Wanted: accountability & equality

President's perspective

President Bush and his chutzpah team want to rule the world. Chutzpah is a word applied to people who radiate belief in themselves without any apparent substantive reason for that belief. The president does of course have the world's greatest military forces at his disposal, and the power and influence that automatically come with being the head of state in a country with the world's largest economy. Yet, as more and more weeks go by without turning up any weapons of mass destruction, or any authentic links between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda, it is becoming more and more apparent to the whole world that what the president doesn't have is a foreign policy with a shred of integrity. Nor, it seems to date, do the US and its British and Australian allies have functioning democracies, prepared to hold their governments to account for the deceptions that led their nations into war.

As the distinguished American philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, points out in this issue of the Evatt Journal, current US foreign policy is a far cry from the noble vision of international society that lay at the 16th century foundations of international law and attended the founding traditions of America itself. There can be no surprise that such a deeply arrogant and alien direction has dissipated years of goodwill towards the United States, as demonstrated by the recent international polling across many diverse countries. As Nussbaum concludes, '[m]oral norms do not cease to exist because current leaders do not believe in them. We may refine them and further develop them, in the hope that once again, sooner or later, their day will dawn.'

In the meantime, this issue continues our series on the intellectuals behind the Bush administration, publishing an illuminating article by Norman Madarasz. The article is built around an insightful (linked) French study of the US neo-conservatives, which has never been fully published in the US or Australia. Dr Madarasz challenges the neo-con's often supposed anti-democratic, 'philosopher-king' inheritance from the great Athenian philosopher, Plato, describing this interpretation as 'a perverted outgrowth from social science theory'. Madarasz suggests that what we are actually witnessing is the playing out of the nightmares of the neo-con grandfather, Leo Strauss, who believed that 'democracy is only functional if it is a militant, indeed military democracy.' If they had really learnt anything from Plato, Madarasz argues, 'it would have been that waging an unending string of wars was a paranoid compulsion whose end is only to destroy democracy.'

We were privileged to have the insights of Phillip Knightley as the war commenced and he warned of a propaganda war of disinformation that we could expect. The weapons of mass manipulation now have to be teased out. The Canberra press gallery should now be under particular scrutiny. It was difficult to get any fair coverage on commercial television of the opposition to the war in Iraq, and now both the US and Australian mass media is in for further deregulation, a danger to our democracy that will also follow in the wake of the proposed US-Australian Trade Agreement the Howard government is pursuing.

In this issue we extend our series on the media into the novel world of weblogs, or 'blogging'. In an optimistic paper, Tim Dunlop, who is himself possibly Australia's most talented political 'blogger', argues that this new medium is producing a new kind of 'public intellectual', one where the distinctions between "public intellectual" and active citizen, are melting away. With its cheap online publishing and networking capabilities, blogging presents a new and potentially exciting democratic counterpoint in an age where, as Dr Dunlop says, 'politicians increasingly hide behind media experts and image consultants, where media people themselves have been co-opted by business and political machines and by a star system, where key journalists are spoon-fed press releases and background material by faceless partisans, where almost the ultimate affront is for a journalist to ask a probing question, and, worst of all, where so much decision-making takes place behind closed doors.' For those who may wish to commence their blogging careers, we have added a selection of Australian bloggers to our site's links page.

Another major implication of the close links between the Bush administration and the Howard government is that we are being increasingly subjected to the Bush economic agenda. Here, we can at least say that the 'economic rationalism' paradigm is facing serious challenges. The author who popularised the expression itself, Michael Pusey, has had a fresh look at the results of the 'take-no-prisoners top down re-engineering of a whole nation and society' that has been attempted in Australia over the recent decades. Speaking at a recent Evatt breakfast seminar, his research has revealed the deep insecurity and concern that afflicts 'Middle Australia' at the end of the period where market-forces were assumed to be a cure for almost all the nation's ills. His paper should be compulsory reading for all members of parliament, particularly as we need to remember that Professor Pusey's work has been done during the economic 'good times'. The big three economic powers, which produce just under half of the global output, the US, EC and Japan, are all slowing. The threat of recession and deflation are being glossed over by the Howard government.

In our feature, we focus on the Howard government's annual budget. We publish Simon Crean's reply to the budget, which has been praised in many quarters as a landmark achievement of his period as Labor leader. We also publish two independent analyses. Frank Stilwell refuses the generally positive reception given the budget by the Australian media, identifying deep problems and downright trickery. He argues that there is inconsistency in the way the budget figures are presented; that the 'tax cuts' actually leave the government with more tax revenue and leave the Australian people poorer; and that the budgetary strategy does not address the actual economic challenges facing the nation. Complementing this analysis, Fred Argy scrutinises the budget's impact on seven groups of "forgotten Australians" who are crying out for policy attention; briefly considers the drastic changes proposed for our public health and education systems; and gives 'two cheers' for the Labor alternative.

Dovetailing with these directions, the Evatt Foundation is proud to be able to present three distinguished economists at our July breakfast seminar to discuss Australia's retreat from egalitarianism over the recent decades, which has been spelled out by Fred Argy in his new book, Where to from here? Australian equalitarianism under threat. In addition to Fred himself and Professor Stilwell, we are very proud to host Hugh Stretton, certainly one of the finest public intellectuals of Australia's postwar period. This is a special seminar on a vital topic that is most unlikely ever to be repeated. Attendance is of course open to all, but this is an event in particular that no Evatt Foundation member will wish to miss.

This far from exhausts the riches in this month's Evatt Journal. In a major paper, John Langmore explores the essential policy elements of nothing less than a global strategy to create jobs. Stuart Macintyre casts his historian's eye over the debate on the so-called 'fabrication' of Aboriginal history that has been ignited by Keith Windschuttle, mounting a comprehensive critique. We continue our critique of privatisation in the form of so-called 'PPPs', with a report from the UK on the contradictions in the area of core services drawn from a new book by Colin Crouch. Sadly, we also mark the passing of the highly respected leader of the wharfies' union, Tas Bull, with an obituary by the historian of the Seamen's Union Rowan Cahill.

Finally, I want to strongly encourage all of our Sydney readers to get along to the Mary Alice Evatt -'Mas' - Exhibition, which has now opened at the S H Ervin Gallery in The Rocks. After successful shows in Bathurst, Melbourne and Albury, the exhibition has finally made it to Sydney, where it was opened by Justice Michael Kirby (whose speech we aim to publish in next month's Evatt Newsletter). Dr Evatt and his wife Mary Alice were, of course, great lovers of the arts at a time when the arts were often considered effete and irrelevant within the labour movement. Last year, the Evatt Foundation's Executive Committee presented its annual Art Award to the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery to produce the catalogue of the exhibition as a tribute to the memory of Mary Alice. The exhibition surveys her work for the first time and you should really make sure that you don't miss it.

In the next issue, we aim to focus on the relationship between paid work and caring responsibilities. Until then, stay active.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation
26 June 2003