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The Daily Briefing 19/10/05
1 Irrational rationalist, free speech and the ALP
Human beings or cogs in an economic machine? There is nothing startlingly new in Ross Gittins' column this morning, but his iconoclastic take on the "faith-based religion" of economic rationalism that dominates Western society is succinct, well argued and a contribution to the debate about the proposed industrial relations changes. "Trouble is, doing so puts means ahead of ends. It focuses on the income, forgetting why we want it. It makes us the servants of factories and offices rather than their masters. It robs us of our humanity, taking away our leisure and making us more like robots. The thing about robots, of course, is that they don't have families and don't need relationships."
Another reason for highlighting this column, is to point out that The Age opinion page (see round-up below) is a great read this morning with Michelle Grattan on the ALP, Ben Saul on freedom of speech and the anti-terrorism laws and Ross McMullin on Gallipoli.
In an entirely different category altogether is the profoundly ignorant and dangerous piece of right-wing social engineering dressed up as an essay on the source of "great art" in The Australian's editorial - a Titanic conceit indeed. Whoever wrote this awful nonsense knows nothing of art and is apparently ignorant of the echoes it contains of the Nazis approach to art - lauding the "volk" while attacking modernism in all its forms. They certainly know nothing of James Joyce and his thoughts about the Ireland of his time.
ROSS GITTINS/THE AGE
2 Technology, media laws and newspaper tone
The obvious area that Alan Kohler doesn't touch on in the column linked to below is editorial content (news, information and comment) as he considers the impact of new technology on the political byplay involved in setting the Federal Government's new media laws. In the end Kohler expects that John Howard and Helen Coonan will not make way for increased competition and will allow media mergers to go ahead, "since internet TV from all over the globe is just around the corner, plus TV shows being downloaded to iPods. The media moguls will need all the mergers they can get." Well, perhaps in a business sense, but what will it mean for diversity of opinion.
For a taste of the extraordinarily rapid pace of technological change Kohler is referring to, have a look at this NYTimes report on original programming made specifically for mobile phones; Slate's look at the impact that the internet and digital programs and movie downloads could have - "The Death of Television".
And then there is the troubled newspaper industry. Frank Ahrens in The Washington Post says the industry is experimenting with BlackBerry delivery and video scrolls as it struggles to adapt and survive. Even the authoritative tone newspapers use is up for grabs. "In this way, the Web may change the tone of newspaper writing, as in this story. Among mainstream communications outlets, newspaperese is pretty much the last outpost of such strictly formal use of English. Think of how your nightly newscast sounds -- anchors speak of "your neighborhood," for instance. Now think of how many times real people use common newspaper words such as "slate," as in, "I'm slated to see a 7 p.m. showing of 'Wallace & Gromit.' "
ALAN KOHLER/SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
3 No crony to replace Greenspan
Alan Greenspan retires as US Federal Reserve Chairman in December after 18 years in the job. Robert Reich, editor of the liberal journal American Prospect, looks at some players who will have a say on his successor, while making the obvious point that this is no job for yet another Bush crony. "This means the stakes for Greenspan's successor are huge. The American economy is now on the verge of something we haven't seen in 30 years -- the dread beast called "stagflation." The growing budget deficit combined with soaring energy costs are pushing prices upward. Meanwhile, consumers are watching their pocketbooks. Higher prices for oil, food, and health insurance are making them wary of buying anything they don't have to."
ROBERT REICH/ AMERICAN PROSPECT
4 China looks to equality, not growth
The look at the Chinese economy linked to below focuses on what The Economist says are moves by the Chinese leadership to tackle the growing social inequality left by rapid economic growth, a concern motivated by growing political unrest. At the same time, it as a typically tight and readable account of wider economic and global issues at play both within China, and affecting its dealings with the outside world, the US in particular. "Nonetheless, China's leaders may finally be readying themselves for a change in the mercantilist, growth-at-any-cost model that has prevailed for decades. The Communist Party leaders' annual meeting on economic policy ended last Tuesday with word of a strategic shift: from now on, there will be more emphasis on redressing the inequality and social disruption that market reforms have left in their wake. "
For an insight into those social inequalities and the rate of economic change, the NYTimes reports on the Chinese real estate bubble, which some fear (as they inevitably do) is about to burst. "China's real estate market is so hot that miniature cities are being created with artificial lakes, and the country's nouveau riche suddenly seem eager to put down as much as $5.3 million for a luxury apartment in skyscrapers with names like the Skyline Mansion."
And Mr Rumsfeld goes to Beijing. The International Herald Tribune previews the first visit by the US Secretary of Defence to China, and suggests that "naïveté" could be a problem. (So many "unkown unknowns" when you are dealing with those inscrutable Chinese?)
5 Iraq constitution
TDB has a certain regard for Mark Steyn who is linked to regularly, but his column today (see round-up below) is a desperate attempt to shore up his support for the invasion of Iraq following the vote on the Iraq referendum. It is also another blatant attempt by The Australian to disparage the reporting of Fairfax's Paul MeGeogh (who has been closer to the money on Iraq than the national daily, with its sychophantic support for the US and the neo-cons). The original version of Steyn's column was published in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, without any mention of McGeough. (Did the call go out from Holt Street in Sydney - "hey Mark, luv yer work, but could you insert a couple of pars belting up on McGeough?") And given his criticism of McGeough's record, it is worth remembering that Steyn was loud, confident and tragically wrong when he predicted at the time of Saddam Hussein's arrest that the Iraq insurgency would peter out within six weeks of that event.
Steyn's view of events in Iraq (reported from the comfort and safety of New Hampshire) is not universally supported - in fact, he is increasingly becoming a lone voice outside fully paid-up neo-con ranks. And it is good to be able to link to an Iraqi voice on the subject. Hatem Mukhlis, the chief executive of the Iraq National Movement, a Sunni political party, says the federal system contained in the constitution was designed to favour the Kurds, the US allies, and that it is a recipe for chaos (link below). "Anyone who thinks that such a constitution would calm the insurgency has probably been spending more time than he should have reading about Alice in Wonderland. I believe that should the constitution pass, the next few weeks will see an escalation of the unnecessary violence that has ripped my country apart. Unnecessary, because the ordinary citizen has no political agenda, and has found himself amid a war he neither understands nor cares about - a war waged by foreigners who could not care less about Iraq or Iraqis. All he seeks is the most basic necessities of life: electricity, security, a job, food, health care, clean water and working sewers."
Bear in mind of course that the Sunnis are seen as the big losers in any new Iraq given their power under Saddam, which may colour Mukhlis' views. But then again, someone else who knows a bit about the region takes a similar view. David Hirst, we are told, reported from the Middle East for almost 40 years. Hirst joins the voices predicting not just future chaos in Iraq, but throughout the entire region. "On the Shia front, if sectarian identity is to become the organising principle of Arab polities, Syria is the most vulnerable to the convulsions that it will unleash. A small minority, the Alawites, has in effect run the country for more than 40 years. It is a predominantly Sunni society, which, historically, represents an even greater anomaly than the Sunni minority rule, also in Ba'athist guise, that the majority Shias and Kurds dispensed with in Iraq. A Sunni majority restoration will become unstoppable if, with the eventual break-up of Iraq, its disempowered Sunnis turn to Syria, of which, but for Sykes-Picot, a great many would long have been citizens anyway."
6 The wage squeeze
In the context of the debate about industrial relations changes, this Paul Krugman column may be worth consideration. Krugman (a Princeton professor said to be in the running for a Nobel Prize for economics) points out that US wages have barely kept pace with inflation since the 1970s. (The lead story on the business pages of The Age today, see below, says that profits as a share of GDP have risen to 27.4 per cent up from 22.6 per cent in the mid-1990s; while the wages share has fallen to 53.2 percent from 61 per cent of GDP in the early 1980s.) Krugman, who describes himself as a free-trade liberal, is worried that continued downward pressure on US wages will lead to increased demands for a return to protectionism. "But it has been a generation since most American workers could count on sharing in the nation's economic growth. America is a much richer country than it was 30 years ago, but since the early 1970's the hourly wage of the typical worker has barely kept up with inflation. The contrast between rising national wealth and stagnant wages has become even more extreme lately. In 2004, which was touted both by the Bush administration and by Wall Street as a year in which the economy boomed, the median real income of full-time, year-round male workers fell more than 2 percent."
7 The devil, the band, Wales and aging husbands
Apologies for messing up with the link to "the devil and the school band" story yesterday. It could have been a nasty shock for some finding themselves face to face instead with Charles Krauthammer. (And, let me check to make sure - yes the correct link is the one below this summary.)
And an article for those who have ever wondered Felly beth mae'r Cymry erioed wedi ei wneud drosom ni? (So what have the Welsh ever done for us?) A £30m National Waterfront Museum highlighting Welsh industry and innovation has just opened in Swansea. Jonathan Brown looks at the country's other gifts to the world (and now is not the time for that joke about whores and rugby players.) Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl get a mention.
And this one struck a cord with Washington Post readers, where it hovered around the top of the most-viewed list for days. The world has a new disorder, diagnosed by experts in Japan, retired husband syndrome, or RHS. "Feeling chained to the tradition of older women remaining utterly dedicated to their husbands' well-being, Terakawa said, she devoted herself to her spouse. Retirement cut him off from his longtime office social network, leaving him virtually friendless and her with the strain of filling his empty time. Within a few weeks, she said, he was hardly leaving the house, watching television and reading the newspaper -- and barking orders at her. He often forbade her to go out with her friends. When he did let her go, Terakawa said, she had to prepare all his meals before leaving."
THE WASHINGTON POST
8 Bush to appoint someone to run US
Now here's an idea. "In response to increasing criticism of his handling of the war in Iraq and the disaster in the Gulf Coast, as well as other issues, such as Social Security reform, the national deficit, and rising gas prices, President Bush is expected to appoint someone to run the U.S. as soon as Friday." (Onion, satire.)