Jihad Jack and civil liberties:

Gerard McEwen writes: Re Greg Barns’ Item “Jihad Jack and the dissolution of liberty” (yesterday, item 1): It seems that the Howard Government has found yet another hole in our constitution in that by merely labelling something a “war” it becomes subject to the defence provisions. Dick Cheney would be proud of that. The notion of a rhetorical rolling state of war being used to justify any usurpation of power by the Commonwealth does not seem too far fetched under the current circumstances.

Tony Early writes: Tell Greg Barns that the average Aussie punter is pleased that the activities of Jihad Jack (as your headline writer correctly calls him) continue to be circumscribed by the High Court. This does not “frighten” law-abiding Australians.

Winning an election? Like catching pork in a barrel

Martyn Smith writes: In Item 9 yesterday Christian Kerr asked, “Electoral pork or lipstick on a pig?”. All I can answer is Oink, Oink, Oink.

Liz Johnston writes: First a hospital then a school: Watch for the next step on the road to centralism when Julie Bishop finds a school in a marginal seat with a P&C Association/community board happy to take federal funds and muscle in on those naughty unionist teachers and their bolshie Labor government education departments.

Klaas Woldring writes: Mr Howard’s political stunt in relation to the Mersey Hospital in Devonport in a double whammy exercise in pork barreling. What really matters here is the cause of this opportunism: it is the single-member electoral district. In other words Australia’s dominant electoral system is the problem as it the problem for so many other political system deficiencies, including the two-party system itself. Yes, this appears to be almost a taboo subject for discussion in Australia. Pork barreling is a widespread, costly malpractice at most elections. It is a scourge that can only be avoided by changing the electoral system to proportional representation with multi-member electorates. The following countries have proportional representation and pork barreling is certainly not one of their problems: The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, France (changed), Portugal, Spain, Greece, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Malta. PR also was also introduced in South Africa in 1994 and in New Zealand in 1999. Although there are a number of PR systems, eg. Hare Clark (Clark being a Tasmanian Chief Justice!) and varieties of Party List systems, the underlying principle is the same: representation proportionate to votes cast for a party. Perhaps the Dutch party list system is superior to all others. It requires the voter to make just one mark to indicate a preference for a party as well as for a particular candidate on that visible party list at the same time. Neither of the major parties will introduce PR. Minor parties will. The conclusion is obvious. In NZ it was introduced following a comedy of errors. We cannot wait for that here.

Marketing to kids is no fairytale.   Leeanne Bland writes: My children are aged 4 and 6, and I can assure Dr Stephen Downes (yesterday, item 23, “Fat kids and fairytales: the sequel”) that regardless of the statistics he wants to wheel out, when it comes to junk food Shrek sells (as does Winnie the Pooh, Disney Pixar’s Cars, Toy Story, High Five and Disney Princesses, just to name a few). Using the argument that Neighbours or contestants on Australian Idol and Big Brother are likely to sell more just doesn’t wash in my experience. My kids wouldn’t know who a Neighbours actor or an Idol or Big Brother contestant was if they fell over them. But they do know Shrek and Donkey and Fiona. What’s more they trust them. And that is the issue. Watching my children’s response to the advertisements on commercial TV leaves me in no doubt that advertising should be banned during children’s TV programs. These ads are effective and they work. Pester power is alive and well, and having to constantly deal with it in the supermarket is tiring and dispiriting. And let’s be honest, it is because these ads do work that the product providers chose to run them in the first place. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous. Dr Downes’ argument that the sales data show that short-run licensed products (like Arnott’s Shrek cheese snacks) almost inevitably take share away from other established snack products (like Twisties and Cheezels), rather than promoting additional consumption in the category, doesn’t wash with me either. My kids don’t beg and nag me to buy unbranded goodies. Or course it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children eat healthily. And no-one would be silly enough to suggest that banning licensed characters on junk food would prevent childhood obesity. But banning them would certainly make the parents’ job of encouraging children to eat healthy food an easier task. (And full credit to the Wiggles, for their Wiggles branded apple packs).

Paul Hampton-Smith writes: In the debate about using role models to promote children’s foods, people have overlooked the basics: the sole purpose of advertising is to increase profits by influencing people to chose one product over another and/or to buy more. If it didn’t then it wouldn’t exist. “Free to air” TV is far from free, and in my view is the most insidious conduit for advertising. Forget the semantics over whether Shrek or some other psychological trick is being used, and ban the lot! I found, and still find, the mental insult of advertising drivel so objectionable that I never owned a TV until recently. The result? Children who never thought to pester me for any of the promoted rubbish.

Geoff Russell writes: Dr Rosemary Stanton mentions the car culture and distances between home work and shops. In SA, Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith is closing down a bunch of smaller schools to build a smaller number of “super-schools”. I wrote to her and suggested that less children would then walk to school and more would be driven longer distances. To be able to increase childhood obesity and greenhouse emissions with a single policy shows extraordinary talent. Lomax-Smith replied that her department had considered this, but when I asked her to show me the numbers she refused. I also asked for the data so I could do the numbers myself (I work in computerised transit scheduling so this stuff is easy for me). Again she refused citing confidentiality reasons. It’s not hard to work out how to supply the data and protect confidentiality but clearly the Minister isn’t interested. Actually the “super-school” policy is a triple whammy — more childhood obesity, more greenhouse emissions and more traffic congestion.

Keith Thomas writes: Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton wrote (yesterday, comments): “Christian Kerr’s claim that ‘if you’re fat or if your kids are, it’s probably because you’re also lazy – too lazy to exercise, too lazy to cook and eat properly and too lazy to fight marketing’ shows he has never worked with people suffering from obesity.” Christian Kerr is actually closer to the truth than the narrowly focused professionals. Rosemary Stanton focuses on food intake (which appears to be increasing), genes (no change there) and exercise. But it’s more complex than that; it’s about multi-factored lifestyle and obesity is one sign of a lifestyle inconsistent with the expectations our minds and bodies have for their world. Let’s get two things straight: 1. If people are eating too much they are selecting food, paying for it and putting it into their mouths and hence it’s no good blaming Tony Abbott or the “system” for any of that. 2. If individuals are sitting down rather than walking, that’s their choice too. It’s a series of choices right along the way and there’s no reason why the choice with the best long-term outcomes is also the easiest choice to implement in the short-term. Political correctness has no place in science.

Christian Kerr’s risky business:

Ken Lambert writes: Re Christian Kerr’s “The modern Left: exploiting “risk” to make a buck” (yesterday, item 14) Hear Hear Christian…Not only are the Left making a buck out of global warming and other exaggerated frights, but they are relentless in their white-anting of all the good things which hold our constitutional democracy and social fabric together. What strange bedfellows they make with the enemies of the ‘Great Satan’ and its English speaking allies. Would the privileged Left prefer the rigors of the Iranian State or the disciplines of the Koran? No, they only shout abuse at those who by law and custom are pledged to defend their rights and can do them no harm. So there we have it; the Left – gutless, seditious, hypocritical and, here. Virginia Nightingale writes: What headspace is Christian Kerr living in – I’m astonished to see risk theory interpreted as a leftist plot. This is an old, old theory – it’s been around since at least the mid 1990s and the people who have demonstrated themselves most adept at exploiting the fear of risk have been the neo-conservatives and Australia’s own Liberal party. The left just use risk theory to explain why people have become so prepared to swallow the lies and take what’s dished up to them. 

Jenny Haines writes: What is this all about? Most Left wingers that I know don’t behave like this? In fact many live frugal lives committed to an improved society, for which they get very little thanks, much less make a buck out of their commitment! Of course there have always been spivs in society who will make a dishonest buck and use Left wing rhetoric to do so, but they, in my view should not be used to paint a picture of the whole of the Left. I know it is trendy these days to dump on the Left, and many mistakes were made in the past. But when you look at greed capitalism in operation in the US, UK and Australia, and comprador capitalism in the countries that were once parts of the Soviet Union and the third world, there is still a lot of room for socialist thinking, political and economic. One of the few hopes for the third world is the work being done by the Grameen Bank and its like, giving small low interest loans for start up businesses, a model I would argue is a blend of capitalist and socialist ideas.

 Brett Elliott writes: Christian Kerr shouldn’t waste his time trying to explain the motivations of the so-called modern Left. Like most critics of the Left, he cannot even begin to fathom that there may be people out there for whom Making Money is not their prime motivation. I hope for his sake he will one day get his head around that concept, and realise not everyone is out to pull a “scam” on him, but I doubt it. John McCombe writes: What’s Christian Kerr’s problem? I found the Quiggin series interesting and thought-provoking, as I would find any new angle backed by plausible discussion and logic. I’m not sure what The Left is in Australia, or whether it is a suitable collective noun for any group I know. Critics of “the system” come in all shapes, and I like what some of them have to say while others make me shudder. But Christian seems to have a hot button that sets him off on raves, with little plausible discussion, at anything he perceives as straying west of that imaginary centre line of Australian politics. Is this what Crikey, the objective critic, needs? 

Rob Ciolli writes: Despite being something of a rusted on member of Christian Kerr’s ‘Modern Left’, I do find most of rantings quite enjoyable. However, his claim that the Left has a monopoly on exploiting risk to make a buck is a bit rich. I am far from denying that (people commonly referred to as) the Left are not involved in such activities, however their efforts seem somewhat amateurish compared with the perceived risk being pushed by (people commonly referred to as) the Right. Christian – are you alert and very alarmed? Surely farcical risk of Terrorism, the proceeds of which are pouring into the coffers of Bush the Unelected mates, are a much more efficient money making scam than climate change. Methinks this is much more analogous to mafia protection rackets. Indeed, I doubt the Lefties out on the street beating up such causes are the ones turning a dollar out of your so-called ‘corporate social responsibility scams’. I’m sure the opportunistic entrepreneurs on the Right are in a much better position to exploit any risk to society, and I’m sure they have some much better ideas than putting on a Panda suit and walking up and down the local café strip on the weekend begging for church money. Speaking of which, that bastion of conservative thought has been playing on the ‘risk of going to hell’ for thousands of years. Christian, you’re a smart boy, so please check your own backyard before shooting your mouth off. You actually make a valid point – but it has nothing to do with the ‘Modern Left’.

Mohamed Haneef and the age of terror:

John Shailer writes: So Dr Haneef has an Indian police dossier linking him to al-Qaeda! This won’t stop the Labor left and their media allies maintaining he is pure as the driven snow. Kevin Rudd professes to be tough on terrorism, but his actions belie his rhetoric. He has left it to his Queensland mate Peter Beattie to to undermine the AFP’s investigation by denigrating them, and alleging improper behaviour by Minister Andrews. Now he is calling for an open inquiry into the investigation, which will simply give inside information to local terrorists regarding the AFP’s anti-terrorist activities. Kevin Rudd is a captive of his Party’s left wing, and is soft on terrorism! Will we have to wait for the first local terrorist attack on train or disco before he comes to his senses?

Chris Hunter writes: If there is one thing I’ve learned from being a returned serviceman (Vietnam) it’s not to trust politicians. To be fair, over the years, some have forced me to re-consider my judgment, but these events are rare. Really the Haneef case (like Hicks) is about distraction. For all the difference it makes both Hicks and Haneef could be professional actors, contracted by the Federal government. When Australia committed itself to war in Iraq it committed itself to terror — as a target — like Bali 1 and Bali 2. Many veterans at our local RSL were appalled at the trumped-up excuses Howard and his cabinet came up with as a pretext for invading the can of worms Iraq has proven to be. At a recent meeting one of our members (WW2) moved that Australia remove all its troops on the basis of Iraq becoming a civil war. The motion passed easily and was put up again at the last SA annual meeting in Adelaide. I was intrigued and asked the former serviceman about his thoughts. He told me his original disgust was triggered by the early shot (Iraq 1) of John Howard posing with the sailors about to depart. “He was grinning,” the old veteran spat in disgust, “you don’t grin when you’re sending troops off to a war!” Haneef and Hicks are godsends to the plotters (all war virgins) who want us to believe their original decision was justified. They are men and women who have never felt the actual horror of warfare. Really they are deranged children — they’d have to be, when you consider the diabolical mess they’ve landed us in. Send in the clowns.

Journalist prattle: Eve Archer writes: Paul Comrie-Thomson says (“The precious prattling of journalists”, yesterday, item 22) he watched an episode of House, instead of reading improving works as per Al Gore’s remarks about stupid TV vs smart books. Because PC-T, like “millions … living in marginal electorates … don’t give a ‘rats’ about the precious prattling of journalists.” (Al Gore is a journo, who knew?) He “luxuriated” in House, like those other marginal folk. House is pretty classy, PC-T. How about Big Brother? Or McLeod’s Daughters or Home and Away? You know, “real” people’s viewing. What did PC-T spend his 14-hour day doing? Thinking? Writing a philosophy paper? Working on a piece of broadcasting? PC-T, an ex-Rolling Stone (senior) editor with a Masters in Philosophy, is also a co-host of Radio National’s Counterpoint — the un-Phillip Adams program. For someone in a big glass house, he wields a mean stone. Prattle on, PC-T, prattle on. But, to echo your punchline, we don’t have to put up with it. Bob MacDonald writes: Re “The precious prattling of journalists”. Incomprehensible.  Time to talk fuel surcharges again:

Ken Corbett writes: It should not only be Airline collusion that is investigated by the ACCC (Ben Sandilands’ “Qantas tip-toes around questions of foreign ownership”, yesterday, item 6), it is the very existence of “Fuel Surcharges” What other product can isolate one cost input and have an ongoing surcharge. Given the fuel surcharges have been around for at least 18 months we have had plenty of time for pricing to be adjusted. Perhaps the lettuce at my local supermarket should still be priced at $1 and have a $3 drought or flood surcharge rather than an old fashioned rise in cost to $4. Or, could the fact that airlines – well Qantas at least and presumably other carriers — insist on fuel surcharges being paid by Frequent Fliers redeeming point for seats and therefore earning revenue from “free” seats be the reason they are reluctant to give up this ability to “tax” their own customers. As these Frequent Flyer seats have already been paid for by the companies paying Qantas for the FF points from sales off credit cards, hotel rooms, mortgages and other participating retailers then the fuel surcharge is simply straight margin to Airlines. That you can redeem FF seats in June of 2008 and be levied a Fuel Surcharge to be paid now indicates an amazing ability for airlines to forecast the price of fuel in 10 months’ time. ACCC please help.

Why I hate Coles:

Pamela Curr writes: Yesterday as I ran from the furthest left corner of the giant Brunswick supermarket to the furthest right corner to buy 1. Milk and 2. Bread, I thought how I HATE COLES! The local Coles has just spent squillions and taken six months to redecorate the store. As a result of this carefully planned reno, the two items most needed are place at the far corners as far again from each other as possible. We all know why. It is the deliberate planning that goes into making our visits to these palaces of excess so tediously long, which grate on the human spirit. All the brightly coloured ads about being fresh and friendly will not overcome the grubby feeling of being abused by the supermarket. If enough of us protest we too might get a convenient quickie service for the basics. So how about it. Speak up — don’t just take it. One small comfort — an ALDI is coming soon to challenge the local Safeway /Coles monopoly — here is hoping that they might have caught on that abusing customers won’t buy loyalty.

There is more to Australia than Sydney:

Michael Mullin writes: Re “The revolving door at Sydney FC”, yesterday, item 26 How come the only mention the A-League gets is when something happens at Sydney FC? There are seven other clubs who have similar stories but it seems if it doesn’t happen in Sydney it’s not news.

Crikeywatch: Dean Galloway writes: RE: USA free trade article (yesterday, item 7). Quick heads-up: must say I was a bit shocked to see Michael Pascoe refer to the Japanese people as “Japs”. I’m certain this was just an innocent slip but as somebody who has worked with quite a few Japanese people he needs to know that ‘Japs’ is to the the Japanese as ‘Chink’ is to the Chinese. The actor Matthew McConaughey used the term on TV in the States a couple of years back and Japanese-American groups came down on him like a ton of bricks. It seems pretty innocuous to me but, as John Brogden would no doubt tell you, these things can blow up very quickly.  Jonathan Adamczewski writes: Re “PM’s intervention a nightmare for Tasmania” in which Crikey’s Tasmanian health insider wrote “In terms of the northwest coast, we have been left the poisonous legacy of having two district general hospitals pretty close together (a 20 minute drive) with one at the Mersey (near Devonport) and one at Burnie.” With not less than sixty kilometres, three sets of traffic lights, two roundabouts, 60 and 80km/h sections and a significant portion of road work (albeit highway duplication) separating Latrobe and Cooee (the locations of the two hospitals), calling the journey a “a 20 minute drive” is misleading, although probably not impossible.  Sacha Delfosse writes: In response to Peter Lawson writes: Re. “Conspiracies are more fun than practical politics” (yesterday, item 11). Christian Kerr, you commented in your article that “The Australian Labor Party does not even claim to be a Socialist Party.” I am astounded. What mastery of investigative journalism allowed you to come to this conclusion? You would find, if the ALP had an up and running National Platform and Constitution, that it does indeed regard itself an a “Socialist Party”. It has membership of the Socialist International society. Christian, you have to be better at your job than this, you are paid to write, and your material should contain relevant facts and truths. The way I read the article, it is clear that Christian Kerr was actually quoting Lenin when he commented the ALP doesn’t even claim to be a socialist party. If Mr Lawson requires further proof, then he can look into The Movement/DLP era,the Hawke/Keating reforms such as the Accords, the lack of militancy in the Unions (and a party that expels any Union leader who attacks bosses), or the fact that a few years ago the ALP voted to drop the ‘socialist objective’ from its platform. Or the fact that the current party leader is married to a millionairess. The only thing left in the ALP that’s socialist is the chardonnay they drink. Modern dilemma:

Mark Regan writes: …a bit of a quandary, I’m afraid! How many carbon credits does one eMail exhorting friends to be “Carbon Neutral” expend?