Photo mosaic for union rights in Zimbabwe

Among the many groups being persecuted by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe are trade unionists. Here, via Eric Lee at Labourstart is one small way to help them in their struggle. From the UK TUC

Take action now to support Zimbabwean trade unionists on trial – We need your photo now!

On Monday 23 June, just days before the Presidential run-off election, Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe, President and General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) will be in court to face charges of ‘spreading falsehoods prejudicial to the state’ – or rather, telling the truth about violence in Zimbabwe. As part of their bail conditions they have been banned from addressing political or public gatherings for almost the whole election campaign. These charges and bail conditions are clear breaches of free speech and freedom to associate.

We are urging people everywhere to protest at attempts to silence these men, and at the state-sponsored violence and intimidation which has intensified since the first round of elections in March.

If Lovemore and Wellington aren’t able to address a public gathering themselves, you can help them to with this campaign action, but you’ll need to hurry.

We are making a giant photo mosaic of Lovemore and Wellington, using pictures of hundreds of their supporters from around the world – and we want to use your photo as one tiny part of it. We’ll get this printed on a large banner as a focus for the London demonstration on 23 June, and will make the image available to other international demonstrations and to the media.

This is a last minute campaign, so we need to get your photos in immediately.

Update The last minute has passed, unfortunately. I got an email in reply saying “Thanks for your email, however we’ve had now to stop accepting new photos in order for us to prepare the mosaic. There are still things you can do to help…

Contact the Minister of Justice in Zimbabwe, asking for the charges to be dropped. Visit for more information on how to do this.”

The power of persuasion

That’s the headline for my article in today’s Fin, which follows:

After a messy and unedifying process, the Iemma government has finally reached an agreement with the Opposition to proceed with the privatisation of the New South Wales electricity industry. The price of the deal has been acceptance of the Opposition demand for an inquiry by the Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat.

In most cases, inquiries into policies on which the government is already determined are little more than rubber-stamps. Whatever the desired result, a suitably distinguished former judge or some other eminent person, with appropriately written terms of reference, can usually be relied on to deliver it.

But Auditors-General are a sturdy breed, among the few groups of public officials who have offered significant resistance to the politicisation of the public service over recent decades.

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Bad news on the Murray

Grim if unsurprising news from this Leaked report on the state of the Murray-Darling river system. The failure of the autumn rains (again) has wiped out the modest benefits from the (already fading) La Nina event. The problem has been generated by a long history of bad policy, but, at this point, even the best water policy in the world won’t help if it doesn’t rain.

The implications for places like the Coorong are dire. It seems likely, in view of problems like the buildup of acid sulphate soils, that the barrages separating the Lakes Alexandrina and Albert from the sea will have to be removed (this is being staved off by emergency measures for the moment). But the barrages were constructed as an early response to the expansion of irrigation upstream, which reduced flows and, as a result of sea water inflow, threatened to turn predominantly freshwater lakes into salt water (characteristically of such interventions, the barrages overcorrected, eliminating the occasional salt water phases, and changing the ecological balance in the lakes). So, the only sustainable response is to increase flows in the whole system which will require substantial reductions in extractive uses.

But, if the repeated failures of the autumn rains, and the higher frequency of drought represent a permanent climate change, it seems likely we will have to accept both substantial ecological damage and reduced agricultural output. My research group at UQ has been working on this for the Garnaut Review and we should have a report out fairly soon – some of the scenarios are indeed grim.

Libertarians and global warming

I had a set-to with Jonathan Adler of Volokh about DDT recently, so I was pleased to note this piece on free-market environmentalism and climate change, which makes a number of points I’d been thinking about following debates over at the Australian Libertarian blog. Rather than recapitulate Adler’s post, I’ll make a number of points of my own regarding the response of (most, though not all) libertarians to climate change, which I think are in the same spirit:
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Defending Rachel Carson: the last word

The Prospect article defending Rachel Carson I wrote with Tim Lambert kicked off a lengthy round of blast and counterblast in the blogosphere. Some of the response did little more than illustrate the continuing gullibility of the RWDB segment of the blogosphere, notably including Andrew Bolt and Glenn Reynolds (start here). The more serious discussion began with links from Andrew Leonard at Salon and Brad Plumer at TNR, and a reply from Roger Bate, claiming that we had greatly overstated his links with the tobacco industry (Tim Lambert responded here and Andrew Leonard here and here, with plenty more evidence on this point). A further piece makes the claim (which I have no reason to dispute) that British American Tobacco has now switched sides and is arguing against DDT use in Uganda.

Through all this sound and fury, some progress was made. No one even attempted to defend the claim that the use of DDT against malaria had been banned, or the outrageous lies of Steven Milloy (still employed by Fox News and CEI, despite his exposure as a tobacco industry shill) who blames Rachel Carson for every malaria death since 1972. It even turned out that the much-denounced decision of South Africa to abandon DDT use (reversed when malaria cases increased because of resistance to the pyrethroids used as alternatives) was not primarily due to environmentalist pressure. As Bate noted in his reply, the main factor behind the decision was the unpleasant look and small of DDT sprayed on hut walls, which often led to repainting or replastering. A minor, but still striking point, is that DDT continued to be used for public health purposes in the US (against plague-bearing fleas) even after the 1972 ban on general use of the chemical, and is still available for these purposes if needed.

Update:Absolutely the last word Via Ed Darrell a quiet victory for friends of Rachel Carson with the abandonment by Senator Tom Coburn of a block on the naming, in her honor, of the post office in her birthplace. It appears that the campaign of denigration against Carson (and, by implication, the environmental movement as a whole) has become untenable.
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Bond insurance and regulatory arbitrage

Readers familiar with the Macquarie Group are likely to have several reactions to the news that Macquarie is considering entering the US municipal bond insurance market. First, if Macquarie is interested, there is almost certainly money to be made. Second, much of the gain is likely to be at the expense of the governments concerned, and will involve some combination of regulatory arbitrage and financial engineering. Finally, given its high-risk business model ( Babcock & Brown, the other leading exemplar of this model is trying to stave off the banks as you read this) isn’t it a bit odd for Macquarie to be guaranteeing the debt of low-risk entities like local governments?

[update: Pressure on ratings agencies to treat public and corporate bonds on the same basis is having an effect]

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