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

Thursday 22 June 2017

Broken Windows

A Prager video I saw some time ago (How to Fix the world NYPD style) proposes a foreign affairs strategy to make the world safer by punishing rogue states and petty dictators as soon as they step outside the widely accepted norms. It relies on "Broken Windows Theory" , that "maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening." The number of broken windows in and around any community is an indication of the health of the community. In law abiding communities a broken window will be repaired quickly, as the owner has confidence that enforcement is thorough and a breakage is not likely to recur.  Whereas in communities without adequate enforcement, a broken window will be left broken given the investment in repair is likely to be wasted.

Looking around our Australian community I see many broken windows. Symptoms of disorder and lack of action on simple obvious and agreed social and political problems.

1. Economic Management
  • Our country is borrowing money to meet its operational expenses, and this is projected to continue. Quite simply either spending must be cut or taxes raised.  Both parties accept this, yet like the Lilliputians cannot come to terms with which combination of approaches they will accept.
  • Our energy market is not working. The introduction of unreasonable RET's by federal and state governments has caused dramatic in creases in electricity prices crippling our industries, burdening households and even causing blackouts. I happen to believe the federal RET should be scrapped to let markets operate. Australia will not make one iota difference to the global temperature increase by 2100. Lets not lose jobs, lose markets and industries for symbolism. But of course there is the government's recent Finkel report that proposes a rather complex system to distort the market.  There are serious flaws in the report and the political problems for the government if it proceeds with the recommendations are also serious. Nevertheless any decision is better than leaving the status quo! 
  • Foreign investment. Australia values foreign investment and encourages free trade. This has been and remains a major cornerstone of our success. Yet there are some countries that want to enter our markets when they do not offer reciprocal rights to our investors. That is not balanced trade and we should simply make reciprocity as a pre-requisite for investment in Australia.

2. Governance
  • Our legislative processes are held to ransom by a handful of senators. The senate must be reformed. A majority of Australians can see that governments cannot operate when a handful of senators can veto any legislation. This does not makes sense in a modern democracy.
  • Political donations. The machinations of interested parties in garnering influence with politicians is as old as time itself.  Currently such patronage can occur behind the scenes and even where mandatory reporting is required it is delayed. At the very least all political donations by any person or party must be made public immediately when they are made. With today's technology this is a simple website updated by the party receiving the donation within 24 hours of its receipt. Of course it requires more, but this would be a start.
  • The demarcation between State vs Federal responsibilities has been blurring for decades. Education and Health used to be State responsibilities now they both have a hand resulting in constant blame shifting and State governments seeking ever more Federal hand-outs. Similarly the re-distribution of the GST revenues from a high GST collecting state to one with poor collections is a constant and source of justifiable State-Federal acrimony. Sorring out these issues is long overdue and highlights our legislators' failure to do their job.
3. Values
The core foundations of an open society include freedom of speech and a free press. Both of these are being corrupted and no action has been taken to redress them.
  • Freedom of speech.  In recent times the  Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has taken direct action to repress freedom of speech using the Racial Discrimination Act.  All parties acknowledge that action taken against Bill Leak and QUT students should never happen in a free society. Yet they tinker around the edges without changing the very law that made it possible. The problem is not only the specific cases, although for the victims it has been very serious indeed. The problem is that in order to avoid such cases, the free press is muzzled. For example legal action against Bolt has suppressed justifiable in depth scrutiny of some indigenous issues. The recent moves to skirt around the edges by changing the procedures under which the laws are managed by the AHRC is a total cop-out. A bad law must be changed.  
  • Journalistic standards. A free society depends on a vibrant free press to identify and shine a focus on political shenanigans. However it will only do so if journalists do their duty to report rather than advocate. In recent times our free press has gradually formed into opposing teams of commentators skipping over facts that do not support their 'position'. They are then more focused on amplifying dissent rather than informing and encouraging understanding and accommodation of alternative views. It is time that journalism turned into a profession with all that it encompasses. A code of ethics, professional standards, a body to register professional journalists, and yes to take an active role in adjudicating on failures to comply with standards. In short like a certified accountant or a lawyer, a Professional Practicing Journalist should be required to be accredited by its professional standards body, and face the risk of being de-registered and barred from practicing journalism if they failed to uphold agreed professional standards of journalism. 
  • Public broadcasting. Our public broadcasters the ABC & SBS do not reflect the wide range of views held within the Australian communities. How could they when there is not a single right leaning presenter/producer of a news commentary show on either of these platforms. It is no surprise that they have been losing audiences.  Redressing this is much overdue.  In a free society the Public Broadcaster has an especial responsibility to provide unbiased, accurate, and comprehensive information, analysis and commentary to all members of the society it represents. If it cannot do that then it should be sold.

