Tag Archives: Barack Obama

In which Turnbull is thoroughly played by Trump

2 Feb

donald-trump-and-malcolm-turnbull-on-the-phone-340x180-data

 

Towards the end of the Obama administration, a classified “deal” was made between the then President and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to send an undisclosed number of refugees from detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to the US for resettlement. In return, Australia agreed to accept refugees from Costa Rica.

The classified nature of the deal infuriated Republicans, who after the election of President Trump called for details to be released, claiming the agreement covered the resettlement of an estimated 2,400 refugees, some from countries already on Obama’s list of “countries of concern.”

It was on the basis of Obama’s list that Trump formed his own list of seven predominantly Muslim countries from which entry into the US is now forbidden for ninety days, with refugees refused resettlement for one hundred and twenty days.

Both Obama and Turnbull were likely confident of a Clinton win when the agreement was reached, though Turnbull did express confidence that if elected, Trump would honour the agreement.

It was and remains, an unholy deal. The US is the last of a number of countries successive Australian governments have attempted to persuade to take refugees who legally sought asylum in Australia, and were incarcerated  in off-shore camps for exercising those legal rights. Both the LNP and ALP have engaged in increasingly desperate efforts to wash their hands of the refugees, and both parties were relieved and enthused by the US “deal.”

It’s been revealed today through leaks to the Washington Post, that Trump exploded at Turnbull during a phone call over the weekend, telling him it was the worst deal he’d ever heard of, and why did he, Turnbull, expect that Trump would agree to importing the next Boston Bomber. Trump later tweeted this:

The clue as to what is actually going on here is in the tweet, and to understand it, you need to know some context.

In 2011, Trump’s attacks on President Obama’s origins were at their height, the so-called “Birther” controversy. At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that year, Obama, who was guest speaker, took the opportunity to thoroughly trash Donald Trump, who was also present. Witnesses to this trashing claim Trump’s humiliation and rage were palpable, and many have since commented that this was the moment that determined Trump to enter the presidential race, and in victory avenge himself, lay his humiliation to rest, and assume power over every Obama initiative instigated during his administration, with the aim of dismantling as many of them as possible.

Much as in our own country, Tony Abbott set about dismantling every Labor government initiative of any note, regardless of its value, simply because it was a Labor initiative, and he could demonstrate his power to be greater than the ALP’s through this destructive rampage.

Trump misses no opportunity to denigrate Obama, either overtly or covertly. This “dumb deal” of Obama’s is being used by Trump to demonstrate to the American people that his predecessor was reckless enough to enter into a secret deal that allowed refugees from “countries of concern” into the US, and in so doing, risk the safety and security of Americans. Trump’s message  is that he is better than this. He knows a dumb deal from the Obama administration when he sees one, and he’s not going to just go along with it.

Turnbull and the refugees are collateral damage. Turnbull deserves it. The refugees do not.

Trump personally loathes and fears Muslims. He is also no doubt genuinely irritated at having to negotiate his way through this “deal” which, should he decide to honour it (and he may yet, the man is mercurial and entirely unpredictable) will cause him considerable embarrassment, given his hardline stance towards countries that are also the homelands of many of those whose fate is in limbo. Politcially, Trump allegedly said to Turnbull, I’ll get killed by it. I don’t want these people.

The future of the refugees is still as uncertain as it has been for years. At the very best, Trump might agree to “extreme vetting:” a process very few are likely to survive, given their homelands, the involvement of many in protests against their ill-treatment, and their demonised reputations, for which Australia is entirely responsible,  having cast them as “criminals” and “illegals” in order to win political favour with the ignorant.

It is with increasing incredulity we now watch as Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton attempt to rebrand those they’ve slandered as criminals and illegals, into “genuine”refugees worthy of resettlement in the USA. As we are wont to observe on social media, you could not make this shit up.

Turnbull continues to insist that Trump has agreed to honour the “deal.” However, neither he nor the media are particularly honest in their explanations of this deal: it is not a deal to accept anyone. The terms are such that the US can refuse to take even one refugee, and still honour the agreement. This has been known by the government for some time:

Our politicians seem not to have caught up with events. Trump is feral. He’ll do what he wants. He has no regard for diplomacy, checks and balances, time-honoured channels, or the right way of doing things. We’re in an entirely new political landscape. Documentary film maker Michael Moore claims there’s a coup underway even as we speak, a coup in which a handful of men destroy the US state via the transference of executive power to a small, tight inner circle, over-ruling any efforts by relevant agencies to intervene in their power grab.

