Bolt and Krauthammer Day

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that it is now exactly a decade (24 times 5 months) since Charles Krauthammer told us that

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

Despite being utterly and repeatedly wrong about Iraq, and many other things, Krauthammer is now, as he was then, a prominent columnist at the Washington Post.

What about our own Krauthammers? The leading candidate is surely Andrew Bolt, and a search through the archives[1] finds him denouncing the Left saying, triumphantly “they were wrong”. Those attacked include Carmen Lawrence, Bob Brown, Robert Manne, Andrew Vincent and Paul Dibb. Here’s a typical example of Bolt’s vitriol

NO one tried harder to save Saddam than Greens leader Bob Brown, a notorious scaremonger, who claimed more than 100,000 Iraqi children would die in this war. He also quoted from a leaked UN report which predicted 900,000 refugees. In fact, hardly one Iraqi refugee has fled in four weeks.

Of course, Brown was right[2].

Bolt is pretty big on demands for retractions. So, has he ever apologized for this appalling, and utterly wrong, attack on the reputations of those who correctly predicted the disastrous outcomes of the Iraq war?

fn1. The News archive doesn’t seem to go back 10 years, so I’ve been using the Factiva database. Google found Bolt’s spray reproduced on the Free Republic (I haven’t heard anything of the Freepers for years, but apparently they are still going). I’d welcome any help with data sources, and also any suggestions for more absurd wrongness from 10 years ago. If there are enough good links, I might make this a regular feature

fn2. From the days of the Iraq debate, I can just imagine someone quibbling about Brown’s reference to “children” and demanding a source that specifies the ages of those who died as a result of this tragedy. Such quibbles, and their authors, will be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Selling assets to ourselves, yet again

According to a report in the Courier-Mail, Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls has just announced the sale of seven government buildings in the Brisbane CBD. This transaction has all the dodgy features we’ve come to expect from Queensland asset sales

* The buyers are “assorted funds managed by the [state-owned] Queensland Investment Corporation”. So, as often seems to be the case, we are selling assets to ourselves

* Nicholls says “the sale proceeds will be used to reduce state debt. The government will also save about $130 million in interest payments.” Of course, this is double counting – the whole point of reducing debt is to save interest payments. But what does the $130 million mean? It’s about 24 per cent of the sale price, so I’d guess it refers to savings of 6 per cent a year over the four years usual in forward estimates. But that’s a very short-term way of looking at transactions that will affect the public for decades to come

* The buildings will be rented back on set leases with fixed rent increases. So, we’ll also be renting them back from ourselves. Costs will mount over time, but the big increases will doubtless be outside the forward estimates. So, there might be net saving for the next few years, but there will be losses after that.

And of course, as Shadow Treasurer Curtis Pitt points out, selling assets without a mandate was exactly what this government (elected because of Labor’s mandate-free asset sales) promised not to do.

There is a world market for maybe five computers …*

As has been true since 2010, our aspiring leaders seem to be determined to outdo each other in silliness this week. Since Julia Gillard will (with 90 per cent probability) be nothing more than a bad memory in a year’s time, while Tony Abbott will be an unavoidable reality, I’m going to ignore Gillard’s “Rob Peter to Pay Paul” aprroach to funding Gonski and talk about the National Broadband Network.

The Abbott-Turnbull proposal for a cutprice NBN has been an amazing success in clarifying issues that previously seemed too complex to be resolved. Until now, it’s been far from obvious how to assess the NBN – the complaint that we didn’t have a benefit cost analysis was obviously silly in the absence of any easy way of quantifying the benefits. But now that we’ve seen the alternative – a 25MBps network, dependent on Telstra’s failing copper network and non-existent goodwill, it’s obvious that the NBN is the only option that gives us any hope of keeping up with the steady growth in demand for information. The claim that individual subscribers can choose to upgrade to fibre-to-the-premises appears to have collapsed in the face of expert scrutiny. Instead, it seems, we’ll end up with lots of street-corner boxes, which will have to be ripped out and replaced wholesale when their inadequacy becomes apparent.

Given that he is going to win the coming election anyway, Abbott could greatly improve his chances of re-election in 2016 by admitting his mistake and going with the existing NBN plan, maybe with some cosmetic tweaks. As a bonus, from Abbott’s POV, Turnbull would have to eat a lot of humble pie.

The same is true for the other slogans on which he’s relied so far, like “Stop the Boats’ and “Axe the Tax”. Thanks to Labor’s implosion, he can afford to dump them now, and replace them with something more realistic – there’s no shame in changing policies before an election.

I don’t expect Abbott to take this unsolicited advice, but he could look at the cautionary lesson provided by Bligh, Gillard and NSW Labor among others, and consider carefully whether it’s better to take a few lumps now, or gain office on the basis of commitments that will prove a millstone, whether they are abandoned or adhered to.

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* I know, this quote attributed to Thomas J Watson is apocryphal, as is a similar one attributed to Bill Gates, but lots of similar statements have been made in reality, and they’ve all proved to be silly. For example, I can remember people saying in the early 80s that 8-bit address space of 64k (a double octet) were all we would ever need. Many more people said, well into the 1990s, that graphical interfaces were an unnecessary luxury and that personal computers would always start with a C:> prompt.