Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Senate primaries

Australian Labor supporters are a complaining lot (a good thing), and perhaps Kim Beazley's so-so approval ratings reflect belief among many Labor partisans that he is too close to the Howard government on 'security' issues. Interesting to see that Connecticut Democrat senator Joe Liebermann is being challenged in the Democratic primary on the grounds he is too close to the Bush administration, particularly on the Iraq war. His challenger's ability to raise funds is seen as a triumph for bloggers, fitting a narrative that pits progressive internet insurgents vs. party centrists. However would Liebermann’s defeat endanger the Democrat hold on the seat, especially given he has dropped hints about running as an independent? Says one report:
Sharon Palmer admits to being a "left-wing, liberal Democrat. And I'm proud of that. But I'm also practical," she said Sunday. "And that's what I am weighing." Palmer, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, is one of a number of delegates to this year's state Democratic convention who remains undecided on whether to support Democratic U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman's re-election bid.
Meanwhile in Rhode Island Republican moderate Lincoln Chafee is under attack from conservatives in the Primary:
The GOP senator had appeared the previous night before the Scituate Republican Town Committee to seek the endorsement of the small but influential group. In his halting, soft-spoken way, Chafee defended his opposition to the war in Iraq, domestic wiretapping and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. as the principled positions of an old-school conservative. Chafee, 53, once could count on voters in Rhode Island to tolerate his maverick ways, but this time the response was blank stares. "Nobody listened to my reasoning," Chafee recounted as he piled hay into a wheelbarrow. "They support the president on everything.
A list of primary dates is here. The degree of public participation they encourage does look good compared to the closed-shop of ALP preselections or the Liberals.

Monday, April 24, 2006

American soldiers

Interesting article by Michael Parenti in The Nation on American soldiers:
If veterans are supposed to be at the heart of the peace movement, then it would serve progressives to understand this new military culture. Understanding the world of the military is also important because it is a major force in the socialization of young working-class Americans. If you're 20 or 22 and you're not doing what many rich kids do (like a career-boosting summer internship in New York) or doing what some truly poor kids do (like going to state prison on drug charges), chances are you're learning about responsibility and adulthood, and escaping small-town or inner-city America, courtesy of the US armed forces. One of the key lessons you'll learn there is: Look out for your comrades, because they're looking out for you...We hear often about the "economic draft"--the financial pressures that force young people to join the military. But there is also what could be called an "alienation draft" or, conversely, a "solidarity draft." The military offers not only jobs but also a type of belonging. "The military is like family, for a lot of people," says one vet. In many ways, the US military is a uniquely straightforward institution. Unlike society as a whole, it doesn't pretend to be a democracy--it's a hierarchy and makes no bones about that, but as such, it contains checks and balances, an appeals process and clear paths forward for promotion.
Interesting to consider in the context of militarist concepts of socialism, famously represented by Looking Backward and the continuing Latin American phenomenon of the populist military leader.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Indian 'New Communists"

Elections have commenced in the Indian state of West Bengal with a population of over 80 million ruled by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its allies, known as the 'Left Front' since 1977 The BJP are talking up their chances. Not aware of any polls but the BBC and Pakistan Daily Times anticipates a Communist victory, and a strong Communist performance in local elections last year supports this. Critics of the Communists have alleged that their past victories have been based on roll-stuffing and have welcomed the involvement of the federal Electoral Commission in the poll. The Communists have received sympathetic academic coverage for their record of land reform, but perhaps as The Economist suggests they have not escaped the dilemmas of the left elsewhere:
Communist rule seems solid for a while, even if it is harder to discern what that means, now that Mr Bhattacharjee has embraced many of the tenets of India's economic reformers. His definition of communism is minimalist: “We say that capitalism cannot be the last chapter of human civilisation”. In the meantime, it seems, his government, like China's, is keen to appeal to the capitalists.
Perhaps the comments of a Communist leader after the local elections point to a 'new communist' approach to seeking electoral support:
"It is a grand victory. The results prove that the urban middle class trusts us. We congratulate the voters."

Polls close on 8 May and are counted on 11 May.

American elections

Democrat prospects rising steadily for the US congressional elections (which has downside of providing an incentive for invasion of Iran). Some works such as Off Center argue that gerrymandering, low turnout and political polarisation has made fewer and fewer congressional seats marginal. But if the Republicans are drawing boundaries to create more Republican seats this means that they are spreading their vote more thinly. When a party does poorly partisan gerrymanders are counter-productive as they reduce the number of safe seats. Electoral manipulation in Australia has not been gerrymandering but rather zonal systems that inflate the value of votes. I can't see why a swing against the Republicans should be restricted to Democrat held seats. Thus election looks encouraging. However Senate is more difficult as here there is a pro-Republican 'zonal' bias: two senators each for Wyoming and California.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Liberalism at war

Catherine Cusack the 'wet' NSW Liberal upper house MP makes the interesting admission that at age 19 she addressed the NSW Young Liberal council supporting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds of the poor treatment of women in Islamic states. A lesson here about naive enthusiasms applicable to the Iraq war I suspect

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Eyes on the ground

In an example of American budgetary priorities NASA has put on hold work on the Terrestrial Planet Finder a proposed space-based observatory that would be able to locate earth-sized planets around other solar systems and the presence (or not) of materials on these planets indicating life, such as methane. Via NASA Watch. Will future generations judge ours as the equivalent of the Chinese who after the great voyages of the 15th century turned back and inward?

Peruvian elections

Ollanta Humal, a left populist ex-military officer seems to be leading in polls for the upcoming Peruvian presidential election on April 9. There is good coverage of the poll here. Humal apparently looks back to the populist military regime that seized power in 1968 and left office in 1980, well described in The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered. This book is not encouraging unfortunately, there was a significant land reform program but overall the distribution of income did not change and on some indicators caloric intake and health statistics the poor were worse off in 1980 than 1968. Crucial here were poor economic outcomes.
In light of debates about the viability of democracy in Iraq this is an interesting comment on Peruvian attitudes:
According to a United Nations Development Program survey released last week, only 18 percent of the more than 11,000 urban and rural Peruvians interviewed said they lived in a democracy. Thirteen percent said they would never live in one, and nearly the same amount considered an authoritarian government preferable. Two out of three blamed politicians for ruining democracy and more than three out of five said they did not care about democracy or knew how to define it.
More on the survey here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Classical liberals and individual freedom

I have put on my University page a paper on 'Classical liberalism and social conservatism: neo-liberals and social conservatism'. This paper was delivered at the March conference; 'Relaxed and comfortable: challenging John Howard's Australia'. It poses questions rather than answers but will be the basis of a longer work that seeks to explain why supporters of the 'free market' are usually socially conservative.

True Australian heroes

Read David Peetz's excellent Brave New Workplace on individual contracts and the government's war on collective bargaining. Peetz starts by describing how union activists at one Queensland mine were taken off duties and assigned to pull out weeds in the hot Queensland sun with a hand-held hoe rather than the skilled jobs they used to do. If we are looking for heroes in Australia we should start here with workers sticking by their mates. For more info see here. Striking that the nineteenth century thinker who is mentioned in a 2006 book on industrial relations is not Marx but Peter Kropotkin, a sign of the times.

Political blogs

Blogs are according to the NY Times revolutionising US politics. Off Center provides a good description of this role in 2004 when they helped John Kerry almost match Bush in funding, but in the US context they are becoming much more; now functioning as a means of candidates communicating directly to voters:
In 2004, John Edwards, a former Democratic senator from North Carolina and his party's vice presidential candidate, spent much of his time talking to voters in living rooms in New Hampshire and Iowa; now he is putting aside hours every week to videotape responses to videotaped questions, the entire exchange posted on his blog.
For John Edwards see here (love 'for all of us' slogan, worked for John Howard). Edwards 2004 theme of Bush's war on work very relevant to the current preoccupation in Australia with 'wealth maxmisation' rather than work.
American-inspired Australian equivalent is GetUp! which trades on the ability of Howard, like Bush, to mobilise opposition. Can this be more in Australia: a means of actually informing the direction of an alternative Australian government? This will be harder in Australia than in US given inward and closed nature of the ALP. LaborFirst is inward looking, a predictable collection of demands for Labor to do this or that.