Saturday, February 15, 2003

Warnie's Darwin connection

Like all parochial newspapers, Darwin's Murdoch-owned Northern Territory News and Sunday Territorian specialise in highlighting local links in just about any national or international story. Mostly the link is so trivial as to be just plain silly, but this item in today's 'Sunday Terror' is worth recording:
"Shane Warne's ignominious exit from South Afrcia was not the first time he had been sent home. In 1990, when the spin king was a 19 year old member of the AIS cricket academy side, he was ordered back to Melbourne from Darwin after using "inappropriate language and behaviour" to female Northern Territory University students who were sunbathing at the old NTU campus at Myilly Point. Warne made his test debut in 1992 and said after the match that being expelled from Darwin had shocked him into knuckling down."

The story is accompanied by a cartoon showing Warnie being interviewed by a reporter who's saying "What?! You got kicked out of the capital of inappropriate behaviour?!"

Stroppy Strocchi

Jason Soon is hosting a fascinating debate on the ubiquitous Iraq invasion issue between guest blogger and economist Jack Strocchi and reader Tim Makinson. Jack has deployed some logical/philosophical tools to analyse potential Iraq options (coming up with a pro-war conclusion, which is predictable given that Jack has been a strong military option advocate in John Quiggin's comment boxes for months before graduating to full bloggerness). Tim argues (not without force IMO) that Jack is playing fast and loose with logic. Worth reading even if you're heartily sick of the interminable arguments on Iraq.

BTW it seems that Jack Strocchi is another Bunyip fan.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Uncle on song

Just to add a bit of variety to my laudatory linking of right wing bloggers, I should mention that Uncle from ABC Watch has an excellent piece today on "Islamophobia", a nascent offence against political correctness apparently under development by the good folk down at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I'd been idly contemplating writing something similar myself, but Uncle has done a better job than I ever could.

One of the things I'm still finding it hard to get my head around is how we can preserve our tolerant multicultural society when a significant subset of recent migrants is vehemently opposed to those values, and at least a few of them are sworn to overthrow that society by violence. It seems that if HREOC gets its way, we won't even be able to talk about such issues, let alone actually do anything to protect ourselves.

Maybe Uncle is an incognito senior academic as well, and I'm just currying favour again. Or maybe my judgment is just "clouded" by my bloodlust for war in Iraq. Being patronised by lefties is such a privilege. Then again, maybe I'm actually Uncle (as well as Bunyip)! It's mighty confusing being a political schizophrenic, but at least you're never lonely.

Multiple realities

As I've mentioned before on this blog, every Saturday morning my wife gets up early and goes up to the local service station to buy the morning paper, preparatory to her weekly fix of lawn sales. A couple of weeks ago a white "gin jockey" had bled all over the forecourt of the servo, after being bashed with a blunt instrument by a young Aboriginal woman.

This morning the service station was closed and surrounded by police. The young counter attendant who always serves Jenny had been stabbed by a drunken Aboriginal woman. I don't know whether he's still alive. I'll keep you informed.

Gary, you may be correct that there are "multiple historical truths" with indigenous issues. But most of them are negative, and they pale into insignificance compared with the "multiple realities" of the present day. Moreover, musing about whether Keith Windschuttle is dodgier than Lyndall Ryan doesn't have much connection with any of them. Maybe we need to have some understanding of the "multiple historical truths" (at least if that means trying to gain insight into how indigenous people may have perceived and experienced events), and we certainly need to have a grasp of the "empirical history". But mostly we need to start a serious search for solutions, instead of metaphorically shrugging our shoulders and focusing on sterile historical debates.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Saudis are the big threat

Bargarz blogs a timely piece about the ongoing activities of Saudi Arabia in brainwashing their children with almost unbelievably poisonous and ultra-violent anti-western propaganda. Moreover, the Saudis continue to fund "madrassa" (I'm not sure of the plural) which spread the same hateful Wahabbist message throughout the world. They are calculatedly creating the next Bin Laden and the next generation of obedient suicide bombers.

As the National Review article Bargarz extracts observes, the Saudis are continuing to deliberately turn children into anti-western terrorists despite American requests to cease and desist. The Americans have so far taken a low key approach with the Saudis, however we should all be hoping they take the gloves off once the immediate threat of Saddam is removed. Whether the prospect of greater freedom to deal resolutely with the Saudi threat forms part of US calculations on the desirability of forced regime change in Iraq (as I have previously speculated) is impossible to know, but it will certainly be a major collateral benefit.

