US election wash up:

Stephen Luntz writes: Re. “Beware media hype: Republicans are not doomed” (Monday, item 10) & “Republicans a good chance in 2012” (yesterday, item 9). Peter Brent and Julian McCrann are right of course that it is a foolish, but remarkably common, thing to write off a political party after one or two defeats. The size of the Democrat majorities in the Senate and House are unusual, but hardly record-breaking, and a Republican victory at any future date is certainly possible.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the GOP has significant structural problems it should be addressing if it wants more than the occasional future win based on lucky timing. Probably the most significant of these is their problem with urban voters. I haven’t found results neatly divided by metropolitan boundaries, so the following is slightly vague, estimating which counties fall into urbanised areas. But by my calculations, of the 52 metropolitan areas with populations over a million in the US, Obama took 42. Two are too close to call, leaving McCain with just 8.

It gets worse than that if you allow for the fact that the Republicans would never have won Phoenix without a hometown candidate, and Salt Lake City is so exceptional it can’t be taken as evidence of a capacity to win elsewhere. This leaves seven cities from the South, old Confederacy centres still coming to terms with forcibly losing slavery, and Cincinnati. The problem is that most of these urban areas are growing faster than the American average, and this will almost certainly continue.

Already half the American population lives in the top 40. But you wouldn’t know it from the McCain-Palin rhetoric about “The real Virginia” and the “Pro-American part of America”. One commentator praised Palin’s selection on the basis that there were thousands of towns like Wasilla, and few cities the size of Chicago. While true, this misses the point that electoral votes are only lightly weighted towards less urbanised areas, and a campaign that denigrates the cities cannot win.

The Republicans are a big party. Some of them must know this, and already be working on a strategy to win back urban voters. They don’t need an urban majority (that they are unlikely to ever see again) but they do need to narrow the gap so their rural and small town support can see them through. They won’t achieve that running Sarah Palin in 2012, or quite a few of the other candidates being touted.

Peter Johns writes: Julian McCrann adapts some bizarre and ultimately meaningless maths in making his point. The 434,343 figure (supposedly the number of people who need to change their vote) would only be of any relevance if there was no change in the voting in all the other states which of course is not going to happen. To then point out that this figure represents just 0.35% of the total vote is mathematically correct but means nothing.

A trend to the Republicans in the states cited by McCrann will be part of an overall trend across the country (OK the Republicans would target these states — but so would the Democrats — and in any case that would leave Missouri etc open to Democratic gains)… Let’s take New Hampshire for instance — as mentioned by McCrann — 33,828 people would need to change their minds to have it turn Republican. But this represents about 4.8% of the vote in that state! Extrapolate that percentage to the total vote of around 122,000,000 and you now have almost 6 million people that need convincing across the nation if they are going to get back all the states mentioned by McCrann. With Sarah Palin at the helm this could be rather difficult.

No doubt Anthony Green could explain this more concisely.

James Harper writes: While I’m sure neither of us wants a running battle between Stephen McGee (yesterday, comments) and me, I really must respond to his selective use of facts. Yes Stephen, it was a Republican who sought to prevent the spread of slavery and fought the southern states in the Civil War but that was over two hundred and fifty years ago. In the meantime, I think Stephen will find that Democrat Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were responsible for the reforms brought about by the Civil Rights movement of the late fifties and sixties.

I suspect that these reforms which gave southern state blacks the vote and all blacks’ equal employment rights have far more resonance with contemporary black voters than the fact that Abe Lincoln was a Republican. Statistics for the last few elections certainly back that view.

Stephen Magee writes: It’s like shooting moose in a barrel! Both Jenny Morris and Merran Williams (yesterday, comments) are victims of the insidious triumph of American spin-doctor BS over reality. Jenny actually claims that Obama has “come close” to walking on water (!). Merran thinks that having your name on two (self-serving) books is proof that you’re “in politics to make a difference rather than simply climb the ladder” — when it’s actually evidence to the contrary. However, the best line is surely Jenny’s claim that Obama “has conviction in spades”.

Economic forecasting:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. I subscribe to an email group that sends a famous quote every day. No doubt so do many of your readers. They have definitely felt the mood of the planet with yesterday’s effort, which recalled John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” Perhaps you might like to ponder that when you are next tempted to write a story regarding the latest economic forecasts.

Gavin Greenoak writes: Crikey’s editorial yesterday was very good, and well said regarding economic forecasting:

Next week another forecast will doubtless emerge to suggest things are even worse than we thought. The whole debate requires a willing suspension of disbelief regarding our predictive powers in relation to the economy.

Economic forecasting is hardly an exact science. In fact, it’s not really science of any kind. It’s an exercise in crunching numbers through a set of assumptions. The assumptions requires predictions — guesses, actually — about what will happen in the future. Modelling is only a couple of steps above the Roman practice of hiring priests to use the movement of birds to predict the future. It’s not bad for guesstimating what will happen if you change an assumption, but rather less perfect for predicting what will actually happen. And complaining about the augurs… sorry, Treasury officials, about their accuracy isn’t going to change anything.

Now may I suggest your insert “anthropogenic climate change” instead of “the economy”? And insert “Scientists” for Treasury. “May reason prevail, in all things.”

Tamas Calderwood writes: Yesterday’s editorial on the shortcomings of economic modelling was brilliant. Substitute the word “climate” for “economic” and Crikey might really be on to something…

US Treasury and AIG:

Julian Gillespie writes: Re. “Bailouts, failures, big losses, job cuts — aka the US economy” (yesterday, item 21). Got to love the Yanks’ faith in the monetary system. AIG recently posted its third quarterly loss in a row — this time US$24.5 billion — the US Treasury’s total commitment to AIG to date is US$152.5 billion in direct injections and buying preferred stock; stock that places Treasury at the front of the queue should AIG go bust. All the while AIG has a market capitalisation (total value of its shares) of about a paltry US$6 billion. As one US pundit correctly put it; the US Treasury is becoming expert at giving transfusions to zombie finance companies.


Ed Coper, Campaigns Director for GetUp, writes: Re. “Kevin the bureaucrat and the petitions committee” (7 November, item 13). GetUp welcomes Bernard Keane’s entry into the debate on e-petitioning, and his comments on our submission to the inquiry on e-petitioning, but he should have read it more closely. He said the intent of our submission was to enable us to “bombard our elected representatives with online missives.”

Of course we will do that anyway — but Bernard, and other detractors of e-democracy, would be well served to remember it is not GetUp bombarding politicians but the hundreds of thousands of individual Australians taking action through our site.

Our experience from the last three years of online campaigning efforts is that those politicians who pay no heed to the concerns of the hundreds of thousands of Australians airing their opinions in the form of petitions (and “never will”), do so at their own peril.

What we were actually asking for in our submission was for online petitions to be accepted by the House, to be acted on in the way that paper petitions are, and for third-party organisations to be able to host petitions before they’re submitted.

In other words, we want to move Parliament into the twenty-first century.

Mental health:

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Sounding the alarm on the legal takeover of mental health” (yesterday, item 11). The article by Michael Robertson and Ian Kerridge was very interesting. However, the authors say, on the subject of enforced psychiatric treatment, “The moral justification for such legislation resides in part in John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”, which has it that the state can intervene in the life of a person if their actions are likely to harm others, not themselves.”

If this is widely believed it shows an incomplete understanding of what Mill wrote. In the paragraph after he set out the “object of this Essay” or the harm principle, he said, “It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury.”

Although this is qualification is firstly concerned with children, it is surely also applicable to adults who are not competent to make their own decisions, and it is this, more than protection of others that is used to justify the enforcement of treatment for those who are mentally ill.


Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Where is Zimbabwe’s functioning government of national unity?” (Yesterday, item 15). Dr Eric de Louw wrote: “Zimbabwe will continue its spiral downward into economic oblivion. This is generating millions of refugees”. Could someone explain to me how it is that the Zimbabweans are said to be eating roots to survive, inflation is astronomical and supermarkets are empty — yet these dire living conditions do not appear to affect the whites.

A car industry subsidy:

Niall Clugston writes: While there are arguments for against the car industry subsidy, Martin Copelin’s arguments (yesterday, comments) add up to an own goal. No, “first world” countries don’t all make cars. No, Australia being “basically an island” doesn’t make trade harder, even in war. Look at the problems USSR and Germany had in World War Two. As for “patriotism”, I suppose he thinks that foreigners who buy Australian minerals are unpatriotic.


Ray Quigley writes: I wholeheartedly agree with Tony Barrell (yesterday, comments). The thing that amazes me is that all these international level cricketers talk about “our game plan”, which I, naïve probably, interpret to mean that the combined “wisdom” of all the players and coaches, has a common approach to each separate opposing player. So, when the number three batsman (say) comes out, they all go to positions on the field that have been pre-ordained, and the “best” bowler bought on to execute the plan.


Mark Heydon writes: Using the data link provided by Stilgherrian (yesterday, comments), you can produce the average unit selling price for DVDs as per the chart below.

The increasing DVD revenue has corresponded to a significant reduction in average selling price. This would tend to support Stilgherrian’s assertion that the price of DVDs was not right. At the high prices prevalent in the past, the IP owners were doing themselves a disservice, foregoing significant revenue, which when you consider that the marginal cost is pretty close to zero, means they were foregoing significant profits.

Keep the climate change:

Ken Lambert writes: Re. “On motor cars and climate change” (yesterday, item 13). Here we go, Dr Glikson’s at it again. Just when I thought my National Geographic Charts and lucid analysis had finally blown him away — up he pops with the same recycled flawed logic. I suggest that a “severe draught” could be stopped by closing a window, but Dr Glikson’s ominous 25+/-12 metre sea level rise has now been broken down to “many metres”. Could this be as a result of my pointing out that during the last interglacial (120,000 years ago), the NGS data showed a sea level rise of roughly four metres above current levels occurred with a temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius.

Dr Glikson’s abrupt climate tipping points at 14.7 and 11.7 thousand years ago were artefacts of the thaw from the last ice age which started nearly 20000 years ago where temperatures rose from 8 degrees and sea levels from 80 metres below their levels of today. These were non-anthropogenic events in which CO2 lagged both temperature and sea level rise. Abrupt climate changes occurred in tens to hundreds of years without mankind doing anything but huddle in chilly caves like moo cows watching the traffic.

Jonathan Maddox writes: Paul Reefman (yesterday, comments) asked if there was a problem with the arguments of Norwegian geologist T.V Segalstad, that oceanic and geological buffers can absorb more carbon dioxide than can possibly be produced by burning fossil fuels. The ocean does buffer atmospheric CO2, but only surface waters take part. On the face of it, Segalstad’s theory is solid; it’s just that he has the timescales wrong by an order of magnitude.

Segalstad dismisses the IPCC’s detailed ocean circulation models (which indicate that the deeper layers of the ocean do not mix much with the more mobile surface waters) and also ignores the feedback effect of rising surface temperatures on the ability of the surface waters to retain CO2. As many (other) AGW sceptics constantly remind us, in past warming periods CO2 rose after the warming began: this was due to warmer oceans.

If Segalstad was right, atmospheric CO2 levels would have risen far, far slower than they have over the last five decades and no-one would ever have been alarmed by the increase as it would have corresponded only to the last few years’ emissions. We’d have seen a decrease in atmospheric CO2 in the mid 1990s corresponding to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. It didn’t happen.

The fact is, carbon dioxide is obviously remaining in the atmosphere for many decades, and is likely to remain there for centuries without human intervention.

Thought of the Day:

Bev Kilsby writes: Sometimes when you give it comes back to you double fold. And it gives you confidence to do something. You never suffer by giving and you can give in many ways. I am sure there are many Australians who are quiet givers, but are happy and content about it because they get to know themselves better. God loves a cheerful giver — why not try it.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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