The only certainties we can have about Trump is that he will act in ways that benefit and gratify his personal goals, and that his thirst for revenge is a legendary driving force.

Turnbull is in a pickle, and one he richly deserves. This is the karma bus coming to call.

However, he has an opportunity to redeem himself, at least as a human being, if not as a politician. I fear that latter ship has sailed. He could, however, recognise that there is nothing left to do but bring the refugees here, and attend to it without further ado.

At the moment he continues to insist, like a petulant and disappointed  child, that Trump “promised” to keep the agreement, and he won’t stop believing he will. Unfortunately, Turnbull doesn’t seem to realise yet that keeping the agreement does not mean the US accepting any refugees.

Meanwhile, those on Manus and Nauru continue to suffer. Pawns in successive Australian governments’ pandering to xenophobia, fear and ignorance. Well done, both major parties. Now let’s see you get out of this mess.

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Written on our bodies: God’s Own Party goes to war on women

18 Mar

When Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought it out to win the Democrats’ nomination for Presidential Candidate in 2008, the claim that “Americans are more misogynist than racist” was used as a street-level indicator of who would triumph. As we know Obama won, though whether or not this proves the observation is impossible to determine.

In the 2012 Republican battle for nomination, religion plays a central role, to the extent that the party is referred to by some US media as God’s Own Party, or, the American Faith Party. Professing your faith, once a no-no in US politics, is now de rigueur for Republican candidates who represent a party comprised in large part of Catholic traditionalists, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatic protestants; some strands of Judaism, and Mormons. What these disparate religious groups share is faith in the power of religious values to create a better country, and in some instances, a belief that God’s law should govern society.  The belief in a shared ultimate vision for the ordering of human existence, and the subordination of human experience to dogma and doctrinal claims are hallmarks of right-wing religious beliefs. Now for the first time in US history the core identity of a political party is “the profession of a religious faith in politics.” In other words, God’s Own Party is dedicated to a mystical imperative that supersedes all other concerns: faith.

Abortion and gay marriage are two of the fundamental issues that provoke anxiety and uncertainty in supporters of the AFP.  Some commentators see the origins of the new party back in Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when he made efforts to appeal to the Bible belt following the Roe v Wade decision on abortion. Since that decision, religious groups have felt themselves particularly alienated from politics, and disgruntled that religion apparently had no role in determining an aspect of public policy about which they held zealous views.

Hillary Clinton, now US Secretary of State, recently made the following comments:

Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe that even here at home, we have to stand up for women’s rights and reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America needs to set an example for the entire world.

Given current conditions, the US is far from setting an example to the entire world in the matter of women’s reproductive rights.

Clinton is required to refrain from commentary on domestic politics in her role as Secretary of State, however it’s clear that’s she’s referring to what New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd describes as an “insane bout of mass misogyny” perpetrated by G.O.P. leaders in their efforts to outdo one another in selling their religious conservative credentials to voters.

The personal consequences of this insanity for one woman are detailed in this devastating account of her experiences in Texas, after new laws were introduced requiring certain procedures before a woman may undergo a termination. Women are compelled to have an ultrasound, during which they are legally required to listen while a doctor is legally required to describe the foetus they are carrying. They must then wait 24 hours before termination, presumably to give them time to change their minds after hearing this description, and in some states, the foetal heartbeat.  In the case of Carolyn Jones described in the link, a nurse turned up the volume of a radio in an attempt to drown out the doctor’s words and spare Ms Jones some anguish. One can only imagine the toll these laws take on the staff of women’s health clinics, as well as the patients.

Doctors are then legally required (under threat of losing their license) to read out a list of the dangers of abortion, including the discredited claim also made by religious groups in Australia, most recently on ABC’s The Drum, that there is an increased chance of breast cancer after a termination.

Seven US states require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion, and then require the provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the image. In most states she is permitted to “turn her eyes away.” This legislation is based on the paternalistic notion that women might not know what pregnancy means, and having the foetus described, hearing its heartbeat and viewing an ultrasound will educate them. The desired outcome is that after this compulsory education, a woman will change her mind, refuse to terminate the pregnancy, and carry the foetus to term.

Some of these requirements have been in place in some states since the mid 1990’s. There hasn’t been any noticeable decline in the numbers of women seeking abortions, indeed some figures indicate an increase, especially the figures used by the anti-choice campaigners, who often claim an “epidemic” is underway. It’s generally agreed by abortion providers that women have made up their minds about termination before arriving at their clinics, and no matter how they are tortured, are disinclined to change their minds.

