Friday, 18 September 2015

And the heat goes on

The Planet Set Three Major Heat Records In August | ThinkProgress:
"Like a broken record, we are breaking records for temperature over and over and over again. NOAA’s latest monthly State of the Climate Report reports that the Earth just experienced the hottest August on record, the hottest summer (June to August) on record, and the hottest year to date. And it wasn’t even close. Each of those records was broken by 0.18°F (or more). So, yes, 2015 is going to be the hottest year on record — by far. Last month, climate scientist Jessica Blunden, who works with NOAA, said it’s “99 percent certain that it’s going to be the warmest year on record.” That is crystal clear from this NOAA chart:"
horserace NOAA
Click to enlarge
'via Blog this'

Friday, 4 September 2015

Avoiding the gotcha question - Donald Trump shows how

Radio and television interviewers just can't help themselves. The temptation to try a basically meaningless question to catch a politician out is just too great. How much does a litre of milk cost? What would the GST be on that cake? What's the name of the leaders of Islamic State, Hezbollah, al Qaeda and its Nusra Front wing in Syria?
That last one was what US right wing talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt wanted Donald Trump to tell him this week. And the Donald made a pretty good fist of replying when he didn't have a clue about the answers.
As Reuters reported the exchange:
"Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?" asked Hewitt, who will co-moderate the next official Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16 in California.
"No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone," Trump replied. "You know, those are like history questions. 'Do you know this one, do you know that one?'" ...
When Hewitt said it was not meant as a "gotcha" question, Trump responded: "Well, it sounded like gotcha. You’re asking me names that, I think it’s somewhat ridiculous, but that’s OK. Go ahead, let’s go."
Politicians everywhere should take note. Dismissing gotcha questions is an essential part of the interviewee's arsenal.

Some good budget deficit news to come? The falling rate of increase in health spending

In the days not long gone when the Abbott government considered the rising budget deficit to be the nation's principal economic problem, it was the continuing rise in health spending that got much of the blame. The spending just kept going up at a faster rate than the overall inflation rate and the warnings of "unsustainability" have featured in all three of the Intergenerational Reports prepared by the Federal Treasury.
The Executive summary of the latest Intergenerational report released earlier this year said Australian Government real health expenditure per person is projected to more than double over the next 40 years.
Australian Government health expenditure is projected to increase from 4.2 per cent of GDP in 2014-15 to 5.5 per cent of GDP in 2054-55 under the ‘proposed policy’ scenario. In today’s dollars, health spending per person is projected to more than double from around $2,800 to around $6,500. State government expenditure is also expected to be significantly higher.
If no changes to policy had been made, health expenditure was on track to reach
7.1 per cent of GDP in 2054-55 under the ‘previous policy’ scenario.
The report explains how non-demographic factors, including higher incomes, health sector wages growth and technological change, are more significant drivers of the projected increase than demographic changes. The area of largest growth is Medicare services, which is projected to increase by over 15 per cent per person in real terms over the next decade. 
All very depressing if you are a budget deficit worrier. But there are signs in recent years that the above average inflation in health is coming to an end. And today I noticed this commentary from the United States: Chart of the Day: The Future of Health Care Costs Looks Surprisingly Rosy.
It points to a recent paper out of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC showing that the annual increase in health care costs has been dropping steadily for more than 30 years. The green arrow shows the trendline.

Obviously this won't go on forever. But once again, it shows that the recent slowdown in health care costs isn't just an artifact of the Great Recession. That probably helped, but the downward trend far predates the recession. Bottom line: there will still be spikes and valleys in the future, but there's every reason to think that the general trend of health care costs over the next few decades will be either zero (i.e., equal to overall inflation) or pretty close to it.

