28 December 2004

Wikipedia | 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake of moment magnitude 9.0 that struck the Indian Ocean off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004 at 00:58:50 UTC (or 07:58:50 local time in Jakarta and Bangkok.) It was the largest earthquake on Earth since the 9.2-magnitude Good Friday Earthquake which struck Alaska, USA, on March 27, 1964, and the fourth largest since 1900. Tens of thousands were killed by the resulting tsunamis, which were as high as 10 m (33 ft) in some locations and struck within three hours of the quake. Southern part of india had a deep impact because of the killer waves which resulted because of the quake.

As usual, Wikipedia has about the best coverage in terms of news and where you can donate money.

26 December 2004

No Peace on Earth During Unjust War

One of the criteria for a just war is that there be a reasonable chance of victory. Where is that reasonable chance? Each extra day of the war makes it more unjust, more criminal. The guilty people are not only the Vulcans but those Americans who in the November election endorsed the war.

They are also responsible for the Iraqi deaths, especially the men who join the police or the army because they need the money to support their families -- their jobs eaten up in the maw of the American ''liberation.'' Iraqi deaths don't trouble many Americans. Their attitude is not unlike the e-mail writer who said he rejoices every time a Muslim kills another Muslim. ''Let Allah sort them out.''

This time of the year we celebrate ''peace on Earth to men of good will.'' Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. If most people in other countries blame the war on Americans, we earned that blame in the November election -- not that there is any serious reason to believe that Sen. John Kerry would have had the courage to end the war. Perhaps if he had changed his mind, as he did about the war in Vietnam, and opposed the Iraqi war, he might have won. Too late now. Too late till 2010 -- or 2020.

Note: Some conservative Catholics -- Republicans, I assume -- are spreading the word on the Internet that I am an ''unfrocked'' (sic) priest. That is false witness. I am and have been for 50 years a priest in good standing of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Call (312) 751-8220 if you don't believe me. False witness is a grave sin and must be confessed before Christmas communion. Moreover, those who commit it are bound to restore the reputation of the one about whom they've lied.

I like Andrew Greeley's clerical detective novels. His Note struck me as much as his main article. False witness is not only a grave sin in the Catholic tradition. It is included in the Decalogue at Exodus 20:16. Evidently all those literalist Bible-believing Religious Right types have discovered an exemption from the Ten Commandments for political campaigns.

Happy Feast of the Incarnation.

24 December 2004

Denial as a a method of war

US strategy 'based in fantasyland'
America's handling of the occupation of Iraq came in for scathing criticism yesterday, with government officials accused of living in a 'fantasyland' and failing to learn from mistakes made in Vietnam.

A report issued by the independent Centre for Strategic and International Studies charged that the occupation had been handled by 'ideologues' in the Bush administration who consistently underestimated the scale of the problems they were facing and this had contributed to a culture in which facts were wilfully misrepresented.

The report lists a litany of errors on the part of the US. 'Their strategic assessments of Iraq were wrong,' it says. 'They were fundamentally wrong about how the Iraqi people would view the United States invasion. They were wrong about the problems in establishing effective governance, and they underestimated the difficulties in creating a new government that was legitimate in Iraqi eyes.

'They greatly exaggerated the relevance and influence of Iraqi exiles, and greatly underestimated the scale of Iraq's economic, ethnic, and demographic problems.'

The report lays responsibility for these errors with the policymakers in Washington.

'The problem with dealing with the Iraqi army and security forces was handled largely by ideologues who had a totally unrealistic grand strategy for transforming Iraq and the Middle East,' the report says.

Under the heading 'Denial as a method of counter-insurgency warfare', it notes that the US 'failed to honestly assess the facts on the ground in a manner reminiscent of Vietnam'.

But there was a rare attempt at honesty in the Pentagon yesterday when the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he was 'truly saddened' that anybody might think he did not care about US soldiers. 'Their grief,' he said, 'is something I feel to my core.'

The full report (large PDF) is, if anything, more damning than The Guardian's description. I'm still reading but I was really struck by:

To date, and at every stage, the transition process has failed to deliver anticipated results. The Interim Governing Council was not a representative body; the current government has not been in a position to exercise actual sovereignty since June 2004; and Iraq's security forces will not be capable of ensuring security by January 2005. Politically, whatever grace period Prime Minister Allawi once enjoyed seems a thing of the past. Too tough for some, insufficiently so for others, and overly dependent on the U.S. for most, he is bereft of genuine political backing, social basis or functioning institutions. Worthy as it was, the attempt to broaden political participation through a national conference was taken over by the formerly exiled opposition, depriving it of credibility and longterm relevance.

Yet, while the political timetable bears little relation to reality, it has become essentially unalterable: given the huge mistrust developed since April 2003, any significant modification, however sensible, would probably be viewed as a U.S. attempt to perpetuate the occupation.29 Given the de facto equation of a successful transition process with adherence to a formal calendar, moreover, any such alteration also would be viewed as a major setback. Delaying the transfer of sovereignty until such time as it could actually be exercised, or postponing elections until they could be truly inclusive,30 carry such high political costs because of the worsening situation -- in other words, for the precise reason that delay and postponement would make sense.

It strikes me that the real weakness in almost everything the Bush administration does is impunity. They practice impunity at every turn from authorising torture and then denying they've authorised it to defying the UN charter to misleading the American people about progress. Not one US official has everbeen dismissed or even criticised for the conduct of this quagmire. The ultimate price of that is going to be terrible for the American people, but incalculably worse for the Iraqis who have been conscripted as bit-players in a US political drama.

22 December 2004

rotting from the top

UN Convention against Torture
Article 2
Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

From President Bush's interviews with Al Arabiya and Alhurra, 5/5/04
President Bush views the Abu Ghraib prison abuses as abhorrent.

What took place at Abu Ghraib does not represent America, which is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. America sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom.

In a democracy, everything is not perfect and mistakes are made. But also in a democracy, those mistakes will be investigated and people will be brought to justice. We are an open society that is willing to fully investigate what took place in Abu Ghraib.

This stands in stark contrast to life under Saddam Hussein. His trained torturers were never brought to justice under his regime. There were no investigations about mistreatment of people.

There are investigations under way to determine how widespread abuse may be occurring.

President Bush has instructed Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to find the truth and then tell the Iraqi people and world the truth. Then, to address the problems in a forthright, up-front manner.

FBI E-Mail Refers to Presidential Order Authorizing Inhumane Interrogation Techniques
A document released for the first time today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. Also released by the ACLU today are a slew of other records including a December 2003 FBI e-mail that characterizes methods used by the Defense Department as 'torture' and a June 2004 'Urgent Report' to the Director of the FBI that raises concerns that abuse of detainees is being covered up.

'These documents raise grave questions about where the blame for widespread detainee abuse ultimately rests,' said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. 'Top government officials can no longer hide from public scrutiny by pointing the finger at a few low-ranking soldiers.'

The documents were obtained after the ACLU and other public interest organizations filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and 'sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.' The ACLU is urging the White House to confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately to release the order if it exists. The FBI e-mail, which was sent in May 2004 from 'On Scene Commander--Baghdad' to a handful of senior FBI officials, notes that the FBI has prohibited its agents from employing the techniques that the President is said to have authorized.

The ACLU documents are available here. Perhaps the president might find it useful to investigate himself in his unstoppable drive for accountability.

19 December 2004

Golkar selects Yudhoyono ally as new leader

Yusuf Kalla, who stood as Yudhoyono's running mate in September presidential polls, was chosen to lead Golkar, the former political vehicle of former president Suharto, after he beat incumbent Akbar Tanjung.

The victory during a chaotic party conference at Nusa Dua on the resort island of Bali marks a major coup for the president, who has faced an uphill struggle to push reforms through a parliament dominated by a hostile Golkar.

Tanjung, who scored 156 votes to Kalla's 323, had pledged to strengthen the party's resolve as an opposition force if he was elected for another five years. Instead the vice president is likely to steer Golkar behind Yudhoyono.

A number of Indonesia's political hierarchies shook when Yudhoyono was elected. A struggle continues for control of the two largest Muslim organisations between the president's allies his opponents' allies. The importance of the Golkar leadership is shown by the attempt to poison Yusuf Kalla before the Golkar convention.

Winning control of Golkar gives Yudhoyono a legislative majority and is a massive step toward making his official power real.

18 December 2004

derogatory rights

Abraham Lincoln 1838
How then shall we perform it? At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

A (FC) and others v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) per Lord Hoffmann:
This is one of the most important cases which the House has had to decide in recent years. It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The power which the Home Secretary seeks to uphold is a power to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial. Nothing could be more antithetical to the instincts and traditions of the people of the United Kingdom.


The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.

Ahmed Ali Al-Kateb V Godwin per Gleeson CJ:
During the Second World War, reg 26 of the National Security (General) Regulations 1939 (Cth) provided:

The Minister may if satisfied with respect to any particular person that with a view to prevent that person acting in any manner prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Commonwealth it is necessary to do so make an order ... directing that he be detained in such place and under such conditions as the Minister from time to time determines ...

This Court unanimously upheld the validity of the regulation in Ex parte Walsh[48]. Starke J said that the application for habeas corpus was "hopeless"[49]. In Little v The Commonwealth[50], Dixon J held that an order of the Minister under this regulation was not examinable upon any ground other than bad faith.

During the greater part of the period when reg 26 was in force, the relevant Minister was Dr H V Evatt, who had been a Justice of this Court and was later to become President of the United Nations General Assembly. According to a speech he gave in Parliament on 19 July 1944, 6174 persons were detained under this regulation at the time when he became the Minister and 1180 persons were still detained under the regulation in July 1944[51]. He does not appear to have thought that, in making orders under reg 26, he was acting in breach of Ch III of the Constitution

The High Court also upheld a similar regulation during the First World War. My great grandfather, whose family had lived here since the 1840s, faced internment because he had a German name.

In August the High Court made a legally impeccable and morally repugnant decision that our constitution permits indefinite detention without charge. The moral repugnance does not belong to the judges, it belongs to a political elite which has always opposed a bill of rights in Australia. The Court said, also per Gleeson CJ:

Eminent lawyers who have studied the question firmly believe that the Australian Constitution should contain a Bill of Rights which substantially adopts the rules found in the most important of the international human rights instruments[75]. It is an enduring - and many would say a just - criticism of Australia that it is now one of the few countries in the Western world that does not have a Bill of Rights. But, desirable as a Bill of Rights may be, it is not to be inserted into our Constitution by judicial decisions drawing on international instruments that are not even part of the law of this country. It would be absurd to suggest that the meaning of a grant of power in s 51 of the Constitution can be elucidated by the enactments of the Parliament. Yet those who propose that the Constitution should be read so as to conform with the rules of international law are forced to argue that rules contained in treaties made by the executive government are relevant in interpreting the Constitution. It is hard to accept, for example, that the meaning of the trade and commerce power can be affected by the Australian government entering into multilateral trade agreements. It is even more difficult to accept that the Constitution's meaning is affected by rules created by the agreements and practices of other countries. If that were the case, judges would have to have a "loose-leaf" copy of the Constitution. If Australia is to have a Bill of Rights, it must be done in the constitutional way - hard though its achievement may be - by persuading the people to amend the Constitution by inserting such a Bill.

The moral fault lies with both major parties who show a consistent record of threatening the nation, as Lord Hoffman and Abraham Lincoln said, by abridging liberties in the name of crisis. We need a major political party that accepts the priority of human rights. We do not have such a major party. To return to Lord Hoffman:

When Milton urged the government of his day not to censor the press even in time of civil war, he said:

Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governours

96. This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups of terrorists to kill and destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation. Whether we would survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt that we shall survive Al-Qaeda. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of their nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it. Terrorist violence, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community.

Australia will survive al-Qa'ida as well. But we need to stop empowering the terrorists by abridging our liberties.

16 December 2004

signs of the times

Winning in the Streets
One of the unlikely heroes of the Ukraine uprising is a state television sign-language interpreter, who began signing on the air that the telecast was lies and that she wouldn't go along with it any longer. Inspired by her actions, 200 journalists for state-run TV and radio vowed to no longer act as the government's mouthpiece. How many bland White House assertions that the sky is green and the grass is blue would it take to drive someone at Fox News to denounce the status quo like that?

The US media are deaf to reality anyway.

smoke and mirrors

Different targets, same tactics
The relevant facts about the oil for food programme were pushed to one side. James Dobbins, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan, wrote in the Washington Post: 'First, no American funds were stolen. Second, no UN funds were stolen. Third, the oil-for-food programme achieved its two objectives: providing food to the Iraqi people and preventing Saddam Hussein from rebuilding his military threat to the region.'

Then the Post published a story that the US was wire-tapping Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, in an operation to discover that he was secretly aiding Iran in hiding its nuclear weapons programme. In fact, ElBaradei was working with the Europeans in negotiating a resolution with the Iranians. It was this diplomacy that neoconservatives were seeking to discredit. Compliance with internationally monitored nuclear development of Iran isn't the objective of the neocons; they want regime change, Iraqredux.

The techniques of the permanent campaign, especially negative attacks, recently applied in the re-election contest, are being transferred seamlessly and shamelessly to international relations.

In part, the slash-and-smear campaign against Annan and ElBaradei is the Bush administration's effort to subjugate international civil servants and organisations to its central command. But this episode also reflects the rolling coup of the neocons as they struggle for power, position and policy in a second Bush term.

Just how bad can a smear campaign get? The US named Dolly Downer as ElBaradei's successor. Dolly Downer refused. Even the Howard govenrment will not sign up to this one.

Meanwhile, we have a new Bush doctrine to deal with the collapse in the US exchange rate and trade deficit.

Bush aims to cut deficits

President George W Bush pledged overnight to work with the US Congress to reduce the country's huge deficits and support a strong US dollar.
Bush said that in addition to the budget deficit, America suffers from a huge trade deficit.

"That's easy to resolve," Bush said. "People can buy more US products if they're worried about the trade deficit."

Bush's comments came a day after the government reported that America's trade deficit hit a monthly record of $US55.5 billion ($A73.42 billion) in October.

"The policy of my government is a strong-dollar policy," Bush said during an Oval Office meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"We're going to take this issue on seriously with the Congress," the president said, after Berlusconi raised concerns about the dollar's fall.

The Bush administration has controlled the US presidency, house and senate for 4 years. They have done nothing to cut the deficit in that time, despite their unprecedented power. The US is being governed by Rufus T Firefly.

Something in the dihydrogen monoxide

The city councillors of Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California, are well-meaning, socially responsible people. And when they came across the huge threat posed to their constituents by dihydrogen monoxide they did what any elected official should do: they took steps to protect their community. A motion due to go before the city legislature proposed banning the potentially deadly substance from within the city boundaries.

Researchers found that the presence of dihydrogen monoxide in Aliso Viejo had reached startling levels: it was present in its crude form, often spilling unmonitored on to the city streets; it was found to be a crucial ingredient in many common chemical compounds; its presence was even detected in that most ubiquitous of civilised artifacts, the styrofoam cup.

And it got worse: dihydrogen monoxide is lethal if inhaled, causes severe burns in its gaseous state, and is the major component in acid rain. Prolonged exposure to solid dihydrogen monoxide can cause severe tissue damage. It can, said the city council report, 'threaten human safety and health'.

Fortunately for the concerned legislators, the rat was smelt before it got as far as the debating chamber. The perils of dihydrogen monoxide have been ignored until now largely because it is better known by its common name: water.

'It's embarrassing,' said city manager David Norman in an inspired act of buck-passing. 'We had a paralegal who did bad research.'

At least the city fathers of Aliso Viejo can sleep soundly at night now that they know dihydrogen monoxie is not ert. I guess it's one for the legal philosophers. If the city council had enacted this law, how should a judge have treated offenders? How is dihydrogen monoxide related to dry economics? How persuasive is the evidence presented by the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division?

Fortunately there is no danger of governments pursuing empirical error. It is, for instance, impossible that a number of governments would invade another country over weapons of mass destruction that do not exist.

15 December 2004

flagging missile defence

Well, I'm glad the US missile defence agency can launch a dummy successfully.

The first test in nearly two years of a multibillion-dollar U.S. anti-missile shield failed on Wednesday when the interceptor missile shut down on its launch pad in the central Pacific, the Pentagon said.

About 16 minutes earlier, a target missile carrying a mock warhead had been successfully launched from Kodiak Island, Alaska, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.

Ah, yes, this is the invincible shield of steel the Australian government wants to protect Sydney from North Korean missilies. I think I preerred it when the Coalition were part of the reality-based community

10 December 2004

NZ parliament threatens survival of the species

New Zealand has just passed a civil unions bill. This is sad because, if the Man of Steel is to be believed, it means that the New Zealanders face extinction in the near future. On the other hand, believing the Man of Steel has never been a terrifically effective cognitive strategy.

The parliamentary committee on the bill reported:
Most submitters who opposed the bill were specifically opposed to same-sex couples raising children, as they did not believe gay parents could have the same outcomes for children as heterosexual married parents. This is not supported by the research specifically comparing the heterosexual and homosexual parents. Because these beliefs about lesbian and gay parents and their children are open to empirical test, their accuracy can be tested. The American Psychological Association, Lesbian and Gay Parenting: Summary of Research Findings, found:

there is no evidence to suggest that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of gay men or lesbians is compromised in any respect relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth.

This was supported by the paper ‘‘(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?’’ published in the American Sociological Review. Both these papers identify the most significant difference to be the discrimination their parents face. The research states:

we propose that homophobia and discrimination are the chief reasons why parental sexual orientation matters at all. Because lesbigay parents do not enjoy the same rights, respect, and recognition as heterosexual parents, their children contend with the burdens of vicarious social stigma.

We recognise the concern that submitters have about the environments in which children are being raised. However, we believe that the biggest unchecked social change New Zealanders have seen in the last 30 years has not been about homosexual rights, the erosion of marriage or no-fault divorce. We believe the shift in work/life balance from favouring the family to favouring the workplace, needs to be urgently addressed. Many submitters agreed that this shift has had significant consequences for New Zealand families. We were reminded that this was important for both parents as their relationship with their children can become strained where workplace pressures mean they do not have much time to engage with their children and play a significant role in their development. The quality of these most significant relationships is pivotal to children’s success.

In the dying days of the last parliament, the government, ably assisted by the opposition, whipped through a bill excluding gay marriage. The prime minister's justification (apart from his undisclosed deal with Family First) was the protection of children. Apparently stigmatizing kids by refusing to let their parents marry does them good.

7 December 2004

Behind the facade of our miracle economy

Reserve Bank figures show that in 1992 household debt was 56 per cent of income. At the end of 2002 it was 125 per cent. Over that period the average mortgage went from $82,000 to $175,000. Over the same period income rose about 40 per cent and, at the same time, jobs became increasingly casual or part time and so less secure.

It was in outer suburbs such as Mill Park that people worried during the recent election campaign about how a possible interest rate rise would threaten prosperity. Yet because people on the outer suburban fringe are among the most reliant on the motor car, we now know higher petrol prices are having the impact of a de facto rate rise.

There is an interesting precedent for a glittering facade. Gregor Alexandrovich Potemkin was an 18th century Russian military leader, politician and lover to Empress Catherine the Great. His name comes down to us partly because of his construction of elaborate fake villages in the Ukraine and Crimea for Catherine to see during her royal tours. She was apparently unaware that the prosperity was a fake.

So are our suburbs a reflection of economic potemkinism?

Economist Peter Brain, who heads the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, thinks it is a facade and thus unsustainable and liable to collapse.

'One of the problems of borrowing against home values is that values can fall, but the debt will not. House prices are static in most of Australia and have already started to fall in Sydney,' he says. 'We are borrowing overseas to fund consumption and leaving nothing to the next generations except debt. The next generations, X and Y, will have nothing to inherit.'

So who will own the tracts of housing in a generation? Brain thinks that in 20 or 30 years, if we don't do something to stop the debt blow-out, much of our housing could be owned by overseas investors, the same sort of people who are lending money to the banks for us to borrow.

Debt is the elephant in the living room. Next time the opposition has a chance, perhaps they'll discuss this instead of signing Potemkin guarantees to keep interest rates low and 'easy' credit flowing. Next time someone is looking for a populist campaign platform how will the Coalition or Labor deal with a movement based on denouncing the faceless investors beyond our shores who want to take the McMansions away?

30 November 2004

Stamping on Conroy

Never mind the policy, Latham prefers to fight
There were three policy proposals and 18 pieces of legislation on the shadow cabinet agenda. But Mark Latham was more intent on an Old West shootout with Stephen Conroy, his deputy Senate leader.

No sooner had yesterday's 10am meeting begun than the two men - half of Labor's 'leadership group' - restarted the internecine battle over Conroy's alleged 'jihad' against his boss.

The bitter fight over Conroy's alleged leaking against his leader was supposed to have been resolved on Sunday, when Conroy put out a statement of contrition and loyalty. Obviously not.

According to one witness, the Latham-Conroy interaction was 'like the gunfight at the OK Corral'. Another said the rest of the 17-member shadow cabinet watched in appalled silence like 'spectators at a tennis match' as the two argued.

The best way for opposition leaders to stamp their authority on the party is by winning elections. If that can't be done, life gets harder. The Latham campaign lost ground to the coalition. Finding out why that happened is a much higher priority than trying to stamp on heads. It is to be hoped we don't hear soon that the ALP leadership would walk over hot coals for Latham.

What's actually happening is a longterm decline in Labor support among aspirational voters.

The changing face of the ALP voter
From 1996 onwards, the industrial backbone of the ALP vote, as measured by our modeling, began to weaken, until, at the last election, the correlation - for male tradespersons - had lapsed into statistical insignificance, at plus 0.06, while female tradespersons was minus 0.08.

Skilled blue collar workers, such as electricians, carpenters, like open cut miners before them, have now been lost to the ALP, as their wages have increased, in a more competitive international economy.

On the flipside, in 1966, the correlation between the ALP two-party preferred vote and male and female clerks was 0.00 and plus 0.02 respectively - totally neutral. The latter, under the then census definitions, was a huge group, comprising one in three female workers and 11 per cent of the total workforce.

Over the intervening 38 years, this group’s links with the Liberals has weakened, along with sales staff; to the extent that the less skilled clerical and sales groups, such as sales assistants, keyboard operators, bar staff and carers, comprise the major electoral base for the ALP.

The images that we saw in the last week of the election campaign, of the tattooed Tasmanian timber workers - cheering a Liberal Prime Minister - were only the visible tip of the statistical iceberg.

Food for thought for the new ALP front bench … not to mention the ACTU.

Perhaps the ALP frontbench could devote its attentions to why its aspirational campaign inspired so few aspirational votes. perhaps they could also think abput their gift of a Victorian Senate seat to Family First.

Votes pinched by Family First
On the basis of the modelling, Black reaches this conclusion about the make-up of the Family First vote: "The first group was what you would have expected from a party founded by religious activists; middle income, professional, evangelical – and Liberal. But the second group, equal in size, was rusted on Labor voters – agnostic, blue-collar, lower income, single parents."

Black theorises that these were the voters who were the bottom-end losers in Labor's controversial tax and family policy. They couldn't bring themselves to vote for John Howard. But they weren't going to reward Latham, so they parked their vote with Family First.

Trouble is, those votes then found their way back to Howard via preferences. According to Black's calculations, they did so in sufficient numbers to deliver the Coalition three Labor-held seats (Bonner, Wakefield and Kingston) and the 39th Coalition senator in Queensland – which gave Howard his historic majority in both houses of parliament.

Says Black: "Sole parents earning up to $35,000 a year may not have believed in God or Family First. But they saw Labor's ladder of opportunity not as something to climb, but leading down to the cellar."

The point being it was Latham's ladder of opportunity and Latham's tax policy. And Conroy had nothing to do with either concept.

Howard's success in 2001 and 2004 is built on annexing former One Nation voters.The two major parties may not have offered that group much by way of effective policy, but Howard found ways (Tampa, the War) to make them feel good about themselves. I suspect Howard was not looking in his wildest dreams for a Labor tax policy that actively punished these voters (or could be represented that way) in pursuit of the exciting possibility of an aspirational vote that appears not to exist.

If Labor spends it's time fighting irrelevant battles on who runs the party they face losing another significant slab of the electorate. Perhaps a policy that addressed these people would be a good idea. Perhaps the ALP could even stun the country by talking about equity at the bottom. Or questioning whether an economic boom foudned on exploding personal debt, a ballooning trade deficit, and the end of affordable housing is entirely an unmixed blessing.

18 November 2004


I had a few technical problems. Apple should really coffee-proof their keyboards better. I'm also trying to finish a project by this weekend. Abnormal blogging will resume shortly.

27 October 2004

Thousands and thousands of potential terrorist attacks

SALON: Is there reason to believe that there are a lot more problems like this that the administration isn't talking about?

CIRINCIONE: Well, like Rumsfeld says, 'We don't know what we don't know.' But they've been peppered with questions about the nuclear sites, and they've just dodged them all along. We don't know what happened to a lot of the material from those places, some of which could certainly be usable in so-called dirty bombs. They are highly radioactive materials that could be used mixed in with conventional explosives -- such as RDX or HMX -- and dispersed over a wide area.

SALON: Do you think the news of this missing stockpile of explosives will have an impact on the last week of the presidential campaign?

CIRINCIONE: It most certainly could, especially if it becomes clear that many of the explosions that have been killing U.S. troops have been caused by this material. That could really hurt President Bush's reelection chances, because it would be such a clear and dramatic example of how the mismanagement of the war has made the situation much worse than it might otherwise have been.

It's one thing if insurgents have been making bombs from artillery shells or munitions that they could've gotten from a hundred other sites. But it's something altogether different for them to have gotten possession of some of the most sophisticated explosives material ever made -- and in vast quantities. And to do so after U.S. forces had been warned about this and apparently had gone to the site and seen the material and still done nothing about it.

The site was inspected by the IAEA on 4 March and first vsted by US troops on 3 April. They warned the Bush administration to secure the site. It's unlikely a large truck convoy removed the material on Saddam's orders between the IAEA inspection and the collapse of his rgeime. The intensive satellite surveillance would have detected that.

The occupation did not secure the site. They were probably busy making banners announcing the ned of combat operations. This shows how creating your own reality can blow up in your face.

26 October 2004

Cosmology Primer

Cosmology Primer
Twentieth-century science completely overturned our view of cosmology. We now know that our solar system is one of many in our galaxy, and our galaxy is one of many in the universe. These galaxies are spread throughout space in a nearly uniform distribution, and distant galaxies are mutually moving apart from each other as the universe expands. Over ten billion years ago the entire collection emerged from an incredibly hot and dense state: the Big Bang.

This, of course, is of interest only to those dangerous radicals who believe that reality matters. Or that matter has reality.

23 October 2004

debasing political databases

The Democratic Audit of Australia describes how political parties use databases in Australia to entrench themselves in power.

Paradoxically, because political parties are private organisations they are exempt from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which can only be made to government or quasi government organisations. Political parties can log information about voters without their consent, yet they cannot be made to disclose what information has in fact been logged. Clearly this state of affairs violates core principles on which our representative democracy prides itself.

Political party databases challenge effective representative democracy in Australia in two very important ways: by entrenching incumbency advantage and violating voter privacy. The resources used for databases largely derive from parliamentary entitlements. Staff to operate the systems, telephones to acquire voter information for database entry, and postage allowances to distribute targeted literature, are all examples of the advantage given to the incumbent government and/or local member in operating political databases. Compulsory registration to vote coupled with compulsory AEC handover of voter information to political parties is also a violation of individual voters’ privacy. Political party databases storing voter information are excluded from privacy laws which prohibit the retention of such information by private organisations other than political parties. However they are not subject to freedom of information rules either. Until this situation is remedied, political databases will continue to present a threat to key values of the Australian political system.

The situation in the US is worse, far worse, than in Australia because the state legislatures write the electoral boundaries for the US congress, because they use bipartisan rather than nonpartisan redistribution machinery for state legislatures, because they do not have compulsory voting, because different localities within the same electorate use different voting methods and because their databases are more advanced than Australian parties have yet managed. Nevertheless, Australians should look at the this with alarm, especially as control of parliament gives control of the executive as well. If the US is where this is going then the future looks grim.

Whatever Happened to Competitive Elections?
Nearly 80 percent of all state legislative seats are up for election around the country this year. On paper, legislative politics look as close as they could possibly be. In 2002, Republicans pulled ahead of Democrats in the total number of seats held nationally for the first time in half a century, but by the narrowest of margins - only about five dozen, out of 7,400 total across the 50 states. This year, there are 23 legislative chambers where a switch of three seats or fewer would change the party that holds the majority.

Looking at the country district by district, however, the reality is that true competition exists in only a tiny fraction of places. Even where political strength is closely balanced in the aggregate, the vast majority of individual districts are lopsidedly drawn in favor of one party or the other, engendering no real contest at the polls.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan are all battleground states in presidential voting, but they are not battlegrounds in the contest for legislative power. Republicans control them; Democrats haven't a prayer of gaining a majority in any of the chambers in those states. The redrawing of the lines that followed the 2000 Census is the primary culprit.

The ability to create the desired political effect increases every decade with advances in technology, making it easier for legislators and advocacy groups to target partisan precincts and predict their likely voting behavior for years to come. "Dummymanders" - sociologist Bernard Grofman's term for overly greedy gerrymanders that backfire - have become increasingly rare as sophistication about redistricting grows.

Good redistricting software and powerful databases were available during the 1990s - and partisan gerrymanders certainly took place well before the dawn of the computer age - but this time around, mapmakers benefited from a technological advance that at first glance seems trivial: high-quality color printing. The subtly shaded maps that were possible in the latest redistricting round allowed legislative staff to cycle quickly through dozens of permutations until their legislative bosses were perfectly satisfied and the gerrymanders were airtight. One more traditional element of uncertainty was thereby removed.

The new gerrymandering has political significance that goes far beyond the fall campaign. To an increasing extent, it governs the relations between the two parties when the legislature is in session. "You have more and more non-competitive and very liberal or very conservative districts where the only threat comes in a party primary," says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia government professor. "Therefore, there is simply less centrism, less moderation and less encouragement for legislators to compromise, just as we've seen in Congress."

Florida is electing a state legislature this year. The same article reports:

How lopsided? Of 22 contests for the state Senate, only six feature candidates from each of the two major parties, and just 34 of the 120 House races will have two-party competition. Even where there is nominal competition, it doesn’t amount to much. Two years ago, the average margin of victory in both House and Senate races was 21 percent. Incredibly, the winning margins were, on average, even higher in open districts, showing more clearly than anything how much the districts themselves favor one party’s chances.

We do not want to become Florida. before we congratulate ourselves on how much better our election machinery is, we should think about the postal vote system. The parties, not the electoral commission, administer postal votes. That should change and the electoral act should be amended to provide competitiveness as a new criterion for redistributions.

Only three seats but look at the vote

Those five are: NSW - Cunningham, from the Greens, a seat embracing Wollongong, lost in a 2002 by-election under Crean's leadership; Parramatta, from the Liberals' Ross Cameron, a self-anointed adulterer; and Richmond, on the North Coast, lost by the Nationals' Larry Anthony; and the Liberal seats of Adelaide and Hindmarsh in South Australia.

The eight seats the Liberals took from Labor are: Bass and Braddon in Tasmania, both seats embracing the top half of the island state; Hasluck and Stirling in Perth; Wakefield and Kingston in Adelaide; Greenway, in Sydney's western suburbs; and the new seat of Bonner, east of Brisbane city.

Labor went into the election with 63 seats - not 65, as keeps being misreported (Labor won 65 at the 2001 election, but lost the Cunningham by-election and the outer Melbourne seat of McMillan in a redistribution of boundaries). Labor comes out of it with 60, to the Government's 87 - 75 Liberal, 12 National - and three independents in a legislature of 150. That is not the disaster constantly repeated. Beazley, in defence of Latham, has said twice since polling day that Labor's 'grave' electoral position a month before the leadership change from Crean last December was the potential collapse of 30 seats to the Government.

What is sobering for Labor, despite the small net loss in seats, is the massive gap in the primary vote this election between Labor and the Coalition. At the close of counting on election night, Labor's national primary vote stood at 38.3 per cent, a bare half per cent above the 37.8 per cent Labor gained in Beazley's second losing election three years ago, a level of popular support which ranked as Labor's worst federally since the 1931 election that killed the Scullin Labor government after just two years in power.

However, in the two weeks of continued counting, Labor's overall primary vote went on sliding until, by close of counting on Wednesday this week, it had fallen to 37.79 per cent, eclipsing the 2001 vote achieved under Beazley's leadership. By Thursday night that figure was 37.71 per cent, and early yesterday afternoon had dropped to 37.65 per cent. No federal Labor vote in the past three-quarters of a century has registered such a poor standing.

And in another first since the formation of the Liberal Party 60 years ago, the count of the Coalition popular vote this election, by mid-morning yesterday, exceeded the Labor primary by a clear 1 million votes - 5,303,170 votes (46.5 per cent) to 4,299,220 votes (37.65 per cent). The only comfort for Latham in the figures is how strongly the disparity emphasises that Labor's marginal seat campaign, however much it has been derided, was able to keep actual losses to a minimum.

This is better than the other SMH report I've blogged, but not by a lot.

Yes, a net loss of 3 seats is not a train wreck.

Yes, Labor's primary vote is collapsng on the same trajectory as 2001.

The serious question is where those primary votes are going. If they were just going Green or Democrat and then coming back to Labor as second preferences there would be no problem as long as Labor continued to outpoll the Greens and Democrats. Clearly that is not happening.

We've just had a campaign that resembled 2001 in ignoring the values issues like mandatory detention, indigenous matters, and the war. Voters lost in 2001 have not come back. Hw long does Labor maintain this losing streak with campaigns and platforms that do not succeed?

Below the line and beyond belief

The October 9 election will be a dot in the rear vision mirror by the time the Senate representatives are finally determined. In NSW, counting to determine the sixth and final seat has at least another two weeks to run.

The reason? A voting system so complex that even if every house in the country had its own walking, talking Antony Green doll in the living room it's doubtful many more people would understand it.

In NSW, Labor's third candidate, Michael Forshaw, will probably be elected, scraping in ahead of Fred Nile with the help of the 66th preference of those who voted for the Fishing Party.

If, like more than 95 per cent of voters in NSW, you numbered a single box above the line for your Senate vote, the chances are you have no idea where your vote - or a proportion of it - will finally end up. That is decided by the parties three weeks before the election, when a preference ticket (or two, or three) is registered with the Electoral Commission.

Information on where those preferences will flow is available on the commission's website and, possibly, if you had asked at your polling booth for the 'group voting ticket' booklet, officials might have been able to show it to you. But if you could then figure it out, you would be lucky, suggests the ABC's election analyst, Antony Green.

I am not sure where to start with this string of journalistic howlers.

1. Preferential voting works the same way in single-member and multi-member districts.

2. The quota calculation is always to divide V by S+1 where V is the total number of votes and S is the number of seats. That gives you >50% in a single member district and >14.2 percent in a multimember district electing 6 candidates.

3. There's never a surplus to distribute in a single-member district. There is in a multi-member district.

4. In both kinds of district your vote is counted to your first preference. If they can't be elected your vote is transferred to the next available candidate until it can elect someone.

5. The transfer value for surplus ballot papers is calculated as (T-Q)/T where T is the total number of votes and Q is the quota.

6. The distortion in the system is the Group Voting Ticket. People voting below the line is hard work. Anyone doing it is unlikely to do it lightly. An informed media might have noticed that twice as many people cast their own preferences in Tasmania as elsewhere. They might even have noticed that Family First's lead was 4300 and the number of below-the-line votes was 60 000 in that state. The Family First candidate is unknown and the Green candidate has been a prominent state MP. Why do you think Tasmanians are avoiding the party ticket? To vote Family First or to vote Green?

Describing single member preferential voting as 'regular' and multimember preferential as 'irregular' simply proves the journo in question has no idea of his subject. He seems to condemn GVT voting, but then he calls his article Below the line and above belief.

Should votes count less if someone votes for a small party? Should voters who decide their own preferences instead of following a party ticket be penalised?

Or is the fault, dare I say, an ignorant media who declared the Senate election with insufficient information and now need a by-line to justify their own bungle? There are quite a lot of simple and informative books on voting systems. Surely the SMH can afford to go out and buy one?

If they did they would discover preferential voting is easy for the elector, you start with who you want elected and then work your way down. Pity Labor, and the media, forgot this in Victoria and Tasmania.

22 October 2004

The capitulation of modern Labor

Labor failed to stitch up a coalition between the aspirationals, who were presumed to have narrow economic preoccupations, and people who were preoccupied with moral or quality of life agendas. It was not necessary to offer much to people with non-economic priorities (for example, the Friends of the ABC) - but Labor should have at least acknowledged that they were there.

Labor lacks a set of core beliefs. The party must identify and promote them.

The ALP has a thousand tacticians - and no strategists. Giving ALP Senate preferences to Family First in Victoria and Tasmania is a classic example of a tactical decision that would have probably looked clever if it helped Labor win seats at no cost to itself. But clearly this decision was never considered strategically - when Labor's vote collapses, would the party really prefer a Family First senator to a Greens senator?

Targeting Peter Costello was both a tactical and strategic mistake. So was Medicare Gold, which proved to be a turkey, after an enthusiastic debut. The substance of the Tasmanian forests policy was right, but the timing was appalling.

The dominant role of factions has contributed to ALP demoralisation. There is a complete disjunction between the feelings of branch members, as expressed in the recent national vote for party presidents, and the policies set forth in the election.

Preselections are now the gift of the factions, who reward those who are loyal and those who accept the conventional wisdom. The first Hawke governments had probably the greatest collection of talent in Australian political history. Given more recent arrangements in the ALP about preselections for safe seats, it is unlikely such a spread of talent would be available from the House of Representatives - or the Senate, where endorsement is now generally a reward for factional fidelity.

Barry Jones, who the ALP should regard as a treasure, not an embarrassment, hits it on the head, as he usually does. The ALP's core beliefs need to run a little further up the ladder than getting a McMansion on every plot and don't mention the war. That not fly in the aspirational electorates. We lost Greenway. Let's not waste another 3 years hoping that somehow or other the aspirational strategy will achieve its aspirations.

21 October 2004

Time for the Greens and the Democrats to merge

In a last ditch attempt to save the sinking ship, the Democrats decided to direct their preferences to the Family First party ahead of the Greens. While the final Senate results will not be known for some time it seems likely that the result of this deal will be to scuttle the chances of a number of Greens senate candidates and deliver one, possibly two, Senate seats to the new conservative Christian party.

While an at times bitter rivalry has existed between the Greens and the Democrats as they jostled for similar supporters, on a fundamental level the two like-minded political parties had, until this election, worked constructively to achieve similar goals. Not any more. Not only have the Democrats harmed their own political prospects by facilitating the emergence of Family First, they have weakened the potential voice of Greens in a Coalition-dominated Senate.

It should not of course come as a surprise that the Democrats have once again made a decision that harms their own interests and their supporters. The GST deal and their refusal to unite behind Natasha Stott Despoja are clear evidence of a self-destructive tendency that, by definition, cannot last for long in politics.

In 2001 the Democrats managed to win four seats under Stott Despoja's leadership. At the weekend's election they won none; it was their worst-ever result. When the four senators elected in 2001 face the voters again in 2007 the party, except perhaps for Stott Despoja, will in all likelihood vanish. It is time for the progressive voices in Australian politics to unite.

This should happen. The Democrats would lose their conservative wing but that wing has delivered little in terms of either votes or policy. The Gang of Four coup against Stott Despoja's leadership achieved nothing except the prompt and utter destruction of the Democrats' electoral chances. The Democrats would benefit from the Greens' passion. The Greens' would benefit from the Democrats' superior understanding of the importance of process.

When the Senate results are finalised it will be interesting to add together the votes of the Greens and Democrats and see what a single party might have achieved.

20 October 2004

a spectacularly silly attack on the Greens

The media are pretty much reporting an election that has not happened yet. We don't yet know the final composition of the Senate. We're looking at Labor losing a maximum of 5 seats in the House. That's a bad loss but it is not a landslide. Losing the Senate is the result of incomprehensibly bad ticket choices by Labor in Victoria and Tasmania.

Greens are no friend of Labor
The net effect of the Greens' rise has been to weaken Labor and entrench the Coalition. On October 9, most One Nation voters returned to the Coalition, as did a substantial proportion of Democrats voters.

Despite preference deals, the fact is that, all along, the Greens have really been running against the Labor Party, not with it. Success for the Greens comes through taking seats and votes away from Labor, not the Liberals. If Labor cannot learn the lesson from its own experience, in which it gave the Greens everything they wanted in terms of forests only to see its electoral fortunes reversed, perhaps it should look across the Pacific.

George Bush owes his 2000 election victory above all to one man: Ralph Nader, the unreconstructed leftie crusader who dragged precious votes away from Al Gore. And who did Nader represent in the presidential ballot? The Greens.

This is a spectacularly silly piece of reporting. Labor did not lose the election solely because of the collapse in its primary vote and there is, in any case, no way of knowing yet whether the lost voters went to the Greens, Family First or the Coalition.

Invoking the ghost of Nader is the silliest in a string of non-sequiturs. Spoiler candidates like Nader cannot happen under preferential voting. If the US used preferential voting Nader's minuscule primary vote (vastly less than the Australian Greens') would have broken massively in favour of Gore when his second preferences were distributed and given Gore the White House.

It's bad enough comparing apples to oranges but comparing them to watermelons is worse.

19 October 2004

Zarqawi and al-Qaeda, unlikely bedfellows

But the letter doesn't make sense when one considers the bitter strategic split between Jordanian Zarqawi and bin Laden. This is the first time ever that al-Tawhid wal-Jihad has even considered abdicating its ruthless sovereignty. The al-Qaeda nucleus is a mix of hardcore Saudi Wahhabis and the Egyptians of Ayman al-Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad. Zarqawi's group contains basically Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians. They are Salafis, Islamic purists. The incompatibilities are not only ideological, but also methodological: al-Qaeda never attempted kidnappings or beheadings of Muslims. On the other hand, the black and orange brigades in Iraq are growing - these are disgruntled Sunni Iraqis increasingly attracted by the hardcore methods of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, whose symbol is black and orange.

European Union experts from a counter-terrorism special cell in Brussels tell Asia Times Online, 'We are working on the possibility that the letter may be an attempt to justify the current offensive by Iyad Allawi's government against the Sunni insurgency.' That's also the predominant popular view in the Middle East. But counter-terrorism experts also worry about the likelihood of a code message for al-Qaeda fighters - assuming the letter is authentic. The Brussels experts are particularly intrigued by the mention of Ramadan as the 'month of gifts and triumphs'. Fundamentalisms are mutually attractive. The key consequence of Bush, a born-again Christian, invading secular Iraq has been the convergence of all sorts of Islamic fanatics in Mesopotamia. As much as apocalyptic Christians view the 'war on terror' as a mission from God, apocalyptic Islamists would view 'Zarqawi's' allegiance to al-Qaeda as transcending a mere war and placing the whole thing as a do-or-die clash of civilizations.

In the end, this could be merely another US intelligence 'black operation'. Allawi wants Fallujah to hand him Zarqawi. Fallujah tribal leaders say Zarqawi is not in the city. Now, with alleged 'proof' in writing of a Zarqawi-bin Laden link, there are no holds barred to leveling Fallujah. This October surprise from 'the land of two rivers' is far from being the last.

It's a theory. It fits the facts somewhat better than Zarqawi suddenly getting struck by lightning on the road to Damascus. After all we know this White House is an empire that creates its own reality.

Google 'saved' Australian hostage:

John Martinkus was seized in Baghdad on Saturday, the first Australian held hostage in Iraq since the US-led invasion.

But his captors agreed to release him after they were convinced he was not working for the CIA or a US contractor.

He was reported to be making his way home to Australia on Tuesday.

His executive producer at Australia's SBS network, Mike Carey, said Google probably saved freelance journalist Martinkus.

'They Googled him and then went onto a web site - either his own or his book publisher's web site, I don't know which one - and saw that he was who he was, and that was instrumental in letting him go, I think, or swinging their decision,' he told AP news agency.

The other part of the Martinkus story is the increasingly shameless fabrication by the Foreign Minister of Kleenex, who announced Martinkus had ignored embassy advice and gone to a dangerous area of Baghdad.

Martinkus was abducted outside his hotel opposite the Australian embassy. Expect the customary blather explaining this discrepancy. I'd recommend the minister learn how to use a search engine but that would clearly be adopting the tactics of terrorists.

Sacked Iraqi judge likens Govt to Saddam

One of Iraq's leading judicial champions has been sacked, fanning concerns the US-backed Government is adopting strong-arm tactics reminiscent of the old regime in its war against insurgents.

Central Criminal Court's chief investigating magistrate, Zuhair al-Maliky, said the authorities had given him no reason for his dismissal, which came after repeated clashes with state security agencies over arbitrary arrests and other suspected abuses.

It was the US-led coalition that originally gave Mr Maliky the task of investigating alleged abuses by Iraq's fledgling security apparatus.

The judge insisted he was unrepentant about his crusade for due process by the security services.

'Nobody is above the law,' he told AFP.

'That's the mistake Saddam [Hussein] made. When he made some people above the law ... that was the disaster for Iraqi society.'

A former US official confirmed Mr Maliky had been engaged to probe alleged bribery and brutality by members of the police major crimes unit, back in April, two months before the caretaker government took power.

'There was a lot of cases of torture, illegal detention and corruption,' recalled Mr Maliky, adding that his investigation resulted in the arrest or conviction of at least 20 policemen.

Five of the cases involved the use of electric shock on detainees, leaving one man partially paralysed, he added.

Just another quickstep in the march to freedom.

18 October 2004

launching a magical foreign policy

Boost Phase missile defense strategy not feasible against many potential threats
The APS Study Group looked at boost-phase defense systems utilizing land-, sea, or air-based interceptors, space-based interceptors, or the Airborne Laser.

The effectiveness of interceptor rockets would be limited by the short time window for intercept, which requires interceptors to be based within 400 to 1,000 kilometers of the possible boost-phase flight paths of attacking missiles. In some cases this is closer than political geography allows. Even interceptors that were very large and fast and that pushed the state of the art would in most cases be unable to intercept solid-propellant ICBMs before they released their warheads.

A system of space-based interceptors, also constrained by the short time window for intercept, would require a fleet of a thousand or more orbiting satellites just to intercept a single missile. Deploying such a fleet would require a five- to tenfold increase in the United States' annual space-launch capabilities.

The Airborne Laser currently in development has the potential to intercept liquid-propellant ICBMs, but its range would be limited and it would therefore be vulnerable to counterattack. The Airborne Laser would not be able to disable solid-propellant ICBMs at ranges useful for defending the United States.

'Few of the components exist for deploying an effective boost-phase defense against liquid-propellant ICBMs and some essential components would take at least 10 years to develop,' said Study Group co-chair Daniel Kleppner. 'According to U.S. intelligence estimates, North Korea and Iran could develop or acquire solid-propellant ICBMs within the next 10 to 15 years. Consequently, a boost-phase defense effective only against liquid-propellant ICBMs would risk being obsolete when deployed.'

Although a successful intercept would prevent munitions from reaching their target, live nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads could strike populated areas short of the target in the United States or in other countries, shows the study. This 'shortfall problem' is inherent in any boost-phase defense and difficult to avoid.

Ozplogistan is fast filling up with reports and denunciations of faith-based politics. Over the weekend a string of much-blogged articles spoke about Bush's war against actuality, the suppression of dissent, the manufacture of al-Qa'ida and the fabrication of Zarqawi. The rhetoric is two-edged, and talks about US eccentricity as well as Bush's war on reason..

Bummer. We have our own eccentricities. Australia has signed up for the Son of Star Wars madness. Is that a commitment to doing whatever we're told or has the Man of Steel developed his own fantasies.

Son of Star Wars does not work and probably cannot work. The US Missile Defense Agency can claim it works only because they keep ignoring test results. As a high imperial official said:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Magical thinking is a cognitive disorder, not a policy. And the Man of Steel has decided to take Australia out of the reality-based community. That decision went unchallenged in the election campaign.

Not quite yet, prime minister

2004 Federal Election. Senate - TAS Results. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)
If all votes are assumed to be ticket votes, then the final vacancy in Tasmania goes to Jacquie Petrusma of Family First ahead of Christine Milne from the Greens. However, the final margin of victory is only 4,300 votes. In 2001, one in five Tasmanian votes, or around 60,000 ballot papers, were cast below the line. Christine Milne is a well known political figure in the state, and it is quite likely that many below the line votes from the Labor, Liberal and Australian Democrat tickets will leak to Milne. The final result in Tasmania will now be known until all below the line votes are entered into the computer counting system, and the button is hit to distribute preferences.

4300 is a lot less than 60 000. Until the below-the-line votes are counted in Tasmania and Victoria we don't know what will happen to the sixth seat. It's a fair assumption that below-the-line voters are likely to be some form of protest against the ticket votes registered by the parties. Truly, it's fairly weird to allegedly report anything else until the AEC counts these votes.

16 October 2004

Labor returns to power in Canberra

Ha! Gotcha! Sadly, it's only the ACT. Still, the 'landslide' received by the Man of Steel did not last all that long. More on that when the final figures are posted. The number of seats changing hands in the House of Representatives really does not indicate a landslide. The ACT result does not indicate an opposition headed for permanent oblivion.

Stanhope claims 'unprecedented' ACT victory
Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has claimed victory in the ACT election, with the Labor Party set to secure at least nine of the Assembly's 17 seats, the Territory's first ever majority.

"It is a fantastic result for the Labor Party. It's a tremendous victory and at least a 6 per cent swing across the board," he said.

"That is an unprecedented result for not just the Labor Party but any political party in Australia. In two elections we have increased our support by 22 per cent.

"This result is a vindication of how we have governed."

Liberal leader Brendan Smyth conceded defeat but says it is by no means a train wreck.

"Where are we? It's quite apparent that the Labor Party will be returned to government. They clearly have eight seats and there's a Green," Mr Smyth said.

"I'd like to say congratulations to John Stanhope and his colleagues for a return to government. I wish you well."

Labor could possibly take 10 seats, the Liberal Party is expected to retain its six seats, with the Greens occupying the cross bench.

It's hard to compile an ACT two party preferred at this stage of counting but the results are impressive.

Low-cost climate-change insurance could help ensure better future

The least cost, the researchers found, is to implement a carbon tax that starts out at $10 per ton of carbon (about five cents per gallon of gasoline) and then gradually climbs to $33 per ton in 30 years. Such hedging effectively “buys insurance” against future adjustment costs and is extremely robust, especially when compared with a wait-and-see strategy.

“It would be much less expensive to buy low-cost, climate-change insurance now, than it would be to wait and act later,” Schlesinger said. People voluntarily purchase insurance as protection from extreme events when the risks are private, he said, but societies can require insurance when potential losses are distributed across a population. In the past, risk has influenced policies where voluntary action could prove insufficient.

“In the United States, for example, we allow drivers to decide how much insurance to carry, but we require minimum levels of coverage,” Schlesinger said. “We also allow individuals to choose how much to contribute to their retirements, but we use Social Security taxes to guarantee minimum levels of income protection.”

The study incorporates the uncertainty in the sensitivity of the climate system estimated by Andronova and Schlesinger in 2001 by using a simple atmosphere/ocean model to reproduce the observed temperature change from 1856 to 1997 for 16 combinations of the radiative forcing by greenhouse gases, the sun and volcanoes.

“Recent work by five independent research teams has shown that climate sensitivity could be larger than the 4.5 degrees Celsius upper bound published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Schlesinger said. “In fact, climate sensitivities as high as 9 degrees Celsius are not implausible.”

Paralysis in near-term action could make temperature targets as low as 3 degrees Celsius impossible to achieve if the climate sensitivity turns out to be higher than 6 degrees Celsius, Schlesinger said, and the cost of adjustment measured in terms of discounted gross global product could be many times higher for lower climate sensitivities if nothing were done for 30 years.

The Man of Steel has built a political career arguing the evils of moral hazard. Somehow the need to plan ahead and make prudent arrangements for the future does not exist when it comes to climate change.

Nuclear material taken by experts not looters, say diplomats

The removal of Iraq's mothballed nuclear facilities took about a year and was carried out by experts with heavy machinery and demolition equipment, diplomats close to the United Nations have said.

The UN nuclear watchdog, which monitored Saddam Hussein's nuclear sites before the US-led invasion last year, told the UN Security Council this week that equipment and materials that could be used to make atomic weapons had been vanishing from Iraq but neither Baghdad nor Washington had noticed.

'This process carried on at least through 2003 ... and probably into 2004, at least in early 2004,' a Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

US, British and Iraqi officials have downplayed the disappearance of the equipment, saying it was part of widespread looting after the March 2003 invasion, which the US, Britain and Australia said was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

However, several diplomats close to the nuclear agency said on Thursday that this was not the result of haphazard looting.

They said the removal of this dual-use equipment - which until the war was tagged and closely monitored by the agency to ensure that it was not being used in a weapons program - was planned and executed by people who knew what they were doing.

It really is extraordinary that the Coalition of the Willing is so good at churning out lies to explain away its failures. It's almost as if explaining away how the war to contain nuclear weapons became the single greatest proliferation event of the decade was more important than stopping the actual proliferation.

15 October 2004

ACT goes Family Last

ACT election mirrors federal campaign:
MATT BROWN: Canberra is having its election now because the ACT has fixed three-year terms and Jon Stanhope says the national election has largely drowned out the local campaign.

JON STANHOPE: It's been very hard to get the message out, to communicate, to grab the space in both newspapers and the electronic media.

MATT BROWN: That may have made it difficult for the Opposition to make the case for change and in response the Liberal Party has bought itself an advertising blitz in the last week.

BRENDAN SMITH: And let's face it, there's voter fatigue out there. We've had six weeks of the federal and now we've got one week of the ACT free and clear, so yes we concentrated it in the last week and we've concentrated on a couple of key issues.

MATT BROWN: In the dying stages of the campaign, Liberal leader Brendan Smith has been denying Government claims that his election promises have a $400 million hole in them.

BRENDAN SMITH: The figures stand, I can deliver them.

MATT BROWN: The ACT voting system uses proportional representation to elect seventeen members of the legislative assembly from three separate electorates, and Jon Stanhope says that can throw up some anomalies.

JON STANHOPE: Because of the vagaries of the Hare-Clarke system you can actually win an election by more than 10 per cent of the primary vote and still not get an extra seat and that's a real possibility for us. It's one that I think would be something of a travesty.

MATT BROWN: But a poll commissioned by The Canberra Times and published this morning predicts a convincing Labor victory, and in a possible breakthrough, a government that will not rely on support from independents or minor parties.

Brendan Smith is still hoping the voters of Canberra will turn his way but, if not then he is prepared to work with all comers.

The big difference between the ACT legislative assembly and the senate is that the ACT does not allow ticket voting. I had hoped to see how Family First did without the advantage of preferencing deals with the ALP. Sadly, they're not running so the Wallace thesis cannot be tested.

And just for the record...
Canberra's own election: "
First election for the Legislative Assembly held in 1989. Others in 1992, 1995, 1998, 2001. No party has ever had an outright majority.

ELECTORS About 225,000.

CURRENT ASSEMBLY Seventeen members: eight Labor, six Liberal, one Greens, one Democrats, one independent.

VOTING METHOD Proportional representation under Hare-Clark system. Electronic voting - an Australian first - in some booths.

SEATS Three, each returning multiple members: seven from the central one, Molonglo, and five each from Ginnindera in the north and Brindabella in the south.

CANDIDATES Brindabella 21, Ginnindera 23, Molonglo 33.

Ticket voting should be abolished. At minimum the NSW practice of letting above-the-line voters determine their own preferences should be adopted. And the Victorian ALP head office should hang their heads in shame.

13 October 2004

Will Terror Alert Level Show Its True Colors?

A Cornell sociologist says he has found scientific evidence that, whenever the government issues a terrorism alert, President Bush's approval ratings go up, even on domestic issues, such as his handling of the economy.

Robb Willer, assistant director of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell -- someone else runs Large Groups? -- tracked about 26 occasions since 2001, including the major Code Orange alerts by the Department of Homeland Security, when some agency -- the FBI, the State Department or someone else -- announced a potential threat to Americans.

He tracked those with 131 Gallup polls taken during that time up until May. Willer, a doctoral candidate in sociology, found that, on average, each warning prompted a 2.75 point increase in the president's approval rating the following week.

Willer said yesterday that his research 'controlled' for various things such as the Afghan war, the beginning of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein, though not for economic good news or other positive developments. His study says he conducted 'several time-series analyses' and used 'regression models' and stuff like that.

Government terrorist warnings boost President Bush's approval ratings, a Cornell sociologist finds
Willer's study is published in the Sept. 30 issue of Current Research in Social Psychology , a peer-reviewed online journal, at http://www.uiowa.edu/%7Egrpproc/crisp/crisp10_1.pdf .

When Willer linked the warnings to presidential ratings from 2001 to 2004, he found that each terror warning prompted, on average, a 2.75 point increase in the president's approval rating the following week.

Willer points to the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as an example of the tendency. After Sept. 11, 2001, approval of Bush's job performance jumped from 51 percent on Sept. 10, 2001, to 86 percent on Sept. 15, 2001, in a Gallup Poll. Similarly, approval for Bush's handling of the economy jumped from 54 percent on July 11, 2001, to 72 percent on Oct. 5, 2001, says Willer.The findings are consistent with social identity theory, says Willer. The theory postulates that individuals tend to identify with a specific group to the extent that they see themselves as more similar to the members of the group than to its most significant out-group.

"Once individuals identify with a group, they develop significant biases toward their group, which help them maintain high self-esteem as members of their group. From the perspective of social identity theory, threats of attacks from foreigners increase solidarity and in-group identification among Americans, including feelings of stronger solidarity with their leadership," explains Willer.

When the out-group threat includes terror, Willer says that the social-identity effects are further heightened. He notes that his findings also are consistent with terror management theory, which indicates that threats involving mortality not only increase in-group biases but also nationalism. "This research suggests that individuals may respond to reminders of their mortality, like terror warnings, by supporting their current leaders," Willer says.

I always wondered why we hear so much abut threats at the same time as we hear so much about Coalition success in the War on Terror.

If you've got them by their advertising budgets, their hearts and minds will follow

The Australian media did not perform well in the federal election. The level of bad performance varies from the Fairfax management banning the editorials staff from an endorsement, to the convenient invention of terror incidents, to the general inability to even question the government's record or intentions.

Australian media have a patrimonial approach. Most of it is part of the Murdoch or Packer patrimonies, so that's hardly surprising. Various people (Murdoch and Packer) 'own' the media so they can print or broadcast what they like. In fact, they're entirely dependent on advertising. Ultimately we pay these people by paying the advertising costs they pass onto us through the price mechanism.

In the US, a broadcaster has decided to put out a slam piece on John Kerry just before the presidential election. Talking Points Memo has excellent coverage on how to respond. Our media are going to be excitable for the term of this government. The prospect of Howard controlling the Senate is their first chance in years to get the cross media laws repealed and may allow them to lock up cable as a monopoly forever. They really want stuff from the Man of Steel. But they still need advertisers...

Pandering to Howard's Whingers

Do you see what's happening? Just as Medicare Gold would have favoured people on the basis of their age rather than their need, so Howard has already changed the tax system to differentiate on the basis of age rather than ability to pay.

If you're old, you shouldn't be asked to pay tax. If you're on the same income but are a young couple saving for a home or a family, however, you should pay full freight. This sounds like a fair thing?

Today's young people are compelled to save for their superannuation while also paying taxes to cover their parents' and grandparents' pensions and prescriptions. They've been lumbered with HECS debts. And the Howard Government's economic miracle has priced them out of the housing market while delivering a huge, tax-free windfall gain to their home-owning oldies.

If the pollies can't control their urge to buy the oldies' votes at every successive election, they're pouring petrol on a generational powder keg that may one day blow up in all our faces.

Perhaps at the next election Labor might start contesting an economic miracle that has, for many, ended the Australian dream of owning a home. Or promoting generational equity rather than geriatric handouts. Or even addressing those Australians who do not fit into the ever-narrowing definition of family.

11 October 2004

How to achieve your own Cannae

The Senate runs on group voting tickets. It doesn't have to. People who voted Labor in Victoria did not have to tick the Labor ticket, they could have filled out their own order of preferences. My guess is that most Victorian Labor voters did not want and did not know that Labor above-the-line votes in Victoria run:

CARR Kim John
Australian Labor Party

CONROY Stephen M
Australian Labor Party

Australian Labor Party

Australian Labor Party

Ex-Service Service and Veterans Party

Ex-Service Service and Veterans Party

liberals for forests

Family First

We are facing Coalition control of the Senate for many reasons. One of them is the idiocy of the Labor group voting ticket in Victoria. Whoever was responsible should be falling on their sword right now.

9 October 2004

Don't head for New Zealand Just yet

The state of the parties in the House of Representatives is unchanged at 22:35, although doubtful seats will give the prime minister an increased majority.

  • Liberal 40.7% +3.2 75 seats
  • National 6.0% +0.4 12 seats
  • Labor 37.9% +0.0 58 60 seats
  • Greens 7.0% +2.1 0 seats
  • Democrats 1.1% -4.3 0 seats
  • One Nation 1.2% -3.1 0 seats
  • Others 6.1% +1.7 3 seats

The Senate looks scary. Victoria may elect a Family First senator and give the government control of the Senate for the first time since 1980.

The Liberal/National Coalition will control the House and form the government for the next three years. I'll think about this and scribble more over the next few days. Hindsight is useless, except there will be another election in 3 years time. I think Labor can win that election easily. Every issue from the economy to national security favours the government right now, but it's all built on the housing bubble, the special relationship with George Bush, the interest rates of mass destruction, and Labor's inability to get back the 2001 Tampa voters. Those issues will not be there in 3 years time. neither will the Man of Steel and Iron Mark will be a seasoned leader facing the happy alternatives of Abbot or Costello. Labor also needs to think hard about seats like Greenway and the advent of an organised religious right in Australia. Those votes wiill not come to Labor no matter how many principles are compromised.

The media has been spectacularly complaisant, but I think that can be changed over the next three years. If Family First wins the sixth Senate seat in Victoria an avalanche of legislation will scream through the Senate, That will make the choices much clearer next time around. The Man of Steel must be praying that interest rates, which respond to the global economy more than domestic policy, do not rise in the next three years.

Raining down policies once the election is declared does not work. You have to do what Whitlam did and run a permanent campaign. A year ago Labor was facing the loss of 25 seats. Holding seats in an essentially unchanged parliament is fairly spectacular achievement.

Bloggers need to get a lot more active and build a closer relationship with the parties of progress. After the Democrat implosion that means Labor and the Greens. We especially need to start riding the media in the way the US blogosphere does. More when I'm less depressed and when the Senate result is clearer.

8 October 2004

unspinning group voting tickets

The strange allocation of preferences in the Senate, where Howard has associated himself with a fundamentalist confessional party (and perhaps legislated to gain their support) could be cured easily. The NSW 1999 election was also skewed by an outbreak of microparties with unlikely names and platforms who exchanged preferences in a fairly promiscuous manner.

Antony Green's New South Wales Legislative Council Elections 2003 (PDF) tells us:
While the new voting system retained the 'above the line' or group voting option, groups had to nominate full lists of 15 or more candidates to have access to a group voting square. Votes cast using the group voting method only counted as preferences for the selected party, and could not be directed to other parties. Like-minded parties running against each other would therefore split their base vote. Previously, like-minded parties had been able to compete for votes against each other, sure of their ability to swap preferences. At recent elections, several parties have used this tactic to elect MLCs despite receiving quite small totals on the primary count.

A new form of 'above the line' voting was also introduced, allowing voters to order parties above the line, in an analogy with the way candidates can be ordered 'below the line'. Data on ballot papers is not yet available, but from the details provided in the distribution of preferences, it appears that less than ten percent of voters took advantage of this new option.

A consequence of the changes was that only 15 groups nominated in 2003 compared to 80 at the last election. However, every group nominated 15 or more candidate, compared to just three groups in 1999. So while the number of groups fell, producing a much more manageable ballot paper, the number of candidates rose from 264 to 284.


Two findings are clear from the detailed distribution of preferences in Section 1.

(1) Preferences played no part in the final outcome. Under the previous operation of group ticket voting, preferences flowed strongly between groups on the ballot paper, as more than 90% of votes had been cast using the group voting option. Under the new system, 80-90% of preferences exhausted between groups. The number of members elected from each group at the 2003 election was determined entirely by the level of primary vote support for each group and was unaffected by the distribution of between group preferences.

(2) Parties that divided their core support were disadvantaged by the new system. The Shooters Party, Independent Pauline Hanson, One Nation, the Fishing/Horse Riders/4WD ticket, and Australians Against Further Immigration, probably share a similar support base. Together they polled 1.63 quotas. Under the old electoral system, this support could have been accumulated using ticket voting, giving an outside chance of electing two MLCs between the groups. Under the new system, these parties split their vote, no preferences flowed and John Tingle from the Shooters Party was elected with less than half a quota, edging out Pauline Hanson for the final vacancy.

The way to resolve this is to abolish group voting tickets and applyRobson rotation:

Of special interest is a feature of the Tasmanian electoral system whereby through a process of rotation each candidate gets a share of the position at the top of a particular column. This system has been in use since 1979. This is an attempt to even out the donkey vote (simply voting up or down the ballot) which is said to favour surnames early in the alphabet, or candidates early in the list. This system of rotation was championed by Hon. Neil Robson MHA, and is often known as 'Robson rotation'

Under the current electoral process a draw is made for the position of Party or independent groups across the ballot paper. Other candidates are classed as 'ungrouped' on the far right of the ballot paper. Next the rotation process is applied. Since 1996 this has been achieved by batch printing which first places candidates in a random sequence in each vertical column, then 'rotates' the names evenly in the positions available.

On polling day only first preference counting occurs; after postal votes arrive the cut-up of preferences commences. Candidates who achieve or exceed a quota of first preferences are declared elected.

Family First have proved the flaw in group voting tickets - people's votes are going to parties and candidates they have no intention of voting for. We know they have no intention of voting for them because no-one, but no-one, ever knows the registered orders of preference in any detail. The NSW solution is not bad, but its discriminatory between GVT voters and individual voters. Pure Robson rotation, on other hand, skews things to strongly against GVT voters.

What we really want is a system that's neutral between Robsonian individualism and GVT colllectivism. If I had my druthers, and there is absolutely no prospect of that happening, I'd:

  • get rid of the line altogether;
  • list all candidates and tickets in the same area of the ballot paper and apply Robson rotation across the board;
  • allow voters to give as many or as few preferences as they wish.

Boring technical points
There would need to be rules that :

  • because each candidate would appear individually and on each ticket, a candidate could only receive the highest preference shown for them on each ballot.
  • a ticket preference would count as the next available preference for each ticket candidate and then revert to the voter's individual order
  • ideally the same rules would apply to House and Senate elections with the quota calculated as V/S+1 (rounded up) where V= the number of voters and S=the number of seats to be filled.
  • ideally we will one day elect our president this way.