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Why can't everyone condemn Hamas?

Following Hamas' atrocities in Israel, the media are awash with commentary, so I will keep my comments short. I am shocked by the willin...

Friday 19 February 2016

One week ..

The carnival rolls on, an ever-fescent drama; issues exciting, emoting, engaging but for mere instants only to be displaced like yesterday's leftovers.

Look at the week just passed; -
  • Apple refusing to unlock a single terrorist's phone in order to protect our privacy. Is that why they keep asking us to provide them our data, to protect our privacy?
  • China putting missiles onto disputed islands. This fellow is no Mr Nice Guy. Perhaps the US could retaliate by refusing repayments on their China debt! He who lends is the pawn of he who borrows.
  • Refugee advocates take over the ABC! Oh no that is old news. Well ABC apologizes for incorrectly reporting the rape of a 5 year old asylum seeker child. Mr Scott  has ordered (perhaps begged would be more like his style) for 'controversial' stories to be referred 'up the line' before they are broadcast. What is controversial? Did the ABC journalists think the rape of a 5 year old was controversial?
  • Scott Morrison presents at the National Press club for a full hour on...! " uh, he didn't say much something about Unicorns." Nothing is off the table, I guess except the GST and Unicorns. There is a lesson in this for any government. If you start a debate you should say something. 
  • Of course the regular terrorist attacks, this time in Turkey. Some dozens dead. Seems like the PKK.  So Turkey attacks Kurds in Syria. 
  • Syria an endless morass of misery. Russia has changed the balance of power by simply bombing indiscriminately. Where are the protests for the innocent victims? Protests about disproportionate action by Russia? Really! Where are those passionate protesters for the innocent children?
  • Staff at Brisbane hospital refuse to let an asylum seeker child from Nauru be returned to the off-shore detention centre on Nauru. This is a case of heart ruling mind. No doubt these protesters feel with great passion the potential damage to this one child, but the consequences of such protests in the past caused the death of 2000 drowned on their way to Australia. The protest for this one child is in stark contrast to the lack of protests for the death of thousands of children in Syria
  • The share-market in turmoil with oil up one day, down the next . The nest egg certainly smaller since the beginning of the year. But by the end of the week oil rose and the world's markets rose and stockbrokers turned their frowns up side down.
  • Cardinal Pell abused in song for failing to return to Australia to face the music, admittedly for the third time. The press all cock-a-hoop about this one. One would think he was the paedophile.
  • And for some good news, a new cure for cancer ! Not quite, but good progress with a 90% remission rate on a trial of a therapy which boosts a patient's immune system. 
  • and much, much more. 
The daily news and news commentary molds our mindset. In addition to our personal problems, our media encumbers us with the troubles of the world. News and news background is presented to enrage rather than inform. Facts are generously garnished with adjectival spice to engage our
very human vices; wrath, envy, avarice and lust.

If only it were otherwise I think the world would be a much different; more content, harmonious, even peaceful, place.

If you are in doubt why not disengage from the news for just 2 days. I am sure you would find it therapeutic.

Friday 12 February 2016

Tax Reform Farce

I am bemused at where we have arrived in the Tax Reform debate. Launched just a few months ago by a freshly minted PM with some fanfare it had widespread support from the business community, economists and a then fawning media. See these welcoming headlines; -
AFR 1 Oct,2015 - "Turnbull's summit greenlights super tax reform"-
SMH 15 Sep 2015 - "Malcolm Turnbull touted as a more likely tax reformer than Tony Abbott"
The Australian 1Oct 2015 - "Tax reform the key to Malcolm Turnbull’s vision
Today, that idyllic dream seems so far away. The headlines again tell the story.

SMH Feb 8,2015 - "Malcolm Turnbull lands on a snake on tax reform"
SMH Feb 5,2015 - "Peter Hartcher: Tax reform proves to be a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s courage"
The Australian Feb 11,2015 - "From tax reform to reshuffle, Turnbull needs to get cracking"
AFR Feb 11,2016 - "Malcolm Turnbull's dark and stormy night of tax reform reality"

How did we get here?

It started with; we are moving forward, casting light, gaining insights, having the conversation with the people.

Then proceeded to; we are not ruling anything in or out, everything is on the table, we are open to all discussions.

As criticism rolled in, it turned to; we won't touch the life savings of the workers, we don't want to increase the overall tax take. And most recently, we can't see any justification in an increase in the GST.

Is this not a trifle confusing?

Lack of leadership exposed

Our leaders have led us a merry chase.

It reminds me awfully of Rudd's 2020 Summit, that mindless ideafest calling for the 1000 "best and brightest minds" in Australia to "map out a strategy for Australia's long-term future". With such high expectations , it was primed for failure. It has disappeared into that not insignificant pit of grandiose ideas concocted by our Kevin 07.
Turnbull too had set the bar high for his Tax Reform agenda and now it too faces a similar fate.

With a hostile senate, negotiating the tricky path to reform was never going to be easy. But let's face it Turnbull had a lot going for him. A partisan media euphoric at the ousting of  Tony Abbott rolled out the red carpet and focused on the opposition. The collapse of the mining boom highlighted the need for real reform, especially since it had been sadly lacking for many years. So the professional classes, the media and the electorate were ready and waiting for their new leader, with such excellent business credentials, to lead them to the Tax Reform promised land.

