A tangled web

This story of a DFAT employee sacked for the “unethical” action of responding to an email from a Labor party staff member, and reinstated yesterday by the IRC seemed to be just another example of the politicisation and rule by fear that characterises the public service under the current government*. But digging into the story a bit further, my wife found an amazing tangled web, in which the government’s star witness was entangled in drug dealing, money laundering and blackmail. This naturally qualified him to be part of the team that successfully oversaw the actions of AWB in Baghdad, and, in 2002, to have his security classification restored

The original reason that the DFAT employee, Trent Smith, was targeted was that he was under suspicion for leaking minutes of meeting in early 2003, in which Alexander Downer stated what we all now know to be true, that, despite its protestations the Australian government was committed to war with Iraq**.

* Of course, this process started before the current government

** Subject of course, to the need to keep Saddam sweet as long as possible so he would keep buying our wheat.

The party of Jefferson Davis

Having decided more or less unanimously that war, torture, and indefinite imprisonment without trial are good (provided, of course, we talking about actions of the US), the Right may finally have opened up a topic where they can find some disagreement. Was slavery (in the US, of course) all that bad? Michael Medved at TownHall says No, and gets plenty of support from TownHall readers and other rightwing bloggers (here, here, here, here, here and here. But there’s at lest one dissenter, and some qualifications here.

Of course, leftwingers have been looking for the great split, in which real conservatives repudiate the rightwing radicalism of the Republican party, for longer than I can recall, and it’s never really happened. Every now and then someone like Andrew Sullivan or Bruce Bartlett peels off, and the rest of the Right circles the wagons a little closer. My guess is that the final abandonment of the anti-slavery tradition on which the Republican Party was founded cannot be far off, and that the party of Lincoln will become, once and for all, the party of Jefferson Davis (in some places, this has already happened).

Why Tuesday ?

Among many questions that you could ask about the US electoral systems, one of the more minor but harder to answer is Why Tuesday. More precisely, if you want to maximise turnout, why not hold the election on Saturday as in Australia, or even keep the polls open all weekend? I asked this question a couple of years ago , and there was no obvious answer. Now there’s an effort to raise the issue and force candidates to take a stand.

As with many other features of the US system, there is a historical explanation that has long since ceased to be relevant, but the bigger question is why such things persist. In particular, why don’t

It’s fair to note that the UK situation is even worse. Elections are traditionally held on Thursday, even though the Prime Minister is free to select a more sensible day of the week.

How safe are bank deposits ?

A reader writes

‘Im about to assume duties as Treasurer of my local church and have found that our reserves are not diversified but are with one institution already in the news as possibly suspect. The outgoing Treasurer is convinced that bank (ADI) deposits are guaranteed by the Reserve Bank and is resisting diversification. My reading of the Reserve Bank site, the APRA site and the modified Banking Act suggests that this “protection” was done away with by changes introduced by the Howard Government and that the claimed “protection” is an urban myth. Hence could you, or any of the readers of your blog advise – are deposits with ADIs protected in that someone will repay them in the event of institutional failure? and if not what should church (and club) treasurer’s do to protect these investments (many people in my position fail to realise that they can be personally liable for any losses)?

My response is that there is no explicit guarantee of deposits, although there is a strong expectation that the Reserve Bank would protect depositor. Unfortunatley, it is not entirely clear which deposits would be guaranteed, which makes life tricky for people like my correspondent. I don’t think there ever was an ironclad guarantee but it’s correct to say that the changes associated with the establishment of APRA moved us further away from such a situation. Coincidentally, the editorial in today’s Fin discusses this very topic, noting that Costello has been sitting, for the last two years, on a report recommending an explicit guarantee, limited to $20 000. I must have missed the whole thing, as I don’t remember any movement on this issue since the Wallis Committee.

Here are some thoughts from 2002. An extract

the medical insurance panic would be nothing compared to what might happen if, in the midst of a liquidity crisis at a major bank, one of our socially responsible talk-show hosts suddenly discovered that there was no government guarantee for bank deposits. This happened on a small scale in the 1970s, forcing NSW Premier Neville Wran to take a loudhailer into the streets to stop a run on a building society.

Back from break

It’s midsemester break at UQ, and I’m just back from a few days holiday on beautiful North Stradbroke island, where beaches are white and Internet connections are patchy. I see that various comments threads have run out of control, with my post on US experience of war being derailed into a string of general rants about the merits or otherwise of US social organisation.

If you believe what you read in the papers, Stradbroke was similarly out of control, although a close textual analysis reveals that the “drunken teen packs” terrorising the island did so mainly by standing around looking bored and not picking up their rubbish. Admittedly Point Lookout is strung out over a couple of kilometers, and its “dimly lit streets” make it hard to be sure what’s going on, but the end of town we stayed at was sufficiently quiet that the ticking of the clock kept us awake. Having invested in a reporter and camera crew, I guess the Courier-Mail had to beat up a story of some kind.

Shedding blood for liberty

A brawl has erupted over a statement in the stump speech of Republican candidate Fred Thompson, who asserts that the US has “shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world” As the WaPo points out, our Russian allies lost millions in WWII alone, as did Britain and France in WWI which (at least nominally) they entered ‘that small nations might be free’. In fact, US casualties in World War I (about 120 000 killed and 200 000 wounded) were comparable to those of Australia and New Zealand,which between them had about 5 per cent of the US population.

Unsurprisingly, vvarious people have tried to quibble by saying that the other losses weren’t in defence of freedom, so that Thompson’s claim is true by default. But in that case, Thompson ought to have said something like “the US, alone among nations, fights for the freedom of othersâ€? which at least sounds like standard meaningless stump-speech rhetoric rather than a false factual claim.

Leaving motivations aside, the striking fact is that Thompson’s claim is pretty much the opposite of the truth. The US is notable among major nations in how little it has suffered in foreign wars, and this helps to explain why the war party is so strong there.

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