desecendants of those from whom the land was stolen by annexation.

Going back to the tweet from the Liberal Party:
The Government is taking action to protect Australia Day from activists.
The Government has taken action to stop activist Councils to stop undermining Australia Day, by requiring them to hold citizenship ceremonies on our national day.

This looks very much like the activists are the government themselves. I would argue that the people trying to "divide Australians" and "waging political campaigns" are the Government themselves. This is hideous virtue signalling by a pack of knaves who refuse to understand "what our history means" and by doing so undermine Australia Day itself.
It is worth remembering that this argument goes back to before there even was the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1888, the Premier of New South Wales and the "Father of Federation", Henry Parkes, was asked what if any plans were being made to include for Aboriginal peoples in the celebrations marking the centenary of British colonisation of Australia; to which he replied: “And remind them that we have robbed them?"
This then can only be the thing that Liberal Party wants to continue to say by the observance of this date in particular. January 26 is not the date of Federation; nor the date of the referendum. What our history means, is that this land was annexed and that this event is the virtue that we'd like to signal as a nation.

January 23, 2019

Horse 2504 - Yes, America Should Build The Wall

There. I have said it. The Congress should approve Mr Trump's plan and give him more than $5bn to build his wall.

I think that it is terrible policy which is grounded in a pathetic form of nativism; which has allowed the racists and the nutbags to crawl out from whatever maggot infested rock they have been hiding under and I think that the current policy of starving government workers of the food from their table is cruel and borderline evil but nevertheless, Congress should act to let him build his idiotic project. Why?
Because it will stand as a monument to cruelty and stupidity. The finished wall will be monument to the utter horror of this President, who I think has descended to the level of the second worst president in US political history¹.

At the time of writing there are about 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. Of those, about 5.4 million are unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and 5.3 are from elsewhere. However the number of people actually caught trying to get over the border, is tiny. In 2017 the US Border Patrol arrested 130,454 Mexicans and 180,077 non-Mexicans at the borders.
If we assume that the number of people caught trying to jump the border is indicative of the general population of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, then that means that we're looking at roughly 2% of all people arriving in the United States this way. That means that the number of immigrants who have arrived illegally and have evaded immigration control, are extremely likely to have entered via legal means and simply just overstayed their visa. In fact just for the fiscal year of 2017, the Department of Homeland Security found that the number of immigrants that overstayed their visas was more than double of those who were arrested at the border.²
The idea then, that there is a national security crisis on the southern border, which Mr Trump has cited as being the trigger for wanting to declare a national emergency, is simply ludicrous and untrue. Then again, ever since the day of his inauguration, the assumption that everything that the President says is simply ludicrous and untrue, has been consistently proven to be a sensible default position.

The question then if I think that this is a stupid proposal, which is based on a lie, made by a nativist and supported by racists, why do I think that Mr Trump's racist propaganda wall should still be built? Because as a monument to white supremacy, racism, the ideology of dehumanisation of refugees, and the declaration that migrants are an enemy, the wall can be dismantled after the racist carrot is gone.

If you think about the famous walls in history, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, the Berlin Wall, and even the Detroit Eight Mile Wall, eventually, they all cease to serve their function. The Great Wall of China was a mostly ineffective defensive set of structures, as was Hadrian's Wall. The falling of the Berlin Wall marked one of the greatest periods of celebration, when a country divided was finally brought back together as one. Although the Detroit Eight Mile Wall was originally intended to be a physical barrier to separate white and black communities in Detroit in 1941, through physical racial separation, from what I can gather by about 1980, there were sufficiently enough black people living on either side of the wall that it had utterly failed in its intent.

Quite frankly, I think that Mr Trump is so incredibly vainglorious, that in exchange for the wall, legislators could put all sorts of things into the legislation. If I was Nancy Pelosi, I'd seriously consider putting a universal healthcare act, before the house as well as movement on DACA to cover additional illegal immigrants, because as long as Mr Trump gets his precious wall, he then has something that he can claim that he's actually done. The long game here is that just like a lot of temporary discomfort, Mr Trump is only for now and he too will pass. Unless the American people are collectively monumentally stupid, I do not see him being reelected in 2020.

