Archive for May, 2005

Bagaric and refugees

May 18th, 2005 15 comments

The Age reports that torture advocate Mirko Bagaric will no longer be assessing refugee cases

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed that Professor Bagaric would no longer hear appeals to the Refugee Review Tribunal, which deals with many asylum seekers who have suffered torture overseas. However, Professor Bagaric will continue to serve on the Migration Review Tribunal, which deals with non-refugee immigration cases.

But Bagaric presumably didn’t arrive at his repugnant views overnight. From his own writing, it appears he’s a member of the “September 11, 2001 changed everything” school. Given that he held views so radically different from official public policy on this central issue, he ought to have disqualified himself from RRT appeals, or at least advised the Minister of his position. As it is, I would say that any rejection of an appeal by an RRT panel on which Bagaric served is morally, and perhaps legally, suspect.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Marohasy on cod

May 17th, 2005 18 comments

I’ve had an interesting discussion over at the new blog of Jennifer Marohasy, who runs the environment unit at the Institute of Public Affairs. Marohasy has criticised virtually all the main scientific groups working on the Murray-Darling Basin, and in this post, she nominates The NSW Rivers Survey by the CRC for Freshwater Ecology and NSW Fisheries. as the “worst ever”. She says

The report’s principal conclusions include that “A telling indication of the condition of rivers in the Murray region was the fact that, despite intensive fishing with the most efficient types of sampling gear for a total of 220 person-days over a two-year period in 20 randomly chosen Murray-region sites, not a single Murray cod or freshwater catfish was caught.”

Most remarkably at the same time, in the same years and regions, that the scientists were undertaking their now much-quoted survey that found no Murray cod, commercial fishermen harvested 26 tonnes of Murray cod!

Criticism of the report’s findings from a local fisherman goes something along the lines “The scientists, although having letters behind their name, spending some $2million on gear, and 2 years trying, evidently still can’t fish.”

Zing! Those egghead scientists are conclusively nailed! Well, not quite.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Australians for torture ?

May 17th, 2005 56 comments

According to this SMH report, two Australian academics are advocating the legalisation of torture, including the torture of innocent people who [their interrogators believe] might have useful information. If the SMH report is to be believed, the supporting ‘argument’ is just our old (and multiply-refuted) friend, the ‘ticking-bomb’ scenario. (Here’s my response, and here’s a fairly typical instance of the way the ticking-bomb scenario is used in practice to justify routine and prolonged torture[1].

I find it difficult to believe that this report can be accurate and I certainly hope it isn’t. The views of Bagaric and Clarke are spelt out in this opinion piece, which is as lame and morally obtuse as you might expect. A quick Google reveals that Bagaric is a Part-time member, Refugee Review Tribunal and Migration Review Tribunal, which is certainly inappropriate for someone who apparently advocates sticking needles under the fingernails of innocent suspects. At least, that was what this Age report said when I checked it an hour ago, but the relevant passage has now disappeared.

Update More from Ken Parish, Tim Dunlop and Benambra. I haven’t seen any comment yet from pro-war bloggers, but I hope at least some of them will repudiate this terrible proposal.

fn1. This was a case in Israel, but I don’t want to discuss the Israel-Palestine issue here. Any comments on this issue, or on the fact that there are other countries that do far worse, and don’t have courts to appeal to, will be deleted.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

May 16th, 2005 60 comments

As usual on Monday, you are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’ve been reading

May 15th, 2005 5 comments

“Changing Planes” (Ursula K. Le Guin)
Some great stories, with the starting premise being the sense of alienation from the world all sentient beings feel in airports.

I’m also reading “Rise of the Creative Class” (Richard Florida), as background for Florida’s latest, “The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent” which I’ll probably review. I’m only halfway through, but so far the book seems much more sensible than the potted summaries I read a few years back. It’s much more about work and autonomy than about metrosexual urban hipsters.

I also dug out my copy of Raymond Williams’ “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society” reviving my long-moribund Word for Wednesday feature.

Categories: Books and culture Tags:

Tens of thousands

May 15th, 2005 36 comments

In January 2004, Tim Blair linked to Martin Roth, demanding a retraction from Australian teachers unions, which had said in an advertisement before the war “War on Iraq will kill tens of thousands of innocent children and their families. Many more Iraqis will suffer disease, hunger and homelessness.” (Roth cited an estimate of “only” 5000 deaths.)

