Saturday, December 21, 2002

Playing Footsie under the Table?

These are heavy political thoughts just before the Xmas cheer I know. I should be wishing everyone a merry Xmas. If it helps I will pose my concerns as questions----is the US Republican 'nod and wink politics of race' being deployed as a political strategy by Howard and the boys in Australia? Let us look upon it as 'playing footsie under the table'. Are they playing loose and fast?

I do not have the answers. But the US commentary is certainly very helpful in getting a fix on the debate.

Raising the race card in Australia gets people going in all directions. See the extensive reactions to Tim Dunlop's GWB gives Howard a lesson (December 12, 2002). So I want to come at it from a different direction---political strategy---in order to take us right away from 'X is a racist.'

My concerns about this arise from Paul Kelly's Comfortable in the lodge and Dennis Shanahan's Labor's faithful desert Crean.Kelly said that Howard's electoral significance is his ability to penetrate the Labor core vote and his capacity to drive a wedge between the middle-class, tertiary-educated ALP voter and the old working-class Labor loyalist. Shanahan observed that Labor Party's traditional vote has split, whilst John Howard's support rises to levels even higher than when his Government turned away the Tampa asylum-seekers last year in the name of protecting our borders. The Coalition now has a stranglehold on crucial marginal electorates it must win to maintain government, while Labor's support is draining away even in its safe seats.

So how is it done? What is the political strategy that has proved to have been so successful for the Coalition? I don't have the answers.

What the above media heavies don't mention about the strategy of the conservative politicians in their appeal to the Hansonite electorate is that they have got their political leverage by not singing the song straight on race. This liberal and conservative commentary is all very clean cut and it does not dig behind the carefully crafted Coalition image to the dirty hands behind the image.

Now the significance of the Trent Lott affair in the US is that Lott's statements helped expose the double entendre game played by Republicans ---'I can't come straight out and agree with you, but you good southern boys know I'm on your side'----even to people who normally don't pay much attention to politics. For the exposure of the remarks by Trent Lott by the US bloggers, see Atrios at Eschaton and Josh Marshall at Talking Point Memo.

What was exposed? The following comment by ex US President Bill Clinton in relation to the Stott affair gives us a clue. It was reported by CNN and it states:

Former President Clinton said on Wednesday that it is "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day."

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

For some background to Republicans, race and political strategy, see Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo here.

And the political strategy? It is the nifty idea of capitalizing upon white resentment of the Civil Rights movement to win the South's electoral votes for the Republican party. Overtly racist campaigns do not win these days so we have the politics of nod and wink. For the history background scroll down the recent posts on Thomas M. Spencer's Blog:Thinking it through.

For the 'nod and wink' race politics US Republican style, see Jeanne d'Arc's excellent Lady Sings The Dixiecrat Double Entendre Blues (Monday, December 16) that are coded as state's rights, traditional Southern values and I am one of you message. This is a way of talking to that section of the electorate without offending liberal voters who would take offence to racist remarks.

So, is Howard's political strategy to successfully retain his hands on the levers of power one of cementing the racist Hansonite vote by saying: 'I can't come straight out and agree with you, but you good folk know I'm on your side'? Is Howard playing footsie with race around Aboriginal Land Rights and Middle Eastern immigrants----under the table? Is the 'nod and wink' play of the race card---the aborigines want 80% of the Australian land mass; we don't want those people here---by Howard and the conservative boys the political strategy that is the key to their electoral success?

Note what I am not arguing:that conservatism =racism (I reject that).The significance of Bill Clinton's remarks is that it addresses political strategy of the conservatives to get their hands on the levers of power.

Is Howard and the boys playing footsie under table?Its a little question to play around with for those inclined to dip into the blogosphere over the Xmas break.
Electricity:Could this happen to SA?

For those good folk who are wondering about the sort of future that SA is entering into, with its deregulated energy market, power blackouts, wholesale price manipulation in terms of price spikes and rising consumer prices for reduced services, then check this story out from the US Legacy of Power Cost Manipulation in the New York Times.

The future does not look good for us in SA. The restructure of the national electricity market was badly designed by the Olsen Liberal Government. The dream of a NRG-lead economic recovery has collapsed. Despite NRG going belly-up through bad corporate governance, the big politicians in the State Liberal Party are still saying that lean and mean private corporations can do things so much than inefficient governments.

The neo-liberal market design has allowed NRG to have enough market power in SA to be able to raise spot prices and to withhold energy----surely a noncompetitive outcome. No doubt the utilitarians will do their cost/benefit analysis and say that despite this noncompetitive outcome the economic benefits from restructuring the industry still exceed the costs. And, no doubt, they will warn that the costs of government intervention to ease this exercise of market power will outweigh the benefits of decreasing the cost of electricity supply.

If so, then what we can infer is that we have a public policy that has designed the electricity market to ensure the transfer of wealth from households to large foreign corporations. This is what is going on not reducing the cost of consuming the delivered electricity to as low as is economically feasible whilst it still being sufficient to induce corporations to invest in new capacity as demand requires.

UpDate
Ross Gittens has a good article on neo-classical economics, models and reality calledBeware of economists wielding simple models. This argues that in recent years, misapplication of the neo-classical economic model has led to a lot of costly cock-ups----he mentions Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia. Ross invites us to infer that the economists are caught up in blinkered thinking and have an inability to see where their models have lost touch with reality.

We don't need much invitation here in SA. It is pretty clear to us that the shift to the national electricity market is a disaster. But it is not as simple as bad market design by the Liberals---as the Rann Labor Government is saying. It is clear that the competitive market model has failed to deliver both economic efficiency and investnment in new and ecologically sustainable infrastructure. So what do the neo-classical economists do? They just reaffirm their model----what is required is to destroy more of the old regulatory ways and institutions in order to establish a truely competitive national electricity market. And the Rann Government goes along with this----more competition at the retail end is what is needed they say.

Why? Well the neo-classical economist's benchmark is competition---the primary objective of the national electricity market is that it should be competitive. Yet the evidence from overseas is that electricity prices have increased:----California (22% increase); Britain (26% increase); the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland market in the US (41% increase). We can now add the South Australian market (27% increase). So we have a transfer of wealth to the energy corporations and these have so much institutional market power that they can increase prices in the market to increase their profits. And though the Rann Labor Government talks tough, it looks on and is beholden to the free market. So it tacitly accepts the transfer of wealth that is taking place.
On the Road to Iraq

The newspapers tell us that the UN inspectors have told the Security Council in a preliminary briefing that there are problems with the 12,000 Iraqi declaration of its weapons programs. The Iraqi's failed to give lots of evidence about its nuclear and biological weapons and the absence of that evidence means that the UN cannot have confidence that Iraq does not posses weapons of mass destruction. Is Sadam Hussein is hiding his stockpile and hoping that the UN inspectors do not find it. On the other hand, the inspectors have found no evidence of current Iraqi weapons programs either. A full report is due to go to the UN Security Council on January 27.

The Bush Administration says that it has the solid evidence of Iraq's currrent production of weapons of mass production but so far it refuses to produce this evidence. Why pussy foot around here when the US has a finger on the trigger with its declaration that Iraq's omissions mean that Iraq is in material breach of its UN obligations?

Why does not the Bush Administration turn the evidence it has about prohibited Iraqi weapons programs over to the UN inspectors and let them check it out? We need clear evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that there is evidence of a direct threat that such weapons will be used and that this use poses an immediate threat to the US.

This is a reasonable stance given that Australian Governemnt position takes the ANZUS Treaty very seriously. It's defence strategy presumes that the US would offer Australia armed assistance if it were attacked. Australia holds that our "undertakings in the ANZUS Treaty to support the US are as important as US undertakings to support Australia". This is mentioned in Paul Kelly's, Obligations are mutual.

But Australia would be a US lap-dog if it does not request and see evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that there is evidence of a direct threat that such weapons will be used and that this use poses an immediate threat to the US. To date the Howard Government has been content to act on faith that such evidence exists. It would be nice to see this evidence. Trust us is not good enough when it comes to war.

Friday, December 20, 2002

California on my Mind
Whilst having a morning coffee at The Anchorage just across the road from the beach at Victor Harbor this morning I quickly glanced through the only newspaper in produced in Adelaide. This is The Advertiser, our one and only tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. I was looking for what NRG, the US electricity power company, was doing during the heat wave apart causing the usual rolling blackouts across the suburbs.

Was it reducing supply and playing the spot price game as happened in California? Sure enough. It was. According to the Elizabeth Rowe story, NRG squeeze made $2.17 in an afternoon electricity was priced at $54 a unit one minute, $3102 the next. Last Tuesday, when temperatures in Adelaide went to 41.3 degrees, the supply of electricity was reduced as demand peaked----hence the price spike. The company was experiencing boiler problems at its Port Augusta power station---it said.

What was the national market regulator doing? Very little on its own accord it would seem. Why should it intervene. There is nothing wrong here. Is not NRG, in trying to get the best price for the product, acting in an economically rational manner? What is wrong with NRG trying to get the best possible price?

And the Rann Government? It remains obsessed with balancing the budget and being seen to be sound economic managers. Journalists like Leanne Craig are saying that Crises turn up heat on Rann team. Admittedly, this State Labor government is getting a free ride with the silence of the Liberal Opposition apart from saying that they did not expect, nor could they foresee, NRG to go belly up. The Libs are silent because they have much to answer for. And where are the SA Democrats?

Still journos are beginning to ask whether the Rann Government has any solutions to a summer of discontent ? Wiill they back away from the tough decisions. Will they go out on a limb and buy back 35% of the state's generating capacity(power generators) wear the cost of an unprofitable power contact of Osborne Power Station, and allow NRG Energy to sell its profitable assets at Port Augusta and the coal fields at Leigh Creek? Will they buckle at the knees?
A Personal Note
We fled a hot and baking Adelaide city early this morning for the coolness of Victor Harbor on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. There sea mist was rolling in from the southern ocean across the beaches. A cool wind was blowing.The air was cool.It was such a relief.

Suzanne was reminded of San Francisco in summer when the sea mist rolled in under the Golden Gate Bridge, enveloping it, and watching the sunlight lighting up the skyscrapers that rose above the summer sea mist from Oaklands.

A cool wind was blowing and the temperature was very pleasant. It was such a relief to have escaped the sweltering early summer heatwave. The standard poodles---Agtet and Ari----went crazy, diving into the sea to cool off, then chasing one another along the beach in gay abandon.

Standing on the beach in the cool air I thought that surviving an Adelaide summer was an endurance test, if you do not have an air-conditioned house, an air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned office. Many don't. And most of the houses have not been designed to capture the cool summer breeze in the evening. So people bake during the day, can't sleep at night and go cranky.

When I took the dogs for a walk around 6pm along the cliff tops west of the Bluff around 6pm, a south west breeze was blowing strongly. The heat wave had finally broken. It will be cooler in Adelaide tomorrow.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

What I would like to see

I saw a snippet of the Dave and Marg Movie Show on SBS this week. It featured a section on the provocateur Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine". It looked good. It should stir things up here no end.
?????????

Being an Australian I have no idea who Noah Vincent is. Does anybody in Australia? Do any Australian cosmopolitians read her LAT (Los Angeles Times) column?

Well, from what I can gather from Busy Busy Busy she seems to be a celebrity journalist in LA who does not appreciate the micro blowhard bloggers anklebitting celebrites to get some attention and increase traffic to their site. Her language at Norah's BlogJam is 'angry ankle-biters who ferociously snipe at traditional media'.

For those interested, the latest column by Noah Vincent is Putting the Brakes on Blowhard 'Bloggers' which notes, and comments on, the Guttnick lawsuit in Australia, where the High Court recently allowed a libel lawsuit to proceed against Dow Jones & Co. for an on-line article published in the U.S. She defends the freedom of expression of the Internet and acknowledges the worth of the top US bloggers----Instapundit, Kausfiles, andrewsullivan.com----for spicing the debate, keeping he media honest and putting the free press through its spaces.

Then she launches into an attack on the 'careless, mad and sometimes vengeful ravings of half-wits who will say anything, especially about established journalists and writers, just to attract more attention to their sites'. Noah Vincent is particularly sensitive to criticism of her work as plagarism and the rest of the article is a defense of herself as a writer. This is quite different to our Oz journos who wear plagarism as a badge of honour---the more the better it seems. For the latest episode, see Piers Ackerman caught out again on Crikey.com

Noah Vincent has a history of getting worked up a bit about those bloggers she calls 'slimebags' . Consider the following remark from Norah's BlogJam:

“The blogosphere is full of nasty riffraff and wannabe pundits who because they haven’t an earnest, original idea in their heads, fill their empty existences sniping impotently at legitimate targets. By legitimate targets I mean people who have actually had some measure of success in their professional lives, people who get published regularly in the mainstream press.”

Strong stuff. Take that you upstart bloggers. I guess this is the LA version of Oz bloggers having at go at Margo Kingston, Janet Albrechtsen, Gerard Henderson and Miranda Devine---although, unlike Noah Vincent, these Australian media celebrities do not have their own weblogs nor do they take any notice of the 'anklebiters', 'lowlifes' and 'slimebags'. Oz journalists pretend that nothing much is happening outside the closed world of the mainstream media. When weblogs do appear, they are mostly talked about in terms of online private journals.

For the reponse to Noah Vincent's LAT column, see the posts by James M. Capozzola NORAH VINCENT CANNOT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS and Elton Beard at Busy Busy Busy Both respond to Noah's Los Angeles Times column.

I was curious about Noah Vincent. What made her tick? So I wandered over to Norah's BlogJam and discovered that it is primarily about what is going on in the deep recesses of Norah's mind. A romantic individualist I thought. Hasn't she heard about concepts and a public language? Our thoughts are embodied in language. Maybe Noah sees her consciousness as soaring beyond the earthly realm of language and so we intuit or point to "things" around "us". I scolled down the page. Then I came across these remarks about philosophy and aesthetics.

'At long last, a few words about philosophy and aesthetics. I suppose the Randians will club me over the head for saying this, and the rest of you will dub me a hopeless philistine or a dolt, but I don’t think that the two fields, if one can rightly call them such in this context, are in any way compatible. They can neither be compared nor comingled. That is why, in my view, a philosophy of art is not only utter nonsense in practice, it’s an oxymoron. It’s also why academics and critics ruin every beautiful thing they touch.

Philosophy is an entirely left-brain endeavor—verbal, analytic, logical. But it is also an activity. By this I mean that it comes from within the human mind (from thought) and seeks to impose itself and some measure of order (via language and argument) on the world without. It is naturally the purest expression of the logos in every sense—the word, the rational principle, and meaning all rolled into one.

Art is the exact opposite. It is a passive right-brain endeavor that flows in the other direction—from the outside in, from the world into the brain. The experience imposes itself on the experiencer, not the other way around. Art happens to us – or in some cases, if you’re a literal-minded, chess playing, dictionary-scrounging geek it doesn’t. (You have noticed, I assume, that there are just some people in the world who simply don’t “get” art. It just doesn’t register. It flies right past the old sensors and splats on the wall behind them.)

Philosophy and aesthetics can neither be compared nor comingled is the key thought here.

What about Nietzsche, who looked at the world through the eyes of art? Well, he doesn't count. Nietzche is not a philosopher. And Heidegger? He was a big name philosopher who was deeply influenced by poets (Holderin). He wrote philosophy concerned with poetics, language, thought; asked questions like: What are poets for in a destitute time?, and developed a style of philosophy in the destitute time of the technological present that was poetic not analytic/logical.

Surely they must have heard of Heidegger in LA? Surely.

Maybe Noah Vincent is like our Miranda Devine?
World Trade Centre
I was stunned by the beauty and magnificence of the designs for the new World Trade Centre shown here. The one exception was the brutalist modernist design of Richard Meier and Partners - I recoiled from that conservatism. The hugh office buildings of a brutalist modernism have done enough damage to our cities.

What caught my eye was the shimmering light of The United Architects design, the colour and shape of Foster and Partners design and the sheer magnificence of the crystal-like design from Think. And they were concerned with the public space on the ground. Suddenly it is no longer about the number of cranes on the skyline signifying development. What we have here is an expressive architecture concerned with a sacred place for the nation that was recovering the sense of people living in a city. They begin to reclaim privatised spaces for public use. What we have here is a different semiotic landscape. This architecture is not just 'symbols of the American capitalism' like the Old Twin Towers that were destroyed by terrorist attack. September 11 has transformed the semiotic landscape. These designs were about public space, the commons , the public good, the nation.

Why cannot we have such creative architecture in Australia ? Why are our enclosed corporate buildings in our CBD so boring and ugly---especially in Adelaide? These corporate monoliths are about wealth and resources in the hands of a few. They swallow up our public spaces, turning large parts of the streets of our cities into canyons with little sunlight and bleak wind tunnels. The line of buildings become virtual fences designed to keep people out in the name of security. The view through the windows on the top floors of corporate tower,s such as 55 Collins Street Melbourne, is a panoramic one across the whole city. This view is enframed by private property. It says simply: 'We own this city. This urban space exists for us to make money'.

The designs of the World Trade Centre transgress this economic reductionism in the name of a celebrating a sacred site of a people.
The joys of the market

One of the myths of the market is that the future prosperity and the wealth of nations can be attained by shifting from an old economy to an information economy based on high tech knowledge and skills. Less philosophy scholars reading Hegel's obscure texts and more computer programmers. So some philosophers started doing computer programming after completing their PhD's.

Well who would have predicted that the market would do one its big bust routines and toss computer programmers out of work and onto the unemployment benefit because there was no work for them. And like so many other Australians so began the slow slide into genteel poverty. If you are over 40 then you stay there.

Not possible you say? This only happens to unskilled workers and the middle managers in the bureaucracy? Our future is the information economy. Well read the excellent post by Gummo Trotsky Life in the professional underclass. This is very good.The professional class has a name for their unemployment---it is called consultancy. It is the underside of the information economy.

The self-organizing market is a funny old place. The government spends well over $100,000 training Australians so they have good skills---eg., Ph.D's---and then the market tosses them onto the scrapheap. Its called the rationality of supply and demand.
Summer in the city

We continue to live in the pizza oven that is Adelaide. The searing heat (around 39 degrees with hot north winds) is expected to continue for the next couple of days. The heat and drinks at Xmas functions make it difficult to blog. It is hard to concentrate. California is on our minds.

Meanwhile power blackouts continue across the city due to failures in the power distribution system.It is public knowledge that there is a SHORT CIRCUIT IN THE SYSTEM even though ETSA has been making assurances the network would cope with summer demands. ETSA, the former electricity public utility, is now owned Hong Kong firm; and so the Rann State Government no longer has immediate access to pertinent information on transmission and distribution problems. ETSA is refusing to detail the full extent of power blackouts since Sunday. Its their right apparently.

Understandably, the Rann State Government is frustrated with this state of affairs. The ordinary punter is saying Sorry ETSA you can't fool us and so the Government is starting to talk tough. It has to be seen to be doing something.

Oh the daily joys of privatisation. Can you imagine what they the staffers and policy advisors are saying in their combat emails? They have California on their mind as they play the political game of trying to show the Rann Government in the best possible light. They would be saying to one another that we cannot intervene in the market. That would be to mistake emotion for policy.

Others would respond by saying that more state intervention would show the Government to be in the grip of an old ideological prism. It would be judged harshly by the econcrats if the Government talked about the renationalisation of the power generators. The hard-hearted econocrats would write their op-ed pieces about that being the sure path to stagnation, without a dominant private sector SA would never be able to generate the wealth to pay for the health, education and services the electorate expects.

The staffers would feel bunkered down and frustrated because their policy gospel of the government steering not rowing is not working too well. And the tone of compassionate commonsense in the media spin is proving difficult to find. They know that the electorate gets cranky in the heat and lashes out.

It is hard to put a positive spin on electricity reform these days. The econocrats at the National Competition Council (NCC) and Treasury are upbeat about the reforms in the electricity energy sector.Their position on the electricity energy sector is very clear. They say that:

' the centrepiece of National Competition Policy (NCP) electricity reform is the creation of a national electricity market in south east Australia, featuring a single wholesale market for electricity and an interconnected national electricity grid. The market allows retailers, aggregators and end users to bid for electricity sold into the wholesale pool by competing generators, while retailers, aggregators and other producers compete for customers.

The reforms have opened electricity generation and retailing to competition, while addressing bottlenecks in the transmission and distribution grid by allowing third parties access under the National Electricity Access Code. The reforms also include structural reforms aimed at breaking down barriers to interstate and intrastate competition, including the dismantling of State-owned monopolies. '

All this may be true. But it is hard to connect such economic talk to raising standards of living for the ordinary punter in Adelaide faced with rolling blackouts on a daily basis. This is a big spin problem.

Still the policy advisors can take heart. The National Competition Council (NCC) says that significant progress has been made to date in the implementation of competition reforms in both the national electricity market (NEM); that the right direction to take is the necessity of the implementation of further competition reforms to achieve the original energy market reform objectives set by Governments in the early 1990s; and that there is a real need to “kick-start” the reform programme for the NEM.

The staffers would be saying 'thank goodness Xmas is just around the corner. Everyone in Adelaide is planning to go to the cool southern coast for the Xmas break. The Government will be let off the hook until January. Then there will be more blackouts with outraged consumers paying 25% extra for reduced services. But the staffers and policy advisors know the way forward from their NCC competition manual.

In its 'Submission to the Council of Australian Government (CoAG) Energy Market Review, the NCC identified as a problem the absence of a policy body responsible for determining and articulating the overall direction and structural architecture of the National electricity market. (NEM). According to the NCC's competition manual such 'a body should, as a matter of urgency, clearly define the role of networks in the NEM and whether a “common carriage” or a “congestion management” approach to network infrastructure should be adopted.'

According to the NCC the 'other areas of reform in the NEM include:

the need to improve locational price signals in the wholesale market by moving toward greater nodal pricing;

the need to adopt a greater degree of cost reflective pricing for networks;

streamlining the interconnector approval process;

implementation of full retail contestability; and

refinement of current institutional arrangements.'

This reassuring advice will steel the policy advisor's nerves and prevent them from becoming bleeding hearts. They would see that it makes good policy sense. Increased competition is the way forward. What other pathway is there in a globalised world?

Oh the joys of privatisation. California is definitely on our minds in this summer in the city. Even on our Xmas break.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Blame the West theory of terrorism

The uproar around Bob Carr, Margo Kingston, the Bali Bombings and blaming the victims in Little old Sydney a few weeks ago (see Webdiary) was Australia's version of 'the west is to blame for Islamic (or sometimes just plain ) terrorism'. Underneath the ' West is to blame' thesis, and giving it creditability is the anti-war left position that America is the enemy or the great satan.

I have blogged against this line of argument on the liberal grounds that it closes debate down, and so prevents us from coming to understand both S11 and the Bali Bombings. See my postings: Sorting the little things out amidst the sounds of the big war drums on (14.12. 2002) and War: Where does the left stand?---According to the Right (on 13. 12. 2002). We need to hear the different voices if we are to make ethical and political sense of what happened.

The following account by the analytic philosopher TED HONDERICH indicates what happens when moral philosophy becomes a involved in political life. Honderich wrote a book on September 11 called After the Terror and he became caught up in the sweep of political events. He was seen as defending terrorism. He gives a full account of the events under OXFAM GB, £5000, ZIONISM, AFTER THE TERROR, and MEDICAL AID FOR PALESTINIANS

Do read this story of what happened to a philosopher on a lecture tour promoting his (well-received) book in the US and the subsequent fallout. It helps us to understand the history we are living. It shows how very misleading and damaging the politics of the war of terrorism can be

Give yourself time. It is long account. The devil is the detail as always.
Water Futures

Here is a review by Christopher Sheil of an article by Patrick Troy in Dissent magazine on water and water management in our Australian cities. Dissent is not fully online. The Oz Left culture has not fully embraced cyberspace. So we have to make do with this review here.

It is a good and thoughtful review on an important issue that will involve changes to the way we use water in our urban lives.
Interesting Blog from Antartica

It is so hot in Adelaide---we are in the middle of a heat wave.It is difficult to concentrate or write.It no longer cools down at night. I am yearning for returning to Victor Harbor on the weekend. It is 10 degrees cooler there.

When the dry heat settles in and the warm north wind blows down from the desert Adelaide bakes. Then I remember the Alps in the South Island of New Zealand. I grew up in Christchurch. The Alps were always there on the horizon. They were a place for fun.

That memory then reminded me of a blog by Beth Bartel that I had came across a few nights ago.

Its called Iceblog. Its got lots of photos too. Great blog. Take a look.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Confusing us all

Janet Albrechtsen, one of Gummo Trotsky's favourite journalists, is well known in blogger circles for the depth of her insights, the breadth of her knowledge, and tbe soundness of her judgements. After reading Gummo's appreciation of her work I started reading Jane's op ed pieces. Before that I used to turn the page to read the money section to see how I could make a lot of money and become a dashing, wellheeled conservative lad about town.

My heart soared when I came across Janet's writing in today's Australian.My day was made. I was even more interested when I came across Janet saying 'that the Liberal Party should wear its conservative badge with pride.' This sparked my interest as I did not really know what Australian conservatism stood for. The lefty Oz bloggers to a man all thought it stood for racism, but I knew that it had to be more than that. Janet would enlighten me into what I wanted to become and the character I needed to have so that I could be in tune with the times.

I thought I was making good progress here with buying a townhouse in the CBD with all those design bits that make for the Vogue style for those who 'want to make their mark'. I so wanted to be somebody. I was even thinking for going to work for a good Liberal MP to a carve out a life for myself in politics.

So what is the conservative badge that the Liberal Party wears so proudly? Janet is very straightforward here. She says in her little piece, Liberals don't need Carnell knowledge, that:

..."at its core, conservatism values individual personal responsibility, a buck-stops-with-you, non-negotiable philosophy where government empowers people to determine their own success or failure and to assume responsibility either way.

John Howard, long derided as too dry by the wets and too wet by the dries, has masterfully navigated a course straight to the heart of middle Australia by articulating, even during his darkest political days, that Liberal vision."

This liberal vision/philosophy seems to be a version of libertarianism not conservatism. Even I knew that conservatism has something to do with statism, family values, a traditional moral culture, paternalism, tradition and changing our social insitutions slowly. Whatever it is, it is not a mere libertarianism. Of that I am sure, even though I'm confused about philosophical things.

But not Janet. She says that the Liberal Party can, and should, get on with the job of being a real conservative party that fosters individual freedom and responsibility. This is hardly the action of a Liberal Government wedded to the national security state and willing to sacrifice civil liberties in the national interest. What about the nostalgic nationalism of an Australia that once was? What about the Anglo-Saxon cultural chauvinsm? Paul Kelly spots this bits of Australian nationalism in Comfortable in the Lodge.

Doesn't Janet read Paul? They appear as a pair on the same page of The Australianalmost as if it were him and her- an item as my friends say.

Confused all round? Well maybe Janet just slipped up because it's nearly Xmas. Or maybe a lot of Oz journalists are pretty second rate? Maybe Gummo was being satirical again. He does have that light ironic touch.

Whatever. As I said Janet made my day. What more could I ask?
Australia and South East Asia: A clash of Civilizations

The pre-emptive strike language of the 'war on terror' and the rejection of criticism from other nation states in the region puts Australia's relationship with our near neighbours into question. It takes us in a circle back to where begun. Here is a snap shot.

Historically we Australians (after Federation in 1901) saw ourselves as a white British enclave/outpost in a region of hostile and threatening nation-states. Ethnocentrism and fear of the outside world defined the nation in this Hobbesian world and made Asia the Other. Then in the 1980s we became multicultural diverse and cohesive Australia facing the future. By the early 1990s we were no longer outsiders in the region. Those on the Labor side of politics reinvented Australia as an Asian nation and talked about the necessity of our Asian engagement and hitching a ride of the gravy train of the boming tiger economies.

The nations-states of Asia, it was said, were converging towards the liberal democracy and liberal capitalism of Australia and the USA. This convergence was the future of the world, if not the end of history. We were standing on the cusp of a new era in world history. Australia was confident of its place in a diverse Asia-Pacific region, and it would contribute positively to the evolving destiny of that region. The very idea of a clash of civilizations was dismissed as right wing nonsense by liberals.

All that changed in the late 1990s when the Howard Coalition Government came to power. Suddenly Australia was the deputy sheriff of the USA; its booming economy was fireproofed against the Asian meltdown that took out the East Asian economies; our borders had to be made asylum-seeker-proof; and it discovered the dark spectre of a clash of civilizations. Suddenly we were outsiders again, and South EastAsia was the familar Other---now a fundamentalist Islam, or a Jemaah Islamiyah fighting Western decadence, or even infidels. Australia had become Islamo-phobic. The conservative media were onto the clash of civilizations in a flash----making up for what they had missed in the 1990s.

After the Bali bombings the visits of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, to Australia were seen as building a network of Jemaah Islamiyah, which is reportedly linked to the dreaded Al Qaeda. Our political leaders and political commentators in Australia interpreted the Bali bombings as part of Al Qaeda terror plan, using its Southeast Asian arm, the Jemaah Islamiyah. Muslims leaders with anti-Western political views, are now lumped with those groups involved in terrorism or other violence. A radicalised Islamist fringe off-side to modernity is seen be on a long march with plans to create a pan-Islamic state that included parts of Australia.

Australians now gaze at East Asia with fear and loathing. The old emotions are back. Islam is the internal other---you cannot build your churches in our community. Go away you are the "foreign”, the “different” the “Asian”. The old image of Australia as a socially diverse liberal order with good relationships with its neighbours is looking very shaky. One nation conservatism is pushing this liberalism to one side.

That is the snap shot. What it says is that at the end of history we are living 'the clash of civilizations.' This enemy/friend conception of politics is how we now make sense of our history.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Water Reform in Queensland?

I have always suspected that the Beattie Labor Government in Queensland was strong on biotechnology and weak on water reform. It has failed to implement the cap on the water diverted by irrigators from the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin. Its movement on water reform is through spin and media events, such as buying out Cubbie Station, producing salinity maps, or saying the federal government is not doing enough to fund a cap on landclearing in Queensland. Queenland is beholden to developmentalism--developing the country through irrigated agriculture.This is how South Australians see Queensland.

Queensland sees itself as the tiger regional economy of Australia and it contrasts its boomtimes and openended future with the poor economic performance of an inward-looking South Australia. South Australia is seen to be inflicted by the "Tasmanian problem"----political inertia, a dismal economic performance caused by a cultural climate that is unattractive to business and opposition to economic development and activity.

Is Queensland taking water reform seriously? Well yes and no. Consider what the Courier Mail had to say in this editorial on water:

"Sunwater, the enterprise that owns and manages many of the state's regional dams and other water infrastructure assets, has recently informed several shire councils they can expect hefty rises in their water bills. The news produced an outcry from the councils similar in volume to that previously expressed by graziers and irrigators when they discovered how much more their water was going to cost under Sunwater's commercial rate policy. Most of the stakeholders affected by the new policy are outraged Sunwater would continue to increase their water charges at a time when the drought has delivered blow after blow to businesses ... But the company appears unmoved, insisting it is merely applying a new commercial pricing regime (that is, setting a more realistic price for water) that everyone knew about two years ago.

Queensland is undergoing a revolution in the way water is regarded as an asset, yet the Government has made a poor fist of explaining what will be achieved by making farmers pay much more. It has been left to bodies such as Sunwater to implement a policy that, for political reasons, has few champions in the Government. It is time Mr Robertson [the minister responsible for Sunwater) explained what the company's pricing strategy is all about. There would rarely be a better time to explain why water is such a precious resource.'

But they wont, even though they have a good parliamentary majority and do not need to go to an election for a couple of years. The government politicians let others do the reform work for them, whilst they listen to the corporate agricultural shrills and continue to act as the drones for the big agricultural interests peddling prosperity. This inaction on water reform is less a case of suck up, and more a case of the state government engaged in strategic or opportunistic behavior to maximize its own power rather than benefiting the greater good of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Queensland is the classic free rider in water politics. This the standard view of the Beattie Government from the bottom end of the Murray-Darling Basin.
Have we got it wrong?
Gerard Henderson's advice to Lefties: Concede or Die

Gerard Henderson, that well-known commentator from Sydney, has published an op-ed piece on Carmen Lawrence in The Sydney Morning Herald in which he says that Carmen Lawrence fails to understand that the nature of the game of politics is compromise.

To make his case here Henderson relies on Frank Parkin's Middle Class Radicalism published back in the halcyon 1960s, and Parkin's distinction between between instrumental and expressive politics in particular. The former "is primarily concerned with the attainment of power to bring about desired ends, even if this means some compromise of principles". Whereas the latter is "mainly concerned with the defence of principles, even if this means relinquishing power".

Gerard uses this distinction to put Lawrence in the camp of 'expressive politics' that stands on principles. He basically gets her by saying that her call for a return for Whitlamesque style politics today is adopting instrumental politics since that's what Whitlam really stood for. He says:

"In the late '60s and early '70s, Whitlam was into instrumental, not expressive, politics. He favoured moderate policies which would bring about gradual change ---- a position which, alas, he did not follow in government. At the time it was Whitlam's principal rival, the leftist Jim Cairns, who was accusing the contemporary ALP of being conservative and timid ... In Australia Labor is successful when it acts in accordance with the principle of instrumental politics. This was true of the Hawke and Keating governments --- and remains the case with the various state Labor and territory governments headed by, among others, Bob Carr, Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie.'"(Those in Sydney town always neglect to mention SA).

The title of the op-ed piece says it all: 'Concede or you die, a lesson for lefties.'

I do not want to get into an argument about Labor legacy. I more interested in Henderson's 'lesson for lefties.' What I want to draw attention to is the way that Henderson's distinction misses how an instrumental politics for desired ends can involve the desired ends being up for debate. After all, who is to say what the desired policy ends are: the government of the day?, the opposition?, citizens?, big business? It is the ends of policy and politics that are contested---eg. wealth creation or sustainability? inequality or social justice. This is what liberalism evades when it says that we cannot rationally adjudicate between the competing desired individual ends.

Politics is the instrument citizens use to bring about the good life they desire since this will bring them happiness. This political instrument is tempered by the institutional responsibilities and duties that we have in civil society and in our political life. Now liberals reject this stuff (its classic republicanism) as a particular group imposing their way of life on others. They decry this totalitarianism in the name of liberty. Two cheers for liberty!

What they don't see is the trap they have laid for themselves. Liberty is their desired end and it is good in itself. The content of this good is individual liberty, or the liberal way of life. Politics is the instrument for achieving liberal way of life. In using government to achieve this they are imposing their liberal way of life on non-liberals---eg., on Muslims who do not accept the separation of church and state. So they are seen to be totalitarian by non-liberals.

Liberals are hoisted by their own petard. Gotcha.

See what my philosophy professors taught me to do with lessons? (See previous post Have a look at this and cry).

It pays to take the heroic option sometimes and refuse to concede.
A Piece of the Iraqi Weapons Dossier

This is about as close as we will ever get to seeing the Iraqi document submitted to the United Nations about its weapons of mass destruction. The US spirited away the UN's copy, taking it to Washington, where it made copies for the other Security Council members.

The Table of Contents for Iraq's Weapons Declaration can be found at The Memory Hole website. The information retrieved gives us some idea what the dossier is like.
Have a look at this and cry

I spent a decade of my life learning to do philosophy at a regional Australian University. The philosophy institution was run by analytical philosophers and I was taught to argue in a certain way. I hated it, rebelled, spent years trying to read Hegel, then stumbled into Nietzsche and was liberated.

This text by Kieran Healy Philosophy Discovers Society is a wicked send-up of how I was taught to think. It cracked me when I read it. But the tears were bitter sweet ones from the painful memories of my university schooling.

Analytic philosophy, for those who have not encountered it, modelled itself on a mathematical physics, which defined itself as the fundamental modern science.

Have a read. It is a high class piece of writing.
A quote from long ago

Lucius Annaeus Seneca
'We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?'
Epistle

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Doing the Tampa in Canberra

Something politically significant happened in Canberra on Friday night as a result of the debates over the ASIO Bill, the conflict between the House of Representatives and the Senate and the big stand off between both sides of federal politics. Battle lines have been clearly drawn in the 'war on terror', where the code or subtext is the explicit clash of civilisations. This new situation means that we citizens are going to have to keep an eagle eye on things during carnival time.

I had intended to write on the way that "national security" is being used to justify "emergency powers" and the curtailment of citizen's rights in the ASIO bill; and the 'war on terror 'is being deployed by the Howard Government in domestic politics to retain itself in power. But others have written good material, so I will draw attention to what they have said.

For an account of the political tactics and strategies between Liberal and Labour over national security issues, see Margo Kingston's Crean's gambit: time to Tampa with terror .For an account of the political play between the two houses of federal Parliament and the role of Bob Brown, see Alan Ramsay's Brown pricks, PM deflates. For the last moments of a House of Representatives in uproar see Paul Sheehan's PM's double-dissolution trigger finger must be itching over ASIO bill.

For a commentary on the above events that is sympathetic to the Labor Party, see Glenn Milne's PM gives Labor reason for unity.

For the background to the ASIO Bill from a legal perspective, see Ken Parish's Defending freedom (on Thursday, December 5, 2002). For Ken's political interpretation of Howard's strategy as wedge politics see his recent Tim Dunlop on ASIO Bill.

For an excellent left of centre commentary on the significance of the political fallout and the way the Howard Government is going to use what happened in Canberra to fight the domestic politics, see Tim Dunlop's important posting Beyond left and right on an issue of national importance.

And for the international dimension. The nightmare consequences of war with Iraq is spelt out by Stewart Kelly at Stews Blog whilst Washington's apparent reluctance to produce its "solid" evidence of Iraqi is considered by John Quiggin here.

National security within the war on terrorism becomes the strategic political framework and domestic issues are recast within this framework. How long before we hear talk of environmental security by the national security state? The Government in power identifies itself with the national security state, says that the state only has stability in a time of war, that the war demands the power of the state is strengtened, and that particular political interests must give a way to the universal interest in time of war. See Piers Ackerman Facing reality in a time of terror for this.

What all this means is that the Howard Government identifies itself with the universal or national interest and casts its political opponents as representing particular interests. And we know the political line: the actions of the particular interests undermine the state's stability and its capacity to protect the security of the Australian people. They are to blame for why we cannot sleep safely and soundly in our beds at night. Let us punish the disrupting particular interests.
Strange Happenings in Sydney town

I see from the weekend papers that the Carr Government in NSW is continuing to lurch to the right. It is still banging the law and order drum to show that it is tough on crime in the community and that there is just no need to continue with the reforms of a conflict-ridden, state police force.

What is going on in Sydney town? It appears from way over here in Adelaide that Alan Jones, the radio personality, Alan Jones says 'get things sorted' on radio and Michael Costa, the Police Minister, jumps to it with enthusiasm. A media celebrity running the police force in the global city? Or the politicians and the media flirting again in a new romance?

For all the goods on the strange happenings in local politics see Miranda Devine.She knows whats what.She says that its ' time the police got their house in order,' because Australia come tops in violent crime in any Western country whilst NSW suffered the worst increases in crime of any state in Australia. NSW is the place where criminals flourish.

My my. I thought.What does all this do to Sydney's self-image as Australia's one and only global city. I though from this image that Sydney had broken free from its moorings in a stultifying and mean-spirited provincialism. What I read in the newspapers said that hot-wired Sydney was the hub of the information society, the centre of the spaceless technology of information exchange; the defining location for the raw explosion of a postindustrial economy and the economic boom; the centre of cosmopolitan values and global placelessness; and the key nodal point in the information super-highway?

So why all this law and order stuff about needing to assert control in a particular place in a particular geographical region? Is inequality within the region increasing? Are the human costs of this inequality all too apparent from the persistent poverty and hunger in innercity areas; the intensifying fracturing between the haves and have-nots; and the expanding prison populations?

Is it just the NSW right doing what it likes doing best---bashing heads, kneecapping friends and stomping on freedom---and nothing to do with the Australian dream? Or is it just pre-election tactics and strategy to retain power at all costs?
Victorian Liberals lose the plot---badly

I see from the weekend papers that Victorian Opposition Leader Robert Doyle has dumped key portfolios including water and the environment from his Liberal shadow cabinet. This is a swing to the right and away from the middle ground by the Victorian Liberals. This is done at a time when the Brack's Government has upgraded the environment portfolio from being a poor-cousin ministry, by giving it to John Thwaites, the deputy premier. In doing so the Brack's Government has broken with tradition of Deputy Premier's having the treasury, health, education or transport portfolios and indicated its recognition that the environment is a central concern to the majority of Victorians.

So what's going on here with the Victorian Liberals? Why the retreat? Why an unwillingness to engage with environmental issues? Obviously these are considered to be unimportant. But why?

Funny enough, an insight into this is given by an Aussie in London, Michael Jennings who talks about the shifts in his political views. This post, People of Earth: Your Attention Please, is an interesting one. What Michael says is this:

"I come from the left. I was brought up to favour social justice. I was brought up to dislike poverty. I was brought up to loathe and detest racism. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a socialist. When I was 19, I would have described myself as a Green. I changed. I realised that government is not the solution to the world's problems, that large government is inefficient and effective, and that the left wing caricature of big business as a group of greedy capitalists out to exploit the third world and rape the world of its resources is largely wrong. I discovered that the mainstream Green movement's cries of impending doom are largely wrong, and I grew tired of the movements undemocratic nature, anti-technology bias, and refusal to listen to clear thinking. I became aware of the fact that free trade, and capitalism, and not aid that enriches corrupt officials and builds pointless dams is the best way to help the poor world become less poor. I became annoyed by the political correctness of the left, and its unwillingness to listen to views other than its own."

He adds that this 'is obviously a caricature, and I am ranting about the people who annoy me the most. There are plenty of moderate lefties who don't fit it, but you can find people who fit the entire caricature pretty easily. The key reason I left the left is essentially that I concluded that large government is not the solution to the world's problems.'

His judgment is that 'the political left is on its last legs, quite frankly, and I needed somewhere else to go. Many right wing parties support free trade and theoretically support smaller government, and so there there is a certain temptation to support them.'

This is a shift to the free market, technoscience and minimal government---the core values of economic liberalism. Michael is uncomfortable with some aspects of the right wing political parties---eg., the Liberal Party in Australia, the Republican party in America, and others. These are also the parties of tradition, composed of people who desire to get these parties to protect their hereditary wealth for them. In most cases, people who are already rich become quite conservative: they want government to protect their interests in particular, and not to foster a healthy competitive economy. This flows into true conservatives in a more literal sense: people who want to keep the values of the past. Racist values at times do get mixed into this. Christian Conservative values do at times get mixed into this.'

Michael's judgement is that the racist values are what need to be questioned. He states that in 'a sense, if there is a grain of truth in the left's caricature of the right, this is where it is. The vast majority of Republicans are not like this at all. If you come from the left but have moved right because you find the left silly, this is what you are sensitive about. The racist right is not large, but it is the demon you were brought up to loathe most. If, however, they [Republicans] are willing to keep its [racists values] company, you find yourself asking questions about them. Do they secretly share its views. If not, why are they willing to tolerate it. Is it because they want to gain power or stay in power so much that they are willing to sign a pact with the devil?'

So Michael's core value is fostering a healthy competitive economy rather than traditional conservative values. Michael's emphasis is on free markets . 'Free markets are about creating more competition and lowering prices, making the economy on the whole more efficient, and thus helping consumers, not about doing deals, protecting vested interests, and keeping the present rich as rich as possible.'

Well I reckon this is pretty much where the Doyle-led Victorian Liberals now stand. This is the bedrock they have retreated to,in order to affirm their identity and lick their wounds from a devastating political loss in the Victorian State election. However, they are unable to state that the 'political left are on their last legs' when confronted by an extremely confident Brack's Labor Government now willing to reform the Victorian Upper House.

What we can infer from the shift to the right by the Doyle-led Liberals is that they tacitly reject green ideas about sustainability, protecting watersheds, ensuring healthy rivers, reducing salinity as just so much political correctness. This political correctness is what can be pruned off to get back to their core business.

So they have taken themselves out of the key debate about how to reform water use and save the state's dying rivers and sidelined as minor the battle between environmentalists, who want farmers to become more efficient and restore water to rivers, and rural communities and irrigators, who argue any reduction in water allocations will hurt livelihoods. The Doyle Liberals are saying that finding ways to get Melburnians to stop using so much water is a minor issues and that they are not interested in a role on the national stage to fight to save the Murray and to sort out the issues water rights and compensation between the states and the Federal Government..

Most inexperienced gardeners over prune and kill the shrubs----well, roses in this case! The actions of the Doyle-led Victorian Liberals indicate that they are inexperienced gardeners. See Kroger rejects calls to lead Victorian Liberals in The Age.
Update: Nor can we expect much from the conservative and cautious Bracks Government. It will be a case of moderate centrism even though this Government now has control of both house of Parliament. See After the landslide, steady as she goes
Unsure of whats going on here

Jason Soon at Catallaxy Files links to a review in The Nation of a book by the American conservative Dinesh D'souza called Letters to a Young Conservative. Jason highlights the following passage as dubious---the phrase he uses is 'verges into cloud-cuckoo land'. The reviewer George Packer writes:

"A serious book by a conservative today would face the dilemma I mentioned above--that freedom and authority are profoundly at odds. Any true conservative (as opposed to a mere libertarian) has to be disturbed, if not disgusted, by the spectacle of contemporary America. If belief in a traditional and externally existing system of moral values by which human beings must organize the good society is the philosophical touchstone of conservatism, then America today represents the closest thing on earth to its actual repudiation. In this sense the Islamists are right to hate us, and the initial reaction to September 11 from the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson was philosophically correct ...

And by the same token, any true conservative must be uneasy with how completely the Republican Party has submitted to the interests of big business. The making of money doesn't signify any higher value, and in techno-capitalist America it is the single strongest force for crushing competing values, including what are known as "family values."

Jason then makes a cryptic comment. I think these lines and the title of my post speak for themselves ... The title of the post is 'The Islamofascist left'. Well I for one just dont get it.I read it several times and then I read the full review by George Packer called The Conservative Imagination (link not working. Accessible here). I was still puzzled.

Is this conservatism going off the rails from a libertarian perspective. Obviously there is something wrong here with what conservatism stands for? But what? It cannot be the heavy hand of the authoritarian state because the state is not even mentioned.

The what presumably has something to to do with the ' Islamofascist left'. But how does the conservative right become the left? How do both then become fascist? Is it because they are totalitarian? And how does an American Christian conservatism become Islamo? Is it because both defend the existing system of moral values that are grounded on family values against their destruction by a nihilistic free market?

Can anyone make sense of what Jason is getting at? I'm puzzled because I thought Hayek was a conservative.