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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Otherwise this is a pretty good article about the problems with economics predictions, and the difficulty of developing policy on the basis of those predictions.

Stephen seems to think puerile means pointless, because there can never be any definitive answers. But it doesn’t.

Puerile means childish, immature, trivial. Debate about economic policy is certainly not that. Even if policy makers cannot be certain about answers and outcomes, history and common sense must inform decision making.

A brief excerpt:

The data from around the world at the moment is all over the shop and gives no clear guide to who’s right, other than Yogi Berra.

And if it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, the whole game gets even tougher when it’s twisted by the force of political spin.

One reason Treasury’s economic growth estimates received such a sceptical, even scornful, response was that the Treasurer had been warning Australians for months that the world is in the midst of “the worst recession since the 1930s”. (Read, “we’re not responsible” and “prepare for a little pain in the Budget’). Did you notice how Wayne Swan tweaked the rhetoric on Budget night, talking of “the sharpest” downturn since the 1930s? No wonder it was hard for the public and many commentators to accept the idea that we’re back on track within a few months and recording stellar growth in a couple of years.

Yogi Berra, notorious for his (often intelligent and amusing)  mis-speaks, said ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’

My favourite Yogi Berra quote is this: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.’

A couple of days ago I posted a story about a 14 year old girl who had been charged with possession of child pornography because she had some nude photos of herself on her mobile phone.

Then there was  story about a group of teenagers in Victoria being cautioned by a magistrate in relation to child pornography, because of nude photos of themselves and their friends on their phones.

There have been a couple of articles warning teenagers and parents about the possible legal and social consequences of teens taking pictures of themselves naked, and sending those pictures to friends or boyfriends.

Parents, counsellors and police officers quoted in those articles have all pretty much nailed the whole negative consequences thing – you may get in trouble with the law in ways that stay with you for the rest of your life, once photos are ‘out there’ you have no control over where they go or who sees them, you may be humiliated to the point you cannot return to your school, etc.

It’s good that teenagers are made aware of those things. It would be even better if they were helped to understand that actions can have consequences which are not easily foreseen, and that rules about sexual behaviour and and respect for self and others exist to protect people from some of those consequences.

What has been missing is the simple statement that some things are wrong. This includes taking nude pictures of yourself and sending them to friends.

So I was pleased to read this article ‘It Is Wrong’ by the Joneses. As well as saying the right things, it is funny and well-written.

These are the concluding paragraphs:

Why is it that today’s culture thinks that 16-year-olds are old enough to understand and deal with sexual relationships on their own? Teenagers can’t even handle friendships in a rational manner. But if the only caution you can give your child is, “Don’t do that because it might get you in trouble later,” then you’re waving the white flag and the battle is over.

I care enough about my children, and my friends’ children, and the beautiful, alienated teenagers I pass in town, to say, “You shouldn’t do this. It’s wrong.” To do less is to hand our children over to those who want them only for their bodies.

Who would have guessed?

Another non-news headline from the New York Times.

In the days when banks were able to assess loan applications on merit there was little difference between various ethnic groups in the level of loan defaults. If people were unlikely to repay a loan, they didn’t get the loan.

But this meant some minority groups were ‘under-represented’ in their ability to access housing finance.

Then along came Clinton’s 1993 ‘Fair Housing Act.’

In essence, starting with Jimmy Carter, successive Democrat administrations offered incentives to lenders to give home loans to people in minority groups who would not have qualified under normal lending criteria (or penalties to lenders who did not). This is the ’sub-prime’ mortgage market, which consisted of giving loans to people who could not afford to repay them.

If you assume (as seems likely) a complete lack of understanding of basic economics in those who formulated this policy, you can allow that it may have been well-intentioned. In fact it should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that it would leave those to whom the loans were given worse off in the long run, because they were likely not only to lose their homes, but any money they put into them, and their credit rating.

The end result is: the storm has fallen with a special ferocity on black and Latino homeowners, the analysis shows. Defaults occur three times as often in mostly minority census tracts as in mostly white ones. Eighty-five percent of the worst-hit neighborhoods — where the default rate is at least double the regional average — have a majority of black and Latino homeowners.

The New York Times article suggests that the problems and foreclosures are the fault of the banks. But note that key phrase: where the default rate is at least double the regional average.

The NYT goes on to say:

This holds a special poignancy. Just four or five years ago, black homeownership was rising sharply, after decades in which discriminatory lending and zoning practices discouraged many blacks from buying. Now, as damage ripples outward, black families in foreclosure lose savings and credit, neighbors see the value of their homes decline, and renters are evicted. ..

“There’s a huge worry that this will exacerbate historic disparities between the wealth of black and white families,” said Ingrid Ellen, co-director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University.

Well, duh, yes. And the answer is, don’t force banks to give loans to people who can’t afford them.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I hoped to do some serious thinking about torture, semantics and public policy over the weekend, and to something ready to post last Monday. That didn’t happen. I ended up working over most of the last two weekends, and on Mondays – my normal day off. But things have been percolating away, and I feel as if I am starting to get to the point where I have done enough research and thinking to begin to have an opinion.

For the past few years some Australian academics have been using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the removal of part aboriginal children into schools or home-based care. It has been claimed there was a policy of the forced removal of such children, even from caring homes or communities, simply because they were part aboriginal.

However, no such policy ever existed in any Australian jurisdiction. Not one one law ever prescribed such action, nor did any official guideline ever suggest it. No court, despite their sympathies for the cause, has ever found a single case in which this occurred.

All the evidence is that children of any racial background were only removed from their families because their parents either gave them up into to care, or because the children were being neglected or abused.

You can find more about this at Keith Windschuttle’s The Sydney Line.  Or for a brief introduction, I posted an article on this earlier this year called ‘Empty Apologies.’

Even if part indigenous children had been routinely removed into care to give them access to medical care and education, and so that they could be integrated into wider society, it is hard to see how this qualifies as ‘genocide’ in any sense even remotely related to how the word is normally understood.

The force of the word comes from the fact that what it describes – the deliberate murder or attempted murder of a whole race of people – is so horrendous that any normal person is shocked and appalled by it.

But taking children into care, even if the reasons for doing so were misguided (and they were not), is not genocide. The word genocide was used, not because it described what had happened – it did not – but to give those who used it a political advantage over the men and women who had taken those children into care, and those who suppported them, or even who refused to condemn them.

Something similar is happening with the use of the word ‘torture.’

Some people whose opinions I greatly respect (Zippy Catholic, for example) have suggested that ‘Any legitimate public discussion of torture definitions by faithful Catholics ought to acknowledge, as prerequisite to even discussing the matter, that waterboarding KSM was immoral torture.’

To say that begs the question is an understatement.

Before deciding whether some particular action was torture, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes torture.

Mark Shea points out that the Church defines torture as:  ‘Violation of human dignity in the form of  intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to  use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end against that person’s will.’

But this is simply not an adequate definition of torture.

Using a person as a means to an end in a way which causes them harm is wrong in almost all circumstances, but it is not necessarily torture. If it is, then I have been tortured a number of times, including by some former bishops.

The Compact Oxford Dictionary says torture is the ‘infliction of severe pain as a punishment or a forcible means of persuasion.’ That’s closer – torture involves not just harm but pain.

But the Oxford definition is not entirely adequate either. People torture kittens, and other people, just for fun. And the church is right about torture involving a refusal to recognise the other person as a person, as an end and not just a means.

What people mean they use the word torture is this: Serious physical or mental pain, deliberately inflicted, with disregard for the victim’s needs or rights.

If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times, this might very well constitute torture. A drop of water on the head, repeated incessantly, can cause severe mental pain. But KSM was not waterboarded 183 times. That is the total number of times water was poured. Most of those pours of water lasted less than ten seconds.

I have no doubt that he was uncomfortable, as were Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

But there is nothing in the memos to suggest even remotely that anyone ever, at any time, inflicted serious pain on any of those three detainees. They were never in danger of harm, and they knew they were never in danger of harm.

Instructions to operatives included notes that no technique should be used which would delay healing of any pre-existing wounds or injuries, and that if it appeared physical or psychological harm was being done by a particluar technique, that technique should no longer be used, or the interrogation stopped altogther.

