Author: Jamie Gonzalez

He is a kid from the sprawling metropolis of Sydney. A by-product of a Spanish immigrant father and an Aussie battler mother, he grew up straddling the good life of Australia’s middle class and working class environment of Sydney’s sprawling outer western suburbs. Well traveled and well-versed, he strikes a chord between a sarcastic aloof and a bright-eyed, mature-aged student studying this complex world to try and make sense of it all. Seemingly with an outrageous new hair-do for every passing financial quarter, he cuts a striking and dynamic figure in a world of sameness and mediocrity. A day does not go by without this complicated and contradictory figure finding himself in ever-more zany situations whilst musing on the developments of the day – irrespective of their realm. His scope is wide and his thirst for knowledge and the truth is wider. So follow this modern day textual Don Quixote as he sets out to chronicle the world as only a true keyboard warrior can.

Post #48 – Clinton has declared an ‘Information War’, but who’s the enemy?

State-sponsored news channels like Al-Jazeera and RT are contributing to widespread repercussions that go beyond that of the family lounge room. The question is, what are those repercussions? After all, it’s only a TV show, right?

When defending the growing budget of the State Department, United States Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton proclaimed that America is in the midst of “an information war, and we are losing that war”. She specifically singled out the predominantly state-funded cable news channels Al-Jazeera, RT (Russia Today) and CCTV (China Central Television) as competitors in this war for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the masses. Within the last twenty-five years, countries that can be classified as ‘non-democratic’ have produced and disseminated cable news channels that can be broadcast across the entirety of the globe. These state-sponsored news channels are challenging traditional media organisations in breadth, prestige and influence. The implications of this steady rise in cable news channels materialising from non-democratic nation-states is both reflexive and consequential of a changing economical, political, technological and cultural environment.

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Post #47 – Trump Ain’t A Fascist (yet), But the Truth is a Lot Scarier

In the wake of Britain’s EU Referendum, it seems we have been asking the wrong kind of questions about Trump… and Clinton too.

With the recent shock vote for Great Britain to leave the EU, Trump exclaimed from the grand opening of his new Scottish golf-course that BREXIT was a “great thing“. Many are now questioning whether Thursday’s result will significantly increase the chances of Trump’s anti-establishment ideals. For example, CNN pondered whether the result would trigger…

… a cascade of events that could spark global economic chaos, remake the Western world, reverberate through November’s presidential election and challenge U.S. security for years to come.

Such an event means that comprehending what Trump actually stands for becomes tantamount to comprehending if the American ‘establishment’ are in for the same treatment in November. Naturally this has led to the current debate amongst the intellectual elite as to whether Donald Trump is a fascist – or at the very least, he has fascist tendencies. According to The Atlantic, The Telegraph and Forbes – he’s not. Salon, New Republic and George Clooney think he is. Most can agree that he is an unashamed populist, positioning himself as an anti-establishment messiah campaigning on a platform of economic protectionism and a critic of free trade deals (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP/TTIP).

The question as to whether one is a fascist depends on one important element though – power. As the German-born political theorist Hannah Arendt once said,

Revolutionaries do not make revolutions. The revolutionaries are those who know when power is lying in the street and then they can pick it up.

So if Trump is the revolutionary he paints himself to be, it won’t be until after he becomes President of the United States (POTUS) that a proper assessment of his fascist tendencies can take place – anytime beforehand (more…)

Post #46 – 45 Things This Aussie Initially Observed About England

As I write this, I’m sitting within the walls of a typical English house in the southern county of Hampshire, with a faint breeze outside and the sun beaming down. The flowers are in full bloom, and the bumblebees are buzzing away. Yes, there’s much to like about England, but there’s also some bits that are baffling – and some that are just a downright offence to common sense. One of most famous individuals to be influenced by the sights and sounds of England was the great poet George Chapman, who many in this country consider the rival poet of Shakespeare. He said this of his fellow countrymen in 1636,

I know an Englishman. Being flattered, is a lamb; threatened, a lion.

Much the same can be said about contemporary English folk – they shy from praise, but will squirm and sulk at the first sign of critique or self-reflection. So this post today will combine a bit of both – the peculiar and bizarre of all things English I have observed, firmly from the perspective of an inquisitive Aussie. I find it eternally fascinating what aspects of culture, mannerisms, ideology and lifestyle have managed to make it all the way to Australia – and conversely, what hasn’t.

I’ve briefly been to England a few times in the past, and this time around I’m attempting to live and work here. However, my travels here have never been very exploratory, only ever in the winter, and never any further north than Luton. So to say my comprehension of this complex and multifaceted nation is limited would be an understatement. But nor is it an attempt to be so, and these are just my initial understandings of this country. So here they are – as an Aussie these are the things that really stand out for me, divided up into five key sections – Mannerisms, Society, Food, Alcohol & Gambling, and Transport.

