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Lessons from the 2016 Australian Federal Election

10 July 2016

After a week of counting, the Liberal and National Party coalition will hold onto power, mostly likely with 76 of the 150 lower house seats, or a slim chance of 77. The senate retains its structure of minor parties and independents holding power. It proved a far more interesting election than expected, and provided some interesting lessons.

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1) 1, 2, 3, Yawn

Why does it take so long to count ballots? It was bizarre late on election night, with counting “completed”, most seats had only 75% of the votes in, with some as few as 65%. In this day and age, it’s ridiculous that we need to wait for over a week. Having watched much of the US primary season, they get to almost 100% counted on the night. While our preferential system complicates the matter, the US has pre-poll voting, and that is all counted on the night. For some reason, Australia  doesn’t even unpack it until the day after the election, and resumes counting two days after that. The US also have electronic voting, while many countries are moving to online voting. Meanwhile, backward Australia is stuck with people manually sorting and counting ballot papers on school tables. If it isn’t slow enough in the lower house, the senate won’t be done until early August!

2) Exit Polls

Much of the election coverage on the various TV channels was speculation about voting habits of the day. Here’s an idea: run exit polls! This is another feature of American elections. Who knows, maybe asking people about their vote is illegal in Australia. While our preferential system won’t allow an accurate forecast of results from exit polls, those polls are still full of useful information. By the end of the week, private polling companies were able to provide some answers. They showed that Medicare was the most important issue for 38% of people, with 23% of people making their mind up on the day.

3) Preferred Prime Minister

Is there a more irrelevant statistic in election campaigns? Former PM Tony Abbott was able to destroy Labor to win the 2013 election in a landslide, and he was never popular. Likewise, current PM Malcolm Turnbull was always wildly more popular than Bill Shorten and nearly lost.

4) Scare Campaigns Work

As much as the Liberals can whinge about the disgusting lie from Labor that the Liberals would privatise Medicare, such campaigns work. They especially work in a country with compulsory voting, which forces imbeciles to vote. These clueless, detached people, roughly 30-40% of the population, roll up on polling day like zombies and are easily persuaded on even the most superficial or irrational grounds. They see a sign with “Save Medicare”, bang, you’ve captured the imbecile vote – particularly effective in marginal seats. It’s certainly more persuasive than “Jobs and Growth” from the Liberals! That’s the inherent weakness of the compulsory system. Ordinarily such people would have no incentive to vote and would need something tangible to persuade them. They’d then be far more invested, and even if they heard or read about the lie, they’d see the other side countering it, so would arrive the polling booth far more informed.

5) Negative Campaigns Work

The most bizarre situation of this election was that lack of negativity from the Liberals. Where were they smashing Labor as wreckers of the economy, irresponsible on borders and irrational on emissions? Labor even admitted their budget deficits would be bigger, their border policy was not unanimous, and another carbon tax was on the way. These issues were all the reasons Labor were smashed in 2013. The Liberals also ignored attacks over Labor’s cosseted relationship with unions. This double dissolution election was even triggered on the issue after two ABCC bills were blocked twice by the senate. You also had chaos in Victoria with the dictatorial premier aiding a takeover of the volunteer Country Firefighting Authority by the firefighter’s union. That was effectively its own self-fulfilling negative campaign, which saw Labor receive 3% less swing in Victoria compared to nationally and losing one seat instead of winning up to three.

6) The Liberal Party are Wimps!

Defend your policies! Even if Labor wildly extrapolated a few minor budget issues as a case for privatising Medicare, rebound by saying you are SAVING Medicare. Rebound by saying the country is going broke. Rebound by saying that if wealthy doctors can’t absorb $1 or $2 off their $70 basic charge then they need to go to Labor’s school of “fairness”. Instead, the Liberals were lured into Labor’s fairness game, where Labor dragged them to their level and beat them with more experience. The Liberals trying to appear fair by making retrospective changes to superannuation contributions only infuriated their base without gaining votes elsewhere. So play to your strengths. Say you are the economically responsible ones. Explain that the nation is currently blowing $1b every single month on interest on our debt. Explain if Labor get back in power, watch that $1b interest bill grow as the debt increases and, possibly, Australia’s credit rating is downgraded.

7) Stay In Touch

Liberals went to the election with the spurious “jobs and growth” mantra – complete with a $50b company tax cut over 10 years. What! $50b? Over 10 years? How does this help the average person in the street? They won’t comprehend the rationale for such a policy, and all it does is leave you open for attack. Bang! The Liberals were hammered in the socially conservative and average working western Sydney and Tasmania. Even though big corporations would only benefit in 10 years, that’s four elections away. These days people can barely look 5 minutes into the future and want everything now, if not sooner. This left Turnbull appearing elitist and seriously out of touch. Those are especially dangerous traits these days.

8) Advertising Blackout

Banned from electronic or print advertising in the final 3 days of the campaign, yet allowed to inundate people with fraudulent and unsolicited text messages and robo-calls, that’s backwards Australia! The ban must be lifted, while ALL forms of political advertising must be subject to disclosures revealing their source. The Liberals’ big peeve about the Medicare lie was the text messages inferred “Medicare” was the source, while the robo-calls were similarly misleading about their nature. If electronic and print advertising must include disclosures, so should all other forms of advertising. An independent body to monitor advertising fraud would be a step too far, with limits difficult to set. While Medicare is obviously easy to nab at the high end of fraud, what about the lower end like the Liberals price scare about Labor’s carbon tax in 2010? One difference is the carbon tax was actual policy, whereas privatising Medicare was a total fabricating. Transparency in political advertising should suffice. By transparent that means an opening and closing statement or comment “Authorised by whoever”.

 

As a firm believer in the will of the people, even in a flawed system like Australia’s compulsory voting system and compulsory preferential voting, the people got it right again. We don’t know the direction to head to fix our budget problems. Is it higher taxes or less middle class welfare? We’re still incredibly self-entitled and refuse to take the national debt seriously. We don’t want a cent taken from Medicare either. So we re-elected the government and stripped them of much of their mandate. We told Labor it’s way too early for you to return to govern and continued to dismiss the Greens as a fringe rabble. We elected a senate with a swag of populists as balance of power to ensure the major parties do not over extend themselves. In essence, we voted for stagnation and more butt scratching. Personally, I’m happy with that!

Australian Federal Election 2016 & Brexit

01 July 2016

If you want to know one of the major reasons Brexit was successful, you only need look to the aftermath. More accusations of hate and bigotry, more hysteria about potentially destroying Great Britain and, worst of all, petitions for another referendum! What don’t these clowns understand about democracy? You debate the issue, put it to a vote, and accept the verdict. It’s a disgrace, and typical of elitists and political bigots that essentially don’t like democracy.

