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Archive for July, 2016

For his own self-respect, Turnbull should quit

July 29th, 2016 85 comments

As I mentioned in my last post, Turnbull’s narrow win has left us with a government standing for nothing but delaying various inevitable outcomes, including
* equal marriage;
* participation in global action on climate change; and, most notably
* Turnbull’s removal from office, whether by voters or, more likely, by his own colleagues.

The “economic plan” on which the government was supposedly elected consists of a single element, a cut in company taxes mostly deferred far enough beyond the forward estimates to dodge the question of how it will be paid for. In any case, it’s dead in the water, as, in all likelihood is the pretext for the double dissolution, the ABCC bill.

Turnbull’s lame duck status was made farcically clear by Cabinet’s non-decision on Kevin Rudd’s proposed nomination as UN Secretary General. The Right-dominated party didn’t even bother to overrule Julie Bishop (and, pretty obviously, Turnbull’s own inclination). Instead, they told Turnbull to make a “captain’s call”, while making it clear that the wrong call would be fatal.

If Turnbull had any self-respect left, he’d resign and let this crew sort out their own mess. Instead, he gets to hang on in office, at the price of being made a fool of on a daily basis.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Crossing the floor

July 28th, 2016 16 comments

Back in the day, it used to be claimed as one of the glories of the Liberal and National Parties that their MPs had freedom to vote as they chose, while Labor MPs were bound by Caucus solidarity, except in the case of an explicit “conscience vote”, which has been traditionally confined to issues of (sexual) morality.

I had the impression that his freedom was now only a memory in the LNP, but this story has George Christensen threatening to cross the floor over the government’s superannuation reforms. The defeat of a key budget measure in the House of Representatives is (I would have thought) tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the government. Nevertheless, the story goes on to cite Barnaby Joyce as defending Christensen’s right to vote against the government and says that Joyce himself has crossed the floor 28 times.

I’m genuinely bemused here. If it’s OK to vote against budget policies, what can it mean to say that Liberal MPs are not free to vote as they choose on equal marriage? What is the penalty for doing so? If there is none, why don’t we see anyone willing to do so?
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

We don’t need another Royal Commission

July 27th, 2016 20 comments

I haven’t had much to say about Australian politics since the election. That’s because I see the Turnbull government as a nullity, which will achieve nothing however long it survives.

Turnbull’s first substantive action since the election (in fact, since the election was called) only confirms me in this view. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a TV program, the Four Corners report documenting appalling abuse in a juvenile detention facility in the NT. Rather than considering any coherent attempt to consider and address the issues, Turnbull offered the most clichéd possible response “when in doubt, call a Royal Commission”. He made it lazier still, by proposing that the Commission focus on this single facility, and has now reluctantly agreed that it should look at the NT as a whole.

For once, I’m in agreement with the Oz. We already have a Royal Commission looking at institutional abuse of young people, which could easily have its terms extended to cover this.

More importantly, we don’t need any more Royal Commissions to establish that institutions are failing young people in trouble. The real issues are much more intractable than finding and punishing some abusers.

To start with, there’s the fact that, throughout the country, services for young people in trouble are chronically underfunded and overstretched. If Turnbull had announced that the money he was planning to give to corporations would be used to help young people instead, that would have been some genuinely decisive action. But that would be politically impossible.

Still, at least in the case of youth services, it’s obvious what needs to be done. The bigger problems of social breakdown and family crisis are much more complicated and difficult to handle. But these aren’t the kinds of question that can be handled by a press release or a Royal Commission.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 25th, 2016 70 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Do climate sceptics exist?

July 22nd, 2016 60 comments

June 2016 was the hottest month globally since records began in 1880, and marks the fourteenth record month in a row. For the great majority of people who’ve been following scientific findings on climate, there’s no great surprise there. There is very strong evidence both for the existence of a warming trend due mainly to emissions of carbon dioxide, and for the occurrence of a peak in the El Nino/Southern Oscillation index. Combine the two, and a record high temperature is very likely.

But suppose you were a strongly sceptical person, who required more evidence than others to accept a scientific hypothesis, such as that of of anthropogenic climate change. Presumably, you would treat the evidence of the last couple of years as supporting the hypothesis. Perhaps this supporting evidence would be sufficient that you would regard the hypothesis as confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, perhaps not, but either way, you would be more favorably inclined than before. And, if you were a public commentator, willing to state your views honestly, you would say so.

Does such a sceptic exist? I haven’t seen one, although I follow the debate fairly closely. In fact, in the 25 years or so in which I’ve been following the issue, I can only recall one instance of someone described as a “sceptic” changing their view in the light of the evidence. And of course, his fellow sceptics, who’d been promising that his research would reveal massive errors in the temperature record, immediately decided that he’d never really been one of them. In any case, while Muller was and remains a scientific sceptic, he’s no longer a climate sceptic.

