SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKENDSep 14, 2019
A regular collection of links to writings and broadcasts in other media
ABC’s Saturday Extra (from 0730 to 0900 or on their website in case you miss it). Julian Morrow is in the chair this week.
A year and a half after President Mahathir’s sensational re-election, Malaysia seems largely stuck in a stalemate with frustration growing over the lack of those much-touted reforms. Guest: Professor James Chin in Kuala Lumpur, another to be decided.
For two decades the Business Roundtable, an organisation of top CEOs, has backed the idea that corporations should serve the interest of shareholders. Then, last month, it changed its tune, arguing that business had a larger role to play in fixing the mess rogue capitalism has created. What’s prompted the change – and how concrete is the idea? Guests: Andrew Edgecliffe Johnson, US Business editor, Financial Times and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Associate Dean, Yale School of Management.
The new Hollywood? From beauty blogger James Charles to professional gamer DanTDM, today’s most prominent YouTubers seem to have it made. But being one of the platform’s professional content creators is far from easy, and the success of YouTube could be coming at a cost to society. Guests: British journalistand author of YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars, Chris Stokel-Walker; American video blogger, internet producer, musician, author, and entrepreneur Hank Green; and Australian “EduTuber” Toby Hendy.
The never-ending stream of bad news – about the environment, politics, war and poverty – can feel paralysing. And as musician and artist David Byrne argues, its only one side of the story. His new online magazine looks at working solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems and finds some reasons to be cheerful, Guest: Will Doig, editor, Reasons to be Cheerful.
Iran, the US and Israel: rash decisions with serious consequences
Bolton’s sacking in context – the secret history of a push to strike Iran
Trump’s sacking of his hawkish National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is yet more evidence that America — or more precisely Trump — has no coherent policy towards the Middle East. This sacking comes days after his abrupt cancellation of talks with the Taliban, and it follows his brinkmanship in June, when American forces came within hours of striking Iran before he stood them down, a venture in which Bolton was heavily involved. Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti provide context to these latest developments in their article The secret history of a push to strike Iran. Drawing on interviews with current and former American, Israeli and French officials they take us through a detailed story of diplomatic negotiations, military preparations and conflicts between the US, Iran and Israel, going back to at least 2012, mainly around Iran’s uranium enrichment plans and Obama’s deal to contain those plans. These interviews, they say:
… reveal the startling details of how close the Israeli military came to attacking Iran in 2012; the extent to which the Obama administration felt required to develop its own military contingency plans in the event of such an attack, including destroying a full-size mock-up of an Iranian nuclear facility in the western desert of the United States with a 30,000-pound bomb; how Americans monitored Israel even as Israel monitored Iran, with American satellites capturing images of Israel launching surveillance drones into Iran from a base in Azerbaijan; and previously unknown details about the scope of Netanyahu’s pressure campaign to get Trump to leave the Iran deal.
Trump’s breaking of the Iran uranium deal: global security implications
Ramesh Thakur (who is editing Pearls and Irritations while John Menadue is taking a break in Europe) was interviewed on Voice of America last weekend about the origins and consequences of Trump’s unilateral decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. The deal was far from perfect but it was working adequately. He points out that Iran has come further along the path of developing weapons-grade uranium than commonly-used figures on enrichment percentages may imply. Having recently returned from the Hiroshima Round Table on disarmament and arms control, Ramesh places the Iran development in the context of other arms-reduction treaties that have been terminated in recent times – a “collapse of the entire architecture of the global nuclear order”. (Ramesh’s interview runs for ten minutes, from, 5:45 to 15:30 – after a discussion on hurricane Dorian.)
A political obituary for Bolton – or might he rise again?
“John Bolton never saw a nuclear arms control treaty he did not hate.” That’s one of many comments on his public life in an article by Martin Sieff The Fall of John Bolton: Exercising Power with the Grace of a Cockroach on the Strategic Culture Foundation website. Sieff suggests that what finally prompted Trump to give Bolton the boot was his effort to derail peace talks between the US and the Taliban. He warns that it’s possible that Bolton could re-emerge in a cabinet appointed by a future President Mike Pence or Nikki Haley.
A yearning to escape the burdens of liberty – the allure of submission
Writing in Quillette, Matt McManus, Professor of Politics and International Relations at Mexico’s Tec de Monterrey, has an article The Frankfurt School and the allure of submission. Drawing on the work of Erich Fromm, he addresses the question that occupied philosophers of the Frankfurt School who were puzzled by the rise of Hitler’s National Socialism – “why so many people would willingly surrender their freedom, and even exult in submission, in order to commit murder on a hitherto unprecedented scale”. He describes how, from an early age, we are inculcated with a sense of dependence on authority figures, and many of us don’t outgrow that dependence.
(That may be why when we are anxious – about our job security, our ability to pay our debt, or the platform of an opposition party promising change – we are drawn to the fabricated assurance of a strong and decisive “leader”. )
Democracy dies in darkness: Ita Buttrose’s address to the NSW Council for Civil Liberties
ABC Chair Ita Buttrose has delivered the keynote address to the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. Unsurprisingly its focus is on the raids on the ABC and on Annika Smethurst of News Corporation – “a remarkable achievement by the AFP to bring the ABC and News Corp together on a unity ticket”. Why was there such a delay between the publication of the relevant stories and the raids, she asks. While the raids are the focus of her address she goes into the wider issues around press freedom – the weakness of our whistleblower laws, the absence of constitutional (or even legislated) freedom of speech, a slipping in our international rankings for press freedom. (We now stand at #21, having lost two places even before the raids.)
She has also given an address to the Friends of the ABC covering the role of public broadcasting in an environment where the FAANGS (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) are now occupying so much territory. Public broadcasting has a strong role, rooted in a tradition established by the ABC, and is adapting well in this changing media landscape.
Pope Francis hears echoes of Germany in 1934
On his return flight from Africa Pope Francis has responded to journalists on a wide range of questions. He acknowledges that US Catholic websites and television stations have criticised his perceived liberalism. He dismisses rumours of splits in the Catholic Church, but criticises “schools of rigidity” within the Church.
On a rising tide of xenophobia he says:
Xenophobia is a disease. It is a disease that is “justifiable”, for example, to maintain the purity of the race – just to mention a form of xenophobia from the last century. And very often, xenophobia rides the waves of political populism. I said last week, or the one before, that sometimes in some places I hear speeches being given that sound similar to those made by Hitler in ‘34. It’s as if they wanted to return to the past in Europe.
From the Prime Minister: please go out and spend
A generation ago Coalition governments complained about workers going on strike. Now the problem is that consumers are on strike. The ABC’s business and finance reporter, Stephen Long, has written How a consumer go-slow and a pile of debt is killing the economy. We know that when wage growth is discounted by the CPI, wages have been flat for some time. Long points out that because the CPI is kept low by many discretionary items with falling prices (think laptops, smart phones), the experience of people doing it tough is that the prices they pay for what they find to be necessities are rising faster than wages.
Also on consumer behaviour the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries has reported on new vehicle sales in the eight months to August, which are down 8.0 per cent compared with the same period last year. Passenger car sales are down 17.3 per cent, but not all cars are created equal: sales of Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and Rolls Royces are all up.
The latest Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment not only shows a fall in the index but also reveals people’s preference for saving over spending. Of those respondents who have received a tax offset payment (16 per cent of all respondents), 53 percent intend to spend less than half of it, including 25 per cent who intend to save the full payment. (Presumably they’re saving up to buy a Ferrari.)
From Ken Henry: governments have failed
Writing in the Fairfax media Shane Wright reports on scathing criticism of the Commonwealth Government by former Treasury secretary Ken Henry. Henry outlines a string of policy failures – poor broadband services, deterioration in housing affordability (Morrison and Frydenberg think expensive housing is good), low rates of productivity growth and congested transport infrastructure (Morrison and Frydenberg think that talking about “congestion busting infrastructure” will fix the problem). He is particularly critical of the way politicians, seeking support by simplifying complex issues, have turned to ridiculing the advice of experts.
Don’t worry about the evidence: the economy is doing well
John Hewson uses Christian Scripture to emphasise the gap between the Government’s economic propaganda and the reality revealed by economic data. In his Canberra Times article ‘Your sin will find you out’: Economic data exposes Coalition falsehoods he writes:
It’s become ridiculous and embarrassing that our government has persisted with its marketing slogans that “our economy is strong” and “our economic fundamentals are strong”, when clearly they are not.
Our GDP figures last quarter were saved by a surge in the value if exports (thanks largely to Brazil’s supply problems) and a fall in imports, reflecting weak consumer demand. They’re one-off factors.
For another concise outline of our economy’s progress, see Mungo MacCallum’s Pearls and Irritations entry this week Economy circles the drain.
Tim Fischer’s legacy: more than trains and the bush
Writing in Eureka Street, Irfan Yusuf writes about Tim Fischer’s support for Palestinian rights. He cites press reports pointing out that Fischer was critical of Israel’s occupation of Arab territory and its aggression against its Arab neighbours. “Fischer loved the Middle East and its people. Their relatives who had settled in Australia had a special love for him.”
Yusuf takes readers through his personal encounters with Fischer – “a tall chap sporting an Akubra” – including his participation in an Eid Festival at the Fairfield showground.
Life in the outback
The Productivity Commission has released its draft report on Remote Area Tax Concessions and Payments. It covers three allowances – fringe benefits concessions (mainly employer-provided housing), the Remote Area Allowance (a tax concession of about $500 –$1000 a year depending on family size) and the Zone Tax Offset (an ancient provision with benefits that have been eroded by inflation). The Commission finds that these benefits are “outdated, inequitable and poorly designed”.
The report will be of interest to those half million who live in designated remote areas. For the other 24.5 million Australians conditioned by the lazy term “regional” to describe that 99.4 per cent of the country that isn’t a capital city, the report gives some economic insights into that part of Australia described as “remote”. That’s a definition dating back to 1945, based on road distances from service centres and covering 85 percent of our land mass. It is by no means homogeneous. The fortunes of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in remote regions are very different: one group has deep roots, the other is heavily represented by those who spend only their adult working years there. Some industries such as mining pay well, while others such as agriculture pay poorly.
Australia’s Big Four: not the banks, but the accounting firms that audit them
Ernst and Young, KPMG, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers – these four firms have built their financial fortunes on government contracts. They make more than $700 million a year from government contracts, about half of which are with the Department of Defence.
Michael West describes how Labor Senator Deborah O’Neil has skilfully managed to make her way around political impediments to have these firms looked at by the Parliamentary Joint Inquiry into Corporations and Financial Services, to undergo the scrutiny they should have been subjected to in the Hayne Royal Commission. They are among the largest donors to the major parties – “effectively political bribes to garner government business and to avoid precisely this kind of nosy, intrusive government activity”.
Will the Big Four, with help from Liberal members of the Committee and from media apathy, be able to effectively shut down the inquiry?
Michael West also reminds us that 20 members of the Government’s Board of Taxation Advisory Panel are from the Big Four. In his article he calls the panel “Josh’s shark pool”. The Panel, charged with advising the Board on tax legislation, is a rather blokey and corporate affair. Of its 63 members, 14 are women, 2 are academics, 0 are from trade unions, 0 are from independent think tanks (such as Grattan or the Centre for Policy Development), and 0 are from welfare agencies (such as ACOSS).
Immigration: what Europe can learn from Australia
That’s the title of a lecture Tony Abbott gave while he was in Britain to lend support to Boris Johnson in his quest to undo 74 years of European cooperation in shared prosperity and peaceful cooperation. On this visit he has deigned to set foot on the European mainland to attend the Budapest Demographic Summit, where, according to ABC contributor Stefan Bos, he delivered a warning about the “shrinking west”.
Other countries are indeed learning from Australia’s immigration experience – what not to do. Writing in Brookings Jessica Brant and Claire Higgins write that “Australia’s experience is not one to emulate”. Even if the Europeans wanted to they could not, because of precedents set by the European Court of Human Rights and protections enshrined in the EU. They point out the cost to Australia in terms of its international standing, the wasted opportunity of denying entry to energetic and well-qualified people, and the absurdly high financial cost of $400 000 per detainee.
J M Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and Professional Fellow at the University of Adelaide, confronts us with the moral dimension of our cruelty to asylum-seekers in his article Australia’s Shame in the New York review of Books.
On one level it’s a review of the book No Friend but the mountains: writing from Manus prison, written by Iranian Behrouz Boochani, who typed the book in Farsi on a cell phone hidden in his mattress, with the text surreptitiously dispatched one message at a time to a collaborator in the outside world. It’s about the brutality he and his fellow detainees suffered in the Manus Island Gulag.
On another level Coetzee’s review is an exposure of the moral failings in Australian society – not just of our elected politicians, but also of all of us who, like the good people of Germany 75 years ago, don’t get to know about the concentration camps where “the aim of the system is to break the will of the prisoners and make them accept refoulement [return to a country where they will face persecution]”.
Johnson’s Brexit—a neoliberal resurgence under the cover of British parochialism
From the other side of the planet Johnson may look like a buffoon, building his base on those Britons who don’t like hearing so many Polish accents, who find metric units confusing, who are afraid of all those Catholics and other weird people over the channel, and are terrified that the next European edict will require them to drive on the right of the road. Brexit, in its “soft” form, would also have some support from those who feel that globalisation has been taken too far.
From his break in Europe (he’s holidaying on one of the offshore islands), John Menadue has alerted us to an article by George Monbiot published in The Guardian The insidious ideology pushing us towards a Brexit cliff-edge. That ideology is neoliberalism: big money is pouring into the Johnson-Farage campaign. A no-deal Brexit would release the UK (or what’s left of it) from all those EU regulations that tame the excesses of capitalism. Monbiot’s message is summarised by the article’s lead picture of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan together gloating over their ideological victories.
Monbiot’s critique of neoliberalism is in a Ted Talk. Neoliberalism is “the zombie doctrine that never seems to die, no matter how comprehensively it is discredited”. Humans are intrinsically altruistic creatures who have developed outstanding skills in cooperation, but we have become “a society of altruists governed by psychopaths”. He outlines a “restoration” story, based on a shared commons and a sense of belonging, values that should appeal across a “left/right” political spectrum.
Labor and minor party preferences
In the May election Clive Palmer’s preference flows did more damage to Labor than One Nation’s preference flows, and the Greens’ preference flows to Labor could have been tighter. Writing in Policy Forum, former Labor Member of Parliament Bob McMullan suggests that the election outcome might have been more favourable to Labor had it paid more attention to small party preference flows. “It should be possible for the Labor Party to criticise Pauline Hanson’s bigotry without tarring all her voters with the same brush.”
Newspoll: Coalition still leads 51-49, Albanese’s approval down
William Bowe’s Poll Bludger reports on the third Newspoll since the election. The Coalition holds a two-party lead of 51-49. All four parties covered in the poll, including One Nation and the Greens are up, but that’s not surprising because there is no party called “independent”. In the volatile personal ratings (approval and preferred PM) Morrison is doing well while Albanese is slipping.
Australians reject Coalition’s economic priorities
The Australia Institute has polled Australians on their economic priorities. Overwhelmingly, even among Coalition voters, Australians prefer policies that would stimulate economic growth over policies directed to delivering a budget surplus. Australians are also much more in favour of wage increases and increased Newstart allowances than tax cuts – although on these questions Coalition voters’ preference is less strong.
Trump slipping in US polls
Adrian Beaumont has an article in The Conversation, bringing together polling data from the US and Australia. His coverage of US data provides extensive analysis of US surveys. The short conclusion is that Trump is losing ground. (The Australian data has already been linked in earlier Saturday roundups.)
Completion of an unpublished Gilbert and Sullivan opera
It is generally believed that The Gondoliers was the last of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, but a substantially-finished script of their final work, the Wags of Westminster, has emerged. The full production opens in London, UK, on October 14, but some snippets have fallen off the back of a truck. The Guardian has a short clip, including an unpolished rehearsal of one of the songs and a curious reference to “flying flamingos”. Our own ABC has also come by a clip, this one showing the chorus practising another musical item.
Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening is compiled by Ian McAuley
Watch out tomorrow, Sunday, for Peter Sainsbury’s Sunday environment round up.