Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rupert’s little games

We all have to suffer Rupert Murdoch’s psychopathic tendencies, but I really hate it when his actions are openly confusing. Like now, during an election campaign when we could expect him to back to frontrunner or at least split his bet, Rupe goes in hard for the underdog. More…

China perspective

Following on from China bad US worse

The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide. This has been so since antiquity.

(The opening words from Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century on the fall of the Han Dynasty.)

That observation of China can equally be applied to other places. Europe has cycled through variations of central control and separate states. The current trend is back to a single unit, larger than any previous and as a federation to be sure, but united. Russia is of course another example, with the collapse of the Soviet empire feeding into the new Europe.

Federations like the US and Australia cycle through from strong central government to an equally strong autonomy at state level. The cycle at present is trending to central control and I suspect these two federations are fairly dynamic, with rapid changes occurring.

In the case of China we tend to think of a history shrouded in the mists of time, we us the word China to pull together an enormous diversity. We tend to think of one homogenous country and people, bound tightly together.

Yet even China has been dynamic over the past century, despite the perception of a powerful central government. Before I launch into those aspects of diversity I put a thought out there for consideration:

Picture a new division in China, the unthinkable to some perhaps, but a powerful economic unit composed of mainland Southern China Guangdong (Canton), Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is probably no accident that these three places share geography as well as potential for economic and market unity.

While we ponder that I’ll visit the wider picture, relying heavily on Wiki here:

The Han Chinese are the largest ethnic group based on the 2000 census, where some 91.5% of the population was classified as Han Chinese (~1.2 billion). Besides the majority Han Chinese, China recognizes 55 other "nationalities" or ethnic groups, numbering approximately 105 million persons, mostly concentrated in the northwest, north, northeast, south, and southwest but with some in central interior areas.

Speech and writing of China essentially span six linguistic families. Most of them are phonetically dissimilar and mutually unintelligible. Han languages include what we know as Cantonese and Mandarin and their many variants. Non-Han minority languages include Mongolian and Tibetan.

Tibet, of course, would be more than happy to regain its autonomy, having never accepted the imposed Chinese rule. To the far west of the country Xinjiang is peopled with folk you would fail to recognise as Chinese, and they are Muslims like their neighbours.

Manchuria was a separate country until they invaded China. It sits in the North East corner of the country and has a mixed ‘Chinese’ Russian background. Again these people don’t easily relate to a greater China.

As for the traditional Han states, down the cost of China, north and south are separated by language, culture and attitude. The south, Guangdong, have always been a fiercely independent people, not to mention entrepreneurial.

It is the furious economic drive which could be the wedge which breaks up China as we have known it. In a country where the army actually run enormous enterprises, mainly in the south, it’s not hard to visualise the split occurring. If the South tires of the burden imposed by the rest of the country it’s hard to see how a split could be stopped.

I’m just going through some of the economic factors that might support my far fetched thoughts. We’ll be back with them.

Monday, October 29, 2007

China bad US worse

Australia’s treasurer, Peter Costello, made an incredible statement last week. Incredible for someone aspiring to be prime minister, to assure voters of the integrity of the economy and who would one day be dealing with both US and Chinese leaderships.

He warned of a "huge tsunami" set to engulf global financial markets, with China as its epicentre, and the US weakening in the wash-up from the sub-prime fiasco. Actually I expect his reasoning for a US collapse was diplomatic if not reticent.

But the whole tsunami metaphor, the China prediction, has had me thinking. In fact it has had me researching so that I could put Costello’s comments into a reasonable context. The fact is, I’ve never been comfortable with my understanding of the Chinese culture, but I’m learning.

Costello was commenting after Figures released showing the Chinese economy grew at an annual rate of 11.5 per cent.

"All flows of capital they have been sending to the US might reverse, and you will get a major realignment on major currency markets," Costello said. "China is very strong but you can't just grow an economy in double figures on a long-term basis."

For those interested I intend to share some of the fascinating data I’m digging up on China. Bearing in mind that economics should reflect social as well as financial I’m playing around with a range of issues and sources.

Why? Australia’s current surpluses are off the back of China’s rapid growth. We are supplying coal, iron ore and other essential raw resources and that is delivering tens of billions of dollars each year into the foreseeable future.

Look at some of the development:

  • China is commissioning a new coal fired power station every week.
  • Every week China is constructing the equivalent of a city to acomodate one million people.
  • Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.

In 2007 Australia is exporting iron ore-and coal, and gold, and other commodities-to the tune of $117 billion in earnings, according to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE).

