Monday, January 26, 2009

Recent coups - some reflections

One of the meanings of the word coup is 'a stroke or move that one makes especially a notable or strikingly successful move'. Even the word 'coup d'etat' has meant 'any sudden and decisive stroke of State policy'. Why this reflection on what a coup may or may not mean? Well I was reminded yesterday by arguments in an article by Guy Rundle (Morning in America) about the nature of the Bush, or more precisely, the neo-conservative ascendancy. He says, for example that:

'The plain fact about the Bush/Cheney — more exactly, Cheney/Bush — era was that it represented the most substantial counter-revolution against the principles that America understands itself as living by that has occurred since the Republic was founded.

Torture, detention, illegal wars, lies were simply the surface effect of the Cheney/Bush era's deep and abiding aim — to realign the separation of US powers sufficient to give the executive arm of government, the presidency, an overwhelming authority that effectively destroyed the checks and balances of the three branches of government.'

I was somewhat amazed to read, for the first time, that this was largely achieved through:

'the use of "presidential signing statements" and restrictions on information flow'.

The obvious question is why had I not seen this reported before? Certainly I may have missed it - but if it was just not reported then it raises some pretty profound questions about the journalist profession.

Having been a close watcher of the happenings of Downing St in the Blair years and the rise of New Labour I have for sometime held ...and occasionally espoused ... an analysis that argued that the rise of New Labour could be considered as an internal Labour party coup mounted and maintained, even in government, by a small group around Blair. In office they maintained the sort of group think that gives rise to a 'coup' - and ultimately this was their undoing. The same dynamics appear to have been played out in the rise and fall of the neo-cons in the USA. For this reason the transparency and lobbying restrictions imposed by Obama are to be welcomed - they are key checks to the unfettered powers that can be assumed by the executive in our still very flawed democratic forms. As Rundle notes, Obama's changes 'for those wanting to contest such a policy' .... 'changes the nature of what is to be contested to a realpolitik, more open in its aims and motives, more open to criticism, challenge and dissent, and less bound up with grand schemes of dominance and global transformation, less need to make Mosul into Missouri.' This may not make for easy politics but the reward that can be reaped is genuine transformation.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An open letter to my Federal MP

Thank you for making time to see me last week. Like you I am sorry we only had 30 minutes to discuss some very complex matters - that gave us roughly 15 minutes 'airtime' each! I was not encouraged by our conversation. My motivation to meet with you came from what I considered to be the government's totally inadequate response to climate change as embodied in the recent white paper. Nothing you said changed my mind on this matter; in fact I experienced affirmation of the points I made in an earlier posting to my Blog. Many matters germane to the discussion were not said or not fully explored, such as:

* population growth and current government policies;
* mismatch between your pre-election rhetoric/promises and current actions;
* the amount of money going to the carbon polluting industries;
* the intellectually and morally questionable over-hyping and over- investment (by government) in so-called 'clean coal' and carbon sequestration;
* the perverse effects built into the new Federal solar rebate system - recent articles and editorials in The Age expand upon my points;
* whether government policy is driven more by tax revenues from the carbon intensive industries than any other consideration;
* the perverse and systemic impacts that are now arising from earlier decisions by governments to privatise public utilities;
* failure to reformulate institutional arrangements - for example we now need utilities where 'profit' is driven by the delivery of socio-ecological goals rather than the sale of physical materials such as water or energy i.e. de-materialisation.

I was struck by arguments that a government could only go where the electorate was - and that Melbourne was atypical. Also your perspective on surveys! I liked the ideas on household audits.

Overall I could relate to some points but not the overall message that comes from them - because ultimately it is a message that perpetuates a sort of group think and a vicious circle.

The vicious circle I extrapolated from our conversation goes something like this: (i) the electorate are only prepared to do so much (very little in fact) in relation to climate change; (ii) this is particularly an issue (as is political support) in the main electorates where carbon-polluting industries are located (Gladstone, La Trobe Valley, Hunter etc) ; (iii) therefore we (Labor) cannot take decisive leadership; (iv) therefore we pursue policies that have minimal impact on the lives of the electorate - and little overall impact on Australia's gross carbon pollution, so (v) the current undertandings and practices of the majority of the electorate stay much as they are (and as shaped by the reactionary Howard years); (vi) so we cannot lead.

I suggested Labor's reponse was a bit like if Billy Hughes, when PM, had introduced legislation to reduce the worst excesses of horse shit pollution, by providing subsidies to stables, buggy manufacturers and smithies! Your response suggested the government was not really prepared to invest so as to be out in front - through new technologies and investment models, new ways of doing work and providing services, such as green entrepreneurship. Instead government actions tie us to the same old horseshit or its equivalent! This is not to say that government does not have responsibilty for assisting in building and managing a safety net for those most affected by the global transformations that will most surely occur. However I do not see a long term safety net in the government's current strategy - only an 'all eggs in one basket' gamble with Australia's long term future.

On Saturday I was still mulling over my concerns and wondering what if anything I might have said well as considering how much more there was to be said. Then I came across the article by Jonathan Schell in The Age which said, in terms far more eloquent than I, what I would want to say to you and the Rudd government. Let me draw your attention to the following points in particular:

'A fourth crisis is the ecological one, comprising global warming, the human-caused annihilation of species, population growth, water and land shortages, and much else. Like nuclear danger, the ecological crisis threatens something that has never been at stake before our era: the foundations of life on which humans and all species depend for survival. Economic and military ups and downs are for a season only. Extinction is forever.'

Does this strike a chord with our PM and his commitment to espoused moral positions?

'The contemporary crises are interwoven, forming a kind of Gordian knot. The world does not have the luxury of dealing with them one by one. Consider the relationship of the collapsing economy to the collapsing environment. Economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has noted that economists are wondering if the graph of the financial crisis will eventually prove to be V-shaped or U-shaped; but he argues it will be L-shaped.

Indeed, there can be neither a V, a U or any other upward-turning graph if the remedy does not include a green revolution and a sustainable-energy program. A dirty recovery, even if possible, would be worse than no recovery. It would be the quickest path to a bigger bust. The just-crashed "successful" economy, excellent as it was in producing cheap goods, was also producing environmental catastrophe.'

Stigliz's arguments echo my suggestion to you - that the only way forward in the current so-called crisis is to frame it as an opportunty - an opportunity to position our future as more viably coupled to our environment through pursuing different forms of 'economic activity'. I agree with Schell when he says:

'political pragmatism in current circumstances may be real folly, as it was on the eve of the Iraq War and in the years of the finance bubble preceding the crash. Smooth sailing down the middle of the Niagara River carries you over Niagara Falls.'

Schell mounts strong arguments, as if more were needed, for the current government to break out of the intellectual and political traps it has set for itself, and to raise the stakes for us all, just as Barack Obama has done for those 80% or so of Americans who, if tested in focus groups, are unlikely to have positioned themselves with where their President sets out to take them. Australia by contrast is being led into a coal-de-sac!

As I understand it you have young children: when they ask what it is that you did under these circumstances what is it that you would wish to answer?