But now Tim is reporting favorably on a study which estimates 24000 civilian deaths in the first year of the war. The Tims Tim[1] likes this number because it’s so much less than the widely cited estimate of 100 000 excess deaths published in the Lancet last year[2].

Still, given that Tim B. now agrees that the teachers unions were right to predict tens of thousands of deaths (and in fact it seems likely that tens of thousands of deaths had already occurred when he wrote his post), it’s time for a retraction of his own criticism. Self-correcting blogosphere and all that.

These fights about numbers are unedifying, but necessary. Supporters of war as a policy instrument need to be reminded that the policy they advocate will cause the deaths of many innocent people. Sometimes this is necessary to prevent even worse calamities, but war ought always to be a last resort.

fn1. This seems to a be a Tim-magnetic topic. There’s some further comment from Tim Worstall who wonders why the report hasn’t received more attention.

fn2. I’ll leave to Tim Lambert to explain in more detail the differences in time periods covered and concepts of “excess death”.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Massacre in Uzbekistan (Crossposted at CT)

May 14th, 2005 19 comments

The news on the massacre in Uzbekistan is sketchy, but it seems clear that troops fired on a protest meeting, killing dozens.

The massacre followed violent protests in which government buildings were taken over, and prisoners, including alleged members of Islamist groups, were set free, but it appears that the protestors were simply listening to speeches when the troops attacked them .

The best information seems to be at Registan, which I found through the relatively new system of Technorati tags

The US currently has an air base and around 1000 troops in Uzbekistan. They can’t be regarded as neutral, and their presence clearly supports the mass murdering and torturing dictator Karimov, someone who appears indistinguishable from Saddam circa 1980. A literal reading of Administration rhetoric would suggest that the US should use its power to overthrow Karimov , but there’s zero possibility that this will happen (the official US response is an appeal for restraint, directed mainly at the protestors). But the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Another request for help

May 14th, 2005 22 comments

I’ve been working through the Budget and trying to look at developments since the present government came to office. As shown in previous posts, the income tax scale has become significantly less progressive over this period, so, for single taxpayers we can safely conclude that the poor are paying more and the rich are paying less.

The picture is much more complex for families. It’s clear that the value of Family Tax Benefits has increased significantly in real terms, and the rate of clawback has been lowered from 50 cents in the dollar to 20 cents in most cases. This reduces effective marginal rates of taxation in the relevant ranges, and is definitely a good thing.

But it’s obviously a huge job to work out the aggregate impact, and there are so many variations of family size and income structure that it’s easy to pick and choose (consciously or otherwise) a misleading example. Can anyone point me to some good work on this topic?

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Tax tables

May 13th, 2005 4 comments

I’ve now got the tax tables working reasonably well, with some useful assistance from “Down and Out in Sài Gòn”. The first column of the table gives a multiple of average weekly earnings, the second the associated money income (for 1996 in the first table and 2006 in the second), the third is the tax paid and the fourth is the average rate. As you can see, the tax burden has risen for those below the average and fallen for those above.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

A cheer for Beazley

May 13th, 2005 14 comments

I’ve repeatedly criticised Kim Beazley for adopting a small target strategy aimed at peeling off marginal voters from the government while not upsetting anrybody. But his response to the Budget has been as strong as you could hope for. Of course, the press gallery sports commentators are almost uniformly convinced that it’s a bad move, though, as far as I can see none of them denied the point that the tax cuts give a lot to the well-off and hardly anything to the great majority of Australians.

Anyway, well done Kim!

More from Tim Dunlop, Ken Parish and Mark Bahnisch

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Request for help

May 13th, 2005 3 comments

Over the page, I’ve got some tables on tax rates, which I pasted from a Word document, saved as HTML. They look nice, but for some reason each one is preceded by a huge amount of blank space. Can anyone tell me how to get rid of this?