The actual pros for building the Trump Racist Propaganda Wall might not be immediately obvious but I think that they are at least twofold.
Firstly, the passing of legislation is worth the economic cost of keeping food on the table of government employees. People who get paid, spend money; which in turn allows other people to spend money and so the wheels of the economy keep on turning. But greater to that is that the $5bn which is spent on building the wall, actually acts as a stimulus package of sorts. The employment generated and the wages which are paid therein, increase the income of the local community, and due to various multiplier effects, the total value of the stimulus   would probably become a good deal greater than dollar amount initially spent. Of course you could make the argument that having someone walk down the street, chucking rocks and smashing all the windows, gives employers to glaziers and you would be right in thinking that it would be more sensible to build housing and other infrastructure but the politics of this is already stupid to begin with.
Secondly, if this is about legacy building, then building the Trump Racist Propaganda Wall will be an exercise in deliberately scarring the land, just to prove how nativist and bad at governing that this president is. If you are going to set out to be horrible, then leaving a monument to your cruelty would be a good reminder to the American people to never make this same mistake again. I would hope that looking forward to the year 20XX, that a future president would see this physical scar and want to pull it down. I might even go so far as to insist that the event be televised, so that in the year 20XX, future Donald Trump can witness his legacy literally being torn down in front of his eyes.

Build the wall; so that it can be torn down again. The nation will learn to move on; it outlive him when he's gone.

¹The worst was James Buchanan who did nothing while the Union broke in half.

January 21, 2019

Horse 2503 - Trump And Brexit: or Why Australia Should Not Become A Republic

The current US Government shutdown which has now lasted for more than a month, is I think an object lesson in why Australia should absolutely not become a republic. Meanwhile, as dysfunctional as Brexit is, it is also an object lesson in why Australia needs to stay as it is.

I think that it is almost certain that the people of Australia want to elect the head of state. The 1999 referendum on the republic, proposed a system which fundamentally didn't alter anything apart from having the Govenor-General elected by a super-majority of parliament. That was turned down; not because there's inherently anything wrong with the idea but because the people of Australia just won't wear it. It must be said that the President of Germany is elected by the Bundestag and electors from the 16 Bundesländer (states) and that the system works very well but that's mainly because Germany has 8 parties and a massive chunk of non-aligned members; Australia on the other hand has a very strong two-party system. Australia probably wants a system similar to Ireland; where the President is elected by the people and holds similar powers to the Governor-General.
The problem with an Australian President as I see it, is that there is no reason in principle to assume that an Australian President would be benign. Australia's political climate, including since before Federation, has always been one akin to a gladiatorial fight to the death; to such a degree that the Parliament of New South Wales has gained the nickname of "The Bear Pit".

Setting aside the fact that in the United States, the President is personally vested with the executive of the nation, the power of veto that the President has is functionally identical to that of the Queen in Britain, the Governors-General of Australia, Canada and New Zealand and the Presidents of Germany, Ireland and France. It is also worth noting that when Japan settled on its Constitution after the Second World War, they cribbed heavily from the best aspects of both Australia and the conventions of New Zealand, and the Emperor of Japan sits over the top.
Having the power of veto, is exactly the reason why this current President is holding the normal functioning of government; holding government workers to ransom without pay until he gets what he wants.

I have complete faith that a President of Australia, who would be elected by the people of Australia, with the same powers as the Governor-General and nominally the same as the President of Ireland, would be a spiteful knave. Although in the United States there is a myth that anyone can be President, both you and I and Blind Freddy can see that that is consistently and demonstrably untrue. The only people who have ever been successful at becoming President of the United States have either been military generals, politicians who were already inside the system, and the current resident who has shown that with sufficient fame and money, actual political skill can be negated and overcome.
That doesn't mean to say that just because the current resident of the White House is a petulant man-child who is willing to hold congress to ransom until he gets his way is an oddity. The grand list of United States presidential vetoes is truly terrifying with more than 1500 pieces of legislation being directly vetoed by the President; with who knows how many more being refused, as is the situation now.

Australian politics is such that knifing Prime Ministers is almost a pastime. That means to say that political climate inside parliament can often be described as "stabby-rip-stab-stab". If the people of Australia were given the power to elect a President then I have no doubt that the weight of that election would create a mandate for that president to do something. Given what I know of Australian politics, that would mean handing the power of veto with mandate to a spiteful knave.