Detainees at Guantanamo were and are provided with high quality food, medical and dental care. Their religious traditions are respected. There is no evidence of any disregard for their needs or rights.

All of the techniques were used at Guantanamo were techniques used on US military personnel in the course of their training.

Some of those techniques are harsh. People are entitled to question whether they were approriate or effective when used on detainees.

But to call them torture is misinformed, stupid, or politically motivated and dishonest.

I hope this is not true.

The Times of India reports newly re-elected Prime Minister Singh has warned the US that Pakistan is already lost, and that some nuclear sites in the North West of Pakistan are in the hands of the Taliban.

Pakistan President Zardari says Taliban sympathisers have been removed from the army, that both army and government believe the Taliban are a national threat, and that Pakistan will press on into Taliban strongholds until they are no longer a threat.

All good. But he also acknowledges that the situation is politically difficult, and that an extended conflict or high civilian casualties could cause a mutiny.

Zardari is pressing for more aid to take care of refugees and rebuild after the conflict, and says if he doesn’t get it, much of the North West will turn against the government.

“This is not just Pakistan’s problem,” he said. “It’s the world’s problem. It’s no good everyone being in denial. If we don’t defeat the militants, where will they go next?”

Well, one industry.

Rachel Love, general manager of the Pentagon Grand brothel in Queensland says things are looking up in the sex trade.

“Around Christmas time with the first government injection we got, our figures went sky-high… and then in the last few weeks the numbers have just gone up and up,” Ms Love said. She said her establishment had recorded a 27 per cent increase in takings since the latest stimulus package started to filter into Australians’ bank accounts.

Bliss and AABS180 brothels also reported substantial increases in takings over the stimulus period.

“A lot of people have been coming in and saying `this one’s on Kevin.'”

I am so happy to see my tax dollars at work for the good of the community.

Hard to believe but true.

‘Israel should be wiped off the map, the holocaust never happened’  president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University on September 24, 2007.

This was an example of the free exchange of ideas, of the liberal championing of the value of free speech.

The day before he departed for America, Ahmadinejad re-emphasized the two most heartfelt ideas to which he and his regime are dedicated–“Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” emblazoned on signs in a military parade over which he presided.

But you know, diversity, free speech and everything.

Yet more than once, planned speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, one of the US’ closest allies, have been cancelled because of violent demonstations by ‘peace loving’ liberals.

Netanyahu will meet with Barack Obama tomorrow (the 18th).

According to The Telegraph, Obama will use that meeting to tell Netanyahu that from now on Israel must earn its privileged relationship with America.

The arrogance! Perhaps Netanyahu will get a chance to tell Obama that from now on the US must earn its privileged relationship with Israel.

The present US administration has already allowed millions in aid to flow to Palestinian groups run by or with links to terrorist organisations. Leon Panetta recently told Israel that a nuclear armed Iran would not be much of a worry.

Yes, well, see comments above from Mr Imanutjob.

Israel may very well begin to feel that it is on its own when it comes to defending its borders and people.

So may its enemies. And it is hard to hold bullies back if they think they can threaten with impunity.

Obama’s distancing the US from Israel is the last thing that is likely to lead to peace.

Also in the Times, Gail Collins weighed in on the already-tired yokelism of the new commander in chief. “What we’re getting is Wasilla chic. That’s what we’re getting. She arrives in the Oval Office, and first thing sends back Blair’s gift of the Churchill bust as if it’s a once-worn Penney’s outfit. Then she gives the Brits some unwatchable DVDs as a booby prize…

“Pretty crude, pretty petty,” Sally Quinn sighed in the Washington Post. “No manners at all. Does our new mom in chief think it’s neat to laugh when her court jester at the correspondents’ dinner calls Michael Moore a traitor and a terrorist — and hopes he dies of kidney failure? Is that funny? Ask those on dialysis.

More harsh words on Palin’s first 100 days as president at National Review.

Paul Kelly makes some typically clear and concise remarks about the budget, and the options now open to both Labor and Liberal leaders.

