Archive for July, 2007

How much does it cost to save the planet?

July 31st, 2007 60 comments

There’s been quite a bit of discussion here and elsewhere about the cost of large (60 per cent or more) reductions in CO2 emissions. A lot of people are intuitively convinced that since everything we do uses energy, large reductions in energy use can only be achieved at the cost of large reductions in living standards. Economic analysis says the opposite. Typical estimates of the cost of such reductions are in the range 1-3 per cent of income for the world as a whole. Australia is more energy intensive, and ABARE (by no means biased low on this kind of thing) gives a range from 1.7 to 3.4 per cent for plausible scenarios. Only by rigging the game could ABARE get the high estimate of 10 per cent, quoted by Howard a while back. And even a 10 per cent reduction in income, by 2050, would not actually be noticeable against the background noise of macroeconomic and individual income fluctuations. On plausible projections, it would mean average income would increase by 110 per cent instead of 120 per cent.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Monday message board

July 30th, 2007 6 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

One endless Rathergate

July 29th, 2007 32 comments

The rightwing blogosphere, with assistance from the usual MSM types like Howard Kurtz has spent the last week or two trying to discredit a soldier, Scott Beauchamp, who wrote a “Baghdad Diary” for The New Republic, which included various examples of casually callous behavior on the part of US soldiers (nothing on the scale of Abu Ghraib or other proven cases).

For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on.[1] There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.

The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.

All of this, of course, is an attempt to replicate the one undoubted triumph of the blogospheric right, Rathergate. For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander, and Rather eventually lost his job as a result.

As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?
Read more…

Categories: Media, Metablogging, World Events Tags:

The Haneef fiasco

July 28th, 2007 62 comments

Now that the charges against Dr Haneef have been withdrawn and the urgent need to keep him in maximum security seems to have evaporated, it’s worth thinking about how this mess came about. Everyone involved in managing this case (with the exception of Haneef’s defence counsel) has made an awful mess of it.

In the case of the police, I think it is a case of stuffup rather than conspiracy. One more or less unchangeable characteristic of police forces is that, once they have someone in the frame for a crime, they focus on getting a conviction, and are very unwilling to stop and consider alternative hypotheses. In Haneef’s case, they began with a fairly routine investigation of someone distantly linked to the British terror attacks and found their man at the airport with a one-way ticket out of the country. From that moment, I’d say, the police were collectively convinced of his guilt and unwilling to listen to explanations or alibis. This is not really surprising – police must listen to lots of bogus alibis and false explanations, which it’s their job to demolish. That’s the way the police work and that’s why we have defence lawyers and a legal presumption of innocence.

The Labor Opposition similarly hasn’t covered itself with glory, though in fairness it was faced with what was pretty obviously a deliberate political trap. Still, it should have been possible to make this clear, saying that support was given on the assumption the government was acting in good faith, and withdrawing that support when it became apparent the whole thing was at best, grossly mishandled and at worst, a setup.

The real blame, though, lies with the government and particularly Kevin Andrews. Whatever advice he received on Haneef’s visa, it should never have been used to override the decision, made in a criminal proceeding, to grant bail. As has now become clear, Andrews could have made the same decision to cancel the visa without using it to lock Haneef up. His action was characteristic of a government that’s been in power too long and has become excessively used to getting its own way. And of course his implied assurance, now discredited, that there was a lot more to the case than the initial, rather tenuous charge, is characteristic of a government that’s used to telling lies and getting away with it (children overboard, WMDs, AWB etc). Those who’ve served as enablers and excusers of this behavior (including quite a few commentators and bloggers) share the blame for the latest episode.

Leaving aside the unfair treatment of Dr Haneef and his family, this episode has done grave damage to Australia’s national security, which depends critically on the capacity of ordinary Australians to trust those who make decisions of this kind. Given the ethos of “never apologise, never resign” that governs such matters nowadays, it seems certain that these powers will remain in the hands of people who cannot reasonably command our trust.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Weekend reflections

July 27th, 2007 8 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Plateau oil

July 26th, 2007 37 comments

I’ve spent a fair while talking and thinking about the Peak Oil Hypothesis, and a couple of thoughts have struck me. Looking at the data, graphed below, the big increases in oil prices in the last five years or so seem to have done nothing to call forth additional supply. And for the last couple of years, output has actually declined. In that sense, it looks as if those pundits who claim that oil output has passed its historical maximum may be able claim vindication.

On the other hand, the term “peak” tends to imply a steep ascent, followed by an equally steep descent. Looked at on a time scale of several centuries this will be about right. But, year to year, the pattern is better described as a plateau with a slight downward slope.

Read more…

Categories: General Tags:

Another Word for Wednesday Repost: Conservative

July 26th, 2007 13 comments

Conservative: As an antonym to ‘progressive’, the term ‘conservative’ is affected by many of the same confusions.

First, a conservative may be one who, like Burke, believes that that social change should be gradual and organic, rather than rapid, top-down and rationalistic.

Second, a conservative may emphasise obligations to society and community rather than, or as a counterbalance to individual rights . Since societies and communities tend to change more slowly than individuals, this is broadly consistent with the first definition. Closely related to this group are conservationists, who seek to conserve the natural environment often at the expense of short-term benefits to individuals.

Third, a conservative may defend more specific traditional institutions such as monarchy or private property.

Fourth, the term ‘conservative’ is used as the official name of some right-of-centre political parties and as a general descriptive term for right-of-centre politics

Given a historicist belief that history inevitably flows in a given direction, defined as ‘progressive’, a conservative is one who seeks to halt or slow down that flow. Assuming further that the trend of history is towards the political left, all these definitions fit together pretty well. Even in this case, a conservative of type 3 must gradually adjust to lost ground. A contemporary supporter of absolute or even limited monarchy in Australia and the UK would not be a conservative but a reactionary.

As with ‘progressives’, though the big problems emerge when the trend of history changes. Consider, for example, the role of trade unions. As long as trade unions were growing in power, conservatives of all types could join in resisting this trend. But now that unions are in decline, there is a sharp conflict between different types of conservatives.

On any abstract definition of conservatism, it’s clear that conservatives should support trade unions. They are traditional institutions dating back to the 19th century and beyond, they endorse conservative values of community solidarity and they are under attack primarily because they are seen as an obstacle to radical change. And of course this attack is being led by Conservatives in the sense of definition 4 and, to a lesser extent, definition 3.

However, whereas the problems with the term ‘progressive’ are, in my view, so severe as to render it useless as a description of political views, this is not true of ‘conservative’. The absence of any monotone linear trend does not invalidate conservatism in the sense of the first definition. Rather it strengthens it. If the policy trends of this decade may be reversed next decade, then in makes sense to move slowly and to distrust impressive-looking theoretical blueprints.

Having witnessed a massive reversal of policy trends in my own lifetime, and having been on the losing side for most of the past few decades, I am now a conservative in the sense of definition 1. I hope that, should the tide of policy debate turn in favour of social democracy once more, social democrats will avoid the hubris that characterized the Left before the 1970s and the Right thereafter, and will favor slow and careful change based on broad social support.

Update Coincidentally, Stephen Barton at Online Opinion has a piece headlined “Conservatism is not evil, stupid nor ignorant – it’s just misunderstood. ” Since he starts by quoting a member of Margaret Thatcher’s radical free-market government, he clearly does not refer to conservatism in the sense of definitions 1 and 2, despite the obligatory nods to Burke and Oakeshott. Rather he lists a number of conservative politicians and activists and asserts that, contrary to popular opinion, they aren’t “evil, stupid nor ignorant’, characteristics he instead attributes to people on the other side like Clinton, Whitlam and Keating.

Categories: General Tags:

Word for Wednesday Repost: Progressive

July 25th, 2007 12 comments

Back in the Triassic Era of blogging, I ran for a while a weekly feature called Word for Wednesday, loosely modelled on Raymond Williams Keywords. I thought I’d repost one entry in response to this interesting debate starting with Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber

Progressive Definition 1: In its political sense, progressive means ‘on the side of progress’. This incorporates a factual assumption that history is moving in some definite direction, and a political program aimed at accelerating that motion and overcoming obstacles to it. Antonyms are ‘conservative’ and ‘reactionary’.

Read more…

Categories: General Tags:

Can economists save the planet ?

