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City Room: New York Today: What Drought?

Thursday: one more rainy day, a heated debate for governor, and record subway ridership.

First Draft: Today in Politics

President Obama is turning to scientists for ideas on battling Ebola, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is making another trip to Iowa, and the White House’s fence remains penetrable.

Comcast Reports Rise in Third-Quarter Earnings

The company said a 12 percent increase in earnings was propelled by growth in its high-speed Internet business and broadcast television network.

Gough Whitlam has died

Crooked Timber - 2 hours 20 min ago

Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, died on Tuesday. More than any other Australian political leader, and as much as any political figure anywhere, Gough Whitlam embodied social democracy in its ascendancy after World War II, its high water mark around 1970 and its defeat by what became known as neoliberalism in the wake of the crises of the 1970s.

Whitlam entered Parliament in 1952, having served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the War, and following a brief but distinguished legal career. Although Labor had already chosen a distinguished lawyer (HV Evatt) as leader, Whitlam’s middle-class professional background was unusual for Labor politicans

Whitlam marked a clear break with the older generation of Labor politicians in many other respects. He was largely indifferent to the party’s socialist objective (regarding the failure of the Chifley governments bank nationalisation referendum as having put the issue off the agenda) and actively hostile to the White Australia policy and protectionism, issues with which Labor had long been associated.

On the other hand, he was keen to expand the provision of public services like health and education, complete the welfare state for which previous Labor governments had laid the foundations, and make Australia a fully independent nation rather than being, in Robert Menzies words ‘British to the bootstraps’.

Coupled with this was a desire to expand Labor’s support base beyond the industrial working class and into the expanding middle class. The political necessity of this was undeniable, though it was nonetheless often denied. In 1945, the largest single occupational group in Australia (and an archetypal group of Labor supporters) were railwaymen (there were almost no women in the industry). By the 1970s, the largest occupational group, also becoming the archetypal group of Labor supporters. were schoolteachers.

Whitlam’s political career essentially coincided with the long boom after World War II, and his political outlook was shaped by that boom. The underlying assumption was that the tools of Keynesian fiscal policy and modern central banking were sufficient to stabilize the economy. Meanwhile technological innovation, largely driven by publicly funded research would continue to drive economic growth, while allowing for steadily increasing leisure time and greater individual freedom. The mixed economy would allow a substantial, though gradually declining, role for private business, but would not be dominated by the concerns of business.

The central institution of the postwar long boom, the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, was already on the verge of collapse by the time Whitlam took office in 1972. The proximate cause of its collapse was the inflationary surge that had begun in the late 1960s and reached its peak with the oil price shock of 1973.

So, Whitlam was living on borrowed time from the moment he took office. His ‘crash through or crash’ approach ensured that he achieved more in his first short term of office (eighteen months before being forced to an election by the Senate) than most governments did in a decade. The achievements continued in the government’s second term, but they were overshadowed by retreats and by a collapse into chaos, symbolized by the ‘Loans Affair’ an attempt to circumvent restrictions on foreign borrowing through the use of dodgy Middle Eastern intermediaries.

The dramatic constitutional crisis of November 1975, and the electoral disaster that followed, have overshadowed the fact that, given the economic circumstances, the government was doomed regardless of its performance. The Kirk-Rowling Labour government in New Zealand, also elected in 1972 after a long period of opposition, experienced no particular scandals or avoidable chaos, but suffered a similarly crushing electoral defeat.

Despite his defeat, and repudiation by succeeding leaders of the ALP (and of course his conservative opponents), it is striking to observe how much of Whitlam’s legacy remains intact. Among the obvious examples (not all completed by his government, and some started before 1972, but all driven by him to a large extent)

  • Aboriginal land rights
  • Equal pay for women
  • Multiculturalism
  • Greatly increased Commonwealth spending on school education
  • Medibank (now Medicare)
  • The end of colonial ties to Britain
  • Welfare benefits for single parents
  • Extension of sewerage to Western Sydney
  • Reduction of the voting age to 18
  • No fault divorce

In all of this Whitlam is emblematic of the social democratic era of the mid-20th century. Despite the resurgence of financialised capitalism, which now saturates the thinking of all mainstream political parties, the achievements of social democracy remain central to our way of life, and politicians who attack those achievements risk disaster even now.

With the failure of the global financial system now evident to all, social democratic parties have found themselves largely unable to respond. We need a renewed movement for a fairer society and a more functional economy. We can only hope for a new Whitlam to lead that movement.

Categories: Group Blogs

In the West, a Growing List of Attacks Linked to Islamic Extremism

Individuals who have professed their support for radical Islam or might be sympathetic to militant ideology are tied to a number of attacks in the West in recent years.


News: Slate - 2 hours 44 min ago

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Categories: News

Tesco Chairman to Step Down as Overstatement of Profits Grows

The chief executive of Britain’s leading grocery store said that there was no timeline for Sir Richard Broadbent’s exit and that it was in engaged in a review of operations.

Lens Blog: Fingers Crossed, Eyes Wide Open

As Ozier Muhammad, a Times staff photographer, waded through the crowds of last month’s climate march, Deborah Acosta documented how a photographer can make sense of such big events.

Gunmen Kill 8 Members of Persecuted Minority in Pakistan

The victims Thursday were ethnic Hazara, a Persian-speaking Shiite Muslim group that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists.

9 in Connecticut Being Watched for Symptoms of Ebola

Though they do not appear to be sick, nine people who may have been exposed to the virus have been told to stay at home and are being monitored by public health authorities.

Airport Chief and Deputy Resign After Jet Crash in Russia

The resignations of the chief executive of Russia’s Vnukovo airport and his deputy followed a plane crash that killed the head of France energy company Total.

Royals 7, Giants 2: World Series 2014: Royals Beat Giants in Game 2

The Royals rebounded from their loss in Game 1 of the World Series by powering past the Giants in a game that included a tense exchange in the sixth inning.

The Actual World

News: Slate - Wed, 2014-10-22 22:54

Early on a September morning, we drove through hard rain over Donner Pass. In Reno the skies cleared, and we headed south on Highway 395, which runs under the eastern wall of the Sierra Nevada, one of the greatest escarpments on Earth. Paul Park, Gary Snyder, and I were on our way to a trailhead called North Lake, west of Bishop, California. The plan was to rendezvous late that afternoon at a high Sierra lake and camp there that night. Then the next day some dozen of us would ascend a peak and name it “Mount Thoreau.”

Categories: News

The Ebola Story

News: Slate - Wed, 2014-10-22 22:52

Fade in on a smiling infant at dusk. His mother, sister, and grandmother bustle around him, chattering happily in a foreign language. [Don’t alienate audiences with subtitles]. An animal, something like a bat, flies out of the trees, and drops a piece of fruit on the ground. [Specific animal subject to change with science.] The child, reaching out a chubby arm, picks the fruit up and puts it to his mouth, slobbering on it, sucking on it, eating some of it. His mother comes over and picks him up. He drops the fruit. In her arms, he begins to cough.

Categories: News

First Draft: Another Fence-Jumper at the White House

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Wed, 2014-10-22 22:41
A man jumped the White House fence but was immediately apprehended, the Secret Service said.

In New York Governor’s Debate, Cuomo Repels Astorino’s Jabs With His Own

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Wed, 2014-10-22 22:05
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo eagerly and sternly hit back against his main challenger, Rob Astorino, in an event that also featured a pair of third-party candidates.

Canada Worries as Extremism Lures More Abroad

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Wed, 2014-10-22 21:56
Attacks and a recent report have compounded concerns in Canada about citizens who go to foreign lands like Somalia and Syria to fight, and then return as threats at home.

Mexican Official Links a Mayor to Missing College Students

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Wed, 2014-10-22 21:09
The attorney general says that the apparent abduction of 43 students in southern Mexico came after Mayor Jose Luis Abarca of Iguala ordered an attack on them.

Taliban Are Rising Again in Afghanistan’s North

News: The New York Times, Top stories - Wed, 2014-10-22 21:04
Gains by militants in Kunduz Province put in doubt the ability of Afghan forces to hold territory just two months before the end of the 13-year international combat mission.
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