Moreover, there is a direct and critical security link for Australia in this consideration. It's very likely that Abu Bakr Bashir's madrassa, where the Bali bombers were brainwashed and turned into terrorists, was partly Saudi-funded and inspired. The Financial Times reported that "Omar al-Faruq, an al Qaeda-trained Kuwaiti arrested in Indonesia in June, has told U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan that the spiritual leader of the radical Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Bakr Bashir, was given $74,000 by a Saudi to buy explosives from Indonesian army officers earlier this year." (link not available).

Do Yourself a Favour

There's been a lot of poorly written, ill-considered nonsense written about the Iraq situation (conceivably even by me - although I don't really think that - I'm just striking a pose of mock humility). This morning's SMH, however, carries an article by Tony Horwitz that everyone should read. Several leftie bloggers have recently professed willingness to be persuaded that military action in Iraq is justified and necessary. If any of them were genuine (rather than just striking a faux rhetorical pose), they'd be persuaded by the case Horwitz puts.

Michael Costello in The Australian puts the obverse side of the coin. He acknowledges that the case for military action in Iraq is strong, but observes that the "Bushies" are their own worst enemies in terms of persuading the rest of the world. Their gauche, flag-waving jingoism grossly antagonises many non-Americans who are not necessarily lefties. No doubt that's part of the reason (along with half-baked calculations of domestic political advantage) why Labor frontbenchers were so scathing in their public comments about the US President. However, they need to be much more disciplined and restrained in their language because of the positions they hold (and that's putting it mildly).

Lotts of support

Those who've been following the John Lott Jnr saga (as to whether he fabricated a 1997 survey on defensive gun use) will be interested in this item on The Volokh Conspiracy. I think it puts it pretty much beyond doubt that Lott did experience a major computer hard drive crash at that time. I still find it strange that no-one other than an extreme gun nut has come forward to provide any direct corroboration, and the Mary Rosh stuff is just plain weird, but confirmation of Lott's hard drive crash makes it significantly more likely that he's telling the truth. It's still badly flawed research, as are his concealed carry studies, but my best guess at this stage is that there was no fraud.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

They're both wrong

There appears to be a consensus (leaving aside predictable figures like Tim Blair) that American Ambassador Tom Schieffer acted in an ill-advised manner by giving an interview to The Bulletin's Maxine McKew in which he criticised the Federal ALP in fairly strong terms:
"Yeah, and you don't get the same feeling now. And we certainly didn't get this rank appeal to anti-Amercanism ... to anti-George Bush feeling. It's all gotten very personal in the last few days."

I think I agree that Schieffer spoke inappropriately, but I must say I hadn't realised, until I watched Red Kezza O'Brien interview Simon the Unlikeable on the ABC 7.30 Report last night, just how extreme and, yes, anti-American, Labor's rhetoric really has been. Here's Kerry trying (ever so gently) to get Crean to concede that his frontbenchers' language might have been just a tad more than ordinary robust political debate:
KERRY O'BRIEN: Lindsay Tanner, one of your senior frontbenchers, likened President Bush to Dr Strangelove -- a megalomaniac scientist in a film about nuclear madness.

Is that kind of terminology wise or necessary? ...

But perhaps it's another thing for your colleagues, for instance, in this country, like Martin Ferguson, one of your most senior colleagues, referring to George W. Bush as a "well-known warmonger", and Joel Fitzgibbon, another frontbencher, ridiculing the President for wanting to play cowboys and Indians.

SIMON CREAN: And one of the Liberals referred to President Bush as a clown. ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mark Latham -- "President Bush the most incompetent and dangerous president "in living memory". ...

Crean belatedly conceded that he had told his colleagues their language was "inappropriate", but it's much more than that. Crean doesn't appear to understand that there is a difference between ordinary backbench members slagging off at Australia's closest ally, and members of the Shadow Cabinet doing so. They are Australia's alternative government. They simply shouldn't have been talking in that way, and Crean needs to do a lot more to repair the damage. Crean says he's going to get Schieffer into his office when he (Schieffer) gets out of hospital, so he can protest at Schieffer's improper interference in Australian politics. Crean would be better advised to apologise for his Shadow Ministers' disgraceful and damaging behaviour. There are clearly ways to engage in vigorous political debate about whether Australia should be involved in military action in Iraq, without descending into ad hominem attacks on George Bush. That might be acceptable for bloggers or yobbos down at the local pub, but it's grossly inappropriate and irresponsible for members of Australia's alternative government. I never imagined I'd start thinking seriously that Kim Beazley should make a comeback, but the rest of them don't seem to have even an ounce of commonsense between them.