Preceding this fallout from Brexit was the equally disgusting behaviour debating the issues. Instead of presenting the case, all the Remain campaign could do was abuse and insult people. Even though the Leave campaign was simply about national sovereignty, border control and economic accountability, the Remain campaign turned it into accusations of xenophobia and racism. Even if there’s a racist minority that indeed voted that way, it’s only a tiny proportion of the population, so it wasn’t enough to counter a serious case to stay if the Remain campaign could be bothered with one, nor does it tarnish everyone that chose Leave. It’s amazing that a Muslim can shoot up a nightclub and it’s a stampede to absolve the religion in which the terrorist proclaimed allegiance and duty, yet there’s no problem blaming an entire country as racist when their only proclamation is a greater say in democracy. When you consider almost the 100% endorsement of Remain by political leaders, elitists and the European Union itself, not to mention the politics of hate and division used to push the cause, that Britain chose to leave the EU is one of the great democratic triumphs of our times. The people said stuff you! In contrast, the Remain campaign has still yet to offer one compelling reason to stay.

It’s not like leaving the EU is that big a deal anyway. It’s only been around since 1993, and Britain prospered very well without it. As they would again, along with other successful, dare I say “racist and xenophobic”, countries like Switzerland and Norway that have stubbornly kept their own independence. Greece would also be better off out of the EU, and there wouldn’t be the resentment over the bailouts and loans for such irresponsible countries. Within a week the British stock market has recovered all its losses, the British pound has rebounded, and the world’s other major stock markets have recovered at least half of their losses. You also need to remember that many of these markets were at inflated levels because of predictions Remain would win, so the original losses were exaggerated anyway.

The best part of the Brexit success was the full exposure and defeat of the politics of hate that has blighted this era. By hate, I mean it coming in the form of abuse and insults from those that can’t or won’t debate an issue. Political correctness runs riot these days, and finally the people have had enough. You are seeing it in the USA with the rise of Donald Trump, and it’s creeping into Australian politics with the rise of several nationalistic minor parties and candidates. Australia might just be about the worst place in the world for political correctness already, where you can’t even tell a joke anymore. It seems if someone is offended, that’s cause to run a toxic vendetta in response, demanding apologies and even for them to resign their positions of power. The point is, I’m offended by this zealous offense taking! Many of these jokes are totally unoffensive to me. I want to hear them. I wan’t more political incorrectness. In the meantime, the truly disgusting speech – the politics of hate – is let go.

Australian Federal Election

The worst part of any election in Australia is the requirement to vote. Not only vote, under Australia’s compulsory preferential system, you must vote for parties you hate. Every party on a ballot must be numbered, which in effect means all votes flow to the two major parties, Liberal (currently in power) and Labor (in opposition). For people boasting about voting for a minor party or candidate, it’s nonsense. Those votes are all extinguished and the least worst of the major parties gets your vote. If you don’t vote at all, you will be prosecuted. Serious! It’s like North Korea. The only exemptions allowed is old age or being sick.

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Australia’s electoral system has led to a dysfunctional parliamentary setup where your only chance to speak on issues is through the senate, meaning a chorus of minor parties and independents, with their own self interests, now hold power. For as much as the senate is an unnecessary and extravagant blot on the system and lost its original point of a house of review for the states, it must stay until the lower house is reformed. That would mean optional voting and optional preferential voting. Ballots also must be printed in various sequences of candidates to protect against the donkey vote. Donkey voting is voting number 1 to x down the ballot without thought. Needless to say, in a compulsory voting system, the candidate in first position always does well.

As a staunch Labor voter for most of my life, they currently still disgust me. I now call myself independent, and have been so for the past 4 cycles. That means I vote on independent issues important to me, not parties. I’ve alternated the past four cycles. Before 2007, every election I voted Labor. In 2007, despite hating John Howard, voted Liberal for the first time ever because of Kevin Rudd’s ridiculous hyperbole and condescension about global warming. In 2010 I went for Julia Gillard, mostly because she promised to not waste our time with a useless carbon tax, and I wanted to be part of history in voting for the first female Prime Minister ever (call me sexist!). In 2010, I voted Liberal solely to punish Labor for the being the worst government ever and Gillard for being an even worse PM.

The Issues

Budget

Democracy is slow and the Earth is patient. Remember the “budget emergency” from 2013? Finally both sides recognise the problem of our huge deficits and debt. In 2013 Labor acted like it was a Liberal scare campaign, while Liberals acted like it was carte blanche to bring in unpopular measures like the co-payment to see a doctor. In truth the “emergency” was to recognise it and begin to take measures. Both sides are not tackling it seriously enough. Part of that is the partisan nature of politics these days and the associated politics of hate. Even more disturbing is Labor promises to tax more and spend more over the next four years, and increase the debt more! They say in 10 years they’ll be in front compared to the Liberals’ plan. The problem is belief. Remember Wayne “the surplus years are here” Swan? More likely it will be a repeat of 2013 with Labor tossed out after six years of irresponsible fiscal management and their mess needing to be cleaned up by someone else. They can’t be trusted.

Borders

I was pleased to read on the Greens’ pamphlet that they propose a “fair and efficient” system for handling “asylum seekers”. I presume that means the Greens won’t favour people wealthy enough to pay a people smugglers $10,000 to enter Australia illegally, and will prefer to take genuine refugees from the 40 million or so holed up, sometimes for decades, in refugee camps? That would be most fair and efficient system. In truth, as is being discovered with the immigration debate in the USA and the Brexit decision, there’s two distinct ideologies really in process: open borders or closed borders. Socialists (Labor, Greens) want them open for free movement; Conservatives (Liberals) want them closed for controlled movement. That’s because Socialists don’t really believe in countries at all, whereas Conservatives are more focused on the individual level. After the debacle of the open borders policy under Labor and the Greens between 2007 and 2013, in which 50,000 people illegally arrived and 1200 drowned at sea, I’ll stick with the current controlled immigration process.

Nanny State

Along with oppressive laws like fines of up to $319 for daring to ride a bicycle without a helmet, lockout laws that have turned parts of Sydney into a ghost town, and bans on vaping, Australia is now looking at sin taxes to control people’s choices. Ironically Australia has no problem forcing all us irresponsible citizens to vote! Cigarettes already accumulate taxes far, far greater than the impact of smoking on our health system, and both major parties plan to double the tax hit. This will only punish the poor and subvert any pension and welfare increases. If Labor win with support of the Greens, sugary drinks will be the next target despite the alternative of water already costing nothing. Why not ensure free water is available in eateries and install more public water fountains? Sadly only libertarian Liberal Democrats and Sex Party have any interest in curbing the grotesque nanny state. All the rest, including the pro-cycling Greens, are control freaks.

