Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Month: June, 2009

Dont Dump Turnbull

This blog hasn’t been the greatest friend of Malcolm Turnbull. (Now don’t be surprised) But in all honestly I’ve spent the last 6 months watching Turnbull and waiting for him to give me a reason to vote for him. He is the type of talented, ambitious, cross party individual who Australian politics desperately needs more of, but whilst I think people often whinge too much about how tough politics is (especially those from the business world who see themselves as equivalent to fighter pilots but run crying from politics) his experience will hardly be one that encourages other similar types onto the field of battle. In the assessment of Paul Keating, Turnbull is Brilliant, Fearless, but lacks judgement. But judgement can be learnt, and Turnbull is showing signs of being a very quick learner. Turnbull

This morning Malcolm Turnbull however must have woken up to the news that his approval rating has slipped dramatically according to a new Herald/Nielsen Poll. Predictably this is launching a range of leaks & anonymous quotes to journalists that Turnbull may be removed from the leadership. Yet here, it is Turnbull’s career politician colleagues who are showing the lack of judgement. First, every leak and suggest Turnbull is weak, simply weakens him. Secondly, Turnbull is weak which is why he hasn’t been able to make clear why he is leading the Liberal Party and present a coherent image to the public. Third, there simply is no alternative. Fourth, even if an alternative could be found, they would simply be put, like the sacrificial lamb to the electorate, and ensure they destroy two talented politicians, instead just Turnbull with the inevitable loss.

In Peter Hartcher’s book ‘To the Bitter End’ on the last months of the Howard Government, and in Costello’s own memoirs there comes an interesting reading of history from the Liberal Party. Having watched the state governments over the last decade, the Liberals seem to have come to the collective conclusion that simply by replacing the leader, governments can eeak out an extra term or two, drawing on the example of Carr to Iemma in NSW, Bracks to Brumby in Victoria and Beattie to Bligh in QLD. This indeed seemed the main argument for the removal of Howard during APEC in 2007, though Howard was not going to go quietly into the night and called the conspirators bluff (not surprisingly since he had in fact helped initiate the discussions). But to assume that switching leaders is always the right thing to do is a misreading of history, especially from the position of Opposition. Opposition is about building a credibility and confidence of the electorate, and whilst some like Howard and Rudd are lucky enough to win the leadership right as the government falls to its knee’s, oppositions can beat governments when well run, and if they have properly prepared.
Kim Beazley would have won in 1998 if not for the (slight) rural gerrymander of this countries electoral system. Hawke won in 1983 after only 8 years of the Fraser government (and whilst Hawke was very popular, his deposed predecessor Bill Hayden was right that he could have also won). Likewise, whilst Rudd is very popular, I think there is a fair argument to be made that Beazley could have beaten Howard in 2007. Labor afterall was travelling well ahead in the polls, and most of the major dynamics were locked in a year before; the margin might not have been so large, but Kim by all measure could have been PM today (Costello is not the greatest PM we never had, Kim Beazley is).

The Labor Party is currently shipping around the analogy that Turnbull is the Liberals Mark Latham. However the analogy is more apt that the Liberal Party is like the Labor party in 2003-4. Latham and Turnbull are quite different men, though both show the importance of serving time learning the game of politics, instead of imagining that it can simply be conquered in a few years if you want it enough. But rather the Liberals are already so desperate that they are now acting as if changing the leader will somehow change all the other dynamics and put them back onto the Treasury benches. Where Labor perhaps was too calm and collected under Beazley following the 1996 loss, the Liberals (without Costello’s guiding hand) have instead gone to the other end of the spectrum and pissed their pants in fear. As such they quickly turned on Nelson after 9 months, and now look to be ready to devour Turnbull after 10. And so desperate are they to change the dynamics that they are actively dragging the party down with them with the leaking, quotes and speculation, thereby guaranteeing the electoral loss and potential oblivion they were so antsy to avoid.

The absolute worst thing the Liberal Party could do before the election is to remove Malcolm Turnbull. What they need to do is what every opposition needs to do. Hammer home the governments weaknesses (and Rudd’s already shown a few), build a range of solid policies, and wrap them in a central narrative built around the leader. In this Turnbull is a perfect icon of the ambitious, young, passionate, australian image which the Liberals need to develop to appeal to the young generation and the so called ‘aspirationals’. After all, there are a lot of people out there, including myself looking for a reason to vote for him.

In related news, Paul Sheenan is one of the strangest writers I’ve ever come across. Today’s effort seems in tone and analogy to decry the way the Labor Party is attacking Turnbull. Yet he devotes his entire column to giving space and publicity to their most stringent criticisms. All the best lines, reproduced in one place in a mainstream paper for mass consumption. If Sheenan is trying to act as a friend for Turnbull, I don’t think he’s going to get an exclusive from the Opposition Leader anytime soon. Quite odd.

Monday morning funnies

Since the Australian Political world is currently venting hell and fury for absolutely no reason, result or purpose (How can corruption/”special treatment” have occurred when the car dealer didn’t actually get any funding?). I pretty confidently predict all three (Rudd, Swan & Turnbull) will still have their jobs at the end of the week and we will be onto a new scandal/debate. So on to more sensible things, and it therefore seems worthy posting this classic comedy skit by Abbott & Costello*

I was lucky enough to watch a version of this produced last night in the Jazz Garters at Theatre 3 in Canberra. Featuring songs from Chicago, charlie chaplin skits and a great variety of song and jazz numbers, it’s a great night out. Runs until June 27th, and a great credit to the Canberra Repertory society.

* Even though Pete is retiring, there should be one more MidWinter Ball potential for Australian politics own Abbott and Costello to try their hand at doing this act. Let us hope to all that is great and good in this world that they give it a run.

Where’s the beef?

I noted a fortnight ago that one of the endearing aspects of the Australian political system is that even the wiff of corruption is usually enough to get politicians in serious strife. Yet sometimes it results in much silliness and game playing, as seems to be occurring right now in the OzCar brouhaha.