Alas, in but three short months we have had our confidence shaken and our once great expectations are nothing but a wind in the willows.

Leadership, true leadership requires ideas, an understanding of the available options, conviction a firm belief in the correct path and guts, the courage to make unpopular decisions and see them through. Unfortunately all three seem to be sadly lacking in our PM.

What next?

It is not yet too late to resurrect this mess. Who knows the Tax Reform team, Turnbull, Morrison and Cormann, may stop sitting on the sidelines, decide on a course of action and start convincing the electorate of its merits. I live in hope.

If not, the consequences of Tax Reform failure are not inconsiderable. We would face an extended period without real reform, a growing national debt and further deterioration of living standards.

While the reform agenda can still be resurrected the Turnbull prime ministership has taken a direct hit. The whole sorry saga has exposed Turnbull's frightening lack of political skill. This does not bode well for our future.

Monday 8 February 2016

Republic manyana

Congratulations must go to Fitzy, if he will forgive my familiarity, for his single-handed resurrection of the formerly comatose Republic debate. He took over the reigns of the pro-Republic movement but a whisper ago.Yet there it is, wall to wall media coverage, an almost unanimous call from state Premiers in support, and even hearty support from the newly minted, although already tarnished, AOTY, General Morrison. The only hold back was Mr T, with his somewhat reluctant words of caution, " err .. not now...perhaps later", "when the queen dies", or  "when there is a clamor for it", is it 'just give me a good reason to take a risk".

Been there done that!

If you are experiencing a bit of deja vu , you are right. We had a similarly widespread, hysterical chorus all in favor just before the referendum a decade ago. Despite virtually unanimous support from most of the media, state Premiers and the chattering classes, the referendum was defeated in every single state. A sobering result with scars still showing on many staunch republicans.

Wouldn't it be different this time?

It is true that time has passed and I doubt there is a significant proportion of Australians who would not like an Australian to be Head of State (HoS). It is positively odd for an ostensibly independent country to have a nominal HoS living thousands of kilometers away and whose primary allegiance is to another country. Admittedly they are very 'hands-off, they do not interfere in our daily lives, except perhaps for the occasional state visits and openings. But it is symbolic, and symbols do matter. So I am in favor of leaving behind the Queen, the monarchy and the Union Jack. Like a child who can leave the family home to live on their own, but loving their parents no less.

How to select the HoS?

Yet I think it will not happen soon.

The underlying problem remains how to select the HoS?

Monarchies make this decision simple. A single elite family is ordained to fill the role. Selection is automatic and as long as there are viable heirs there are no problems.

Republics where the HoS is elected have a varied and complex range of processes for electing their presidents. Just consider the extensive and convoluted process we are currently witnessing in the US.

Any referendum must identify how the HoS is to be chosen.
The options posed at the last referendum remain unchanged. Simply anoint the Governor General as the new HoS with all rules pertaining to his /her selection unchanged. or let the people vote for HoS.

Plan A - Anoint Governor General as Head of State

The easiest and most straightforward way to get an Australian HoS is to simply make the Governor General the HoS modifying the constitution sufficiently to remove all connections between the Governor General to the British Monarchy. It fulfills the objective of having an Australian as the HoS without breaking anything. You get an Aussie HoS without any other consequences. You can change the title to President if you wish , but even that is not necessary. There is a certain charm in keeping the title 'Governor General', personally l like the idea.

Plan B - The people elect the HOS

The second option, and this is the one polls indicate is generally favored by "the people", is to have the people elect the HoS.

Electing a HoS raises many questions;-
  • who selects the candidates?
  • how long is the term?
  • what level of support is required for a candidate ( eg is 51% of the vote enough)?
  • what proportion is required in each state?
  • how do you remove a HoS? This is really complicated, just consider the impeachment processes in the US.
  • what 'power' would this HoS be given? In legislation? In practice?
In all countries that have presidential elections, all these issues have been hammered out over a long period. The systems vary, and they are invariably complicated.

While serious in themselves  in some ways these are 'technical issues' that could be solved by wise men around a table. I make it sound easy , it is not but it is much easier than my next objections.

There are consequences of electing a President, an individual who is selected by the people to represent them and not all of the consequences are foreseeable. 

His/her views would place pressure on the government of the day, right or wrong. A president elected by popular vote, would automatically have some political power.  

Remember that currently, in Australia the people do not elect our Governor General, or our Prime Minister. We only elect a representative in our electorate. It is up to these representatives to select a leader. This has its downsides, most notably the revolving-door-leaders over the past 6 years, but it does have at least one major benefit. When the PM can be removed by his party at any time, there is inbuilt protection against dictators.  Any move to elect the HoS carries significant risk.

Lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Yes, let's have an Australian HoS, but don't change anything else as it can have unforeseen, unwanted and disastrous consequences.. The precautionary principle often used by climate change advocates  applies here too. Do not take a chance with out constitution. Especially when it is unnecessary.