Emissions

Forget the misleading and bloated metaphors like “climate change”, and the latest fad, “climate justice”. We are talking about CO2 emissions and the best way to reduce them. Since China has been allowed to increase emissions each year until 2034, it’s an absolute waste of time for Australia to be bringing in token measures like carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. They are even worse considering much of the money from the last scheme was funnelled back as compensation to lower income people and “vulnerable industries”, with the rest used to buy dodgy “carbon credits” to offset emissions that the policy admitted the actual tax was ineffective at lowering. Both major parties are committed to throwing money around, with Labor planning to be the most ambitious. In the meantime, Australia has a $50b coal export business. Tax here, pollute there, it’s sheer nonsense, especially when China is adding an Australia each year to global emissions. If there’s a serious worldwide agreement then, sure, go for it.

Negative Gearing

Get rid of this rort! Since when can expenses from one income stream offset tax liability from another income stream? It favours the rich and it increases house prices. The only mistake Labor are making is not removing it fully. It’s staying for new homes only and only starting in mid 2017 for new purchases of old homes. Existing homes can remain negatively geared, which will force a mad rush on the housing market until mid 2017 (presuming Labor win). The Liberals are doing nothing about this legalised rort, saying it will harm house prices and push up rents. That’s not quite true, because low house prices means less people are renting, which means rent drops. Besides, in time, it will all balance out. You lose 10% of value on your home, you buy your next home at 10% less. Worst of all, for the Liberals to be talking so much about controlling expenditure, negative gearing is an expense. This is not letting people keep more of their money like a cut to personal income tax is. You are giving people money back that they never actually earned.

Company Tax Rate

Totally support cutting it for small business. Liberals propose giant corporations will also benefit – in 10 years. That’s four elections away, so irrelevant, despite Labor frothing that the Liberals plan is somehow immediate. Labor favour cuts for small businesses only, which is my preferred position. Business tax rates probably should have some scale if it can be done without making Australian companies uncompetitive on the global scene.

Medicare and Private Health Insurance

Labor back to lying just like the Gillard years! This has been the worst aspect of the campaign, which shows Labor has little else to offer. Lying that the Liberals plan to privatise Medicare. It won’t happen, it can never happen, who’d buy such a colossal loss maker anyway? It’s not a business like Telstra or Qantas. Labor have something right on rebates for private health insurance, planning to means test it. Personally, if you can afford private health, you can probably afford it without the rebate too. If Labor is committed to spending much more on public health, then why subsidise private at all? The Liberals view is the public health system can’t cope, which is partially true too. Needing a shoulder operation after crashing my bike, I got it done the next day following the MRI scan because I had private insurance. Without it, in the public system, I’d be living with a slightly bung shoulder because it’s a non-debilitating injury. Ostensibly, nothing really changes on this issue unless you believe Labor’s scare campaign.

Parent Leave

Another rort! Public servants can double dip. They get their industry parental leave, plus the government one. The government one was only ever set up for those unable to obtain parental leave from their employer, typically a small business. It was never meant as an extra supplement. Liberals plan to abolish this double-dipping. Good! It’s ironic that Labor constantly speaks of fairness yet allows a millionaire mother government welfare on top of their company one. Ridiculous.

Middle Class Welfare

My huge grievance! If you’re middle class, you don’t need welfare by definition. You don’t need a baby bonus, or school kid bonus, or family assistance, or child care allowance (if you are wealthy enough). Unfortunately MCW is so deeply woven into the fabric of society that it’s difficult to undo most of it. Before all these freebies, people would save to have children. Now they know that all these goodies will come, so they spend money on other stuff like more expensive homes, or cars, or holidays. Politicians and their pinhead supporters never understand the basic principle that hand-outs eventually infiltrate the entire economy, driving up prices, to the point everyone is back to square one asking for more money. There comes a point you can’t raise income tax any further, so what’s next? Consumption tax? Australia is at this crossroads now. We are like the Nordic countries will high welfare and high income taxes. Except we are still struggling. The difference? A 10% consumption tax in Australia; up to 25% in the Nordic region. It’s the only way such extravagance can be funded, and also the fairest because everyone pays at least something. Personally, attack the insidious middle class welfare.

Superannuation

To me this is really deferred income, so should be treated as such. That means you tax it on the way out, not the way in. If I want to put a million dollars away, I should – tax free. If I withdraw $50,000 each year during retirement, it is taxed at the income tax rate at the time. Interest earned on can be taxed too, means tested of course. Taxing it on the way in is wrong, and defeats the entire purpose of saving for retirement and not be a burden on the welfare system. Sadly all sides are focused on hitting it on the way in.

Gay Marriage

A great quote from Australian Marriage Equality: “Placing the rights of a minority group in the hands of the majority seems almost ludicrous.” That’s the paradox – who is the majority that owns marriage? Marriage is a product of human society, developed over hundreds of years, so surely that’s the majority, and it is their say? Except, government has hijacked this institution and conferred special rights on married people, causing inherent discrimination towards those that can’t get married. Ideally, the government should dissolve the marriage act and let the original meaning of marriage stand. Principally that is the ceremonial part in which the couple answers to their god or tribal elders, not a bureaucrat, and government classifies everyone under its “de facto” definition (this could renamed to domestic partnership, whatever). Since that won’t happen, the marriage act must be expanded.

The decision should also be by plebiscite as promised by the Liberals, not politicians. It’s amazing how they resent losing control! The cost of $100m (based on $67m for the 1999 Republic referendum) is minimal when the monthly interest on our debt is $1b. It would actually be a unifying step if the people decide, not a divisive one, and would be a nice entry in our nation’s history books. As we’ve seen with Brexit the only division and hate would come from politicians, their sycophants, and even lobbyists like the AME. They should lead by example. They need to stop calling people bigots and homophobes for merely acting on a centuries old tradition. Remember, people like Barack Obama were the same bigots and homophobes at one time, and were allowed to “evolve”. So why not confer this courtesy onto everyone else rather than being a political bigot?

Decision

Stuck in a safe Liberal seat, my vote in the lower house matters little, other than to make statement (like the biggest swing possible against Labor in 2013) or vote on an issue (a conscious vote). I’ll stick with the feckless Liberals for another term and hope they can be more courageous in pushing through their plans. Current Labor can’t be trusted at all on anything economic, and it’s simply not in their DNA to be strong on borders. I want the debt down and the most neediest and skilled people filling our immigration program. Even better, let’s talk about the real problem in Australia of rampant population growth. I want a policy of sustainable population. Therefore our immigration program should be there to meet the population criteria, not be a fight over raw numbers and slurs that a preference of, for example, 150,000 over 200,000 people makes you a racist.

In the senate I have a say, so it will be for the libertarian Liberal Democrats and probably Sex Party after that. Next will be the Australian Cyclists Party and then look for moderate Liberal and Labor candidates. Therefore I’ll vote below the line to have the most direct say.

Independence Day: Resurgence – Review

28 June 2016

Ignoring Star Wars, the original Independence Day (ID4) is the greatest movie ever. Aliens attack Earth with massive spaceships and technology so far in advance that Earth seemed beyond hope. It was a premise made all the more exciting by the phenomenal advance in special effects at the time. Iconic cities left in total devastation, and all that could stop this seemingly unstoppable force was us pitiful humans.

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Adding to the exciting premise was a great cast (hello, Jeff Goldblum!), authentic characters, genuine humour, awe-inspiring action and, most of all, brilliant pacing. It didn’t hesitate unleashing the aliens, creating a gripping element of suspense from the outset by using the astonishment of the US defence department as they struggled to understand the entity appearing on their screens. The line “it’s slowing down” to debunk the suggestion of an asteroid was an epic moment. No one was sure exactly until the ships finally arrived, and humans realised they were not alone in the universe.

ID4 kept its suspense going right until the end. After waiting for the first appearance of the spaceships, there was the wait for the actual attack, the wait for the results of the attack, and then the wait for Earth’s response. With Earth’s initial response a spectacular failure, the next suspenseful wait was for the fightback – complete with a brilliant “Independence Day” speech by the President. The only dud scene from ID4 was Cpt Hiller (Will Smith) marrying his stripper girlfriend. Everything else was a perfect execution.

Without the ability to capitalise on the mystique and novelty that made ID4 so good, Independence Day: Resurgence (IDR) would always struggle to compete. There was also narrative hole to fix, particularly how the aliens could return after it was supposedly their “entire civilisation” moving from planet to planet in the first attack. This was never answered other than to say a distress signal was sent by surviving aliens, and that Earth always knew the aliens would be back. You can only construe that the civilisation was one of many belonging to the alien species, much like there’s been many human civilisations on Earth. With that sorted and Earth’s defence fortified with alien technology, the big mystery became the sort of attack the aliens would launch and, most important, how would it be repelled. A simple computer virus would not be enough.

The main area IDR suffers compared to its predecessor is the pacing and lack of genuine suspense. Obviously there needed to be some set up, particularly events that occurred immediately after ID4. The virus affected the spaceships, not the aliens themselves, so the expected ground war against surviving aliens and dealing with captured ones needed some legacy. Characters needed to be introduced and re-introduced, and it’s here there was too much stagnation, especially the clumsy and unnecessary narrative of a rivalry, and even the hint of a love triangle, between the main flyboys and flygirl. The movie took longer than hoped to get going – and that’s despite the early action sequences on the Moon. A repeat viewing might bring many of these early scenes into context, especially now being aware of the outcome.

Once IDR gets going, it really gets going. It’s exciting, compelling, and provides a few nice twists. Seeing it in 3D, the special affects were extra great, and it was nice to see Washington DC rebuilt. IDR also carries over much of the great humour from ID4 – thanks to the reprise of all the memorable main characters. It’s very politically correct too, with all types, genders and statuses in the film’s key roles, including a female president that sounds just like Hillary Clinton, and even a scene of a budding gay romance cut short. If death is your thing, there’s plenty of that too.

Most crucial to the film’s success would always be the alien attack itself. It needed to be bigger, better, and with a weapon that made destroying New York look like a pillow fight. When the attack came, it was certainly bigger, not necessarily better, and that’s because the nature of the weapon meant its success would have been terminal to the point of the film. This time Earth was not repelling an attack in progress, they were preventing the completion of one. Even though this harms the suspense, Earth still needs to find a way to defeat the aliens, which triggers the best twist in the movie. It means IDR ultimately manages to strike the right balance of grandeur and extravagance, finding a plausible vulnerability (even if that vulnerability lacked some imagination), and using believable ingenuity and firepower to rid the planet of the alien menace once again.

IDR is a worthy successor to ID4 and compulsory viewing for anyone that loved the original, or has any remote interest in science fantasy. This is the sort of film that could easily have been a disaster, so the fact it was able to successfully capture the nostalgia of the original, build on its ideas, and add a few new ones of its own, it left me totally satisfied. Even better, IDR leaves the door wide ajar for a sequel!

Sky Rail – just build the blasted thing

01 April 2016

Only in Melbourne, or only in Australia, can progress be hamstrung by a nation of whingers. First it was the East West Link, which would have provided a northern bypass of the CBD to relieve strain off the southern one. Now it’s railway crossings, which cause innumerable traffic jams and prevent any chance of increased rail capacity on the suburban network. Bizarrely, Victoria might get a second change of government on a promise of NOT to build something.

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Artist impression of Sky Rail

For those with short memories or unaware, the EWL was cancelled by the current Andrews state government at the cost – yes cost! – of $1.1b. Most of that was in compensation for breaking contracts, money already spent on the project and compulsory housing acquisitions. The promise to scrap it was to try save a few inner city seats going to the Greens. The seats went Green anyway, so now premier Daniel Andrews had the choice to keep his promise that northern cross town traffic remain gridlocked, or he break the promise and provide basic infrastructure for a burgeoning city. Andrews chose gridlock.

If keeping the idiotic promise wasn’t bad enough, Andrews embarked on other plans to alleviate the city’s traffic woes. Instead of an East-West link, he’s proposed the West-East link! Effectively it’s the same road, just starting from stage 2 – the western end. Furthermore, because Andrews scrapped the proposed airport train, he will widen the Tullamarine Freeway to the airport, along with the Bolte Bridge and sections of the West Gate Freeway. So it seems our premier is very much the premier of roads, as long as they are not the East West Link.

As works start to widen the Tullarmarine, guess what, that means lane closures and even worse traffic gridlock than ever before. If only Melbourne had an alternative East-West passage than the existing West Gate and Monash Freeways! Traffic could be funneled through there. Seriously, you couldn’t make up this madness if you tried.

Now to Sky Rail, or elevated rail if you remove the marketing spin. Melbourne has been blighted by railway crossings for decades – barely removing any of them despite rampant population growth and increasing traffic chaos. The population has doubled in the last 40 years to 4.5m and is expected to double to 9m in another 40 years.

One obvious solution to get cars off roads is public transport. The problem there is that the rail network reached capacity long ago, and simply can’t increase while railway crossings remain. Otherwise, the crossing gates will be down permanently. Ten minute services already can see some intersections blocked for 20 minutes at a time, so for three minute services – the minimum required for such a big city – the crossings must go.

Enter Sky Rail. 8km of elevated rail on the Dandenong line to remove 9 crossings. The rail will be built using pre-fabricated methods, so it won’t affect existing train services, and will cost just $1.5b. Elevated rail is also proposed on sections of the Frankston line. With that line being near Port Philip Bay, the high water table means there’s little choice than for elevated rail.

Now enter the classic Australian whinger. Residents are worried about the lack of privacy. No worries, the elevated tracks will be fenced. What about the noise? Hang on, you live next to a train line already, elevating it will reduce noise. Elevated rail is ugly. No more uglier than ground rail, and it’s far more safer, and works in the world’s great cities like Tokyo and New York. Why not lower the track or bury it underground? Sorry, it would be way too expensive, take too long, and could disrupt rail services potentially for years. You only need look at the proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Project – a tunnel of 9kms that will cost at least $11b and take 8 years to build. It would have disrupted the CBD for two years had the easier “cut and cover” method be used, as would be the method on the suburban lines. “We weren’t consulted”, local residents scream. Rubbish. Andrews claims residents were contacted individually. Let’s also not forget the biggest consultation of all: the last election. The promise to remove 50 railway crossings was one of the cornerstones of the campaign.

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Artist impression of Sky Rail in Clayton

Responding to this whinging, the premier came up with a great idea: if Sky Rail offends you so much, we’ll buy your property at market rates you can buzz off. Oh wait, that will cost $100m more and mean areas of entire “ghost streets”. No it won’t. The government would put the properties on the market. There would be plenty of people that will jump at the properties. The government will recoup most of the money and population levels would be unchanged. Sky Rail is not a toxic waste dump, for crying out loud.

You can already see the next election campaign, only the roles will be reversed. The now opposition will reciprocate the election strategy that worked for the current government: “We won’t build Sky Rail. We won’t remove railway crossings. We will preserve traffic gridlock, public transport crushes and general transport chaos. Vote for us!” Message to Premier Andrews: don’t be a wimp. Build the blasted Sky Rail and get Melbourne moving again.

Australian perspective of candidates for USA President

31 January 2015

In two days it starts in Iowa, voting for the next President of the United States of America. Why should an Australian care? Only because US politics is the most exciting TV ever. Many may have heard the expression “Politics is show business for ugly people”. It’s true. Particularly the part about show business. Whether those involved are ugly too, that is nobody’s business. Whatever floats your boat. I’ve been following it closely for 10 years now and, thanks to Donald Trump, this campaign has been the wackiest, funniest and the most intriguing race ever – and it’s only just started. Coincidentally, the 2012 Presidential election was the subject of first Warrior Factor posts.

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Republican elephant vs Democrat donkey – interesting mascots

First, some information…

What’s the big deal about Iowa?

I asked this myself at one stage, as would most people that begin to take an interest. Iowa is the first state that begins the selection process for the Democratic and Republican nominees for president. It prides itself on being first, and will shuffle its caucus date forward if another state tries to jump ahead. It almost reached the point of farcical four years ago when nearly held in late December, before settling right after New Year’s. This year the Republican National Committee grabbed the reigns and set the dates, and set whether the state is winner take all or proportional.

Following Iowa, usually a week later, is New Hampshire. The reason for these small states is to give all candidates a realistic chance of competing. Small states means small budgets are sufficient and most of the campaigning involves trying to hit every town and precinct, and talking directly with the voters. The change this cycle that the early states are all proportional in awarding delegates (win 20% of the vote, you get 20% of that state’s delegates at the convention), also means candidates can survive a bit longer – theoretically up to “Super Tuesday” on March 1, where 14 states hit the polls. Delegates are the people that actually go to the conventions and nominate the party’s candidate.

Caucus or Primary

A primary is a conventional election, and can be open to anyone, or only to registered voters of a party. It’s simply a matter of voting for the preferred candidate at a polling location. In New Hampshire, because it’s an open primary, often moderates do better. People of NH also have a rogue streak, as evidenced by their state motto of “Live free or die”, so like to vote for someone that didn’t win Iowa.

A caucus is only open to registered party members (registering on the day is usually possible), involves meeting at a school hall, a local church or even someone’s house (if it’s a remote area and numbers are very low) and hearing from representatives and supporters rally for each candidate, before voting begins. The process can last a few hours. While Republicans decide by a conventional ballot, Democrats form themselves into groups representing each candidate. Then they try convince people from other groups to join their group. A candidate with less than 15% of the people in their group is not deemed “viable”, so those people have the option of moving to another group. Once this is all finished, a count is taken. It’s democracy at its rawest.

Because of this unusual process, turn-outs are very low – not even 20% of the electorate, therefore those typically attending are highly knowledgeable or invested in the process. Candidates that skew very left or right and can energise their supporters, often do well. Also important to know is delegates are awarded by precincts won. A rural caucus might only need 10% of the people a city one might need to win it, so mobilising support throughout the precincts is far more important than raw numbers in total across the state. With the inherent volatility of the caucus process, a caucus state can also become very strategic and mathematical, and therefore notoriously difficult to predict.

Nominating the Presidential candidate

Each party has a convention middle of the year where the delegates won in each state are officially awarded to the candidate. The candidate with most delegates wins. Smaller states obviously have much fewer delegates than bigger states, so it’s generally expected that by the time the big states do have their primaries, particularly with “winner take all” in play, there’s only two or so candidates left in the race so a clear winner will emerge. If not, that the number of delegates won is below the threshold, then it’s a brokered convention where the delegates ignore the result from their state and decide the nominee themselves.


THE DEMOCRATS

Only once in the last 50 years has the same party won three successive presidential terms, so the Democrats will need to make history. A two term president needs to leave office with high approval ratings – at least in the 60s – as happened with Ronald Regan in 1988, to give their party a chance. Arguably the Democrats would have succeeded in 2000 after Bill Clinton had they nominated someone not so pathetic as Al Gore. In 2016, President Barack Obama’s approval is currently in the low 40s.

Hillary Clinton

The inevitable candidate four years ago, and supposedly the inevitable candidate again. So much so that she scared most serious Democrats from running and leaving a rabble as her competition. The Democrats have not helped themselves by quarantining Clinton from scrutiny by scheduling only a handful of debates, and at odd times (against NFL playoffs!), and against candidates afraid to attack her, which has disappointed many party supporters at this apparent “coronation” process. Coupled with an email scandal, Clinton’s trust levels have declined and her inevitability seems not so inevitable. She should still make it, with a strong lead nationally, and has been outstanding in the debates at the rare times needed. She’s running as Obama’s third term so is banking on the support he garnered so well from minority communities. She obviously hopes to win big with women despite dropping the incessant “I’m a woman, vote for me” rhetoric because it became oh so cynical and condescending.

The email scandal holds her destiny. This scandal emerged after an investigation into the terrorist attacks on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, revealing Clinton was using a private server to store confidential emails. She’s only made the situation worse for herself by not handing over the server immediately, and then caught lying, and lying, and lying again. At first she said she had approval to use a personal account, then she said it was too difficult to have two devices (one personal, one government), then she was seen on old video using two devices, then she didn’t know how to set up two accounts on one device, then she said she never sent or received anything classified, then she clarified that as “marked classified”, and then whether it was marked classified at the time. Upon handing over the server, it was discovered she deleted thousands of emails. She said they were all personal ones. Then the FBI discovered many were not, to which she recited the word gymnastics about being marked classified. Legally, information is classified by its nature, not by its markings. It’s ridiculous, and unfortunate, because she’d be an interesting president. Even if the scandal disappears, the Republicans have a wealth of material to attack her trustworthiness.