Many women seeking abortions have already given birth, and are well aware of what they are doing. Apparently, according to anti-choice activists, even when a woman has carried a child to term she still can’t be trusted to know what she is planning to do. Most insidious is the Orwellian co-option of language to justify these last-minute efforts at re-education under the guise of “informed consent.”  The “Women’s Right to Know Act” is the title of the legislation, a title that implies a woman hasn’t got a clue in the first place, and that information is being deliberately withheld from her by abortion providers.

And then there is the “post abortion grief” argument so beloved by some activists in Australia:

Abortion foes have long focused on what they allege are its negative mental health consequences. For decades, they have charged that having an abortion causes mental instability and even may lead to suicide, and despite consistent repudiations from the major professional mental health associations, they remain undeterred.

Neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes so-called post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome as grounded in clinical evidence. As these bodies apparently are willing to recognize just about anything as a syndrome, the fact that they refuse to grant credence to this particular “syndrome” is significant.

As I wrote here, there is a continuum of reactions to the experience of abortion, and none of them should be extrapolated to prove one thing or another, and certainly not to claim that “post abortion syndrome” is an argument for outlawing abortion.

An attitude typical of Republicans who support the AFP is encapsulated in this comment on abortion: “We can’t ever think that a fetus is somehow undesirable or even disposable,” said Justine Schmiesing, a mother of seven who noted that she does not “contracept.” “We don’t want government to act in ways that ignore life, and that is why we are speaking up.”

The Republican party’s focus on women’s reproductive rights (contraception is also under fire, but that’s another whole article) as a political battleground does not augur well for US women, especially in the southern states, as the fallout from new laws causes a cut in federal funding that affects all health services for low-income women:

After Texas blocked abortion providers’ participation in its Medicaid Women’s Health Program, the White House officially notified the state Thursday afternoon that it will pull all funds from the program, which totalled about $39 million last year.

The Medicaid program offered a wide range of health services to women who otherwise would be unable to afford them. Texas refused to allow any abortion provider to participate in this program, despite the fact that clinics providing abortion such as Planned Parenthood, also offer a multitude of other services. As federal law already forbids the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, this action is purely political. As I wrote here in April 2011:

The call for de-funding was justified by Republicans and prominent Tea Party supporters such as Sarah Palin as necessary to prevent taxpayers’ money being used to provide abortions. Palin tweeted that “the country’s going broke, we can’t AFFORD cowboy poetry and subsidised abortion.”
 In fact, some 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood’s total services deal with abortion, and that 3 per cent is restricted to terminating pregnancies that are a consequence of rape, incest, and those that are a threat to the mother’s life. The use of federal funds for any other type of abortion is already illegal.
Republican anti-abortion spin reframes Planned Parenthood as a major provider of subsidised abortion, and so determined are conservatives forces to ban the procedure they were prepared to not only close down the government’s ability to financially function, but to deny all other health services provided for poor and low-income women by the PP health centres.

Not only is this a war on women, it’s also a class war.

The Republican party is today dominated by presidential candidates fuelled by a sense of higher purpose, who market themselves as agents of God, chosen to guide America back to the path of righteousness from which it has apparently so grievously strayed. Society must be re-shaped to fit their doctrinal mold, because to them, doctrine is more valid than human experience. The differences between the religious faiths represented in GOP are temporarily suspended in the interests of attaining the greater good.

What is alarming is that gaining control over women’s bodies has once again come to represent attaining the greater good. That women will suffer in the political/religious struggle for the imagined ideal is irrelevant, as it is women who allegedly most grievously transgress this ideal. It is women, specifically women’s sexuality, that obstructs those who seek a god-fearing society.

After all, central to the US pledge of allegiance, piped by every school child in America every morning, is the phrase “ one country under God.”  God’s Own Party is determined to make America one country under God, and if you’re a woman, and even more if you’re a poor woman, you will be crushed in the righteous pursuit of the imposition of God’s will.

As Wendy Kaminer puts it in the Atlantic:

Would we tolerate a religious right to refuse treatment or accommodation on the basis of race as readily as we tolerate a religious right to refuse reproductive health care? Of course not. Your right to act on your religious beliefs is not absolute; it’s weighed against the rights that your actions would deny to others. Today, and perhaps for the foreseeable future, claims of religious freedom tend to outweigh claims of reproductive freedom. But that is a consequence of history, politics, and culture and is subject to change. The balance of power is not divinely ordained.

The religious right in US politics doesn’t attempt to conceal its agendas. One doesn’t have to ask where they’re coming from, they’re only too happy to tell you. If ever there was an argument for being informed of the religious beliefs of politicians and public figures who seek to influence policy, the US situation is it. Even the US Constitution, so clear on the separation of church and state, has become irrelevant in the face of renewed religious determination to control women’s reproductive health. In the southern states, it looks as if they’re succeeding.

Goal attained pass the chocolate, and Baby Love

22 Nov

I decided that for one week I wouldn’t get on Twitter, look at my blogs, listen to the news on radio or TV, and check my email. Except for one slip when I flitted through a room in which someone else was watching the Obama visit (Barack who?) I passed my test with flying colours and I have no idea what happened last week. What’s more I couldn’t give a rabbit’s arse.

The reason for this utter lack of interest in the uncertain and treacherous political world is one brilliant seven-week-old baby boy, entrusted by his Mum and Dad  to me and Mrs Chook  for a large portion of the week. Armed with gallons of decanted breast milk, we took him out to coffee, several lunches and a few dinners, and bathed in his reflected glory. In the wet, hostile heat of  the tropical Queensland afternoons, I turned on the air con, laid myself and the baby on the bed, and enjoyed post-prandial naps to the award-winning soundtrack of baby dreaming.

I swear he acquired at least a hundred new sounds during the time he was with us, and he learned to pee like the Bellagio fountains every time I let him go naked for a bit of kicking exercise. He also learned to poke himself in the eye, how to give his new Captain Calamari toy a good walloping, and the names of a whole bunch of vegetation when Mrs Chook gave him  botanical lessons in the garden in the mornings.

The Dog, I have to say, was beside himself with jealousy and behaved very badly, digging enormous revenge holes in a garden we didn’t own, necessitating surreptitious night visits into the empty block next door for bucketfuls of soil.

All this bonding caused me to reflect on the long journey home about love. The human capacity for love is infinite, and every time I have cause to remember that it strikes me as miraculous. A new being enters the family and snuggles into his or her place in the heart, and the heart expands to accommodate without so much as a murmur.

It was worth every minute of giving up all distractions to focus completely on loving. We are beings with a breathtaking, mind-blowing capacity for love. Immersion in the political world doesn’t seem to be conducive to accessing those capabilities. A little bitty baby on the other hand, took me to a place I never want to leave, though I know I will. I also know I can get back whenever I want.

That old grouch Bob Dylan put it nicely:

When evenin’ shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
Oh, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love

Thank you, Archie Baz, and your Mum and Dad.

Home of the brave

29 Apr
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

So, now Obama has produced his birth certificate proving he was indeed born in the country.  America has a REAL  president, just like we have a REAL Julia.

Speaking generally, one of the striking differences about Australian and American attitudes to government is the undisguised fear and loathing many Americans feel towards  theirs. While in Australia we are bored, fed up with and cynical about politicians, we have a long way to go before we reach the dizzy heights of fear and loathing generated in the USA.

Though maybe the state of  loathing is approaching faster than I thought – driving down the US 95 this morning I had a sudden vision of Prime Minister Abbott, and it seemed so real I nearly ran right off  into the desert. How did those Labor dorks get it soooo wrong? They had everything going for them way back in 2007 and that alone is sufficient reason for Australians to chuck them out – talk about the squandering of social and political capital: you have to be totally ignorant and arrogant (worst possible combination) to achieve that degree of loss so fast.

 There’s many Americans who seem to believe that any government intitiative is a conspiracy to strip them of their treasured freedoms of the kind we in Australia don’t consider freedoms in the first place.  Health care reform, for example, is seen by some as a form of moral corruption – you should be able to take care of yourself, and if you can’t, you probably deserve to get sick and die, is the Darwinian/moral subtext of the unreasoning  fury directed against this particular reform. Like some of the anti abortionists who recently ripped into me on the Drum  – the health care reform antagonists are full of what everybody should do and entirely lacking in understanding of what people do do. They’re lost in fighting for the realisation of  Utopian visions of their perfect world in which there’s nobody in financial need, (because they’ve got rid of them all somehow) and nobody ever has an unplanned pregnancy, so we don’t have to have all these morally disturbing conflicts in the first place, freeing us up to thank Jesus and make money. Or whatever. In the meantime, the messy real world of real messy people keeps getting in their conservative way and resists, thankfully, all their strenuous efforts to repress it.

