The Tea Party – Don’t know What They Want, and Don’t Know When They Want It

Tea Party members, in fact the right in general in the US, are having just the teeeeeniest bit of bother deciding what they want, big or small government.

Now, for those of you who’ve watched the poor dears doing the small government cha cha for years may be surprised to hear this.

In an interesting piece of research, the Pew Institute asked a large group of Republicans, both Tea Partiers and some who still retained a vestige of sanity, whether they preferred big or small government.

Almost all clamored for small. Well, no surprises there.abortion_hypocrisy

Sometime later, the researchers asked the same group of people a great long list of questions, including:

  • Should government be responsible for food safety?
  • Should government be responsible for infrastructure like roads and bridges?
  • Should government provide a safety net for those unable to fully take care of themselves?
  • Should government be responsible for fighting terrorism?
  • Should government keep medications affordable?
  • Should government keep our society safe?
  • Should there be a government Centre for Disease Control?
  • Should the be a Dept of Defense, or NASA, or Dept of Veteran’s Affairs?
  • and many more along the same lines.

Low and behold, more than 80% of the people who seemed to be having wet dreams at the idea of minuscule or even nonexistent government, answered yes to most of the questions.

It doesn’t take an intellectual giant to figure out that any government capable of doing all this stuff, is going to be a fair size. In fact, it’ll probably look pretty much like the government they’ve got.

They weren’t entirely inconsistent though. Nearly all the Tea Partiers and Republicans hated the Environmental Protection Agency and the  and the IRS.

Well nobody loves tax gatherers.

When Democrats were asked the same questions, they, as one would expect, virtually all answered yes to most questions.

So, it turns out that everybody likes the IDEA of small government; they just don’t want it to interfere with the services they enjoy.

Turning our attention back to our beloved Oz, this all begs the question of what might be the implications for us.

So here’s something to ponder on: What if the swingers, (voters, I mean, not the other kind), liked what Abbott had to say in opposition, drank deep from the well of Liberal GI Juice on polling day, but now are less than keen on what the crazies we voted in are doing to us.

Would explain a thing or three, doncha think?


Liberals and Conservatives… They Really are Different

I love technology. It gets me from here to there really, really fast, it lets me carry my library in my pocket without tearing my trousers and… it’s finally proven that conservatives and liberals have physically different brains.

Ryota Kanai, in a paper published in Current Biology,* found, “that greater liberalism was associated with increased grey matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, (ACC), whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala (RA).”Brain

I’m guessing that each side has always suspected that those folk over there with the whacky ideas really are a different species. Turns out they were right. A large ACC is associated with such things as:

  • tolerance for uncertainty;
  • effortful, deliberate reasoning,
  • acceptance of change;

while a dominant RA is associated with:

  • quick, efficient, and low effort thought processes;
  • Fear as a dominant emotion

In other research,** conservative and liberal  test subjects all responded well to positive messages, but conservatives responded more powerfully and more sensitively to negative messages.

Is this starting to feel right? Thought so.

It goes a long way to explaining Tony Abbott’s strategies.

In the last few years we’ve had the cost of living crisis, the productivity crisis, the retail slump crisis, government debt crisis, the emergency low interest rates crisis, the threat of sovereign risk crisis, the carbon tax catastrophe crisis, and of course, the all time favourite, the mythical budget emergency crisis.

Not one of which is or was an actual crisis, but Tony never saw an amygdala he didn’t want to terrify.

Oh, and I should add to the list, the equally ever popular border protection crisis, with refugees routinely painted as terrorist wannabes. Who knew that a leaky boat load of desperate families have it within their power to destroy our way of life, were the worn out soles of their sandals ever to touch our hallowed – yet strangely fragile – Common Weal.

Liberal thinkers, on the other hand, tend to say things like, “We need to stop people from drowning at sea. But these folk are genuine refugees and we have international obligations to think about, so we need to tread a careful path.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition, being collectively RA dominant, says, “They’re illegals. Be afraid, be very afraid.”

See, they’re not really mean and insensitive, it’s just their amygdalae talking. (Note to self: check on the plural of ‘amygdala’. And I wonder what the collective noun is; a scramble perhaps).

Anyway, it’s the same with climate change. Liberals talk about complex science and how we face a huge problem that will take decades to solve.

The RA dominant simply say, “Global Warming is crap.”

I’ll say this for being RA dominant, it makes life easy. For a while anyway; until the reality becomes inescapable.

So it is with our government’s refugee policy. We have our Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who exhibits classic RA dominant symptoms, and who’s sung the scare me song for years. Suddenly the reality that he can’t stop the boats has hit him – hard. His RA took one look at the situation and said, “Don’t think about it. Deny, deny.”

So what do we get? Suddenly boat arrivals become secret. The perfect RA response.

Is this a beautiful piece of research, or what?

So the next time you want to chat someone up, here’s what you do. You just figure out if they’re a Labor or Greens supporter or a Coalition supporter, and then either make them think, or scare the life out of them.

Piece of cake.


* Ryota Kanai, PhD, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth, and Geraint Rees, PhD, “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults,”  Current Biology, Apr. 7, 2011 ** Scott Eidelman, PhD, Christian S. Crandall, PhD, Jeffrey A. Goodman, PhD, and John C. Blanchar, “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism,”  Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2012

Tony Abbott’s Red Tape Day

How excited was I to learn that Tony Abbott’s propensity for saying what he thinks his audience wants to hear has led him to commit to a ‘Cut Red Tape Day” in March.

For once, I thought, a good idea, and I’m determined to play my part.

Fired with determination to serve the common weal, I delved into the red tape that so obviously besets our very existence, searching for the slashable.

You’ll be pleased to know that I have – as the Chinese say – met with success.

First, toys; mountains of regulations determine the quality, dimensions and constituents of children’s’ toys sold in this country. It’s scandalous.

Get rid of it Tony.

What’s that you say? Children might be poisoned or otherwise injured?  Let’s not, I reply, allow a few sick kiddies to stand, or lie for that matter, in the way of corporate profitability.

I found the same wherever I looked; vast piles of regs dictate such silly things as vehicle and food safety.

When you apply for practically anything from a government department, you first have to prove you are who you say you are.

What? Do they think we might fib?

Do you know how much red tape is involved in becoming a licensed electrician? Or a brain surgeon? Or an airline pilot? It. Just. Never. Ends.

Form upon form demands completion simply so we can be sure that proper amounts of GST are paid.

Here we are, on a gigantic island, most of the innards of which are near enough unpopulated, and we have to get permission to dump our toxic waste. It can take days, and all the while my toxic waste is sitting in my premises being, well, toxic, while I wait for some lazy bureaucrat to tick a box or two.

There’s even a rule that says you can’t have cockroaches and rats in restaurant kitchens. Well look, these critters have to eat too you know.

Tony’s really onto something here.

But I have this nagging concern.

I began to wonder how it all got there in the first place, all these stupid rules; after all governments only do something when they have to, and they’re the ones who created the red tape at the get go.

Turns out, in every case, there was a driving need that forced government to create a regulation.

So if we’re to get rid of them, then one of three conditions must apply:

  • The original problem no longer exists;
  • A better solution has been found and is in place; or
  •  We must be willing to forego whatever benefit the red tape was originally put in place to afford.

If it turns out to be the last option, then I wonder if we’ll be given a chance to decide how willing we are; or not.

Abbott’s Red Tape Day may turn out to be rather a short one.

Fool Me Once…

One of the many ways the Abbott government takes its cues from the US Republicantony-abbott-420x0 Party is its bait and switch approach to jobs.

One the one hand it waxes, if not lyrically then certainly loudly, on the need to create them and to keep unemployment low.

On the other, it unashamedly beats its collective hairy chest about the need to achieve small government by getting rid of public servants.

Here’s Abbott in full flight in a National Press Club Address on 31st January 2013: “By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.”

And a little further along, in the same speech, “The Coalition supports every Australian who’s working hard to get ahead.”

But in his budget reply speech on 16th May 2013, he announced with evident pride that 12,000 public service jobs would be cut by “natural attrition.

Oh, right, natural attrition. Well, that’s okay then.

Or is it? What that really means is that 12,000 people will leave the public service for one reason or another, but the 12,000 people who might otherwise have replaced them will remain unemployed.

Evidently, public servants, and those who would like to be, aren’t among those Australians working hard to get ahead.

So how does the Coalition rationalize this dichotomy to itself? (You know it’s not going to try rationalizing it to us; it’s just hoping we won’t notice).

Well, it goes like this.

Because private enterprise is so efficient and does things so much quicker than the public sector, (actually not true, but that’s another story), then private sector jobs must be more important, and thus, by extension, the holders of those jobs must be more honorable and more worthy of government support, whereas those lazy, slow public servants… oh dear, of dear.

So let’s look at a specific or two; say a little known federal government department, The Australian Organ and Tissue Authority

According to its Accountability and Reporting Performance update of June 2013 organ donation outcomes are up 33% over the same period in the previous year, and organs recipients are up 22%. The number of organs transplanted is up by 20% on the previous year.

Clearly defined, objective, performance measures showing significantly improving outcomes; looks disturbingly like we’ve got a bunch of out of control public servants actually saving lives.

Who knew?

Obviously begging to be naturally attritionized.

Compare their efforts with those of a corporate accountant who sole raison d’etre is to set up front companies in the Bahamas so the corporation can avoid paying unnecessary taxes.

Being a private sector position, it meets the Coalition’s criteria for admiration, respect and preservation.

And if another few hundred such jobs were to be created, the government would pat itself on the back and say, “Well done us.”

By the way, did you know that – hardly surprisingly – in countries across the world, there is an exact inverse correlation between the quality of federal and state government regulatory oversight and the incidence of community illness due to poor food quality?

Gotta love that small government!

Now, while Tony Abbott demonstrably handles the truth, er, carelessly, he’s not stupid. Well, not completely. He’s perfectly aware of the contradiction.

Or at least, the people who give him his riding instructions are.

But Tony and his lords and masters are betting that we’re all too distracted or too indifferent to care.

Personally, I think he, and they, are wrong.

Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice…

We’re in Good Hands… Sort Of

I hold the view that when stuff happens, we’re all entitled to five minutes of emotion.

As the just held election was an exceptionally large and malodorous pile of… stuff, I’ve had to give myself a couple of weeks.

But, finally, equanimity has been regained, although it wasn’t easy, even if the outcome was anticipated.

What helped was learning of American research that goes some way to explaining what happens here.

First, there is a widely promoted – and widely held – view of the US that it’s basically made up of two warring camps, the Right and the Left.

The research tells us the reality is that the majority of Americans are ” moderate, pragmatic, fiscal centrists”,  In other words, most Americans agree on fiscal issues.

They support medicaid, social safety nets, fair taxation, etc, and they tend to belt any party/candidate that moves too far from the centre on fiscal policy.

But they, shall we say, vigorously, disagree on a bunch of peripheral issues, like whether people and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time, and whether or not there’s a link between the country being awash with guns and the fact that 100 times more Americans are killed by guns than all of Europe plus the UK, which adds up to about the same population size.

In other words, they hate each other over the stuff the rest of the world thinks is a no brainer, but agree on fiscal policy.

This leads to the second interesting discovery.

The US Main Stream Media, otherwise known as ‘Dickhead Central’, would have us believe that Americans are hugely party aligned and that elections are fought to win the hearts and minds of a tiny swinging voter population, often put at 2 – 5%.

The Australian version of DC would have us believe that it’s the same here.

After all, it sounds so down-to-the-wire dramatic doesn’t it. The idea just begs for breathlessness among even the least breathless young things that pass for reporters these days.

This turns out to be what’s technically known as crap. Around 40% of American voters are non party affiliated and describe themselves as swinging voters.

Now, I’m going to posit that, although there isn’t the research to prove it, the Australian electorate  is pretty much the same, i.e.

  • We’re moderate, pragmatic fiscal centrists who will thump fiscally extreme politicians, and
  • About 40% of us are swinging voters who think fairly carefully about who we vote for. (Okay, there are a few new senators that do make me wonder, but, by and large….)

I would go a bit further and say that most Aussies are centrists on social issues as well as fiscal issues, that is, we take the idea of a fair go a bit further than the Americans.

Once  I understood this, I realized that no matter how lame Abbott and his band are, they can only do so much damage in three years, and if they move too far from the centre, Aussies will thoughtfully give ‘em a slap upside of the ear.

Just as they did with Labor a couple of weeks ago.

So, when I say in the title, that we’re in good hands, I’m referring to the Aussie people, and not the Right Wing nut bags skulking behind our new PM having wet dreams about turning our beloved country in to a Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand envisioned nightmare.

Makes it all so much easier to put up with.