The magic asterisk makes an appearance. There will be $1.5 billion dollars spent on new mental health programs paid for by not spending $1.5 billion on health department bureaucrats. In saying this yesterday the Coalition finance spokesman Andrew Robb gave us the first appearance for this election campaign of that wonderful creation years ago by US President Ronald Reagan’s budget director David Stockman.

Confronted back then by the impossible task of reconciling the absolute commitment given by his boss of reining in the deficit while delivering a promised tax cut or two, Stockman came up with the asterisk pointing to the wonderful budget footnote: “future savings to be identified.” All I can say on Robb’s behalf is that he uttered his inanities with a wonderfully straight and serious face.

As these new planned cuts to the health bureaucracy are but a small part of the Coalition’s promised attack on government spending to bring us back quickly to budget surplus, the original Atlantic Monthly article is a useful reminder of the kind of difficulties that Finance Ministers confront in the real world. It will surely disabuse you of any inclination to believe what a politician in election mode tells you.

Give us a break. They cannot be serious at the Melbourne Herald Sun or rather they really must have it in for our new Prime Minister. This morning the paper manufactured a page one splash that condemns Julia Gillard for continuing to live in her own Altona home rather than in Kirribilli House on the water looking out over Sydney Harbour to the Opera House. Can you imagine the outraged screams from the Victorian radio shock jocks, urged on by writers in The Hun, if she actually did that?

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And as for the “cold cops living in a cold caravan”! No. Standing guard in Altona is nowhere near as cold as doing that in Canberra’s sub zero winter. And my guess is that the caravan is every bit as comfortable to hop into to make a cuppa as the guard boxes outside The Lodge and Kirribilli.

Is there no end to the News Limited anti-Labor vendetta?

More fodder for the anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists. Having earlier this week featured on page one a weird story suggesting that there’s somehow something improper about Julia Gillard’s partner working for a Jewish businessman, I expect the Melbourne Age will seize on an interview in today’s The Australian Jewish News to beat up another anti-Jewish tirade.

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Regarder votre langue. Psychological violence has joined physical violence as a criminal offence under French law applying to couples. Legislation passed by the National Assembly this week defines “mental violence” as “repeated acts that could be constituted by words,” including insults or repeated text messages that “degrade one’s quality of life and cause a change to one’s mental or physical state.” Insults or threats of physical violence can now be punished by sentences of up to three years in prison.

Banking on China. I hope it is not just wishful thinking on the part of Australia’s economic gurus that China will keep this country out of any recessionary second coming just as it helped keep us out of the first but a graph like this one does not exactly inspire confidence:

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The Shanghai stock exchange composite index, I note, is now at its lowest level since April 2009.

Perhaps more troubling are the television pictures of striking workers in China and the reports that major employers like the Taiwan owned assemblers of much of the world’s electronic equipment are moving the location of their factories to parts of the country where labour costs are lower. Just what kind of demonstrations will there be when the moves occur and the workers who already believe they are underpaid have no job at all?

Peter Fray

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