Look what happens when you stay away from the incessant news cycle for a day or two: suddenly two universes are created. In those two universes, two very different Ukraines emerge, two Vladimir Putins, although only one plane has crashed. In one universe, ‘Vladimir Putin breaks his silence on MH17 crash’ – so proclaims the liberal Sydney Morning Herald (part of the Fairfax media chain). The hard-working journalists at this paper seem to have sourced their story from Agence-France Presse, which claims to have ’200 desks in 150 countries’. For some reason, these 200 desks have missed the fact that Putin first broke the news to Obama a few days ago, then spoke with Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime, Rutte in the Netherlands, Merkel in Germany … and then, well down the pecking order, that embarrassment of a ‘leader’, Tony Abbott, who is still huffing and puffing and trying to look important on the world stage. He may actually believe that he forced Putin to ‘break his silence’. Meanwhile, Putin has been saying for some days now that a proper and impartial international investigation should be undertaken (here and here) and that people shouldn’t rush to rash conclusions and use the crash for narrow political goals (also herehere and here – perhaps a little self-castigation on that one). Of course, no one actually believes what any politician says, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak.

If I stay away for a few more days, perhaps another universe or two will be created.

Has the French President, François Hollande, recalled a trace of socialism? The new super-tax on those earning over 1 million euro is set to go ahead. In a nice twist, it will be companies and employers who pay the 75% tax if they pay an employee over the ceiling. Of course, it is a weak measure and should really kick in no higher than 100,000 euro per annum.

Contrast the latest proposal by those ‘mean little people‘ in power in Australia, with the clueless Tony Abbott in charge. In order to save some pennies penalise low-income earners, they have proposed a $6 fee for those who visit doctors who charge only the medicare rate (and thereby charge nothing to the patient). Obviously, this targets the poor. Such vision!

Following on from my earlier post on social democracy as the natural partner of the free market, I read with interest Guy Rundle’s recent piece in the Arena magazine (also found here). Interesting argument: Kevin Rudd had an emancipatory vision of Australia that owed much to his experience in Sweden and China (as if the two are similar) that was simply to big for the Australian Labor Party, if not the country. While in government, the party might have enacted pieces of that vision, but they couldn’t communicate the vision that lay behind it. These include the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, and the education reform. The catch is that Tony Abbott basically agreed to all these main points in order to become prime minister, thereby being dragged leftward and betraying everything that had inspired him to enter politics.

As usual, Rundle makes you think. But the argument begins to become unstuck when he suggests Rudd was more like Lenin and Mao than any traditional Labor leader. This makes the basic mistake of assuming that communism and social democracy in our day are of the same ilk. As a colleague from Nanjing asked me recently, ‘why do western commentators make the mistake of equating social democracy and communism?’ But Rundle’s argument really falls to pieces when he closes by adopting the old line that Labor had betrayed its vision by yoking its reforms to ‘unargued economic growth’. That is, the supposed vision of emancipation and a better society was tied in with an alienating and impersonal vision.

Gonski [the education reform] was oriented to human flourishing, but also to integrating education into productivity. The NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] was designed to alleviate the horror of many disabled people’s lives, but also to provide passages back to work. The NBN [National Broadband Network], it was hoped, would open huge new possibilities for difference and new ideas, but would also yoke Australia more tightly into an online world dominated by capital, and, as we now know, monitored by the NSA. Thus, at its heart, there was much that was contradictory with the ALP’s originating social vision (p. 19).

This simply misses the point that social democracy has always geared its reforms to the flourishing of capitalism. Under their guidance, education reforms ensure greater job participation; welfare like the disability scheme is designed make people producers and consumers for longer; technological advance provides yet another angle for market expansion and integration. These are not anomalies but very much part of the social democratic vision.

I know this one has achieved quite a bit of coverage here in Australia and in some places overseas, but for those readers not up on the election campaign happening here … yesterday, the leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, opined: ‘No one — however smart, however well-educated, however experienced — is the suppository of all wisdom’.

Puns were soon aplenty, but the best were some photo-shopped images:

suppository 05

suppository 02

suppository 01

And my favourite:

suppository 03

Bourgeois democracy, I love you …

Nothing like returning from an ‘authoritarian’ communist country like China to encounter a great moment in bourgeois democracy: back in Australia, Tony Abbott (leader of the opposition) runs from parliament so he doesn’t have to vote on his own motion. No argument here about which system is best.

As news is out that Murdoch has let it be known that a ‘regime change’ is needed in Australia (that is, to Tony Abbott and his bunch of rabid conservatives), and as the 70% of media he owns in Australia slavishly follows his every whim, I could not help thinking of Lenin’s comments concerning freedom of the press: it is merely the ‘freedom’ of one or two billionnaire media moguls to express their opinions. Time for some good old ‘re-education’ of the Murdoch press?

Or at least more silly than usual. First, Boris Johnson, mayor of London and socialite sex symbol, is aghast at the effect of the nuclear reactor disasters in Japan. Thinking he should jump in first to defend nuclear power against those who might have some legitimate concerns, the conservative fop writes about the ‘anti-nuke’ lobby:

These are the atomkraft-nein-danke brigade, who have always believed that any kind of nuclear fission – tampering with the building blocks of the universe – was an invitation to cosmic retribution. They will now do everything they can to exploit the Fukushima explosion and the difficulties being experienced in bringing a couple of plants under control. I don’t want in any way to minimise these problems, and we must hope they are sorted out as soon as possible with the barest leaks of radiation. I just doubt that there is any real read-across between the difficulties of nuclear reactors in a well-known earthquake zone, and the proposed nuclear programme in this country, which is becoming more essential with every day that passes.

Ah, Boris the greenie, waging a righteous campaign against all those nutters. But why do we get the sense that we are not being told what is really happening in those reactors at Fukushima?

And then Tony Abbott debates with himself over climate change. Back in 2009 he infamously stated that global warming is ‘crap’ and that the scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, are ‘alarmist’. But then he turned on himself to say that it was ‘real’ and that we need to do something about it. Then again, he countered his own argument by telling a community forum a couple days ago: ‘whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven … I don’t think we can say that the science is settled here’. But yesterday he rebutted his own argument, to say that ‘climate change is real’ and that ‘Humanity is making a contribution’.

Now, Abbott is a formidable and pugnacious opponent, as Gillard and Rudd before have found, but never quite as ferocious as when he is taking on himself. So what does Abbott believe? It looks like Jesus has the answer:

OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth,  the climate was considerably warmer than it is now. And then during what they called the Dark Ages it was colder. Then there was the medieval warm period. Climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history. It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays.

Always worth checking on a daily basis: Pete Andrew’s cartoons from the Communist Party of Australia. This one concerns the stupid carbon debate in Austalia:

My challenge now is to ensure that I’m not the best Opposition Leader never to have become Prime Minister.

A very modest Tony Abbott, on learning that he is not the prime minister.