Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Conservatives in conclave

Interesting NY Times article on the Council for a National Policy, a secretive meeting venue of prominent American conservatives, where some Republican contenders for the nomination spoke (the Council does not have a website but speeches delivered to it are here). The mission of the Council seems to be to keep the conservative coalition together, although its founder Tim La Haye is a thoroughgoing fundamentalist. Says one speaker, former Reagan energy secretary Don Hodel:
What is important to me is that neither economic nor social conservatives can hope to elect candidates without the substantial support of the other. And, in addition, we have to deal with the fact that within the Republican Party there is a liberal faction which though smaller than either the economic conservative or social conservative blocs. This liberal faction can be the swing votes in Congress and among the electorate in some states, and, therefore, this troublesome faction has disproportionate influence on our policies. Be all that as it may, I am distressed by the apparent and seemingly growing hostility between conservatives. Most recently I have learned of campaigns where the leaders of the party have reacted strongly against a campaign because it chose to raise the issues of life and marriage. In mid-September someone I admire and consider to be a strong and wise economic conservative, Dick Armey, wrote an op-ed piece in the WSJ in which he was critical by name of Christian conservatives in a way which can only offend and upset them. We do not need to drive wedges between us if we are seeking to prevent the Left from capturing the government.

The NY Times report is particularly interesting for its suggestion that the perceived challenge of radical Islam preoccupies its members as much as their moral and economic concerns. The comment of CNP member Grover Norquist is revealing:
Mr. Norquist said he remained open to any of the three candidates who spoke to the council or to Mr. Romney. He argued that with the right promises, any of the four could redeem themselves in the eyes of the conservative movement despite their past records, just as some high school students take abstinence pledges even after having had sex. “It’s called secondary virginity,” Mr. Norquist said. “It is a big movement in high school and also available for politicians.”
This is an example of how Giuliani could make himself acceptable to the right perhaps, even if some members of the CNP would continue to oppose him.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Terrified of Teddy?

Explanations for John McCain's unpopularity with much of the conservative base of the Republican Party, despite his best efforts to ingratiate himself with them, for which he is justly criticised by liberals, tend to focus on his past quarrels with George W Bush and his support for campaign finance reform. But how much reflects dislike of his political hero Teddy Roosevelt? He is regarded with hostility by conservatives as a standard bearer of progressivism and big government; see the book denouncing him here and a more thoughtful critique here. Martin Sklar and Gary Gerstle in unusual senses try to reclaim aspects of TR's legacy for the left, although the racism and imperialism certainly makes this difficult. Another interpretation might see TR's themes as appealing to the elusive centre:
To the extent that his ideology survived in the following decades—and in many respects it did not—it was in the "liberal Republicanism" of Thomas Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller. These Republicans were internationalist where their party's "Old Guard" was isolationist, supportive of the welfare state while the right denounced "creeping socialism," and confident in the rule of enlightened elites even as their more populist party-mates denounced the effete, striped-pants liberals of the New Deal….Given how much things have changed, this makes sense. Calls for moral renewal and the strenuous life no longer go hand in hand with demands for an active regulatory state. The few souls in our pro-market culture who still denounce "malefactors of great wealth" certainly don't champion the "Americanization" of hordes of immigrants. Conservative Progressivism has become an oxymoron. ..Yet the alignment of the political parties along ideological lines has also created a bloc of independent voters who aren't thrilled with either party's platform. Ross Perot and John McCain supporters and other "disaffected" voters dislike both the Republicans' coziness with big business and the Democrats' lack of mettle. One reason for all the TR talk, then, is a wish to reach this independent center, once occupied in part by liberal Republicans, by appropriating Roosevelt's willingness to stand up today's too-powerful trusts while adopting a muscular language of virtue. Those who can pull off this trick in the coming months and years may win more than the battle for TR's legacy. They may get themselves elected.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Wisdom from Keynes and Menzies

Just finished reading Robert Skidelsky's Keynes biography. Even I found the last volume heavy going and it gives the impression of running out of steam towards the end. Still it is a very impressive piece of work. It does show that Keynes was not as left-wing as many claimed in particular explaining the 'socialisation of investment phrase'. His interpretation reminds me of Martin Sklar's depiction of the modern American corporation as a form of socialism, perhaps in the sense that Marx might have intended it. The Australian left has been much too prone to yoke Keynes to their banner of populist underconsumptionism. Could we again see an intellectual’s intellectual such as Keynes playing such a role today I doubt it very much? One aspect that the last volume touches on is the controversy among the allies towards the end of World War II about the plan of US Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau to de-industrialise Germany after defeat, the prospect of the German people being reduced to starving peasants and the possible deportation of the 'surplus' population was seen as a justifiable punishment and protection against another war. More on the plan here. The absurdity and inhumanity of it was protested by Keynes and others and it did not come to pass. I was reminded of a speech by Menzies in 1944 in which with the boldness of an opposition backbencher he said that post-war:
we should work not only for our own prosperity and that of allies of our allies, but for a prosperous Germany and a prosperous Japan. This - which would appear the very ecstasy of sentimental folly to the unthinking - is, of course, no more than another illustration of enlightened self-interest.
Difficult to imagine our current know-nothing conservatives adopting a similar approach. Unfortunately wars are usually the occasional for grim and joyless intellectual holidays as W. K. Hancock noted in one of the greatest books ever written by an Australian; Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs.
Skidelsky an interesting figure who followed the road of some of his generation from left to right, although never as far from one side to the other and is now a Lords crossbencher. I admire his attempt to cross disciplinary boundaries. Some interesting reflections in his retirement speech:
history does, in a different way, just what economics does: it offers a standard by which to judge contemporary arrangements, only this standard is set in the past, not the future, and consists of facts not models. I came to believe that not only did they do things differently in the past, but often better. But this liberating touch is also a trap. Historians are inevitably disposed to view the present as a repetition of the past, and thus to the view that the past can never be overcome.. It was Gibbon who said that history is nothing but a record of the ‘crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind’. This was admittedly written before our civilisation had acquired a strong sense of Progress. No historian today would say that we are condemned to repeat the past, certainly not in any simple sense. They would acknowledge that we have areas of freedom to make our own history. But the historian’s tendency is still to believe that this freedom exists within the confines of what has already happened...History is the most deficient of all social studies in the art of invention, because its ideas are all backward-looking. And though history is very important as a brake on folly in rulers-Communism wrecked the societies it ruled by its claim to be able to transcend history –it does not, as I thought at the age of eight, ‘explain the whole thing’.


Community Development Employment Program

The federal government has flagged the abolition of the Community Development Employment Program, the 'work for the dole' indigenous employment program, in regions where unemployment is below 7%. There is little attention to the existence of substantial discrimination against indigenous job seekers, even when education is taken into account. An analysis of the 2001 census data by Boyd Hunter: Indigenous Australians in the Contemporary Labour Market revealed this. He argues that the key to entering the mainstream labour market is education and an effective response to the discrimination problem. The later is not adequately addressed by the individual complaints focus of current anti-discrimination legislation. The problem with CDEP is that it may act as a disincentive to education.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Religion at work

A depressing story from the BBC about proposed antigay legislation in Nigeria that would impose five-year sentence for anyone convicted of being openly gay or practising gay sex. It is supported by Christian and Muslim organisations. More on it here. Would be interesting to see how our Christian conservatives would respond.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ecologically Sustainable Development

One of the benefits of a historical approach is that you realise there is nothing new under the sun. In 1992 all Australian governments adopted the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development which is still there on the Department of Environment and Heritage site. This is supposed to underpin national policy, but on a Factiva search it doesn't seem to have been mentioned by anyone recently. As Elim Papadakis points out in Politics and the Environment it was an attempt to ster an alternative both to the doomsayers and the cornucopians. The Strategy says:

The Goal is:

Development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends.

