Princelings

Martin Ferguson’s comments in support of the Howard government’s bogus climate forum[1] remind me of why I dislike the hereditary principle in politics. Australian politics and the Parliamentary Labor party in particular is full of people who are there only because their fathers (or, more rarely, mothers) were politicians themselves.This wasn’t true, or not to anything like the same extent, thirty years ago.

A few of these hereditary princelings have made a reasonable contribution, but on the whole, they’re a dead weight, and Ferguson is a prime example of the latter category. If he’s done anything to justify the positions he’s held, I’m not aware of it.

The core of the problem is that the membership of the major parties has collapsed to the point where an extended family and its retainers can form the basis of an effective sub-faction, capable of winning preselections. Short of radical changes in both politics and society, it’s hard to see this changing.

One possible response would be to move to a primary system for preselections, on the US model. This hasn’t, of course, stopped the operation of the hereditary principle there, but I think that there is less of a cult of political celebrity here – I can’t imagine that names like Downer or Ferguson command many votes among the Australian public.

fn1. The derisory contribution offered by the US Administration (a budget request for $52 million, equal to about 0.0005 per cent of US GDP, which will probably not be delivered anyway) is an indication of the seriousness with which the US took the meeting, as is the fact that (as far as I can tell) it wasn’t even reported in the US press. The same is true, from what I can see of the other participants. The whole thing is, in essence, window-dressing to cover the Howard government’s failure to ratify Kyoto.

Draft review of Mooney

I’ve done a draft review of Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science (over the page). Comments much appreciated. I’d prefer comments on the review, and on the process by which the campaign against science identified by Mooney works. There’s plenty of room to discuss the substantive issues of ID theory, GW contrarianism and so on on other threads. That said, feel free to comment on whatever interests you.

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Weekend reflections

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.

Worse than nothing

It’s pretty clear that the “Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development” is simply a front for inaction. Apart from Howard’s promise of $20 million a year for research (apparently the meeting itself cost about as much as the first year’s budget) none of the participants made any concrete commitment. The US representative took the opportunity to plug nuclear energy, rather laughably since the US hasn’t commissioned a new reactor since 1978, the year before Three Mile Island. Some recent initiatives might lead to a handful of plants being constructed in the next decade or so, but even this is far from settled.

This farcical episode was a demonstration that, as far as responses to global warming are concerned, Kyoto is the only game in town.

Defining victory down, part 2 (Crossposted at CT)

In this post, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any commentary from pro-war bloggers on reports that the US will spend no more on Iraqi infrastructure once the current allocation of $18 billion, most of which was diverted to military projects, is exhausted. Although there was lengthy discussion both here and at Crooked Timber, no one pointed to any examples of comments on the topic.

I said at the time I didn’t want to get into a “Silence of the Hawks” pointscoring exercise on this. As a general rule, no particular blogger is obliged to post on any particular topic. But I would have thought, if you made it your business to report regularly on Iraqi reconstruction, that such a report was worth covering or correcting.

The Winds of Change website gives a weekly report on Iraq, with a focus on reconstruction news. It appears to be a successor to Chrenkoff’s Good News from Iraq, though less relentlessly upbeat. This week’s report contains no mention of the end of reconstruction funding. In case the WOC editors missed it, the WP report is here.

Update Armed Liberal at WoC responds (graciously) to this provocation, calling the Administration’s decision “bizarre” and pointing to an earlier critique of the wiretapping policy. That still leaves the policy undefended, so I thought I’d try again.

Instapundit is usually quick to disseminate pro-Administration talking points (for example on wiretapping) and has posted regularly on Iraqi reconstruction. Only a month ago, Instapundit linked to an Austin Bay post headed (rather ironically in retrospect) The White House Finally Gets Serious About Iraqi Reconstruction. So, now that the nature of “seriousness” in the White House has become clear, does Glenn Reynolds support the cessation of reconstruction funding? Does anybody? End update

Oddly enough WOC links to a WP piece from October 2004 on the diversion of funds to military purposes with the revealing quote

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a written statement that the administration always knew that “reconstructing Iraq’s infrastructure would require enormous resources beyond what the Congress appropriated — after 30 years of neglect, decay and corruption.”

Whitman said the United States is working to ensure it is “not starting any project without finishing it.”

Presumably that statement does not apply to the big project of building a “peaceful and prosperous” Iraq.

Winds of Change has done a more reasonable job than many of presenting a case for war, but they’ve relied heavily on the assumption that the Administration is committed to the task of leaving Iraq, in its own words “peaceful and prosperous”. Now that the second of these goals has been abandoned, thereby undermining the first (which in any case looks further away than ever), I’d be interested to know if their views have changed.

A final note on all this is that Kim Beazley, has finally called for the withdrawal of Coalition troops from Iraq, arguing, correctly in my view, that their presence is doing more harm than good. Given Beazley’s extreme caution and love of all things military, he must really believe that the whole project is beyond any chance of redemption.

Defining victory down

Lots of people have already commented on the announcement that the Bush Administration plans to cease funding reconstruction programs in Iraq when the existing allocation of $18.5 billion is exhausted. Some comments, here, here and here. Coming late, there’s not much for me to do but survey the field and toss in some numbers.

The numbers first. From the article in the WP it appears that at least $6 billion of the reconstruction money has gone directly to various aspects of counterinsurgency. In addition, around 25 per cent of each project goes to security. That leaves about $9 billion.

Corruption[1] and the general increase in costs associated with dangerous work mean that the cost of general services is inflated, I’d guess by at least 50 per cent, and probably more. So, the effective expenditure on civil reconstruction would be around $6 billion.

How does that compare to what would have been needed to achieve the minimal victory condition of making things no worse than they were shortly before the war (which means much worse than in, say, 1980, 1990 or 2000). Shortly after the war I estimated the cost of such a program at between $25 billion and $50 billion and other estimates I saw were similar. The subsequent years of insurgency and civil strife would probably have doubled that. In The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer estimate the damage caused by postwar looting alone at $12 billion[2].

In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that Iraqis are worse off, on the majority of economic and social measures, from mortality to power supplies, than they were before the invasion. And it’s hard to see how such an outcome can be described as “complete victory” or how even a partial military victory is going to be feasible once the reconstruction work stops, presumably throwing thousands of people out of work in the process.

I can’t see how this makes any sense at all, except in the context of plans for a rapid and complete pullout. Why spend another $100 billion or so on military efforts which are now pretty much pointless?

As I said, lots of people have posted already, but from what I can see, nearly all the comments have come from opponents of the war and of the Bush Administration. I’m not interested in a “silence of the hawks” pointscoring exercise, but I’d really be interested to know what supporters of the war have made of this. In particular:

(1) has the accuracy of the Washington post been disputed?
(2) has anyone defended the decision to stop reconstruction funding ?
(3) has anyone changed their mind about support for the war as a result of this ?

I would have thought that any remaining liberal and left supporters of the war ought to realise by now that, whatever the abstract merits of the case for overthrowing Saddam, they backed the wrong horse in supporting Bush and Blair to do it.

fn1. As an aside, the corruption in the current reconstruction appears to be on much the same scale as in the Oil-for-Food program. In both cases, corruption was inevitable given the circumstances. While individuals involved in corruption should be prosecuted, it was silly to condemn Oil-for-Food, which saved tens of thousands of lives, because Saddam managed to skim money off the top, and it’s equally silly to oppose Iraqi reconstruction because the Halliburtons and Chalabhis have their fingers in the till.

fn2. It’s worth recalling that looting wasn’t the product of mere neglect. It was condoned and sometimes actively encouraged by both Britain and the US, and cheered on by pro-war bloggers.

Weekend reflections

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.

At home with the Bullets

Coming home from another great win for the Bullets, it struck me that the part of the season I’ve seen has been great. After a few early hiccups, they’ve won consistently, beating more highly-fancied teams with ease. The problem has been that, in the away games I haven’t seen, they’ve lost just as consistently. Tonight, for example, coming off a 30+ point loss at Wollongong, they beat an impressive Sydney Kings outfit by 13.

What accounts for such a huge difference between home (8-3) and away (4-10) performance. I’d like to think it was the crowd. But even if the days when the Brisbane Entertainment Centre was referred to as “The Library”, teams with more enthusiastic crowds seem to have less of a home-court advantage.

The end of the global warming debate

The news that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded in Australia comes at the end of a year in which, to the extent that facts can settle anything, the debate over human-caused global warming has been settled. Worldwide, 2005 was equal (to within the margin of error of the stats) with 1998 as the warmest year in at least the past millennium.

More significantly, perhaps, 2005 saw the final nail hammered into the arguments climate change contrarians have been pushing for years. The few remaining legitimate sceptics, along with some of the smarter ideological contrarians, have looked at the evidence and conceded the reality of human-caused global warming.

Ten years or so ago, the divergence between satellite and ground-based measurements of temperature was a big problem – the ground based measurements showed warming in line with climate models but the satellites showed a cooling trend. The combination of new data and improved calibration has gradually resolved the discrepancy, in favour of the ground-based measurements and the climate models.

Another set of arguments concerned short-term climate cycles like El Nino. The late John Daly attributed the high temperatures of the late 1990s to the combination of El Nino and solar cycles, and predicted a big drop, bottoming out in 2005 and 2006. Obviously the reverse has happened. Despite the absence of the El Nino or solar effects that contributed to the 1998 record, the long-term warming trend has dominated.

Finally, there’s water vapour. The most credible of the contrarians, Richard Lindzen, has relied primarily on arguments that the feedback from water vapour, which plays a central role in climate models, might actually be zero or even negative. Recent evidence has run strongly against this claim. Lindzen’s related idea of an adaptive iris has been similarly unsuccessful.

Finally, the evidence has mounted up that, with a handful of exceptions, “sceptics” are not, as they claim, fearless seekers after scientific truth, but ideological partisans and paid advocates, presenting dishonest arguments for a predetermined party-line conclusion. Even three years ago, sites like Tech Central Station, and writers like Ross McKitrick were taken seriously by many. Now, anyone with access to Google can discover that they have no credibility. Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science which I plan to review soon, gives chapter and verse and the whole network of thinktanks, politicians and tame scientists who have popularised GW contrarianism, Intelligent Design and so on.

A couple of thoughts on all this.

First, in the course of the debate, a lot of nasty things were said about the IPCC, including some by people who should have known better. Now that it’s clear that the IPCC has been pretty much spot-on in its assessment (and conservative in terms of its caution about reaching definite conclusions), it would be nice to see some apologies.

Second, now that the scientific phase of the debate is over, attention will move to the question of the costs and benefits of mitigation options. There are legitimate issues to be debated here. But having seen the disregard for truth exhibited by anti-environmental think tanks in the first phase of the debate, we shouldn’t give them a free pass in the second. Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking. That disqualifies virtually all the major right-wing think tanks, both here and in the US. Their performance on this and other scientific issues has been a disgrace.