The tables are of some interest in themselves, so please take a look
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Categories: Economic policy, Metablogging Tags:

Flat taxes

May 13th, 2005 5 comments

During the leadup to the Budget, the term ‘flat tax system’ was bandied about in Australia and overseas. The Economist gave the idea a run pointing to Eastern European countries that tax personal and corporate income at a common[1] flat fate ranging from 13 per cent (Russia) to 26 per cent (Estonia) applied to all incomes with no deductions. A further nod to neatness (with no real basis in tax theory) is to set the rate of Value Added Tax (that is, GST) at the same rate as personal and corporate income tax (reader Joff Lolliot alerted me to this and some other points covered in this piece.)

Not surprisingly, I’m unimpressed by the concept and the arguments put forward in its support.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Budget, Part 3

May 12th, 2005 4 comments

Here’s my piece from today’s Fin, on the expenditure side of the budget

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Budget, Part 2

May 12th, 2005 2 comments

Following up on the Budget, I’ve been looking at the incidence of income tax over the Howard-Costello period. To start with, I’ve just looked at the tax scales, disregarding deductions, avoidance and evasion, and confining attention to single taxpayers. The results are perhaps not surprising, but certainly disturbing

Single taxpayers on average weekly ordinary time earnings faced an average income tax rate of 22.8 per cent in 1996, and that will be pretty much unchanged at 22.2 per cent when the second stage of the Budget tax cuts are phased in in 2006. Since the GST has come in in the meantime, raising more revenue than the indirect taxes it replaced, we can conclude the tax rate for this group has risen. Also, since the mean exceeds the median, this means most single wage- earners are paying more tax than they did in 1996.

The effect is stronger ot 0.6 times AWOTE, where the average income tax rate has risen from 15.4 per cent to 16.9 per cent. On the other hand, for those on 1.5 times AWOTE, the average rate has fallen from 29.4 per cent to 26.2 per cent, and for those on twice AWOTE, from 33.8 per cent to 30.1 per cent.

Since someone is bound to jump in and point out that this is still a progressive system, let’s remember that the income tax is just about the only progressive element of the system. Except for the bottom 20 per cent, the tax system as a whole was roughly proportional before the latest changes, and is likely to become increasingly regressive if policy continues along these lines.

Andrew Leigh has a different way of looking at the numbers, but reaches much the same conclusion.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Budget

May 11th, 2005 75 comments

My AFR piece tomorrow will deal with the expenditure side of the Budget, but I also plan a piece on the tax side. My immediate reaction is the same as everyone else’s – these cuts are amazingly skewed towards upper-income earners, with no-one on less than $55 000 per year getting more than a $300 tax reduction. This is about 9 months worth of bracket creep for someone on $40 000/year, but it’s apparently supposed to last for the rest of this government’s term in office, given the allocation of future tax cuts to the top end.

I’ll try to have a more detailed analysis soon.

There’s more from Ken Parish, Andrew Norton and Flute

Categories: General Tags:

The realist case for electoral reform

May 10th, 2005 55 comments

Via Senator Andrew Bartlett, I see that The Independent is campaigning for electoral reform in the UK, following Labour’s re-election with only 36 per cent of the vote.

Leading opponents within the government are named as John Prescott and Ian McCartney and the story also mentions that Many union leaders also fear it will lead to coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, and prevent Labour from governing again with an absolute majority.

I imagine that the opponents regard themselves as hardheaded realists, but it would be more accurate to view them as reckless gamblers.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Great minds think alike, fools seldom differ

May 10th, 2005 16 comments

Peter Hartcher also thinks that Costello’s best option for becoming PM is to go to the backbench (thanks to Jack Strocchi for the link).

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

What I like about cultural studies

May 9th, 2005 51 comments

Nick Caldwell, who kindly helped me out yet again with the site design has asked me to write a post on what I like about cultural studies, following up similar posts on John Howard and postmodernism.

Read more…

Categories: General Tags:

Which martial art are you?

May 9th, 2005 30 comments

Being focused on martial arts at the moment, I’ve run across quite a few references to boxing, an activity which continues to mystify me. My big question about is: whose idea was it to give boxers gloves? It seems like a recipe for protecting the fists (the bit that hurts most, in my experience) while maximising the potential for brain damage, thereby being simultaneously wimpy and deadly.

I also saw in the UQ News a story about the exclusion of women from boxing, which made the obligatory reference to Million Dollar Baby, a film I haven’t seen yet, though I plan to. It struck me that, of the sports I’ve had any involvement with [not that many, I admit] karate is easily the most gender-integrated. Women and men routinely train together, and, in my experience around 30 per cent of the participants in the average tournament would be women.

I’m not suggesting that non-Western martial arts are some sort of gender-neutral utopia, but the contrast with boxing is still pretty striking.

Categories: Life in General Tags:

Monday message board

May 9th, 2005 38 comments

I’ve been away at the annual Seiyushin karate camp, and have returned to find my broadband connection not working, and my fallback dialup options plagued with difficulties. So you’ll have to provide the content yourselves, just for the moment.

You are invited to post your thoughts on any topic. I’m still planning a May Day post on labour issues, but I’d be interested in your thoughts. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Good news on geothermal energy

May 7th, 2005 31 comments

Geothermal energy is one of those alternative sources that always seems to be waiting in the wings. The basic idea is to exploit the heat (derived from radioactive decay) of granite rocks about 4k below the earth’s surface to superheat water which can then be used to drive a turbine at ground level. It’s a closed cycle so the water can be used over and over. Sounds good, but so have lots of other alternatives to carbon-based fuels that have so far failed to deliver on a large scale.

But now, it seems to be a lot closer The test run by Geodynamics produced 10MW of power and they are talking about a 250 MW plant, with orders already in place from Origin Energy. The Cooper Basin appears to have gigawatts of potential capacity, and large areas of the country are unexplored.

Of course, the big issue is cost. It’s hoped that power can be delivered at 4c/KwH, but it seems likely there will be some overruns. Nevertheless, if the cost of C02 emissions is taken into account, geothermal will very probably be a winner. Once again, it’s evident that, unless we ratify Kyoto now, we are in danger of missing the boat. Australia has a huge endowment of this resource, and a good start on the technology, but no doubt it can be found elsewhere and will be.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Weekend reflections

May 6th, 2005 42 comments

This regular feature is back again. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Getting back to normal

May 6th, 2005 7 comments

I’ve been working to restore normal service under WordPress 1.5. Both “recently commented on” and “Live preview” are back.

Meanwhile the good news (touch silicon) is that comment and trackback spam seems to have stopped altogether. The “nofollow” attribute in WordPress makes it pointless, since URLs in comments are not used by Google.

I’m still planning some cosmetic changes, and am happy to take suggestions for plugins.

Meanwhile, I’ve upgraded my Mac to OS 10.4 (Tiger) and am having fun with the new features, and I’ve also done a complete backup, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself, at least as far as computing is going.

Update People seem to be having trouble commenting (though it works fine for me), so I’ve turned Live Preview back off for the moment.

Categories: Mac & other computers, Metablogging Tags:

More losers than winners

May 6th, 2005 41 comments

The British people have spoken (or at least voted) and I don’t imagine too many members of the political class are happy with the results. The Labour government got back in, but with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote and a lot more vigour among opponents than supporters, it’s not a great result. In particular, given the weakness of the Opposition, the result is a pretty clear rejection of Tony Blair and his approach to politics.

For the Tories, the outcome is even worse. They only got 33 per cent of the vote, against a combined 60 per cent for Labour and the Lib Dems, parties which have broadly similar centre-left views. Barring a cataclysmic change in the electoral landscape, there’s no serious prospect that they can win in five years time.

The Lib Dems did better than most expected, but still failed to break out of third party status, even with the Iraq issue going for them. Their best hope is that Labour’s position will weaken to the point where they are forced into democratic reform of the electoral system, either PR or preferential voting.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Wellbeing manifesto

May 5th, 2005 59 comments

Clive Hamilton has set up a new website advocating a wellbeing manifesto. The general argument, as you’d expect from Clive, is that we should focus less on material wealth and use the benefits of economic growth (which I’d interpret in this context as technological progress rather than increased output) to deliver more desirable benefits, such as increases in leisure, better education and improvements in the environment. You can endorse the manifesto if you want and quite a few prominent people have done so .

I’m in general agreement with the ideas set out in the manifesto, though I’m taking my time to think about it before I decide whether to sign. On a quick reading the manifesto seems to capture a lot of points on which Clive and I agree, and omit some of those on which we’ve disagreed (we agree more than we disagree, but not on everything).

