Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category
Know-it-all Sir Bob Geldof is the former front man of the Boomtown Rats, a one hit wonder band from the seventies, and therefore qualifies (in his eyes) as an expert on foreign policy and development. Well, Leonardo De Crapio thinks he’s an expert on the science of global warming, so why not?
Two years ago Sir Bob called Australia ‘one of the meanest countries on the planet’ saying our level of foreign aid was amongst the lowest in the world, as a proportion of GDP.
That would be a moral issue worthy of consideration if there was any evidence that foreign aid, other than emergency aid, did the slightest bit of genuine good. If it could be shown, say, that countries which received development aid actually developed more than those that didn’t.
But as Fredrik Erixon, chief economist with Timbro, a Swedish think tank and book publisher, has shown, development aid to developing nations does not work. The more aid a country receives, the more likely it is to be locked into a cycle of increasing poverty. The graph below (taken from the BBC article linked above) shows that when aid received is high, economic growth is at its lowest.
Kenyan economist James Shikawati explains why this is so in an interview with Der Spiegel. In essence, providing free food and clothes undermines any local industry, and encourages corruption and a passive expectation of rescue, which then leads to increasing resentment.
SPEIGEL: The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.
Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
What works to bring nations out of poverty, as South Korea and Taiwan have demonstrated, is open trade, democratic government, and reward for effort and invention.
For related insights see Hal G.P. Colebatch’s article ‘Giving It Away’ in this month’s Quadrant magazine.
And it has never happened before. But hey, you know, anything’s possible. So just be scared, OK?
A ‘top flu expert’ is warning of the dangers of a mutant swine/bird flu – one that is as infectious as swine flu (that is, about as infectious as any other flu) and as deadly as bird flu.
Bird flu is pretty deadly – mortality rates of up to 60% in the elderly or those in poor health. But only those already in poor health or with compromised immune systems seem susceptible. And there has never been a recorded case of human to human transmission of bird flu.
But who knows, swine flu and bird flu could get together and end up being a super flu with the worst characteristics of both. It is possible. Just. Viruses change and develop all the time.
But is it so likely that we should be worried about it and spend lots of money on it? Definitely not. Especially not when the death toll from TB and Malaria are so high, and we could quite easily do something about those right now.
After all, leprosy and TB could get together, or bubonic plague and tooth decay. But we aren’t panicking about them. Yet.
By Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
My wife was stimulated at the same time.
Then we got a letter from the Tax Office telling us we had been stimulated, just in case we hadn’t noticed.
Most Australians will get a one-off stimulus ‘tax bonus’ of $900 from the Federal government.
I just don’t get it. How is it stimulating the economy to take money away from people who are earning it, working for it, producing something to get it, and handing it out willy-nilly to everyone?
It’s not free money, Mr Rudd.
I have been offering a stimulus special – a decent computer package for $900, with a tie-in to the education tax refund.
It has been going pretty well. But not as well, I suspect, as the ‘Let Us Stimulate You’ deal offered by the After Dark brothel in Sydney.
If experience is anything to go by, it will be liquor stores, brothels and gambling houses that benefit most.
But even if it wasn’t, you cannot spend your way out of debt. You don’t create jobs and increase production by taking extra money from productive people to give to people who are not. And you certainly don’t create any incentive to work, or to be responsible.
Ordered and on the way:
I read Ian Plimer’s Telling Lies for God: Reason vs Creationism some years ago. I found his writing style difficult, but the content was superb – clear and well-organised.
Plimer explained very clearly why creationism is a betrayal of science. In ‘Heaven and Earth’ he does the same thing for global warming alarmism.
‘Heaven and Earth’ has already sold some 25,000 copies, making it (for a book published in Australia) a three times over best-seller.
A longish article with lots of quotes from poeple saying the Swine Flu alarms were a perfect example of authorities crying wolf.
Many blame such alarms and the breathless media coverage for creating an overreaction that disrupted many people’s lives.
Coming from the breathless to the point of asphyxiation MSNBC that’s… interesting.
The so-far mild swine flu outbreak has many people saying all the talk about a devastating global epidemic was just fearmongering hype. But that’s not how public health officials see it, calling complacency the thing that keeps them up at night.
Yes but when you are constantly screeching about dangers that don’t materialise, why would you expect people to be anything other than complacent?
I don’t know that there has ever been a successful online petition.
But what is at stake is the destruction of major industries, and massive damage to an already struggling economy. So I’ll take any chance I get to say no to an emissions trading scheme which will achieve absolutely nothing.
Some of the stories coming out of the Taliban occupied parts of Nothern Pakistan are shocking:
When Taliban fighters first entered Karim’s village last month, he recounted, they said they had come to bring peace and Islamic law, or sharia, to Swat. But the next day, two of the fighters dragged a policeman out of his truck and tried to slit his throat. Horrified, a crowd rushed over, shouting and trying to shield the officer. The fighters let him go, but the incident confirmed the villagers’ worst suspicions.
“We all said to each other, what sort of people have come here? And what kind of sharia is this? Cutting off people’s heads has nothing to do with Islam,” recounted Karim, 55, a bus driver. “The people were filled with great rage, and great fear.”
As the refugees begin streaming out of Swat and the neighboring Buner district in northwest Pakistan, they carry with them memories of the indignities and horrors inflicted by occupying Taliban forces — locking women inside their homes, setting donkeys on fire — as they tried to force residents to accept a radical version of Islam.
Lectures from the West about the dangers of islamic extremism, and the horrors the Taliban were likely to inflict, had not been believed, and were only causing further resentment of the US and its allies. Orders to the government of Pakistan were even worse.
Tragic as it has been, the people of Pakistan needed to see for themselves just how vile and violent the Taliban are.
Resistance to incursions by islamic extremists will only be successful if it comes from, or is at least supported by, local people. That resistance is off to a powerful start.
If powers outside Pakistan attempt to force the Taliban out, the result will be chaos – and deeper anger and mistrust towards the West.
Up to 221 new species of amphibian have been discovered after a survey of Madagascan forests. Some interesting photos at that link to National Geographic.
The work suggests that tropical amphibian diversity has been underestimated at an “unprecedented level” worldwide, the study authors write in the May 4 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It is pretty clear we have no idea how many species there are. Lots more than we thought a few years ago. Somewhere between 2 million and 100 million. Maybe.
But if we have no idea how many species there are, how come scientists are falling over themselves predicting the sixth great extinction event?
They are able to point to very few species they know for certain have become extinct recently. The rates of extinction actually observed seem to be about the same as they have been for the last couple of thousand years.
But the threat of mass extinction ‘is not overestimated,’ says Bob Scholes, an ecologist at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. ‘There is much uncertainty about how many species will be lost, and where and when, but it is clear that the world is entering a period of species loss that is dramatic and unprecedented in human history.’
OK. So we have no idea how many species there are, we have no idea how many extinctions have actually occurred, we have no idea how many species are facing extinction or where or when.
But whatever is happening it’s bad and it’s our fault.
Ecologists say the world needs an equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change so the global scientific community can inform policymakers about the implications on biodiversity loss and actions that can be taken to limit it. They note that biodiversity loss is more complex than issues such as the ozone hole or climate change, and that existing bodies such as the CBD (the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) lack the means to mobilise scientific expertise across a broad range of disciplines.
Oh right. Well that may not save any species, but it will certainly provide some ecologists with ample job security.
Over a month ago I wrote about Defence Minister Fitzgibbons’s relationship with Chinese/Australian business woman Helen Liu:
Fitzgibbon may genuinely have forgotten how well he knows Ms Liu, his visits to China with her, the functions he attended with her, and the gifts he has received from her. In that case he is an idiot and cannot be trusted with the Australia’s defences.
Or he lied about them. In that case, he thought he had something to hide. If he thought he had something to hide, he probably did.
When Ms Liu re-appeared in Sydney in the early 1990s, she suddenly had access to large sums of money, began amassing a multimillion-dollar property portfolio and started courting Australian political figures.
In 1993 she paid for Mr Fitzgibbon and his father, the federal Labor MP Eric Fitzgibbon, to travel first class to China to attend the opening of a hotel development. Mr Fitzgibbon was not an MP at the time but was expected to succeed his father as the federal member for Hunter in NSW.
Ms Liu has strong ties with senior Chinese Communist Party figures and has enjoyed considerable support from the Chinese Government-controlled Bank of China. Between 1995 and 2007, her companies donated $40,000 to Mr Fitzgibbon’s election campaign funds and another $50,000 to the NSW ALP.
All of that is of interest. Mr Fitzgibbon has either lied about or has genuinely forgotten about the nature of his relationship with Ms Liu. Regardless of the findings of the enquiry, in other words, regardless of whether Ms Liu really is a spy or not, Joel Fitzgibbon is not a suitable person to be responsible for Australia’s defences.
“There were limits to what we could do and we didn’t get all of the story, but what has come out later about Fitzgibbon’s failure to declare trips to China only strengthened the concerns,” the official said. “There are big questions about just why the minister has been so obligated to Helen Liu and what the full extent of their relationship has been.”
But what is really of interest in the SMH story is that the enquiry, which is obviously necessary, is not in any sense official. Even though concerns were raised about Fitzgibbon’s relationship with Liu, departmental hierachy did nothing. The enquiry is being conducted ‘underneath the radar’ by concerned Defence Department staff.
But now those staff are being ferretted out and subjected to an inquiry:
The Defence Department has confirmed that the inquiry by the Defence Security Authority into the covert probe into Mr Fitzgibbon is “still under way” and that a report will be finalised soon for submission to Mr Fitzgibbon. A month ago, the Defence Secretary, Nick Warner, confirmed that more than 200 defence officials had been interviewed and that 850 had signed statutory declarations denying any involvement in investigations into Mr Fitzgibbon’s personal affairs.
Senior Defence Department staff did nothing when faced with serious allegations about the relationship between the Defence Minister and Ms Liu, and the strong possibility this could be a national security issue of grave concern. And now they are conducting a witch hunt into the people who were responsible enough to take that matter seriously.
The media should be all over this. It’s the kind of story that might make people think about buying a newspaper.
And doesn’t the Government have some sort of policy about protecting whistle-blowers?
The Kangaroo Island Council has decided it will take responsiblity for local management of a government subsidised scheme to install solar panels on the roofs of homes.
Even with proposed government subsidies, the installation of solar panels will not be a cost-effective option for most householders.
It is easy to be wowed by power production figures which talk vaguely about ‘up to 5kw per day.’
The ‘up to’ is the problem. Rather than being swayed by marketing material which talks about potential, it is better to consider real world results in Australian situations.
Experience in Queensland suggests a six panel solar system will generate an average of not five, but two kilowatts per day.
Let’s do some maths. And let’s be generous, since we all know that Kangaroo Island is sunnier than Queensland (not), and say the actual average power production will be 2.5kw.
If you now pay 25c per kw for electricity, this means the power your solar panels generate will save you 50c per day. This adds up to $182.50 per year.
At that rate it will take nearly fifteen years to repay the $2650 cost of installation.
But that doesn’t take into account the cost of that money in interest lost if the money had been invested, or paid if the money was borrowed.
For example, at the moment Australian personal loan rates vary from about 12% to about 15%. Let’s say that you are able access a discount loan at a 10% rate to buy your solar panels. You would be paying $265 a year in interest (not counting any other fees).
This means that, far from saving money and paying for itself over time, your solar installation would cost you $265 -$185 = $80 per year more than you are paying now.
In a study completed in 2008, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that in most circumstances it would take over 100 years of undiminished supply from domestic solar panels to repay the cost of installation.
For example, even with hyper-inflated prices paid by the government for power fed back into the grid, some Queensland families have calculated they are saving about $13 per month on an investment of close to $30,000. This means the repayment time, not including any interest/finance cost, is over 300 years.
The life of a solar panel installation is about 25 years.
Some people, of course, may be willing to pay extra for their power in the belief that they are doing something to help the environment.
But even this is questionable. A NSW government study found that solar panels were amongst the least efficient methods of reducing power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The cost of CO2 abated through the use of domestic solar panels is approximately $400 per ton. This compares with the current international trade price of $26 per ton abated.
Most home owners will save more money and do more for the environment by simply ensuring their homes are adequately insulated, and that they turn off lights and appliances when not in use.
John McLean has some interesting comments on the politics of climate change in an article in yesterday’s Australian.
THE notion that human activity has an alarming influence on climate is based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and spurious claims about a scientific consensus.
Independent scientists who question these claims are accused of being in the pay of the energy industry and of believing that the notion of man-made climate change is a conspiracy.
To the best of my knowledge, no climate conspiracy has ever existed. But another force has driven science into its present parlous state where the output of computer software is held in higher regard than observational data, where marketing spin is more important than fact and evidence, and where a trenchant defence of the notion of man-made global warming is seen as paramount.
The key phrase is this: the output of computer software is held in higher regard than observational data.
I know I have said this dozens of times before, but what is actually happening in the world does not even remotely bear out the predictions of the climate alarmists. There has been no increase in the rate of sea level rise, there is no correlation between human activity and global climate change, and the world is not getting warmer.
The only thing that says otherwise is already thoroughly discredited computer models. Thoroughly discredited because they cannot predict past climate change from earlier data, and have failed to yield any predictions about current climate that matches real world observations.
Sri Lanka’s now virtually complete victory over the Tamil Tigers has been all but ignored in the western media.
But it may very well have been a motivating factor in the March 3 shooting attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at Lahore.
Links between islamic extremism and the Tamil Tigers have been ably explored by Melanie Phillips.
While there are victories against terrorism in the Philippines and in Sri Lanka, Pakistan is looking increasingly, and worryingly, insecure.
Pakistan armed forced have been pushing back Taliban fighters in the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Dir and the Swat Valley.
But there is deep distrust of the West amongst ordinary Pakistanis. In his column in yesterday’s UK Times, Anatol Lieven noted that there was such strong support for the Taliban in Northern Pakistan that to remove them entirely would require a level of repression of local people that would be politically impossible.
It is not that the majority of Pakistanis like the Taliban – how could they, given the brutality with which Sharia has been implemented in the North West? Nor is it that they accept the Taliban view of the nature of Islam, although radicalism is far more prevalent than we might like to believe.
It is rather that suspicion if not outright hatred of the West outweighs any fear of the Taliban, who, even if mistaken, are seen as belonging, as part of the Islamic fellowship.
This suspicion of the West manifests in (to us) outrightly irrational views about world events. For example, the following text appeared in Monday’s edition of the Pakistan Daily, in an article titled Israeli Terrorism=US Invasion of Pakistan:
Recent tragedies, both in India and Pakistan (Mumbai carnage, Islamabad Marriot bombing, attack on Sri Lankan Cricket Team and Police training centre in Lahore) – bore all the hallmarks of Mossad ‘false flag’ operations being blamed on Pakistan and Islamist groups.
There is widespread belief that the 9/11 attacks were a joint US/Israeli operation to justify military actions in Muslim lands.
Today’s Pakistan Daily front page story is: Is the United States Preparing For War in Pakistan To Kill More Muslims, Central Asia, OIL?
Regular headlines like this: US Afghan Strikes Kill Dozens, Including Women and Children, add to the anger and suspicion.
In these circumstances, when ordinary Pakistanis believe the US, not the Taliban, is causing chaos in Pakistan, it is unwise in the extreme for the US to be issuing orders to the Pakistan government.
Doing so is harmful to the point of being dangerous, because it reduces the government’s credibility with its own people, and consequently its ability to deal with the Taliban insurgents without further enraging the populace.
The West needs to keep its collective mouth shut and let the largely sensible Pakistan government handle this crisis itself.
Until, and pray this does not happen, the Taliban gain so much ground and power that it is clear they will take control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
This is hardly a news flash – it happened a week ago. But I had seen nothing about this in the mainstream media, and only heard of it this morning from Uppity Woman.
A fuller version of the story can be found on the (US) ABC website.
As senators, both President Obama and Vice President Biden co-sponsored the Community Choice Act. During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama said the “legislation is vitally important to the independence, community integration, and equality of hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities,” that it will help to empower them “to take full advantage of their talents” and “ensure that everyone can live independently as full citizens in their communities.”
At the moment, disabled people can only use Federal social security funds to access nursing home care. The Community Choice Act would have amended the Social Security Act so that disabled people can use those funds to support them to live at home. More dignity for them, better for their local communities, and less expense for the taxpayer.
But now that he is in office, this does not seem to be such a high priority for Obama as it was when he was campaigning.
A group of Somali pirates attacked a French war ship near the Seychelles.
The captain of the frigate Nivose, Lieutenant Commander Jean-Marc le Quilliec, sent out commandos in small boats, with a helicopter for air support. Within minutes the pirates had surrendered.
Lieutenant Commander le Quilliec apologised profusely, explaining that contrary to French naval regulations, the frigate had been sailing without a supply of white flags.
Malcolm Turnbull is too weak to back the government’s proposed emissions trading legislation, according to hot air minister Penny Wong.
Wrong. Malcolm Turnbull has yet to be convinced that global warming theory is bankrupt. But he is showing some sense at last.
The government has been saying that the scheme must be implemented immediately, right now, this minute, because any delay would see the whole planet going to hell in a handbasket.
The Prime Minister, for example, said at the National Press Club, ‘To delay any longer would be reckless and irresponsible for our economy and for our environment.’
But it turns out it is not so urgent after all. The proposed scheme will not come into effect until 2011.
But the government still wants to ram the legislation through parliament in the next few weeks. Malcolm Turnbull is quite rightly asking why.
Someone (Chesterton?) once said that there are many ways to get something wrong, but there may be only one way to get something right.
When new laws have the potential to cripple key industries and seriously undermine an already damaged economy, and don’t come into effect for two years anyway, why not take some extra time to get them right?
By 2011, it will surely be clear (though this may be wishful thinking) even to the dimmest star in our political fiirmament, that global warming is just another in a long line of baseless and expensive scares.
And of course, some real opposition from the Opposition, instead of just ‘Yes but,’ would be nice.