The refugee crisis that isn't and other news and views

The Refugee Crisis That Isn't - This "wave of people" is more like a trickle when considered against the pool that must absorb it. The European Union's population is roughly 500 million. The latest estimate of the numbers of people using irregular means to enter Europe this year via the Mediterranean or the Balkans is approximately 340,000. In other words, the influx this year is only 0.068 percent of the EU's population. Considering the EU's wealth and advanced economy, it is hard to argue that Europe lacks the means to absorb these newcomers. To put this in perspective, the U.S., with a population of 320 million, has some 11 million undocumented immigrants. They make up about 3.5 percent of the U.S. population. The EU, by contrast, had between 1.9 and 3.8 million undocumented immigrants in 2008 (the latest available figures), or less than one percent of its population

Streetwise - Cities are starting to put pedestrians and cyclists before motorists. That makes them nicer—and healthier—to live in

President Obama Is the Anti-Lame Duck

TV News Coverage Of Economic Issues Rose In First Half Of 2015 - Broadcast and cable media discussion about the social consequences of economic inequality picked up noticably in April and May, as networks began doing in-depth reporting on the root causes of the civil unrest that occurred in Baltimore following the death of Freddy Gray, an unarmed man who died in police custody. ... Only 3% of guests invited to talk about economic news were economists, and less than a third were women.

Venice Film Review: ‘Spotlight’ - Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams play the Boston Globe journalists who shook the Catholic Church to its core in Tom McCarthy's measured and meticulous ensemble drama.

The Fox News Primary For August: Trump's Feud With Fox Only Widens His Airtime Lead

The Nation’s Most Populous State Just Voted To Divest From Coal - The California Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that prompts the state’s public employee pension funds to divest from coal. ... The bill now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The governor has been vocal about the need to act on climate change — he said in June that, when talking about climate action, “we are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.” The governor is expected to sign the divestment bill.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

A politician saying the same thing over and over does not news make

If the things you are doing in an attempt to win the hearts and minds of voters don't work perhaps it's time to try something completely different. Day after day we are subjected on the television news to corny pictures of Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten with the duo repeating the same fatuous statements playing "I'll catch you out - No you won't".
The only surprise is that the journalists keep reporting the nonsense. Surely in their hearts they know that politicians saying the same thing over and over is not actually news. I'm sure the public has reached that conclusion with a result being the record unpopularity of the two major party leaders. And the space newspapers give to interpreting the non-news perhaps accounts for a large proportion of their circulation declines.

The female Prime Ministerial enforcer and keeping MPs on the leash

Tony Abbott told us last year how he is impressed by the example of politics in Canada. The country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to Abbott, is a ‘‘guide’’ and a ‘‘beacon.’’ On a visit he declared ‘‘I have regarded Stephen Harper as an exemplar of a contemporary centre-right prime minister.’’ The Canadian Conservative Party policies of fiscal rectitude with a reduction in the size of government and the role of the state are clearly in line with the current direction of the Australian Liberal Party.

And maybe there is something else that the two Prime Ministers have in common. From this morning's Toronto Globe and Mail comes this comment on Mr Harper's election campaigning style:
Far from softening, the longer Mr. Harper stays on office, the push for candidates to keep their heads down has, if anything, got stronger with each passing election. That can be chalked up, at least in part, to who is running the Conservative campaigns. Jenni Byrne, Mr. Harper’s enforcer, used to be counterbalanced by other voices inclined to give fellow Conservatives slightly longer leashes; now she is his campaign director, and few of those other types can be found in his inner circle.

How many trees are there in the world? and other news and views

Scientists discover that the world contains dramatically more trees than previously thought - In a blockbuster study released Wednesday in Nature, a team of 38 scientists finds that the planet is home to 3.04 trillion trees, blowing away the previously estimate of 400 billion. That means, the researchers say, that there are 422 trees for every person on Earth. However, in no way do the researchers consider this good news. The study also finds that there are 46 percent fewer trees on Earth than there were before humans started the lengthy, but recently accelerating, process of deforestation.

(Click to enlarge)
Mapping tree density at a global scale - The full Nature article

How Germany abolished tuition fees - In Germany tuition fees have been abolished, while England has the most expensive fees in Europe, with every indication that they are likely to be allowed to nudge even higher. But what difference does it make to their universities?

Trade agreements, trade deficits and jobs - When looking at the potential effects of a trade policy, trade economists usually insist on the real income effects, often dismissing its unemployment effects as of second-order importance, whereas policymakers and the public at large tend to voice concerns about jobs gained or lost. This column presents a quantitative framework that weighs both concerns, which is especially important when real incomes and the unemployment rates move in the same direction following a trade reform.

Spurred by innovators like Tesla, the energy storage business is growing fast - The U.S. Energy Storage Monitor report, which is part of a series of documents published quarterly by GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association, claims that the second quarter of 2015 saw a six-fold increase in energy storage deployment since the first quarter.

Review of the Draft Interagency Report on the Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States - The U.S. National Climate Assessment identified a number of ways in which climate change is affecting, and is likely to affect, people, infrastructure, natural resources, and ecosystems. Those impacts, in turn, are increasingly having important current and potential future consequences for human health. There is a need to probe more deeply into how climate change impacts on the environment can create environmental stressors that, in turn, are having and/or have the potential to have significant impact on human health in a number of dimensions. In response to this need, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has initiated an interagency Scientific Assessment on the Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States. The Assessment is intended to inform public health authorities, other planning and policy entities, and the general public.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Criminal charges against News Corp still on the UK agenda

El Niño strengthens but a warm Indian Ocean - The 2015 El Niño is now the strongest El Niño since 1997–98. ... Most international climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology indicate the tropical Pacific will continue to warm, with the largest anomalies occurring later in the year. Typically, El Niño peaks during the late austral spring or early summer, and weakens during late summer to autumn. The 2015 event has, so far, been following a normal El Niño life cycle.

CPS mulls corporate criminal charge against News UK as Rebekah Brooks set to head up News Corp in London - News UK could face corporate criminal charges after the  Metropolitan Police has handed a "full file" of evidence to prosecutors relating to hacking at News of the World. ... The corporate prosecution of News UK relates to evidence gathered by detectives from Operation Weeting, which stretches back to 2011 and investigated illegal voicemail interceptions at the tabloid. ... Confirming they had passed on the file, the Met Police said: "On July 23, following the investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World, detectives from Operation Weeting submitted a file to the CPS for their consideration. The decision whether to prosecute lies with the director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders.

Obama Nears Needed Votes on Iran Nuclear Deal

How U.N. climate change talks are driven by cliques

Election 2016: Dumbing down American politics, Lawrence Lessig, and the Presidency - Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. Harvard law professor Lawrence ... Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?

The Believer - How an Introvert with a Passion for Religion and Soccer became Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Leader of the Islamic State 

Leveraged bubbles - The risk that asset price bubbles pose for financial stability is still not clear. Drawing on 140 years of data, this column argues that leverage is the critical determinant of crisis damage. When fuelled by credit booms, asset price bubbles are associated with high financial crisis risk; upon collapse, they coincide with weaker growth and slower recoveries. Highly leveraged housing bubbles are the worst case of all.

Paul Krugman prepares for Australia and some doggerel of mine gets a kind of mention


Bad Ideas Down Under

I’m heading off to Sydney, for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Blogging will be limited due to travel, plus blood rushing to my head from standing upside down when I get there.

My bit from 50 years ago, slightly misquoted by Bruce:
The great Australian wattle
Is the symbol of our land
You can put it in a bottle
Or hold it in your hand

Tony has clearly got this message

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Back from paternity leave

It was an unplanned pregnancy - well, unplanned by me anyway - but the task of raising 10 little Gerbulls fell to me. They kind of made politics seem unimportant. Certainly they didn't leave much time to think about it.
Now all but one of them they have gone. One dead and eight to good homes. Leaving me with the runt of the litter who I have fallen in love with. And Xara tells me that thinking about politics is okay by her.

She reckons it's an essential skill for an American Bulldog-German Shepherd cross sharing a bed with a mum (that's the white one of the left) and a neutered black dog of indiscriminate upbringing who wasn't really all that wrapped about sharing a house with pups sired by a next door neighbour.
So if there's anyone still interested in the views of an old house father it's back to commenting on affairs of state.