Bernie Sanders

A senator from Vermont, he’s the most honest politician of the lot, except for his description of a Democratic Socialist. Is that socialist that somehow gets elected? He’s a socialist, point blank, and has garnered huge support, particularly from younger people with his stance against wealth inequality, “casino capitalism” and demands for universal free healthcare, free college education and paid parental leave. Individual political donations are at record levels, indicating a massive and enthusiastic grassroots support. His rallies overflow with people, and it’s difficult not to warm to this crusty old fart and his halting, talking style, and his “Feel the Bern” slogan. He’s been savvy too, ignoring Clinton’s email scandal, knowing the FBI investigation will do the job for him. Any indictment will destroy her, so no reason for Bernie to get involved – not that any Democratic voters care about the issue.

With the polls – even nationally – sensationally tightening, the Democratic head honchos are worried at the prospect of Sanders being their nominee for president. He simply won’t be elected. The mere thought that health insurance companies will be banned so that the federal government controls individual healthcare is frightening to Americans. They also know taxes would need to rise astronomically, because taxing Wall Street speculations – as Sanders proposes to pay for some of his programs – won’t raise the revenue. Sanders has also made ridiculous statements to the level of Trump, like climate change “is directly related to the growth of terrorism” and “is the greatest threat to national security”. While the fringe will lap that up, moderates won’t, and certainly no one in the middle will.

At the last debate, the love-fest until this point finally ended, and the two goody two-shoes went at it. Now Clinton has demanded more debates to expose Sanders. She’s already using attack lines that Republicans would eventually use. It’s already way too late to stop Sanders winning his neighbouring state of New Hampshire, and likely too late for Iowa too. Bernie will mostly likely be 2-0 up and Hillary feeling a very uncomfortable Bern.

Martin O’Malley

Former governor of Maryland, he’s only in the race in hope Clinton is indicted so he becomes the mainstream nominee. He’s so weak that if Clinton was indicted, the Democrats would push current vice president Joe Biden into the race.

Lincoln Chafee

Quit his campaign in October after the first debate. Arguably he had the best policy of any candidate: bring the USA in line with the rest of the world and adopt the metric system! He’s a former governor of Rhode Island.

Jim Webb

An old style “conservative Democrat”, there’s no constituency in the early states for such a candidate. The Vietnam Veteran and former senator of Virginia quietly disappeared after the first debate.


THE REPUBLICANS

Four years ago, most announcements about the Republican race came from those saying they would NOT run. This time, smelling blood in the water, it seemed everybody was announcing a run, including a Geraldo Rivera’s moustache, a box of bicarbonate of soda, and a swarm of killer bees. Eventually the monster field settled at 17, which included successful governors, senators, business people and a world famous doctor.

Donald Trump

The unthinkable is happening, that the candidate initially considered a joke, still leads most polls six months later and is likely to win the first two states. After that, no one may stop him. He’s succeeded with a combination of upsetting the political establishment and by dismantling key rivals with subtle jibes and pointed innuendo. The outrageous statements he’s made are more about building his anti-establishment clout than actual policies. There’s no way he’ll deport 12 million illegal immigrants and ask them to apply legally; there’s no way he’ll put a 45% tariff on Chinese imports; and, there’s no way he’ll shut the borders to all muslims. It’s the very fact he’s prepared – and does – make these statement that he’s gained popularity. Other stunts like boycotting the recent debate on Fox News only validates the unorthodox style of his campaign, and endearing him further with his supporters.

Trump has also succeeded by a calculated destruction of key opponents, notably Jeb Bush by calling him “low energy”, while Ted Cruz’s poll numbers fell in Iowa after suggestions his birthplace of Canada affects his eligibility to be president. While neither of these have much substance, they are enough to provide doubt and validate a personal perception or belief. He’s now getting serious endorsements, including from Sarah Palin, which must rank as TV comedy moment of the year. Check the vision on youtube where Palin introduces a new word: “squirmishes”. That apparently means a squeamish skirmish. After Trump battered Cruz’s persona by saying he’s a “maniac” and “nasty” and “no one likes him”, the endorsement by Palin was strategically timed to hit Cruz with another, hopefully fatal, blow – this time against his status as the choice for core conservatives – ahead of the Iowa caucus.

In recent weeks, Trump has been more deft with his comments, and toned down the rhetoric. Pushing his slogan of “Make America great again”, his great claim is that American will start “winning” again and he’ll be a “deal maker”. After years of hyper partisanship and deadlock and a perception America is in decline, that is resonating.  Not just with Republicans, it’s also designed to win moderate Democrats and plenty of new voters. The lack of specific policies doesn’t matter, as it didn’t eight years ago when Obama triumphed with little more than grandiose rhetoric and “hope and change”. For the vast bulk of the electorate, simple messages and cliches work. Trump will win New Hampshire, is now leading in Iowa, and has a big lead in the third state to vote, South Carolina. He’s now talking about running the table (winning every state).

Ted Cruz

This is the real scary candidate. A hardline conservative Senator from Texas, he’s been very unpopular in the senate with his intransigence and politically calculated vote switching, killing several key bills and almost causing a government shutdown. He seems to think there’s a huge conservative block that stayed home for the last two elections and are ready to sweep him into office. While he has a point that many were dissuaded by the party nominating moderates, he overestimates their number and underestimates the number of independents and disenchanted Democrats that he’ll alienate in the process. Any Democrat would have beaten any Republican in 2008 such was the unpopularity of George W Bush, while Obama was aided by a sudden improvement in job numbers, Hurricane Sandy and a placid opponent. Cruz’s hardline stance on illegal immigrants won’t wash. Most Americans want some sort of legal path (not amnesty) for those in the country already, particular if the border is secured to prevent revisiting the issue in another 20 years. Cruz led the polls for Iowa until he became Trump’s next play thing. Now he’s just behind, and lags way behind in all other early states. Amazingly, Iowa could be his Waterloo, and a loss there could see him swiftly ejected from the campaign. That is Trump’s aim before he moves onto the next threat…

Marco Rubio

The “Obama” of the Republicans, young, eloquent and poised. Even more important, he’s excelled in the debates, displaying his breadth of knowledge and deftly countering attacks, particularly against Jeb Bush. A senator from Florida, a state the Republicans must win, he swept into office on the so-called “Tea Party wave” mid-term election of 2010 and should find a path through if either Trump or Cruz implode. Campaigning on uniting the party, he’s become the party’s mainstream hope, has the highest favourables of the leading candidates, and is seen as the most electable in a head to head contest against Hillary Clinton. His only weakness is being mired in the illegal immigrant debate, especially about amnesty for the those already illegally here. It’s mostly an argument over semantics, as the bill he pushed in 2008 was a long pathway to legalisation, not amnesty. For the record, the only difference between the Republican and Democratic positions on so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” is that the Republicans want a secure border first while the Democrats want it to stay porous. If Trump wins the nomination, it’s almost certain Rubio will be the vice presidential pick. He’ll be a great contrast and the Republicans must win Florida.