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Australia beats England 3 - 1 at soccer! Could this really be true? And they scored 2 of the 3 goals in the first half, when the Poms had their top team on the field. I can't help having 2 negative thoughts, though, along with the patriotic joy. Why couldn't it have been against Uruguay when it counted? And will this victory allow the hopelessly corrupted administration of Soccer Australia to avoid the wholesale reform the game so desperately needs?

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Another shot in the culture wars

Counter-revisionist historian Keith Windschuttle has an article in this morning's Australian, which appears to make some pretty telling points in the bitter argument about the extent of massacres of Aborigines in colonial Tasmania. One that may interest John Quiggin, who (like me) seems to agree that Windschuttle landed some very telling blows on Lyndall Ryan's academic reputation, is this:
"Ryan has had more than a year to answer my main charges, first made at the museum's frontier conflict conference, which she attended. Yet her published conference paper avoids them entirely. Her only substantive response (The Australian, January 4-5) has been to claim I left out one paragraph break in a passage quoted from her book. I plead guilty, but this trivial omission in no way distorted her meanings or the attribution of her footnotes to her text."

Both John and Rob Corr have expressly said we should give Ryan the benefit of the doubt until she has had time to go back and "check her sources" to see what evidence she did rely on in making her impugned massacre/genocide claims. Whatever other failings Windschuttle's work may contain (and there are many), Ryan has a serious case to answer. As Windschuttle observes:
"Ryan herself (The Australian, December 17) described these as "a few minor errors that can easily be rectified".

However, Ryan's book - and this refers to her 1996 second edition, which she claimed she had corrected - goes well beyond a few forgivable gaffes. There are at least 17 cases where she either invented atrocities and other incidents or provided false footnotes, plus another seven cases where the number of Aborigines she claims were killed or captured is either outright false or exaggerated beyond belief. Robson committed a similar degree of fabrication."

Even leaving aside the fact that Ryan has apparently known of these allegations for over a year, she has had well over 2 months since publication of Windschuttle's book to hotfoot it down to Tasmania and drag out her old notes and photocopied documents. If it was me whose reputation had been attacked in this way, I'd have been on the first plane down there. The fact that we still haven't heard a substantive defence from Ryan or any of her sympathisers rather suggests that she's simply been caught red-handed, and is hoping the controversy will somehow just die away. That's rather unlikely, I think.

Asylum seeker rant

Tim Dunlop highlights a piece by another leftie blogger, which exposes a dastardly "secret" plan (covered in the Guardian) by the Blair government to deport most of its 100,000 or so annual flow of asylum seekers back to refugee camps in the region from which they came, to have their applications processed there. Appalling! Blair must have been listening to John Howard instead of reading Green Left Weekly. How could Tony have been so misled by a patently racist little man like Howard?

Well, for a start, it might have something to do with the fact that 100, 000 asylum seekers every year is an awful lot in a small densely populated nation like Britain, especially when they're overwhelmingly poorly educated, lacking in English language or employment skills, and have cultural and religious backgrounds that guarantee drastic urban social probems in British cities if effective action isn't taken. It might also be related to the fact that less than 20% of asylum seekers are found to be genuine, yet 70% of them abscond and disappear as soon as they're notified that their applications to stay in Britain have been unsuccessful. Crime, drugs, and unemployment-related violence are skyrocketing in British cities as a direct result. Still, I suppose the Poms could all move to upper middle class suburban Washington, where they would have the luxury of taking a much more compassionate view of the situation while dining with advisers to Condoleeza Rice (sorry, a low blow but this sort of sanctimonious crap really makes me angry).

Tim appears to label as "crap" a suggestion by British officials that their new plan will be presented to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers when he visits Britain next week. However, as I covered in detail back in September last year, this new British plan (and, for that matter, the Howard government's offshore 'Christmas Island solution' processing scheme) appears to coincide quite closely with Lubbers' own ideas for dealing with the massive challenges posed for western nations by the advent of large scale people smuggling. The UN itself estimates that people smugglers move more than 1 million asylum seekers annually, overwhelmingly to wealthy western countries, and make profits estimated at between 10 and 20 billion dollars each year. Not as profitable as drugs, but a lot safer (though not for the asylum seekers). That phenomenon was simply not foreseen when western nations negotiated the Refugee Convention back in 1951. Even so, the obligations they were prepared to accept were extremely limited. The reality is that no western government, whether headed by an "evil racist" like John Howard or a marshmallow faux-leftie like Tony Blair, can afford to fail to take effective action against a problem of the magnitude posed by people smuggling.

We need to keep in mind that promoting a system where asylum seekers are processed in refugee camps in countries adjacent to their homeland is nowhere near as unfair as Tim (and the blogger he links) makes it sound. The overwhelming majority of refugees have always been dealt with in that way, and that is what the Refugee Convention envisaged. It's only the (relatively) wealthy few who can afford to subvert that system and pay people smugglers to get them to a wealthy country with a cushy social security system and good job prospects. Moreover, research suggests that the vast majority of refugees need only temporary asylum, which can best be provided in a location where they can conveniently return home when it becomes safe to do so. Allowing those who can afford to pay people smugglers to absorb permanent places in western countries necessarily means that there are less places available for those who genuinely will never be able to return safely to their homeland. In that sense, Ruddock's demonisation of onshore asylum seekers as "queue jumpers" is perfectly true.

Lastly, most of the third world countries who host large refugee camps aren't actually complaining about it. Why? Because they provide the land for the camps, but not the money. Camps are funded by the world community (i.e. overwhelmingly the first world) and administered by UNHCR and overseas aid agencies. Having camps within one's borders is in many ways an economic benefit: supplies are sourced locally, and local jobs are generated through servicing the refugee camps. In some African countries, the money flowing in through hosting refugee camps represents a substantial proportion of national income.

American legal bloggage

Eugene Volokh has an interesting piece about whether increasing State tobacco taxes has increased cigarette smuggling in the US, or whether decreased apparent sales are explained by buyers avoiding state taxes by purchasing ciggies via the Internet. One especially for the economists.

Jack Balkin muses about the increasing use of electronic voting machines in US elections. Many have seen them as a solution to the problems of "dimpled chads", "hanging chads" and the like which made the Florida US presidential election result in 2000 so problematic (because it was so close). Those issues arose because Florida used mechanical voting machines which punched a hole against the candidate for whom a person wanted to vote. However, Balkin says there are at least equally serious problems with their new electronic counterparts:
"What is being overlooked is that not all electronic voting systems are created equal. Some of the ones on the market, perhaps even most, have serious flaws that enable unscrupulous people to alter vote counts and commit massive electoral fraud. Some also are designed to leave no electronic backup or paper trail that would enable state officials to discover vote tampering or conduct recounts.

This, my friends, is a disaster waiting to happen."

We don't have this problem in Australia, because we don't use either mechanical or electronic voting machines. We remain totally unmechanised, and the American example tends to suggest that it's the right choice (even though it makes election day a very labour-intensive exercise). We also don't have the bizarre American system where even federal elections are governed by a different set of election laws in each state. Our Founding Fathers wisely gave the Commonwealth Parliament the power to enact uniform national electoral laws, which it did very soon after federation. Consequently, we have the Australian Electoral Commission, which ensures that federal elections are free and fair, conducted under uniform rules, and not besmirched by being potentially under the administrative control of allies (or relatives) of one of the candidates. Australia's system is manifestly superior in those respects.

One quibble with Balkin's piece. He implicitly perpetuates the Democrat myth that Dubbya stole the presidency when he says (for example) "As many of you know, I am a great critic of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which handed the presidency to George W. Bush through a particularly unpersuasive argument about when to grant a stay and about what constitutes an appropriate remedy for violates of the Equal Protection Clause." As blog readers (especially of Tim Blair) will recall, later research and notional recounts in Florida showed that Bush would in fact have won even if the US Supreme Court had allowed the actual recounts to proceed.

Bravura bloggage

Tim Dunlop blogs on testimony given by Douglas J. Feith, US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Apparently Firth indicated very clearly that the Bush administration is committed to (1) genuine nation-building in Iraq after any military action; (2) honouring the sovereignty of Iraq once a new government is established; and (3) accepting that sovereignty includes control of oil supplies.

Of course, that doesn't mean the US won't do everything it reasonably can to ensure that future Iraqi governments are favourably disposed towards American interests. Achieving that might require more than a bit of political skill, if the professed commitment to fostering free and fair elections is genuine, and if a bloody invasion ends up generating deep community resentment. However, I suspect the US is committed to fostering free and fair elections, and that this danger has not escaped US planners (it might have escaped George Bush, but that's another question). It tends to show that the US will take as much care as it can to minimise civilian casualties, and that leftie characterisations of a Dresden firestorm, or a Hiroshima-style nuking of cities are just silly. America is gambling that Iraqis will rapidly discover that life after Saddam's brutal tyranny is such a dramatic improvement that the predominant attitude will be pro- rather than anti-American. It might depend in part on just how much "collateral damage" ends up occurring. If worse comes to worst, I guess the US can always fall back on the old Cold War tactic of having the CIA rig elections or engineer a coup (they may be practising their skills in Venezuela as we speak). Hopefully, however, it won't prove necessary.

Professor Bunyip blogs on German hypocrisy. I don't give a bugger who he is; this guy can write. However, Bunyip's proxy outrage (on behalf of Aussie WWII Diggers) at some hapless (if hypocritical) German's invoking of "the American terror bombings of German cities during WWII and the mass slaughter of women, children and the elderly for years on end" is at best superficial. Many members of aircrews involved in saturation bombing of German cities were deeply troubled by the moral implications of the actions they were required to perform. They may have accepted that the Germans had done it first, and that the demands of total war required it, but most didn't feel at all comfortable about it. Of course, you'll always find silly old buffers like Bruce Ruxton prepared to fulminate against the "Krauts" and the "Nips" at a moment's notice, but Ruxton isn't typical. In my observation, the most one-dimensional warmongers are usually those who have never been to war. Come to think of it, I've never been to war (thank Gough). Hmmm!

Last nail in activism's coffin?

American po-mo constitutional law academic Jack Balkin blogged an essay a couple of days ago whose subject matter is peculiarly timely as a springboard for this Australian public lawyer's bloggage. Today was the day the intellectually formidable big "C" conservative Justice Dyson Heydon took his place on the bench of the High Court of Australia. Yesterday, Justice Mary Gaudron officially retired. Justice Michael Kirby is now the only judicial "activist" of a liberal persuasion remaining on the Court.

I want to muse on how the High Court came to acquire a liberal activist majority for a short time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and how it was progressively dismantled, half-heartedly by the Hawke and Keating Labor governments, but with ruthless determination by the current Howard conservative regime. Balkin's essay provides a useful starting point, because he identifies two principal ways in which a political or social movement can achieve its goals throught the judicial process ... Read more
(Another fairly long blog)

Monday, February 10, 2003

Quiggers on the money

John Quiggin has just posted a piece linking an op-ed article he wrote late last year, where he advocated that Federal Labor should embrace the notion of a special purpose levy (like the Medicare Levy) to fund a more ambitious social expenditure program. I couldn't agree more. Labor has been a policy-free zone for years now, political rabbits caught in the spotlight, paralysed by fear of being labelled as "tax and spend" socialists.

Yet John Howard won an election while promising a new tax, and one whose benefits were complex and difficult to explain. An Education Levy fixed at (say) 2% of taxable income (except for the lowest tax bracket) would raise enormous amounts of revenue, allowing the ALP to promise an ambitious program to revitalise public education. As John points out, the Coalition would be unable to match those promises, and would have some difficulty arguing convincingly against the policy given its own recent reliance on somewhat similar levies. I'm certainly not advocating a huge increase in Australian tax rates. This proposal would only take our total tax take from 31% of GDP to around 33% (or a bit less, really), much less than the 40 - 50% on average that prevails in Europe. I think Australia is constrained in how much we can afford to raise taxes by: we need to remain globally competitive, and we don't have the Europeans' advantages of economies of scale or proximity to huge markets (which allow them to get away with relatively high tax rates without completely stifling economic activity).

As I've pointed out previously, I would even support a Liberal-style policy of allowing public universities to charge students "top-up" fees, as long as a generous government scholarship scheme was available to ensure that students of ability from poorer families were not disadvantaged. In fact, a scheme of that sort might well be an excellent way to get maximum "bang for the buck", and encourage Australians to invest in their own educations while not offending equal opportunity principles.

Double jeopardy again

I see that NSW Premier Bob Carr has been suggesting abrogation of the double jeopardy principle in criminal law, as part of the usual pre-election "Laura Norder" auction in New South Wales. A couple of bloggers have posted items about it (Bargarz and Eddie Weston on Australian Libertarians blog). Both oppose outright any modification of double jeopardy. I disagree, and in fact I blogged about it a couple of months ago. See my essay One and a Half Jeopardy at the old Parish Pump blog. The issues are pretty complicated, but I think you can make a persuasive case that some watering down of the absolute double jeopardy prohibition is in the community interest and does not offend human rights or civil liberties values.

Gummo's gentle sarcasm

Gummo Trotsky blogs a great piece this morning that takes the piss out of John Ray's increasingly silly "anti-leftism" rants on his blog "Dissecting Leftism". For those who never bother to read his blog (and I'm not suggesting you should change your habits), the monotonic theme is that anyone who holds opinions even marginally to the left of his own extreme right viewpoint is by definition suffering from some dire sociopathological disease of John's own invention. As Gummo observes, one of Mr. Ray's more entertaining recent "theories" was that young males gravitate to the political left because young female leftists are sluts, so that joining the Left makes it much easier to bury the pork sword! If you think I might be unfairly summarising John Ray's arguments (such as they are) feel free to go and read his blog for yourself.

Come to think of it, I reckon an extrapolation of John Ray's hypothesis provides a much more satisfying way to explain political orientation than Gummo's competing theory (that conservatism flows from being a spoiled brat as a kid). If we follow John Ray's theory to its ultimate conclusion, leftism is a symptom of thinking with your dick (as we males are wont to do in our youth, and sometimes rather later as well). Late onset conservatism is a symptom of dwindling testosterone reserves and a wilting willie. We centrists, on the other hand, can still manage to get it up from time to time, but we've come to realise that there are other things in life as well (including mental masturbation via blogging).

Getting serious (but only marginally) for a moment, I recall when I was in Year 12 at a state high school, the fairly nearby Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School (SCEGGS Redlands) was notorious for its enormous pregnancy rate. No less than 4 school captains in a row had been forced to resign mid year after getting in the family way. I don't imagine too many of them were bleeding heart lefties. Perhaps John Ray is just saying that he couldn't get a root when he was a young bloke. However, there are several possible explanations for that phenomenon.

You won't get me, I'm part of the union

That arch neo-liberal commentator Alan Wood has an essay in today's Australian, in which he exhorts Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott to emulate his predecessor Peter Reith and take to the building industry unions with a big stick. It makes a fascinating counterpoint to WA blogger Rob Corr's ongoing love affair with the unions, provoked by his current work experience stint with several of them.

Rob's uncritical leftie admiration for his building industry union comrades ignores (or glosses over) the fact that a lot of them are thugs, crims and standover merchants. However, by the same token Alan Wood's advocacy of doing a "Reith" ignores the fact that a lot of major building companies are no better. It's a "chicken and egg" question: did the unions adopt thuggish tactics to combat thuggish bosses or vice versa? In any event, de-unionising the industry and further disempowering the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is precisely the wrong answer, unless you think rorting the system to make sure one group of thugs wins is a great solution for Australia. Of course, that's not what ultimately happened on the waterfront. Stevedoring boss Chris Corrigan was forced to compromise and accept the continuance of a unionised waterfront, and the MUA was forced to abandon most of its rorted work practices. The positive effect on waterfront productivity was huge. Moreover, that positive result for Australia occurred in part because an activist leftie Federal Court judge (Tony North) prevented Corrigan and Reith from crushing the union, and an evenly (ideologically) balanced High Court upheld enough of the decision to force both Corrigan and the MUA to climb down from the barricades and sort out a rational solution.

Hegemonic hubris

An article by Daniel Pipes in Tuesday's Sydney Morning Herald illustrates precisely the "power corrupts" syndrome that I referred to yesterday in relation to a United States with enhanced (and virtually unchallengeable) power in the wake of a successful Iraqi military campaign. Pipes advocates that America should extend its campaign of liberation, and impose liberal democracy on other Arab nations at the point of a gun!

Of course, Pipes' suggestion hasn't been taken up by the Bush administration, but you can bet that some of its more hawkish members have had thoughts along the same lines. Pipes cites US success in fostering democracy in Germany and Japan after World War 2. However, the crucial distinction he misses is that both those countries had engaged in an aggressive war of conquest, and imposed systemic reform was more than justified in the circumstances. Arab nations other than Iraq have been guilty of no such thing (well, if you leave aside the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel, anyway). Imposing any form of government on them by force solely because they happen to have illiberal governing regimes, and in the absence of any justificatory act of prior aggression, is utterly unacceptable on any reasonable view.

Yesterday I referred to the "possibility that the US might choose to take action if it disapproves sufficiently strongly of them and its strategic interests are sufficiently engaged." Ron Mead picked me up on this point and argued: "Ken, I really think the US's position is a long way from mere disapproval. The Bush administration sees it as a logical flow-on from the Gulf War, and Iraq's non-compliance with the ceas-fire terms of that conflict. " That is, Ron argues that Iraq is a special case, and that we need not fear US bullying of other nations for less clearly adequate reasons. Pipes' article indicates that he at least already believes that the future American tendency much of the world fears would be an entirely proper way for the US to behave. That's why I think we need to start some lateral thinking about other ways to engineer workable constraints on hegemonic power, while still allowing enough scope for decisive action against tyranny in clear-cut cases. Of course, the question of who should judge whether a given situation is sufficiently exceptional to justify military intervention is a dilemma to which I don't have an immediate solution. A UNSC without any nation enjoying a veto might help, but the chances of any of the current permanent members (especially the US) agreeing to surrender their veto power is very remote.

Update - Rob Corr has taken up on his own blog my challenge to do some lateral thinking about constraining US hegemony in the event of successful US-led military action in Iraq. His essay is worth reading.

Credit where it isn't due?

Maybe I spoke too soon in comparing The Age newspaper favourably with its Fairfax stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald. Professor Bunyip exposes a quite disgraceful piece of confected anti-American propaganda by Kenneth Davidson in today's Age newspaper. This is not just a matter of a strongly expressed opinion on which reasonable minds might differ. It's an outright factual misrepresentation, and you would expect any newspaper with pretensions to be a journal of record to have reasonably rigorous fact-checking mechanisms to pick up distortions of this sort. Of course, they may sometimes miss equally blameworthy distortions by right-ish columnists from time to time, as well. Maybe one or two left-leaning bloggers and comment box lurkers will take up the challenge of identifying some examples to disprove Bunyip's perennial leftie bias accusation against The Age. I won't even suggest anyone tries to prove the SMH isn't biased; that would be a hopeless task.

Sunday, February 09, 2003


Hugh White has been having a buck each way on Iraq for a long time. His essay in Monday's SMH doesn't break the mould, but it broaches the real issue that explains French and German (and for that matter Russian and Chinese) resistance to the military option (leaving aside domestic factors):
"Politically, success in Iraq would swing the balance in America's permanent strategic debate away from isolationism and towards a bold vision of American engagement and leadership. Americans would be more and more willing to use their armed forces in future, and less and less tolerant of regimes of which they disapprove.

As a result, the rest of the world would see America in a new light. A country with the strength and will to invade major countries and remove governments that it dislikes would achieve a new, unprecedented level of influence, far exceeding what we have seen in the past decade."

Interestingly, White seems rather attracted by the prospect of even greater enhancement of American hegemony. He almost sounds like a smooth-talking version of our Jack Strocchi (who I note has been remarkably silent for the last week or so). Part of me reacts a bit like White and Strocchi - I find most US values very congenial. I'd rather not be an appendage of anyone's empire, but as citizens of a very small liberal democracy maybe we don't have much choice. On the other hand, New Zealand seems to have done okay without completely surrendering its independence.

I wonder how many opponents of the Iraq military option would actually support it if it weren't for the fact that they perceive (like Hugh White) that the major consequence (besides freeing Iraqis from an appalling tyrant) will be the semi-permanent entrenchment of the US as world hyperpower. That's why I posted the extensive extract about the US as "hegemon" yesterday. I was a bit surprised that it failed to generate any debate. Maybe we all think the point is so blindingly self-evident as not to be worth discussing. However, if we accept that a US-led invasion is now virtually certain, and that American success will indeed entrench US hegemony (as it clearly will), isn't it time we started really thinking about what that means? Attempting to force the US to swear allegiance to the UN as a way of constraining its power has met with predictable failure. What available alternatives are there? Apply for a Green Card? Join S11? The Strocchi option (see if they want us as the 51st state - or is it the 52nd)? Get used to endless repeats of Malcolm in the Middle?