From the outset lets be clear: Rudd was very stupid in continuing to accept the gift having become Prime Minister. He plainly no longer had need of it (his re-election in his own seat is guaranteed), and such a possible controversy was bound to arise during his time in office. But what the Coalition are positioning as an instance of corruption is better seen as the actual day to day business of our politicians. As the Treasury official in charge of OzCar and now at in the middle of all this, Godwin Grench told the Senate Committee yesterday ‘MPs from both the government and opposition had made representations on behalf their constituents who happen to be car dealers.’ This is afterall a program which extends a $850m line of credit to car salesman during the GFC and was supported by the Opposition in its passage through the chamber in May.
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In fact, ask any staffer for a politician, and they will tell you that a significant part of their time is spent helping constituents access government programs. No doubt there are owners of car yards out there only just now learning about the program, and even with knowledge there is no assurance that the bureaucracy will properly process their claims without the occasional assistance from elected representatives. Any politician would be remiss in their basic duty towards their constituents in failing to assist their access to the program, and for government members doubly so, as to not do so would be to injur government policy (what good is a scheme if only half used). Far from corruption, what seems to have occurred here is nothing beyond the usual day to day business of all elected to represent their constituents.

Yesterday the claim arose that there was an email from the Prime Ministers office to Godwin Grech on behalf of Mr Grant. A claim Turnbull seem’s to have alluded to in his now very public ‘friendly advice’ to one of the PM’s staffers at the midwinter ball. On the basis of this Turnbull used a friday morning radio address to suggest the PM ought to resign. The Prime Minister however has branded the letter a fake.
Normally that smacks of a desperate man, and proving it true could end Rudd’s career. Yet all of a sudden this morning the Coalition has rapidly changed target and is now asserting that Swan ought to resign. Which suggests that they dont think they can make the attack on the Prime Minister stick, and are choosing perhaps the easier target in the Treasurer. But strategically this makes no sense. First Turnbull is not going to win the scalp of either the PM or the Treasurer, and certainly not both. By picking two targets he dilutes his overall attack. We shouldn’t underestimate the potential for this to be a long remembered issue (like Howard directly intervening to help bail out his brothers firm), but it’s not going to put Gillard into the Lodge by any means. Secondly, what is Swan alleged to have done wrong other than help refer a car dealer to access a government program designed to help car dealers. Even if there is a direct recording of the PM saying “hey can you help a mate of mine, he’s a car dealer and wants help getting into the OzCar program” no actual corruption has occurred. Swan has already identified his efforts on behalf of Grant, so there is no new revelation possible here.

To repeat, Rudd was absolutely fool hardy in keeping the ute post election. As the Prime Minister he should be seen as absolutely, impossibly beyond repute. This was not something Howard always achieved, but he certainly tried to do so (witness his disavowal of any financial shares during his time in office, unlike several of his less than wise ministers). But even if Rudd urged the Treasurer to help out Grant (which hasn’t been proven, and which Turnbull’s shift in focus seems to indicate the Opposition don’t think they can prove) and even if Rudd did so whilst directly thinking of the Ute, this is not an instance of corruption. Only if Grant was un-entitled to the program and the government gave him access regardless would there be the possibility of corruption. This too has not been proven or from all the reports I’ve read even suggested.

I like that the merest hint of corruption is often enough to cause a scandal, and hopefully all MP’s are right now checking their office books to make sure everything is well and truly beyond reproach. But the opposition in firing their biggest shot so early (the demand for resignation), in potentially being linked to a faked document (a position which crippled Labor’s last week in government in 1996 with the Kennett tapes), in appearing visibly angry at the government (a flaw which killed Hewson in ’93 and Latham in ’04) and in trying to bring down the PM & Treasurer and sure to succeed in neither has given the impression of a flailing and undisciplined party. Lots of piss and vinegar and for little result. It is an approach that didn’t work for Labor during its years in office, indeed one that lead to claims of ‘unstable’ against Latham (of whom Turnbull seems the closest analogous politician in the chamber) and of irrational ‘howard haters’ for the cheerleaders pushing the claims of scandal every few weeks for years on end. In the end, the boy who cries corruption too often gets ignored. Turnbull should tone down the attacks and anger, let the media lay most of the blows on Rudd for being silly, and get on with addressing the major policy issues of debt, climate change and countering the governments strengths in education and healthcare. Get back to providing a solid serving of vision for the public to chew on, instead of these puff pastry thin attacks.

Image by Flickr user numstead used under a Creative Commons licence.

*Update* This is easily the best, quickest (and funniest) summary of the entire affair.

Turnbull’s discomfort

From Kevin Rudd’s speech at the Midwinter Ball:

When it came to Turnbull, he was brief, but barbed.
“We have a lot in common. We both knocked off sitting Liberal MPs. Both of us spent many years seeking Labor Party preselection. And neither of us have killed a cat, have we, Malcolm?”

Want to know why Malcolm Turnbull is so unhappy these days ?. Turnbull could have been PM today if he had gone with Labor. We know Turnbull was willing to court them in the post republic referendum period. He has much longer links to the Liberals, but that’s never mattered much to Malcolm, and ideologically he could fit as easily into the modern Labor party as the Liberals.
Turnbull_angry
However in 2003 when everyone was talking about Howard’s overwhelming dominance of Labor (and with the follow up act of Costello to come) Turnbull got greedy and went for the prize of an instant entrance into Government. Turnbull probably figured 2 terms and then he could keating style roll old pete and get what was rightfully his, without ever having left the treasury benches. Instead Turnbull now finds himself doomed to Opposition, against a rather right wing Labor Prime Minister, and with the certain knowledge of both his impending defeat in the election, and his removal from office following that defeat by his colleagues.

For the benefit of 3 years in the cabinet of the Howard Government, Malcolm Turnbull gave up the chance to become Prime Minister. From when he entered Turnbull had about 5 years to break through or crash out in federal politics. And he chose the party taking the exit lane from power. No wonder he’s angry these days.

This is not a playground

Want evidence the Greens don’t care about parliament ? They now want to turn it into a playground for kids:

SEEING her daughter taken from her arms and ejected from Federal Parliament was the most humiliating moment of Sarah Hanson-Young’s life, the Australian Greens senator says.

The South Australian senator took two-year-old Kora, into the chamber for a vote last night but the Senate President, Labor’s John Hogg, ordered the child be removed.

“I was upset by what happened,” Senator Hanson-Young, 27, said afterwards. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so humiliated in my life. What upset me the most was seeing her being upset and not knowing who I was going to hand her to on the other side of the door.”

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, wants the Senate to adopt new rules allowing infants in the chamber. He will put what is known as a “template” on the table on Monday during a debate that has been called to examine Senator Hogg’s ruling.

“I don’t think there should be any workplace where mothers or fathers and an infant as small as that should be separated in a way that happened today,” Senator Brown said.

Senator Hanson-Young said she took Kora into the chamber because she was about to be separated from her for 24 hours

There is no justification for bringing children into parliament. There is a worthy 400 year old tradition that no unelected adult is allowed into the chamber without being either elected by the people or given the express permission of the President of the Senate/Speaker of the House (always limited to a handful of staffers, chamber officials and occasional dignitaries). Not even the Queen or Governor-General could walk onto the floor with the impunity which Hanson-Young has claimed for her baby. The chambers of the Australian parliament are not simply another Australian workplace, and just as you wouldn’t be able to claim to be focused on work whilst nursing a child in the office, the senator can’t claim to have been serving her constituents whilst sitting in the chamber with her child. Being a mother and a Senator must be an incredible burden, especially at such a young age. I wish her all the best in managing the burdens, but she shouldn’t sully the institution of Parliament by bringing her home life into it. This is not the first case of children being brought into the chamber (Stott Despoja brought her kids in twice), but it should be the last time it happens. There are already childcare centres at parliament, along with staffers for every senator and MP. Parliament is not just another workplace, and unless you can give your full attention to it, you shouldn’t be there (would similarly distracted people on mobile phones, watching TV or even drunks be acceptable? Equally no one would accept the senator bringing her husband or a friend onto the chamber simply because she wanted to spend time with them).

No senator or MP is required in the chamber unless they are due to speak. Yes they may miss the vote, but that happens already for a number of reasons, and there is a long standing practice of ‘trading’ pro/against votes to ensure the views of the chamber are fully represented (Ie one Liberal or Labor Senator could have stepped outside to equalize the numbers whilst Hanson-Young was unable to give the chamber her full attention). The standing of Parliament matters far more than the needs of just one parent be they male or female. The Greens should respect the institution which has given them a voice, the institution that has so much power to improve the status and conditions of similarly struggling parents in this country and devote their full and undivided attentions towards that goal, not wasting time being distracted or transparently symbolic in their indulgences.

Peter Costello

Back in February I made the case that Peter Costello had pretty poor political skills. Which seems an odd thing to say about someone who had such a quick run from election (1990) to deputy leader of their party (1994) to Treasurer of the Country (1996). But for all that Costello has dominated and driven Australian politics over the last 12 years, he was never actually that interested in it. In reading Costello’s (surprisingly) badly written memoirs the picture that emerges is of a lawyer who hated Lefty types and had a bent for economics. Costello was the emblematic technocrat who likes little bits of pieces of policy and the management and control granted by higher office, (not to mention status). In the Howard Government it was ironically the big man with the quick wit who was the boring accountant, whilst the small suburan solicitor crafted the narratives on which all politics is built.

This resistence to politics, especially the big picture, vision stuff is well identified in a quote Costello gave Paul Kelly back in 1998 “I have always decided that, in my life, politics won’t take its totality,” he said. “I have a limited view of politics. There is an awful lot that politics can’t fix.”.
Costello
As a young man Costello never got into politics to change the world, instead he seems to have fallen into it through the connections of friends (Michael Kroger & if Bob Ellis is to be believed his future wife also played a major party). Costello describes his first run for office in his Uni’s student unions more a case of sticking it to the silly hippies than any positive ideal. Of course, Student unions promise much and deliver little even in the best hands, but this pattern seemed to foreshadow Costello wherever he went.

What most amazed me about the career of Peter Costello is how little he contributed to the actual debate. Outside his domination of Labors Shadow Treasurers, identifying an area where the public have gone with Costello’s ideas is almost impossible to find. He did not create the support for free-market economics on the right or amongst the general public, and in the 2nd half of the Howard Government squandered that fiscal principle consistently in order to buy votes. In social policy he was often held up as adopting a somewhat more liberal approach than his boss, but his few efforts were token resistance (like wanting to walk across a bridge to show support for reconciliation. Talk about insignificant!).

Most dissapointing of all to those who liked Costello or simply wanted to hear more voices in Australian politics was his 2003 declaration that he was now going to “speak freely”. What did we hear but silence ? If anything the Treasurer was heard less and less. Peter Hartcher’s book ‘To the Bitter end’ details Costello’s 2007 planned press conference should Howard abdicate and make pete PM. Costello’s main themes were as predicable as they were old. Republic, reconciliation and tax reform. Themes Keating had began to urge on the public 20 years before, and which Costello had never seriously engaged during the 11 years he was effectively N#2 in the country (That Mark Vaile resigned with barely anyones notice, whilst Costello who was never even Deputy Prime Minister of this country gets lauded and lauded shows the ridiculousness of the Coalition system). Whilst Howard read and talked history, Costello talked economic stats. His most famous lines such as ‘one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country’ came from a concern about demographic changes and economic impact, rather than any view positive or negative about a larger populated Australia.

This is why i’ve always preferred Abbott to Costello. Abbot’s views were always much further removed from mine than Costello’s, but Abbott’s seem genuine and part of a larger vision of what Australia could be. He was willing to take unpopular stands, even at the risk of the disapproval of his colleagues. Costello always moved in the middle ranks of the herd, all the whilst wondering why it never pushed him to the front. He was the epitany of that famous (mythic?) French Revolution who saw a mob marching by and exclaimed “I must find out where my people are going so I can lead them”.

Costello is a man who seems to have spent 19 years in parliament, without actually valuing politics. He liked management, he liked having power, he liked the status worshiping journalists metered out (though he could be awfully spiteful if criticized). But in terms of a vision of Australia the day after tomorrow, in terms of a narrative that would bind and remake the country, in terms of actual Leadership, he had nothing to offer. To me that seems the great waste of his time. Perhaps all the better he never took the top job, he was not suited for it. Certainly he was lucky that the Coalition gained power after so short a time in Opposition, and he was quick to indicate (on election night no less) that he would not continue in Opposition. Though he does deserve some respect for the way he has valued the institution of Parliament, and desire to stick through the full term he was elected to as the member for Higgens. Indeed the best part of Costello’s speech the other day came from his discussion of the institution of Parliament:

There is no person in this place that is not important. Everybody had something that got them here and got them elected and everybody has a view
that has to be listened to. We are lucky to have a parliament. That is why I very consciously decided after
the election that I would stay in the parliament— because the parliament is an institution that should be
preserved and valued, not just the ministry.

The media attacked Alexander Downer & Vaile & Co who left Parliament immediately after losing government. Yet Costello who stuck around was also attacked by the media as either wasting space or preparing for another challenge to the leadership. The idea of actually being motivated in the slightest by the commitment he made to serve his electorate is utterly foreign to our press gallery.

For that reason, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Costello. As a fellow tall goof, Costello seemed a nice antidote to the relatively humorless Howard and Rudd. He could give a good speech, or make a cutting jibe that the press would repeat for weeks and the public months (roosters anyone?). He is clearly a man for whom family is so very important, and who would put the world on hold to deal with its needs. He even had the constant spur of his brother the Rev. Tim Costello out showing up the Governments mean and tricky ways, and yet never was caught in a public spar with him.

Australian politics is the more boring for his loss, but not necessarily that worse off. If anything it may be nice to bring an end to the theme of journalists for the last 15 years wondering when Costello would lead the party. The floated suggestion of Costello serving as a foreign representative for Australia in some economic role seems to me a good one and well deserving of the man.

I’ve included Costello’s full speech in Parliament on Monday below the fold. It’s worth a read (though loses something in the text. Costello was always much more entertaining in the flesh than on paper)

Read the full article »

Charting the Iranian Revolt

Other sources have far better insights into what is going on on Iran, but I just want to make a couple of key points.
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1. The issue is not the election but the break in the legitimacy that has occurred between the Iranian Government and the people. Iran has been ruled by fear for most of the 30 years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but that military and material power was only significant so long as it seemed to re-enforce the already accepted legitimacy of the government. Poor economic and social policy in Iran has slowly weakened that link (the first role of any government is always to provide bread and circuses), such obvious and exaggerated efforts to control what was claimed to be a real election process have severely damaged that legitimacy bond. Even if, as expected the government violently cracks down and the protests fail to overturn the establishment, this makes a permanent new relationship between the people and the government of Iran. From now on, no public statement will be accepted at face value (ie “The US/Jews want your destruction”) and spending on programs that seem more about the wellbeing of the government (such as the nuclear program) will fall into significantly greater question.

2.The MSM is still critical, but despite our obsession with video and cable and the money put into TV news, most of the really big events in the world happen outside of a camera lens. Video is of course important, (Youtube videos are doing great job), but to properly understand what is going on in much of the world we need to rely on the flow of words and here at home in the west need trained professionals to wade through it to help provide the facts and filter out the falsities. As if we are all witnesses to a crime scene, everyone is talking and it needs wise heads to filter, edit, collate, and check. The best sources in following this story seem those using new media technology, but run by professional print journalists such as The New York Times Lede blog and Andrew Sullivan. The next generation of journalists for whom such social networking and publishing tools are as easy to adapt to as breathing will be a great sight to behold when going after a story. There are many very smart and switched on members of my generation using these technologies but I think this is more a transition generation with only some likely to get the best use of this technology. The media companies will also need to significantly update their online and published platforms to take advantage of this potential, right now they act to limit and punish those who attempt alternate methods or who take time away from standard reporting to engage such technology.

3. Technology obviously cant make revolutions, only people do. However the twitter network has really come into its own with the Iranian revolution*. Reports suggest that about an hour or so before the polls closed, the Iranian government acted to block SMS’s and severely limit the internet. Twitter, which can be accessed through a number of devices and mediums however has been able to escape some of this. If you are new to twitter go to http://monitter.com/ which displays all the messages “tweets” sent under a particular topic heading. Try these for size #IranElection #Iran #Tehran.
Other digitial technology such as video’s on youtube and photo’s on flickr are also providing great on the ground details. If you are interested follow this handy guide on accessing the media flowing out of Iran & responses from the rest of the world. Of course with all these technologies rumors and false claims abound, so much of it is useless from a perspective of knowing what is definitely occurring, but it certainly gives you a sense of the sentiments, energy and fear that is happening in Iran right now. Either way, this is another instance of the way new technology is changing politics in ways which no one has fully figured out yet.
(*Though this is not the first twitter revolution, Moldova back in April has that claim)

4. This is not a fight the west should get into, particularly the United States. The Obama administration seems to have handled this well in a very low key fashion, emphasizing that this is an Iranian issue. Obama has to walk a fine line between supporting and giving encouragement to the protesters (which helps protect them indirectly from a violent government crack down), and staying out of the debate so as to prevent Ahmadinejad from claiming the protesters are tools of foreign governments. Some will doubtless attempt to make this a partisan issue, but really it’s a debate between idealists and realists. The idealists (the fringes on both the left and right) will say we should be as loud and aggressive in supporting the protests as possible , the realists (the vast vast majority) will recognise the very limited impact western commentary can have and the serious consequences if we make the wrong decision.
Secondly, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Mousavi is not quite the reformist character he seems in contrast to Ahmadinejad. Daniel Larison makes the point well. Interferring simply to replace one mob of self-interested politicians with another is not worth our time or the inevitable blow back should it fail (and even in success it hardly changes the likely facts of Iran’s move towards nuclear power/weapons and generic hostility to the west).
Despite this caution, I think Middle Power governments like Australia could do their bit to champion international action and recognition of the protesters. Nothing we do will be enacted, so therefore we have much more freedom to call for change.
Kevin Rudd has spoken often of his desire for Australia to engage in “creative middle power diplomacy”, here is his chance. That said, Australia has a lot to deal with at the moment, and engaging in largely symbolic efforts isn’t that great a use of our Prime Ministers time or spending down our national piggybank. But the Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith could really use this to try and increase his influence and stature worldwide in the way that Gareth Evans did to great effect during his 8 years as foreign affairs minister.

Right now my instinct is that there will be a crackdown (violently) over the next few days and the protests will fade away. But I’m much less sure of that today than I was yesterday, and same for the day before. Something is clearly happening, and as I alluded to at the start of this post, the critical issue of legitimacy is forever cracked. It will take a massive act, either true reform or outright fascism in order to overcome the fissures this election and it’s ham fisted theft have opened up.

All politics is personal

Politico has usually pitched its coverage at a soapy-gossipy level, personality at the expense of ideas and policy, but sometimes it helps illustrate an important point:

Though it’s largely gone unnoticed—or at least as unnoticed as a former president can possibly go—Bill Clinton has jumped headlong into the 2010 election cycle, deploying his political star power to boost some of his family’s most steadfast allies – many of whom stuck their neck out on behalf of his wife’s presidential campaign.

While media attention has focused largely on Clinton’s involvement in Tuesday’s Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary, where he vigorously campaigned on behalf of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe’s unsuccessful bid, the former president’s efforts on behalf of the longtime Clinton family fundraiser were just a small part of a larger, ongoing effort that has involved him in campaigns in at least eight states, in races ranging up and down the ballot from United States Senate to mayor.

