SATURDAY’s GOOD READING AND LISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND 

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).

How did Ukraine become the centre of a US political scandal? Guest: James Sherr Senior Fellow of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Centre for Defence and Security.

Fed up with government inaction on climate change, Mike Cannon Brooke’s announced he was putting his own money into a solar power plant. John Hewson ex leader of the Liberal party and John O’ Brien from Deloitte look at the repercussions of a business-led green future .

A Foreign Affair: Hundreds have fled xenophobic attacks in South Africa this month, while Jokowi enters his second term amid student protests, burning forests and deadly violence in Papua province. Martin Plaut, former BBC Africa editor and senior research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Amanda Hodge, South East Asia correspondent for The Australian and Professor Simon Butt, Associate Director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney Law School, unpack these international developments.

Mao’s global revolution: we tend to see the 1949 revolution as a purely Chinese one – but Mao had much bigger plans argues Professor Julia Lovell in her new book: Maoism, a global history.

Which AFL grand final anthem is best? We’ll play both and let the tribes speak…

Other commentary

The world of nukes and the world of spooks

On ABC Radio National Nightlife with Phillip Clark, Thursday 26 September, Ramesh Thakur talked about the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear weapons, followed by Brian Toohey discussing his new book Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State. Ramesh’s segment runs from, approximately 1:1:00 to 1:16:00, and Brian’s from 1:17:00-1:33:00. A word of caution: this podcast is only available for about a week.

A Tinder for politics

Earlier this year 17 000 Europeans from 33 countries took part in a project involving a political discussion with a complete stranger. Jochen Wegner, Editor of Zeit Online, presents a Ted Talk  What happened when we paired up thousands of strangers to talk politics. Using the same techniques as those used by dating apps, they paired up individuals based on their political differences. Their conclusion:

Whenever two people meet to talk in person for hours without anyone else listening, they change. And so do our societies.

A warning from Bob Hawke, John Hewson and Crispin Hull

John Hewson revealed that Bob Hawke had told him he had done a grave disservice to Australian by not beating Keating in 1993, because if he had done so “he would have spared Australia the extensive and corrosive consequences of the Howard Government’s 11 years”.

That revelation is in Crispin Hull’s article  Labor puts democracy to test. The context is about whether Labor, licking its wounds in a post-election funk and dithering over whether to support a parliamentary motion to declare a climate change emergency, should hold to a platform of economic reform as Wayne Swan is urging, or adopt an insipid Labor-lite set of policies. The issue isn’t just about Labor; It’s about whether our democracy can deliver necessary change, or must we always be held hostage by a reactionary right wing accountable to special interests?

Why are voters so disaffected with – everything?

That question is addressed in a  round-table discussion  with Jeff Sparrow, Paul Bongiorno and Gabrielle Chan, hosted by Antony Funnell on ABC’s Big Ideas. (54 minutes). In part it’s a post-mortem on the May election, but on a broader level it’s about a gulf between voters and the political class in general, a gulf widened by the professionalisation of politics.

Gabrielle Chan, author of  Rusted Off, provides a rural perspective: people in the bush aren’t all right-wing rednecks, and they’re not well represented by the National Party or by most other individuals and parties who seek their vote. Jeff Sparrow, long-time social activist and author of several books (most recently  Trigger Warnings: Political correctness and the rise of the right), reminds us of the importance of grass-roots campaigns that get people involved in issues and can lead to them re-considering their stances. He refers to the same-sex marriage campaign as a successful example. Paul Bongiorno points to the contradictory demands of those who didn’t want Labor to “tax them to death” and give their money to “big government”, while demanding billions for water infrastructure and drought relief. “Where’s the money going to come from?” he asks and responds:

It’s going to come from a notion of distributive justice, a very, very dirty word for capitalists, but distributive justice is in fact what keeps a democracy like ours cohesive and peaceful.  We should be trying to frame the political debate in this country as a protection of progressive taxation because it’s in all of our interests, every one of us, rich and poor.

A report card on Australians’ welfare: A few As, many Cs Ds and Fs

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released its two-yearly report card on Australia’s welfare – Australia’s welfare 2019 in brief.  Much of it confirms what is well-known to social researchers (but ignored by the Commonwealth Government): education that affects our life chances starts early; our health is strongly influenced by our social conditions, particularly our level of education.

On some indicators we are doing well; fewer people are working very long hours (> 50 hours a week); more people have enrolled to vote.  On others the indicators are in the wrong direction: long-term unemployment (> a year) has risen steeply; home ownership, particularly among young people, has fallen significantly; housing costs are taking much larger shares of Australians’ incomes.

On the usual international comparisons we do well: our life expectancy is high and our air quality is good (it should be given our geography). We fall down on youth unemployment, income inequality and internet access, and we fail miserably on greenhouse gas emissions per-capita. One area where we score very poorly is on “perception of safety in the community”. The facts show otherwise – Australia is a reasonably safe country – but perceptions are influenced by government and media scare campaigns and dog whistles, many of them racist –  “African gangs” to take one example.

Doing it tough on Newstart

Ben Phillips and his colleagues at ANU’s Centre for social Research and Methods have published a report on the adequacy of government allowances – Newstart and other Government Allowances: Incomes, Financial Stress and Poverty.  Their conclusion:

While overall there have been substantial increases in real household incomes and rates of poverty and financial stress have changed little since the mid-1990s, [for] households for which allowances (mostly Newstart) are the main source of income there has been no increase in real income and very substantial increases in both poverty and financial stress.

They cite recent research indicating that Newstart is so low that its recipients cannot afford to look for work and that because it is so low it has flow-on outcomes such as increased crime and homelessness.

Are our teachers some of the world’s best-paid or are they underpaid?

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The answer is “yes”, according to research  by Jonathan Nolan and Julie Sonnemann of the Grattan Institute. In comparison with teachers in other countries and graduates in other professions in Australia our newly-graduating teachers do reasonably well, but over their working lives they do not enjoy the pay rises that come to doctors and engineers in Australia, or to teachers in other countries.  They point to another Grattan report on possible ways to attract “high achievers”to teaching.

How will the US Government cope with the next recession?

Badly – is the short answer in Jared Bernstein’s article The Self-Inflicted Recession in  Foreign Affairs.  He goes through the main weaknesses in US Government policy – Trump’s trade wars with China and the depleted stock of the country’s anti-recession measures.  America’s government debt now stands at 80 per cent of GDP, which means the government will be nervous about applying a big fiscal stimulus, and when the official interest rate is only 2.5 per cent there isn’t the capacity to apply the usual 4 to 5 per cent cut in interest rates as has been done in previous recessions.

That much is fairly standard economics, but Bernstein is particularly critical of government – and not just Trump. He also criticises Congress and the previous Obama Administration for the country’s vulnerabilities. All recessions are market failures, he points out, “but the next one may be a government failure as well. … Arsonists make lousy fire chiefs.”

Rate cuts “won’t do much” for the economy

That’s hardly a radical statement — almost all independent economists are making the same point. This time, however, it comes from former Treasurer Peter Costello, writing in Fairfax media.  In line with other economists he sees the rate cuts as ineffective in stimulating investment, but he sees them in the context of central banks around the world engaging in competitive devaluations to sustain what they can of economic competitiveness.

That has echoes of the 1930s, but he doesn’t pursue this line of thought. Rather he calls for further, unspecified, structural reforms.

Higher taxes for middle-income earners

That’s not the government line. But as Peter Martin,  writning in  The Conversation  explains — The dirty secret at the heart of the projected budget surplus —  that’s how the government’s tax changes over the next few years will play out.  If your income is below $90 k, your taxes will rise, and there will have to be harder cuts to government services to achieve the government’s fiscal objectives (except in the unlikely event that their projections are too conservative).

Do you remember Pearl Harbor and the fall of Singapore?

Writing in The Conversation, Diane Gibson and John Goss have an article Meet the nonagenarians. People in their 90s are Australia’s fastest-growing senior age group. In terms of public policy one may believe that their greatest needs are in terms of health services, but that’s not so. Their needs are for age-friendly built environments.

Do you remember Helo Pinheiro?

Meet  Helo Pinheiro, grandmother of four, grandmother of four, sitting in the Bar Veloso, where she came to the attention of João Gilberto in 1962.

Saturday’s Good Reading and Listening  is compiled by Ian McAuley. He’s presently in Austria, cycling along the Donau, so his contributions this week so his contributions this week and next week may miss a few gems. He will try to dig them out on his return.

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

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