Hartcher on Rudd and Gillard

RuddGillard-240My attention was drawn to a series of articles under the heading The Meltdown by Peter Hartcher by Mark and then this post by John Quiggin. I thought them well worth a read, but found the links from Quiggin’s post less than straightforward to access. My purpose here is to facilitate such access rather than put a point of view. So here goes:

Actually if you click on the last on you get the links to the previous four.

This comes towards the end of Part 5:

Before the 2010 coup against Rudd, Anthony Albanese had presciently warned colleagues: “If you do this, you will destroy two Labor prime ministers.”

Penny Wong adds this postscript: “They were two extraordinary politicians. The great sadness of this time was that they were both in the same generation with the same ambition. Together they should have been invincible.”

Together they were essentially invincible, but Hartcher details quite convincingly how things fell apart after Rudd came back from the schmozzle of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, apparently a changed man. A strategy meeting was held and it was agreed that they would press forward with the CPRS and take it to a double dissolution election ASAP after Australia Day. Instead Rudd went off and wrote a children’s book and came back in a mood of paralysis and avoidance, which persisted. Continue reading Hartcher on Rudd and Gillard

We pay, but what do we get?

There was much interest in a leaked list of the pay packets of the ABC’s star personnel yesterday, published (paywalled) in The Australian. If I’d been asked to guess how much these folks were paid I would have been thinking the $80,000 to $120,000 range, which shows how out of touch I am.

The salaries listed in this article range from Annabel Crabb on $217,000 (rounded down to the nearest 1000) to $355,000 for Tony Jones.

My question is whether we are paying for star power, essentially personality, or for competence, outstanding ability to do the job. With respect to the latter, I don’t rate highly at all the competence of many listed. Tony Jones is an awful interviewer and is more interested in entertainment than journalism in my book. So my impression is that we are paying mostly for personality.

Some of the people listed are unknown to me in terms of their work. Richard Glover must be an awfully good radio presenter to be worth $280,000.

The Courier Mail today picks up on the Queensland scene. I believe Spencer Howson, local radio’s Breakfast presenter, was the only one to make the top 100 at $160,000. He’s light, breezy and rates well. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to him. For me Fran Kelly at $255,000 would be my choice in the time slot, and that seems an awful lot of money. Steve Austin, our local Mornings presenter, is on $115,000. I rate him and that strikes me as about what he’s worth.

The Community and Public Sector Union were not impressed, seeing it as an attack on the ABC.

It’s claimed that the women are paid less. Leigh Sales at $280,000 is paid $11,000 less than Quentin Dempster, but $25,000 more than Chris Uhlmann.

Jonathon Holmes was on $187,000, which inclines me to think we are rating star power above competence.

Someone pointed out that you can take a bunch of any half dozen and their combined salaries come nowhere near that of Kyle Sandilands.

Indonesian spying affair

Indonesia has recalled its ambassador after leaked documents reveal Australia spied on president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, amongst others. Dr Natalegawa:

“It’s impossible for an ambassador in foreign country to do their duty in the midst of an unfortunate situation like this,” he said.

“The summoning of the ambassador is not considered a light step, but it’s a minimum step we can do to consolidate situation, and to show our firm but measured act.”

You have to wonder what the endgame is in this matter. Seasoned foreign affairs commenters seem to think these matters can be managed, everyone knows that everyone spies on everyone else. Behind the scenes all can be settled down and we continue as before.

Well that hasn’t worked so far for the US when Angela Merkel found that her cell phone was not off limits. The issue is still very much alive, though it’s not clear that the US will agree to a legally binding ‘no spy’ agreement.

It seems to me that Indonesia has all the leverage it needs to get whatever it wants, especially as Crikey’s editorial suggests, Abbott is pursuing an asylum seeker-based foreign policy.

Nevertheless the US may not allow us to enter a ‘no-spy’ agreement. Against that, the Chinese are taking an interest.

There’s more at The Guardian and The Conversation. Continue reading Indonesian spying affair

Climate Change Authority review

BernieLast month the Climate Change Authority published a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review, which is to be completed by February 2014.

Submissions to the Draft Report must be lodged on this webpage by 29 November 2013.

The full draft report (all 265 pages) is downloadable from the first link above. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of it, so I’ve reproduced below the summary of the Executive Summary provided by the Authority, with some slight enhancements.

This Review can inform upcoming decisions on international commitments, guide long-term investment decision-making and inform the design of the Government’s Direct Action Plan.