Since January, Clinton has held a series of events to benefit his and his wife’s political friends, including Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina state Sen. Julia Boseman, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, all of whom face the voters in 2010.

Most commentators in the media obsess over how politicians play in relating back to the general public; that mythic representation of popular will which embraces or rejects politicians every act and for which the Media claim to be the true interpreters of. But important as that is, the really successful politicians, spend most of their time aligning up not just the support of the public, but their political colleagues as well. Clinton’s trails now (though almost endearingly loyal in his repaying of the debt from his wife’s doomed campaign) show his keen recognition that most political success is based upon personal links. The public may put you into the top office, but only your colleagues can put you in a position to make a pitch for public support.

Closer to home, two Liberal party politicians, both regarded as triers and has been’s by their colleagues used similar tactics to take the leadership of their party. In the 1980′s and early 1990′s John Howard was well known for turning up to MP’s functions, or just wandering into Press Gallery offices, late at night, with a bottle of scotch. Though ridiculed for most of his time between his disastrous 1987 run, until his 1995 revival, Howard spent most of that time learning from his mistakes and building personal links within the Liberal party and in the media, to lay the ground for his eventual leadership. Though the media already felt betrayed by Keating, Howard played to the media’s ego, getting to know reporters and their family, have a quiet drink & off the record chat, and of course, always being available for the (paid-to-be-)chattering class.

Likewise, to many in the public, the election of Brendan Nelson in December 2007 was a surprise. Yet as the same gradually noticed over the years, Nelson was one of the hardest working members, in making him always available to other MP’s & Senators for their local electorate officials. As Defence Minister for the Howard Government, his office, if nothing else, carried significant stature, and helped guarantee local press, higher support and imagined significance for the local MP. In return, they eventually came to see (once Costello was out of the picture with his post-election abdication) that Nelson was worth a shot as leader of the party. His reign was predictably short lived. He had neither the image, skills, or timing to re-build the party, and certainly not enough to cause the first defeat of a one-term government since 1932. But his resume will always be topped with the post of Honourable Leader of the Opposition. Sure our media might disparage all who fail to make it to the number one position of Prime minister, but the entire system of government is built upon 300 other major officials who lead and run the government. When it comes to crucial decisions and legislation, Leader of the Opposition is often much closer to number 2, than the Deputy Prime Minister is. And given 298 of those will likely end their career without ever inheriting the Lodge, these positions are worth noting, and honouring.

In comparison, Peter Costello spent the entire 11 years of the government dubbed as the anointed successor for the role of Prime Minister. In this position he seems to have spent his entire time, shuttered away in the office of the treasurer. As Judith Troeth was happy to explain in the Howard Years documentary:

I think he hasn’t taken the opportunity to cultivate anyone but a small band of supporters, ministers and Cabinet ministers and I think perhaps he treated other people with a degree of disdain and I think that led to a degree of unpopularity which would put into doubt his qualities as leader.

Costello was so sure he not only had the talent and skills to be Prime Minister leading a nation of 20 million, he felt justified in ignoring the views and opinion of the 100 individuals within the Liberal Party federal parliamentary party who could make a difference to his actual position within the party ( in fact just changing the mind of 20 of them could have given him leadership of the 20 million of us!). Costello ignored the politics of the personal to his complete detriment. He may never had been able to convince a majority of his party colleagues to support him, but he could have at least changed the power relationship which let Howard walk over him year after year, after year.

Politics is a game of great ideas, historic roles and great challenges. But at the end of the day, it is still, like any other industry, a story of individual connections and loyalties that determine how high and how far each one rises within the industry. Something Bill Clinton, for all his political follies in 2008, hasn’t forgotten.

In defence of clear language

Michael Costa in The Australian

The elevation of Chris Bowen and Mark Arbib has little to do with the power and influence of the NSW Right. It is more a reflection of their personal relationships with the Prime Minister than a consolidation of Rudd’s political base in NSW. After all, Rudd pointedly congratulated Arbib on election night for his support in the election and Arbib was critical in helping Rudd obtain the leadership of the federal Labor Party.

Bowen, in his regular newspaper column, has preached in support of Rudd’s critique of neo-liberalism. It appears Bowen silently held these views even while Rudd claimed to be a fiscal conservative. Fortunately for Bowen his leader is now in alignment with his ideology.

Imagine you don’t know anything about politics except that there are two sides. The Liberals and the Conservatives. Now try and understand that sentence. Apparently it was wrong for this Bowen character to support criticisms of the liberal side, whilst his boss claimed to be on the conservative side. But everythings ok now, because they’ve switched sides. Or something…

This cluttered language of economics is the bane of every first year politics tutor. Again and again you have to explain to students that the Conservatives currently embrace liberal economics, which is now called conservative economics. (All of which is made even more confusing in Australia where the Conservative Party is called the Liberal Party).

All this is the result of a curious twist of fate that in the USA the Liberal Party, the Democrats were captured by a southern rump in the 1960′s & 1970′s, whilst in the UK the Labour Party was captured by its union base. Therefore when the new ressurgence of liberal economics occured through the work of Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman and others, the only parties who were willing to even listen to them, were the Conservatives. The Republicans in the USA, and the Tories in the UK. This despite the fact that both Hayek and Friedman rejected the label Conservative for themselves.

Whilst the Conservatives since the 1800′s have generally in favor of more open markets, since they traditionally benefited their wealthy elite constituency, those actually in favor of free markets that encouraged competition and decried unearned wealth (inheritance/Leasers/high interest rate charging lenders etc) have found voices and support on both sides of the aisle in two-party anglo countries. But come the late 1970′s when this new liberal economics was being pushed, and nobody on the left was prepared to listen (it wasn’t an easy sell on the right either, and depended on great individuals like Reagan and Thatcher to convert their party. In Australia where the much less inspiring John Howard lead the fight in the 1970′s & 80′s, it was a long and vicious battle for the economic soul of the Conservative Party – On the other side of the isle, in Government Treasurer Paul Keating (with the general support of the PM Bob Hawke) embraced the new economics, however had to do so in a careful, step by step fashion given their union base. And when these two figures left the stage, the party immediately reverted back to it’s opposition to the new economics (which had become rather synonymous with Conservative politics by then).

Long story short, the convoluted language with which we describe ideology and economic position today really needs to change. It is a hang over from 40 years of economic debate and a quirk of history. It is utterly confusing to most of the public, a barrier to understanding for the interested, and a failed effort at communication by our politicians (some of whom play on it deliberately, such as John Howard’s claim to be conservative whilst undertaking radical steps, or Kevin Rudd’s election claim to be a “fiscal conservative” by which he meant a supporter of liberal economics.

To me it seems the main divide should be the issue of favor for a Open vs a Closed economy. Issues such as welfare states or economic response to a recession are side concerns, and often driven by the tradition of the country (ie Conservatives in the UK & Australia support public healthcare. In the US they dont) than ideological differences. So Rudd at the election pledged to be a strong supporter of a Open economy. Largely he has kept that promise and even been willing (with his deputy Gillard) to march into the Union base of the ALP and uphold that commitment. The Liberal Party has also kept its support for an Open Economy, however it too has been willing to maintain Closed economy support for the monoploy run Australian Wheat Board and all manner of agricultural welfare that supports their coalition partners votes.

These are critical issues that we need to include all the public in as they are discussed. Making the language as clear and accessible as possible is the first start towards making sure we make the right decisions.

Of Stature and Power

Andrew Sullivan posts this amazing photo:
obama_steps

In fact shots of Obama in rather casual attire and position are quite common. Such as here, here, and here.

Whilst the former President Bush was occasionally seen sans coat or, out cutting brush in regular gear, he was very careful to maintain an image of the president. Reserved from the public, always to be seen in an image of being in control or the authority, Bush thought that this would preserve the office, and the publics respect for it. The central legitimacy of the entire American Republic in some ways depends on getting that link right. But as his poll numbers dipped south, as the troops started dying, it just made him seem removed and unaware. His occasional jokes & goof’s just seemed childish given his otherwise austere image, and following the 2006 election defeat to his party, the american people and media largely forgot him and began to look towards the next election and the future leader.

Obama however seems to understand that this is an era of relentless celebrity, and so not only is the demand unabated for image & news of the first family’s daily lives, but more importantly, those images during tough times of economic crisis and war can help to humanise and preserve an image of the president as working for the people. Not as leader, but as one drafted into the position to help his fellow man. The Obama white house not only seems to have much less qualms about people seeing Obama as much as possible as a real man (and in this his obvious affection and love for his wife helps), they have actively encouraged the public to have a peak behind the veil, by setting up their own Flickr account.

This is an approach to leadership as first amongst many that is quite familiar to Australian audiences. Indeed Rudd was spotted in a similar pose last year during his 2020 summit. (H/T The Interpreter blog).
Whilst there have been the patrician leaders (Menzies, Fraser) and Big Visionaries (Whitlam, Keating), most of the successful or well remembered Prime Ministers have instead tried to just be an average bloke. One name sadly forgotten to history, however easily one of our most popular Prime Ministers of all time wasJoseph Lyons. Lyons was PM for seven years and led Australia during the 30′s. His everyman appeal is perfectly captured in this iconic image:
lyons_nla_img01Likewise, Ben Chifley who was Prime Minister from 1945-1949 will never leave the public memory (well at least amongst labor supporters) due to the way he presented himself . (I can’t find it online, but there is an image from 1948 whilst PM of Chifley sitting on the ground, smoking a pipe, laughing alongside a young boy (who jokingly also has a pipe). I cant find the image online, but it appears on the back cover of David Day’s Chifley which should be in all respectable politco’s personal library). Such is Chifley’s enduring visual appeal that even cartoonists make references to it when making light of current leaders
And of course, whilst it always felt somewhat foreign to me, the previous Prime Minister John Howard consistently was viewed by the public as a very average suburban man, even when ensconced in Kiribilli.

Obama runs a small risk in that the office of President of the United States of America, is also seen as the home of the Leader of the Free World. International audiences might not be so receptive to his casualness). But if it helps show the public that there is a real man within the office, one who struggles and tries, and sometimes just hangs out like the rest of us, then some of his mistakes may end up being forgiven. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think the more the public see’s of Obama like this (along side the traditional images they will be bombarded with in the news such as this, this, and this, the better his chances will be of maintaining that intangible but vital link of the legitimacy of his power over his fellow free men.

Bush and Democracy

Kevin Drum makes a similar comment I hear from lefties regularly:

Bush always struck me as less serious about democracy than his predecessors. To him it was a nice slogan — every American politician is in favor of democracy, after all — but anyone who’s serious about democracy knows that it’s not the kind of thing you can get overnight. It depends critically on education, on institutions, on culture, on overcoming corruption, on property rights, on the rule of law, and a dozen other things. None of these were things that Bush ever seemed to have the patience to bother dealing with.

Yet, notice the way Drum makes his case. Bush’s seriousness is dictated by his patience and support for lots of significant little pieces of policy change. Exactly the type of approach he hopes and foresees the Obama administration taking:

The Obama wing of liberalism, conversely, seems to see democracy promotion as small ball: lots of hard slogging, lots of public diplomacy, and lots of minor initiatives that fly under the radar and don’t produce dramatic moments to rally around.

Obviously it’s worth treating with skepticism anyone who claims lots, but doesn’t seem to do the hard work for it. Yet this approach somewhat fails because it assesses Bush as if a pragmatic liberal who spoke of promoting democracy but was lazy. Yet Bush’s ideas for democracy are of a very different nature.

Take the issue of why there is terrorism at all. At the heart of the Bush Administrations efforts to change the Middle East was an acknowledgment that the US had failed the people of the Arab world. As Condoleezza Rice said in June 2005 in her own great speech in Cairo:

For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East — and we achieved neither.
Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

Bush's comment on learning Iraq was soverign in 2004

Bush's comment in black on learning Iraq was self-governing in 2004

It was not that Bush and Rice said terrorism was blowback for poor US policy, or a sign that they hated us for our freedom, but instead that the Arab world instead wanted to be more like us, and we had chosen realism-driven stability over their desire for democracy and freedom. Everyone wanted democracy, and if the US had done anything wrong, it was to fail to realise how strongly everyone else favoured it too. Democracy was not seen as a rational way to organise societies that helps moderate concerns over social justice and recognition in ways that curb extremism (as liberal advocates might put it), but it was what the people wanted and what the US had failed to deliver.

Following on from this, Bush therefore seemed not to see his job not as promoting and building democracy, but clearing out impediments to democracy. The classic case is Iraq. As far as he was concerned the key job of the US was to remove the dictator Saddam who had for too long held the people in fear and tyranny. Once he was removed, the people would naturally gravitate towards democratic forms of organisation. Remember Bush is not someone who see’s democracy as merely an option for governance. As his 2002 National Security Strategy declared in its very first lines:

The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a
decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success:
freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.

Read that again. A “single sustainable model”. There Is literally no alternative in the Bush world view. (And indeed does anyone really dispute that there is a compelling alternative?) As such Democracy was a natural process that all free people would embrace, the US did not have to spend it’s time focusing on jobs like writing laws, building institutions or holding democracy classes. The Iraqi’s would do this themselves.

Of course this is a misreading not of democracy’s appeal (the Iraqis certainly wanted that), but of human society and governance. Bush was so used to stable successful countries that the difference he saw between the US and Iraq prior to the war amounted to the involvement of just one man: Saddam Hussein. Remove him and democracy would flower, without the US needing to be significantly involved. No other answer (such as an oil grab, incompetence or any other conspiracy) so clearly explains what happened following the end of the war, as that the Bush Administration thought that it’s goals and the Iraqi people’s goals were so aligned that once the bad guy was gone, the Iraqis would do the rest for themselves.

Democracy in short was not a goal to be built up slowly in the middle east, but the inevitable end to which the US had only to unlatch the gates & remove the blockages and it would flow over the region. Therefore to assess Bush’s seriousness in supporting democracy, against his engagement with small bits of policy that build democratic institutions and cultures is to misread him. It’s to analyse him as a realist. As the idealist he actually was, his invasion of Iraq is proof of his seriousness for democracy. Its just that there isn’t always a link between seriousness and success or even good sense.

Right now most are walking away from the concept of democracy promotion. Bush’s failure has tarred it’s good name for both liberals and conservatives. But that was because of how he went about it, not the worth of the goal itself. That hasn’t changed, and in some ways the Bushies are right that that failure to deliver on democracy really is crimp to the well being of the relation and positive views of the US. Just because we are criticizing the foolishness of the right wing Bush administration, doesn’t mean liberals should adopt or say Realist ideas that such promotion is always impossible or always doomed to fail. Things that, given a resurgence in energy and confidence in a few years time we may regret saying. In piling on, we need to be careful to repeat that democracy promotion is still a good thing, even if it was taken in a bad direction by an administration that was at once cynical, incompetent and authoritarian, yet also strangely naive and idealist about ideas such as democracy. Only by accepting that, does the strange pattern of the Bush Administration begin to make sense.

Peculiar Parliamentarians

Two of our stranger parliamentarians are in the news this afternoon:

Bob Brown could be thrown out of the Senate by August.225px-bobbrown3 Brown took Forestry Tasmania to court to stop logging that threatened the Wedge-tailed eagle, Swift parrot and Wielangta stag beetle. He won initially, but lost on appeal and has to pay costs. At $260’000 it’s far more than his income, and as it was launched individually he doesn’t want to dip into Greens campaign costs. That may well change, but if ever there was the case for the federal government chucking a few bucks the way of a court loser this might be the case. Obviously this is not a precedent we want to establish, but if made clear as a once off, and because he is a Parliamentarian, it could be a good move. That or allow a politician to operate in the chamber whilst Bankrupt. Afterall with bankruptcy rates dramatically rising in Australia, (and that was before the GFC), having a sole parliamentarian with knowledge of what it is like couldn’t hurt. Brown will probably raise the money, but none the less an interesting aside.

Less interesting and inspiring however is news that Steve Fielding is back from a Climate Change deniers conference and is proposing Solar Flares as the reason, and wanting the government to show him the evidence again:

He will meet with Climate Change Minister Penny Wong this week and said he would be presenting her with information supporting the solar flare theory.
“I intend to take some of the graphs and the charts that I’ve actually got … and ask her to explain why what they’ve put forward isn’t credible,” Senator Fielding said.

But climate scientists say he has been misinformed while Greens leader Bob Brown says the solar flare theory is about 20 years out of date.The former chief of atmospheric research at the CSIRO Graeme Pearman says there is no evidence recent warming is due to solar activity.
And University of Melbourne meteorology professor David Karoly says Senator Fielding has been duped by a group of climate change deniers.

Does anyone else get the feeling that Fielding is basically a good bloke who is is just way, way, way out of his depth. fieldingIn February I noted he was taking very personally the decision on how to vote on the Stimulus Package. (In the end he voted for it, a gamble that seems to have paid off). Hopefully here again he will make the right decision and see the threat as real and worth dealing with (not that I fully support the Governments ETS, but it is a step). Fielding is an unusual and perhaps valuable politician in that he is so vocal in displaying his flaws and confusion. Most of the hacks just bluster and spin and remember party lines. I wouldn’t mind a few more like Fielding, but whilst these are all difficult issues I dont for a second claim full mastery of, his willing endorsement of so many different theories suggests a rather flimsy mind at work. Still, he is trying and largely truthful. He wont get another term, but he should be proud of his work as a public servant.

The smell is enough

One of the most interesting facets of the Fitzgibbon affair, is that whilst he had obviously failed the ministerial code of conduct, this wasn’t really his undoing.money-bag-corruption Instead it was the mere possibility of nepotism and corruption over lobbying by his brothers firm, that saw Faulkner at Rudd’s behest deliver the marching orders. Obviously this is a very politically aware government that doesn’t like controversy, however it is also one who must have learn’t from Howard that most storms can be ridden out without losing a scalp if you hold your nerve. Yet the mere’st hint of possible corruption and suddenly he was out.

That’s something worth remembering next time you cynically commiserate with friends about the state of Australian politics. Even the smell of corruption is enough to see people resign, no actual evidence of wrong-doing needed. This is a good reason why Australia is seen as one of the 10 least corrupt countries in the world by its own people. That’s something to be proud of, and a reason why our politics is typically less contentious and partisan than some other countries such as the USA. With such a tight watch, the legitimacy of the political process is maintained and therefore outcomes, good or foul for partisans are largely accepted with good grace.

Image by I got bored with my screen name used under a creative commons licence

Obama’s Long game

If you havn’t yet, you need to watch Obama’s speech in Cairo. There is already plenty of immediate commentary from positive and negative voices. Yet if there is a common theme, it seems the short term focus of all who observed. Especially with the negative or cautious views, there is a overpowering demand to see instant policy action and change. And in some ways they are right, it is policy mistakes that are crippling America (indeed Bush’s most inspiring rhetoric on the importance of liberty and democracy came in the same 2003-2004 period as his greatest policy mistakes).

Instead of looking for this speech to suddenly changing polling attitudes, or even the policies of governments of the middle east, what Obama is seeking to do is at least re-establish America’s voice as a part of the regions debates. What this type of speech does is attempt to re-establish an operating environment for American power, both political and military to act. MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS OBAMANot only will it help calm blowback on the mistakes the US will inevitably make (such as bombing civillians), but also give their offensive elements a chance to actually have a chance. The US critical mistake under Bush was to try and walk away from a world it had authored. It spent the decade trying to both hold other nations to a set of rules it had established post 1945, whilst also re-writing the rules for it’s own actions. And whilst all nations see rules as somewhat flexible, the US’s actions served largely to bring into disrepute it’s own laws. Like a corrupt cop, the US’s -very public- search for flexibility cost it more than it gained. As David Killcullen writes in his new book:

“Assuring other nations that the United States will exercise it’s power responsibly, sparingly virtuously, and in accordance with international norms is therefore not an optional luxury or sign of moral flaccidity. Rather it is a key strategic requirement to prevent this previously noted adversarial “balance of power” response to the unprecedented scale of American military might” – David Kilcullen The Accidental Guerrilla 2009 Page 24

Kilcullen is a military man of over 20 years experience in the Australian Army. He has operated in East Timor, Pakistan, Thailand and Afghanistan and helped write the Counter-Insurgency booklet with David Petreus that led to the surge in Iraq in 2007. If he thinks this is a strong act, thats more than enough for me compared to the dozens of conservative armchair hawks who see this as somehow weak. Instead, this is actually a way that we can establish a footing in a another battle field that we have ignored to our peril:

‘Under Globalised conditions the media space is a domain, an ecosystem, or even a battlespace, filled with dozens of independnet, incoordinated, competing and conflicting entities rather than a single actor or audience… the diversity and diffusion of globalised media makes what public relations specialists call “message unity” a single consistent message across multiple audiences impossible for democratic governments and open societies – David Kilcullen The Accidental Guerrilla 2009 Page 10

This is where Obama’s speech seeks to make it’s main impact. It wont suddenly make the Israelis end the settlements, the arab world embrace democracy and stop supporting extremists, or even a family to dissuade a wayward son against extremism. But Al Qaeda is clearly worried and it at least gives America a chance to have a voice again in this debate. One of the most dangerous challenges any politician faces is when the public are no longer listening. It happened to Keating in 1996, Howard in 2007, and Bush almost ever since he declared war on Iraq. Once that trust is gone, then no claim, no spending, no policy will be received in the way it is intended, allowing conspiracy and rumor to rule.

Obama is seeking to play a very very long game. What he had to do with this speech was at least stop the bleeding America had suffered under Bush, and become once more an honest force for argument within the region. With that, then future policy actions, such as small but significant steps in the Israel/Palestine negotiations, encouraging democratic reform, and even offensive properganda style efforts to convince people away from terrorism and towards legitimate political engagement will have a chance to actually be taken on their merits and perhaps, maybe, with luck, work. As a speech, it was low on the rhetorical flourishes, dominated by Obama’s favourite tactic of alteration, but clever in its ability to respond to and refute the arguments of his opponents, an under-rated skill of his which I’ve previously noted

No one can say yet if it will work. But if in 5 years the Arab world has reacted largely sensibly to US policy steps, or at least given it some benefit of the doubt, then we will know that this speech has had its effect. Obama isn’t seeking to change perceptions, but simply to give future US policy a chance to be judged fairly. If he succeeds, this could be a world changing act, by the only possible candidate from the 2008 election who could have given it. That is why so many of us supported Obama way back in 2007, and why he may just deliver on those impossible promises his strongest supporters and critics attribute to him.

Arounds the Traps

Sometimes there just isn’t time for 1000 words on a subject, and Thursday afternoon drinks are soon upon us. So some quick links & thoughts

fitzgibbon
Expected….Joel Fitzgibbon has resigned as Defence Minister. No word yet on a replacement (which is slightly odd considering this was either expected or going to occur whenever Rudd next shuffles the bench). Greg Sheridan’s usual talent at being spectacularly wrong in his predictions once again strikes. Fitzgibbon may have gone for ethical reasons, yet he clearly didn’t have control of the department. Defence needs a heavyweight who isn’t looking to fastrack their career (defence is usually where careers go to die). I’d suggest Bod Debus. He’s already the Home Affairs minister, and has been a minister at state level for over 20 years. Luckily whoever takes over will have the capable Mike Kelly and Warren Snowden supporting them. UpdateIt’s Faulkner. Great Choice, though he will be missed as Special Minister of State.

Developing…. Details are yet to emerge, but why did Rudd accept a Car as a gift? If this was whilst PM it’s a serious lapse of judgment. The PM has to be above reproach on these issues. It’s one thing Howard did rightly, and saved himself a lot of grief. Unlike many many of his ministers over the years.
Update - It was 13 years ago, and even Turnbull is saying the gift isn’t itself important. This will go no where

Cheap… For News Ltd’s new effort ‘Punch’ it seems words not actions matter and so manage to somehow blame Bob Hawke for China’s human rights violations over the past 30 years. All because he wouldn’t give them an interview.

Fools….The right wing still hasn’t worked out Obama’s talent with narrative. Far from having a fit, they should be welcoming this as one of the smartest moves in the political fight against radical jihadists in a decade.

Reading…Finally, as linked to the other day David Kilcullen’s new book ‘Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting small wars in the midst of a big one’ is a ripper of a read. I’ll have much more to say in the future on it. However having also heard him speak in person recently, what is most notable for this quasi-father of the Iraq Surge and 20 years infantry man is how little military actions play in his arguments for how to deal with terrorism. Drones, Battalions and even special forces are rarely mentioned or endorsed. They are important, but only in the way a chisel helps the sculptor achieve his desired shape. Despite having been a senior advisor to Condolezza Rice he is “broadly supportive” of the way Obama is going about the job. Efforts such as those linked immediately above are key reasons why. Whilst Fitzgibbon’s trouble with managing defence and Conservatives dominance in national security debates may lead some to think that the Left and the military don’t agree/work well, people such as Kilcullen* demonstrate there is a lot of common ground if smartly approached. There is no natural or ideological block to a left wing government having strong relations with the military and using it’s insights and strenghts, just as much as right wing hawks love to use the military’s cruise missiles. In fact I think many on the left would be surprised by just how receptive many in the military are to their ideas about how to fight this war on terrorism, and where our foreign policy priorities should be. But much more on that in a later post.

(* I have no idea of how he votes, nor would I like to speculate. And damn, even my link posts run to 600 words. You’d think given these tendencies a PhD of 100’000 would be easy…)