Categories: Life in General, Oz Politics Tags:

Some good news

May 5th, 2005 20 comments

The arrest by Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi is the first significant piece of good news we’ve had for a while in the struggle against Al Qaeda. Suspicious soul that I am, I checked on the possibility that his importance was being overstated, but there are plenty of sources (presumably predating his capture, since they go back to 2004), describing him as the Al Qaeda 3rd in command.

As the European struggle with terrorist groups in the 1970s and 1980s showed, terrorists can be beaten. Despite the fact that most of the policies our own leaders have pursued in the last few years have been either bothced (the failure to pursue bin Laden properly in Afghanistan) or actively counterproductive (Iraq), Al Qaeda is still losing ground on most fronts.

The only serious danger is that AQ will get its hands on nuclear weapons, and the most likely sources of such weapons are Pakistan and North Korea . The kid-glove treatment that’s been given to the Musharraf government is understandable in the light of this threat, and the network of jihadist sympathisers inside the Pakistani military and intelligence systems. On the other hand, dealings with North Korea have been botched horribly. Still, I think the odds are in our favour on this.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Election Day (crossposted at CT)

May 5th, 2005 19 comments

If I’m not confused by timezone differences, today is election day in Britain and the outcome seems pretty much a foregone conclusion (I haven’t checked the omniscient betting markets, I must admit). So, I’ll look at a more trivial question. If the British government wants to increase voter turnout, why don’t they hold elections on Saturdays instead of Thursdays?

I looked into this question in the case of the US, and there’s a complicated historical explanation, but the central point that, at the time Tuesday was chosen as a polling day, the standard working week was six days, and Sunday was excluded for religious reasons. So it didn’t really matter which day was chosen.

But in an economy where, even with a 24-7 service sector, Saturday is a day off for most people, it seems like a much more convenient choice. For a bunch of reasons, I can’t see the US ever making a change like this[1]. But in Britain it would be easy, and presumably modestly beneficial to Labour, which could therefore push such a change through Parliament any time it wanted.

fn1. First, the US is very conservative in relation to traditions of this kind. Second, the Republican party routinely opposes measures to increase voter turnout.

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:

Costello’s options

May 4th, 2005 34 comments

I was discussing Costello’s prospects of making it into the Lodge last night, and it struck me that they were not very good. The only way Howard is going to falter badly enough to be sackable is if the economy goes sour, but then Costello will share the blame.

The optimal strategy, and also the standard one, does not seem to have been discussed as an option (feel free to correct me). If he wants the top job, Costello should resign from Cabinet, head for the backbench, and deliver a dignified speech about Howard’s shortcomings. In this scenario, a downturn in the economy hits the trifecta for Costello: his reputation as a masterful economic manager would be enhanced, whichever of his rivals took on the Treasury portfolio would be discredited and Howard would get the blame for alienating the only man who could run the economy properly[1].

If you look at Australia’s political history over the past 25 years, this approach has been pursued with success quite a few times: Peacock, Keating, Latham and Beazley all retired to the backbench to await the call, and none did so in vain, though only Keating (so far) has gone all the way to the Lodge.

fn1. I don’t think the correlation between economic performance and the competence of the Treasurer is all that great, but my opinions on this matter aren’t really relevant.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Winning the unwinnable?

May 4th, 2005 7 comments

I was reading a fairly sensible analysis of the UK election in The Economist when I came across this

There are echoes in this of a campaign involving Lynton Crosby, Mr Howard’s chief strategist, in Australia in 1996. It looked as though the Labor prime minister, Paul Keating, could not lose the election—until his opponent, John Howard, suggested that the electorate use its voice to “send a messageâ€? to Mr Keating. The tactic worked, and John Howard won a surprise victory.

As i recall it, the only person at all surprised by the election outcome was Paul Keating. And the only catchphrase i can remember from the campaign was “relaxed and comfortable”.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Return of the beard

May 3rd, 2005 28 comments

Thanks to Nick Caldwell the old blog design is on its way back, hopefully with some improvements. Still some features needing to be added, but at least we’re getting away from boring blue.

Categories: Metablogging Tags: