1. Fire ants – here to stay?
Fire ants are here, and have the potential to destroy our fauna and alter our way of life. This is what they look like on a 10 cent piece:
They are 2-6mm in size but pack a nasty punch, swarming in their attack, so your arm could look like this, or worse:
In some people they cause anaphylactic shock which can kill. Around 85 people in the US are known to have died, one young teenager in Southern Texas just playing football on a ground found later to have 20 nests. Duty of care? With small animals they go for the eyes and other orifices.
According to a recent Background Briefing investigation, $330 million has been spent in the last 16 years since they were discovered near Brisbane. The containment zone is now almost double the size of the ACT, and a new effort has been launched to spend a further $400 million over the next 10 years.
Authorities say that if nothing had been done fire ants would have spread from Wollongong to Charleville to Mackay. This map may be conservative, but it will give you an idea of where they are now:
More information and a list of suburbs here.
This is where they could end up:
In the US I believe they have stopped at the snow line.
Queens can fly five kilometres to find a new home, nests survive days of being under water, and they can hitch a ride anywhere in a bit of dirt. In June they popped up at Beerwah in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Without the $330 million the case would now be hopeless. Eradication is still the aim, but the odds do not look good.
2. Amazon off to a shaky start
Amazon appears to have fluffed its start in Australia by launching just before Christmas, when expectations were high, and then too often failing to deliver within the expected time. Apparently:
- 17 per cent of seller reviews have reported a negative experience with Amazon Australia, mostly due to “late shipments and order cancellations”.
In the US the corresponding number is 4 per cent. So eBay is ‘not yet’ threatened, let alone the established retailers.
eBay has been operating in the Australian market for 18 years, with 40,000 retailers on board, including 80 of the top 100. Managing director Tim MacKinnon says “our most recent Google partnership [to create the eBay Gift Finder] expands our technological capabilities to provide even greater access for consumers.”
3. Trump watch
Tax cuts have come to stay, which will add a mere trillion dollars to the deficit. I’m told 62% of the cuts will go to the 1%, and fully 56% of the people, including much of the Republican base, disagree with them.
Does anyone think companies will use the tax cuts to restore disappearing pension plans?
Even as late as the early 1990s, about 60 percent of full-time workers at medium and large companies had pension coverage, according to the government figures. But today, only about 24 percent of workers at midsize and large companies have pension coverage, according to the data, and that number is expected to continue to fall as older workers exit the workforce.
Meanwhile Trump has threatened to cut off aid to countries who voted in favour of a UN motion condemning his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
A total of 128 countries backed the resolution, 35 abstained, and nine voted against. We were among the chicken little abstainers.
Here’s where the US spends its aid.
I understand that most Americans think they spend about 25% of GDP on aid. I have not checked, but the truth is said to be nearer one per cent.
I believe foreign aid is governed by Congress, not the presidency, so perhaps sense will prevail.
4. Our contribution to extra-judicial killings
At some time during the festive season we should pause to think about what it means. Leaving that aside, Background Briefing has again been stirring up trouble, trying to engage our conscience by taking a look at what the Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility actually does.
- it seems it’s not our troops that are Australia’s most important contribution to international warfighting, nor our planes or submarines, it’s the massive satellite surveillance base in Central Australia, just 15 minutes’ drive south of Alice Springs, at Pine Gap. It sits between two folds in the West MacDonnell Ranges, and has 800 Australian and US staff, and some 38 radar dishes pointing skywards. Officially it’s labelled the ‘Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap’.
Just helpful information sharing. In fact, an essential part of drone strikes by the US in its program of extra-judicial killings. These are not wars identified by the United Nations. It is whoever the US thinks needs to be culled in its war on terror.
There is an ethical problem with how the targets are selected and the killings implemented. A further problem with the by-kill, the people who happen to be with the target, or if the strike misses its mark.
Obama took a personal interest in this activity, a worry for a Nobel Peace Prize winner. One can’t imagine Trump doing the same, although under him we are told the activity has trebled.
As the technology become more widely available, this can’t end well.
Or we might think about the 45.6 million people in 197 countries caught up in modern slavery.
Last night in iview we watched Jane Hutchins interview Michael Leunig on One Plus One. Leunig says he is an outsider, that we are up to our knecks in sadness, and he is speaking up for the repressed, on behalf of grief, our seeming pact to destroy nature and for the loss of beauty in the world. However, what comes through is gentleness and compassion rather than anger.
Worth a watch.