Suppose that Cat Party holds government; so the Cat Party is able to pass the budget on the floor of the House of Representatives via Appropriation Bill No.1 20X5. If they manage to wrangle enough votes in the Senate, which may or may not be hostile, then Appropriation Bill No.1 20X5 would pass to the President. So far so good. What if the President is a member of the Dog Party? Dog Party voters who elected a Dog Party President, have faith that the President not pass Cat Party bills that they don't like. If Appropriation Bill No.1 20X5 does not get Presidential Approval, then the functions of government no longer have a budget or the authorisation to continue; whilst Australian budgets tend to have conditions which would roll forward, unfunded portions of government would have to close; which is exactly what we're seeing in America.
I have no reason to believe that Australia is capable of electing an independent President. I have no reason to believe that if Australia were to elect a President, that we wouldn't get a "stabby-rip-stab-stab" child-President who with the power of veto, would not be a spiteful knave.

This brings me nicely to Brexit. Brexit would from the outset appear to be a tremendous calamity and proof that the system doesn't work. Actually what Brexit proves is that the system works perfectly and it is politics which is broken. The Brexit legislation which was turned down and which is actually the single "worst" turn-down by the House of Commons, is proof that you need a majority of members on the floor of the House to pass legislation. The Tory Party then went on to hold confidence; which coupled with the fact that the budget was previously passed, is also is proof that you need a majority of members on the floor of the House to hold government. If Brexit legislation does manage escape the House of Commons, there will be some adjustment in the Lords no doubt but the power of veto, will almost certainly no be exercised.
The Queen who sits outside of all of this and who is a non-elected person, has seen 14 Prime Ministers in her time, of both major political tribes, passes everything put to her. The last time that Royal Assent was refused was back in 1708. In Australia, I actually can not think of a single piece of legislation which the Governor-General turned down. In effect, the legislature which is made up of elected members is where the power actually lies and because nobody really knows what powers the Governor-General has, they are loathe to use them. I like Australia's benign Governor-General because although they are not elected, nobody really cares about them. A benign nobody is preferable to a spiteful knave.

January 17, 2019

Horse 2502 - Dear Or No Deal Brexit

After having the House of Commons reject the Brexit legislation, 24 hours earlier, the Prime Minister and the Tory Government have done what would have always been expected after Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no confidence motion, by winning a the vote by 325 to 306. This means that the Prime Minister Theresa May remains installed at Number 10 Downing Street, like an appliance that's on the blink but that we're to scared to replace.
Of course it was always going to stand to reason that a no confidence motion would fail. The so-called "rebel" Tory MPs are never going to voluntarily remove themselves from government and and the DUP who en masse rejected PM's Brexit plan were also never going to voluntarily remove themselves from government when they hold the balance of power.
I not that if all 10 votes from the DUP had gone the other waym then the no confidence motion would have passed by 316 to 315 and because any government formed out of the rainbow coalition mish-mash would have to provide the speaker, the whole system could be upended by Sinn Fein who nominally don't take up their seats in the House of Commons.

What I find particularly disappointing, is that the Opposition Leader and leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, came on the news on Radio 4 and gave a wafting wobbly speech about how Theresa May's government was now a zombie and had lost any mandate to govern. I find this particuarly annoying because as an Australian the phrase "they should resign" is yelled like a mantra whenever an opposition doesn't like something that the government of the day does.

Government by tradition is formed from a majority of members on the floor of the House of Commons; as indeed is the case for every Westminster Parliament. The only two conditions that a government needs to be in government are the ability to pass the budget and to maintain the confidence of the house, which relates to that first requirement which is  the ability to pass the budget. That's all there is. There isn't any more.
Although the Prime Minister as minister without portfolio (usually) is the leader of the executive of the government, the actual power resides not in the office of the Prime Minister but the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although almost always named as the Second Lord of the Treasury behind the Prime Minister, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer controls the purse strings of the nation, they are in reality the one who is responsible for making sure tha the functions of govrenment happen. It is like the Director and Producer of a movie, in that while the Director is able to tell people what to do, if the Producer decides that they don't want to pay people, the production of the movie stops.

Jeremy Corbyn has a right to be outraged at the failure of the government to pass legislation but the truth remains that if they liked the deal, they could have overwhelmingly passed it. That is true for every single piece of legislation. It is also true that if the Labour Party had come up with their own Brexit legislation, deal, no deal, hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Brexit with bacon, Brexit with egg and spam, spam Brexit sausage and spam, and Brexit with a soggy bottom, and they could get the numbers on the floor of the House to agree, then they could have passed that as well.
The one piece of legislation that the Labour Party absolutely can not pass is to propose another referendum. As the rules for referenda are spelled out, including the timetable, it is already too late to hold a referendum before the impending Brexpocalypse on 29 March.

Therein lies Corbyn's problem. If he somehow manages to win government on the floor of the House of Commons because the DUP decide that they want to change allegience over matters of supply and confidence, B-Day is still coming and there's no way to flush out the muck. Labour can't exactly negotiate not to leave the EU because precedent has already been set that the Great British public will want a referendum, which means that they must come up with some kind of leave plan. The Tories have been monumentally incompetent at that task and instead of having two years to try and work it out, there's only two months. I'm sorry but a party which hasn't been in government for nine years, would find it nigh on impossible to pull that off.
The problem now sits back on the doorstep of Number Ten Downing Street like a ticking parcel. Although Ms May has made some sort of noise that she would like Corbyn to reach across the aisle and find some kind of constructive strategy, because Corbyn faces the problem that many in the Labour Party don't want Brexit to happen at all, then he'd suffer criticism for even showing up to Downing Street.

Teresa May though is back to square one again. It is as if she is playing a game of Snakes and Chutes (there are no ladders). Ms May as the Prime Minister has the support of the Tory Party because somehow she ended up with the job and nobody else wants it. Ms May as the Prime Minister has the support of the House on matters of confidence and supply but that's it. We've now been shown that there are no legislative solutions and that a no deal Brexit while undesirable, will probably be what happens despite it being in the interests of nobody. Looks like we're going to get No Deal.

January 13, 2019

Horse 2501 - If Venues Wanted To, They Could Already Test Pills; So Blame Them, Not The Police

A 19-year-old woman has died after taking a unidentified substance at the FOMO music festival in western Sydney.
A NSW Ambulance spokesman said the reveller was presented to the medical centre at the festival site, appearing to have a reaction to drugs.

Paramedics treated her at the scene and in the ambulance on the way to Westmead Hospital where she later died.
Police believed the woman took an "unidentified substance" but were still confirming the circumstances behind her death.
- ABC News, 13th Jan 2019

The thing that I find troubling about the ongoing debate about pill testing in venues, is that those people who want to allow pill testing at venues, invariably think that it is the government's responsibility to provide that testing. I don't care if you want to reframe this as a public health issue instead of an issue of law and order because the bottom line is that people have died.
The Premier Gladys Berejiklian, had this to say when asked to comment:

"But I also want to make sure that we look at every opportunity to reduce deaths from drugs, and I worry, I worry that something like pill testing will actually have the opposite effect.
So as many experts have said, in the absence of evidence, we need to keep sending out the strongest message that taking these illicit drugs, kills lives; kills loved ones and we ask young people not to do it.”
- NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

I actually agree with the Premier here. As tragic as this is, this was still a completely voluntary action by someone with independent agency. The only perfect solution to win this game is to assume that all drugs will kill you, and don't take any.
If the people who wanted to take drugs were actually concerned about their health, then either they wouldn't take drugs in the first place, or if they were still determined to, they'd go to any pharmacy and test the pills themselves.

Drug Alert Street Drugs Single Kit - $18.99

I do happen to agree with the fact that sending people to prison because of possession doesn't seem to work because the end result of that is merely a lot of people in prison who otherwise wouldn't have been sent there. Decriminalising drug use isn't exactly the answer either because that removes a tool from the arsenal of fighting deaths due to drug use. I think that Portugal has it about right, where people are arrested for possession and then the issue is treated as a public health issue.
In Portugal, it is still illegal for people to use or possess drugs for personal use without authorization and although the offense still stands as a criminal offense with the possibility of punishment, in general small amounts are treated as a civil offence with administrative penalties and referral to health care professionals if the amount of illegal drugs in possession is no more than a ten-day supply.

One of the arguments that is frequently put forward in this realm of discussion is that Prohibition in the United States didn't work. The truth is actually a lot stranger than that. Under all of the basic public health measurements Probation was actually a resounding success; there are a number of statistical measures which directly stem from the sharp drop in the amount of alcohol consumption during Prohibition.
- Cirrhosis death rates: 29.5/100,000 in 1911 - 10.7/100,000 in 1929.
- Admissions to mental hospital for alcohol psychosis: 10.1/100,000 in 1919 - 4.7/100,000 in 1928.
Public drunkenness fell by 50%, violent crime moved practically nowhere. Granted that organized crime did become more visible but I suspect that an undue focus was put on it by the commercial media outlets of the day and has subsequently been mythologised today.
The bottom line is that Prohibition actually worked really well; the reason why the 18th Amendment was repealed was that it immediately gave the US Government access at about $321 million in taxation revenues in the middle of the Depression.

The question which I keep on returning to in this issue to do with pill testing, is one of responsibility. I don't think that it is the government's responsibility to test drugs which are already illegal. If a venue wants to do something about harm minimisation, then there's nothing which currently prevents that venue from buying its own kits and doing its own testing. If it thinks that it has a duty of care to its patrons, then it should include the carrying costs of doing that pill testing by itself. There is currently nothing in the law to prevent that. Why blame the police when music festivals are negligent?
Outrage that the police don't do pill testing is misplaced. The police's job is to enforce the law; that means the confiscation of illegal drugs. Illegal drugs are illegal for a good reason - they kill people. Unregulated drugs; which are taken by people who don't understand the pharmacology or how they will interact with other drugs are gambling with their lives already.

If this is a veil for an argument to legalise drugs on the basis that would lead to fewer deaths, I reject that notion outright. All that would do would shift the supply curve of drugs, which would make more of them available at cheaper prices. If you open the marketplace, then you get more suppliers and the price will drop because that creates a further economic incentive to supply drugs, as you've now removed a barrier to the marketplace.
I realise that there never going to be any perfect solution to this problem. However, if you perform an experiment more often, the likelihood of the event happening, goes up. I don't see legalising drugs as doing anything other than opening an avenue to performing that experiment more often.

January 09, 2019

Horse 2500 - Operation Orange Line - Six Stops of Solitude

I think that I can now say that I have visited every train station in the Sydney Suburban Rail Network, with the trip that I made up the Carlingford Line yesterday. Although it is one of the shortest lines and therefore shouldn't be that difficult to get to, I found that both the getting there and the getting back was overly complicated.

I live in Marayong, which is on the Richmond Line. That means that there are no direct trains to Carlingford. There are also no direct trains to Clyde, which is where you need to change in order to get a to Carlingford because the line is operated as a shuttle service with two trains heading back and forth. My journey to Carlingford involved a train to Seven Hills, another train to Parramatta, yet another train from Parramatta to Clyde, before the actual Carlingford Line train itself.
When you add to this, temperatures in the high 30s, it is easy to see why on both journeys,  there was nobody else apart from myself in the carriage. Except for about a half dozen people who got off at Carlingford, the train was mostly empty. This if nothing else highlights why the trains should be held in public hands. The Carlingford Line would be a loss maker for a private corporation and there would be an incentive to close it down. Yet if that were to happen, then the loss of the service would be difficult to justify replacing and the people who use it during the peak periods, would have to drive their cars.

Clyde Station which sits on the main Western Line is now bypassed by most Western Line services. Under the current scheduling the newly minted Cumberland Line runs between Parramatta and the City Circle and is all stations. This puts us in the technically strange place of having a spur of a line which isn't actually accessible by trains on the line which it's supposedly a part of. I think that this warrants the Carlingford Line being restored to its former orange colour on maps, as a separate entity.

The line heads north and then crosses what I think is the last level crossing in metropolitan Sydney and it does so by crossing Parramatta Road. I think that the reason why this remains as a level crossing is to do with Parramatta Road being a major thoroughfare and it carrying many semi-trailers and other big lorries. A railway bridge might necessitate a pair of ramps with a rise which is so long that it's unfeasible to build it. the road can not have a bridge for the same reason.

The first stop on the line is Rosehill. There looks to be a set of tracks running to the east, immediately to the north of the station which I imagine would have served Rosehill Racecourse but the station is already so close to the racecourse that Platform 1 has ticket barriers for it, just beyond the paid area of the railway station. Consequently, normal running service of trains happens on Platform 2. The whole thing looks like a temporary structure which has never been made permanent and I suspect carries so little pedestrian traffic that a more substantial platform need not be built.

Next on the line is Camellia. Camellia as indeed every station until the end of the line looks like one half of a 'river' set of platforms with no opposite bank. Of course when you are on the platform, it looks like you are standing on an 'island' platform except that you have to remember that there is no other platform behind you.
Camelia Station sits in the middle of industrial land and there was a cement mixer parking lot on the other side of the street from the station. Also, on no fewer than four occasions up this line, Clive Palmer is telling us to Make Australia Great. I think that I prefer his big grinning whimsy than the other people who might want to use that phrase and have nefarious and racist intent.

The line heads ever onwards and crosses the Parramatta River. The waterway which will eventually become so wide that that grand piece of metalwork which is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is only a slow moving inconvenience here. Western Sydney University's Rydalmere campus sits on the north bank of the river and this brings us nicely to the next station.

Rydalmere station is the prettiest station of the six on the line. This is only a short walking distance to the university and so is probably used by many students when school is in. On my journey though, when Australia passes within what seems like three quarters of a mile from the sun, nobody is around at all.

Telopea station is the only one on the whole line that looks to me what suburbia should look like. There is a set of shops on one side and I personally know the area because there is a local football pitch not too far away. Telopea had a set of buildings reminiscent of the style on the main Western Line and looked to be the most substantial of the set.

Heading further now to Dundas and there was actually movement of people who got off the train. The line in this part of the world had grass embankments on either side and again looked like this was an actual place where people live. Someone on the eastern side of the railway had a massive Australian flag flying from a flagpole as well as flags for Sea Shepherd, a Eureka flag, and a Jolly Roger. I am not sure what message that they are trying to send to people on the train - they like flags?

The last stop on the line was Carlingford. The indicator board, and this was the only indicator board that I saw since leaving Clyde, was one of the older style wooden framed ones with pieces of wood that would have rotated except here they didn't need to. The clock at the top of the board was manipulated by the stationmaster but the six destinations were fixed.

As I walked to the front of the train, I saw the driver and guard walking back in the other direction and just a few yards beyond the front of the train was the end of the line, marked off by a wooden buffer.

Also near Carlingford Station, on Pennant Hills Road, is the memorial to the submarine K13. 32 people on board died after seawater made its way into the engine room while the submarine was underwater.

I personally think that the whole Carlingford Line should be extended to Beecroft Station or Epping Station, both of which aren't that far away. As it stands, the whole line is a backwater that ends kind of in nowhere land. As there is only a single track for the majority of the line, and the trip takes 12 minutes, then there can only be a maximum theoretical service of two trains an hour. At Carlingford, that is expressed with trains leaving at exactly quarter to and quarter past the hour. I think that duplication of the tracks and extension north to a connection point, would mean that more people would have both cause and the ability to use it. Ideally an underground line to Epping would pass underneath Carlingford Court and through the rather populous parts of west Epping.

The difficulty in using the Carlingford Line and the fact that it ends up in the middle of nondescript suburbia is the reason why it suffers from such low patronage and also the reason why as someone who lives in this swirling conurbation we call Sydney, I have never had the need to use the line before and had never done so. It is a shame.

January 04, 2019

Horse 2499 - Wonderment And Bewilderment As Told Through Furniture (Or Lack Thereof)

The big thing that you learn as a grown up is that not only is change inevitable but that just like the grown ups who came before you, you will not change and there will be things that the youff do and don't do that will leave you in a state of utter bewilderment.
The kosmos also has a habit of leaving detritus from previous versions of itself. If these bits of stuff last for a sufficiently long period of time, they then become the subjects of history and archeology, and academics will view those bits of stuff with wonderment which is the exact inverse of the bewilderment that grown ups feel as a result of the kosmos perpetually changing itself.

I was faced with this sense of bewilderment yesterday when I was walking around a thrift store and stumbled upon this piece of furniture:

To the untrained eye, this looks like it might be a television table. That in itself is a curious thing as televisions have ceased to be impossibly heavy boxes filled with magic electronic goblins and thought wires. Upon closer inspection though, this low table has shelves built into the sides and the fact that it has a space underneath the centre of it indicates to me that this is an even older bit of cultural detritus.
This was probably sold as a telephone table. It probably also had its own little stool which nested in that space.

For the youffs who are reading this (and I already know that you're not because this is a piece of many words and only one picture (how boring!)), in the olden days when there was only five television stations, before the internet could fit in your pocket, and before everyone had their own personal telephone which they carried around with them, the telephone was a thing attached to the wall, which only one person in the house could operate at a time and which had its own piece of furniture which it stood upon.
If you wanted to make a call, you had to push buttons of the number that you had to remember, or use a spinny spring loaded roundabout thing to dial out, and everyone in the house would listen in on your half of the conversation. It was like having the comments section of YouTube, or the squawk boxes of Twitstagram, Instaface, and Whatsbook, coming at you in real time by people in your own family. If you weren't around, then the only way that someone could leave you a message was if someone wrote it down on a tortured piece of paper.

Of course I realise that by my noticing what this thing is and that the kosmos has changed around me, I am instantly qualified to call myself old. I also give away that I come from a very particular place in space and time in that I grew up in an analogue childhood but almost exactly as I hit adulthood, the kosmos decided for itself that it wanted to go all digital.

This came along like the perfect storm in my mind because only that morning, I had been listening to a podcast in which the hosts were answering questions which people had mailed in from across the world, on Christmas Cards. Christmas Cards are a delightfully analogue piece of tech that began on a commercial basis in 1843, and took advantage of the brand new-fangled penny postage system which started in England in 1840. This is 175 year old technology; 19th century tech in a 21st century world.
I again show my bewilderment because I am old because one young'un wrote in from America and said that they had to Google how to write a Christmas Card, how to address an envelope, and how to put it in the post. When I were a wee lad, this sort of thing was taught in primary school because it was necessary information. One needed to know how to write a letter and truth be told that while I write a lot of business correspondence with a computer (because nobody in the world wants to see my handwriting - which was once described as like a chicken throwing up all over the paper), this is still necessary information. Is the basic skill of letter writing and addressing an envelope a thing that will now become part of on the job vocational training?

I looked at this telephone table as a reminder of my childhood and thought that although the kosmos that children grow up in today is incredibly different from mine, the remnants of that old kosmos still remain. They might grow up with a sense of wonderment as they look at the way which we all used to live, through the detritus which has been left behind; as I continue to look into a kosmos which is increasingly filled with ever more bewilderment.
Devices have become smaller and no longer require separate furniture. Televisions and music players don't come in massive wooden cabinets any more. Computers don't really need their own table but it helps. A writing bureau is a fancy fancy thing which once was necessary to conduct business but has also been replaced with that same device which you now get television, radio, and the telephone on; all in the palm of your hand.
Future history and archaeology will be told with today's furniture; which will also be looked upon with wonderment and that's also perpetually bewildering.

January 01, 2019

Horse 2498 - The US Government Shutdown Is The Result Of A Stupid Constitution

The first day of 2019 is the embodiment of so many things that I cite as proof that the United States Government is badly constituted. The fact that there is a government shutdown at all and that the government has continued to be shutdown into the new year, doesn't merely short that the system is broken but that it was never properly built in the first place. The fact that government shutdowns happen with such alarming regularity, indicates to me that whether by design or by complete lack thereof, that this is baked into the system and that the blame for this should be directed squarely at the so-called 'wisdom' of the founding fathers and probably most directed at Alexander Hamilton who most vigorously defended the document with the Federalist Papers.

The current system of government in the United States is actually the second attempt at government in the country. The first attempt with the Continental Congress and which had seven presidents, was so abominably feeble that all that it could really do was collect funds to go to war and declare that the country was either at war or peace. The idea that there should even be a central government was viewed with suspicion by the thirteen colonies of whom it must be said, acted like scared little children in a big vast land.
The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 was the last major conflict in the American Revolutionary War and the United States acted as a single country in the negotiations for peace in the Peace Of Paris in 1783. The three great peach powers who still had an interest in the North American continent argued for their bit and apart from the United States and Britain, Spain and France also secured their stakes; although the latter would suffer its own revolution because it too was broke.
I little doubt that at the bunfight of the constitutional conventions which resulted in the document in 1789, that most people saw that experiment in government as being no more permanent than the Continental Congress which preceded it. It actually speaks volumes to me that it was George Washington who became the first President because that indicates that the country saw itself as still being on a defensive war footing and not building a thing that would outlive the people immediately involved. I don't think that any real succession plan existed for who might come after Washington and that probably helps to explain why it is practically impossible to remove a sitting President.

Andrew Johnson probably shouldn't have been impeached and the Senate couldn't ultimately get the votes to do so, which is what lies at the heart of the mechanics of the process. Warren G Harding probably should have been impeached over the Teapot Dome scandal in which Federal Oil Reserves were secretly 'leased' by the Secretary of the Interior but Harding helpfully died before any charges could ever be drawn up. Richard Nixon almost was impeached and probably would have been it wasn't for the fact that he removed himself from office, after it came to light that there was no possible way that he would survive a trial over Watergate. Bill Clinton's impeachment trial fell over in the same way that Johnson's did.
The question of the impeachment of Donald Trump should be something of a fait accompli. There are almost certainly charges to be laid relating to obstruction of justice over the Russian hacking of the 2016 Election, and there are continuing questions over financial irregularities which stem from his continued running of businesses and whether or not he has used the position of the presidency for financial gain.

The Constitution requires that impeachment charges are drawn up in the House Of Representatives and that they only need a simple majority of members on the floor to agree to it. When those charges are heard in the Senate, it then requires a supermajority of two-thirds or Senators to pass the impeachment resolution. At no stage in US Senate history, has any party controlled two-thirds of the Senate. Furthermore if just a rump of 34% of Senators remained loyal to the President, then no president will ever be impeached.

This is fundamentally different to a Westminster Parliament when a party can under its own internal rules, remove a Prime Minister with comparative ease and where the Governor-General or the Queen, can remove a government. The precedents for that exist in Canada when a sitting government was forced to stay in power and in Australia where a government was dismissed. I think that you have to go all the way back to Charles I to find a King dissolving a parliament because of personal nonsense.
The Crown is a fundamentally disinterested part in the machine of a Westminster Parliament. The President of the United States is not only the Commander in Chief (which they share with the Governor-General or the Crown) but they are also the person in whom the executive of the nation is vested.
If by some bizarre imaging of history Donald Trump had made his way to the top of a Westminster Parliament, he would have been removed by either his party or the Governor-General or the Crown, a long time ago. As he is the head of state, he occupies the position which should logically have the power to remove him but with the sole exception of Nixon, no President has removed themselves. From its inception as it is constituted, that is a bad thing.

The second fundamental flaw of the US Constitution on display is the mechanism by which the budget comes to be.
The passing of the budget by a government, is the most fundamental piece of legislation that a legislature must pass. The continued functioning of government can only happen if there are the available funds to ensure that that happens. Blocking the supply of monies to a government utterly renders their ability to govern, void. The process by which the budget is passed in the United States is so flawed, that the shutting down of government happens frequently as opposed to almost never, in most other democratic countries.

The budget in a Westminster Parliament is written by the Government in the lower house, who are in the first place invited him form government because they have a majority of members on the floor in that chamber, who then almost always pass the budget through the lower house without delay and negotiate its passage through the upper house where it is then signed off on and into law by the Crown.
In Australia, money bills can not originate in the upper house and the Governor-General who is not a sitting member of either house can not debate its passage. I imagine that the Governor-General could veto the budget if they really wanted to but that has never occurred in 119 years.
In the United Kingdom, the House of Lords lost its power to block the passage of money bills with the Parliament Act of 1911, after the 'People's Budget' of 1909/10 was rejected by the House of Lords. and caused one of the most severe political scandals in British political history.
In the United States though, government is not formed by a majority of members in the legislature and in addition to that, there are practically no restrictions on the changes that the Senate can make to the budget once it has passed through the House of Representatives. In addition to that, instead of there being one appropriation bill which is the Federal Budget, in the United States there are twelve such bills because the various government departments and agencies are all budgeted for separately. That in and of itself explains why there is currently only a partial government shutdown.

The thing is though that all twelve budget bills for 2019 have already passed through both the House and Senate. The unsigned bills that remain are being held over the Congress as a ransom for Mr Trump's plans for a wall along the Mexican border. In theory, any and every bill which the Republican Party wants to pass, should have been passed without delay as they currently have a majority of members in both houses and there is a Republican President. Even if every single Democrat were to vote against legislation, the numbers exist such that that's irrelevant; so blaming the Democrats for blocking legislation is functionally a lie because that's numerically impossible.
The budget bills which haven't been passed and which currently sit on the President's desk (hence the shutdown) are being held as a ransom for a line item of $5bn in a bottom line of $4407bn. That's kind of the equivalent of throwing a tantrum and not leaving the supermarket with a hundred dollars worth of groceries because daddy can't have one nail from the hardware section; the reason why you don't want him to get a nail is because he intends to hurt children with it but he controls the credit card.

All of this means to say that the 2019 US Budget hasn't been passed because you have a President who can't easily be removed, blocking legislation which has been passed by the Congress. Either that's a design flaw, which the framers of the Constitution had never really thought about because they never saw the system of government as being permanent, or that is a design feature which was designed to keep George Washington in power. None of this would happen in a properly constituted system of government and if it did, it would be a once in lifetime occurrence; not the second in decade and certainly not the ninth in my lifetime.