Archive for February, 2012

18 Months of Clear Air

Right, so we have a new Prime Minister and a government, and approximately 18 months to a new election. I am pretty crappy at making predictions about politics (just ask my buddy BF) but I am going to go ahead and make some more predictions, more as a way of saying what I hope will happen than what will happen, to avoid the alternative of an Abbott led government in a couple years. The only upside to that would be that it would likely start getting regular coverage by Bryan Lambert (who rocks by the way).

OK, so first things first, all the Ministers that supported Rudd in the spill have to go to the back bench until after the next election. Unless that happens, their will be no good way to ensure leaks, backgrounding and undermining of the government do not occur as they did since Gillard took the job from Rudd. He is as treacherous as they come, based on the revelations of the past 5 days, and anyone who supported him can’t remain in the Cabinet, or we risk Rudd getting ahold of too much information at the wrong time and using it to his own good, but not the Labor Party’s.

Next, Gillard and the rest of her team need to stop making stupid mistakes. Enough legislation has been passed through this hung parliament for a whole term in government, so just consolidate on your actual achievements and quit trying to come up with new things to try out (especially if they are as quickly and poorly thought up as the Malaysian solution). Focus on real preparations for the introduction of the carbon tax on the basis that it isn’t going to be a big loser after July 1. Focus on getting some gain out of the resources rent tax, and prepare to take the next step in making sure that all of Australia gains from the mining boom, and for fuck sake, keep your eye very closely on the NBN rollout. These are important long term policies that will make a real difference in the country if the government follows through on them well.

And don’t tell any more lies. I don’t mean the non-real lies about the carbon tax. We are smart enough to know that you meant you wouldn’t introduce it if Labor won the election in its own right. We mean don’t tell lies like the one to Andrew Wilke about bringing the pokie pre-commitment legislation to the floor to get him to hel you form government and then not do it. We know it wasn’t going to win, but you owed him a conscience vote and it was the right thing to do. Hell, with a bit of organising behind it, I reckon a conscience vote on pre-commitment might have even had a chance. And don’t lie about shit you know we will find out about anyway. We know you weren’t shocked to become leader, and we know it took a bit of preparation, so don’t lie to us about canvassing polling data beforehand. Just tell the truth. All you folks at the top of politics want the top job, we know that. And those of us in the know also actually love the system we have, where a sitting prime minister can lose his/her job if they can’t maintain the support of their caucus due to backing out of policy promises {CPRS, cough cough} or being crappy at running the place and consulting with the opposition more than Cabinet.

And lead. Lead on the three issues above and get them implemented in a way that brings about a win (or even a push) in the eyes of the public and you have an opportunity to win. Do more shit like taking on members of the press the way you did the other day “end of sentence”. Talk about what you want in clear, simple terms and when you have said you piece, get back to work and get runs on the board.

If you do these things, Labor a real chance of re-election, despite what the pundits have been saying for more than a year. Several governments in the recent past have had worse polling numbers 18 months out from an election. Tony Abbott and his team have virtually no program to speak of, except for the “NO” program. Elections aren’t won on the basis of being against everything, and people vote their aspirations. And finally, things are getting better where it matters. The US economy is getting better in real terms, and that may men that their Federal Reserve will back off all quantitative easing or perhaps even raise their interest rates after another year of real growth. If China is also able to keep things together and its housing bubble doesn’t burst in the next year, our export industries will continue to do well, and our exchange rates will start to drop vs. the US$. As these things happen, things will be looking a lot better electorally in Australia for a government that can demonstrate that it is getting the job done for the majority.

Measures of devotion

An update on my post from Monday. Today we find out that Peter H. Gleick, founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security is the person that duped the Heartland Institute into releasing a number of its confidential documents regarding its funding and plans to attempt to refute the science of climate change and counter or attack those that believe in the scientific method and the weight of evidence in favour of the arguments regarding anthropogenic climate change.

The links to the above go to the Boards of the two organisations above so that readers can do their own research where it matters, at the top of the organisations. I encourage interested parties to also look further into the funding of both, as that information is as illuminating of the agendas of the two groups as anything published on their websites.

Based on his admission, Peter Gleick will now almost certainly face the full force of the best law money can buy from his adversaries, and the truth is that he should. He obtained the confidential information he released through deception, as he has admitted in his statement published by the Huffington Post. If that is a criminal act, or breaks a civil code, he should be tried, convicted and sentenced appropriately. However, that will not diminish the substance of what he collected, as was covered in my previous post.

In the progress of whatever trial ensues, we will find out for sure which of the documents are real and which are fake, as Heritage has claimed both. But you can’t have it both ways, either the documents are genuine and therefore the alleged theft substantive, or they are fake and there is essentially no case to answer.

Perhaps Peter Gleick wants it that way so that his legal journey is well publicised. If that is the case, it will be a demonstration of one of the only real ways to counter the climate deniers. Because the truth is that the climate deniers are funded by phenomenally rich arseholes and corporations they control, and the likes of the Pacific Institue and DeSmogBlog are funded on a pittance in comparison. The only thing the latter have to provide a balance to the war chest of the evil are the scientific facts being on their side and their devotion to the scientific method. I hope that the measure of devotion that Peter Gleick is demonstrating ends up being worth it to him, and worth all the money that Heritage can scrounge together to fund their side of the story to unfold.

Leaking schadenfreude

If you’d like to use the wayback machine, here is an interesting follow up to my post of 30 November 2009 regarding the fake Climategate fiasco.

In the intervening period, three separate investigations have cleared everyone at the University of East Anglia and everyone they were in contact with at other universities of the claim that, “climate scientists had tampered with data to support evidence of global warming.” Furthermore, the investigations pretty much showed exactly what I suspected was going on in my earlier post. So, no conspiracy, no lost data showing climate change isn’t real, and no illegal or unethical acts on the part of climate scientists. But there’s a kicker.

It turns out that leaking of massive amounts of documents can occur to both sides of an issue. And one of those parties (the US Heartland Institute) on the climate change denial side that was party to a number of the FOIA hassling requests to the climate scientists has just had a bunch of its internal documents leaked to the public. And they show some pretty interesting stuff such as:

• the desire to identify and fund science writers to attack Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change reports;
• fundraising and development of communications strategies to counter “warmest” science (because they always have to have a catchy name to call people – actual science would really be sufficient);
• planning to develop school curriculum material to counter an alleged “alarmist perspective” by teachers; and
• lobby against the well known “liberal-bias” to maths*

The Heartland Institute has already admitted the authenticity of the documents while saying that someone purporting to be from the Institute duped someone from there into emailing them to the requestor. See how hard it is to keep a conspiracy a secret, even when one really exists?

Now if we “cui bono” (follow the money) as I am a big fan of, we find that the largest contributors of the Heartland Institute are our friends the Koch Brothers (not pronounced cock, although I understand the confusion) and Altria (tobacco) and Reynolds American (also tobacco). Nice to see where $7.8 million a year comes from. Good thing they don’t waste much of that on information security and will email out lost of confidential stuff to anyone who claims to be a member.

Pity though, that the actual scandal over this revelation will not make even a minor ripple in the mainstream news, as opposed to the fake scandal of before. But the truth is, much of what should be the independent media is also in the pocket of the right wing authoritarians that fund climate change denial.

But for the time being, we can enjoy any little victory that comes.

* OK, I made this last one up in this context, but it’s generally something they believe.

Couldn’t give a rusty. . .

Honestly, do we have so little actually going on here in Australia that we need to dissect even more completely than was done 3 years ago how Julia Gillard took over the leadership of the Labor Party from Kevin Rudd?

I mean, sure, a sitting leader of a party currently holding government had never before been replaced. But beyond that technical first, do we really need this much examination of the event. Who gives a shit if she asked her staff to prepare an acceptance speech beforehand, or what sort of polling she used and who she presented it to? To me the whole thing smacks of a beat up by the ABC and others in the press who aren’t interested in doing more real investigative journalism on something like (say) why we would want to spend $300 MM on a fairy tale like carbon capture and storage.

The truth is, Kevin Rudd backed out of several key commitments that were part of the platform he ran on, wasting the highest approval ratings of a government in a long time, and was so tone deaf to his colleagues that he lost their support. This was obvious due to his patently obvious shock and tears at the press conference after his removal. He was replaced as party head (and therefore as Prime Minister) by another through the open and well tested practice of a spill in caucus. All the rest is fairly irrelevant at this point.

Now, if we want to talk about the failings of Julia Gillard and the current government, let’s do that. But let’s stop wasting a lot of time examining a four year old leadership spill.

And another one

From NASA today we find out:

NASA’s latest global surface temperature analysis confirms the long-term trend of the earth’s gradual warming. “Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record,” said NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) director James Hansen. 2011’s global average surface temperature was 0.51ºC warmer than in the period 1951-1980, the mid-20th century baseline GISS used. It continued the trend in which nine of the 10 warmest years occurred since 2000.

But that whole climate change thing is a bunch of bunk. Nothing to see here, move along . . .

Something unexpected

What I’d like to do today is something you would likely never expect if you are familiar with my views on things. I’d like to quote David Frum from his review of a new book called “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray:

You are a white man aged 30 without a college degree. Your grandfather returned from World War II, got a cheap mortgage courtesy of the GI bill, married his sweetheart and went to work in a factory job that paid him something like $50,000 in today’s money plus health benefits and pension. Your father started at that same factory in 1972. He was laid off in 1981, and has never had anything like as good a job ever since. He’s working now at a big-box store, making $40,000 a year, and waiting for his Medicare to kick in.

Now look at you. Yes, unemployment is high right now. But if you keep pounding the pavements, you’ll eventually find a job that pays $28,000 a year. That’s not poverty! Yet you seem to waste a lot of time playing video games, watching porn, and sleeping in. You aren’t married, and you don’t go to church. I blame Frances Fox Piven.

What David is doing here is providing the basis for an alternative reason to why white people in America would be experiencing more social ills presently, as opposed to the degradation in morality proposed by the author. David goes on to identify the ties to economics and disparity in wealth with societal social problems. I agree with him, and would go further. In my study of history, I see a lot of parallels between the US today and Victorian England. Back then Thomas Malthus tried to tie all the socials ills to the morals of people (particularly the poor). They also had a record number of people in prisons, and tried to address their social problems by toughening penalties and making more things a crime. They were facing fundamental changes to their economy through industrialisation.

But after the fact, what proved to be true then remains – most all crime has an economic basis, and the similar can be said for most social problems. Peoples morality and ethical makeup don’t change much after they reach adulthood, or thereabouts, in my experience. But when the economic conditions of someone who is basically honest get bad enough, they can at some point begin to rationalise their ethics and perhaps result in lawbreaking to get by. Certainly they will seek escape from reality and choose to make higher use of alcohol or drugs. But they rarely turn into violent criminals.

The circumstances of the record populations of the prisons in the US, support this thesis. Prisons have been swollen in the last thirty years with non-violent drug offenders and the economically underprivileged. The US does not have a morality problem, but instead a bog standard economic problem just like they had 1900 in England. It would be nice to see leaders world wide (I’m looking at you Europe) spend more time trying to address the micro and macro economic problems that affect peoples lives universally rather than trying to paint everything as a morality play.

A few predictions

Before it gets to late in the year, I want to write down a few predictions so that I can remind myself next year of what I thought. I remembered to do this today after reading a couple that I passed on verbally to friends a month ago, and are now being taken up by those such as the head of the IMF, and I want to see how I go against the experts.

• The carbon tax will end up being a non-issue, or even net positive to the Gillard government with the electorate when it comes into effect on 1 July. As my buddy JC said in October, as long as the difference to what the average taxpayer gets back in benefit is greater than their additional costs by the price of a a slab of VB or more, it will be seen as a net benefit.

• Kevin Rudd will not successfully challenge Julia Gillard to take over leadership of the Labor Party. In fact, he probably won’t even mount an actual challenge at all. Tony Abbott is as likely to face a challenge of leadership as Julia Gillard is as it comes closer to the next election and the Coalition discovers that “no” is not a policy position that excites the electorate.

• Europe is already in a recession, and when they finally do the numbers after the fact, it will be a big one. My guess is a drop in GDP in the Euro zone of 3% and a duration of 2 years. Keynesian economic theory will win out in the argument over austerity or stimulus, but the Germans (and others) who want to paint the sovereign debt issues in Europe as a morality tale will realise this way to late, or refuse to admit it at least.

• Greece will default on its sovereign debt after failing to come to an agreement with its lenders and failing to get assistance from the European Central Bank (due to the point above) and will therefore leave the euro and reintroduce its own currency so that it can devalue it in order to address its problem as an alternative to the austerity program being pushed on it (that cannot work in any case).

• The USA will escape any serious damage from the european sovereign debt crisis and have surprisingly good growth in 2012 of about 2% of GDP.

• Barack Obama will be re-elected as President in the USA over Mitt Romney. Unfortunately for Mittens, this is not going to be the year for someone in the 0.01% of the wealth category to win amongst the Occupiers or the Tea Party, and despite what they say in public, I don’t think most Americans (religious or not) are ready to elect a Mormon as president. In addition, the economy in the US is starting to get better for real people, and they will vote based on their current economic condition.

Synaptor apps will be one of the biggest internet successes of the year in Australia

Zero degrees of balance

A repeated theme I touch on here is the false equivalency that is presented in the media as a whole on issues such as climate change. In reading and listening over the past week, I have come across a couple of things that I want to use to illustrate this point again, so that readers can help identify it when it happens.

The false equivalency typically works in one of two ways, either by giving equal time or voice to both sides of an argument, regardless of the weight or validity of the two sides, or by treating both arguments as “faith”, even if one is wholly based on the scientific method and has a wealth of empirical evidence to support it, and the other is just a belief based on nothing more than a single instance anecdotal evidence. Some journalistic outlets do the false equivalency thing to appear to be fair, and others (like anything owned by Rupert Murdoch) do it as a means to obfuscate genuine debate.

The latest example of this crappy practice is at the Wall Street Journal, where they gave over their opinion page on 27 January to a letter from 16 “concerned scientists and engineers” in No Need To Panic About Global Warming. Interestingly enough, the WSJ declined to print a rebuttal on the basis that they were only supplying “the other side of the argument” and that the position of the actual Union of Concerned Scientists is already well known. The rebuttal can be found signed by 250 members of the National Academy of Science in the peer reviewed journal Science right here.

Note that I am not going to attack the 16 authors of the WSJ piece on the fact that they are working outside their area, as I feel (like climate deniers don’t) that anyone who agrees to follow the scientific method is allowed to have a view on scientific issues. What I will attack them on is a line from their piece, “cui bono” (follow the money), because thats one of my favourite games, baby. As I have said before and I will say again, anytime a right wing authoritarian accuses you of something, you can bet they have done it already. The 16 say follow the money because all these academics get their money from government grants and they need to keep those coming. Really. Well, cui bono with regard to these 16 and you will find (credit to Media Matters):

Roger Cohen and Edward David are both former employees of ExxonMobil. William Happer is the Chairman of the Board for the George C. Marshall Institute, which has received funding from Exxon. Rodney Nichols is also on the boards of the George Marshall Institute and the Manhattan Institute, which has been funded by Exxon and the Koch Foundations. Harrison Schmitt was the Chairman Emeritus of the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, which was funded by oil refiners and electric utilities in the 1990s, according to a Wall Street Journal report (via Nexis). Richard Lindzen also served on the Economic Advisory Council of the Center, was funded by ExxonMobil through the 2000s.

See, the truth is that while you may be able to scrape together 16 people to support most anything (especially if you have a shitload of cash), and some of them might even have impressive resumes, the fact remains that the vast vast vast majority of people that work in peer reviewed area of climate science agree on the specific points raised in the rebuttal:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our
atmosphere. A single cold and snowy winter in Washington or Europe does not alter this fact.
(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due
to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being
overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations
in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities
and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Now, while these points above are concerning, I note that they don’t anywhere say “panic”. They do say “do something”, which is what I and others have been advocating for years, and while their should be some urgency, given how hard it is to change inertia, that does not equate to freaking out or being irrational.

Which brings me to the other form of equivalency that really pisses me off: when I hear anyone (but typically a climate change denier) claim that belief in climate change is like a religion and anyone who believes in it is irrational. Excuse me, but fuck off. A logical and evidence based conclusion that is founded in the scientific method and is continually peer reviewed by actual expertise so that it can be tuned is not a religion, and frankly I see some projection going on there. Bill Maher (and his writers) do such a good job of addressing this issue in another context that is equally valid, I will just give time over to him.

Try this for an experiment. The next time you meet someone who denies climate change, ask them their views on god. I have 2:1 that they are big believers that either their god will save them, or better yet that its all part of the rapture.