I’ve long considered US society to have perfected a form of socially acceptable begging, otherwise known as tipping. Your waiter, hairdresser, and other service providers are paid pitiful minimum wages, on the understanding that if they perform their duties well, they’ll be rewarded with a tip to bump up their remuneration to  a living wage or better.  As a consequence service providers are  excruciatingly nice to you, and everybody knows why. There’s that moral equation again: nice servers deserve great tips, even when they don’t really give a toss about you. Appearance is everything.  I don’t know what it does to an individual’s psyche to have to put on extravagant demonstrations of entirely manufactured concern ten hours a day five days a week, but it probably doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about politics and society. Maybe that’s it’s purpose. Hell, I’m becoming a conspiracy theorist.

I did watch Fair Game on the plane over. The movie about how there really weren’t any WMD’s.

 Yesterday I discovered my granddaughter sitting on the dunny with the sheet music of  Star Spangled Banner on the floor before her, practicing her part for the school choir. National pride is everything in schools, they pledge every morning with their hands on their hearts, under the flag. But don’t talk about politics when you’re invited to dinner. Better you should bring up sex, or even death, but if it’s death you choose  don’t say they  died, say they passed. They don’t care for died. It’s too crass.

 Where I come from you pass wind, and sometimes the salt.

As I listened to the child’s tuneless piping of the home of the brave and the land of the free, there  was a ruckus going on upstairs where a four year old was hanging out a bedroom window yelling “Yo! Watcha doin’ dumbass!” at a bunch of Mormons going door to door in our street, while his Momma hauled him in by the seat of his pants on his way to the naughty corner for a good fifteen minutes. Meantime down in the kitchen someone had  left the back door open and five sneaky chipmunks frolicked under the baby’s chair, cleaning up his leftovers and depositing a few of their own. There’s hardly a moment not filled with fun.

 As I sit here picking the chipmunk poop off my feet and reflecting for a few precious stolen  moments, I consider America.  Like Leonard Cohen says, I love the country but I can’t stand the scene. Democracy has not yet come to the USA, no sir, it certainly has not, so how they think they can export it to the Middle East is a mystery to me.

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Palin’s got them in her sights in the USA

10 Jan

by Ramon Duran via flickr

Twice a year I make the journey from Australia to the USA, to visit with my loved ones who live there.

I have other reasons. I also love America. I love its complexities. I love its idiosyncrasies. I love its ambiguities, its ambivalences; I love the impossibility of ever being able to define the country, or confine it in any particular categorical cage. No matter how hard one tries, America’s contradictions thwart all attempts at constraint.

And this I what love, in an individual and a nation.

When the American people elected Barack Hussein Obama as their president I was astounded, and filled with admiration. This brave new world that has such people in it, was what I thought, and said, though many laughed at me and called me naïve. What I was responding to was simply the fact that America had elected this man. I had no great expectations, he is, after all, a man and not a god, but that the country had chosen him seemed to me a wonderful and hope-filled thing.

Today, reading of the death and injury visited upon bystanders and participants in a political gathering outside a Safeway supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona, I’m sad again for another gun slaughter in America.

A few short weeks ago I was in the car park of just such a shopping mall in Nevada, a state that borders Arizona, and shares a geographical similarity. There I noticed an over-sized four-wheel-drive that bore the numberplate Jim Crowe. Jim Crow is not a neutral name in the USA. It refers to the racial segregation laws enacted in 1876 that were in effect until 1965. These laws mandated segregation in public schools, public spaces, transport and restrooms. Restaurants, drinking fountains and the military.

I pointed out the number plate to my son. He whispered that there is a great deal of racial tension in the state of Nevada.

A few days earlier I’d spent the day at a local public elementary school. At the end of morning assembly children and teachers placed their hands over their hearts, faced the flag, starkly outlined against the blue desert sky, and recited: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was moving, to hear the children’s voices earnestly piping these noble sentiments. It was remarkable to witness just how much they seemed to mean what they said.

The Nellis Air Force Base is just outside of Las Vegas, and as we stood in the playground with our hands on our hearts, squads of fighter jets flew over in formation, in rehearsal for another theatre of war. It was a numinous moment.

The Tea Party

On the website of the USA Tea Party movement, whose most famous member is Republican Sarah Palin, there is a map of the USA. Various congressional seats are highlighted in various states on this map, including the Arizona seat where the wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, murdered Federal Judge John Roll, and a murdered a nine year old girl, were gathered with others injured and killed on an ordinary day, carrying out their ordinary daily duties.

The congressional seats marked out on Palin’s map are targetted with gun sights. They are the seats currently held by Democrats who voted for health care reform.

In states where the Democrats have recently retired, the rifle cross hairs are drawn in red.

Palin’s tweeted slogan is Don’t retreat. Reload.

Above the website map is the exhortation: We’ve diagnosed the problem. Help us prescribe the solution.

I hear Palin has since removed this from her website. But I found it at the Huffington Post.

It’s too simplistic to blame Palin and her followers alone for this most recent mass shooting. Yet in a gun culture such as that in the USA, where the right to bear arms is fiercely protected, it is but a short step from rhetoric to action when the weapon is sitting in your closet. The escalating vitriol towards politicians with whom one does not agree, the sense that anyone who is not with you is against you, the incitement to violence and killing such as that directed towards the foreigner Assange, for example, all speak to a culture that can quickly become murderously out of control.

The notion that if you don’t like something someone says you can and should kill them is promoted, and not only metaphorically, by conservative public voices in the USA such as Glenn Beck, employed by Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The notion is based in concepts of morality that conflate disagreement with heresy and blasphemy, punishable by death in a righteous political war.

There are consequences to a rhetoric in which voters are defined as soldiers, the opposition is portrayed as morally bereft, and the solution is prescribed in metaphors of war. It permeates the atmospheres. It makes possible that which should not be possible. It promotes a culture of violent action and reaction, because it makes the unthinkable thinkable, and therefore all too possible.

Words matter. Words both construct and describe the world in which we live. Words can kill.

Winter in America is cold

In San Francisco, the iconic Virgin store on the corner of Powell and Market has closed down. Riding the trolley bus down Market towards City Hall, we see store after store with boarded up windows covered in graffiti.

In the big Westfield shopping centre there’s hardly anybody looking in the up-market Nordstrum store. There are groups of homeless and disaffected people resting in comfortable chairs in the halls and lobbies outside the stores, their broken plastic bags of belongings in unsteady piles beside their legs. It’s warm in here, and dry. San Francisco is experiencing one of its wettest winters for some time. Every morning we wake to the steady drip of rain on the apartment windows. On the television news, vision of cliffs in danger of collapse down on Pacific Heights, of apartments at risk of plunging into the ocean show just how vulnerable this city is to natural disasters.

We spend a lot of time in the Museum of Modern Art, and in Golden Gate Park at the De Young Museum. After three days of thinking the rain will stop, I’ve abandoned my torn hardware-store blue plastic poncho, finally accepting that it’s going to rain for quite a while and I’d better get a proper raincoat. I trot down Union Square to Macy’s, where they’re having a permanent sale, it seems. On the top floor I find thousands of raincoats. I’m completely bamboozled, and wander round irritated, overheated, and confused by choice. I want a cream Calvin Klein, on sale for US$80. It’s glamorous, it’s a movie star’s raincoat, and I’ve never owned anything like it. Instead, thinking of my grandmother, I choose a black one because it won’t show the dirt.

The poor are everywhere. Some have dogs, cats or birds for company. I don’t have enough money to give to everyone I see. There’s a long line of customers outside the Apple store on the day they release the iPad. A few homeless people push their way in and get onto the public computers. Apple staff don’t send them away, but they do hover.

Soon I’ll be leaving the USA. As always, sadness gets the better of me at Los Angeles International airport, and I cry quietly across much of the Pacific. I don’t like leaving the ones I love, and I don’t like leaving the country I love more and more with every visit. In spite of it’s exasperating contradictions. In spite of the notice in the local park that reads: No profanities. Have a nice day. I have barely been able to restrain myself from sneaking back into that park in the middle of the night with a black Texta stolen from a child’s pencil case, and scrawling No fu**ing profanities! Have a fu**ing nice day! right across that sign.

Back in Australia I notice in the airport car park a large four-wheel-drive with a sticker in its window that’s a map of Australia. Across the map is the slogan F**ck Off! We’re full!

I’m not one of the cohort who think that what happens in the US may just as likely happen in Australia. Our societies are very different, in spite of the influences of US cultural imperialism. Nevertheless, if we have any sense we will learn from the American experience. We’ll cool down our political rhetoric. We’ll call a halt to the verbal ferocities in our parliaments. Mindless slogans, ill-thought out verbiage, ad hominem abuse. We have a chance to avoid what the USA continues to suffer. Let’s hope we take it.

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