4. Social Cohesion

  • Taking care of the needy. A healthy society will raise taxes from its citizens and take care of its disadvantaged. Under our free enterprise system it will not do it by re-distributing wealth from the hardworking to the disadvantaged but by providing equal opportunity to those who start life with a disadvantage. Social cohesion requires that all taxes and the spending of these taxes are perceived as benefiting the society as a whole. Australia has seen major challenges in ensuring this balance. The strain of high migration levels, high welfare payments to even the middle class and inequitable distributions to special interest groups are engendering resentment in many disadvantaged citizens.
  • Integration of immigrants into Australian society. The cultural mix of new migrants and the migration rate must allow all new migrants to integrate into Australian society. Australia has an exceptional record, having accepted and integrated large numbers of migrants from all parts of the world. However recent higher levels of migration and from communities with different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds is causing serious problems. The current focus on Muslims is not only due to worldwide Islamic terrorism but also due to the rapid increase in numbers of people with a very different culture and values. Without doubt migration has greatly benefited Australia and will continue to do so. It is the rate of migration that presents as a challenge to social cohesion and needs to be addressed with some urgency. The government needs both to limit number of new migrants, especially from dissimilar cultural and socio-economic background, and enact policies to ensure that communities are given every assistance to integrate into Australian society.

Stop Shilly-Shallying

Frustration with the lack of action by mainstream parties has driven the electorates to the parties at the extremes. However any rise in their representation will only make governing even more difficult.

The lesson from the Prager video was simple. Where the broken windows are repaired community standards are enforced, the community recovers and prospers. So too our Australian society will prosper but we do need governments to stop shilly-shallying and start repairing the broken windows.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Thorium nuclear update.

I have written about Thorium before (see What the Heck is Thorium?) as a potential savior in our clean energy jihad. It has been quietly percolating as one of the potential energy solutions in our energy starved planet.

Thorium nuclear power is not an 'embryonic' technology having had extensive research in the 60s and early seventies before being abandoned in favor of the Uranium based Light Water Breeder reactors that are widely used for nuclear energy today. 

Thorium however is a much better alternative as summarized in recent Peak Prosperity 
Kirk Sorensen: The Future Of Energy? thorium presents the following advantages over conventional nuclear power;
  • "Much safer - No risk of environmental radiation contamination or plant explosion (e.g., Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island)
  • Much more efficient at producing energy - Over 90% of the input fuel would be tapped for energy, vs. <1% in today's reactors
  • Less waste-generating - Most of the radioactive by-products would take days/weeks to degrade to safe levels, vs. decades/centuries
  • Much cheaper - Reactor footprints and infrastructure would be much smaller and could be constructed in modular fashion
  • More plentiful - LFTR reactors do not need to be located next to large water supplies, as current plants do
  • Less controversial - The byproducts of the thorium reaction are pretty useless for weaponization
  • Longer-lived - Thorium is much more plentiful than uranium and is treated as valueless today. There is virtually no danger of running out of it given LFTR plant efficiency"
So where is Thorium technology today? Why not catch up on the technology in the podcast with Chris Martensen interviewing Kirk Sorensen one the most passionate advocates of the technology.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Clive James given progressive cold shoulder

Given the effusive commentary on all his other works, a recent essay by respected author Clive James gained much less attention than I would have expected. Perhaps it was the tenor of his message, or am I being cycnical.

