Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Where will the ground shift in the United States?

Robert Reich, in today's Eurasia Review, has the shortest political article I have ever seen. So good I take the liberty of quoting in full:
You will hear pundits analyze the New Hampshire primaries and conclude that the political “extremes” are now gaining in American politics – that the Democrats have moved to the left and the Republicans have moved to the right, and the “center” will not hold.
Baloney. The truth is that the putative “center” – where the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” of the 1990s found refuge, where George W. Bush and his corporate buddies and neoconservative advisers held sway, and where Barack Obama’s Treasury Department granted Wall Street banks huge bailouts but didn’t rescue desperate homeowners – did a job on the rest of America, and is now facing a reckoning.
The “extremes” are not gaining ground. The anti-establishment ground forces of the American people are gaining. Some are so fed up they’re following an authoritarian bigot. Others, more wisely, are signing up for a “political revolution” to take back America from the moneyed interests.
That’s the real choice ahead.
As described at Eurasia Review:
Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his most recent book, Aftershock. His "Marketplace" commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and iTunes. He is also Common Cause's board chairman. His website is: http://robertreich.org

The rise of populist demagoguery: economic destruction, international horrors?

While most of us here in Australia and hopefully most people in the United States are repelled by and anxious at the prospect of possible election of Donald Trump in the United States, Jacek Rostowski who was Poland’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister from 2007 to 2013 has written a valuable commentary at Project Syndicate, in which he links the Trump phenomenon with the the rise of the 'PEKOs':

[T]he West is coming under pressure again, including in its own backyard. This time, the challenge is political, not economic: the rise of politicians who relish conflict and disdain national and international law and democratic norms.
I call such leaders “PEKOs,” after the four most prominent examples of their kind: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdoğan (see also) the Polish politician Jarosław Kaczyński (see also) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (see also).
PEKOs do not view politics as the management of collective emotions in order to achieve broad policy goals: faster economic growth, a more equitable distribution of income, or greater national security, power, and prestige. Instead, they regard politics as an endless series of intrigues and purges aimed at preserving personal power and privilege.

Read more at https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/politicians-pose-risk-to-global-stability-by-jacek-rostowski-2016-02#v2yHkU45zrVZTqgF.99
To link Trump with these is valuable, because much media attention focuses on Trump as an anomaly, not part of a pattern. Rostowki notes that the PEKOs have to face elections and are highly successful electorally, even though those in office are presiding over economic decline. 
If we take his argument to the electorate level and put aside Trump, in the USA clearly the success of the Tea Party (and this week their intent to crush the Obama budget) reflects the same kind of success. An appeal to personal prejudices and apprehensions, unadorned by vision of consequences of selfish perspective.

The same pattern has been evident in Australia with the Abbott victory: knucklehead phrase and cut the taxes. In a so-far coherent way Malcolm Turnbull (and also) (and also) has shifted the balance away from that but his appeal is far from connected to policy vision in the hearts of the electorate, which just wearied of embarrassing leadership and has been entranced by good looks and longer sentences. Meanwhile we might sensibly look upon PM Turnbull as more enlightened than previous leaders in serving the 1% or 10% given his own wealth.

Monday, 25 January 2016

To have a strategic direction we have to be a nation

Sounds obvious, but we are in a muddled state here.

In recent years I have become uneasy about chauvinistic displays of the Australian flag by more and more around Australia Day, tomorrow, 26 January. Glad to see all the chauvinalia stacked in the front of local supermarket at half price yesterday. Long may they decline in significance.

I have also been uncomfortable with the rising enthusiasm for war-remembering and marching, with less questioning of commitments we take to go to war and more snarling at suggestions we should lift into the Australian calendar those dreadful wars in Australia, the only wars in Australia, against indigenous Australians, by white invaders.

I am pleased that there exists a radical Australian news-on-line source with whole-Australia including Aboriginal focus and that I am a supporter of it, albeit a very modest supporter. Please read and become a contributor to New Matilda.

