Alexis Baliotis

It is with a great deal of pride that I present an article by Debra Freeman Highberger. Of special pride is that Debra has written this especially for the Café.

Debra writes with passion about amazing people, yet none could be more amazing than Debra herself.

The human brain is still a mystery for even the most experienced doctors and scientists. Why is it stronger in one area for one person as opposed to another. Some people will function mostly from the left side of their brains; others work from the right…and others still can function somewhere down the middle. For children who are visual the rigors of traditional school studies can be taxing. For the ones that have unique differences all their own, schools have a difficult time placing them…as a result they usually end up in the category of learning disabled. Although often mild, this can be a stigma for the rest of their lives when the reality is their brain just functions differently.

The day she arrived the temperature outside was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. She was two and a half weeks overdue and still wasn’t ready to enter this world. Her delivery was difficult. After a collapsed lung and ingestion of meconium, the baby was suctioned for a period of time. The only sounds this new mother heard was the gasping breaths of her new born. In what felt like a moments decision the child was whisked away to a larger hospital in the city…her mother didn’t even get a chance to see her. She named her Alexis.

Still in the other hospital her mother called the special nursery where her daughter was being treated. The nurse on the other end of that line said something she will never forget. ”Honey, your daughter is a fighter; she refuses to be swaddled and will only eat when she wants too and she hardly sleeps. She likes to be a part of everything and is always awake when we check on her. I don’t think you have to worry about this girl, someday she will rule the world.” She knew it was the comforting musings of a nurse trying to ease the mind of a worried mother…but even today those words still stick in her mother’s memory.

Despite the way she entered the world Alexis seemed to be perfectly normal. A happy child she walked very early and spoke with full sentences by the age of 18 months. She loved to sing and dance and draw. She was a delight to her mother that was told she would never be able to have children. She called her the miracle child. At the age of four she had an uncanny understanding of patterns in music and seemed to babble nonstop. Imagine the surprise when a year later Alexis’ kindergarten teacher said she had a hearing problem and often didn’t understand what was being said to her. She and her mother learned to get around all these difficulties without even realizing it; not unlike twin language. Alexis learned to read lips while her mother learned to always get down to her level and look her in the eye when she spoke to her. When she would misunderstand a word that was said to her, her mother took the time to correct her. Being her only child she had no idea that Alexis was different.

School was difficult for this young child. Alexis or Lex as she became known…suddenly became a shy and wouldn’t participate. After attending a play conducted in her class her mother didn’t recognize this miracle child she had come to know and love. Lex was completely withdrawn and stood off alone. At home she would then revert back to the dancing pixy who wanted to please and showed enthusiasm. Her mother knew this must be an exhausting existence for her child and wanted answers. Her mother’s heart as was both her father and stepfather was breaking for her. By fifth grade despite all the tutoring she could only identify a few words on paper. Her reading level was below first grade compression. The school had tested her but couldn’t find any answers. They said she couldn’t hear the bottom three tones in one ear. They also said she scored the highest they had ever seen in visual understanding and pattern recognition. Her IQ was above average. Yet for some reason this child could not read and the school went as far as saying, she probably never will. With now the eyes of an adamant observer her mother felt that other things were going on as well. The school disregarded the mother’s wishes for further testing and merely wanted to put her in a special isolated classroom. Hearing aids where not an option as they wouldn’t have helped.

The next day her mother went into action. She contacted the best linguistic doctor she could find. His name was Dr Robert Kemper. He was actually the doctor that designed the tests that are used today across America. Setting up an appointment; Dr Kemper tested her the following week. The results were surprising. She did have the IQ the school had said and the pattern recognition skills along with the hearing deficiency. But she also had something else the school had missed. She had an acute auditory processing issue. Simply put… the things she heard were not in fact the things that were said to her. Her brain would try and decipher what her ears had heard and often transmitted back something completely different than what was actually spoken. This made every vowel sound, if she heard them at all, sound like the same tone. It made reading an almost impossible task.

After being tested, and from the guide lines of the doctor, her mother sat Alexis down and had a very adult conversation with her now ten year old child. She told Lex that she had a plan to help her get her reading skills up to the level of the other kids. She explained to her that she had to trust people. If they told her she has misunderstood what they said she needed to believe them. Her mother also told her it wasn’t her fault. She ended the conversation with…only you can do this…you need to want it bad…I will help you in any way I can but in the end it is up to you. Alexis looked up at her with her big dark brown eyes and agreed. The next day her mother removed her from the traditional public school system and took a chance with the lottery pool at the local charter school in their town. Luckily she got in. Lex entered 5th grade with a below 1st grade reading level. With Dr Kemper by her side and an advocate for learning disabled children, her mother sat down with the new school to express the needs of this child. This new school was determined to help Alexis and unlike the last school went out of their way to make her feel comfortable and safe. She had a wonderful reading teacher by the name of Mrs. Chandler. Mrs. C pulled Lex from class twice a week to work with her one on one for an hour. Through an adult literacy reading program Lex began to make progress. With the backing of people who believed in her she was she was reading at fifth grade level by the end of that first school year. The excitement her teachers and parents felt only fueled her progress. But because she would be entering the sixth grade she still had a lot of work to do. Her confidence began to soar.