The Authority’s views are grounded in science which says the world needs a long-term limit on emissions to stay below 2 degrees of warming and reduce risks of dangerous climate change. Australia also needs to take a long term view of emissions and set a 2050 emissions budget.

The Authority has also considered international action on climate change which shows a clear trend towards more ambitious action, although all countries need to do more.

The Authority has considered the economic implications of stronger targets and has concluded that it is possible to move to stronger targets at relatively small cost to the economy. The Authority’s draft recommendations seek to balance short term clarity and stability with longer term flexibility by recommending a single 2020 target and a trajectory range to 2030.

The Authority considers a 5 per cent target for 2020 to be inadequate because the Government’s [own] conditions [for moving beyond 5 per cent appear to have been met] and the pace of international action justifies us going further. [It] is inconsistent with action towards the 2 degrees goal and more ambitious targets might now be easier to achieve than earlier thought.

The Authority presents two targets for 2020 – 15 per cent and 25 per cent, with different trajectory ranges to 2030 [35 to 50 per cent and 40 to 50 per cent respectively].

Compared with 25 per cent, 15 per cent would require faster reductions later, and would use up more of the [carbon] budget sooner. [It] would place us in the middle of the pack on climate change action and would cost slightly less in the short term.

Australia can use international emissions reductions to help meet its target. While we have many domestic opportunities to reduce emissions, allowing international emissions reductions to be part of the mix can help lower costs. The Government should consider allowing the use of international emissions reductions to go beyond 5 per cent.

The Authority seeks feedback on this Draft report to inform its deliberations on final recommendations.

Clearly the Abbott Government will take no notice of the Review. In fact they have specifically reneged on the extended 5 to 25% range which had been bipartisan policy since 2009. Continue reading Climate Change Authority review

They don’t make them like Paul Keating anymore

8.30 pm is the absolute worst time in the 24 hour cycle for me, but of course it is prime TV time and last night we were treated to the first of four interviews of Paul Keating by Kerry O’Brien.

Keating_1346_1_keat_90

Are there any other politicians who could sustain our interest over four hours? I’d have to agree with Evan Williams: They don’t make them like Paul Keating anymore.

He’s right, the scheduling shows up the current mediocre lot now gathering in Canberra.

The 1990 Australian election was a close run thing. The ALP under Bob Hawke won by nine seats with 49.9% of the vote. Mark once told me Australia would have been a much better place now if Peacock had won. Peacock would have been a one-term time minister, followed by PJK for three terms, followed by some-one other than John Howard. We can but dream!

Elsewhere Keating was in fine form in the Remembrance Day address. He reworked the folly of the First World War in a way that enhances us all and makes us grow in spirit.

He made some fine speeches but was also the master of the one-line insult. Here too there was a rawness and honesty that shades the current lot, who often use one-liners thought up by their spinmeisters.

Cyclone Haiyan

dn24549-1_300Over the last few days we’ve received a stream of information and images about cyclone* Haiyan which devastated central Philippines, especially the city of Tacloban. Zoe Daniels compiled a graphic report for the 7.30 Report program last night. She mentions that they went to see a coastal village where the devastation was complete.

Here’s a photo from the SMH:

Hayan_ leyte169-408x264

Donations can be made through the Philippine Red Cross and Oxfam. Please feel free to post links to other charities in comments.

According to this link you can donate to the Red Cross by via credit card by phoning 1800 811 700. The hyperlink given there is broken.

Dr Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog has a post which reports the damage initially as $14 billion, breaking The Philippines’ record for damages for the third time in 12 months. Initial estimates of the death toll were put in excess of 10,000, but the SMH suggests the toll from Tacloban alone may have exceeded that figure. Some 9 million people have been affected.

The cyclone has been reported as the strongest ever to make landfall. An article in The Guardian quotes Jeff Masters as putting it at number four with the note that NOAA has stated that the maximum sustained winds estimated for typhoons during the 1940s to 1960s were too strong. The other three were in 1958 and 1961. In his linked post above Masters has compiled an unofficial top ten, with Haiyan at the head. Five of the ten were in The Philippines.

There are two aspects where I’d like better information. Firstly, I heard one report that the wind remained at Category 5 intensity for either six or eight hours (can’t remember which). The system was very large. Secondly, I heard of a storm surge of up to eight metres. Apparently this caused more damage than the wind and was responsible for many of the deaths. In many cases only the lowest areas were evacuated. Continue reading Cyclone Haiyan

A bolt from the blue

As you know I’m always up for a thread of doom, so when I heard talk of asteroid strikes happening more frequently than previously thought I decided to investigate.