I am pleased that people have begun to say they will not sing the Australian National Anthem because it spits on the full history of Australia, with its dirty dark side. because it claims that Australia is "young and free" when in fact it is an old continent with the oldest people and it is far from free in many senses, in my view least free in its entrapment by fantasies about itself and the world. I'm pleased that we've begun to think about all this and I hope we can move forward collectively without great ructure. But there will be quite a lot of ructure and we need energy and determination for it. Though I am 72 and disabled, I will do what I can.

Former Prime Minister John Howard said we should put the origins of the Iraq war behind us, as also he and a conservative phalanx want us to put behind us the real history of Australia with its dirtiness and brutality towards indigenous people.

We cannot. We must not. Though we hit a muddy rock bottom of racism during 2015.

There is a chance that the tide may turn.

A speech last week, embedded below, on how racism is destroying the Australian dream, by experienced journalist Stan Grant, these days indigenous affairs editor of The Guardian,  has reportedly now gone viral.

When we begin to deal with the dark history of Australia:—
... then may we be able to go on and deal with our culpability for the shit we have created variously in the middle east and in the rise of terrorism by going into a stupid war in Iraq...
... and then maybe we might be able become a sensible ally of the USA, a thoughtful one, with opinions and wisdoms, if we must be an ally, if the USA remains worthy of our alliance (another subject).

Sending a fool as ambassador to Washington and having press fawn over him is not a good start.

May we go forward from here to find an identity without which sensible strategy not possible. State Premiers, all but one of them, today called for an Australian Head of State, but we have to gouge much deeper into systems and psyches

Think upon this: Stan Grant's speech. Let us hope banners are raised and battles won, towards a new kind of Australia, not just the nice multicultural society we used to have but something more robustly, thoughtfully decent, inclusive, respecting and empowered. That's my Australia Day wish.


North Korea (DPRK)

Again I mention the references to the importance of empathy over there in the right column (or probably missing if you read this on a phone).

I wrote this below at The Guardian recently, after North Korea's latest nuclear test.

It was interesting that one person commented TLDR. I learned that TLDR means 'too long, didn't read.' No empathy possible without thought. The translater of TLDR had a nice comment:

  • It's important to recognise that North Korea's behaviour is much as one might expect of a country locked in a broom cupboard for over half a century. Also to recognise that in that time North Korea has been subjected to more overt [nuclear] threats than any other country, including the breach in 1974 of US policy never to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons when US Defense Secretary James Schlesinger affirmed the location of nuclear weapons in South Korea aimed at the north.
    And to recognise that in the 1990s the US failed to meet commitments agreed with North Korea.
    While also recognising that North Korea's attempts at independent technical innovation have more often been ragged than not, and North Korea's ventures in trying to follow China in more open economic relations with the world were terribly timed and they were badly burned especially by the 1979 oil shock... as well as by lousy trade associates.
    And recognising that they have tended to fulfil all the dreadful sarcastic characterisations of North Korea by both US military planners and the whole rang of media pundits and commentators. Be careful what you wish for and plan and militarily manoeuvre against. It is plain that the annual summer reinforcement exercises between the US and South Korea are carried on in a manner to antagonise North Korea, to prod North Korean electronic intelligence and cause agitation in the North Korean leadership. While no more under civilian policy control on the US side than was Douglas MacArthur when in 1950 he wanted to carry the Korean War to Beijing, nuking all the way, until Truman yanked him out.
    And in this situation, particularly worryingly, recognising that reports of widespread use of crystal meths in North Korea, including by leaders, may be true ... and that in consequence decision making may be coloured to say the least.
    In longer history, Korea has had the difficult role of living between China and Korea, with different culture and language more closely related to Finnish and Turkish. A hermit kingdom. Remembering for comparison that up to 150 years ago, in Japan, attempt to leave that country was punishable by death. And that thus there are traditional values deep in the tormented psyche of Pyongyang.
    I come back to the 'locked in the broom cupboard of Asia' analogy with which I began. Having had some role in the 1970s in Australian efforts to recognise and open the door to North Korea, under Whitlam's policy of recognising realities, which saw also recognition of Beijing and Hanoi. Against hostility and ridicule from Washington, Seoul and a wider range of countries that should know better. Over and again, fixing the Korean Question has been put aside, left to be seen as soldiers see it, while other issues given priority in Washington... till we get to this appalling point. Getting the demon we caricatured. But still some have to venture into engagement with the broom cupboard. On terms other than castigation and stick waving.

    Some effort needs to be made to see the world as seen from Pyongyang if ever we are to resolve issues with Pyongyang. And not with ridicule and sensationalist description as seems the norm in the west. So often we succeed in proving to Pyongyang that opening to the world is very dangerous. Sit for a moment in Pyongyang and try to understand Donald Trump. Consider the wisdom and success of US policy in the Middle East. Consider what has happened in countries recently open to 'democracy' and the west. To liberation, like Libya and Syria and of course Iraq, Afghanistan ... and the USSR. Baby it's cold outside. All our perspectives are distorted, all our hands are dirty. Let's step back from righteous giggling out here. At least setting off a bomb stops the giggling, let's see how those Americans react with shit in their pants: that's what they are thinking in Pyongyang, let's get some respect round here, respect the way they've sought respect out there.
  • 1 2
    tldr
  • 0 1
    Too lazy, didn't read... Too bad, it was interesting.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

January 2016

I have not written for half a year here. Looking back on what I wrote in most recent posts I am pleased to rediscover what I said, that it still seems to make sense... and almost that there is nothing more to say. Things seem so cut and dried in our political system right now when our Australian Prime Minister has an approval rating of 80%, we know so little about what his policies and capabilities ... and we have an Opposition Leader with popularity below 20% and policies which may be quite good but who will never be seen as a leader.


In the right column I quote two fiction writers on the importance of empathy. We need to read and think and put ourselves in the places of others.

We also need to be aware of history. I commented on a recent quality article at The Guardian about Saudi Arabia and the oil outlook as follows (links and some tidying now added). My intention is just to offer one subject among many where we can benefit from deeper understanding rather than just instant manic policy lurch or godlike strategic pronouncement:
Can I offer these thoughts for those who scoff at Saudi princelings. 
in 1900 the only member of the British cabinet who was not a princeling was Joseph Chamberlain, the millionaire who moved his politics to the right to become a monster of empire and start the Second Boer War. That he came from Manchester: Manchester that rose to wealth on the backs of poor Irish workers and, earlier on,  southern American cotton picking slaves, then empire-cheap workers. From such sprang mighty Immodest Britain. 
Can I note as historical record that the beginning of significant oil taxation in the west began with the first oil shock in 1973, when the Saudis organised OPEC and prices went up. That the intention was to restrain consumption but it is evident that consumers are not so daunted by price... until we compare with the effect of negligible restraint in the USA and the persistence there of gas guzzling. Thank you Europe for restraint, taxation, more sensible prices and vehicles. And thank you Saudis for taking a hold of your resources and getting the world on a slightly better course. 
Can I mention that the great USA-Saudi-Aramco relationship can be traced to the rivalry between Lawrence of Arabia and Philby Senior, father of Philby Spy, for influence in London. Lawrence was the bigger charmer and sold London on giving first place to relations with Amman and Baghdad. Philby, fuming over his conditions as consul in Jeddah [dip toes here] and annoyed that London had spurned the Saudis, introduced the Americans, which some might say a greater betrayal of England than his boy achieved. But not greater than Lawrence's betrayal of us all, teaching Arabs the virtue of blowing things up. I cite Basil Liddell-Hart's opinion on that, Lawrence's responsibility for legitimising terrorism. 
Can I also note that turbulence in Iran can be traced back to British and American intervention. http://www.iranchamber.com/history/coup53/coup53p1.php says that the 1953 coup was the CIA's first success, but we may well consider the long view and the dreadfulnesses since the 1970s especially. 
Can I mention to those that scoff at free education and capital expenditure based on oil in Saudi Arabia that Australia's roads and hospitals and schools have been sustained in the last several decades by China and others buying resources. 
And note that indicative of our higher intellects we will abandon public schools and hospitals before we abandon road spending. Or consider sensible redistributive taxation. Electing conservative leaders similar to those in the UK and USA who though in the great scheme of things not hugely rich perversely consider it a goddess-given virtue to work wholeheartedly for the 1%. 
If people don't begin to see such perspectives then ... Well the world will be as much at risk as if its fate were in the hands of young history-naive children in banks and trading places wherever.

Partly when people are scoffing at Arabia and enthusiastic about bombing we can see race prejudice. Partly we can see the influence of computer games and enthusiasm for swift winner hits. And desire that problems can be solved from a safe distance.

We have a problem in the Australian state of New South Wales that the only planning body is the roads authority: therefore we get world's-best roads proliferating without much tethering to comparative value of expenditure of billions of dollars on this or other purpose, or on other means of transport, or other more modest standards for roads. Similarly in national strategy, we have mainly a defence-oriented, or rather defence-force-focused way of making policy. And for so long as we have members of the defence force in Afghanistan and Iraq it is necessary for governments to mindlessly chant what a wonderful job they are doing to good purpose... though this is really precisely when we should review rigorously. This extraordinary review of the last decade or so by George Soros is a good place to start any thinking about the future.

In Washington the US President exclaims that Australia is the second largest contributor to war against ISIL, read this fodder for Murdoch tabloid. But in Australia we have no debate on this extraordinary contribution, there is just the macho--national-security-bug-squash reflex. There is no discussion of our own direct contribution, by going to war in Iraq in 2003, to precisely the problem of ISIL.

We march to the drum beat, policy subordinated to that of a major ally partner, let no one discuss the decline of American power, the demonstrated inefficacy of military force, the demonstrated fact that our essays in war create monstrous new problems.

In this bright new year, emerging from the summer holiday season in Australia, we do look with horror at the dreadful prospect of a possible Republican president in the United States. In the 1970s when I was counsellor and acting Minister in the Washington Embassy, it was a bit droll to have Prime Minister Fraser visit President Ford and say "I agree with you" and the next year visit President Carter and say "I agree with you"... when obviously these presidents did not agree with each other.

We have an election late this year in Australia too. We enter the election year with a recently-installed-in-party-coup conservative Prime Minister Turnbull with a popularity of 80%, being a man of elegance, eloquence and wealth, about whose policies there is deep uncertainty. We have an Opposition Leader, Labor's Bill Shorten with popularity <20% whose appearances in public are fumbling and excruciatingly embarrassing, and whose policies may be more merciful but ... it is unimaginable to think of him as an inspiring leader, driving us towards whatever future, commanding relations with other countries. So we may expect the nation to continue with negligible mental preoccupation beyond rages of Facebook and Twitter. And the price of petrol. And the smoothness of roads. And the occasional annoyance about people who have no work. And occasional mad paroxysms about people who are different. Government spending will be significantly altered with the commencement of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2016-2017... We wait to see from where funds will be taken.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

neglected

I have been neglecting you dear blog.

Various reasons including desultory health but also standing back and watching the energy so many people put into having opinions and wondering if somewhere there is some mechanism, some magic ingredient to make the utterances of more and more mean anything more than addition to mass brass instrument cacophany. Do a web search for number of books published to see the explosion just in books... but books are a declining element in public writing.

Perhaps this metaphor is apposite because I am writing this in often quite noisy Mexico City.
Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. 
Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another.
Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude
This may have greater meaning now that the internet becomes as noisy as a Mexican street. But do those of us who write to the web write for others, to engage with others? Or to express the urge to utter?

There are a number of my generation who have been active in government policy who write about their past fields, repeating what they said before or with l'esprit de l'escalier what they wished they'd said before. But I do not sense a connect to younger generations who must be the ones to find sensible new international policies.

I'd just recommend that younger generations reject a lot of the silly and dangerous adventurist and posturing baggage of Australian strategic utterances and deployments. We have been shown by Ireland just how slow and backward we are on equality issues.

Generations seem to be getting both dumber and more cautious, their world full of threats, disemployment, apprehension about saying the wrong thing. As I said in a 2004 speech about the Iraq war, the right to speak is reduced, vocabulary is reduced, distorted:

In 1914 and over the years that followed, as in 2001 and years that follow it, we see political leaders create a situation where they must remain consistent with already failed strategy. They must chew up more lives, because to do otherwise risks not just their own positions but the whole posture and shape of state power they have built up to reinforce their strategies. So much so, that rivals... have to speak the same language, have to say yes they will fight the War on Terror, otherwise they themselves fear being political losers because the whole political vocabulary has been distorted by fear and misinformation. We say to ALL political leaders this: we reject the macho thick-skull notion that you can’t change your mind. We will support you in any pursuit of sane new policy directions to other than war.

In Washington in the 1970s and next in writing speeches for the Labor Party in opposition I thought I made some way with the argument that a good ally is one which helps a big friend to see some course of action is unwise, rather than trotting behind. Huh! It seems so blindingly obvious. Why grasp the coat-tail of someone who won't listen. Why imagine you are more than a doormat if all you do is say yes.

Meanwhile my partner and I have been finding happier times visiting family in the USA and going on for several weeks in Mexico. From which two blogs. It's a slog but good for the brain to try to write up a day's travel or a moment's something. And you can change yourself and be fully alive by thinking freely. There is so much to learn and if you don't take it in you won't learn, won't change.

Here are the two current blogs:
Seattle to San Francisco
Mexico

Saturday, 17 January 2015

What does the Australian Labor Party stand for?



National Archives photo
forty years ago
when Secretary of the
Prime Minister's Department.
John Menadue has today reposted a very sensible clear statement of what the ALP needs to do if it is to have a future. 

Read it here. 

Please.

A sample of the clarity and sense:
"If Labor is to differentiate itself from conservative parties, it needs to express that difference in a clear set of principles which accord with the best of Australians’ values. Otherwise the political contest is reduced to satisfying short-term materialist ‘aspirations’, appeasing vested interests and managing the media cycle. In such a contest, Labor is engaged in a futile struggle, for the Coalition is adept at conveying the misleading impression that it is the ‘natural party of government’, particularly because of its supposed competence in economic management. Joe Hockey’s performance as Treasurer shows that this supposed competence is a myth but conservative commentators still persist with the myth."

That's from part 1. John has also reposted his concluding elegant part 6.  The language is clear, the arguments important.
Even conservatives acknowledge that only the public sector can provide some services such as national defence and management of the money supply. In addition, however there are economic functions where private funding or provision is possible but only at high economic cost, with distorted incentives and with serious consequences for equity. These include education, health insurance, energy and water utilities and communication and transport infrastructure. In these and other areas there are market failures for which prudent economic principles require a strong government role in funding or provision. Unless Labor articulates and defends the proper economic role of government – a pre-requisite to improving Australia’s weak taxation base – economic growth will be restrained by inadequate public spending and investment.
Of these investments, the most important is human capital to ensure that people can develop their capabilities so that they can contribute to their full potential through employment, business or unpaid work...
...[Labor] should present its human capital policies in the context of a unified set of principles in infrastructure, education, health, environmental  protection, underpinned by principles of investing in capabilities, nurturing individual freedom and autonomy and supporting social inclusion.