2 October 2004

Out of the Question - Is Bush's biggest mistake too awful to admit?

'I believe that when you know something's going wrong, you make it right,' Kerry said, explaining his vote against the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq. 'That's what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war, I saw that it was wrong. Some people don't like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that's what I did with that vote.'

No, Senator. That isn't what you did with that vote. You haven't said no to the Iraq War as you did to the Vietnam War. And the reason is that this time, you're running for president.

But the greater shame belongs to the candidate who launched this war, refuses to admit his errors, and now holds the moral pride of his countrymen hostage, blackmailing them into shunning the truth. Tonight he scoffed, 'If I were to ever say, 'This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place,' the troops would wonder, 'How can I follow this guy?' '

Exactly, Mr. President. If you were ever to give them the correct assessment, they would ask the correct question.

Famously, Bush tells us that 'failure in Iraq is unthinkable'. Saletan seems to have found out why.

1 October 2004

my last on Family First

I have a problem with the federal election. Instead of blogging up a storm I find myself yawning. I certainly hope the Man of Steel is defeated. I think Mark Latham would make make a much better (and certainly more honest) prime minister. Just once I would like to hear Latham say that unjust war is wrong. I'm just not finding all that much to say that isn't already being said elsewhere.

I'm interested that the Man of Steel personally brokered the preference swap with Family First. I would badly like the date of those negotiations. FF have a longish policy document. If you're prepared to download a .75 meg pdf and read the whole thing you discover part of putting families first is:

To this end Family First will pursue a range of strategies to reduce the incidence of and negative outcomes of family and relationship breakdown by:

  • Providing relationship and marriage education as well as ongoing opportunities for building and developing skills so that families have optimal chances for success
  • Providing relationship and family rescue and preservation programs for the provision of support and counselling for relationships and marriages under pressure
  • Providing divorce recovery and separation programs that offer strategies and support to every family member
  • Explaining the extra benefits marriage bring to family life and increasing opportunities to help people, especially young Australians to select marriage as the best environment in which to raise a family
  • Affirming and defending the institution of marriage as being a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life

Oddly enough, the Commonwealth Marriage Act tells us at S6:

"marriage" means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

That language was inserted in the Act by the Marriage Legislation Amendment Act 2004 which passed with Labor's support in the last few days of the old parliament. It is pirated from Lord Penzance's definition Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee, where he defined marriage as ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others’.

It would be interesting to know if the marriage amendment was the subject of the Man of Steel's conversations with Family First. the government was certainly anxious to get the bill passed before the election. At one stage they were giving it priority over an anti-terror bill. It would be a great, great joke if Labor in its wisdom passed a discriminatory law in order to secure the Man of Steel's preferences.

Stealth politics is not completely unknown to the religious right in the US.

Downplaying Christian affiliation has become a tried and true strategy of American conservative evangelical organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and the Heritage Foundation. During the 1990s, all of those robustly religious organizations began coaching their local leaders and campaign workers to avoid speaking what some strategists called 'Christianese' - the kind of overtly religious language, sprinkled with Biblical allusions and evangelical code-words ('born again', 'sin', 'salvation') likely to alienate secular voters. Instead, candidates and recruiters learnt to emphasise terms like 'family', 'common sense' and 'decent'.

The result was significant election successes. The 1994 congressional elections, which delivered Republican majorities in both houses for the first time in forty years, enabling the conservative Contract with America, is a case in point. In many cases, voters often only discovered afterwards that the candidates they had supported in fact stood on explicitly religious policy ground. No one was more frank about the technique than early 1990s Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed: 'I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know till election night.'

The appeal of ambiguously Christian rhetoric is not limited to minor parties. On the contrary, it has been central to the Howard government's shift of the Liberal Party to the socially conservative right. The most prominent example is the Lyons Forum, the recently reconvened 'family policy' pressure group whose spokespeople typically deny it is a Christian organisation, while affirming that its members share Christian principles. Its track record includes increasing censorship, the reshaping of tax and family benefits to favour single-income families with a stay-at-home mother (first articulated in the Forum's 1995 submission to the party executive on tax) and the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 2000 (first mooted by the Lyons Forum in 1997).

While you're at it, you should read Family First- One Christian's View at The Baliset Palimpsest. Tip via Dogfight at Bankstown. Kull wahad!

Slashdotting Family First

This is weird, but most Family First stories are. They want to censor the Internet. It's turned up on Slashdot (boldface mine) as:

Left wing Australian Christian political party Family First wants an annual levy of $7 to $10 on all internet users in Australia to fund a $45 million mandatory national internet filtering scheme aimed at blocking pornographic and offensive content at server level. (Read Family First's Policy Statement on Internet Pornography and Children (pdf) ) Great firewall of Australia, here we come!

Sadly, if you click the link, you find the source article reads:

Conservative political newcomer Family First wants an annual levy of $7 to $10 on all internet users to fund a $45 million mandatory national internet filtering scheme aimed at blocking pornographic and offensive content at server level.

Various slashdotters picked up the substitution of 'leftwing' for 'conservative' quite quickly. But why would the original poster try to conceal Family First's actual political stance?

30 September 2004

In God we do not put our votes

Unlike in the U.S., Australia does not truly have a Catholic vote, or Jewish vote, or Hispanic vote, etc.

Mr Howard has frequently addressed Islamic and other groups and celebrated the multi-faith society we live in.

'The question of whether this is a Christian country or not is really a matter for individual viewpoints,' he said in 2001.

The Rev Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party has a different view.

'In this federal election it is absolutely vital for Christians to vote for Christian candidates and for the Christian party,' it says.

Mr Nile's group argues that while the Liberal and Labor parties were founded by people with Christian values, the religious influence has waned.

Family First Party is supported by the Assemblies of God but claims it isnt a Christian party, which is why Mr Nile reckons it doesnt deserve a Christians vote.

The biggest enemy, according to Mr Niles group, are the Greens, which Mr Nile describes as 'the most pagan party ever to be formed in Australia'.

The Greens, by the way, have religious freedom as one of their policies.

Frightening. I agree with Fred Nile about Family First...


Al-Qaida would back Bush, says UK envoy

The Foreign Office was thrown into turmoil yesterday after the British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts, described President George Bush as 'the best recruiting sergeant ever for al-Qaida'.

His comment, made at a closed conference of about 100 British and Italian diplomats, politicians and journalists in Tuscany, was leaked to an Italian newspaper, provoking embarrassment in London.

According to one of those present, Sir Ivor had been taking part in a discussion on which candidate Europeans would back if they had a vote in the US election. The ambassador said they would vote for Mr Kerry but some people would want Mr Bush, not least al-Qaida.

'If anyone is ready to celebrate the eventual re-election of Bush, it's al-Qaida. Whereas it is clear that the Palestinians hope that a Kerry victory will unblock the situation,' he said.

Sir Ivor is obviously wrong. Recruiting sergeants have to attend for duty.

29 September 2004

two different leaders

Latham's campaign address
Two days before this election, there's an historic anniversary: 7th October 1941, when John Curtin became Australia's Prime Minister.

Curtin's priority was the Defence of Australia - securing our country, in our part of the world.

In putting Australia first, he had to stand up not only to Winston Churchill but President Roosevelt as well.

But that didn't stop John Curtin building a new alliance, a new partnership with the United States.

And he built that partnership on the only worthwhile basis - mutual respect between two sovereign and independent people.

The Alliance is not the property of any Australian party or any particular American administration.

It belongs to our two great peoples.

I want to render the United States the best service any Australian Prime Minister ever could.

And that is to help the United States develop its true role of world leadership, based on respect, understanding and the cooperation demonstrated so powerfully after September 11, but undermined so tragically by the mistakes in Iraq.

Most of all, the impact of those mistakes in our region.

When Mr Howard sent Australian troops to the war in Iraq he knew, on advice, that his decision would make Australia less safe in the war against terror.

Now he says that he'll keep Australian troops in Iraq until they have finished the job. But he can't tell them what the job is.

The real job for Australia is in our region, working with our neighbours and with the United States.

And as Prime Minister, I'll sign up for that job, for as long as it takes.

This is where our permanent interests lie, not on the other side of the world.

This is where Labor will dedicate our resources in the war against terror - to our region, to our part of the world, to the real security of the Australian people.

Blair's conference speech
And what I learnt that day was not about the far left. It was about leadership. Get rid of the false choice: principles or no principles. Replace it with the true choice. Forward or back. I can only go one way. I've not got a reverse gear. The time to trust a politician most is not when they're taking the easy option. Any politician can do the popular things. I know, I used to do a few of them.

I know it's hard for people to keep faith. Some of the people may have a different take on me. But I have the same take on them. I trust their decency. I trust their innate good sense. I know I am the same person I always was, older, tougher, more experienced, but basically the same person believing the same things. I've never led this Party by calculation. Policy you calculate. Leadership comes by instinct. I believe the British people will forgive a government mistakes; will put the media onslaught in more perspective than we think; but what they won't forgive is cowardice in the face of a challenge.

The answer to any of these challenges is not easy.

Beyond all Blair's talent for sounding pious while denouncing principle, all he is really doing is advocating action at the cost of anything else. His position is as meretricious as his master's in Washington. Latham's appeal to Australian history and principle may not play quite so high-minded and high-sounding, but it's honest. I doubt his services will be welcome in Washington.

...and just to keep us all feeling comfortable and relaxed

Family First seeks net gag
Conservative political newcomer Family First wants an annual levy of $7 to $10 on all internet users to fund a $45 million mandatory national internet filtering scheme aimed at blocking pornographic and offensive content at server level.

The party, which holds a state seat in South Australia, is considered a strong candidate for a Senate spot after concluding preference deals with all the major parties except the Greens.

These are the people the Man of Steel personally brokered a preference deal with.

28 September 2004

Los Angeles Times Editorial | How Dare Kerry Speak Up

The suggestion that terrorists support Sen. John F. Kerry for president is ugly, but basically silly. The suggestion that Kerry supports the terrorists is flat-out disgusting. President Bush has allowed surrogates to spread the former idea, but he himself has helped to promote the latter. Last week, Bush declared that Kerry's criticism of him and his Iraq policy 'can embolden an enemy' and called Kerry 'destructive' to the war on terror.

Since election day 2000 and through his first term, Bush has talked a better game of democratic values than he has played. And he is not one for nuances in any event. But the point here is not subtle: The right to criticize the policies of those in power is not just one of democracy's fringe benefits; it is essential to making the democratic machinery work. And questions of war and peace -- dead young Americans, dead Iraqis, a radicalized Middle East, billions of dollars: Was it worth all this? -- are the ones that need democracy the most. Why would any president even wish to plunge this country into war and keep it there without a level of support from the citizenry that is strong enough to survive the obvious counterarguments?

Compared with Kerry, George W. Bush is a coward. This is not a reference to their respective activities during Vietnam. It refers to the current election campaign. Bush happily benefits from the slime his supporters are spreading but refuses to take responsibility for it or to call point-blank for it to stop. He got away with this when the prime mover was the shadowy Swift boats group. Will he get away with it when the accusers are his own vice president, high officials of his own administration (Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage) and members of Congress from his own party (House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert or Sen. Orrin Hatch)? The answer is yes: Based on recent experience, he probably will get away with it.

I was staggered to read this in a major US newspaper. Maybe the US media is finally prepared to say the Great and Powerful Dubya is an meperor without clothes.

changing the guard in Jakarta

Today is the last day that the MPR, Indonesia's supreme legislative body, includes police and army delegates. In future the MPR will consist only of elected members of the two legislative chambers, the DPR and the DPD. The departure of the military is part of the deal struck in 1999 when reformasi reigned supreme. The shift from indirect election through the MPR to a popular vote for president was agreed at the same time.

In another mark of how the presidential result is changing the political landscape, MPR speaker Amien Rais has announced he is leaving politics to return to university teaching.

Rais brokered the deal, which ultimately proved disastrous, to pass over Megawati, despite her lead in the popular vote, in favour of Abdulrahman Wahid in 1999. 18 months later Rais changed sides and organised the impeachment and removal of Wahid in favour of Megawati. Earlier this year, Rais' party, PAN, scored a much smaller share of the Muslim vote in the legislative election than Wahid's PKB. Rais went on to lose the first round of the presidential election badly. He ended this record of triumph by helping arrange the Nationhood Coalition to support Megawati in her spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at the second round of the election.

The Nationhood Coalition, essentially an anyone-but-Yudhoyono movement, has more than 300 deputies out of 550 but its grip on its own deputies is tenuous at best. Yudhoyono's allies in parliament number 100. Megawati' PDI-P is a shambles after the presidential defeat, as is Golkar.

The next political figure to depart the scene will probably be Akbar Tanjung, the DPR speaker. Tanjung ran for the Golkar presidential nomination, only to be defeated by Wiranto, who then ran a distant third to Yudhoyono and Megawati. Yudhoyono's vice-president, Jusuf Kalla is expected to defeat Tanjung for the Golkar leadership in December.

At that point Yudhoyono will acquire a legislative majority in addition to his spectacular 61% victory in the presidential election. The old politics, inherited from Suharto's New Order regime, by which members of the Jakarta political elite horse-traded power among themselves without a lot of regrd for their supporters, is dead. When Suharto fell in 1998, his methods of political management survived pretty much unscathed among the new reformasi leaders. You can see that in the record of ducking and weaving in the careers of figures like Rais and Tanjung. You can also see Suharto's heriage their loss of any ability to actually mobilise their followers. A majority of Golkar's members and supporters appear to have voted for Yudhoyono.

The next question is what will Yudhoyono do about the economic, legal and institutional reforms Indonesia so badly needs.

Howard now has God on his side

John Howard has personally brokered a deal with the Family First party that would see the Coalition consult over policy with the Assemblies of God-backed party in exchange for preferences for most lower house candidates across Australia.
With the Coalition keen to counter the Labor Party's dominance of the preference flows in a tight election, the Liberals signed off on the deal after a series of conversations between the Prime Minister and Family First chairman Peter Harris.

While the preference flows of the socially conservative minor party may have limited effect in most states, they will be crucial in the three marginal South Australian seats held by the Liberals.

It is almost a political mirror image to the sweeping preference deal between Labor and the left-leaning Greens for Senate and 26 lower house seats reached last week.

Under the deal with the Coalition, Family First will lead a direct advertising attack against the Greens and its liberal policies in four states from this weekend.

Announcing the deal, Family First representatives said Mr Howard would make some joint family policy announcements with Family First within a week.

'I think that it's a watershed moment for Australian history that a new party can have influence even prior to the federal election going ahead,' Family First SA Senate candidate Andrea Mason said.

Wow. The ALP strategy of consenting to Howard's homophobic marriage and adoption bill really worked well for Labor. Pity about the principle...

Saint has lots of detail on the stealthy politics of Family First.

27 September 2004

Two Hundred Million Dollar Man

The election began to feel real for me about the middle of Week 4, when the prime minister pre-empted his policy of noncore pre-emptive strikes, ably assisted by the Indonesian ambassador, the Malaysian deputy prime minister and the Filipino foreign secretary. It seems the Man of Steel says one thing to the governments of South East Asia and another to the Australian people. Then along stumbled the Foreign Minister of Kleenex to explain to an amazed world that Thirty Seconds over Jakarta actually meant a surprise descent on Nauru or Kiribati. All in all, not a good look for a government running on competence and candour.

Now we have the Coalition policy speech.

Laura Tingle writes in today's Australian Financial Review (registration required):

He started spending at 12.12 pm, and stopped spending at 12.42pm, setting a new land spending record of about $200 million a minute.

This election gets weirder and weirder. It's not just that the Man of Steel has suddenly discovered that social spending is a good thing, but he's also discovered that targeted middle class welfare is a good thing, that centralising everything in Canberra is a good thing, and that Coalition spending has no effect on interest rates, but Labor spending drives interest rates up faster than you can say 'interest rates in the water'. I seriously doubt the spending spree will change the result that much. Those inclined to change the government are not going to be effected much. The other side of the electorate will find reasons to approve the Man of Steel's cutting and running from every principle he's ever argued.

The speech ends with a significant rhetorical error.

Promises made in an election campaign mean nothing if you don't have a strong economy providing the wherewithal to make those promises affordable and achievable.

Really, it should be child's play to argue that the Man of Steel is always a bit rubbery when it comes to keeping promises and economic circumstances can and will be used to revoke any undertaking. The avalanche of spending promises is cleverly targeted at various constituencies and marginal seats. It might be too clever. There might just be too many proposals for individual promises to reach the groups they are aimed at.

Despite passionate uxorial avowals, the credibility of the Man of Steel is on the slide. If that goes, the government goes.

the Bushdate of Heaven

Between 1851 and 1864 the Taiping rebellion convulsed China. Armies despatched to suppress the rebellion were invariably victorious. Each conquering general immediately reported his success to the court. Each success happened closer and closer to Beijing. The grand eunuchs who controlled the flow of information to the throne decided their palace careers would be improved by ignoring this regrettable lack of military success. Their careers flourished.

The Xianfeng Emperor continued happily issuing bulletins and proclamations recounting each success more splendid than the last to a bemused populace. The Xianfeng Emperor's missives were not read in south or central China. The Taiping ruled there. Eventually the Western powers decided their interests would be improved if they kept the collapsing Qing dynasty in power and Western armies threw the Taiping back from Shanghai.

There is, of course, no resemblance between China and Iraq There is a lot more sand in Iraq.