The story starts with an asteroid that exploded in the air in the Chelyabinsk region in February 2013. There was a collection of videos at Slate. Car alarms were set off by the shock wave, but I gather most of the damage came from broken glass. Over 1000 people were injured. There are some stills of damage here.

The rock was about 19 metres across (equivalent to a six-story building), with a mass of about 12,000 tons. When it hit the atmosphere at a speed of 20 kilometers per second (many times faster than a rifle bullet) the energy released was equivalent to about 500,000 tonnes of TNT, and the brightness around 30 times that of the sun.

russia_meteor_dashcam2-1506673967.jpg.CROP.original-original_500

This Slate article has a description of what happened physically. Broadly:

It came in over Russia at a low angle, slamming into our atmosphere, violently compressing the air in front of it. That created a vast amount of heat and pressure, which simultaneously melted and broke up the asteroid into smaller fragments. Within seconds, the huge energy of motion of the rock was suddenly and violently dissipated, creating an explosion equal to about 500,000 tons of TNT detonating.

I think 500,000 tonnes of TNT is about the equivalent of 40 Hiroshima bombs.

As that article says (see also the BBC and the ABC) asteroid strikes are now thought to happen more frequently than previously thought (paywalled research here and here), perhaps as much as ten times more. Chelyabinsk-type events were thought to happen every 150 years on the average. Now the estimate has moved to every 25 to 30 years. And then there’s all the others in the range from say 1 to 50 metres. Previously we relied on visual records, but some, over the sea, for example, have escaped notice.

Apparently there are literally millions of objects in the tens-of-metres-of-size range that could come near Earth and we only know about 1000. Continue reading A bolt from the blue

Climate clippings 86

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is mainly about politics and policy rather than the science.

1. Anti renewables tirade

As the forces of darkness are unleashed upon us under the rule of Tony Abbott, people attending the Eastern Australian Energy Outlook Conference were subjected to a “venomous rant” against the renewable energy target from Burchell Wilson, a senior economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The tragedy of this is that Wilson’s presentation may have been plain wrong, nasty, manipulative and ideological, but he’s not alone in Canberra….

As Wilson (rightly) pointed out, there is a vast reserve of anti-renewables passion in the rump of the National Party and the Liberal party backbench open to such rhetoric– which insiders say is being whipped up by new Liberal MP Angus Taylor.

Wilson expressed his hope that these views would overwhelm those of moderates such as Environment Minister Greg Hunt, and Energy Minister Ian Macfarlane. He hoped that the economic rationalists at the Productivity Commission would have carriage of the next RET review.

2. Mining lobby targets RET

In the current political climate the RET is under serious threat, being targeted directly by the mining industry.

This is how John D sees it:

Australia’s RET is one of the few emission trading schemes in the world that is actually working. For years it has been steadily driving investment in utility scale renewables. Better still, because it is an offset credit trading scheme that does not generate government revenue it is achieving this with negligible changes in power costs. (The fossil power companies are actually complaining that it is pushing wholesale prices down!)

For this reason it is of some concern to see that the Minerals industry is pushing for the repeal of the RET.

We should all be campaigning for an increase in the RET target and against any attempt to eliminate or scale back the RET.

Continue reading Climate clippings 86

Bolt rools!

Australia is a competitive nation on the sporting field. In the field of climate change we excel in two ways. Firstly, we head the OECD in terms of per capita CO2 emissions. Secondly, our press is the most critical of climate change science, according to a Reuters survey. Our leadership is in no small way due to the efforts of one Andrew Bolt. That’s what Wendy Bacon told Richard Aedy on the Media Report recently.

Wendy Bacon was talking about her report Sceptical Climate Part 2: Climate Science in Australian Newspapers. There is a summary of key findings here. From this page (scroll down) you can download the report, or parts of it, or go to Key Findings with links to sections of the report.

Oliver Milman in The Guardian has a useful summary.

The report analysed 602 articles published between February and April in 2011 and again in the same period in 2012. The article covered ten papers including The Australian, the capital city Newscorp papers, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The West Australian. Missing were The Canberra Times and the AFR.

There were fewer articles in 2012 (270 as against 332) but actually more sceptical articles.

Fully 97% of comment pieces in the Herald Sun either questioned or rejected climate science.

When measured by words, 31% of the writing in the surveyed papers did not accept established climate science in 2011, with this number rising to 44% in 2012. This in spite of the fact that The Age and the SMH have become less sceptical. Continue reading Bolt rools!

The Heart of the Matter

Over the past two weeks the ABC’s Catalyst program has run a special series under the rubric The Heart of the Matter calling into question the importance of cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease with Dr. Maryanne Demasi leading the charge. This is how she described the programs:

In the first episode of this two part edition of Catalyst, I investigate the science behind the long established view that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol.

In the second episode, I cut through the hype surrounding cholesterol lowering drugs and reveal the tactics used by Big Pharma to make the drugs to lower cholesterol appear more effective than they seem to be.

In Heart of the Matter, I investigate whether the role of saturated fat and cholesterol in heart disease is one of the biggest myths in medical history.

Go here for transcripts and videos:

Dietary Villains

Cholesterol Drug War

First up it must be said that Dr Demasi is not just a journalist. She has a PhD in medical research from the University of Adelaide and worked for a decade as a research scientist specialising in rheumatoid arthritis research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I had a triple bypass back in 2000 and have taken statins ever since as well as 100mg aspirin daily and medicine to lower my blood pressure. Except on rare occasions saturated fats do not pass my lips.

Dr Norman Swan told Fran Kelly that his wife had sat next to someone on a plane who had been taking statins for familial high cholesterol levels. After seeing the program he said he had dropped the drugs and was going to tuck into the cream cheese.

To this viewer, such a response would be warranted on the basis of the evidence put forward in the programs. I’m a cautious person, however, so my intention was to stay on course, but was going to consult my GP who I see every four to six weeks. I expected her to advise me to change nothing until I next see my cardiologist in March next year.

Norman Swan was angry. He said people will die as a result of the program. Continue reading The Heart of the Matter

Toyota’s fuel cell car

Around 16 years ago Toyota unveiled its hybrid electric-gasoline car. Since then it has sold almost six million of them. Now the company is taking a different direction and will start selling cars powered with a hydrogen fuel cell as soon as 2015. The battery car, they say, could only exist as “a niche toy for [rich] eco-snobs”, but is not suitable for the masses.

The fuel cell car will have a range of over 500 km or perhaps as much as 650 km in range driving, and will be refillable in seconds if you can find a filling station. Germany currently has 15.

The price is given as between five and 10 million yen, or about €37,000 to €74,000. Not cheap, but perhaps cheaper than expected as an initial offering.

On the downside, the car is only 30% efficient compared to 70% for battery electric. Hence masses of renewable energy will be required if the cars are to be environmentally friendly. There is a question as to whether sufficient renewable energy will be available for a mass rollout, but the car is more efficient than a conventional petrol model.

Toyota have devoted 500 engineers to the project, so they are certainly serious. Daimler has been working on the concept for some time and expects to have vehicles on the road in 2017, as does a Ford-Nissan alliance. General Motors, Honda and Hyundai are working together on a fuel cell project, Volkswagen has formed an alliance with Canadian fuel cell producer Ballard so as not to be caught out if the technology takes off. Continue reading Toyota’s fuel cell car

A hegemon in decline

Immanuel Wallerstein has argued since 1980 that the United States peaked as a hegemonic power around 1970. He says the decline was slow at first but became precipitate during the presidency of George W. Bush. At first

the reaction to this argument, from all political camps, was to reject it as absurd. In the 1990s, quite to the contrary, it was widely believed, again on all sides of the political spectrum, that the United States had reached the height of unipolar dominance.

However, after the burst bubble of 2008, opinion of politicians, pundits, and the general public began to change. Today, a large percentage of people (albeit not everyone) accepts the reality of at least some relative decline of U.S. power, prestige, and influence. In the United States this is accepted quite reluctantly. Politicians and pundits rival each other in recommending how this decline can still be reversed. I believe it is irreversible.

Wallerstein points out that the recent kerfuffle over spying on friendly leaders would have been hushed up during the 1950s. Now it is to the advantage of leaders in their local politics to tweak the nose of the US. Not one of the strong actors in the Middle East takes their cue from the United States any longer.

Finally, there are two real consequences of which we can be fairly sure in the decade to come. The first is the end of the U.S. dollar as the currency of last resort. When this happens, the United States will have lost a major protection for its national budget and for the cost of its economic operations. The second is the decline, probably a serious decline, in the relative standard of living of U.S. citizens and residents. The political consequences of this latter development are hard to predict in detail but will not be insubstantial.

Continue reading A hegemon in decline

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff