Monday, 16 March 2015

Warming world trend continues

mpvingaverage globalfeb temps
  • NASA: Earth Tops Hottest 12 Months On Record Again, Thanks To Warm February – NASA reported this weekend that last month was the second-hottest February on record, which now makes March 2014–February 2015 the hottest 12 months on record. This is using a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year.funds
  • How Many Mutual Funds Routinely Rout the Market? Zero – The bull market in stocks turned six last Monday, and despite some rocky stretches — like last week, when the market fell — it has generally been a very pleasant time for money managers, who have often posted good numbers. Look more closely at those gaudy returns, however, and you may see something startling. The truth is that very few professional investors have actually managed to outperform the rising market consistently over those years. In fact, based on the updated findings and definitions of a particular study, it appears that no mutual fund managers have. …
  • Vatican backs military force to stop ISIS ‘genocide’ – In an unusually blunt endorsement of military action, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups. “We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”
  • Bad thinkers – Why do some people believe conspiracy theories? It’s not just who or what they know. It’s a matter of intellectual character
  • Media blackout: would I be happier if I didn’t read the news? – Writer Jesse Armstrong couldn’t go even a few minutes without checking the headlines. So he set himself a challenge: no news for a month. Would he feel better about the world – or just out of the loop?

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Advice on Greens for Labor from Labour

The Australian Labor Party has struggled in recent federal and state elections to work out how it should treat the threat of Greens candidates snatching their votes in previously safe inner city seats. A vote for a Green risks giving the Liberals extra seats has become a familiar Labor cry without there being much evidence to support such a claim with the electoral system’s preferential voting. An end result of such misguided thinking is for Labor to play preference games in voting for upper houses where a seeming desire to punish Greens for their inner city naughtiness has led to some real opponents of a conservative bent being elected.
This phenomenon of a traditional left of centre party having trouble dealing with another leftist party is not uniquely Australian. European socialists have been dealing with it for 20 years with an acceptance of coalition governments making it relatively peaceful. Not so in Britain where the Australian born leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is being cast in the villain’s role by British Labour as that country’s election approaches.
From The Observer this morning:
Labour is trying to scare leftish voters away from the Greens with the thought that they will go to bed with Natalie Bennett and wake up to find David Cameron back in Number 10. One Labour MP who has tried this on the doorstep reports: “It doesn’t work. Your 18-year-old who is going to vote Green doesn’t give a toss about that. They want to make a statement by voting Green.” A statement about the world, about Westminster, about themselves.
The comment of that anonymous Labour MP pretty much sums up what I believe to be the situation in Australia. Rather than trying to beat the Greens the task should be finding more ways to join with them in presenting a united left of centre coalition to combat our governing right of centre one. Surely preferential voting makes that possible.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cardinal George Pell carries out sweeping reforms

  • Pope Frances’s Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican’s Old Guard – Pope Francis has made significant progress in bringing transparency to the Vatican’s finances. Cardinal George Pell is carrying out sweeping reforms.
  • To fix inequality, Democrats are pushing unions – At a time when GOP is gaining ground in very public attacks on labor, the left is coming to the defense of collective bargaining. … In recent months, a collection of left-leaning politicians, economists, and public intellectuals have started making a renewed case for collective bargaining as a tool to heal the ailing middle class. The pitch doubles as an effort for Democrats to preserve a key constituency they’ve long relied on to win elections, at a time when conservatives are making strong gains in often very public attacks on union power.
  • The Next Internet Is TV – Websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone.
  • The Biology of Being Good to Others – Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others?
  • Can the world get richer forever?
  • To tip or not to tip? – Tipping is confusing, and paradoxical. We tip some people who provide services but not others who work just as hard for just as little pay. It is insulting to leave any tip in Tokyo but offensive not to leave a large one in New York. It is assumed that the purpose of tipping is to encourage good service but we leave one only after the service has been given, when it is too late to change it, often to people who will never serve us again. Tipping challenges the sweeping generalisations of economists and anthropologists alike. To understand how and why we tip is to begin to understand just how complicated and fascinating we human beings are.
  • CU Denver study shows product placement, branding growing in popular music – Many people thought music was the last bastion free of marketing but that train has left the station. Many musicians these days make less money from their recorded work so they must become marketing entities since the music doesn’t entirely pay the bills

Friday, 13 March 2015

Turnbull and the Keating influence

The more I see, hear and read of Malcolm Turnbull these days, the more inclined I am to believe my informant that the would-be Prime Minister is getting some tactical advice from former Prime Minister Paul Keating. See my political snippet from back in February The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating where I mentioned that what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” assured me that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I was told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor master.
For further evidence, take these comments as recorded by Simon Benson in a thoughtful Daily Telegraph column this morning:
“Labor had committed to several high-profile promises that if delivered would vastly increase outlays over the next decade, with much of their cost conveniently hidden beyond the budget’s four-year forward estimates window.
“Kevin Rudd’s 2010 deal with the states to fund hospitals, Julia Gillard’s 2013 Gonski reforms to schools funding, and the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are the iconic examples. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, these three types of spending will have a joint annual cost of $73 billion by 2023-24 (equal to 14 per cent of total budget outlays). If we allow this situation to continue we will put the security of every family and every business at risk. The deficits continue, our debt and interest payments balloon — and all this at historically low interest rates. What happens when rates rise again, as they assuredly will?
“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014-15 budget attempted to address these trends. Evidently by doing so it disappointed many in the community. In addition there was a deeply felt sense in much of the community that our proposed budget measures were unfair to people on lower incomes when taken as a whole. In my view the failure to effectively make the case for budget repair was our biggest misstep, because it was a threshold we never crossed.
“We — and I include myself and every member of the government in this criticism — did not do a good enough job in explaining the scale of the fiscal problem the nation faces, and the urgency of taking corrective action.”
To my mind that’s exactly how the author of the banana republic comment would summarise things.
And for good measure think about the similarity of the views Turnbull and Keating have on the purpose of superannuation. They argue as one on the silliness of allowing first home buyers to raid their super balances to get a deposit.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Has Tony Abbott committed Australia to a never ending war?

A couple of stories this week that make me wonder what Tony Abbott has got us into by sending our troops back to Iraq to tackle the ISIS threat.
One is on the Foreign Policy website – Let Me Make This as Unclear as Possible. It makes the case for “why the Obama administration’s authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State is intentionally an open-ended ticket to forever war … again.”
The author, Micah Zenko, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at recent congressional hearings on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Obama administration sought even while claiming a president did not need such a thing. Two bits of evidence stood out:
In a telling exchange last week, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine] Wormuth was asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) how she would define victory against the Islamic State. Wormuthdeclared: “When ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States.” O’Rourke pushed the Pentagon’s top policy official further: “So as long as ISIL is seen as a threat to ourselves or any of our partners around the world we have not won?” To this, Wormuth replied: “I think that’s fair.”
At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Gen. Dempsey was similarly asked what victory over ISIL would look like. The most senior uniformed U.S. military officer answered: “That’s not for us to declare. Their ideology has to be defeated by those in the region.” But just who declares victory on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition, or how air strikes help in defeating an ideology, was not explained.
Zenko concluded that these two contrasting depictions of victory are a long way from Barack Obama’s previously articulated strategic objectives to “destroy” and later “defeat” the Islamic State.
But the Obama administration has been consistent since Aug. 7 in its use of fuzzy language, the gradual mission creep, and shifting implausible objectives. Now, 216 days and more than 2,200 strikes later, Congress is assuming its expected role of debating the language of what is, by all accounts, a meaningless AUMF. A uniquely brave senator or congressional member might better use hearings or floor debates to explore how this has become the normal state of affairs for how the United States goes to war.
And as is clear since the Abbott decision to send extra troops to “train” the Iraqi armed forces, as goes the United States, so goes Australia.
The second story for the week to set me wondering about where this renewed Australian intervention in the Middle East might end up was in London’s Independent Isis in Afghanistan is a disaster waiting to happen – Its black flag has replaced the white ones of the Talibs in a swathe of areas including in Helmand.
Kim Sengupta the paper’s Defence Correspondent, that Isis spreading tentacles in Afghanistan has, internationally, gone largely unrecorded.
The gains for Isis are not purely military in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban they are grabbing chunks of the narcotic stocks which can then be moved west along the parts of Iraq under its control. This is of great value at a time when their income from sale oil from captured fields, said not so long ago to be a $1 million a day, are being hit by US led air strikes: the latest ones were today at a refinery in Tel Abyad. …
It has taken a while for official recognition of the Isis threat in Afghanistan. Last month General Ali Murad, of the Afghan army, stated that “elements of Isis, masked men, are active in Zabul [another Taliban dominated province] and Helmand and have raised black flags. Now, they are trying to spread their activities to the north.”  …
Afghanistan is a war and a place the West would like to forget, there’s too much of a sense of futility about the very long mission there. But that is the way we also felt about Iraq. There, too, Isis started on a slow burn and look what happened. Like Iraq, the West may have to revisit Afghanistan as well, this time facing an enemy more implacable and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Another remarkable Telegraph column – Do as I say not as I do

A wonderful addition from this morning’s Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to my “Journalists talking about each other” section. The regular Tuesday purveyor of the paper’s vitriol column – Sarrah Le Marquand – has reached heights of which her peers Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt surely would be proud.
Ms Le Marquand spent a couple of hundred words putting the boot into Mark Latham for his “I hate-youse*-all bile dressed up as an opinion column” that appears in the Australian Financial Review.
haterNothing wrong with that. If you hand it out like Latham you must expect to get it back, and as the Le Marquand writes, that “is the very result he so craves.”
Rather it is the “do as I say rather than what I do” hypocrisy that follows that puts this column onto the Tele’s top shelf.
Latham has proven beyond a doubt he has nothing of substance or merit to impart.
His columns are little more than the attention-seeking tantrums of a self-entitled toddler, so why waste time and energy in reading them? Responding hysterically to every new insult he hurls is only prolonging his shelf life.
Left to his own devices, he is nothing more than a washed-up, embittered has-been.
Ironically it is only the noise made by his detractors that affords him any oxygen. Only when his work attracts the attention it deserves — which is none — will his supply be cut off.
Practising what you preach might have been a good way to start such a process.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Changing views on drug smugglers by the Sydney Daily Telegraph

Contrasting front pages – then and now.
(Click to enlarge)
My thanks to James Carleton for drawing this change in attitude to my attention.