My latest piece on the Fin

is a response to the push to cut the top marginal tax rate. As well as criticising a variety of spurious arguments on the topic I make the point, in line with Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane (and even Peter Saunders of the CIS) that the real problems in our tax system are high effective marginal tax rates for low-income earners and the incentives to speculate in real estate rather than invest in the production of tradeables, incentives that contribute to our massive trade and current account deficits.

Wading back into the Big Muddy

Just as US soldiers and National Guards who’ve completed their tours in Iraq are being conscripted by stop-loss orders, recalls and the like, then sent back for a second round, Australia has received new orders. The New Europeans (Spain, Poland, Netherlands and so on) are all pulling out, and its up to us to fill the gap.

Of course, there’s no mention of the US in Howard’s announcement. Supposedly, this is a response to personal requests from the British and Japanese Prime Ministers. Older readers will recall that exactly the same farce was played out with our commitment of troops to Vietnam. Anyone who believes the government’s line might reflect on what kind of response Blair and Koizumi would get if they requested from Howard something the Bush Administration didn’t like, such as ratification of Kyoto.

There’s no strategy here, just hanging on and hoping things will change for the better. There’s no sign so far that the presence of 150 000 troops has done any good. The insurgency/resistance/terrorists are far more numerous now than they were a year ago. They gain legitimacy when they attack foreign occupiers, and lose it when they attack fellow-Iraqis. I hope that the new Iraqi government, when it emerges, will maintain its campaign commitment (watered down at the last minute) to demand a schedule for withdrawal, but if it doesn’t, Australia and Britain should be pushing the US to set one.

Tthe decision raises some other big issues for Australia that don’t seem to have been considered. In particular, there’s the possibility of war with Iran. Have we received assurances either that there won’t be any US military action against Iran or that, if there is, Iraq won’t be used as a base? To ask this question is to answer it.

Appeal update

I sent in my donation to MSF just now, and I’ve had confirmation from several co-sponsors that they’ve done the same. The number of comments was a bit disappointing, but I’m happy to say that most people so far have responded by giving more than they promised. I’d like, once again, to thank everyone who participated.

Habib again

The Monday Message Board has a lively discussion of the Habib case, and I thought I’d make my own observations. Based on the evidence I’ve seen, I’m fairly confident of three things

* Habib was up to something connected with Islamic militants in Afghanistan

* After his arrest he was tortured (in Pakistan and Egypt) and subject to cruel and degrading treatment (in Guantanamo Bay)

* The Australian government knew about and approved Habib’s treatment[1].

A lot of participants in the debate seem to assume that, if you accept the first point, the second and third don’t really matter. I would have hoped that this kind of position didn’t need to be refuted, but that’s apparently not the case, so I’ll try.

Update A lengthy comments thread already, but it’s interesting that no-one, as far as I can see has disagreed with my factual conclusions. If there are people out there who think that Habib is an innocent bystander they haven’t shown up here. And, although there are plenty of commenters willing to defend torture, no-one, it seems, is willing to put their name (or handle) to a claim that the government is telling the truth.
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More spam misery

I’m being besieged by spammers and have been forced to crank up the defences, with the inevitable “collateral damage”. What I’ve worked out so far for those who want to avoid this category:

(1) Don’t use lots of hyperlinks
(2) Send from a regular working email account – Spam Karma doesn’t seem to like anonymisers and so on needful things dvd download