July 25th, 2007 9 comments

I’ve given this presentation a couple of times in the last week so, to potential economics students and to UQ alumni. I meant to get a modified Superman T-shirt to use as a prop (‘E’ instead of ‘S’) but saving the planet is time-consuming work. Anyway, the Powerpoint (2 Mb download) is over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:

Left in the lurch

July 23rd, 2007 26 comments

There’s nothing much more reprehensible than pushing friends into danger and then leaving them in the lurch. But that’s what the main members of the Coalition of the Willing have done in Iraq. Having hired many thousands of Iraqis to work for them in various capacities, the Coalition finds itself unable to protect them from death squads who are specifically hunting interpreters, not to mention private acts of revenge and the general chaos the war has unleashed. In these circumstances, there is an obvious and direct moral obligation to grant asylum to those who seek it. Not only is there a moral obligation, but a failure to protect those who have worked for us will produce long-run consequences more durable and damaging than those of a lost war alone. If we desert those who have helped us now, who will be foolish enough to do so in future.[1]

But the Coalition countries, with the notable exception of Denmark, have so far chosen to ignore the problem. The US promised this year to take 7000 Iraqi refugees (a bit over 0.2 per cent of those who’ve fled the country or been displaced internally) but has so far managed to admit just 133 since last October. That number adds to about 600 since the war began. The British position is not much better. Australia admitted, admitting about 2000 Iraq-born refugees last year, some of whom fled the country when Saddam was in power, rather than as a result of the current chaos. This is not as bad as the US, but still incredibly grudging compared to our response after Vietnam.

If you’re in the UK, you can join a letter-writing campaign here. Similarly, the Australian government and the Labor opposition should be pressed to make a commitment to follow Denmark’s lead and provide asylum to all those who have worked for us.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:

Monday message board

July 23rd, 2007 9 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please. Feel free to add your thoughts, loya or otherwise, on the Queens Birthday.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Are we alone in the universe ?

July 23rd, 2007 8 comments

That’s the title of tonight’s talk in the BrisScience program to be presented by # Wilson da Silva, Editor of Cosmos Magazine
# Date: Monday July 23, 2007
# Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm
# Venue: Ithaca auditorium, City Hall

More details over the page and here
Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

A bit more on housing

July 20th, 2007 29 comments

I expanded my post on housing affordability into a piece for the Fin, published yesterday. The suggestion of replacing stamp duty with land tax produced a letter from someone whose argument (if I got it right) was that homeowners would be better off if stamp taxes were abolished and not replaced with anything. True, and while we’re at it, free expresso and ponies all around would be nice.
Read more…

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Weekend reflections

July 20th, 2007 45 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Survivor (also at CT)

July 19th, 2007 8 comments

The question of disciplinary boundaries is a perennial, and Brian Weatherson’s CT post on Richard Gott’s Copernican principle provides yet another instance. Gott, an astrophysicist, is interested in the question of whether you can infer the future duration of a process from its present age, and this issue seems to received some discussion in philosophy journals.

It may be beneath the notice of these lofty souls, but statisticians and social scientists have actually spent a fair bit of time worrying about this question of survival analysis (also called duration analysis). For example, my labour economist colleagues at ANU were very interested in the question of how to infer the length of unemployment spells, based on observations of how long currently unemployed people had actually been unemployed. The same question arises in all sorts of contexts (crime and recidivism, working life of equipment, individual life expectancy and so on). Often, the data available is a set of incomplete durations, and you need to work out the implied survival pattern.

Given a suitably large sample (for example, the set of observations of Broadway plays, claimed as a successful application of Gott’s principle) this is a tricky technical problem, and requires some assumptions about entry rates, but raises no fundamental logical difficulties. The problem is to find a distribution that fits the data reasonably well and estimate its parameters. I don’t imagine anyone doing serious work in this field would be much impressed by Gott’s apparent belief that imposing a uniform distribution for each observation is a good way to go.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General, Science Tags:

A couple of thoughts on Haneef

July 17th, 2007 90 comments

I’ve been at meetings today, so I haven’t had a chance to keep up with all the commentary on this case. But I have a couple of observations, or maybe questions.

First, it appears that the Minister for Immigration now has the power to seize and detain indefinitely anyone in Australia who is not a permanent resident (or maybe anyone who is not a citizen, or maybe anyone at all). All that is required is to revoke their visa, on the (non-reviewable?) grounds that they are not of good character, and then delay the implied deportation indefinitely. Can this be true?

Second, the evidence that is publicly available goes nowhere near justifying this decision. All we know is that Haneef gave his SIM card to his cousin, and that (as I interpret the charge against him) the government alleges that he ought to have suspected that the cousin was a terrorist. The Minister hints that there is a lot more that he knows and we don’t. But, given this government’s track record, isn’t it equally likely that the decision was taken purely in the hope that Labor could be wedged between concern for civil liberties and fear of terrorism?

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Risk and Social Democracy

July 16th, 2007 10 comments

The Centre for Policy Development has just published a piece I wrote for them, called The Risk Society: social democracy in an uncertain world. You can download the PDF here. Discussion has already started at CPD, so you’d probably do best to comment there.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Plea for help

July 16th, 2007 1 comment

I’ve reached the limit of my technical ability with the problems that have been plaguing the blog for the last few months, most recently the blank pages problem. It’s time for me to abandon the solo effort and call for collaborator(s) with the WordPress skills to keep the site running properly (or maybe the capacity to migrate to yet another system). So, if you’re interested, please drop me a line.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Land and house prices

July 15th, 2007 42 comments

Over at Club Troppo, Nicholas Gruen has a nice piece on what is driving the growth in house prices. He’s correctly sceptical of the view that restrictions on land releases on the urban fringe are to blame.

The crucial economic test here is the location-price gradient, measuring the rate at which prices increase as you move from the rural fringe to the inner city. I haven’t got numbers but it’s pretty clear that this gradient has become steeper over time. This is most obvious in Sydney where the Southwest was the last area to boom and the first to bust.

Sticking with supply constraints, Nicholas goes on to mention resistance to urban consolidation, an effect which works in the right direction. Still, it seems to me that this resistance has been much less effective recently than in the past.

It seems clear that the primary motive for the boom is increased demand. Of course, if the supply of land, skilled building workers, materials and so on were perfectly elastic, higher demand would not increase prices. But supply is never perfectly elastic.

Looking at policy, the obvious thing to change, if you want to make it easier for people to buyer houses is to remove taxes on entrants, like stamp duty, and replace them with taxes on incumbents, by removing the owner-occupier exemption from land tax. The fury with which this suggestion is invariably rejected makes it clear that, as a community, we don’t really mind high house prices.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Default theme

July 15th, 2007 2 comments

I’ve gone back to the default theme in the hope of solving the problems I’ve had with blank pages and similar. If readers could advise on whether this seems to be more reliable, I’d be very grateful.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Good news from David

July 14th, 2007 Comments off

Check it out at RSMG

Categories: Mac & other computers Tags:

Weekend reflections

July 14th, 2007 8 comments

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Delusionists demolished

July 12th, 2007 110 comments

The presentation of The Great Global Warming Swindle on ABC TV was a huge success, but not of course for the delusionists who pushed for it, notably including Michael Duffy. Tony Jones comprehensively demolished Martin Durkin, doing an excellent job of covering the critique from all angles including
* Durkin’s past history of fraud
* The fraudulent history and Big Tobacco links of people like Singer and Seitz (Lindzen got a passing hit on this later on)
* The bodgy qualifications of many of the so-called experts on the show
* Dodgy and doctored graphs dating back 20 years or more
* The Wunsch misrepresentation
* The absurdity of the conspiracy theory central to the show
* The drastic shortening of the version we saw, reflecting the deletion of the most outrageous lies

Of course, he only covered a fraction of the lies, and while the panel discussion pointed to even more (the ice core stuff) a film like this takes longer to refute than to watch. I’ve already linked to some replies and I understand that the Federation of Australian Science and Technology Societies will have more.

After all this, Michael Duffy got the first chance to respond and Jones asked him straight out whether he backed the film. Of course, Duffy couldn’t defend it, so he dodged into a tu quoque about the Stern Review. His only subsequent contribution was to flash some props meant to back the conspiracy theory he was unwilling to endorse out loud. Bob Carter was similarly evasive, launching into a rambling postmodernist thought experiment that apparently showed that there is no such thing as truth so it doesn’t matter if Durkin lied. Later he dragged out his 1998 cherrypicking line. By contrast with these two, Ray Evans was refreshingly straightforward in his wrongness, making even more explicit claims of fraud and repeating all the old stuff (satellite data, the hockey stick and even urban heat islands).

Overall, a good night for science and the environment and a bad night for delusionists, including those in government ranks, such as Nick Minchin, who will doubtless be regretting his endorsement.

UpdateI didn’t bother watching the audience discussion section, but the comments I’ve seen (and the cheers when silly things were said by Carter and Evans) indicate the presence of a strong contingent of obviously unhinged delusionists. So much the better, I’d say.

Further update There’s video here “Unhinged” doesn’t begin to describe it. Even Ray Evans, representing the lunar right Lavoisier Group, has his head in his hands as Tony Jones fields a string of increasingly bizarre questions/statements from LaRouchites, several of them cunningly disguised as ordinary people. Carbon-14, Kepler, Plato, and of course the Royal Family’s plot to wipe out most of humanity all get a run.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Meltdown at the Oz, Part II

July 12th, 2007 5 comments

Following the bizarre attack on Clive Hamilton a few weeks ago, the Oz editorial page gives a full length response to the various online sources (mostly not named, but Peter Brent at Mumble cops the most flak, and Crikey is obviously an intended target) who bagged Tuesday’s silly beatup of a no-news opinion poll. Not only that, it seems that a post at Tim Dunlop’s blogocracy, commenting on the editorial, has been removed. Naturally, the blogosphere has gone to town on this. LP has commentary and heaps of links, many pointing out the absurdity of relying on the “preferred PM” question, not that you need a blog on this point

But the silliest thing doesn’t come until the end, where the editorial says

It reflects how out of touch with ordinary views so many on-line commentators are. They claim to understand the mainstream but in reality represent a clique that believes what it considers to be the evils of the Howard Government position on Iraq, climate change, and Work Choices to be self-evident truths. They despair that Mr Howard has not suffered the same collapse in public support as US President George W Bush and Newspoll makes it clear Mr Howard still enjoys very strong support in the electorate.

Say what? There’s ample opinion poll evidence to show that on Iraq, Workchoices and climate change, it’s the Oz and the government who are hopelessly out of touch with ordinary views.

As for saying that “Newspoll makes it clear Mr Howard still enjoys very strong support in the electorate”, this is a piece of question-begging even more absurd than the original article. I think it’s safe to say that the main emotion felt on the left, when reading the results of Newspoll and its competitors, is not despair but fear that they are too good to be true.

If a blogger was writing pieces like this in response to relatively restrained criticism of a silly post, I’d anticipate reading a “Farewell” post in the near future, or possibly just finding the site taken down. I don’t know exactly what the mainstream media equivalent would be, but clearly the Oz knows it is in big trouble.

Categories: Media Tags:

Republican War on Science, yet again

July 12th, 2007 16 comments

Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, a Bush appointee, has told a Congressional committee that “top officials in the Bush administration repeatedly tried to weaken or suppress important public health reports because of political considerations.”

This isn’t news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but it does demonstrate, yet again, that it’s impossible to be pro-Republican and pro-science at the same time. This isn’t just a matter of the Bush administration. Every important element of the Republican base is anti-science, as are all the main pro-Republican thinktanks, blogs and so on. The issues differ from group to group (the religious right focuses on evolution and stem cells, libertarians on global warming and passive smoking, the business base on more specific environmental and public health regulation) but all of them use the same kinds of arguments. The debating tricks used by global warming delusionists have been taken straight from the creationist playbook. More importantly, all of them take for granted the view that science is inherently political, and that what matters is getting the politics right.
Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

The Right Swindles Itself on Global Warming

July 11th, 2007 28 comments

Apparently under pressure from rightwingers inlcuding Janet Albrechtsen on its board the ABC will broadcast The Great Global Warming Swindle tomorrow night. This piece looks like being the last hurrah for the delusionists in Australia – even JA herself seems to have got the memo recently.

I’m not going to bother with the tired talking points presented in Durkin’s film. The Wikipedia article (to which I’ve contributed a bit) does an excellent job on it, as on most forms of delusionism, and there are more critiques here. Paul Norton notes that some of the most clearly bogus elements have been cut from the version to be shown here, but the basic claim, that thousands of scientists and all the world’s major scientific organizations are engaged in a gigantic fraud (directed from beyond the grave by Margaret Thatcher!), remains right out there in LaRouche/Lavoisier territory.