The more she improved the angrier her mother became at the original school Lex attended. That school was ready to give up on her. They wanted to throw her away and discard her as if she didn’t matter. They had told her mother this child will never be able to attend college or get a good job. They had even wanted to put her in a class with special needs students that had the verbal skills of a toddler.

Her time at the new school became a life saving event for this now socially active little girl. Upon graduation from eighth grade her mother sat in the audience and watched through teary eyes the school award Lex as the student who achieved the most…Her reading level at that point was now 9th grade. It was a year ahead of the average.

While in High school Lex continued to fight for achievement. She took honors level English and math. Because her hearing was still and will always be an issue she got permission to record the lectures she had to sit in on classic literature. She was also exempt from having to take a foreign language. Because her parents always did…they still read every book out loud to her that was required reading that first year. The TV in that house was removed long before that and sitting and reading became a nightly event. Teaching Alexis to read and showing her the joys of the written page was the goal of the entire family as well as her school, it was a joint effort.

Because both her parents were artists and owned an art school Lex became very proficient at drawing and painting. Upon graduation from high school with honors she applied and was excepted at Lyme Academy college of art with a full four year scholarship; this child that the public school was ready to throw away. It was a grueling experience for her. The academics were difficult and the work load tremendous. That didn’t stop her. Just like the baby that refused to be tied down in swaddled blankets she made her needs known. This time it was that she was a normal college student that was going to finish her education. In 4 years she graduated with a 3.9.

Despite all her achievements the world wasn’t finished testing this young woman. While half way through college; her mother developed Lupus…a devastating and often fatal autoimmune disease. Because Lex had worked so hard to get to this point; her mother tried to shield her as best he could from the illness. Fortunately because she was away at school, Lex never saw the true scope of what it entailed. Lex finished college and came home to a very different house. Her fist year home was a huge adjustment filled with running her family home and doctor visits. She had to do the shopping the cleaning and the comforting. She was also saddled with the running of her parent’s art school. Taking over an adult class that has been together for over 10 years it was big shoes for her to fill. When it came to the children’s classes she proved to be invaluable. Along with this came scheduling and the daily maintenance of the school. She did all of this with the assurance of a seasoned teacher and administrator. Never once did she complain. She was only 22.

Her mother through tears told her she was sorry. She never thought their life would come to this. And wished she didn’t had to do so much for her. Lex’s reply was, “When I needed someone to stand up for me, you were always there. I feel lucky to give back to you.” She knew the strong mother that she grew up with was in the shell of this woman who now sits before her. With patience and understanding she waited for her to return. And through the help of specialist and medicine she did.

That was two years ago. This year Lex was asked to be the commencement speaker at the 8th grade graduation from the charter school that had given her so much. She was honored and yet quieted by the request. She stood on that stage now a beautiful and graceful woman; confidant and yet still reserved. She wrote and read a powerful speech that told her story. The audience not only had her past teachers in attendance, but also some of her current students as well. Her parents sat in the balcony and watched the reactions of everyone. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. When Lex finished and turned modestly around to return to her seat she received a standing ovation.

With her mother’s condition stable now, she and her parents all run the school and household mutually. They are an inseparable team that works together daily. The lessons Lex learned by this entire experience she never could have read in a text book. The lesson learned by all who know her is that you can’t judge a child by their inabilities; they have a world of learning to do …If the world would only believe in them. I am proud to say I know this young woman. She has brought me such joy in watching her grow and flourish. She is a remarkable human being and I am humbled to have witnessed this strength in her…because although she doesn’t realize it; it was her example of perseverance that gave me the strength when I needed it most; because Lex is my daughter.

From Alexis: Good evening graduates, teachers, families, and friends.

As you have just heard my name is Alexis Jane Baliotis. I have many students from your school enrolled in The Acorn, and I am so thrilled to see how much they love the Charter School and that they are having the same experiences I had, whether they will admit it or not.

I want to say thank you to all of the teachers and staff at the Charter School, past and present, because my acceptance there truly changed my life, and in my capacity as a teacher in Marblehead, I see on a daily basis the lives you have touched, and I am honored and proud of having once walked your halls. I would like to tell you my story and how the opportunity to attend the Charter School was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My mother decided to enroll me in the Charter School when I was leaving the 4th grade. In those days the school started with grade 5 and there was no gym and no classrooms beyond the community room. The traditional public school I had been attending had failed to teach me the most important of things: how to read. Although I do have several learning disabilities, my major issue was that no one had taken the time to cater to my small learning problem, and the issue of my reading had grown into a monstrous dilemma. In varying degrees, my mother realized that my needs were not being met, and therefore I left my elementary school in 4th grade at a 1st grade reading level. It was clear that I needed to be tested to understand what my real reading issues were. Dr. Robert Kemper, a known linguistic specialist who devised the test that is used today, tested me independently at my family’s expense. Dr. Kemper found that my biggest problem was that I was not being taught phonetics. This was a shock to us, since historically, phonetics has been the foundation for teaching reading. As a child with a known hearing problem, the importance of this should have been well understood by all my previous teachers. In my mother’s eyes, the traditional public school had failed me.

Sending me to the Marblehead Community Charter Public School was the best decision my mother made for me as a child. At the Charter School, I was not cast under the rug because I was a quite good little girl, and they knew I wouldn’t say anything, but rather, Charter made sure that I would have absolutely everything I would need to help me learn how to read. Before the school year started, my mother was called to a meeting with Mrs. Kosland, who was a fifth grade teacher at the time, the head of the special education department, my future reading teacher, Mrs. Chandler, and the principal of the school. We brought along Liz Mac, a child advocate, and Dr. Kemper, along with my stepfather, my mother and my father. At this meeting, a weight was lifted off my mother’s shoulders, because she realized she no longer had to fight with the system for my education; these people were on her side. Dr. Kemper asked them to put me in a small group with three other kids, twice a week, for half an hour. Charter said that was not enough! They placed me with a special teacher, by myself, twice a week for an hour. In all the meetings my mother had gone to, she had never seen a school offer more services than had been requested. She left in tears. After being at the Charter School for several weeks, I was started in the Wilson Reading Program with Mrs. Chandler. Mrs. Chandler saved my life over those four years. I am where I am today, because of what I learned in the first room on the right, down the fifth grade hallway. I will always hold a special place in my heart for Mrs. Chandler, because of all my teachers, as far as I am concerned, she had the biggest task of all.

The Marblehead Community Charter Public School is just that, a community, and it was not just Mrs. Chandler who aided me in my struggle. All the teachers worked together to create an amazing learning experience that showed us that everything we were learning was intertwined and designed to help us not just now, but for the future.

Fifth grade was difficult for me (I was never good with transition, and I was still having a hard time reading), but as the years went on, things became easier for me. I started to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and the kids in this school were more accepting than those in my last. I strongly feel the students of the Charter School were that way because of the supportive environment that it strives to create. The students in my grade were very close. By seventh grade, a time when cliques and hurt feelings run wild, my classmates were all friends, and no one held grudges; today those students are still friends! My best friends from middle school are still the people I turn to. How many people can say that? Just last year, several people from our grade took it upon themselves to organize a reunion for the graduating class of 2001. I know this is because of the good role models that exist with in the Charter School’s walls. As a teacher now myself, I understand that it is important to not only be a good authority figure but also a friend, and when I think back, there were so many of my teachers that were just that: Mr. Clinton, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Odwire, Mrs. Sullivan, Mr. Siglar, Mrs. Ekland, Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Parga, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Collen-Hamzah, Mrs. Kosland, Mrs. Woverton and, of course, Mr. Barry.

One of the most beneficial classes that I took at Charter was study skills. At the time it was a required enrichment, and no one wanted to take it. But when I was studying for my art history classes in my senior year of college, my room mate looked at me and said, “How on earth did you learn how to retain that much information that fast?” I smiled at him, laughed and replied, “Sixth grade study skills.” When I was in Mrs. Ekland’s English Class, I remember getting my first A on a paper. It was a biography of Leonardo da Vinci and his inventions, and I was so happy, I ran home to my mother and showed her my essay with pride.

When it was time for me to move on to high school, Mrs. Chandler had me take a reading test on the computer. According to the test, I was now reading at a ninth grade level, a year higher than my grade, and when it came time to select my classes for high school, I was put in an honors level English class.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers had told my mother that I would most likely never attend college. I proved them wrong. I graduated from Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in 2009 and made Dean’s List every semester; in my art history courses, which required the most reading, I received all A’s. I have no intention of stopping there! I am currently half done with a new portfolio, which I plan to use to help me in my goal of a master’s degree.

I am proud to have gone to the Marblehead Community Charter Public School, and everyone associated with the school has my highest regard. Congratulations on your 50th exhibition. I am honored to have been a part of their history. Congratulations Class of 2011, I know you will do well on the road ahead.

**Debra can also be found at: The Lupus Magazine

Update: The Art of Alexis Baliotis

The False Australian

I was thinking that this was worthy of a topic unto itself.

Headline: False Australian article leaves Gillard seeing red

The link: Gillard angry over Australian article

Friction between the Murdoch press and the Federal Government has escalated in the wake of an incorrect article about Prime Minister Julia Gillard published in yesterday’s Australian newspaper.

The article led to an embarrassing apology from the newspaper, which acknowledged that not only were allegations about Ms Gillard “untrue” but that no attempt had been made to contact her for comment before publication.

The article, written by journalist Glenn Milne – but later repudiated by the newspaper – claimed Ms Gillard had been unknowingly implicated in a “major union fraud” while she was working as a lawyer in Melbourne before she entered parliament.

Milne reported on allegations that concerned “the embezzlement of union funds – not disputed – and later the subject of a court conviction by a former boyfriend of Gillard, Bruce Wilson”.

At the time Mr Wilson was an official with the Australian Workers Union.

Milne alleged that “as a solicitor acting on instructions, she set up an association later used by her lover to defraud the AWU”.

“But she has strenuously denied ever knowing what the association’s bank accounts were used for,” Milne added.

Milne wrote that he had originally written the story in 2007 but was prevented on legal advice publishing another allegation.

“What the lawyers would not allow to be reported was the fact that Gillard shared a home in Fitzroy bought by Wilson using the embezzled funds. There is no suggestion that Gillard knew about the origin of the money,” Milne wrote.

Ms Gillard has strenuously denied the claims.

The article was published in The Australian yesterday, both in the newspaper and online, but by 9.30am the online version had disappeared to be replaced by an apology.

The apology read:

“THE AUSTRALIAN published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister.

“The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.

“The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims.”

Angry calls
ABC News Online understands Ms Gillard made angry early-morning phone calls to The Australian’s publisher, John Hartigan, and editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell after which the article was pulled.

It is understood Ms Gillard had phoned Mr Hartigan on Saturday after another Murdoch journalist, Andrew Bolt, had written on his blog of ”a tip on something that may force Gillard to resign”.

It began: ”On Monday, I’m tipping, a witness with a statutory declaration will come forward and implicate Julia Gillard directly in another scandal involving the misuse of union funds.”

No such witness has come forward.

It is believed Mr Hartigan has assured Ms Gillard that no News Limited journalist was planning to write any such story about her – but he apparently had not checked with The Australian.

Today, Bolt’s blog read cryptically: “No politics until further notice. Principles to weigh up. Faith to keep. Sorry.”

It was later updated to promise that “after discussions I now feel free to speak my mind. So I shall. In tomorrow’s column.”

Ethics questioned
Asked about Milne’s article, Ms Gillard described it as “a false report in breach of all known standards of journalism”.

“They’d made no approach to me to seek a comment or to check what was asserted,” she told a press conference.

“They clearly realised they had done the wrong thing and published a retraction as a result, so the only question here really is how is it that a false allegation about the Prime Minister is published in The Australian newspaper without anyone from The Australian contacting me or my office for a comment?

“This is a question of ethics and standards for The Australian.”

Editor of The Australian, Clive Mathieson, told ABC News Online that Ms Gillard’s “claim of inaccuracies” is being looked into.

“We are investigating the Prime Minister’s claim of inaccuracies in the story. As the correction points out, we regret that the PM was not given any chance to respond to the allegations.”

He said Milne “will remain a contributor to the paper”, adding that “the bulk of the allegations in the column have been a matter of public record for a long time”.

But Mr Hartigan this afternoon returned fire, saying Ms Gillard’s comments are “disappointing” and “pedantic”.

“The Australian withdrew the Glenn Milne opinion piece yesterday morning, acknowledged that some of the assertions in it were untrue and apologised to the Prime Minister,” he said.

“The apology and acknowledgements were also carried on all other News Limited websites.

“The Prime Minister’s further complaints today were pedantic. While The Australian acknowledged no attempt was made to contact the Prime Minister’s office, comment is rarely if ever sought in relation to opinion pieces. This is a widely understood and accepted practice in journalism.”

New News Panel: Australian Media Leaders Held to Account

Thanks to the Melbourne Press Club for the video of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s New News panel – Australian Media Leaders Held to Account:

Mark Scott (Managing Director, ABC), Greg Hywood (CEO, Fairfax Media) and Sophie Black (Editor, Crikey)

It was my privilege to represent Our Say members who voted for my question and a place on the panel.

A highlight was meeting Maxine McKew who chaired the session in her usual professional and relaxing manner.

And a special thank you to all the Café Whisperers who encouraged and supported me. It was a hoot!

Fairer Funding?

The last few days have provided stories about funding for schools. Firstly we have via the ABC:

The Australian Education Union says private schools are continuing to receive government funding while posting multi-million dollar profits.

The Geelong Grammar School made a $10.7 million profit last year while receiving $4 million of federal funding.

The union also singled out Melbourne’s Scotch College which it says has $70 million in the bank.

Federal president Angelo Gavrielatos says the private school funding system needs to be overhauled, describing it as “totally unacceptable”.

And then in the Sydney Morning Herald:

NSW teachers say they are spending thousands of dollars a year to buy basic classroom items, filling the gap between the Education Department and some parents who fail to equip their children with a pen and an exercise book.

Says Trish McCombie of Cromer Public: “..items such as lead pencils are vital in any classroom. ‘I’ve asked my school office for a box of extra lead pencils for the child who’s run out or whose mum or dad can’t afford it or, sad to say, can’t be bothered. The answer is ‘No, the parents have to provide their own.”

My own experiences as a teacher in the public system have included, having to provide Kleenex tissues, spare knickers, pay for additional reams of paper when the allocated supply ran out, having to pay for art supplies and travelling around cap in hand to local businesses for equipment for the Art Room. Providing textas is the worst because these have a habit of regularly going ‘walkies’.

You also end up with behavioural issues such as teasing and bullying the have-nots by other children – less than sympathetic teachers who demand to know why the child’s parent hasn’t provided XY or Z thereby humiliating the child in front of the class, because of course everyone knows why the child does not have their own and for the reasons stated by teacher Trish McCombie – and of course stealing.

And so where to? On Peter Garrett’s Labor Blog website he describes the current funding situation as “a dog’s breakfast” with this opinion repeated last week again via the SMH :

The School Education Minister, Peter Garrett, has strongly criticised Howard era deals which deliver millions of dollars more to some private schools than they would be entitled to if the federal funding formula was strictly applied.

Under the arrangements introduced by the Howard government in 2001 and continued by the Rudd and Gillard governments, the Commonwealth allocates funding to private schools according to a formula that measures the socio-economic status of a school community.

But because the Coalition promised no school would be worse off under its system, 1075 schools have had their entitlements preserved fully indexed at the levels they received under the previous system. More than half of the nation’s Catholic schools and 17 per cent of independent schools are funded in this way.

The difference in cost between funding schools in this way and funding schools according to the formula is projected to exceed $700 million a year.

In a speech to Lutheran principals this week, Mr Garrett said those arrangements had ”no sound policy basis,” and led to some ”quite extraordinary inequities.”

Minister Garrett has also advised that he federal government has ordered a review of the funding with the report to be provided by the panel before the end of this year. Opposition spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has promised to preserve the current arrangements.


Where does one start in reviewing the week that has just gone. So much has happened. So little has happened. It has been a confusing week.

We have had a story that has been around since 2009 or earlier suddenly become so urgent that Mr. Abbott felt it had to be debated at the first opportunity that parliament sat.

So urgent and important that MP’s could not be spared for a State funeral for one of our icons.

So important, that matters such as jobs being lost in out manufacturing industries because of the two or more speed economy, which is an result of the mineral boom. The other dangers that our economy is facing in no concern of the Opposition. All that is important to them is taking over the government as is their natural birth right.

Mr. Abbott felt that the PM should be present for his stunt, that attending to state business was not an option.

Why should a PM think that greeting visiting heads of another country is more important that his demand that a MP should reply to allegations and innuendo that have been around for three years.

Mr. Abbott felt that the matter was so urgent that all other business of parliament had to be put on hold until he got his answers.

Mr. Abbott suspended the pairing agreement he had made. Nothing was more important than Mr., Abbott getting into parliament, to suspend standing orders so that Mr. Thomson could reply to the allegations that had suddenly become so important. Funerals are no longer considered important. What is important is his right to pull stunts in parliament.

Stunts that have no chance of going anywhere, as he does not have the support or numbers to get them up. All he achieves with his moves to suspend standing orders is to have twenty minutes to rave and rant, before the vote is called, that generally results in the motion been lost.

He went one further on Thursday morning. He attempted to hijack the time that is put aside for private members bills and business. A time that gives all MP a chance to be heard.

Yesterday we had the attempt to spread another allegation that the PM made enquiries re Mr. Thomson. It was very quickly found to be false. In fact the opposite was the case.

The matter was in the public arena at the time. A Opposition Senator had actually raised the matter in 2009 and it was addressed.

Only more proof that the Thomson matter is a beat up, using allegations that have most been in the public arena since at least 2009, and some 2007.

Mr. Abbott no longer believes that the convention that the PM is able to carry out her duties, knowing that the Opposition leader is always paired with her. This Opposition Leader is above that and is a law to himself. He, is you know, not the Opposition leader but the alternative PM.

Conventions, rules and procedures that get in his way to achieving his obsession are given short shift.

He believe he has no responsibility to conform to any standards that prevents him from having his own way immediately. Waiting is not for him, only others. Mr. Abbott expects other to conform to his demands, in spite of the fact of what he demands is unreasonable and does not conform to the rule of the land.

This man continues to say he is standing up for the ethics and standards in our parliament, a man who dumps any that gets in his way.

Mr. Abbott sees our parliament as a star chamber that is above the law of the land. He has jettison all rights that one has under our democracy. He ignores the separation of parliament and the legal system. Mr. Abbott has given himself the power to be policeman, judge and jury. He has gone passed that and believes he has the right to hand out the sentence as well. The right to the presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent is no longer a choice according to Mr. Abbott.

We have Mr. Brandis who sought assistance from the NSW police minister and the NSW DPP. Mr. Brandis was successful in getting the police to act. He was told where to go by the DPP. The approach to the DPP actually breaks the NSW’s law.

It appear that according to Mr. Abbott, the integrity of parliament was at risk.

According to Mr. Abbott and Mr. Pyne, the work of the Federal Government has come to a stand still.

I was going to list all that has occurred in the last few days, but was unable to find a list of the bills passed. Below is the link to the Labor site, listing all the activities they claim to have dealt with this week.

I know, many will discard the information because it comes from those lying and incompetent Laborites. Just a peek may surprise some.

Maybe Mr. Abbott and Mr. Pyne, the second most powerful man in the Coalition are too busy plotting the downfall of PM Gillard and her government, that they have not noticed that the GG has been kept busy this week, giving assent to a further 22 bills. That is now 188 bills, some covering some important things in the twelve months of this government.

It looks like the worse treasurer this country has seen is to be given recognition as the worlds best treasure. An award that was last given in this country to Mr. Keating.

Mr. Abbott claims he is holding the government to account. Where is the evidence for this. If we look at QT, we do not see questions that reflect what is going on in Australia or the important issues that we face.

All we see are questions that are formed to escalate Mr. Abbott’s quest for power. That is if Mr. Abbott allows QT to continue with out moving a motion for the suspension of standing orders. He upped the ante this week to allowing only one question to be asked.

Mr. Abbott is still saying this government has no right to be in power, that it is unable to perform as a government. He continues to say this, when he has not been able to change or stop one single thing in the last twelve months. All his stunts in parliament has failed because of the lack of numbers and support he can tack together.

Mr. Abbott is urging his supporters to demand actions that are impossible and would lead to the GG not abiding by the Constitution. A DD is impossible. An election for the Senate is not possible until at least May 2013. Why does Mr. Abbott continue to mislead his supporters, stirring up anger and giving them the belief they are entitled to an early election.

Why is not Mr. Abbott willing to do what most other Opposition leaders have done, wait for the election that will come in due time.

The biggest freak show this week was the expect invasion of Canberra by the trucking industry. In spite of the urgings coming from the Opposition and the radio jocks, one can only say it was a fizzer. The protest the week before did not fare much better.

As I said it was a confused week. We have the allegations that the PM is under pressure and feeling the heat. Under pressure from what. A beat up in the media and by the Opposition that has no legs and is going nowhere. A PM that has performed in and out of parliament in a very confident manner, taking the fight up to the Opposition. A PM that has this and last week addressed many important issues.

We have a Opposition that is showing signs of frustration and at times is becoming unsettled. The dummy spits are spreading within the party. An example of this was Ms. Mirabella’s angry outburst when pulled up for her language and expelled from the house. Ms. Bishop’s effort during Mr. Abbott’s MPI on the forgotten families was not much better. By the way, the forgotten families did not get a mention until Mr. Hockey’s short response in the last speech. The MPI was an excuse to berate and raise every insult they could think of to hurl at the PM. Many were not true or at least misleading.

What Mr. Abbott has proven this week, he does not have any power in parliament. Except for the ability to move motions for the suspension of standing orders that mostly fail.

I wonder what the next two weeks will bring. Looking forwarded to the next sitting of parliament when is is expect that the rest of the bills on carbon pricing will be introduced. I imagine it will be more beat ups while the government gets on with the business of governing.

Friday on my mind: silly season

Greetings and welcome to our Friday on my mind topic. This particular topic is all to do with rhyme and reason, that is while there might be a good deal of rhyme there is very little reason.

During the week eldest kindly sent me this link. It’s a list of phobias. Do you often get the impression that when people send you links such as Better Sex or Old F*rts that they might be trying to tell you something….

But of course because it’s a friend or a rellie then one feels duly obliged to click onto whatever they’ve forward to you. And so I dutifully complied to discover a number of interesting descriptions.

Alliumphobia– Fear of garlic.

Allodoxaphobia– Fear of opinions.

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia– Fear of the number 666..and I double dare anyone to have a go at pronouncing that one. Do let me know if anyone might be successful and I will organise a special prize, one of Migs’ mouse pads home delivered by either a bevy of nubile maidens or equally nubile pool boys (according to the preference of the recipient).

Pteronophobia- Fear of being tickled by feathers.

Walloonphobia– Fear of the Walloons. The Walloons are apparently a French speaking people who reside in Belgium. Why they rate their own phobia I’m not very certain.

Blennophobia– Fear of slime.

Omphalophobia– Fear of belly buttons.

I can honestly and without fear of contradiction state that I have none of the above phobias, in fact I’m quite keen on belly buttons..however I can own up to the following:

Dentophobia– Fear of dentists and Acrophobia- Fear of heights.

Consider this an open thread for anything which might come to mind.

The Katters

One thing that one can say about Australian politics is that although ‘characters’ aren’t all that common, when we come up with one we have the tendency to come up with some rippers – for good or bad.

On the States and Territories: Bob Katter believes the map should be redrawn to dramatically change the borders of the Northern Territory and Queensland – WA would lose the Kimberley and Broome, which would become part of the NT. Mr Katter suggested that the NT should be renamed the state of North-Western Australia. This idea prompted former WA Labor Attorney-General Jim McGinty to remark, “Bob Katter is as silly as a cut snake.”

On the Murray-Darling: “The Murray-Darling is 21 million megalitres of water. Just one of my rivers in north Queensland has 22 million megalitres of water. So heaven’s sake why are you trying to do the farming where there’s no water.”

On Australian citizenship: Infamously supported National Bob Burgess’s characterisation of the ceremony as “dewogging” by calling Burgess’s critics as “little slanty-eyed idealogues who persecute ordinary average Australians”.

On homosexuality and gay marriage: Katter claimed that he would “…walk to Bourke backwards if the poof population of Kennedy was more than 0.001 per cent”. Katter also voted against the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act, 1994, which decriminalised homosexuality in Tasmania.

“Truly this proposition (marriage equality) deserves to be laughed at and ridiculed. It doesn’t serve any serious treatment,” he said to cheers and thunderous applause.

As has been widely reported Katter’s half brother Carl Katter has offered his own opinions via an interview with George Negus.

Carl said whenever he saw his brother on the news he turned him off, but the comments he had made were “hurtfull.”

“It’s dangerous, it’s damaging and it’s really inappropriate,” Carl said, “[He] doesn’t give any support to his argument by perpetuating hate.”

“He doesn’t seem to represent the whole of his community and he denies the fact that there are a lot of gay people in his community.”

“People may assume that we’ve made some leaps and bounds in terms of equality really but we haven’t.”

“I don’t know how he can target a minority and persecute them in the way he has.”

“His gross generalisations are just inappropriate in today’s society. I can’t believe that I’m actually here in 2011 talking about this.”

When asked by Negus if he planned to get married one day himself, Carl said, “Pretty much like everyone, if the right person comes along and I want to spend the rest of my life with them, I would definitely like to marry them.”

Asked if he would invite Bob to the wedding, he said, “I don’t think he’d come and I have a lot more important people and valuable people in my life that I’d want to involve.”

One cannot help but ponder as to why Bob Katter having a gay brother has so little empathy, surely B. Katter must have seen the homophobia towards his brother while they were growing up. One despairs at people’s attitudes at times.

UPDATE: Link courtesy of Erin. Heathen scripture

If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering with trepidation what will happen when the Gaypocalypse finally strikes. Are fudge-packers, nancy-boys, and pillow-biters all names for the same thing, or do they signify a hierarchy of types and sizes, like orcs? Which are most dangerous? Do bull dykes breed with bull queers? That seems anti-intuitive. And where do the Poohole Pirates come in? Are they like the Men of Harad? What about elephants? Will there be elephants? Will they be pink? Will we be forced to toil in underground sequin mines while Freddy Mercury lashes us with moustachioed falsetto arpeggios? And dear God, why didn’t we listen to Fred Nile?

Carbon Tax: end of the road?

For months now we have been told and specifically by Tony Abbott that once in power he will “ditch” the carbon tax, loudly bleating that he wants a new election. This clearly is not going to happen, and why should it as there is certainly nothing to be gained for anyone – no benefit for the government who needs all the time it can get to enact it’s reforms – no benefit for the Independents who would lose their positions of influence should the LNP form government – not the Greens who as they are fully aware, are unlikely to have any joy in trying to negotiate with an Abbott-led government. And there may indeed be those in the Liberal Party who would like some extra time as well, and Turnbull and Hockey come to mind.

Today an article by Tom Arup looks at a discussion paper by the Australia Institute of possible scenarios as to how a potential Abbott-led government could “ditch” the carbon tax. As a starting point it is highly unlikely that the Greens would negotiate with Abbott to remove the carbon tax. In June Bob Brown stated categorically, in fact a “rolled gold guarantee” that he would protect the carbon tax all the way. Here we are also assuming that the Greens would retain their position in the Senate following a election, my own reasoning being that Australians tend not to want all power to reside with one political party by having control of both houses of parliament.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has said on several occasions he would take the country to a double dissolution poll – sparking a joint sitting of the lower and upper house of Parliament and likely to give the Coalition the numbers needed to dump the tax – if required. The Coalition disputes the institute’s suggestions. The opposition spokesman on climate action, Greg Hunt, said: ”This issue will be resolved well before 2016. Labor will risk its political future if it ignores the will of the people at the election.

However and of course, if Abbott decided to hold yet another election by producing somewhere along the way a DD there again is absolutely no guarantee that this subsequent election would hand Abbott power in the Senate. The Australia Institute on the other hand argues that:

…it could take until 2018 for the Coalition’s direct action policy to fully come into effect and begin reducing emissions, if dumping the carbon tax is held back until 2016.

”As the length of time around the uncertainty [on carbon pricing] grows, so does the cost,” the report says. ”If the Coalition pursues its current commitments to roll back the carbon price this could lead to five or more years of uncertainty followed by more uncertainty on a post-2020 emissions reduction mechanism,” the report says.

A senior economist at the Australia Institute, Matt Grudnoff, said draft carbon price legislation released by Labor had been ”proofed” to ensure the industry’s obligation to pay the carbon tax – due to begin in the middle of next year – cannot be removed without new legislation.

The Coalition would have to work through several years of parliamentary process to build a double dissolution election trigger to dump the carbon tax via a joint-sitting of Parliament and replace it with its direct action climate change policy.”

And Tony Abbott’s response?

Mr Abbott has warned industry not to buy the permits because a Coalition government would not honour them.

No surprises there and probably typical of Abbott’s attitude, in fact it doesn’t take too much of a cynic to ponder the implications of the words “honour” and Tony Abbott in the same sentence.

Update from Australia Network News: A spokeswoman for one of the venues hosting a truck protest in the Australian capital Canberra says only 200 vehicles have arrived when around 3,000 were expected.

Aimee’s Story

It is with a great deal of pride and pleasure that we at the Café present the following article by Debra Freeman Highberger

Photo: Howard Schatz

Aimee started her life as a newborn with no fibulas. Because her tibias would eventually not support her they made an early decision to amputate when she was one years old. I have never met Aimee’s parents but they are always the first people I think of when I think of Aimee. What a wonderful encouraging role models they must have been for her.

Another encouraging factor was her doctor, Dr Pizzutillo from DuPont Institute in Wilmington Delaware, one of the world’s best children’s hospitals. Dr “P” as she refers to him challenged her as a child and helped her see her strong powerful self. He pushed her in ways that connected with Aimee’s natural competitive persona. It can be the presence of one person in a child’s life that can change the road they will take…for Aimee this was Dr “P”. It is because of him Aimee has never seen herself as disabled. This sense of self brought Aimee to compete athletically in high school and college with other “able bodied” athletes. It brought her all the way to the Olympics. When Aimee puts her mind on something she is a force that cannot be stopped. It should also be noted that Aimee is not just another pretty face with athletic abilities. She received a full academic scholarship to Georgetown University in Washington DC. Upon graduation she interned at the Pentagon.

This wonderful and amazing woman I am talking about is Aimee Mullins. Some of you may know her as the first Paralympics’ athlete to run on Carbon Graphite legs; which she did in 1996 in Atlanta. Others may remember her as the beautiful Cheetah in the Cremaster 3 movie by Matthew Barney. She has also been a model for Alexander McQueen the late British fashion designer…Soon the world will know her as the face of L’Oreal Paris in their upcoming promotional ads to be seen around the world in print and on TV. But despite all that she has done what Aimee does best is something that comes quite natural to her. She shows the world that anyone can be whatever they want to be if they are just given the chance. She has personified the notion of finding the opportunity in the face of adversity.

Aimee’s most important job in her life is the advocacy work she does for differently able people. She speaks around the world to the “able bodied” about the importance of seeing ones worth before you see their differences. She has done this for; a lecture series I highly recommend everyone should see. In these lectures she charms the audience with a natural flare of the Aimee I have come to know. She is such a beautiful willow when she walks on stage that one immediately forgets this woman is an amputee. She speaks with such confidence and inspiration that you become captivated by her stories and down to earth sense of the world. But most importantly Aimee makes one look inside one’s self. To evaluate how we see the world of the differently able and treat them accordingly. Soon you begin to question, “Am I being all I can be?” By the time you finish listening to her you want to tell the world what she has said and find a way where you can make a difference…because she certainly has.

Aimee Mullins isn’t who she is because of all she has done….Aimee Mullins has done all she has because of whom she is. Aimee has come to be known for so much but the best role I have seen her in is Aimee. Her spirit is so powerful that long before I knew she was an actress, model, and athlete with no legs…I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to know Aimee for who she really is: as a kind, caring, funny woman. She is the type of woman that other women want to be around. She is as comfortable to be with as your neighbor next door. She is a pleasure to sit and talk with. Like most of my female friends I speak to, we talk about art, life, relationships, and children. In the underlining tone of these conversations with Aimee is the definition that all human beings are created equal…it is how the public treats them that is disabling. To learn more about this extraordinary woman check out: Aimee Mullins

**A special note of appreciation goes to Aimee who provided permission for Debra to write this story for the Café.

Fortescue: Indigenous concerns

Accusations are being levelled at Fortescue Metals that the company is failing its Indigenous trainees after some of them have had to sleep rough because of a lack of accommodation. In spite of having met the joint target of 50,000 new Aboriginal jobs, many are finding that pay and conditions for them are far from what was promised.

Twiggy has often boasted that many Indigenous people are employed by his company but the truth of the matter is that this is often in low skilled jobs such as cleaners and kitchen hands and it would appear from recent reports that even when employed via a traineeship that Indigenous conditions are far worse than that for white employees – this includes being employed on a fly in/fly out basis.

Reported is: “They don’t have the financial capacity to fly out. They haven’t been given return flights to their home and the community is now starting to try and raise them funds.”

In addition, Indigenous trainees are staying on training wages for two years or more and are not being provided with adequate skills. Fortescue’s sole response at present is that the trainees were told they would need to make their own travel arrangements and that most training courses pay no wages at all. Oh really? Trainees paid no wages whatsoever and for two or more years.

Meanwhile: Twiggy Forrest’s racial slur has been referred to the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission: this being a consequence of a statement made by Forrest on ABC’s Four Corners that “little girls” are approaching men in Roebourne late at night and offering sexual services in exchange for the “cost of a cigarette”.

Pansy Sambo, one of the women taking the complaint to the HREOC said:

“What he said makes shame for our girls. How can they stand up in their schools in Karratha and Wickham and in the wider community? How can they be strong in their sporting teams when they play with other teams?” she said.

“How do they feel about themselves and what future can they have when everyone thinks they sell themselves for cigarettes?

“We want an apology for his slander of our community.” The women’s statement to the HREOC reads: “This is a vilification of a racist kind that stirs up a bad reputation and hatred of our people.”

Is it but a coincidence that Forrest’s comment came in the midst of a dispute with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation over Fortescue’s rights to mine iron ore on their traditional lands.

The company estimates that over the next 40 years it could extract 2.4 billion tonnes of ore worth $280 billion, based on current prices. And while Fortescue Metals has offered the landowners a $500,000 signing fee and a capped amount of $4 million a year in cash, plus up to $6.5 million a year in staff housing, jobs, training and business opportunities, YAC head Michael Woodley has argued that if the community accepts the deal they will be “selling their soul to the devil”.