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Post #45 – The Five Stages of Australia’s Housing Bubble

So recently I blogged about some of the common myths surrounding the Australian housing market. That post also hinted that I believe our housing market is entering a very fragile phase, where finally, after many false prophecies of collapse, our luck might finally run out. I am predicting that the Australian housing market will enter a volatile period within the next 9-12 months, with a drop of approximately 20-40% in the next two to three years after that. And I’m going to borrow the theory of an obscure and oft-forgotten 1960’s economist by the name of Hyman Minsky to explain exactly how this housing market bubble will pop and collapse.

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Hyman Minksy

This man’s ideas have never really been applied to a housing market though, dabbling predominantly in the world of finance. However, I believe that the financialisation of the housing market in Australia means that the leap between his theory and the housing market in Australia can be made. Let me quote BBC News to give you a brief introduction to this man:

American economist Hyman Minsky, who died in 1996, grew up during the Great Depression, an event which shaped his views and set him on a crusade to explain how it happened and how a repeat could be prevented…

Minsky spent his life on the margins of economics but his ideas suddenly gained currency with the 2007-08 financial crisis. To many, it seemed to offer one of the most plausible accounts of why it had happened.

He referred to his theory as the Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH), and argued that lending goes through certain stages in a capitalist economy. Considering housing in Australia is no longer just a roof over your head, but rather seen as an investment and an asset, it’s easy to apply his different approach to finance to the housing market here. This is how it flows:

1. THE HEDGE POSITION: Your expected inflows are expected to be less than your committed outflows for the foreseeable future. You’re good.

2. THE SPECULATIVE POSITION: Your committed outflows are larger than your inflows, but enough to pay interest. You must refinance to pay the principal. You’re playing with fire, but still… you’re good.

3. THE PONZI POSITION: Your interest payments are greater than your inflows. You’re fucked.

I’m going to outline the steps below, and explain how they can be applied to what we have seen, and what we are currently seeing in the Australian housing market.

PHASE I: RECOVERY

This is the first stage, when banks and borrowers are cautious. They’re usually cautious because the inherent contradictions of capitalism have once again fucked things up, the housing market is a shambles and everybody is broke. You can take your pick which economic downturn you’d like to focus on. For example, (more…)

Post #44 – Budgets, Brexits, Battlelines and Briefcases

There is a Civil War brewing. No I’m not referring to Yemen, Ukraine, the U.S or even the upcoming antics of Captain America. I’m referring to a Civil War over a quantitative expression of a plan for a defined period of time – better known as a budget.

Federal budgets are those funny things in politics that have the power to destroy – or further solidify – the career of the Chosen One that hands it down. A memorable budget is usually characterised by an image, a particular event, or a symbol. Take the example of the Abbott Government’s much-maligned 2014 budget, personified so eloquently in the grainy footage of then-Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann huffing down Cuban cigars. He was henceforth disparagingly referred to as ‘Smokin’ Joe‘, and his career prospects tanked along with the budget. The man many thought might be our future Prime Minister was undid by a shitty budget (more…)

Post #43 – 10 Myths of the Australian Housing Market

Every time I try to suggest to my family and friends that the Australian housing market is in a bubble – the likes of which no developed Western nation has ever seen before – I’m dismissed as a bit of a ‘crackpot’. Amongst the sneers and chuckles, I’m told that the Australian housing market is ‘different’. Yes, different. What makes it ‘different’ is something nobody can really tell me – but here are a few of the excuses I’ve heard:

ARGUMENT 1: WE’VE GOT BIG HOUSESLargest in the world by some counts. According to our former Treasurer Joe Hockey, this means that Australia has a fundamentally different ‘asset’ class. Here’s exactly what he said:

A lot of Australians put a lot of new capital into their homes – renovate their homes, upgrade their homes – and we have the largest homes on average perhaps in the Western World, and the world more generally. So it’s a very different asset class in Australia than in other jurisdictions.

This means, naturally, we have to pay more for our houses – because they’re bigger than everyone else’s.

DEBUNKED: Hockey is correct in saying that a bigger house costs more than a smaller house. However, it doesn’t excuse why a median house price in Sydney is $1 million, whilst in Houston, a city of comparable size and wealth, it’s about $US146,600. Americans tend to challenge us for the title of most obnoxiously big houses in the Western world, so we’d hope to see some correlation there. But we don’t, the maths just simply doesn’t add up.

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Post #42 – Evangelical Christians Are Literally Ruining My World

 

The other day I had the (mis)fortune of getting into a protracted conversation with an evangelical Christian friend about climate change. Walking to our cars’ from the train station after work, we innocuously stumbled into the conversation as we rattled on about the large storm that hit Sydney over the weekend just gone.