The Republican movement , under Fitzy, has learned from the failure of the past and is strongly advocating Plan A, the minimalist path to a republic. However, if the polls are correct, the people still want Plan B, to elect the HoS. This is a rerun of the failed referendum of a decade ago.

Despite the recent euphoria, there has been little progress on selecting the model that would be acceptable to a majority of Australians. So for Australia the Republic will have to be Manyana.

Friday 5 February 2016

Improving Twitter

Over the past 16 months I have become an all too regular member of the "Twitter-sphere", that all- encompassing, ever-chattering network of Twitterati. I guess that would make me a Twitteratus, but I think accepted term is Twitterer.

My first year was very much a learning experience, an experience I shared in an earlier post  Happy Twitterversary) While even today I cannot claim to be an expert, I have a few suggestions I would like to share. Excuse me if some of these already have solutions, of which I am unaware. If so I would welcome some guidance. In any case here are 5 suggestions which I believe could improve Twitter for all Twitterati.

5 suggestions to improve the Twitter experience

1. Allow users to rate other users

While a majority of users are polite and use Twitter for civil discourse, there are some let's face it  who do not. Some are aggressive, rude, often resorting to foul language, and some use tactics which are lets say less than conducive to good communications.

To counter this why not provide a means by which a tweeter can rate another tweeter simply with a 'like' or a 'dislike'. This rating could then be recorded as a cumulative Like/Dislike total on their Twitter profile. Each user can only put one like or dislike (not both) against a user so the total gives an indication of how well this tweeter has interacted with the community as a whole rather than just one individual.
Adding this rating could encourage more civil interaction between users as they will try not to upset even those with whom they vehemently disagree.

2. Limit the Tweet-rate within the one hashtag

There are some individuals or indeed organisations who are really propagandists. They have a habit of sending out large numbers of tweets into a specific hashtag, which will correspond to a TV or radio program. Often it is an identical tweet but sometimes it comprises a whole stream of different tweets all with similar format and images. The problem is that they monopolize the available space. Other users have to wade through dozens of identical/similar tweets in order to join the underlying 'conversation'. I am aware the 'mute' function can get hide a tweeter for one session. This helps but it still leaves the user to 'Mute' multiple times on each session. It requires the innocent tweeter to take action to avoid the maze of tweets from the propagandists.

I suggest the problem could be avoided by limiting the rate at which identical tweets can be posted or indeed the rate at which a tweeter can post tweets under the one hashtag. There are of course many ways this can be achieved.  It could be done by limiting the number of identical tweets to say one every 10 minutes or even less frequently, or limiting the rate of tweets within the one hashtag to 3 per minutes or less.
The main advantage of placing such limits as opposed to the Mute function is that it is the propagandists who have to change their behaviour rather than us casual users.

3 Providing uniformity across Twitter Apps

Many of us use multiple devices to access Twitter. However the Twitter App is different on each device, so we cannot do the same things on each. For example, on a PC one can copy a tweet and use it as a template for a response/new tweet. However copying a tweet is not possible on the IOS app.  It would make it easier for Tweeters if all features were available on all devices.

4. Notify Unfollows 

Currently Twitter notifies tweeters if they get any new followers, presumably to allow the tweeter to reciprocate. However notifications are not sent out when someone Unfollows. Not sure of the reason for this, but I think users should be notified of any Unfollows as well.

Yes the immediate impact of such a notification could be a reciprocal Unfollow, but over time users would know that this was likely and would therefore be less likely to Unfollow in the first place. So it would reduce the extent of 'Follow' then 'Unfollow' gaming.

5. Improve Hashtag management

Currently a show will advertise their hashtag for viewers and listeners to 'join the conversation'. However, quite often, the short hashtag offered is quite general, and is not unique to the show itself. For example the hashtag  #viewpoint  is used by multiple shows around the world. As a consequence a user has to search through large numbers of tweets that do not relate to their intended stream.

One way this could be addressed is; -

  • create a Hashtag table that would allow duplicates. 
  • Shows could register their hashtag together with an extended description that uniquely described the specific show. This description would be have to be unique for the one hashtag.
  • In the Twitter app when a user entered any hashtag where there were multiple registered entries, the user would be presented with a drop down list showing the unique descriptions of the registered entries and allowing the user to select the one they want.
  • This same hashtag would then default for their next tweets. 
  • If there were no registered tags processing would remain as currently.

That's my wish list, at least for now.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Michaelia Cash backflip

I jumped the gun. The other day in "Common Sense Prevails", I declared, prematurely it seems, that the government had refused to release the confidential volumes of Dyson Heydon's final report to the ALP MPs "to protect the physical well being of several witnesses and their families" (from Labor blocked from seeing secret union volumes).  

As of this morning's news, "Michaelia Cash backflips over union report", the government has changed its rather fickle 'mind' and is intending to release these confidential volumes to one selected member of each opposition party as well as the independents.

Mmm. It seems the need to get the legislation through overrides the need to "to protect the physical well being of several witnesses and their families". 

Well you know my view. So lets leave it at that. Who knows they may change their mind again.