The more interesting point to me, is the way the political right in Australia is swindling itself here.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Virtue is its own reward

July 10th, 2007 8 comments

Today’s Oz is an impressive contribution to the literature on silk purse manufacture, drawing on extremely unpromising raw material. Faced with a poll showing an unchanged and massive Labor lead, the Oz uses a (statistically and effectively) insignificant improvement in Howard’s score on the preferred PM question as the basis of a string of screaming headlines, plus an editorial and the obligatory Shanahan opinion piece.

More interesting though is the premise that this huge upsurge in support is due to the new policy on NT aboriginal communities, for which the poll reports 61 per cent support. The problem is that an earlier Galaxy poll, prominently reported in the Murdoch showed that most people thought Howard was motivated by political self-seeking rather than genuine concern. So the head of Newspoll is wheeled out to explain why the direct question “Do you support the policy” is the right one, and the Galaxy question the wrong one. He’s right of course, if you want to find out about support for the policy. And of course, there’s nothing surprising about the outcome. While some people have opposed the policy outright, most, including Kevin Rudd, have given at least partial support, complaining about the ideological baggage and lack of real resources. (My view, from last week’s Fin, is over the fold).

But the Oz has been too clever by half here. All of its coverage is about how the policy has been politically advantageous for the government. In other words, it is confirming with acres of print the majority judgement of the respondents to the Galaxy Poll. Clearly, for the Oz it is all about political self-seeking.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday message board

July 9th, 2007 6 comments

It’s time, once again for the Monday Message Board. As usual, civilised discussion and absolutely no coarse language, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

What I’ve been reading

July 8th, 2007 42 comments

National Insecurity: The Howard Government’s Betrayal of Australia by Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews, which follows up their earlier book How to Kill A Country, an attack on the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The hyperbolic titles of these books are not to my taste (though they may help to sell books). The books themselves are less strident than the titles would suggest, and raise issues that should be debated more. Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews take a left-nationalist perspective on Australia’s relationship with the United States, seeing the Liberal party and the Howard government in particular as representing a segment of the capitalist class that benefits from an alliance with US Republicans at the expense of Australia as a whole including workers, domestically-focused business and Australians in general considered as citizens of a putatively independent country.

Before examining this claim, I think it’s worth making some factual points that ought to be common ground to most of us

First, since World War II, Australia has followed the US line in foreign policy more closely than any other country (maybe there are some unimportant statelets who’ve been closer, but I’m not aware of them).

Second, the Liberal party has generally favoured an more complete identification of Australian and US interests than Labor

Third, among Liberal governments, the Howard government has gone further than any other in this respect[1}

Fourth, the Howard government has, since 2000, aligned itself strongly with the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, and explicitly against the Democratic Party.
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, Oz Politics Tags:

Groundhog day

July 7th, 2007 7 comments

While looking back at whether Iraq was “all about oil“, I thought it might be a good idea to check on the US reconstruction program, and found the State Department report for April 2007. The lead items are electricity generating capacity and oil output, which used to be followed eagerly by those in the blogosphere arguing that the MSM were ignoring “Good News from Iraq”. As Tim Lambert and Jim Henley pointed out a couple of years ago, the same good news kept getting announced over and over again, but the prewar levels (average electricity output of 4300 MW, availability of 11 hours per day, oil output 2.5 million barrels per day (MBPD)) were never surpassed.

We don’t hear quite so much about good news from Iraq these days. The original good news blogger Arthur Chrenkoff shut up shop a while ago. Winds of Change picked up the baton, but seems to have given up. Google finds this site with three entries this year, none containing any actual good news, and this quasi-official site, apparently produced by the Defense Department, and mainly reproducing press releases. It’s not clear whether press releases containing bad news are excluded or whether no such releases are issued.

So, I’ll pick up the ball and summarise the news in the State Department’s report. At this stage, 99 per cent of the US money has been committed, and 87 per cent has been spent, so there’s no more where that came from. Adding “new”, “restored” and “maintained” generating capacity, we get a total of 4373MW, which, assuming 80 per cent uptime, would correspond to average output of around 3500MW. Oil shows a capacity of 2.7MBPD and output of 1.9MBPD. (Table is over the fold). Then there’s the usual schools and hospitals, but these days both schools and hospitals in Iraq are very dangerous places to attend.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags: