Apr 13, 2019

A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media

ABC’s Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue  (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website  in case you miss it).

Geraldine talks with Dr Abdelrahman Tamini, General Director of Palestinian Hydrology about Palestinian water supply;

With the biggest election in the world taking place, what is the current state of India? With Ravi Agrawal, Managing Editor of Foreign Policy magazine and author of the book India Connected: How the Smartphone is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy and Amitabh Mattoo, Honorary Director of the Australia India Institute in Delhi, Professor of Disarmament Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Honorary Professor of International Relations at the University of Melbourne;

What are the legalities of extradition in relation to Julian Assange? With Don Rothwell, international law expert at the ANU;

What money can buy you in political meetings, with lecturer in politics, George Rennie from the University of Melbourne;

Another setback for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the guilty verdict of nine of the 2014 “umbrella” protestors, with Joseph Cheng, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy;

Shifting world order and alliances with Peter Dean, Professor of War Studies from the University of Western Australia and co-author of After American Primacy and Charles Edel from the US Studies Center, co-author of The Lessons of Tragedy.

Other commentary

Election analysis – polls point to the government holding office

On the ABC’s Late Night Live, Phillip Adams interviews Vedi Hadiz of Melbourne University, where he is Professor of Asian Politics and Societies. Joko Widodo remains the front runner in Indonesia’s presidential election, due to take place next Wednesday. Opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto has developed links with fringe right-wing Islamist groups, taking advantage of a perception that Widodo’s religious credentials are weak, but polls show Widodo’s lead to be in double figures.

In another election not too far from Indonesia a senior executive records his disappointment with the party he voted for in the last election; it won’t be getting his vote in the coming election. He asserts that the government has polarised the country, and of the party’s leader he writes “he created a divided party, with an economically liberal wing and a culturally conservative wing”. The party’s rhetoric “has turned from economics to identity politics and security issues”.  The author is Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Proctor & Gamble India, writing in Foreign Affairs  about his disillusionment with Modi’s BJP Party.

Meanwhile, polls down under

Recent opinion polls have the gap between Labor and the Coalition narrowing. William Bowe’s Poll Bludger  puts Labor’s 2PP lead at 5.2 per cent (52.6 t0 47.4 on April 12).  From here on there is likely to be more media focus on polls in particular seats, but these should be read with caution, because parties can claim to have internal polling that claims to show a seat is marginal, in order to draw the other side’s limited resources away from other campaigns.

The latest Essential Report (April 9) has a Labor 2PP lead of four percent, and unsurprisingly shows a fall in the One Nation vote. It also has a detailed analysis of people’s responses to the budget. Only 32 per cent of those surveyed considered the budget to be “fair and balanced”. Those with lower incomes were far less favourably disposed to the budget than those with high incomes.  In response to the question “To what extent has the Budget impacted your likelihood to vote for the Coalition at the upcoming Federal election?” the budget seems to have had no net effect – perhaps even a slight negative effect.

We are all in the middle – or at least we think we are

Whatever our income, we all tend to see ourselves as being around the middle, and if we’re well off ourselves we tend to over-estimate the median (middle of the distribution) wage in Australia. Research by Christopher Hoy of ANU and Russell Toth of the University of Sydney confirms that we carry around misperceptions of inequality – we believe the distribution of income is much more equal than it actually is. This misperception tends to make us less accepting of redistributive policies than we would be if we were better informed. Their research confirms that when presented with clear and accurate information about income distribution, people, particularly those on the “right” in their attitudes to economic equity, become more accepting of policies that lead to a re-distribution of income. Their full paper is on the Crawford School’s website, and Matt Wade has an article summarising their work – Think you are a middle-income earner? You’re probably wrong– in the Fairfax press.

This research is relevant in terms of the political strategy behind the Coalition’s budget proposal to flatten the tax rates, applying a 30 percent marginal rate for everyone with incomes between $45 000 to $200 000. If we think an income of $100 000 or $200 000 is “about the middle”, we are likely to see the proposal as fair, but in reality the median income of all employed Australians is around $55 000– a figure that doesn’t include pensioners, the unemployed or others not in the work force. As Greg Jericho writes in The Guardian The desire to help the wealthiest is entrenched in the government’s strategy.

The view from a prominent Liberal Party economist: “Frydenberg looks ridiculous”

While former Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull has been giving Morrison a hard time in relation to Dutton’s cash-for-access rort (he has a lot to explain says Turnbull), another former leader, John Hewson, writing in the Canberra Times, has been highly critical of Frydenberg’s budget proposals. The budget is indefensible, because it’s laden with contradictions and inconsistencies, particularly in its unwillingness to accept the need for an energy policy that charts a path of structural adjustment to meet our climate change obligations and to help us deal with the consequences of climate change. His perception of the Morrison Government’s policy is “Their end game is simply winning at all costs, even at the expense of decency, compassion, and principle”.

The Australian electorate – a tale of three regions and two generations

So far most commentary on the election has been about the difficulty for the Coalition in appealing to voters in Queensland and Victoria with the same policies and messages. But there is more to Australia than this divide: George Megalogenis has a more sophisticated analysis of the electorate. In his Sydney Morning Herald  article The tragedy of the 2019 election he describes regional, ethnic and demographic divisions in Australia. His political map has three regions “the cosmopolitan south-east of NSW, Victoria and the ACT; second the frontier states of Queensland and Western Australia; and finally the outsiders in South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory”. He sees both Morrison and Shorten as uninspiring political apparatchiks, products of an earlier political era, and asks whether our next prime minister will be able to bring Australians together.

Central banks – the next victim of right-wing populism?

There is something absurd about the Coalition’s claim that Treasury’s costing of Labor’s fiscal figures reveals a “tax hit”  of $387 billion, calculated on the basis of Labor’s not going ahead with the Coalition’s tax cuts – cuts which wouldn’t take place until after the next two elections. (To illustrate the absurdity, had the Coalition promised to abolish income tax altogether they could have accused Labor of a “tax hit” of $3 trillion.)

The Treasury was once a bulwark of independence but the Coalition has been making it more “responsive” to political pressure, particularly in its presentation of budgetary information. But at least we have an independent Reserve Bank, which has taken the setting of interest rates away from the interference of executive government. The Economist, however, warns that populist governments, such as right-wing governments in Turkey and the USA, are moving to take back control of central banks. The independence of central banks is under threat from politics.

How economics works – or should work

If you feel you need to understand a little more about economics, and have only 12 minutes to spare, then you might care to watch a YouTube presentation Everything You Need to Know About the New Economy  by Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration.  Economic outcomes are more about power and institutions than they are about supply and demand in a supposed “free” market.  He sets out seven principles behind a “progressive populist” economic agenda, and four points to implement the agenda.

From another Democrat visiting Europe

If you have two hours to spare, you can watch Barak Obama in a dialogue  addressing 300 “young leaders” gathered in Berlin for a town-hall style meeting. He warns about political polarisation and the rise of strident nationalism and the far right in Europe: “We know where that leads. Europe knows better than anyone where that leads – to conflict, bloodshed and catastrophe”, and “we can combat climate change while still providing a high standard of living”. He calls for young people to be politically engaged: just as they would resent having their grandfathers dictate what clothes they should wear or what music they should listen to, so they should not leave it to ageing politicians to make decisions about climate change and other issues with long-term consequences for the younger generations.

(The recording is unedited: the first 18 minutes is of a blank stage, before a chairperson introduces Obama’s 15 minute presentation. The Q&A discussion covering everything from the personal to the geopolitical starts at 35 minutes.)

Also on strident far-right European nationalism

Former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, speaking at the National University of Ireland in Galway, was also on the theme of older people making decisions for younger people in his address on Brexit – a crazed ideological jihad. “It’s partly because of demography. The majority are dying off. What we have got to find is a way where leaders will accept that when they talk about the majority, it may no longer exist.” What has emerged is a view of Britain in the world that “betrays the most small-minded nationalism imaginable”. Irish Times

Australia’s link with Europe’s far right

Canadian journalist Michael Colborne talks with Phillip Adams on Late Night Liveabout the  Ukrainian Azov Movement and its connections with other European extremist movements. They are loosely connected through sharing the Nazi Sonnenrad or Schwarze Sonne  symbol – a symbol also used by the Australian who murdered 50 worshippers in Christchurch, and who spent time in south-east Europe absorbing an anti-Islam version of history. The full interview  is available on theLate Night Livewebsite, and there is a related article by Colborne  on the ABC news website.

Remembering the consequences of far-right nationalism

Any Australian who served in the Asian and European wars of 1939 to 1945, our country’s  last large-scale military mobilisation in which more than a million people served, would be at least 91 years old by now. The ABC’s Simon Royal reports that over twelve months, from June 2017 to June 2018, the number of veterans with Department of Veterans’ Affairs health cards has fallen from 23 000 to 13 000. He quotes from historian Robin Prior: “There’s a collective memory that goes, which is not the same thing as say a bunch of books.” Prior suggests that one consequence of the war experience was a taming of political passions: those with extreme views found it was difficult to capture an audience. “Twenty or thirty years ago you just wouldn’t have seen a public display of Nazi paraphernalia. Now, occasionally, you do”.

Anzac Day Cooma 1977
Anzac Day Cooma 1977

Fighting “Radical Islamic Terrorism” Begins with Saudi Arabia

That’s the title of an article in The National Interest by Carlo Jose Vicente Caro. Caro points out the contrast between the Trump Administration’s treatment of Saudi Arabia with its treatment of Iran, even though there is clear evidence that Saudi Arabia, through funding madrassas and mosques in foreign countries, is exporting a version of Islam that is highly sectarian. He points out that “groups that have perpetrated acts of terror in the West are influenced by Salafism, Sunni extremism, and Saudi clerics”. He takes readers through the theological roots of Salafism – roots that go back to the fourteenth century.

Some good news

Amnesty International has published its 2018 report on the use of the death penalty.  Globally executions have fallen by 31 per cent from their 2017 levels. China is still the leading executioner, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam and Iraq. An infographic on Amnesty’s website allows one to track the geographic distribution of countries with the death penalty over time. While European and South American countries are virtually all abolitionist, Asia, the Middle East, north-east Africa and the USA stand out for their retention of the death penalty.

Putin shocked by Mueller revelations

As reported in The Onion  Vladimir Putin says he has been “totally blindsided” by Mueller’s finding that he didn’t conspire with the Trump campaign. “Who the hell was I working with then?” asks Putin.


Saturday’s Good Reading and Listeningis compiled by Ian McAuley

Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up


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