A terrible atrocity

As usual in relation to terrorist attacks, and in common with others, I find it difficult to say much in relation to the terrorist siege in Beslan, which has now ended with heavy loss of life. The terrorists, who have sunk to new lows in this crime (the hostages, mostly children, were apparently denied water) were mostly killed. No decent person will mourn their deaths. No provocation or historical wrong can justify such foul actions.

I feel for those who have lost loved ones, and especially for the parents of children murdered on this tragic day.

Election blogs

The election has stimulated an explosion of new and revived blogs, aggregators and other websites, and has brought others to my attention for the first time. Here are a few that have caught my eye, in no particular order.

The Daily Flute has excellent economic analysis, mostly serious, but currently looking at the continuous misfortunes of the Persian rug shop industry

Psephite is currently running an assessment of pollies’ websites, most of which are awful. Minor gripe: she uses the acryonym IA which I don’t recognise. As PH would say, “please explain”.

Hack Watch (Iain Lygo) criticises the media from a green perspective, and with an olive green background (quite similar to this, actually

The Poll Bludger (William Bowe) focuses mostly on polls, as you might expect.

Mumble (Peter Brent) also does polls and electorate analysis

I’ll extend this post as I get time, and maybe put up a special election blogroll.

Why you should vote against Wooldridge

Michael Wooldridge has a piece in today’s Age, giving some fairly standard arguments as to “Why you should vote for Howard”. As far as I’m concerned the mere fact that the story reminds readers of Wooldridge’s existence should be a good reason to vote against Howard. Although not the most incompetent Minister in the Howard government, he beat strong competition to be the one who has most lowered standards of public probity. Apart from his notorious extravagance, he regularly did favors to groups which then gave him financial or political returns. Most outrageously, he approved a public grant to a medical lobby group which hired him as a consultant as soon as he left office. It’s the accumulation of this kind of sleaze that brings down long-running governments.

No more years ?

A while ago, I discussed the idea that the forthcoming US election would be a good one for the Democrats to lose, eventually reaching the conclusion that the damage that would be caused by four more years of Bush would offset any political benefits from finally discrediting the Republicans.

Now Niall Ferguson looks at the same question from the other side. Like me[1], he thinks this would be a good election for either party to lose. But, since he’s taking the Republican side of the debate, the damage that a second Bush term would cause is an argument in favor of his case. He concludes

moderate Republicans today may justly wonder if a second Bush term is really in their best interests. Might four years of Kerry not be preferable to eight or more years of really effective Democratic leadership?

fn1. Though not for exactly the same reasons. He puts more weight on criticisms of Kerry than I think can be justified, and less on the extent to which painful economic adjustments are already inevitable.

Who prefers the Greens?

We’ve heard at length in the last few days how the Greens plan to ruin the economy, make vegetarianism compulsory, institute world government, and so on. Presumably, for those making such claims, the worst conceivable outcome from the forthcoming election would be a minority Labor government dependent on Green support (or maybe even forced to go into coalition with the Greens).

This is unlikely, but it could happen if the Greens win some inner-city seats, most held by Labor leftwingers. But the only way the Greens can win is on Liberal preferences. So I’d be interested to know who among those running the anti-Green scare campaign is advocating a policy of putting the Greens last, as Labor did in relation to One Nation[1]. I haven’t seen anything on the Liberals preferences yet, so this is a genuine question – if anyone has the answer, I’d be grateful.

fn1. Except, IIRC, in the 2001 Queensland State election, where, rather opportunistically, they exploited optional preferential voting by advocating a vote for Labor alone with no preferences.

Interest rates, part 2

As everybody knows, low interest rates are a mixed blessing for homebuyers. That’s because they have contributed (along with government policies like the reduction in capital gains tax rates) to the massive boom in house prices that has made houses just about as unaffordable now as they were in 1989 at the peak of the last interest rate cycle.

Everybody knows this except, apparently, John Howard. In his scare campaign against Labor, he calculated the impact of Labor’s peak interest rates applied to the average mortgage prevailing under the Liberals. Not surprisingly, the result is horrific. But Howard is as much to blame for this as anyone else.

Interest rates

Another silly feature of the election campaign is Howard’s claim to have delivered low interest rates (and, by implication more affordable housing). The variable home mortgage rate has barely moved over the eight years from 1996 to 2004, and (IIRC) it was lower in 1996 than when Howard handed over the Treasury in 1983.

It’s true of course that in between those dates, interest rates rose to stupendous levels, as high as 17 per cent. But to the extent that Labor made this mess, Labor cleaned it up. Howard had nothing to do with it (moreover, throughout Labor’s term in office, both Howard and Hewson were consistent monetary policy hawks),

This experience also showed that the link between budget deficits and interest rates (via crowding out) is not all that strong. It’s true that, if you move from large surpluses to chronic deficits, as Bush has done, you can expect an eventual interest rate response (though no such response has appeared as yet). But improving the budget balance by a few billion dollars will have no visible effect.

