The Satchel Review - Saturday 8 September, 2012

"We've got so much more to do!" said Michelle Obama, setting the scene for her husband's second race at the Presidential election. Not since Clara chucked her ballet slipper to protect the Nutcracker have we seen such an impassioned defence of a lady's man (though one does recall Wendy Deng).

"I've gotten to see up close and personal what being president really looks like," she said on the first day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday.

"And I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones, the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you the right answer, the judgement calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error."

As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, and we reflect on the War on Terror that ensued in its aftermath as allied troops continue to fall though they aid their fellow man, Obama has a tough challenge ahead: the GFC has hampered national enthusiasm for the country's first black president.

His key calling card? Economic empathy. "I see the concern in his eyes, and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, 'You won't believe what these folks are going through, Michelle. It's not right. We've got to keep working to fix this. We've got so much more to do."

To his credit: universal healthcare, equal pay for equal work for women, and tax cuts for the middle class. Still, winning ground support will be no mean feat for the Harvard graduate ensconced in the White House as Americans join the unemployment queues (harder still, one might think, for his super-rich Republican competitor Mitt Romney).

The cover of Bloomberg Insider Conventions magazine asked, "Are Blacks Better Off Than They Were Four Years Ago?", and its answer was, well, no. 

"Today’s 14.1 percent black unemployment rate is almost twice the 7.4 percent white rate, and the racial gap – after narrowing from 2005 to 2009 – has widened since the recession’s June 2009 end," reported David J. Lynch. "At Obama’s inauguration, 7.1 percent of whites were jobless compared with 12.7 percent of blacks."

It's hard to believe that in 2012, eleven years since Michael Jackson's "Black and White" was released by Epic records, we are still seeing black and white and not one single indicator of humanity's prosperity or lack thereof. Will Obama "beat it" in the polls?

In 2008, Obama "captured 95 per cent of the black vote", and he is still expected to attract 90 per cent of it in 2012. African-Americans, it is said, not only take pride in their president, but have also benefited from Obama administration policies on healthcare, voting rights and mortgage discrimination.

What's more, the decline of the African-American standard of living started circa 2004, when George Bush was at the helm and spending up a storm on his War. Blacks have been sidelined by the housing crisis, job losses, and a conservative (read: bigoted) backlash against the African-American president.

"Almost one-quarter of African-American borrowers will lose their homes to foreclosure before the crisis ends, according to a November 2011 study by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit group that fights predatory consumer lending," reports Bloomberg.

And without home equity, there is little room for starting businesses or for paying for the kids' college tuition. The American Dream has turned decidedly dour. Despite Ms. Obama's impassioned and eloquent entreaty, it's what's happening on the street(y) that matters most on polling day, which is not to ignore the rigmarole of the super-expensive US election system*.

Australia can hardly be smug. All evidence would suggest that our country's original inhabitants are faring terribly under social, cultural, economic, emotional and historical inhibitions, though campaigners are doing their darndest to address the issue and Kevin Rudd did say sorry (sorry must be followed by some action to right the wrongs, no?).

Since the Northern Territory Intervention started in 2007, incarceration of Aboriginal people has increased by 41 per cent; attempted suicide and self-harm amongst Aboriginal youth has doubled; and Aboriginal life expectancy continues to be the lowest of any Indigenous group on the world. In the world! is currently sporting a petition, supported by 43,000+ signatories, apposed to "Stronger Futures" legislation that will maintain many parts of the Northern Territory Intervention, a policy that has attracted United Nations condemnation for its racial discrimination (as have Australia's policies for people with a disability, as highlighted by the Disability Rights Now shadow report).

"Aboriginal Elders, community leaders and Aboriginal organisations across the Northern Territory have opposed the legislation, and are demanding the right to control their own futures. Years of this top-down policy-making by the Government have taken power away from communities and have overseen increasing poverty and social breakdown. The Government should give Aboriginal people the right to control their own futures."

Government spent $44,128 per head of population on Indigenous Australians in 2010-11, compared with $19,589 for non-Indigenous Australians, according to the Productivity Commission's second Indigenous Expenditure Report. Clearly, closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage with more funds is not yet having the desired effect.

Meanwhile, in comfortable middle Australia, Julia Gillard continued to get her "moving forward" campaign in motion, adding her education crusade to her other pre-election 2013 initiatives. With yet more policy to be passed through parliament, news of the sale of Cubbie Station stopped divided the nation, as did notice that Qantas flights to Europe would be stopping over not in Asia but Dubai.

Cubbie Station's sale and new ownership poses a significant problem for the Opposition, with a split between free-market Liberals and protectionist Nationals, who form the coalition, while the Qantas deal with Emirates was seen as a coup for beleaguered CEO Alan Joyce.

For those interested in the plight of Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, she has been granted bail. This after being severely beaten by neighbours for reportedly desecrating the Islamic holy book. Her future security is a worry in a country where insulting the Koran, or the Islamic prophet Muhammad, are actions punishable by a life sentence or death.

These are not simple, peaceful times, are they? I read an interesting article in Thursday's Australian on the faith generation gap, which showcased a grandfather and his grandson. Bernard Salt's last comment about tolerance being the ultimate human endeavour gave me pause for thought, as I had watched United 93 the night before.

I thought, 'Well, we probably should not tolerate people hijacking aeroplanes and killing innocents to realise the ends to their means, just as much as we should not tolerate the bashing of a young girl, much less one who is impaired'. Surely that would not be wise application of tolerance? Not at all. Those courageous passengers on United 93 knew that; they tried to steer the plane of its crash course knowing they faced an indignant, unjust death.

Tolerance, though ostensibly a good thing, is not the grand panacea, because evil remains, albeit blurred by both prejudices and willful blindness. In some ways, tolerance is now occupying the same territory as indifference. "I am tolerant, therefore anything goes!". The truly scary thing is when "tolerance" becomes the means by which evil is allowed to run its course and horrible things happen. 'Oh, those hijackers are simply exerting their human rights!'.

Just the same, rudeness and selfishness and all our lesser human traits should not just be accepted but efforts should be made to correct them, to overcome the evil within as well as without with good. We should still endeavour to bear the burden of broken humanity and to say, "I'll Be There" when human goodness goes astray; to forgive, switch on a light amid the madness, and say, "It wasn't meant to be this way, but we shall try to make a good thing from a bad. It is a new day."

*We won't even start to explain, so this handy slideshare prepared by Alan R. Cordova may be a helpful aid, though Emma Plant did also elucidate some fine points here.

See also: On God, Good and Evil by Scott Stephens at ABC Religion & Ethics

Girl With a Satchel