Governments and the capacity for revenge. Any banker who thinks that the strategy of increasing lending margins by not passing on cuts in official interest rates is risk free should stop and consider what is happening to Telstra. There was an insightful piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on Easter Saturday by Peter Hartcher which suggests punishment of a big business that would not play ball was very much a motivating factor in the decision to announce construction of government financed fibre optic cable to the premises not just the node on the corner. It should serve as a warning to all companies that rely on government decisions for a privileged position: what governments give they can also take away.

Getting tomorrow’s income today. It is really nothing more than increasing the debt under another name; the NSW Government is planning to sell off a licence to operate the State Lotteries Office for 30 years. An annual dividend of $xx million will be swapped by state Treasurer Eric Roosendaal for a lump sum payment here and now. We used to call it selling off the family silver but these days the name is privatisation. The best the State’s taxpayers can hope for is that a company will pay a premium for the rights in the belief that it can run the lotteries more efficiently than the current government authority. If that is so then what amounts to a loan will be at a lower interest rate than would be the case if the government simply went to the market and borrowed in an orthodox fashion.

A long way from Somalia. Why is it that the ABC uses its Johannesburg correspondent to report on the operation of Somalian pirates in the waters thousands of nautical miles away off the horn of Africa? Reading cable news copy is reading cable news copy no matter where the reader sites.

A cheerless read in the doctor’s waiting room. Nestled in the pile of New Ideas and Women’s Weeklies at the doctors surgery last week I came across the New Scientist of 24 January 2009 which I fancied would provide a more interesting diversion from thinking about the blood test result to come. And so it was that I was introduced to the views of James Lovelock, the 89 year old originator of the Gaia theory, which describes Earth as a self-regulating planet. I assume that to be subject to a major interview in this distinguished publication makes Mr Lovelock a person whose views should be respected but it was a bit cheerless to read his prediction that global warming will result in a cull this century of up to 90 per cent of the world’s population.

“The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It’s happening again,” he told the magazine.

“I don’t think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what’s coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing’s been done except endless talk and meetings.”

Not that I need be too concerned about all that I suppose. Reaching three score years and ten in 2012, I am told, will be medical miracle enough for me but it was still depressing to read this morning that a survey by The Guardian suggests there are many others sharing the Lovelock pessimism. The paper reports almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2C will succeed and that an average rise of 4-5C by the end of this century is more likely, they say, given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints.

The dangers of writing things down. I never have understood the need that many of those playing the game of politics feel to write down details of their brilliant strategies. In all my years involved in running election campaign I never even kept a diary or notebook and I hope I would not have been as foolish as to send details of some planned dirty tricks to anyone else by email if that mechanism of communication had existed back in my day. But I must say that the recent revelations about the activities of members of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s key adviser Damian McBride do make fascinating reading.

Start with the extensive coverage in The Daily Mail to get a rare insight into what a horrid business democratic politics actually is. When the Labour team are so incompetent as to get caught like they have been that the Crikey UK Election Indicator has them so far behind.

All politics is local. Voting is under way in the world’s biggest democracy with the Times of India calling it a strange election — “it’s an all-India election with virtually no national issues.” Neither security and terrorism nor the economic crisis seems to be agitating voters with the outcome likely to be determined by many small battles fought on local issues, more often than not on caste and community lines. The odds are very much against one of the major parties obtaining a majority in its own right with The Times of India concluding that “it’s becoming increasingly apparent that opportunistic post-poll equations will be more important than the pre-poll pitches of parties.” In a situation like this the opinion polls will not be much of a guide so let’s hope the the Crikey Indian Election Indicator can point the way.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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