So, I’m disappointed to see Latham running with the government line and promising to keep interest rates low through fiscal policy. Given that world interest rates are likely to rise over the next few years, thanks to chronic deficits in the US, it’s doubtful he can deliver on this. And while it’s good to maintain surpluses on the cash balance over the course of the economic cycle, it’s silly to promise a surplus every year.

Sheridan on the Greens

The bizarre campaign of distortion against the Greens continues with an extraordinary piece by Greg Sheridan, though one that is something of an embarrassing reminder of Sheridan’s long-standing support for the Suharto military dictatorship and its occupation of East Timor.

As with previous pieces in this genre, the modus operandi is to misquote Greens policy, take an extreme interpretation of the misquote and run with the resulting scare. There’s only a marginal difference between Sheridan’s treatment and the full-blown black helicopter fantasies being peddled by Steve Edwards.

Sheridan’s first point of criticism reads

For example, they assert that Australia should force the Indonesian Government to bring all “war criminals in its ranks” to justice by withholding military co-operation, which wildly overestimates the importance of Australian military co-operation to Indonesia.

The actual policy reads

using (along with other governments) continued military cooperation with the Indonesian military as a bargaining counter to convince the Indonesian Government to bring all war criminals in its ranks to justice before an international tribunal instead of trying them before the Indonesian-controlled Jakarta Human Rights Court.

There’s certainly room for argument as to whether Indonesia can be convinced, but it’s clear that Sheridan has misrepresented a policy that most Australians would endorse. The Greens aren’t asserting that Indonesia can be forced to act at Australia’s behest, as Sheridan claims. The rest of the article is no better – for example, a policy on Israel-Palestine is criticised because, while condemning suicide bombings, it doesn’t specifically use the word ‘terrorism’.

The Oz editorial picks up the same line and the Fin has another, rather rambling. piece from Gary Johns.

I’m still puzzled by the politics of all this. Commenters have suggested that it’s aimed at the Greens’ Senate vote, but that would mainly help Labor. Besides, devoting the opening days of a tight election campaign to a strategy aimed at marginal improvements in the Senate outcome seems misguided.

It still seems to me that the results of all this will be, first, to reduce the flow of Green preferences to the Liberals and, second, to benefit Labor at the direct expense of the Liberals. After all, there are only so many buckets you can tip in an election, even with a long campaign. By the time Sheridan and others get around to attacking Labor, a lot of people will already have tuned out.

Update: More on this from my blogtwin , Tim Dunlop


It would be an exaggeration to say that I am living in a safe Liberal electorate. At the height of Labor’s rising tide in 2001, Labor’s Leonie Short won Ryan in a byelection, losing it again in the general election. And the state seat of Indooroopilly is, amazingly enough held by Labor. Still short of the kind of wipeout that would see most members of the government lose their seats, the incumbent MP, Michael Johnson, is safe enough. As a result, I don’t expect too much media attention for Ryan in this campaign.

So, this will probably be the only occasion on which Ryan makes the news. The claim that George Brandis described the PM as a ‘lying rodent'[1] came from a disappointed preselection candidate for the state seat of Moggill (part of Ryan, I think) and close ally of Johnson, Russell Galt. Al Bundy has the gory details, in a piece designed to discredit Galt but which makes an even stronger case against Johnson. If I had access to the Howard spam machine, I would circulate it throughout the electorate.

fn1. I have no idea whether Brandis actually said this, but Galt has certainly captured Brandis’s turn of phrase. The actual description is, of course, false – the PM is clearly a primate (thanks to reader Nabokov for fixing an error here; I had ‘reptile’ in mind, and put ‘mammal’ as the correct category).

More shonky science

Over at Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies demolishes the latest effort by junk science writer Steve Milloy (on diet and diabetes), and admonishes Todd Zywicki of the Volokh Conspiracy for giving uncritical credence to Milloy, who has a track record of bogus work going back at least a decade, to his work for the tobacco companies, trying to cast doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer. Of course, this track record doesn’t eliminate the need to demolish Milloy afresh each time he pops up. Still if the name didn’t ring alarm bells for Zywicki as soon as he saw it, it’s clear he hasn’t been paying attention.

Devaluation of scientific work in favor of partisan hacks like Milloy has become standard practice on the political right and is a significant subtext in the current campaign against the Greens. Many of those making these attacks are drawing their talking points from the Institute of Public Affairs, a body which has supported global warming contrarianism, denied the link between passive smoking and cancer, and attacked scientists working on the Murray-Darling basin as “environmental activists masquerading as scientists”. It’s pretty clear who the wackos are in this debate.
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