Thursday, March 30, 2006

War is peace?

Some media comment on the Israeli elections result has presented the victory of Kadima as an advance for peace. Kadimas vision of the west bank is as per map here from the BBC. This hardly looks a viable state, not withstanding American endorsement. Jonathon Hari is right again (as he was earlier):
Ehud Olmert is committed to withdrawing from a few useless over-populated scraps of Palestinian land, and illegally annexing the rest to
Israel forever. This is not a plan for peace but a plan for permanent theft of territory acquired (and forcibly settled) by war. It consigns the only real route to peace – a return to the 1967 borders, and compensation for the Palestinian refuges – to the dustbin of history. Rest in pieces, Palestine.
These are the 'immutable realities' that Colin Rubinstein evokes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

One cheer for Tony?

Tony Blair says:
We must not hesitate in the face of a battle utterly decisive in whether the values we believe in, triumph or fail. Here are Iraqi and Afghan Muslims saying clearly: democracy is as much our right as yours; and in embracing it, showing that they too want a society in which people of different cultures and faith can live together in peace. This struggle is our struggle.
But to survive a democratic government has to be defended by local democrats. If a majority of the population are not willing to fight to defend democracy against a dictatorial minority foreign troops can't help them. A democratic government is more than elections it has to be sovereign, if free elections was the only criteria Germany was the most democratic major combatant in World War I.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Adventures in globalisation

Interesting article in NY Times on the struggles of Asian guest workers in Dubai. It says:
Far from the high-rise towers and luxury hotels emblematic of Dubai, the workers turning this swath of desert into a modern metropolis live in a Dickensian world of cramped labor camps, low pay and increasing desperation.
But they are fighting back agaisnt this.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Watch on the right

Strange musings in the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. One on Republican congressional strategy; mobilise the base on Iraq, tax cuts and the evils of cloning (I thought neo-conservatives were once supposed to be supposed to be secularists? That was a very long time ago). Article exemplifies Republican strategy outlined in the excellent Off Center I am currently reading, no thought as to the consequences of current strategy in Iraq or the budgetary position, but that would be policy rather than politics. A curious article on how feminists are in league with banks, objectively speaking against the traditional family. It is by Allen Carlson who is prone to this pseudo-populist talk. Still good to get an admission that:

Consider, to take one recent instance, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, enacted last year, after a long delay, with support from congressional Republicans. A controversial clause that would have prevented abortion protesters from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines had stalled the measure. After the Senate rejected this provision, GOP leaders drove the bill through both houses of Congress and gained an enthusiastic signature from President George W. Bush. In a nutshell, the new law makes a "clean start" after filing for bankruptcy much more difficult for families with at least one wage earner. Instead, most affected households will find themselves essentially indentured to a bank or credit card bureau, paying off their debt for years to come. "A new form of feudalism," one critic calls it.
The rhetoric 'the base' is now central to Republican strategy as National Review demonstrates:
Conservatives scratched their heads in confusion last month when Republican senator Jim Talent withdrew his support of a bill to ban cloning — he is a pro-lifer, but appears to have trimmed his sails in response to a well-funded a state ballot initiative that seeks to legalize cloning. Talent now may need to repair ties to his base, because he definitely will need overwhelming conservative support if he's going to beat back a challenge from Claire McCaskill, the 2004 Democratic candidate for governor.
An example of how in the context of low turnout opposing something is popular can be a winner as Off Center shows.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The truth about the Crusades

The Australian has published my letter on the Crusades. Text below:
How can Justine Ferrari (Inquirer, 18-19/3) discuss the Crusades without mentioning the massacres of Jews by Christians that occurred? She also ignores the attacks by the Catholic Crusaders on Orthodox Christians that culminated in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. Pope John Paul II apologised in 2001 for this shameful act.

Election comments

Interesting comments by Paul Lennon on election night:
Mr Lennon said he was determined to do more to promote Aboriginal reconciliation in Tasmania and that addressing and correcting the tragedy of the "Stolen Generation" of Aboriginal children removed from their families was his first priority. "It is the first area where we can do something tangible, which will also show how far Tasmania has come since it was the butt of jokes in Sydney and Melbourne," he said. "What happened here in our early European history was a disgraceful episode which needs to be put to rest for once and for all -- the wrongs to the Aboriginal community continued on well into the 20th century, and this issue has to be resolved."
At least someone in Australian politics is still talking about this. Along with policy initiatives on same-sex relationships, even if they should go further, this is evidence that being socially progressive doesn't alienate 'traditional Labor voters', threats to their jobs do. Three Tasmanian Labor majorities under a PR system with 5 seats per electorate suggest that Labor has a chance of securing a Legislative Council majority in Victoria this year.
In South Australia I thought there would be a swing in Frome after Kerin did so well last time, and I note a retiring Labor MLC says Labor could have done more in Frome. I doubt Kerin could have been defeated however but the Liberals will be glad he is not retiring. Bad news for the Democrats unfortunately, but the vote for Nick Xenophon shows the power of a personality and perhaps Natasha Stott-Despoja can pull off the same feat. The DLP used to be good at marketing its individual Senators: put Gair there.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Impeaching Bush?

Good post from Marc Cooper on the dumbness of this idea when the priority should be getting a Democrat majority in Congress. So reminiscent of how the Republicans became obsessed by impeaching Clinton and so lost Congressional ground in 1998. Same goes for the obsession with Howard in Australia.

Don Dunstan spinning?

Media comments have focused on Tasmanian Labor’s anti-Green campaign. No surprises here but more noteworthy is that SA Labor’s Legislative Council preferences go to Families First ahead of the Democrats. What would Don Dunstan think of this? South Australia is the Democrat's last hope of stopping their collapse, if they held on, and even more if Families First failed it might be a new beginning, at least it would attract media attention. Does Labor really think it is beneficial to have Familles First as the repository of the centre protest vote rather than the Democrats? As I predicted fear of minority government has induced a late rally to Labor in Tasmania. If Michelle O'Byrne wins there will be some good news, as she provided some cheer in 2001.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Clinton, Latham and popular culture

So-so piece in the NY Times on the Democrats' congressional prospects pushing a centrist line (much as the media does for Labor party here). Thus:

The party's more conservative members speak of the need for an "additive politics" that appeals explicitly to middle-class voters. Will Marshall, the head of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist research group, says that rather than constantly conjuring the image of families hanging on by their fingernails — the party's urban, industrial base — the Democrats need "a message that speaks to the aspirations of middle-class Americans." Nor can they simply "empathize" with the challenge of raising a moral child in an ambiguous world; they need to take on the record labels and entertainment companies whom the party depends on for financing. And they need to overcome voters' deep skepticism on the whole range of post-9/11 issues. Right now, says Marshall, "the country is mostly hearing that the party wants to get out of Iraq fast." It's a persuasive argument. But there's one question that Marshall and like-minded folk cannot convincingly answer: How do you harness the passion of your followers with a chastened politics that rebukes many of their convictions? How can you be "authentic" and "genuine" outside the confines of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party? You can't, unless you're as brilliant as Bill Clinton.

Like or loath Clinton it is an accurate observation. Mark Latham tried to do the same, but failed completely. As however for the argument on the evils of popular culture I agree with John Powers (and note Australian right is now making the same argument as their American colleagues):
For the last 30 years, the right’s been having fun — Lee Atwater playing the blues, Rush Limbaugh giving that strangulated laugh, The Weekly Standard running those mocking covers — while the left has been good for you, like eating a big, dry bowl of muesli. This isn’t simply because leftists can be humorless (a quality shared with righteous evangelicals), but because, over the years, they’ve gone from being associated with free love and rock & roll to seeming like yuppified puritans; hence the Gore-Lieberman ticket talked about censoring video games and brainy leftist Thomas Frank tirelessly debunks the pleasure of those who buy anything Cool or find Madonna meaningful. (Clinton was an exception — he enjoyed a Big Mac and an intern as much as the hero of a beer commercial — and he was the one Democrat in recent years that most average Americans really liked.)
Of course the argument about young voters flocking to Howard is false but that is no reason to give it any life.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Democrat dilemmas

Some interesting discussion in US about whether the Democrats need a unifying theme for this year's congressional elections, or whether it is enough to rely on the growing disaffection with Bush, the model debated is the 1994 Republican's 'contract with America'. US politics is quite different as the 2006 elections are midterm elections under a presidential system (although Austral used to halve separate half-senate elections the last in 1970). But the debate reminds me of the issue of whether Labor could rely on disaffection with Howard to win, the consensus now seems to be this was the wrong strategy. An argument against the unifying appeal is here and here, and for it here. The issue is more than 2006; without a coherent policy platform what hope that much will come from a Democrat presidency as progressive legislation would be bogged down in the House, even if there was a nominal Democrat majority? Running against Bush establishes a mandate for nothing.

Fractions and factions

Moving house and the first weeks of term have preoccupied me. But some comments on the Labor preselection flap in which Simon Crean survived a challenge seem appropriate. I have no problem with challenging sitting MPs, one problem in the ALP is the 'sitting members' union'. In 1977 Simon Crean was a young up and comer, like Martin Pakula, who was surprisingly defeated for Labor preselection in his father's seat of Melbourne Ports. he then had to wait 13 years, fitting in the ACTU presidency along the way. At last they had a ballot in Hotham whereas in Western Province Pakula's ally Jala Pulford is to be imposed without a ballot. What is noteworthy is the emergence of a new generation in Labor Unity of activists all who began their careers in the late 1980s, those around Melbourne University were involved in student politics whereas the Monash group such as Shorten and Pakula were not. For a time they even had two separate sub factions of the right in Young Labor but now there seems to be a firm generational alliance, and the triviality and viciousness of student politics encourages a 'winner take all' style. The fact that student organisations for so long could rely on compulsory membership encouraged an indifference to the task of winning support, it is much easier to control a student organisation where electoral participation is low, ditto with the ALP. Julia Gillard has a point when she says:
Indeed, we are no longer talking about factionalism, we are talking about fractionalism: a party in which almost anyone with a pocket full of votes, often procured in dubious circumstances, believes it is their right to demand something from the party in return.
This reminds me of the debate on the relation between wages bargaining structure and economic efficiency. Calmfors and Driffell, in '“Bargaining structure, corporatism, and macroeconomic. performance,” drawing on the work of Mancur Olson, argued that the best options for macroeconomic stability. were either complete centralisation or complete decentralisation. At the moment factionalism seems to provide neither. The equivalent of decentralisation would no factions, the equivalent of centralisation would be an end to 'fractions' but this would require democracy within factions as a minimum condition. It is clear that Labor Unity today operates on a winner-take-all basis. Fractionalism thrives on low turnout where voters are reduced from the thousands or at least hundreds of party members to the handful of administrative committee and the national executive. Why not rank and file preselection of Senators?