Budget details often obscure the bigger picture, but Australia is heading into a serious downturn followed by a grim recovery. Swan’s budget shows a $77 billion turnaround for next year leading to a $58 billion deficit and projects government debt to peak at $188 billion by 2012-13 compared with the $96 billion debt that John Howard inherited in 1996 and took a decade to eliminate. ..

Malcolm Turnbull sounded effective when he put the brand of “higher debt, higher unemployment and higher deficits” on Labor, and asked: “How many years, how many decades will it take us to pay off hundreds of billions of dollars of Rudd Labor debt?”

But Kelly loses the plot completely when it comes to how he believes the Liberals should respond to Rudd’s beyond crazy Emission Trading Scheme and other climate control measures.

The Liberals need to retreat from their madness in threatening to block the carbon emission scheme bills, a manifest act of political suicide. This will become the decisive test of Turnbull’s leadership; he must carry the party on this path towards responsibility based on a recognition that the true interests of the Liberal Party are a full-term parliament with an election on the economy at the end.

Kelly’s concern is that blocking the ETS scheme could be used to justify a double dissolution. This would mean an early election, one Kelly believes the Liberals could not win, in part because Labor would then paint them as a bunch of ignorant climate change sceptics.

If the Liberals were able to block the ETS, Labor might indeed use this as an excuse for a double dissolution. They would certainly then paint the Liberals as a bunch of ignorant climate sceptics.

But blocking the ETS is the right thing to do. The scheme has no basis in science.

It tries to stop human induced global warming. Global warming stopped ten years ago. There was never any evidence whatever that the modest rise in average temperature of less than one degree over the last 100 years was any other than entirely natural.

The ETS tries to stop this imaginary bogeyman at an appalling cost to industry and energy production, and consequently to the well-being of every Australian.

Kelly is right about this: it is a decisive test of Turnbull’s leadership. Will he do what is right, and do everything he can to stop the most damaging legislation ever introduced into Australian parliament?  Or will he take the easy way, and go with the flow?

I fear it could be the latter. But if Turnbull does take a stand on this, I doubt very much it will be the political suicide Kelly suggests. More and more well known scientists are publicly saying they believe global warming is junk science, and more and more of the public agree with them.

Give voters real information about the fraud of global warming ‘science,’ and the costs of the ETS and other nonsensical schemes, and this could be one time when doing the right thing is rewarded at the ballot box.

Oh sorry. That should read, Pelosi lied, some very nasty people were made a bit uncomfortable, and even scared with caterpillars.

An interesting result in a Washington Post online poll: Do you believe the CIA lied to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the use of controversial interrogation techniques?

So far 91% of voters say no, the CIA did not lie to Nancy Pelosi. That is, 91% of people believe Nancy Pelosi is lying to congress and the american people.

Dennis Prager has some questions for the left about their stand on torture /discomfort /caterpillars.

There has been some criticism of his first question – If you are morally committed to stamping out torture everywhere, how much consideration did you give to Saddam Hussein’s extensive use of torture when you objected to the US’s removing him from office? – on the basis that use of torture was not among the reasons given at the time for the war in Iraq.

It is true that the brutal torture and mutilation of large numbers of his own people was not among the reasons originally given for Saddam’ removal from office. But once the horror of Saddam’s torturous regime became known, on what basis could anyone who cares about human rights continue to oppose his removal?

The Foundation For The Defense Of Democracies has four videos of Saddam era torture. They are vile, horrifying. Not to be viewed at work, or anywhere children can see them. They are graphic and distressing. In order, they show:

1. Beatings
2. Limbs being broken or amputated

3. Executions – including young men being blown up, and beheadings
4. The mass murder of the Kurds

The files are quite large, so I suggest you right click and download before viewing. 

One of my concerns about the use of the word ‘torture’ for the interrogation techniques used in the US is that using the word in that way stretches its meaning so much that it almost ceases to have any meaning at all.

About the methods used by Saddam Hussein there is no doubt whatever.

I am not suggesting that because our opponents use methods that are vile and immoral, that justifies our doing so – even if we think our methods are less vile and immoral than theirs.

We must do what is right. And we must insist our governments do what is right.

The question in relation to waterboarding and other methods used by the CIA is not ‘Were they justified?’ but ‘Were they right?’

A woman invites a group of footballers back to her room.  According to Matthew Johns “She encouraged the players to come forward, she actually says ‘Someone come forward and have sex with me.’ One player said he would, she said ‘No, no, anyone but you,’ and pointed to me, at which point I declined.”

During an interview on the ABC’s Four Corners, the woman said she had felt under pressure, and that the experience left her feeling degraded and suicidal.

But workmate Tanya Boyd has told Channel Nine tonight that the woman openly boasted about the incident with fellow employees. “I was disgusted that a woman can all of a sudden change her story from having a great time to turning it into a terrible crime,” she said.

Matthew Johns’ career is ruined, and an embarrassing moment of weakness and stupidity is public knowlegde. Johns has apologised to the woman. A rape counsellor says his apology is not good enough.

I am not sure he should have apologised at all. He had sex with the woman at her invitation.

She then invited other players to have sex with her. For them to do so was stupid, and unfair to their wives and girlfriends.

In as far as the word has any meaning any more, what they did was immoral.

So was what she did.

I am not surprised that after a few days and some reflection the woman felt ashamed of what she had done, and regretted her decision. But it was as much her decision as it was that of the footballers who accepted her invitation.

It is hard to have any respect either for her or for the footballers. But I would have a great deal more if she had accepted that even if she now regretted her choice to act the way she did,  it was nonetheless her choice.

The woman was an adult. Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your own decisions. Matthew Johns seems to have done that. She does not.

It is not respectful of women to treat them as children who are incapable of making reasoned choices, who have to be mollycoddled, and others blamed, when they make choices they later regret.

He certainly looked nervous, confused and sweaty. As if he thought that pesky rabbit might pop up any minute.

As Wayne Swan was telling the Australian Parliament, and the Australian people, that the $59 billion deficit, and the $300 billion borrowing debt that the government intended, was a “temporary stimulus measure”…  there was Elmer Fudd, in the bath, pulling out the plug. The bath water (the nation’s treasure), was gurgling down the plug-hole, and all Elmer could say was that it was “only temporary” and the bath would be full again by 2015.

Except that Elmer Swan didn’t say either ‘deficit’ or ‘billion,’ those words being too scary for the general populace. And by golly, we should be scared:

Australians will be paying nearly $9 billion per year in interest alone to service this, more than is spent on housing and infrastructure combined. Even at this rate, every man, woman and child will be burdened with a debt of more than $9000 until the borrowings are paid off by (perhaps) our grandchildren.

In many rich countries electricity use by appliances which had previously accounted for most usage – white goods such as refrigerators and clothes washers – is falling.

But the growth in use of electronic devices such as iPods, games consoles, TVs and computers has more than offset those falls.

Keep those iPods blasting, I say. Keep that CO2 pumping.  Cover the Arctic with soot.

No, seriously.

For 90% of the last million years, the Earth has been in an ice age. The last ice age started instantaneously about 114,000 years ago, and lasted till about 12,000 years ago. We are due for another one. Now.

Politicians are falling over themselves trying to stop a minor and natural warming, which has stopped anyway and amounted to less than one degree over the last century.

If they had any regard for science and history, they would be preparing us for inevitable, and far more dire for health and production, catastrophic cooling.

OK, she put them on her MySpace page so her boyfriend could see them. Anyone else who was a MySpace ‘friend’ could also see them.

She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. But child pornography charges?

Given she’s 14 years old, the photos were of herself, and the serious consequences such charges could have for the rest of her life, you’d have to say the police were either malicious, or a sausage short of a hot dog themselves.

Well, no.

I don’t think he’s a closet muslim either. Nor is he the messiah, although perhaps he’d like to be:

Obama The Messiah

Obama The Messiah

He is certainly a socialist. He has some very unpleasant friends. He has little understanding of Christian doctrine and morality. He is charismatic and convincing. But he is not the anti-christ.

Of course, some people have a different view.  Warning! Wackiness ahead.

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