Operationally, it’s clear that the term “climate sceptic” means someone whose criteria for convincing evidence are those set out by the Onion.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong (by counterexample), but as far as I can see, if the ordinary usage of the term “sceptic” is applied, the world population of genuine climate sceptics is zero.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Sandpit

July 21st, 2016 58 comments

A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Nuclear math doesn’t add up

July 20th, 2016 112 comments

Writing in the conservative US magazine National Review, Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute criticises the Democratic Party platform for omitting any mention of nuclear power, and accuses the Democrats of failing to “do the math”. Unfortunately, although he throws some numbers about, he doesn’t do any math to support his key conclusion

But even if we doubled the rate of growth for wind and solar — and came up with a perfect method of electricity storage (which of course, doesn’t exist) — those renewables aren’t going to replace nuclear energy any time soon

So, I’ll do the math for him.
Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

Last of the Mohicans

July 18th, 2016 15 comments

I started this blog about 14 years ago in mid-2002, when the world of the Internet was young. On a whim, I thought I’d look at the Wayback Machine which archived the site (then hosted on Blogspot) in July 2002. Amazingly, some of the links still work, and some of the posts are still relevant today. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone on the blogroll is still going as an independent blogger. I’ve been a bit slow lately, but it looks as though I’m the last of my kind.

Categories: Metablogging Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 18th, 2016 43 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Losing our AAA credit rating is not a harbinger of doom …

July 14th, 2016 64 comments
Categories: Economic policy Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 11th, 2016 68 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Anti-militarism

July 4th, 2016 41 comments

100 years after the Battle of the Somme, it’s hard to see that much has been learned from the catastrophe of the Great War and the decades of slaughter that followed it. Rather than get bogged down (yet again) in specifics that invariably decline into arguments about who know more of the historical detail, I’m going to try a different approach, looking at the militarist ideology that gave us the War, and trying to articulate an anti-militarist alternative. Wikipedia offers a definition of militarism which, with the deletion of a single weasel word, seems to be entirely satisfactory and also seems to describe the dominant view of the political class, and much of the population in nearly every country in the world.

Militarism is the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively[^1] to defend or promote national interests

Wikipedia isn’t as satisfactory (to me) on anti-militarism, so I’ll essentially reverse the definition above, and offer the following provisional definition

Anti-militarism is the belief or desire that a military expenditure should held to the minimum required to protect a country against armed attack and that, with the exception of self-defense, military power should not be used to promote national interests

I’d want to qualify this a bit, but it seems like a good starting point.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Monday Message Board

July 4th, 2016 12 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Stability

July 4th, 2016 75 comments

Malcolm Turnbull went to the election warning against the instability of a “hung” Parliament and a minority Labor government. It’s now clear that the most unstable outcomes within the range of possibility are those where the LNP forms a government with 76 seats (working majority of 1) 75 or 74 (presumably relying on Bob Katter and/or Nick Xenophon for confidence votes). The knives are already out for Turnbull, and there are at least three potential successors in the wings, all convinced they could do a better job than Turnbull or either of their rivals. So, any understanding Turnbull might reach with independents is liable to be overturned at any moment.

On the Labor side, the rules changes introduced by Kevin Rudd make it just about impossible to remove a sitting PM, and there is, in any case, almost no appetite for a change. So, if Labor manages 72 seats or more and forms a minority government, there’s a good chance that the government and parliament could run its full term.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Polls, pundits and punters yet again

July 2nd, 2016 36 comments

It’s too late to influence anyone’s vote, and I doubt that many of my readers are in much doubt as to which way they will go, so I’ll return to one of my favorite topics, the relative predictive power of polls and betting markets. Most of the time, comparing the two is a tricky exercise, since the odds in betting markets and those implied by polls tend to converge as the election nears. Not this time, however. The polls have remained at or near 50-50 throughout the campaign, with the additional complication that 5-10 seats may be won by independents or minor parties. Yet, as of a couple of days ago, the LNP was paying $1.08 for a dollar bet, implying a winning probability of around 90 per cent.

In classical statistical terms, that means that, if the LNP loses (does not form a government) the null hypothesis that the betting odds are correct can be rejected with 90 per cent confidence, which is commonly considered good enough for social science work. Unfortunately, things don’t work the other way around. If we disregard markets, the chance of an LNP win is probably a bit above 50 per cent, so a win for the LNP wouldn’t prove anything one way or the other. For that, we’d need a case where the polls strongly predicted a winner, while the markets were even money or going the other way (the key concept here is the “power” of the test).

In an important sense, anything less than a clear LNP majority would constitute a rejection of the betting market hypothesis. If the majority is small, then the outcome will inevitably have been decided by a few thousand random votes reflecting unpredictable chance.

Anyway, we’ll see soon enough.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags: