Sunday, July 01, 2007

My new blog

I have decided to set up a WordPress blog at I have also set up a general page at which includes the material currently on my University staff page (which due to University policy is shielded from access from any search engine).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

American Muslims

Interesting Pew research on American Muslims. In summary:

Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live. A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard. The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society. Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world. A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government "singles out" Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring. Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.

International comparasions show the US and France as closest, which bolsters the assimilationist case. On broader policy American Muslims are liberal on economic policy but socially conservative rather like African-Americans overall (who make up the largest group of American-born converts).


Mitt Romney's limited prospects

Recent polls indicate that Mitt Romney's support is rising among the Republican pack. The hypothesis that Giuliani’s electability and his muscular rhetoric in the war on terror would win over conservatives may be incorrect, perhaps his divergence from the Republican base on social issues will sink him, whereas McCain despite his conservative record on policy suffers from his estrangement from the 'conservative movement'. Doubts about the sincerity of Romney's conversion to conservative position inspire the search for alternative candidates, hence the curious spectre of significant support for Fred Thompson, even although he is not an official candidate. Maybe Romney will win the nomination. However then his problem will be not just his religion but the problem that that he will be an identikit Republican candidate in a Democratic year, to win the Republicans need a candidate with a broad appeal. It is a concern that both Giuliani and McCain have done well in match-ups against potential Democratic candidates but Romney does poorly. This conclusion is supported by a recent Pew analysis that suggests that mcCain and Guilani's strong performance in match-ups suggests that:
crucial personal dimension in a period of national discontent, is whether the candidate is seen as an agent of change. And at this early stage in the game, the Republican front runners might just fill that bill. A recent Pew survey found that most voters make a big distinction between both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and President Bush. Both candidates are seen as less conservative than Bush, and much closer to the average voter's own political beliefs. ..Another piece of evidence for the potential appeal of the Republican frontrunners is the support they draw from political independents--the group that was so eager for political change in 2006, and played a decisive role in the Republican congressional defeat. A recent Pew poll found that as presidential candidates both Giuliani and McCain were about as appealing to independents as were Clinton and Obama, even though a plurality of independents say they lean Democratic these days...Of course, the very appeal of Giuliani and McCain as more centrist and politically distant from Bush threatens their viability in the GOP state primaries races where independents are often barred from voting and voters with strongly held conservative beliefs are most likely to turnout. Indeed, Republicans in Pew's survey placed themselves very close to President Bush on the liberal-conservative continuum and quite a bit to the right of where they placed the candidates they now say they are most likely to support for the Republican nomination...The message of the horse race polls for the Republican Party may be that while McCain, and Giuliani might be perceived as insufficiently conservative for a majority of GOP voters, ultimately only they, or someone else with centrist appeal, may be able to hold off the broad advantage the Democrats have going into this election. For the Democrats, the message may be that, while there is broad discontent with Bush, which has hurt his party, their own potential nominees are not so strong that they can rule out being beaten by a Republican who is seen as an agent of change.
Could Peter Costello appear as an agent of change?


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ideas and realities

Not usually in business of critiquing newspaper articles and the obsessive pursuit of right-wing MSM commentators by lefty bloggers but even I was struck by the Gerard Henderson column this week and Paul Kelly's contribution. Paul Kelly's The End of Certainty highlights Henderson's influential role in Liberal policy formation in the 1980s as Howard's Chief of Staff and his coining of the term 'industrial relations club'. Henderson left Howard's staff in 1986 because he felt Howard was too indecisive on industrial relations. Both Henderson and Kelly have suffered the experience that Communists were once familiar with, being left down by their favoured foreign government. The Hicks plea bargain reveals that the US has made up policy as it went along. Both Henderson and Kelly retreat to the ground of criticising Hicks' defenders, Kelly at least tries to balance this by some vague criticism of the Australian government but also bewails 'purist line of the human rights lobby'. Henderson at the end of his column admits: 'The Howard Government could have better handled the Hicks matter', if so how? Both Henderson and Kelly somehow think that wrong statements by individuals they dislike are somehow equivalent to real physical actions by the agents of governments. It encapsulates the view of politics as a verbal debate disconnected from the real worlds of human experience. Most supporters of the Iraq war have retreated to scouring the comments of the war's opponents for those they can criticise, they are sometimes successful in this, but making a foolish, or even a morally repugnant statement, is not the same as taking an action those real consequences for flesh and blood humans. What we see is a tendency to blur the distinction between perceptions and reality, so Greg Sheridan can note Al-Qaeda’s success in constructing a global narrative of Islamic victimisation but then attribute this success to the malign influence of ‘pro-terrorist’ Western commentors.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bloggers vs the MSM?

The dichotomy between the continued run of favourable polls for the ALP and the perception of many press gallery journalists that the government has begun its fight back with a politically clever budget, aided by the ALP’s alleged disarray on industrial relations has provoked much excitement among bloggers. Some of this excitement seems a reliving of Kevin Rudd’s election triumph even before it has occurred, but it is an instalment in the ongoing battle between the ‘mainstream media’ and bloggers, which is longstanding in the US. Been thinking about these issues whilst reading the greatest monument of the MSM: Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty. It is a work relentlessly devoted to arguing for a particular set of polices as desirable. The Australian’s extraordinary crusade against Labor’s IR policy is in this tradition. But Kelly’s book is also an exercise in high politics, ordinary voters appear only in focus groups, in particular his discussion of the shift to enterprise bargaining ignores the problems of worker resistance to the wage restraint of the 1980s. The book’s elite focus supports my view that one reason for the gallery’s view on IR is a resentment of social actors from outside their narrow world, this is why both the Greens and One Nation received such media hostility, because neither were inclined to accept press gallery advice, to a degree the National Party suffers from this. Nevertheless it passes the test of being a worthwhile book, it is a valuable source of information. The IR debate reminds me of how Hawke’s promise to protect Kakadu was a vote-winner despite being disparaged by the media. We see too that Howard was not always a political genius. It does remind us that governments can come from a long way behind, Labor’s 1987, 1990 and 1993 victories could all have been defeats. In part the gallery is aware that public opinion can change. It would be useful if more examples than 2004 and 2001 were considered. My view is intermediate between the MSM and the bloggers, high support for Labor reflects both perceptions of which party is best to deal with particular issues and which issues are prominent in voters’ minds. As the election approaches economic management will gain a higher profile, this will benefit the government, but its advantage over Labor has shrunk noticeably. Are private sector managerial-professional voters (a group which has shifted rightward since 1996 as I show here (third article)) more concerned with IR or with broadband? Voter perceptions on party performance are slow to change. The Coalition’s attempts to reverse perceptions on education and the economy are unlikely to be successful. It is not that voters have stopped listening to the government, in fact they never listen much, circumstances have changed.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Third Way and politics

Much of the discussion of Tony Blair's departure fails to place his government in the context of political history. In the 1940s politics in Europe shifted fundamentally to the left, due to the prestige of the Soviet Union and the perception that pre-1939 capitalism had been a failure. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was another leftward shift. In both cases conservative parties anxiously sought to accommodate themselves to the leftward shift, and they tried to seek justification for this pragmatic accommodation in aspects of their core doctrines. Thus reformist British Tories blamed Whigs for laisser-faire, whilst in the early 1970s the Australian Liberals as Denis White and David Kemp (see his essay in here) complained took up concepts of positive freedom to justify support for an expansionist state in social policy. Since the mid 1970s however the centre of gravity on economic policy has shifted to the right. In Britain this shift was particularly marked, reflecting a broader shift in public opinion (discussed here) due to the disappointments of the 1970s. 1979 in Britain was a turning point, like 1980 in US (and 2007 in France?). Of course this has not meant a minimal state, public expenditures levels have remained high and contrary to some silly arguments economic policy has not converged across developed countries. Thus pragmatic politicians followed this centre to the right, in the case of British Labour the shift has been most apparent given the party's early 1980s leftism (for the obverse of the majority shift to the right in the 1970s was a minority radicalisation), electoral defeat and the general zeitgeist contributed to a general demoralisation, but the centre on other policy areas has shifted to the left and New Labour followed this, devolution and human rights legislation were seen as dangerously radical by the Labour moderates of the 1970s. Blair is particularly prone to justify pragmatic centrism by extravagant rhetoric (see his works here and here), hence his arguments that the Third Way was not a shift to the pragmatic right on economic policy. The events of the 1970s traumatised the British political class, and made the reduction of trade union power a policy that attracted consensus support, even if in Labour's case after the fact. Even Blair’s view that Thatcherism had economic achievements to its credit was anticipated by some British Marxists who saw in Thatcherism not crazed economic irrationality but an attempt to restore the conditions for capitalist accumulation. Even the extravagance of Third Way claims to represent all interests, except a few old thinkers, is shared by the revolutionary left’s implausibly broad definition of the working class.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Word class or 'no frills'?

One of the depressing facts about public life is that individuals or groups can get away with entirely hypocritical poses, 1950s Communists presented themselves as campaigners for peace whilst Stalin continued his war on the Soviet people (some interesting comments on the post-war famine in this biography of Zhdanov). Al-Qaeda is seen by some as a defender of Muslims whilst it slaughters them in vast numbers. Thus we have Stephen Schwartz, Macquarie University Vice-Chancellor, who in an article declares that Australian universities must escape from their 'Soviet' model:
Universities will be free to determine how many students they will teach when funding follows students and prices are deregulated. Some will opt for high price and restricted access. Others will go for a low price and a high volume of students. Our leading universities will compete with the best in the world. Other universities will offer a low-cost, no-frills, mainly vocational, education. Some universities will teach at nights and weekends while others will take learning to the workplace. Competition for students, who will control the purse strings, will produce better student services.
What exactly would a 'no frills' education mean for the students that I teach at a struggling provincial campus? For Schwarz and his co-thinkers the world-class is confined for a very few, the rest will be penalised. It is appropriate he evokes the Soviet example for the post-Communist Russian economy has seen the mergence of massive income equality and dramatic fall in life expectancies for the poor. Would a Labor government offer any effective opposition to the plans of Schwartz and co.? Doubtful if the example of the good Labor man Glynn Davis at Melbourne is any example. Indeed Schwartz's metaphor is remarkable, we know that Soviet levels of productivity and quality were far below best practice. Is Schwartz seriously claiming that the skills and abilities of Australian university graduates are as far below best practice, that productivity levels in Australian universities are of a comparable level?

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Democracy vs. liberalism?

The experience of the Tampa saga in 2001 was deeply depressing for the Australian left. Many despaired at popular support for the Howard government. The Herd quoted one poll in their famous song 77%:
77 percent of aussies are racist
And if you're here, I'll say it your faces
Rich redneck pricks still hold all the aces
The Turkish protests raise the question of the relationship between liberalism and 'democracy'. One argument by a critic of the demonstrations argues that poll evidence suggests that Turkish voters do not see a threat to secularism and that 'secularism' is an ideology of the affluent privileged fearful of the mobilisation of the periphery. One wonders if respondents have different interpretations of secularism, to some it might imply the absence of Iranian-style regime (which I suspect has little popular support even among the religious) but to others it might imply a broader range of policies. In the US the issue was raised by Lipset's thesis of working-class authoritarianism, articulated in Political Man, but his argument for the populist origins of McCarthyism were challenged in Rogin's The Intellectuals and McCarthy. More recently populist conservatism has challenged the American left in its heartlands. Thus the only commentator to consider these parallels is an American M. J. Rosenberg who confesses:
I wonder if I'm alone in my conflicted view of all this. I am all for democracy and for the military keeping its nose out of politics. On the other hand, there is something I like about a political order which has secularism as; you'll forgive me, an article of faith.
Perhaps we can resolve this contradiction by recalling the Marxist critique of capitalist democracy, to Marx socialism would be a radicalised democracy that would enable humans to fulfil their full potential through collective self-government. We are not obliged to support capitalist democracy when it reduces the ability of hums to fulfil their full potential. Democracy, as James Bryce noted long ago, has won support as a means to an end. We can however be sure that Communism was a massive regression on capitalist democracy. We cannot be 'all for' democracy as currently constituted.

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