We both noted the intensity of the storm, our personal experience whilst it was happening, and the damage that was done. Then as an off-hand comment I stated that the “weather is going crazy these days, eh?” – more a rhetorical question than anything else. But also, deep down I was seeing if he would take the bait. You see, I wanted to know if he took the threat of climate change seriously. I remember this individual being a wiz in our science class back in high school, but I also knew his deeply-held religious convictions. What I wanted to test was my hunch that evangelical Christians don’t give a shit about climate change, or worse, they actively challenge the science.

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Post #41 – Welcome to the ‘Surveillance Society’

“At some point we have to draw a line”, proclaimed Australian federal MP Scott Ludlam – referring specifically to controversial changes to data retention laws put before the Australian parliament for debate. A few months later (despite all his Youtubing, tweets, Facebook jibes and rousing proclamations in the Senate) the changes he (and many Australians) opposed passed through both houses of Parliament and became law. Maybe, just maybe, Ludlam is fighting the wrong battle here.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves if we ever had any privacy to begin with – maybe, just maybe, we started being a surveillance society a while ago. ‘Why bother [fighting it]?’ was the question posed by Richard Thomas, the UK government’s Information Commissioner who believes the surveillance society is already ‘a reality’… and that was back in 2006.

So on the one hand, Ludlum is saying we risk becoming a ‘surveillance society’, but experts are adamant we’re already there. What gives?

And even if we are already a so-called ‘surveillance society’ – where the government and big business can check our every move – is it really that big a deal?
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Post #40 – Beefcake-Bro Culture: The New Wave of Bogan

I left the suburbia of Penrith a few years ago for the big smoke of Sydney. At the time I told people the reason I was moving from the place I was born and raised was for convenience and accessibility. What I didn’t tell them was that I secretly couldn’t stand Penrith anymore. Despite being only an hour from Sydney’s CBD, in many respects it feels like its a million miles away from the beaches, the sky-rises and the trendy inner suburbs that define Sydney’s core. It certainly wasn’t the locale of Penrith that didn’t sit easy with me – the snaking Nepean River with the majestic Blue Mountains as a backdrop, the fresh air and wide open spaces mean Penrith provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nor was it the ‘typical westies’ that (sometimes) unfairly characterise the outer western suburbs of Sydney. No part of Sydney is immune from these so-called ‘uncultured’ characters, and I find the down-to-earth larrikin nature that inflects the good people of the Western suburbs refreshingly welcome in comparison to their Eastern counterparts. However, what ultimately drove me from my hometown was the rise of what I refer to as the ‘Beefcake-Bro Culture’ – a new wave of disturbing bogan culture festering in the youth of suburbia.

The re-birth of Australia’s muscle bro culture in not unprecedented – Australia has seen a rise and demise in both the surfie culture of the 1960’s and the ‘get big’ gym phase of the 1980’s amongst its blokes. But this new era of ‘roided boganism contains a much more dangerous and volatile streak amongst the suburban youth of today. It really is a perfect storm of factors that has given rise to the latest manifestation of boganesque masochism rampant within Australian youth culture, but particularly apparent in the Western suburbs of Sydney. It’s not just cultural either, with economic, political and ethnic factors also contributing to this ‘Bro Culture’. From Ambarvale to Abbottsbury,  Bankstown to Blacktown, Castle Hill to Campbelltown, and Parramatta to Penrith, Beefcake Bro Culture reigns dominant. Here are the factors that have given birth to this new wave of blatant boganism:

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Post #39 – How Skype Helps Large Mining Companies Not Give A Shit

I have family and friends alike who have been fortunate enough to cash-in on Australia’s mining boom. Even though it looks like the ‘boom’ might finally be petering out, there’s still money to be made. But the golden goose doesn’t seem to be laying the golden eggs anymore… and I personally blame Skype.

You see, Skype and other forms of new technology have helped the mining industry break barriers that have existed ever since this country has had white folk in it. These barriers have been…

  • Isolation – Australia is a fucking big country. Its vast distances meant that a mining town (i.e. Broken Hill or Ballarat) was permanent and therefore needed investment and infrastructure. Otherwise labour wouldn’t be enticed to live and work near or at the mines.
  • Community – This investment fostered a sense of community and camaraderie in these mining towns, so much so that the employees banded together.
  • The Workers – United together they formed associations and unions to increase economic and political influence for the betterment of their lot in life, their community, and last but not least…
  • The Nation – The royalties, tax collection and economic stimulation played a large part in making Australia one of the richest and opulent nations’ the world has ever seen.

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