In excerpts from his essay "Mass Death Dies Hard" to be published by the IPA nexgt month, printed in The Australian under the title "Western climate change alarmists won’t admit they are wrong" James, unlike most of the litterati has taken a very un-"progressive" stand.
"The proponents of man-made climate catastrophe asked us for so many leaps of faith that they were bound to run out of credibility in the end."
With neuro-surgical precision James dismembers every facet of the media's role in generating climate change hysteria. It's lack of analysis, its blind advocacy and its forefeiture of journalistic integrity.

All together a must read, especially for those in the media.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Obama Corruption and Collusion

The current serial brouhaha by the democrat/media alliance against Trump is given another perspective in Andrew Klavan's post "Corruption and Collusion: Obama, Comey, and the Press" on PJ Media. In summary ; -
"My point is simply this: when you are listening to Comey, and when you are listening to the news media sanctifying Comey or indeed demonizing Trump, just remember who it is you are listening to: unindicted co-conspirators in an administration that was rotten to the core."

It is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in the rampant political posturing.  Perhaps we will tell after the froth of outrage calms in a decade or so.

In the meantime, the democrats and their media supporters should think hard. They are trashing democratic conventions with their rabid, one-sided attacks on the office of President.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Finkel Finkel every where, leads an energy rethink!

Despite a valiant effort by our chief scientist to insert an acceptable energy strategy into the milieu, it has ignited a civil war at least within the LNP. Energy strategy was never going to be easy. With passionate advocates of climate change pushing for the highest possible emission reduction targets and their opposites pushing for none, it is a chasm impossible to fill.

Notwithstanding one's belief in climate change , as I have indicated elsewhere (see Warmer, Wetter, Greener ) I believe it is real but not as dangerous as the tipping point advocates would have you believe, we face a very real dilemma.

How do we encourage energy companies to invest in energy supply when our political parties keep changing the rules?

Lack of planning and rampant politics have squandered Australia's once abundant cheap energy advantage.

The energy landscape has many pot holes; -

  • Our base-load power stations are aging and require investment either for replacement or at the very least extension
  • Renewables remain more expensive than fossil fuels and suffer continuity issues
  • on again, off again carbon taxes by different parties have made investment in new non-renewables very risky
  • battery storage is not yet of age and remains expensive
  • electricity prices are already too high to encourage manufacturing
So it is no wonder that energy companies have been reluctant to invest in new supply and our manufacturing industry, what little there remains, is looking for greener pastures. 

No doubt these are some of the constraints Dr Finkel faced when contemplating a viable energy strategy. Yet his solution also presents problems. His CET (Clean Energy Target) is an effective 42% RET much greater than LNP's current 24% but less than ALP's 50%.

In effect he has advocated what amounts to a line between the two parties. A Solomon-esque solution dividing the difference by slicing the baby.

His strategy was to present something that was half acceptable to each party and had a chance of bipartisan support. Indeed it may even work out, but it carries enormous political risk for the LNP and if adopted would force more of their support towards One Nation.

Was there any other way? 

I believe so, but will leave my suggestions for another day.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Terrorist threat mandates Human Rights rethink

In her article "Europe: Choosing Suicide?", Judith Bergman highlights the plight of Europe in the face of the terrorist threat.

"We need urgent, wholesale reform of human rights laws in this country to make sure they cannot be twisted to serve the interests of those who would harm our society." — UK Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, January 2015.

Swedish intelligence deemed him too dangerous to stay in Sweden, so the immigration authorities sought to have him deported to Syria. They did not succeed: the law does not permit his deportation to Syria, as he risks being arrested or executed there. Instead, he was released and is freely walking around in Malmö.

"It would simply never in a million years have occurred to the authors of the original Convention on Human Rights that it would one day end up in some form being used as a justification to stay here by individuals who are a danger to our country and our way of life..." — UK Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, January 2015.
With over 23,000 Islamists now on the UK watch-lists, the security establishment is beyond its capacity. At the same time paradoxically the Human Rights protections in Western democracies sabotage sensible and necessary steps to protect citizens.

To fight the terrorist threat effectively enlightened democracies face the unpalatable but perhaps inescapable dilemma of having to suspend some human rights protections for some of its citizens.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Trump in stormy seas, bearing right

Despite the continuous outrage at his every tweet squeezing out anything else from our main stream media, we are starting to see some hints of change in the world order.

Trump is an enigmatic change agent in a bull-in-the china-shop sort of a way. His influence outside his inane tweets barely get mention let alone recognition. But little by little we are seeing a change in the comfortable world order. That comfortable world order that saw gradual decline of the USA under Obama. The loss of face, the guilt for Western nation affluence, the loss of relevance due to inaction, and the soul destroying acceptance of the unacceptable rise of rogue states with nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

The new man, unpalatable as he is to many, has taken a strong if unpredictable stance on issues that were long ignored.

In but a few short months he has; -

  • re-established a red-line on chemical weapons with a few cruise missile and at the same time put Russia on notice that this he was no Obama
  • put China on notice that is ongoing support for North Korea was not conducive to its role as an avowed supported of world order
  • confronted Saudi Arabia and its brethren that the ISIS is their child. They need to drive out the terrorist from their own midst. They cannot expect the rest of the world to do it for them.
  • called out the Paris Climate change accord as having been a capitulation by the US and Europe to China and the third world. After all China has per capita emissions equal to that of Europe so why should it be allowed to increase emissions till 2030, 
  • put China on notice for its actions in the South China sea
  • met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to set sound groundwork for negotiations and in contrast to Obama did not set any boundaries or preconceptions
  • and dismantled Obamacare, but is yet to come up with an acceptable replacement
Some of these steps have started reaping results. China is making moves to redress its all out support for North Korea, and most dramatically Saudi Arabia, together with its neighbours, has cut diplomatic relations with terrorist supporting Qatar. No doubt Trump has helped create these effects. 

For many who have watched Obama's handiwork with horror, these are moves in the right direction. They hold out hope for a stronger America and a better world. Yes the rhetoric from the mainstream media will not say this, nor will the many he has put offside; the EU, Climate change advocates, Liberals in general, Mexicans who want to enter the US illegally, Muslim refugees, and many more. 

It is early days, and many stormy seas yet to sail with an inexperienced captain, but it seems to be heading in the right direction. 

Monday 5 June 2017

Light in the tunnel..

The clarion call for Muslims to take back their religion from the Islamist came to a crescendo with Trumps' exhortation to the Muslim world; -

"DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship.
DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities.
DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and
(see full text of his speech here)
Over the years while there have been a number of demonstrations by the Muslim community against Isis and terrorism they have on the whole been ineffective. Hence we have the continuing wave of Islamic terror. 

Defeating  Islamism cannot occur without directly confronting its roots in fundamentalist Islamic teachings. This requires confronting the Salafist/Wahabist interpretations of the Koran and related texts.  Yet, a small light of hope appeared in a very long dark tunnel, when a 3 minute video by Zain, a commercial mobile radio operator in Kuwait went viral.  It shows a confrontation between a suicide bomber and his victims, a confrontation between fundamentalist and peaceful interpretations of Islam. While the video is in Arabic, there is an English subscript that tells the story.

This is a great move! Well done Zain. We need more.

How will terrorism be defeated?

Terrorism has once again cast its evil shadow over the world. For anyone educated in a liberal democracy it is hard to comprehend the mentality of an individual intentionally seeking out innocents to murder. Or indeed of those who encourage others to do so.  It is a sad reality and a challenge to our orderly world. As we saw in London, it does not take large numbers to sow chaos. So even if the number of Islamists is small, they can, and have created disproportionate impact on our lives.

While I believe that through enlightenment and technology all the people of our small planet can achieve unprecedented standards of liberty and prosperity, it is not straight road.  Islamic terrorism threatens not only the lives of those in its direct path but it sows seeds of discontent throughout our societies.

Will society react? Of course it will! A liberal democracy is a strange organism, but an organism it is. Like our own immune system ,when faced with attack our society generates a multitude of ideas and opinions. These work to coordinate reactions by its 'cells' to attack intruders and eliminate or integrate them. It takes time and there is some damage to the organism, but it survives stronger than before.

So it is no surprise that we have a wide range of reactions to these terror attacks. In their own way each will be tried and in the end those that work will be adopted. It is hard to predict what will work, but I dare suggest that historians will attribute the solution to terrorism to have been ; -

  • increasing education and living standards particularly in the middle east
  • the free flow of information made possible by technology
  • the widespread surveillance of citizens.
I guess time will tell.

In the meantime, to all the victims and families of these evil individuals, my heartfelt condolences.

Friday 2 June 2017

Was US treated fairly in Paris CC agreement?

Focusing narrowly on the Paris Climate Change (COP21) commitments of the US, China and India, Donald Trumps' claim that the US was disadvantaged has some merit. Neither India nor China have agreed to make any cuts in their emissions to 2030, they have committed only to change the mix of their emissions by changing their emissions intensity. This does  translate into an economic incentive to China and India over the US. And given China is already the world's largest GHG emitter it is time for China to make a commitment to stop growing its emissions!

Nevertheless that does not tell the whole story. The COP21 global agreement was intended to set targets whereby each country would be contributing "fairly'' to limiting global warming to <2 degrees C by 2100.

I have argued in my series of articles "Seeking a fair GHG reduction target" ( 1,2,3,4,5, 6) that an equitable contribution by all countries requires 4 principles to be followed; -
  1. Each country has to mitigate their own contribution to CC.
  2. If global emissions are projected to produce global warming beyond the 2C degree target, then all countries have to reduce their emissions in the same proportion that they contributed to CC.
  3. Developing countries are allowed a proportionate quota of 'free emissions'.
  4. Countries which face the burden of climate change have to be compensated by those who caused it.
If you compare the COP21 commitments to that required by applying these principles you find that the countries with the greatest contributors to global warming, USA, China, Europe, and to a lesser extent India, have made inadequate commitments. 

Consequently the countries with smaller contribution to the global warming problem are wearing a disproportionate burden on their economies. In short Trump is right and wrong!

De-fusing the North Korean crisis

North Korean uncontrolled belligerence has the potential for global catastrophe. It present one of the major challenges not only for the US but equally for China South Korea and Japan. Any miscalculation could lead to carnage across the very much militarized DMZ.

In his recent article "Reunification Only Way to Defuse Korea Crisis", John Bolton posits a plausible albeit perhaps overdue solution that could be acceptable to both the US and China. Of course the current regime would resist especially now that is within a hair-breath of nuclear armed ICBM capability.
Yet it is an sensible suggestion for a very difficult world problem.

Alas, what are the alternatives?

Thursday 1 June 2017

Mix seawater with freshwater to generate clean energy

In the realm of what-will-they-think-of-next here is another clean energy technology that seems to have passed below the media radar. You can generate electric power from simply mixing salt water and clean water. It uses ion trasnport similar to btteries, but I won't get into the technical details. For those interested read the Science Daily article "Where rivers meet the sea: Harnessing energy generated when freshwater meets saltwater".

Remarkably it has "the potential to generate enough energy to meet up to 40 percent of global electricity demands "!

Of course there are many problems to solve but watch this space.