Jeb Bush

You haven’t met a more insipid and effeminate campaigner than Jeb Bush. The only reason he’s still around is he managed to raise over $100m from traditional, big spending Republican donors. He’s using much of that money now to attack his former protege and fellow Flordidian, Rubio, in TV advertisements, hoping to open the lane between Trump and Cruz. Bush’s big problem is he’s so pathetic, and his success as a former governor of Florida was too long ago to be of no consequence. His hunched posture with arms dangled and smirking professorial look shows weakness and condescension.

Ben Carson

World famous neurosurgeon, with a soft voice and is very polite. Perhaps too polite. One of the most bizarre moments of this race is his DEFENCE of claims in his book that he had such a bad temper that he attacked his mother with a hammer! The media researched these claims, including punching a classmate and stabbing a friend, and couldn’t find any witnesses. Oh no, Carson was effusive that he was so violent! After being near the top of the Iowa polls at one stage, his poor debate performances – particularly on foreign policy – has seen him collapse. The most recent Des Moines Register poll has seen him climb back to 10% and in fourth place. Remember candidates need 15% at a caucus event to be viable, so expect that transferred elsewhere. Carson will be gone after Iowa and probably seek a position in the Republican cabinet.

Chris Christie

His time was 4 years ago when Republicans were looking for someone to really stick it to Obama and he was the new star on the scene. The popular new governor of New Jersey back then, his numbers have fallen, and his bombastic style has been superceded by Trump. He’s a moderate, has ignored Iowa, and banking on a strong showing in New Hampshire, otherwise he’s gone.

John Kasich

Interesting he’s anglicised his slavic name of Kasic so it’s pronounced properly as “itch” and now people pronounce it as “ick”. An affable chap and the hugely successful governor of Ohio, he’s one that the Democrats fear if he gets the nomination. He’s a moderate, picking up the endorsement from the New York Times, has an outstanding record when he served in congress during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and Republicans win the Presidency when they win Ohio. Does that statistic matter as much if the candidate has a home-state advantage?

Rand Paul

A constitutional libertarian and a senator from Kentucky, Paul’s unwillingness to exclude the military in budget restraints simply won’t wash in a party obsessed with the biggest most powerful military possible. Especially not in this time of ISIS.

Carly Fiorina

The former CEO of Hewlett Packard, she impressed in the early debates, promoting herself as a woman of achievement and enjoying being with her husband compared to Clinton being a woman of lies and using her husband only for his name, before becoming a bit one dimensional. Her career at HP ended poorly and she’d have been hammered by Democratic attack ads in a presidential campaign. The Republican electorate has been wise to both of these factors, which has seen her numbers drop. She’ll be gone after Iowa. Look for her in a possible Republican cabinet.

Mike Huckabee

Former governor of Arkansas, he’s an interesting candidate, being an evangelical (and a former pastor) and a populist with a strident defence against any cuts to social security and medicare for those already paid in. He smashed it in Iowa 8 years ago and probably would have been the party’s nominee for president 4 years ago if he chose to give up his TV show and run. He’s driftwood this cycle.

Rick Santorum

The former senator from Pennyslvania won Iowa 4 years ago by just 34 votes, and only because he was last on the rung of “anyone except Mitt Romney” for evangelical conservatives. More driftwood.

The Rest

Jim Gilmore is still in it for some reason despite consistently registering less than 1% in the polls. George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Scott walker and Rick Perry have already withdrawn. Only Walker, governor of Wisconsin, was of consequence. Leading the Iowa polls at one stage, he claimed his withdrawal in September was so the party could rally around a handful of candidates. In reality, he was exposed for some inconsistent stances, and simply couldn’t cope with the robustness and scrutiny of a presidential campaign. The killer bees attacked Geraldo Rivera’s moustache, and he used a box of bicarbonate of soda to scare them away. That was the end of those three campaigns before they even started.


PREDICTION

After Iowa and New Hampshire, the field will be cut. The theory is there’s only 3 tickets out of Iowa, and that would be Trump, Cruz and Rubio. Kasich is currently second in New Hampshire and if he can maintain that, he’ll survive. Christie is the other option there. It will only be one of them. Let’s presume Kasich. Losing candidates will then begin to endorse those still in the race, most likely to either Rubio or Kasich. Cruz is unpopular and has barely picked up any endorsements of note from anyone, particularly from those already serving in government.

Even though Sanders will most likely win the first two states and provide a fright for Clinton, expect to see her triumph. Remember, delegates in these early states are proportional by vote %, not a “winner take all” situation. Any lead in delegates by Sanders will be small, and he’ll likely be in deficit after the third state of South Carolina. Expect O’Malley to drop out after NH and endorse Clinton. The Democrats will hope nothing will come from the email scandal, and scheduling extra debates will snuff out the challenge from Sanders. Sanders’ big advantage is that it will be a two horse race, therefore he will long have a ready made constituency of Democrats not interested in Clinton.

The one great flaw with the US system is the world can be vastly different when a candidate finally becomes president. Obama’s mantra was to end the Iraq War and transform America with a bunch of social programs, and to address CO2 emissions. By the time Obama was president, Iraq was already resolved and he had to deal with a recession. The economy controlled his entire reign, to the point his only social program to pass (after much fighting) was The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which was a messy system to spread health insurance by ways of subsidising insurance companies and expanding state based healthcare for poorer people (medicaid). He wasted two years of 100% control of congress over that, ignoring other promises like immigration, CO2 and, his latest fad, of gun control. He was the wrong president at the wrong time, and arguably America would be better off now had Clinton won in 2008, and Obama following now.

The lack of progress by Obama also highlights the truth about American presidents: they have little real power. Like in Australia, congress (parliament) writes laws, not the president. They only sign them. Even with a Democratic controlled congress, Obama faced obstruction. When the Republicans took control of the lower house in the 2010 mid-terms, he was ostensibly a lame duck. The people, by way of “the people’s house”, has the power. Only on foreign policy and restraining congress do American presidents make much difference.

With national security, terrorism and the economy the biggest issues, the Republicans are in the box seat, especially when the weariness of Democratic incumbency is factored. A moderate like Rubio, Kasich or Christie should dispatch Clinton. Trump is an unknown. No one predicted his candidacy would still be alive, much less still leading the polls. While Clinton should be able to dispatch Cruz, if it’s Sanders on the Democrat side, it’s a Republican win.

Warrior Factor – 2015 in Review

10 January 2016

Happy New Year!

Seventeen new posts made it a busier year than remembered. Most were earlier in the year, before a late rush when cycling, Melbourne Cup and Star Wars were prominent in the news. Responding to news actually proved to be the main trigger for posts, with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s leadership woes, the death of the Ultimate Warrior, the federal senate inquiry into the nanny state, separate racism controversies involving Dawn Fraser and Adam Goodes, and New South Wales’ appalling assault on cycling.

Warrior Factor - 2015 in Review

1) Australia – the land of cycling hatred

There’s nothing more upsetting than an assault by government on our basic freedoms, and nothing in Australia is under more assault than cycling. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did, when the state of New South Wales raised fines against cyclists to obscene levels and made it illegal to ride without personal identification. In exchange? Motorists should try keep a metre clear when overtaking a cyclist otherwise face a pitiful fine if striking them. This post was written 9 days before the end of the year and went viral compared to anything else, with twice as many views as the next best. In fact, nearly all views of the post were made on one day: 30th December 2015. In 2016, it’s already been viewed more times than the second most viewed post of 2015.

2) Australia is at it again – turning more cyclists into criminals

This post came in response to an idea from Melbourne City Council to ban cyclists from certain streets, and NSW’s idea of ID for cyclists. While Melbourne hasn’t (yet) banned cyclists from anywhere, the NSW Transport Minister did get his way with ID. As usual, no evidence was provided to show a problem needing to be fixed. It was more of the same backward legislative ideas designed mostly to placate motorists.

3) Compared to Estonia, Australia is so backwards

Amazing how there’s a reverse chronological order of posts that begin with the notion of Australia being backwards and ending with unequivocal proof! Ideas for this post fermented for many months before finally being written and posted on Australia Day. There’s been a few small updates since, and a section about Australian Rules Football.

4) Queuing for dim sims is not like it used to be

About the changes of buying Dim Sims at the South Melbourne Market over the decades, this post from 2014 benefitted from being linked in the Compared to Estonia post.

5) Australia the arse end of the world for cycling

Also from 2014, and also linked in the Compared to Estonia post.

Others

The next most viewed posts from 2015 are the spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tony Abbott’s initial leadership woes and my thoughts about Nintendo’s new 3DS and travelling in Japan with it.

Speaking of video games, Warrior’s Video Games of 2015

Where are you from?

Almost entirely from the 5 main English speaking countries: USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Australia dominates, of course, with 64% of all views, then follows the UK and USA. Most obscure (with at least 5 views) is Pakistan, and nice to see Estonia ranked 16th of the 63 countries that provided visitors.

2016

Let’s hope 2016 becomes a year more about principle and less about shrill politicisation. Australia is at a crossroads with its demand for an ever increasing welfare state without a realistic means to pay for it. Either taxes go up, in which we all should contribute at least a little, or so-called middle class welfare (an oxymoron if ever there was one) is slowly wound back. We also need less hysteria and more freedom. Any chance of that?

 

Warrior’s Video Games of 2015

10 January 2016

Either I’m too old or gaming is dead. With the PS4 and XBox One firmly entrenched in the market, the only new system I bought was Retro Bit Retro Duo to play my old NES and SNES games. Also acquired was a Raspberry Pi with various emulators pre-installed to play, yes again, retro games. The big disappointment with current generation is that most games are graphical updates and using boring stories and narratives to help separate them. Wandering around and shooting or slashing at people or aliens – been there, done that, a thousand times before, and nothing’s ever been as enjoyable as Metroid Prime and Perfect Dark. If I want a story, I’ll watch a movie.

retro-bit Retro Duo

Retro Duo – the future of gaming is in the past!

Then there’s the 3DS – the only system that still provides interesting games rather than the endless shooters, sports and driving games. Suffice to say, it dominated my game time this year. Other than that, I picked up a few older games on the PS3 at discount prices. Notoriously with games like this bought on the cheap, they were barely played. It seems retailers, particularly of downloadable games, have worked out a good profit model. Start with high prices, begin discounting once the initial purchase boom slows, and eventually discount to such a low level as to flog as many as possible. It doesn’t matter that most of these final consumers never play the game, just to get a few dollars out of them, it all adds up. If a consumer has, say, 500 games purchased at $5 each, that consumer has also given to the retailer $2500 that ordinarily they’d never have spent. Suckers!

Reviewing the 3DS activity log, it’s scary. The number one game played in 2015 was Pokemon Shuffle for a whopping 199.35 hours. While I doubt the accuracy of the log, particularly early on when it showed 40 hours played after only an estimated 10 hours, it’s still definitely way up there. Note that Pokemon Shuffle is a free game! While purchases can help you get power-ups sooner and more play time, I’ve never bothered, and managed at several points to complete all available stages. The game periodically adds more stages, along with special stages, so currently have stages to complete and pokemon to catch. I’m at stage 246 in the main game and completed the 20 stages made available in expert mode.

Pokemon Shuffle

Pokemon Shuffle – played for just under 200 hours. Ridiculous!

Next in at 127.10 hours is the pre-installed StreetPass Mii Plaza. With two new mini games added (at cost), and trips to Japan and USA during the year, that’s kept me busy. I still have 4 plants to breed to complete Flower, and plenty of fish to catch for Fishing. Battle relies on hits to complete, and I’ve still three countries to conquer. Same with Puzzle, with two boards to finish. Otherwise, all other games finished, with Mansion finished twice. I went through that again to complete certain challenges, and still there’s two to do. Those two require hits with others that own the game, so I won’t bother there. Squad and Zombies also have challenges left, of which there’s only moderate inclination to complete, particularly with the dull Zombies.

Now for a paid game, the ever venerable Mario Kart 7. That logged 15.34 hours, while Super Smash Bros came in next at just over 13 hours. Mario Tennis Open (the best in the Mario Tennis series) and Ultimate NES Remix both around 5 hours. Tetris Ultimate (a superb version of a classic game), Super Mario Land 3D, Mario Golf: World Tour (a Christmas present) and Shovel Knight all had an hour or two. I played the demo of the popular Monster Hunter 4, and didn’t like the game at all. Tracking and killing monsters, so cruel! It’s not my thing.

Off the 3DS, Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U at the homes of associates was commonly played, as too were various football games on PS3 and, towards the end of the year, Rocket League on PC. On the PS3 at home, Gran Turismo 6 would have received the most game time.

I didn’t carry the 3DS like I did everywhere in 2014, so number of steps are way down. Just over 521k compared to 1.1m in 2014. Knock off 200,000 without the two trips overseas.

More:

New 3DS vs 3DS and Travelling with the 3DS in Japan

Video Games of 2014

 

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