The Core Objectives are:

  • to enhance individual and community well-being and welfare by following a path of economic development that safeguards the welfare of future generations
  • to provide for equity within and between generations
  • to protect biological diversity and maintain essential ecological processes and life-support systems

The Guiding Principles are:

  • decision making processes should effectively integrate both long and short-term economic, environmental, social and equity considerations
  • where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • the global dimension of environmental impacts of actions and policies should be recognised and considered
  • the need to develop a strong, growing and diversified economy which can enhance the capacity for environmental protection should be recognised
  • the need to maintain and enhance international competitiveness in an environmentally sound manner should be recognised
  • cost effective and flexible policy instruments should be adopted, such as improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms
  • decisions and actions should provide for broad community involvement on issues which affect them

This seems a good starting point for current policy.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Phoenix falling

Interesting article in the NY Times about the woes of the University of Phoenix the enormous American on-line private University hyped by some in Australia as the future of higher education:
According to federal statistics and government audits, the university relies more on part-time instructors than all but a few other postsecondary institutions, and its accelerated academic schedule races students through course work in about half the time of traditional universities. The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower. But many students say they have had infuriating experiences at the university before dropping out, contributing to the poor graduation rate. In recent interviews, current and former students in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington who studied at University of Phoenix campuses in those states or online complained of instructional shortcuts, unqualified professors and recruiting abuses. Many of their comments echoed experiences reported by thousands of other students on consumer Web sites...The complaints have built through months of turmoil. The president resigned, as did the chief executive and other top officers at the Apollo Group, the university’s parent corporation. A federal court reinstated a lawsuit accusing the university of fraudulently obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. The university denies wrongdoing. Apollo stock fell so far that in November, CNBC featured it on a “Biggest Losers” segment. The stock has since gained back some ground. In November, the Intel Corporation excluded the university from its tuition reimbursement program, saying it lacked top-notch accreditation.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Green discourtesy

Bob Brown and the national Greens’ call for a cessation of coal exports can be seen as an attempt to establish a clear Green position separate from Labor on environmental policy. Perhaps it reflects a frustration with the Greens failure to increase their vote in recent polls despite the high profile of environmental debates. But it also indicates the strength within the Green federal leadership of an ecological politics rather than the more leftist current associated with some of their recent recruits. It also shows a disdain for the CFMEU mining division, whose members have been under sustained attack by employers and the Coalition for over a decade. Here's a union that has avoided the workerist posing of the Forestry division and advocated engagement with environmental debates. As it said in November:
The CFMEU has been involved in the climate change issue since 1990, when it led Australian union involvement in the Federal Government's Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Groups. In 1992 it wrote one of the first union publications on climate change (anywhere in the world) for the Australian Council of Trade Unions: The Greenhouse Effect; employment and development issues for Australians. Also in 1992 the CFMEU represented Australian unions at the UN Earth Summit where the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. The CFMEU was also present as part of an international union contingent in Kyoto in 1997 when the Kyoto protocol to the UNFCCC was adopted. The CFMEU did not "oppose Kyoto" (and never has). It has argued for social justice to be a key consideration in the development of climate change responses. In 2001 the CFMEU co-wrote the climate change policy of the international union of workers in the mining and energy industries - the ICEM...With the launch of the new climate change position paper the CFMEU renews its call for all stakeholders to work together to address the threat to humanity and the environment that is posed by global warming.
It seems the Greens aren't interested in getting the votes of working-class people whether they are being bashed by employers and the Coalition, as with the miners, or being let down by the dire performance of state Labor governments.


Lessons from Aceh and Serbia

Irwandi Yusuf, a former leader of the Free Aceh movement has been sworn in as governor after the elections of last year. The Ache government site is here. The settlement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh movement was the only positive outcome linked to the tsunami, as the international aid program forced greater scrutiny on the region. From conversations with some involved in the peace process it is interesting that although the Indonesian government imposed Sharia law on the province, in an effort to appeal to presumed local sentiment, the overtly Islamist parties actually polled poorly. Interesting BBC profile on the Serbian Radical party and its efforts to distance itself from its past of ultra-nationalism and ethnic cleansing. The Radicals managed 28.6% of the vote at the January 2007 elections. But note that Milosevic’s old party the Serbian Socialists are now done to 5.6% perilously close to falling below the 5% threshold for parliamentary membership. They were a conspicuous example of a post-Communist party going down the road of xenophobia and 'national socialism' rather than turning to social democracy, although the party now claims to be social democratic. In the long run not a winning formula, its vote was 41.6% at the first free elections in 1990. The Radicals' campaign appealed more to economic themes:

The SRS has also made social security and the economy, not Greater Serbia, the focus of their campaign, promising new jobs, a crackdown on corruption, support for agriculture, reform of pensions, the renationalisation of commercial banks and a shake-up of the judiciary. In the party's economic programme, voters can learn that the party supports "brownfield investments as well as small and middle-sized companies and a relaxed monetary policy, which would lead to lower rates". As one Belgrade observer remarked, "Every day they sound more like Social Democrats than the Radicals."

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rudy Giulinai: the American Phillip Ruddock?

Australians will remember the transformation of Phillip Ruddock from Liberal 'wet' to the hero of the Tampa, perhaps Giulani is similar. Giuliani 's entry into the race poses challenges for the left. Up to now their focus has been McCain, with ears pricked for any hint of bipartisanship they complain about the sympathetic coverage he has attracted at times from more centrist liberals. However in the polls (limited in meaning as they are this early out) Giuliani and McCain are the Republicans with the best prospect of victory, see the graphs here. If 2008 is a simple Democratic vs. Republican contest the Democrats win, they lose if it becomes a liberal vs. conservative contest (which seems unlikely) or if the Republican candidate has a special non-partisanship appeal than the Republicans can win. Giuliani has to market himself as an election-winner. Glenn Greenwald argues that many Republicans conservatives are more concerned with foreign policy and an anti-Muslim crusade than personal moral standards and:
Giuliani's talent for expressing prosecutor-like righteous anger towards "bad people" -- as well as his well-honed ability to communicate base-pleasing rhetoric towards Islamic extremists -- are underappreciated. I don't think any candidate will be able to compete with his ability to convey a genuine hard-line against Middle Eastern Muslims ...there are few things that are clearer than the fact that Christian conservatives care far less about a person's actual conduct and behavior (and specifically whether it comports to claimed Christian morality standards) than they do about the person's moral and political rhetoric, and even more so, a person's ability to secure political power....there are, of course, some Christian Republican voters who will not vote for Giuliani exclusively because of his position on social issues. But the influence of those type of voters -- single-minded social issues voters -- is often overstated. There is a reason he is leading in most Republican public opinion polls. A significant part of the Republican "base" cares more, perhaps far more, about hawkish Middle East policies than about gay marriage and abortion. They are still looking for their Churchillian hero, and Giuliani's crime-busting, 9/11-hero-posturing, prosecutorial toughness (staring down mafia leaders, terrorists and Wall St. criminals) makes him the most credible authoritarian Leader figure in the field. There is often a view of the "evangelical Republican" voter that is more monolithic than is warranted; they crave "strong" authoritarian leaders as much as they crave anything else.
It is true that 'official' spokespeople for the Chritistian right, such as the Family Research Council, don't like Giuliani. But for many conservatives it is their dislike of 'liberals' not even liberalism that is central. A writer in the ultra-conservative Human Events suggests that:

A liberal on key social issues may not have been able to win in previous years. But this may just be the right year for such a candidate to win, provided that candidate has sufficiently strong conservative credentials in other critical areas. First, the role of Republican primary voters who vote primarily on social issues is somewhat overstated. .. According to a 2006 Pew poll, white evangelicals make up about a third of the overall Republican electorate. In 2000 they only made up 20% of the vote in the critical New Hampshire primary, where a majority of voters thought abortion should be legal (although Independents can vote in this primary). In fact, an exit poll question from Pew in 2004 revealed that only 3% of voters named abortion as their top voting issue, 2% named religiosity, and 2% named gay marriage. Nine percent cited the more amorphous "moral values." In the same poll, 27% cited Iraq, 14% cited the economy, 9% cited terrorism, and 5% cited honesty/integrity. While the "values-first" voters are likely disproportionately represented in the Republican party, they likely are not a majority of the party. Moreover, many pro-life/pro-traditional marriage voters are more traditionalist than evangelical; these voters will find some solace in Giuliani's successful campaigns against smut peddlers and prostitution, as well as his record of decreasing actual abortions in Gotham...By the time Republicans have their first big round of primaries on February 5, Democrats may well have selected a candidate after holding elections in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Faced with an oncoming Hillary Express, will social conservatives really pull the lever for a long-shot like Sam Brownback or Mike Huckabee?
Another view of the conservative electorate, perhaps a broader constituency than the softer part of the Republican base comes from Hannah Rosin, she argues that 'values voters' are less concerned with specifics than with a narrative of redemption and that Giuliani plays well to these:
About 13 percent of the population constitutes what we think of as the hard-core Christian religious right; beyond them are a vaster number of what could be called “values voters.” Values voters are generally Republican and less rigid on the usual cultural issues—they might accept gay civil unions, for instance, or abortion under certain circumstances. They don’t shout their demands from the steps of the Supreme Court, nor do they much want them shouted. When they evaluate political leaders, they’re often looking for different, more subtle cues. They might want to know that a candidate’s faith was deepened by a personal experience, that his or her life can be summed up as a story of struggle, redemption, and growth. Or they might just tap into a candidate’s general sense of optimism and contentment—a belief, rooted in Genesis and coloring all of life, that things happen for a reason. “Creationism Lite,” you might call it—an affirmational creed that carries its own emotional and intellectual style of thinking and speaking.
This insight parallels some of the better analysis of John Howard, only a minority of voters are hard core nativists, but there is a broader group beyond this that Howard appeals to: see Goot & Watson’s analysis here.
On McCain there is a scpetical conservative portrait from the Wall Street Journal here that stresses his admiration for Teddy Roosevelt here. Teddy was an interesting figure, see Sklar's Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism on his atitude to corporate capitalism and Gerstle's American Crucible on his attitude to ethnic diversity.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Giuliani and the conservatives

Rudy Giuliani’s filling of a statement of presidential candidacy has made it to the Australian media. He is the object of debate in the American media, despite leading in many polls of Republican supporters as their preferred presidential candidate, some commentaries rule him out, in particular because they presume that his support of civil partnership rights for gays (not marriage however) and his personal pro-choice position, not to mention his two divorces would him unacceptable to the conservatives who actually turn out to vote. In some aspects he is the Republican version of Clinton potentially popular with swinging voters and moderates generally but problematic to many party loyalists. Even his New York achievements that his conservative backers emphasise (see along defence of him here): reforming government, zero-tolerance policing, cutting welfare etc. have Clintonian overtones. But lately there is the suggestion that conservatives might, provided he can finesse his position sufficiently on some key issues (for some advice on how to do this see here), prefer him to McCain because of his record of loyalty to the Republican leadership, McCain's position on immigration and his potentially greater delectability than any of the other non-McCain candidates. Comments on the blog of the Posneresque Ann Althouse suggest some support among conservatives on these lines. Would a Giuliani nomination confirm that the influence of social conservatives in the Republicans is overstated? Or that Republican moderates will always have to bow to social conservatives eventually? Somewhere in between but closer to the later.


'Defending marriage' in practice

A Michigan appeal court has ruled that the state ban on gay marriage, passed by referendum in 2004, means that universities cannot provide health insurance or other benefits to the same-sex partners of employees., the court also noted that this applies to unmarried heterosexual couples as the wording of the ban is “the union of one man or one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” An example of what these bans mean in practice probably much more than many of those who voted for them intend, although I suspect it would be welcomed by those who placed these initiatives on the ballot in the first place. However the American Catholic Church as an employer and public voice is taking a different position on civil partnerships.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Greens on the wrong platform

Recent controversy about public transport problems in NSW and Victoria. In NSW passengers have been forced to urinate in carriages due to the absence of toilets, along with chronic lateness (see here and here). In Victoria trains forced to travel at slow speeds due to lack of track maintenance. All of this is occurring under Labor governments, purportedly a party committed to quality public sector services. Although Labor governments are free of the know nothing conservatism that infests the federal government they rival it for relentless spin and short-termism. But Labor's would-be rivals to the left the Greens largely fail to challenge Labor on grounds of competence, when Liberal oppositions get their act together they will be left on the sidelines. It is easy for the left to make deserved fun of the NSW Liberals and I have pointed out their wallowing in the muck of sectarian politics, but at least they are campaigning on the poor quality of public services, see the many press releases on their site. The Greens ignore the issue, instead focusing on water, climate change and the environment, good but they won't be in a position to force action on these issues unless they increase their vote which requires that they position themselves as a real alternative to Labor.


Cold war memories

Since September 11 we have seen the emergence of a strand of literature debating what position 'the left' should take on political Islam. I find much of this literature obsessed with questions of what people should think or so rather than what people should do. It is also prone to a political dishonesty identified by Max Weber long ago in his Politics as a vocation, in which people hold their opponents to absolute ethical standards whilst being pragmatic on their own. One side evokes political Islam as a vast powerful movement whose power, scope and danger is chronically underestimated by 'the left', either out of naivety or muddled sympathy with its anti-imperialist rhetoric. Here we retread much older debates, beginning perhaps with pre-1914 socialist debates over imperialism and national defence. The arguments of the minority of the British left that supported the Boer war, or perhaps more accurately loudly distanced itself from the explicitly 'pro-Boers' anticipate arguments about the Iraq war, then as now some found a humanitarian justification pointing to Boer racism. Pro-Boers rejected these arguments, and many of the comments in J. A. Hobson's Imperialism seem applicable to the Iraq war. After 1914 many socialists supported their respective governments. Then we had the debate between 'cold war liberals' and 'progressives' during the Cold War. My own view on this debate is that progressives were prone to give the Soviet Union the benefit of the doubt and to fail to confront the appalling human rights record of the Soviet Union, although it is interesting that most mainstream conservative critics of the Soviet Union although they denounced Communism in general terms, actually gave little specific attention to human rights violations. However cold war liberals, outraged by Communist political duplicity were so keen to prove themselves tough-minded anti-communists that they demonstrated a conscious blindness to the sins of their 'own' side. The foreign policy implications of this are well-known, see Shattered Hope on the fate of the Guatemalan Revolution for example, but this accommodation was notable in domestic policy: Bensel's Sectionalism and American Political Development shows how mainstream liberal organisation de-emphaised race in their definition of liberalism in the interests of keeping the South in the Democratic fold. Overall a good judgment by Joanne Barkan:
Judging cold war liberalism by its laudable goals set in the late 1940s, one has to conclude that it failed in the 1950s. Those were not the glory days of “the fighting faith”: the warriors were neither valiant nor victorious. Long before the Vietnam War, their actions betrayed their principles so often that one would not expect them to be resurrected as heroes.
Yet more recent debates are also relevant. In the context of a resurgent cold war in the 1980s, the question of left-wing attitudes to the Soviet Union was again debated. John Keane accused sections of the left of a failure to face the oppressive nature of the Soviet bloc, in his essay 'In the Heart of Europe". Influential here was the Budapest school of dissident Marxists who ended up at La Trobe university in the 1980s, Frances Feher, Georgy Markus and Ferenc Feher and their Australian disciple Peter Beilharz. Feher's et. al. Dictatorship over Needs was a seminal work here.; it is a brilliant account of how the hyper rationalist promise of communism meant collective irrationality on the grand scale. But their emphasis on the malign nature of Communism, and its immense distance from their vision of socialism, perhaps led them to overstate the stability and threat of Communism. In Thesis Eleven Beilharz was dismissive of Deustcherian enthusiasts for Gorbachev and insisted on the persistent malign essence of the Soviet regime. Heller’s political writing such as Doomsday or Deterrence (1986) (for a critique see here) evoked the spectre of a Finlandization of Europe and suggested that the peace movement played into Soviet hands. But all this overstated the power of Communism which was in an advanced stage of decay. Andzrej Walicki's liberalism meant that he was distant from the concerns of revisionist Marxists. His Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom is more accurate on the thinking of European Communist elites in the 1980s, and how in the case of Gorbachev, the Poles and the Hungarians the Leninist mission was rejected. Political Islam will be even more a house of cards, even if with sharp edges.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Labor and industrial relations

You would expect the federal government to exploit any hint of confusion in Labor ranks about what its industrial relations policies would be in government. But Labor can't just pledge a return to the pre-1996 position, because I don't think it was viable in the long term. In government Labor sought to shift the balance from industrial awards to enterprise bargains. The problem is that enterprise bargains require unions to negotiate them. Unions are correct to point out the gap between individual contracts (both formal and informal, although AWAs are pretty informal) and EBAs, but even if AWAs were scrapped how can unions negotiate enterprise bargains for all workers? In the old days union membership was higher but perhaps more importantly the award system levered up wages for those workers who did not engage in collective bargaining, either because they were not union members or because their unions were arbitration dependent, such as the SDA. In 1995 according to AWIRS only 26% of workplaces with over 20 employees had no union members and only 14% of employees worked in these workplaces. But what would it be now? Another survey would be useful but the government has refused to fund one. In 2001 according to the ABS in the non-agricultural private sector 46% of employees were in workplaces with 1-19 employees and 28% in those with 20-99 employees. Of total employing businesses 93% of them have less than 20 employees, a total of 0.54m businesses. How are their employees' wages to be set?


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Nuclear rhetoric from Regean to Ahmadinejad

Some discussion in Australia of an article by Benny Morris evoking the spectre of a 'second holocaust' the destruction of Israel by an Iranian nuclear attack. Truly repellent as the Iranian regime is I'm inclined to agree with Robert Farley:
His analysis rests, of course, on the assumption that Iran will behave differently than any country with nuclear weapons has ever behaved, including the Soviet Union under Stalin, the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution, and North Korea under Kim Jong Il. He rejects any careful analysis of the decision-making of the Iranian state, building his argument around Ahmadinejad but failing to note that there is almost no chance that the current President of Iran will be in power when (and if) Iran develops a nuclear weapon. He notes in passing that the rest of the Iranian foreign policy elite also favors the destruction of Israel, which kind of makes me wonder why Ahmadinejad matters at all.
I don't follow the argument of Harry Feldman which seems to be that destruction of Israel wouldn't be a second holocaust as most Jews live outside Israel. Shades of the stolen generation not being a generation. What I am reminded off was Reagan’s 'joke' :
My fellow Americans. I'm pleased to announce that I've signed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes.
Reagan’s rhetoric inspired understandable fear and alarm. Within the Soviet Union according to the evidence of Vasil Mitrokohn it led many in the Soviet leadership to fear a nuclear first strike by the US. The KGB had difficulty persuading the leadership that however dramatic Reagan’s rhetoric this was not the case. Fortunately they were successful.


Why Hillary will win (the nomination at least)

Discussion of Hillary Clinton's prospects for the nomination has focused on the fact that party front-runners often stumble badly in the course of the nomination contest: Walter Mondale was challenged by Gary Hart in 1984; George Bush found it hard to shape off John McCain in 2000. She is the frontrunner (see graph from Political Arithmetick). But Hillary is different her gender and her name makes her an outsider as well as an insider candidate. In a way she has some of the same charisma that attaches to both George W Bush and Bill Clinton. Both began as centrist party insiders, seen by those further to the left or right within their parties as electable, and both were elected as this. But both then became heroes to the base, the Republicans made Clinton a martyr of the left (to the disgust of some of the left), Bush more deliberately tacked to the hard right. Howard and Keating are similar in some ways, who would have picked them 20 years ago to be rallying points of the culture wars? Why did Clinton become so popular? Here I look back to the rallying manifesto of the Democratic centrists in 1989 the progressive Policy Institute's The Politics of Evasion: Democrats and the Presidency by William Galston. It's a document, rather like Mark Latham’s work, written to annoy, full of passive voice statements. Its approach encapsulated by:
Since the late 1960s, the public has come to associate liberalism with tax and spending polices that contradict the interests of average families; with welfare polices that foster dependence rather than self-reliance; with softness towards the perpetuators of crime and indifference toward its victims; with ambivalence towards the assertion of American values and interests abroad; and with an adversarial stance towards mainstream moral and cultural values.
Much of Clinton's polices responded to this analysis, but the American majority was more socially liberal than this analysis recognised about individual behaviour, particularly their own individual behaviour. Spectres of 'welfare dependency' and the underclass were influential, but voters but voters did not see these as the inevitable result of the social libertarianism that enabled some many of them to watch porn for example. Clinton was a man like themselves. Voters did not see themselves implicated in an overall moral collapse.