For all of that the China treasure is problematic for this country. First up it is relatively chump change in the scheme of things. We are digging and shipping the country at a frantic rate, for a petty return.

The second concern is, chump change or not, our economy can’t absorb the pittance left over from the mining industry for developing essential infrastructure and social needs, including hospitals and health. That is a story on its own, but we are already seeing the inflationary effects of this bounty.

I’m not sure that the dalliance with China, the US or globalisation generally, does anything positive for Australia. Shipping out our raw products doesn’t, it seems. Playing the US ‘globalisation’ game certainly doesn’t.

We are losing on many fronts, including the diversity required to feed, house and assure the general well being of the population. We are assisting in generating the very climate change that is already causing havoc on this fragile continent.

I am not a nationalist, by any means; certainly not in any political/geographical sense. This continent is a treasure which the whole of the planet should be celebrating, not mining and destroying.

The US we already dissect constantly on the blogs. I intend to share some of the data I’ve been collecting on China. Working to understand that complex of cultures has been an eye opener. I won’t pretend to be expert in any sense, but I hope I can put some valid discussion points out there.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sorry, but you can keep the waste

George Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is making its footprint large in Australia. Okay, the context is that I am just back from an election campaign nuclear power forum.

Candidate Robin is opposed to the development of nuclear power generation in this country, and was preaching to the converted. Again, the context, our sub-tropical paradise is one of the 18 or so coastal regions slated for one of these wonderful power stations.

Australia is actually blessed with resources and technology which makes nuclear power needless here. We have more than abundant sunshine, and generating levels are still very high when there is cloud cover. We have ample natural gas for generation.

More than that we now have proven technology for smaller, community based generation, based on hybrid solar/gas systems. We also have wind coming out the wazzoo, so to speak.

Interestingly the main motivation for our nuclear debate here is not to develop nuclear power but to justify George W’s aim of turning this country into a nuclear waste dump. Maybe I shouldn’t pick on George here; I think Mr Cheney might have a big role to play in this.

Halliburton recently completed a major rail line through some of the most inhospitable country in the world, Central Australia. In many ways the project ranks as an heroic engineering feat, but will never be an economic winner as a normal railway service.

What is interesting is that along this route are three locations identified as potential nuclear waste dumps; a sort of Ellis Island for the words nuclear garbage. I suspect Cheney’s little enterprise might actually get there return on investment as waste disposal contractors.

Of course, give Halliburton’s record on operating contracts I find the concept appalling, at the very least. But bugger it all! Why should one of the true wonders of the world, not to mention the land inhabited by the Aborigines for 50,000 years or more, become a toxic wasteland for a few million years?

The Brits already rendered massive tracts of Central Australia waste lands from their early nuclear weapons experiments. We know much more now and George and Dick can stick their waste where the sun don’t shine, but I’ll personally lead the charge to ensure they don’t dump it here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who cares?

I find it difficult to deal with recent figures on Australia’s disability and carer’s statistics. As much as I cross check there seem to be somewhere around 20% of the population in these two groups.

Putting that into numbers, in the context of a population of 21 million; there are an estimated 2 million people suffering serious disabilities and another 2.6 million registered carers. That latter figure, apparently, doesn’t count normal health workers.

There are real issues on the carer aspects, recognised in a minor way by a by a $28 million promise of help by the federal government. That amounts to a $500 a year bonus for these people who are often isolated from the rest of the community because of the pressure of their responsibility.

Respite is a major issue, with primary carers battling to find any way of providing even short periods of (that word again) respite. It is serious enough that thee is now a carer’s political party specifically targeting the senate in the current election campaign.

What really confounds me is that 20% of a society can remain largely hidden. It also raises questions when 10% are suffering disabilities serious enough to render them housebound or worse.

Somehow I think this is an issue which transcends money and demands some real studies into what is happening with our society.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Inflating expectations

Australia’s Consumer Price index figures released this morning show headline inflation rose by 0.7 per cent in the September quarter for an annual rate of 1.9 per cent.

The expectation is that this will almost certainly trigger an interest rate rise when the Reserve Bank meets November 6, ahead of the November 24. It would be the first ever interest rate rise during an election campaign in this country.

John Howard campaigns on his economic credibility, and promised no rate rises during his last campaign. The bad news for him is that this will be number 6, a long way from zero.

The government are still pushing the full employment line, but failing to explain the 30% part time counted into that equation. In the end what they say is moot, it is what people feel. Those wavering in the comfort stakes will be bowled over by another hike.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Eviction threat

We still don’t know what is behind the eviction notice we received last Friday, just that it doesn’t hold water. Campaign Central was under seige for a few days, but is clear again now. After taking all the information to a tenancy advocate we were assured our rent is up to date. But even better, the eviction notice was dated 1907. We were diverted trying to decipher the day date and didn’t look at the year.

So back to politickin’!

A worm in the debate

First I let me say I really don’t see any real value in election leader’s debates. They have the potential but that would mean the participants forgoing the carefully staged, safe debate mode.

When John Howard – conservative (Liberal/Nation coalition) and Kevin Rudd – labor, met on Sunday night it was in an extremely regulated environment. For a start, it is very early in the campaign, presumably to allow Howard a buffer for a poor showing. He’s never won one of these debates.

Questions were carefully vetted to exclude more controversial issues, and the worm was banned, again by Howard. But one channel ignored the ban on the worm and had its feed pulled twice during the broadcast. They ended up taking an alternative feed.

By the time I switched to the word channel, bored with the actual ‘debate’ the feed issue was resolved. I muted the TV and concentrated on body language and the worm. John Howard was obviously having problems remaining calm and controlled. Rudd was more self assured and neither was in any real attack mode.

I missed the audio of Howard’s Liberal deputy being told to shut up and stop interjecting. Perhaps that even added to Howard’s unease. The worm was constantly neutral to negative for Howard and above the neutral line for Rudd.

So the words weren’t worth listening too, but the visuals were very interesting and telling. Following a rise in the polls for the conservatives last week there has been a correction published today which puts Labor on 51% of the primary count.

Here in Lyne we are looking at another positive of this leadership dynamic. If there is a growing swing away from the government we have an opportunity to grabbing some of it as it moves across. The downside here is that Labor is virtually as conservative as the conservatives – nice and safe.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

DIY Election Watch

I didn’t intend much general coverage of the Australian Federal election here, but it does take up a lot of my thinking at the moment. Still, I’m more concerned with the local campaign so some might be interested in some links to good media coverage.

For newspapers it’s hard to beat the Fairfax stable for broad news coverage:

Sydney Morning Herald - The Melbourne Age

ABC – The National Broadcaster A wide range of news and comment across their radio/TV networks.

The Australian – Rupert Murdoch’s Australian flagship is generally fairly pro Howard, but still offers good insights and sometimes balance. Note: I had to add a browser plug-in to block their heavy loading adverts.

Port Macquarie News is where you will find bits of news on our local campaign in Lyne.

I’ve put the links up over on the right, and there are some excellent links to Australian political blogs below.

Rollercoaster week

It has been a real rollercoaster in the first week of the campaign. Robin’s Tuesday evening headline news piece – candidate in his underwear (see previous blog – seems to have stirred things up a little

Heartening is the number of people going out of their way to voice their support. Although the incumbent and Labor candidate appeared in the news story it seems Robin in his underwear were all people saw.

The downside, starting Thursday, was a surprising eviction notice based a flimsy arrears claim. It can’t be sustained, as we have a full set of receipts and records, but it might have served to divert us for a few days.

Along with the eviction notice came a series of threats and attempts at intimidation. The sad part is those threats are being aimed at our known friends as well as directly at us.

It hurts when our friends are targeted, like our Sikh neighbours. They are a delightful couple and he (I’ll leave names out) is a long time Australian who has served in the Australian military.

Apart from the turban he’s as Aussie as anyone I know. Having him called a ‘towel head’ and threatened because of what we might be doing is a concern. On the other hand, gentle as this guy is, he does know how to take care of himself.

We don’t personally do intimidation, but the consequences of our democratic rights should not flow onto others. We are not really sure where this is coming from yet, and we are not about to be dumped out of our apartment in a hurry. Still, to ensure that means time spent dealing with that threat.

The dumb part is that we can’t win this campaign. The numbers just don’t stack up in this solid conservative electorate. Our issue is to bring some key issues to the fore and generate some discussion. I guess that represents a threat to some.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A little Prick shows the way

Our political campaign, here in Port Macquarie, has made a bit of a splash at the start of a long six week election. The regional news led with a story, ‘a candidate strips to his underwear to tell his story’.

It was a good 60 second piece with my brother Robin (pictured below) in his long johns, the incumbent, Mark Vaile and the Labor candidate. Feedback we are getting suggest that the other pair, in suits at shopping centres, were not seen or heard by many viewers. The underwear stole the show.

That is the sort of campaign we intend running. Rather than compete with the bland presentation we need to do something to stand out. I don’t really see most advertising, but a couple have caught my attention lately and underline the power of the different approach.

A little Prick campaign (see pic) is promoting a prostate cancer detection program currently underway here. Amid all the advertising noise this ad stands out for everyone I’ve spoken to. It even has me thinking, as someone who hates needles but would prefer it to the alternative.

The second; Controversial "Little Pinkie" anti-speeding ads could be the most successful road safety campaign NSW has ever had. The TV ads show women shaking their little finger - a gesture used to symbolise a small penis - as speeding male motorists race past.

I think the underwear is as close as we will get to those efforts, but there should be some interesting events ahead.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Compulsory voting - part 1

Despite compulsory voting in Australia there are clear indications that enrolments are below parity with 2004. Voting is compulsory for all Australian citizens aged 18 years or over, indeed enrolling to vote is compulsory.

If you do not vote, the Electoral Commission will write to you asking that you provide an explanation or pay a $20 fine. Those who do not pay the fine within 21 days face court and a fine of $50 plus court costs. I’m not sure what the penalty is for failing to enrol.

Even so, these failures are not rigorously pursued. Indeed, our political masters are not averse to measures which restrict ability of potential voters to enrol. Those measures are based on restricting classes of voters who might be seen as hostile. For the Howard government that always means young voters.

Amendments enacted by the Liberals now close enrolments on the day election writs are issued. So distracted young people are given no time to enrol once the main game starts; they think ahead or they are out of the picture.

It is not compulsory for Australians outside the country to vote. But failing to maintain one’s federal electoral enrolment and not voting in even one election once abroad can mean that an expat loses their right to vote for the rest of their time overseas.

I was one of an estimated 500,000 living overseas at the last federal election and found it impossible to confirm my enrolment and receive postal voting papers in time to vote. Not that my long distance vote would have hurt Mark Vaile.

The Australian Electoral Commission has confirmed 143,000 voters including more than 3000 in Canberra have been removed from the electoral roll in the six months leading up to this year's election, a potential boost to the Howard Government's chances.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rules of engagement

With the Australian federal election underway I have been giving some thought about I will handle it. While it is not the centre of my attention it certainly takes up a good space on the radar, but there is a wider world.

So, first up, most of my commentary will be posted on Off Broadway – with appropriate pointers on Grub Street. I just don’t have the enthusiasm, or I’m too involved with a single campaign, to do an election countdown. But those interested can find an excellent countdown at Oz Politics Blog.

Apart from that I will post instructive, quirky or other general interest election bits here. Such as:

Anyone interested in a peek at the process of clearing the decks for an election can see an annotated graphics collection on the prorogation of Parliament, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald HERE.

Another issue I’m looking at, for those interested in comparing systems, is compulsory voting. That in the next few days.

US losing influence?

“A CONTROVERSIAL nuclear deal between the United States and India appears close to collapse after India's Prime Minister told President George Bush that "certain difficulties" would prevent India from continuing with it.” Melbourne Age

This deal was always suspect, appearing more an effort to put pressure on Pakistan than to assist India’s development. But maybe the world’s policeman isn’t pulling the old levels of respect anymore.

“The main obstacle does not involve terms of the agreement but India's internal politics, including fears from leftist parties that India is moving too close to the US.”

The fact is, like China, India is rapidly becoming an industrial/economic powerhouse. It is fine to bully the weak, but just an intimation of some growing strength can create some interesting dynamics.

The problem for the US and allies in all of this is that commitment to Afghanistan and the role that Pakistan plays in the equation. India has served as a sort of moderating influence in the region, but obviously not happily or willingly.

The rapidly changing economic dynamic around the world appears to be catching the Bush administration on the hop. The bully politics might have worked well, but it seems like there is now a call for a major modification. I’m sure many Americans would also love to see an end to the bully approach.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The more things change

Back in the late 1970’s I contested a federal election. Like this current campaign I’m involved in, there was no real prospect of winning, but there were very real messages to get out. Back then a major issue for me was the environment.

Being of the radical centre I was impressed by emerging ethanol fuel technologies and my home state of Tasmania could produce any amount of appropriate fuel feed without compromising essential food crops. The main ones we were pushing then where winter ground crops like sugar beet.

Since that time, with information we now have, I’m less enthused by bio-fuels, particularly as Australia’s food production is increasingly coming under pressure from drought, growing population and ‘free trade’. What we aren’t giving away to overseas production we are losing as agriculture land becomes less viable.

Goring our agriculture
Now Al Gore fans are doing their best to attack the remaining Agriculture industries and are also risking discrediting real and sustainable reforms. Latest reports from the noisy end of the spectrum are now claiming:

  • We must stop producing and using milk
  • Farms should be converted to wind farms
  • Agriculture lands should instead become carbon sinks
  • Australians should replace beef with kangaroo meat

For my part, the loss of milk in the diet would go pretty much unnoticed, and I guess if we don’t bother to nourish out bodies there is a pretty automatic energy saving. Bovines are notoriously gassy beasts, in common with all ruminants but they hardly match the enormous industrial and automotive outputs.

It seems the mechanical polluters have more money and more at stake than their rural counterparts, but that doesn’t mean a balanced approach should be tossed out the window.

I’m not blaming Gore for these excesses, but his newly enthused supporters really do need to think through the consequences of their positions. Yes, I made an error of judgement way back when, the major lesson of that error was to look more closely at all the issues involved.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Candidate Cartledge on the trail

Just so there are no mistakes here, the Prime Minister on the left is Edmund Barton, Australia’s first; having a bronzy chat with my brother Robin who is seems has lost his shirt.

On the right is the alleged perpetrator of the parlous state Robin finds his electorate in, that is the sartorially outfitted John Howard – the other Prime Minister. Like the bronze PM, Howard has nothing of any great interest to say.

It is going to be a fascinating election campaign, at least in this household. Robin is not given to your standard political marketing approach. However, I will endeavour to ensure he keeps his trousers on in future.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The race is on

November 24 has long been tipped as the polling date; today it has been confirmed, with John Howard visiting the Governor General to put the formalities in train.

The announcement ends Howard’s attempts to buy time, and occurs on the day the latest bad news poll (see pic) reveals the governments woes are not abating.

The challenges for Howard, identified by the poll are confronting. Across every age group and sector there is disenchantment at best, fury at worst.

The array of voter worries covers everything from workplace laws to leadership, wrapped in a pervading feeling that the Government is now shopworn.

Relying on economic credentials won’t cut it for Howard. The old border security and terrorism bogey makes people yawn. And the promise of a Peter Costello government warms few hearts.

It seems Howard’s strategy now is to tempt opposition leader Rudd into mistakes; coupled with his fresh new mantra -

Strong, Prosperous and Secure

I’m not sure if my readers will remember the tagline from Reagan’s second term campaign. John Howard has just trotted it out again, as: Australia - Strong, Prosperous and Secure

Given the lack of traction over the past year, and the strong opposition from younger voters, Howard is going to need more than words and opposition mistakes.

With Labor consistently ahead in the projected primary count a uniform swing, highly unlikely, would produce a landslide result. While independents are not yet featuring in polling, some of us are hopeful of a strong non-party showing this time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The brain is in a spin

I filched this from the Brisbane Courier Mail. I even road tested it first. Which way is the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?

I see clockwise, but I tested it on my brother, the candidate it the upcoming election, and he immediately saw anti-clockwise. Though he insists it changes.

Apparently, most people see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction.

uses logic uses feeling
detail oriented "big picture" oriented
facts rule imagination rules
words and language symbols and images
present and past present and future
maths and science philosophy & religion
can comprehend can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
knowing believes
acknowledges appreciates
order/pattern perception spatial perception
knows object name knows object function
reality based fantasy based
forms strategies presents possibilities
practical impetuous
safe risk taking

An additional note:

I visited a site: Hemispheric Dominance to test the concept. Try the test yourself. My result was:

Type of Cognitive Processing


Processing information from whole to part; sees the big picture first, not the details.


Processing information with out priority; jumps form one task to another.


Processes things that can be seen , or touched - real objects.


Processes information based on whether or not it feels right know answer but not sure how it was derived.


Processes thought as illustrations.


Processes information with creativity, less focuses on rules and regulations.

Personally I can cope with that. But I think some more research is called for.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Blind Freddie can see the cynicism

Way back in 1967 I was drawn into a referendum campaign to recognise aboriginals as part of Australian society. In fact, one provision was to count our indigenes in census counts. It seemed like a no-brainer, even to a very young political activist.

Forty years later Prime Minister John Howard, facing a hostile electorate, has trotted the issue out again, proposing a new referendum to incorporate a "statement of reconciliation" into the preamble of the constitution.

The man has no sense of history or honour. The first referendum, to my eternal regret, delivered nothing more than a salve for the non-indigenous community. Howard’s referendum will simply extend that moral escape route, and the real issues will continue to rub.

I was shocked again recently to hear that eyesight issues are still a major problem among aboriginal communities in this country. This is decades after pioneer doctor Fred Hollows developed inexpensive and portable treatments for the viral based cause of indigenous blindness. The report I saw suggested that $20 million dollars over five years would eradicate the problem, but government has other priorities.

In some parts of the country, between 65 and 75 percent of Indigenous people die before the age of 65. The mortality rate of Australia’s Indigenous infants is comparable to those of some developing countries.

We don’t need a bloody referendum, we need action. The Fred Hollows Foundation says it wants to see an end to treatable eye disease and is holding a second blitz on eye surgery at the Alice Springs Hospital.

Foundation spokesman Chris Masters says the work will help get through some of the 300 people waiting for eye surgery in central Australia. He says the foundation is now working with governments and Aboriginal health organisations to develop an eye care system that can stop the waiting lists getting so long.

It’s not a big call, but it beats the hell out of playing politics with people’s health. The Fred Hollows Foundation works right across the troubled third word countries, and is worthy of real support. It is a disgrace beyond words that they are still needed in Australia.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Playing with election predictors

I don’t know if it is just an Australian thing, but the only place I ever find people trying to fathom the arcane electoral prediction arts is downunder. Regulars will know I have a passion for divining election prediction formulas.

We have a US wingnut plonker Frank Luntz here through our faux election campaign working his magic. But young Frank is more into massaging numbers than predicting. He would rather push a poll than analyse polls.

Thus far I’m happy with my sledge hammer, household economic predictor- at least in its limited reach. In country such as Australia which has, essentially, national taxation collection, the theory works for national elections.

The household economic method is a blunt instrument which does not allow for many variables outside a simple two party/federal dynamic. It doesn’t work with states subject to federal disbursements or to a growing move to federal alternatives such as minor parties or independents.

So another Aussie has just posted Inertia, proximity and alterity , another look at predictor models. I don’t disagree with the writer, but I can’t post a comment on the site and I find the choice of words problematic.

Inertia I might have used traction; alterity might have better been alternatives. But given that the basics are important.

  • Oppositions do not win; governments lose
  • Australians [or voters generally perhaps] do not tend to change government in the absence of a recession, or policy failures
  • Inexperienced Opposition Leaders usually lose. Recession-free and debacle-free Prime Ministers usually win
  • Governments lose when the economy turns sour, or when ministers are found to be corrupt, grossly incompetent or excessively arrogant
  • Once elected, governments tend to serve at least two and often three or more terms
  • Governments which win their first term by the barest majority, and provided they have not stuffed up, often go on to a win a more substantial majority in their second term

I would add one more indicator to this list:

Party infighting is a clear sign of an impending loss for a governing party, but it also signals continued loss for a minority party. I’m not sure whether infighting is a product of failure to connect with the electorate or whether the electorate punishes parties which can’t get their act together. I suspect the former.

Now the economic failures are relative, as we saw in the US Mid Terms 2006. The Republicans could clearly claim a booming economy at the top end, but the claim did not extend through to household budgets.

In fact reports suggest that the Republicans were caught out during campaigning because they failed to identify the wider economic implications. I suspect the Democrats were as bad in this, but the electorate was not holding them responsible. We go back to the first point, governments lose.

When Paul Martin led the Canadian Liberals to elections in 2004 and 2006 the economy was in good shape, though reality varies again by strata. On international criteria the country was powering along, but household economics might not have been so rosy.

But Martin had inherited a tired and corrupt government, and nothing short of comfortable household economics could have saved him. The 2004 election threw his government into minority and the 2006 outing delivered the axe.

It was a sort of mixture of dynamics; the economics was simply not comfortable enough to override the legacy of corruption the Liberals had accrued over the years of Jean Chretien and Martin failed to convert his economic experience into a valid leadership position. Party infighting developed in 2004 and increased into 2006.

John Howard’s Liberals, in Australia, are talking up dubious economic success. To be sure, the economy is booming, but fiscal restraints and egos limit the benefits through the wider community. Howard has always been a wedge politician, so it’s not surprising that he is being caught in his own trap.

The impending disaster for his government has been closing in for over a year now, with polling consistently running against them. Howard’s mob has failed to gain any traction at all, despite the ability to wave wads of cash about.

They look tired and desperate; there is increasing dissention within the party at all levels. Leadership challenges have died off for now, but voters have taken note that none of the challengers were good enough, and one suspects, they’d rather punish Howard than a surrogate.

I could go on with examples, but they don’t really help with applying predictors to other dynamics. Lets face it, the US primaries institutionalise party infighting, so create a sort of level playing field.

But I will be visiting some of the variants in future to try and get a handle on application of these and other predictors. The whole topic still fascinates me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The cost of diversions

Surveys over the past few years have shown that Australians would prefer to purchase a wide screen TV to a holiday trip. I guess that could be signalling some sort of shift in a country with a reputation for mobility and travel.

A recent survey of consumer credit, ratcheting at an alarming rate, shows people going into major debt to purchase plasma TV sets. My disclaimer here is that if TV disappeared I would probably not notice for a while.

So big TV screens are the big demand now and the big news these popular items; “would be banned from sale in Australia as early as October next year under onerous mandatory energy requirements…”

“The consulting firm Digital CEnergy, which prepared the report for the Government's Australian Greenhouse Office, also recommends a second tier of even tougher restrictions that would then ban almost all current LCD models from the market in April 2011.” SMH

It strikes me as amusing that in this age of miniaturisation people are so concerned to turn their homes into mini cinemas. The swing to being entertained, and the ensuing energy waste is far from amusing.

In a country of sunshine, wonderful outdoor recreation – not to mention a real world to explore – the thought of coming generations glued to big, energy hungry screens is appalling. A society of spectators is not really my vision for the future.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Aussie Digger Dead

It was bound to happen eventually, and now Australia has its first ‘death in action’ in the ‘war on terror’. The soldier was killed and another severely injured in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said; "Australia has been very lucky until now and we are sharing the pain our partners the Canadian, the British and the Americans have been feeling for some time in Afghanistan."

He’s right of course; even given a great deal of skill the Australian troops have been lucky to avoid higher casualty numbers. On the eve of an election campaign that single death is going drive the so far sleeping issue of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the forefront.

According to the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney 64 per cent of now oppose Australia's military contribution to the Iraq occupation. Afghanistan fairs better with only 50% opposed, but neither have been seen as big issues.

In fact, the belief that Afghanistan is a human rights issue has ensured that even those opposed to the action have been very low key about it. Both major parties are committed to our continued presence there, while Labor has signalled quitting Iraq.

I expect that, ironically, the death will raise the noise on moving our troops out of Iraq, but support for the Afghanistan action might well increase. The actions are predicated on totally different imperatives. The reconstruction projects in Afghanistan are delivering real results, unlike those in Iraq.

But the Australian public will be demanding more than reconstruction, there will be increasing calls for the Taliban to be neutralised and the Bin Laden nonsense be finally dealt with.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Weekend musing – on communicating

In recent months I’ve stretched my blog reach beyond the purely political to a sort of crossover into some equally interesting social/cultural areas. In a sense I’ve strayed from what we Australians might consider ‘blokey’ (or maybe just male) into regions I treasure equally, like art and music. More…

Saturday, October 06, 2007

UN hit by tsunami

Back when the first inklings of the UN ‘Oil for Food’ scandal were surfacing, Indonesia and the Indian Ocean region were swamped by a massive tsunami.

Perhaps given the distraction of the Iraqi frauds or simply the compassionate need to get aid to those caught in the tsunami, the UN avoided a second major scandal, until now.

Certainly there have been mutterings about donations not reaching intended recipients. Part of the problem was Indonesia’s own reluctance to allow outside agencies to disperse aid. Especially to problematic provinces such as Ache.

Now there are claims of reconstruction funds worth $US500 million are being lost to fraud and corruption because of the failure by the United Nations to implement its own anti-fraud measures.

On top of this, a former deputy director of the United Nations' internal investigation arm claims only the liar, fraudster and nepotist can survive the UN's culture. Francis Montil says "Once one enters the international civil service, one is obliged to abandon the reality that the world outside is not at peace."

I have long defended the UN, essentially for want of something better. Many of its agencies do have long records of valuable and worthwhile contribution. But somehow, it now seems the rot has eaten too far into the dream.

Not that I believe the UN is a conspiracy, it is after all the sum of its parts, the collection of the worlds nations and their politics. But beneath that is a growing body of evidence that the organisation has developed its own sick internal corruption.

Among the allegations Montil makes are:

- Kofi Annan appointed UN secretary-general despite presiding over two genocides.

- American film star Angelina Jolie is inappropriately touched by the UN refugee chief.

- A Russian UN staffer has pleaded guilty to money laundering.

- UN officials in the secretary-general's office tried to discredit an American woman who made allegations against the UN refugee chief.

- A Bangladeshi peacekeeper escaped prosecution despite raping a 13-year-old boy.

- The UN ignored allegations of widespread corruption after the Indonesian tsunami.

Coming from a former insider, the charges are disturbing, to say the least. We could expect such charges against the World Bank or IMF, after all they were established as self serving organisations. The UN encapsulated loftier dreams, and now they are dissipating as truth emerges.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Strewth Sol! Fair crack of the whip

Sol Trujillo, pictured right, is the face of the ugly American in Australia. As the CEO of Telstra, Australia's major telecommunications company, Sol represents just about everything we detest about the corporate bully.

Telstra was once owned by the Australian people; then it was privatized with the proceeds from the gradual sell off going not to the people, but being snatched by the political establishment. That political establishment still holds around 17% of the corporation. More…

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Aussies think about Americans

A new study has just been released: Australian Attitudes Towards the United States - National Opinion Survey - Part One This first part targets policy issues, and comes on the heels of Bush’s recent visit to the country.

I tend to draw quite a few ‘why do Australian hate Americans’ Google hits. I’m not sure why, but I guess I have argued the distinction between Americans and the US Government Administration in the past.

I’m still going through the research notes, but I will highlight some of the media grabs for now.

“Australians have suffered a dramatic loss of confidence in the ability of the US to manage international affairs amid growing dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush and his conduct of the Iraq war.” The Australian

“And almost three-quarters said Australia's involvement in the war on terror had made it a terrorist target, a view at odds with that asserted by John Howard.” The Australian

“92 per cent of respondents still expected the US to remain a close security partner and 79 per cent considered the alliance important to Australia's protection. But nearly half believed it would be better for Australia to remain more independent (48 per cent), the newspaper reported.” SMH

“Australians value the US alliance but don't like US President George W. Bush and are sceptical about Washington's ability to deal with world problems.” AFP

“The survey found more Australians were favourably disposed toward Britain (87 percent) and Japan (75) than the United States (59), which ranked just above China (57)” AFP

Oil, economics and Burma

I have talked before about the impact of the household economy on election outcomes, now I’ve been surprised to find the same underlying issue as a trigger for the protests in Burma.

Bear in mind, the heavy handed military dictatorship has been in place since 1962, with a handful of violent protest suppressions in that time. What has been emerging over the past few is that the latest wave or protests began after the Burmese government removed fuel subsidies.

Burma is rich in natural recourses, including oil. Both China and India are hungry for the oil part of the deal, giving the junta their only external support, albeit a powerful one. But despite the resource wealth Burma is an economic basket case.

Although Burma exports natural gas and crude oil, the country lacks the capacity to refine them. Rising prices are the key force driving opposition protests, and the reduction in fuel subsidies has exacerbated the situation.

“Higher diesel prices have raised the cost of everything from commuting to work to transporting livestock and agricultural produce to market -- a significant burden in a country where the U.N. estimates the per capita income at $200 a year.” WSJ

The only bright spot for the future is China’s current need to court world opinion, which could lead to a rift in their support for the junta. It shouldn’t be such a great risk in the medium term. Under a civilian administration Burma would still need to sell its oil and other resources, and China could put themselves in the box seat by helping to end the military dictatorship.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Watch your language

I’ve been noticing how some poor darlings get hot under the collar as soon as global warming is mentioned on a blog. I was thinking that perhaps climate change would be a safer bet. At least it would get around the spurious arguments that the planet isn’t getting warmer.

Climate change has its own issues, given it appears to refer solely to human-caused change, with "climate variability" being the term for other changes. My argument has long been that even if most changes are natural and cyclic, human activity is undeniably adding to the problem.

The problem is, literalists grab hold of key words and ignore any deeper interpretations. There has been a recent trend in Australia for an increase in very cold nights. While day temperatures might be increasingly slightly, clear, still night skies are allowing stored heat to escape and cold air to flow in.

A 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fourth assessment report, concluding that:

  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal
  • Humans are very likely to be causing most of the warming that has been experienced since 1950
  • It is very likely that changes in the global climate system will continue well into the future, and that they will be larger than those seen in the recent past.

So there is an ample body of evidence to support the issue, regardless of what we call it. But I really do believe climate change is a safer phrase, given the ratbags out there ready to jump on any opportunity.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Election date stall

Why are we waiting…? We Australians I mean, waiting with increasing impatience for an election date to be called. I guess no electoral system is perfect, but the Aussie one would be improved dramatically with fixed term elections.

Latest polling has continued the bad news for the Howard government. Taken over the weekend, exclusively for Murdoch’s News Limited, the results continue to confirm a likely change of government in Australia. More…