Correction:

Maryn Wagstaff, EO to Janelle Saffin, the MP Federal Member for Page, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Monday, item 8). Crikey published the following tip:

A few weeks ago there was a mention about the NSW Government refusing to release a report from a NSW-QLD cross-border transport taskforce which was established in June 2006 as a pre-election sweetener for the marginal seat of Tweed, and scheduled to report by mid-2007.

After failing to comply with an order from the state upper house to release the report, claiming that the final report has not yet been prepared, the Government has since announced that the report will be released by the end of this month.

However, according to a well-placed ALP source the final report was produced some time ago and has already been seen by members of some northern NSW ALP branches. Furthermore, this source claims that the report, which is supposed to be from the NSW Ministry of Transport, was actually written by Marilyn Wagstaff, a staffer to former Tweed MP Neville Newell, and who now works for Federal MP for Page Janelle Saffin.

Get my name right please! This is totally incorrect — I requested the report on behalf of Janelle Saffin MP when it is released. We also requested the Baird Cross Border Railway Report from the 1990s prepared for the Liberal Greiner Government. That report was never publicly released and was suspected by local Liberals as having been laundered out of existence.

The Murwillumbah Casino line has been relatively neglected by most Governments since 1894, and Milton Morris who was the NSW Liberal Minister for Transport in earlier years states that the Railway Commissioners have always wanted to close the line like they did with the branch line from Ballina to Lismore via Booyong.

There have been about six Government inquiries since 1894 for the “missing link” between Murwillumbah and Queensland to be built.

P.J. O’Rourke:

Wendy Harmer writes: Re. “P.J. O’Rourke: stimulating, like an untaxed leech” (yesterday, item 2). In reply to PJ’s cry for no taxes … couldn’t agree more. Instead of the “stimulus package” cobbled together by our Government and handed out to various “deserving” parties, why not just lower the GST until everyone gets back on their feet? (And then there wouldn’t be the nanny-state “tut tutting” on how people spend, or save, their handouts).

Isn’t the GST supposed to be handy-dandy flexible fiscal instrument? How come it’s never been used? (The Brits lowered the VAT in Dec 2008 from 17.5 to 15 per cent!). Wayne Swan says the Government has a “commitment” not to fiddle with the GST — but that commitment was made before the country was in recession.

Economist Henry Ergas and businessman Solomon Lew proposed such a measure – the only hurdle being the need to get those tax-guzzling State Governments to agree. (The next step; abolish State Governments!)

When the GST is lowered I’ll have more $$$ to get my kitchen done and employ local tradies and suppliers. Where the rest goes — that’s my own damn business!

Tom Osborn writes: O’Rourke gives us “a little math” on the US stimulus, but the “little maths” leaves a “lot” to be desired. He apparently assumes that a government expenditure (stimuli plus budget) of $10K per person disappears when it is spent. Of course, this is nonsense. Two things happen.

Firstly, the velocity of money speeds up which is why the approach is called a stimulus. The money goes round and round, from wallet to wallet, and everyone gets to exercise it more than once. It doesn’t disappear. It only disappears if it’s spent on things with no production, distribution or servicing costs, and which have no intrinsic value. Even then, it doesn’t really disappear.

Secondly and additionally, funds spent on better infrastructure means the entire economy runs better than it would on crap infrastructure in a sad state of repair. This only goes wrong if the infrastructure spend is on the wrong infrastructure – something to guard against.

Niall Clugston writes: The criticism of American economic policy, as exemplified by P.J. O’Rourke and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, has its focus on stimulus. But at least a credit binge offers transitory happiness. The so-called bailout, on the other hand, is simply sending good money after bad. Of course, it was greeted with great acclaim by the usual suspects, but if financial engineering was the solution there wouldn’t be a problem.

The “toxic assets” are built on glitches in the real economy, such as houses which their intended owners can’t afford. Rather than the tax holiday that P.J. O’Rourke suggests, it would be more logical to give a holiday to mortgagees. In a stroke of the presidential pen, ghost towns would turn back into neighbourhoods and bad debts would revive.

The alternative is mass evictions, falling house prices, falling down houses, extreme write-downs, and mushrooming bad debts. It seems we are stuck with the alternative.

Marcus Ogden writes: So P.J. O’Rourke wants us to laugh at stimulus packages that “give tax money to people who don’t pay taxes”? Sorry but in this country, the economic stimulus package is only going to people who paid tax. Not very funny P.J. (or K.R.)

Andrew Dempster writes: Re. “Saville: My night with P.J. O’Rourke and a room full of white, middle aged men” (yesterday, item 16). Margot Saville wrote: “And he even managed to joke about the Holocaust. After the Great Depression, Hitler had come along with the economic stimulus package of WWII, he chuckled. That went down like a plate of matzo.”

It appears we have come to a point where WWII is simply code for the Holocaust? I can’t see how that joke has anything to do with the Holocaust. The Holocaust was bad but the war was a lot worse, for a lot more people. And economies like that of the US were undoubtedly boosted by the real main event — the war. Seems we need to define a new crime — WWII denial.

Richard Pratt:

Gavin R. Putland, director of the Land Values Research Group, writes: Re. “Richard Pratt: rich man, beggar man, thief” (yesterday, item 26). The total supply of land in any jurisdiction is fixed, as is the supply that can be legally used for any particular purpose, and the supply within acceptable distance of any particular services, infrastructure or markets. Therefore the owners of land automatically constitute a cartel, even if they make no effort to organise themselves as such. And because access to land is essential to economic participation, the rents and prices of land are competed upward to absorb the economy’s capacity to pay.

If the producers of some other essential commodity, such as cardboard packaging, somehow organise themselves as a cartel, they make their product LAND-LIKE and thus obtain a share of the economic rent that would otherwise accrue to land owners. But that’s illegal. Meanwhile any proposal that would weaken the power of the land cartel — e.g. by pressuring land owners to build housing on their land or sell it to someone who will — is condemned as an intolerable assault on property rights.

The ailing Dick Pratt has been fined, disgraced and indicted not because he ILLEGALLY stole so much from businesses and their customers, but because he prevented land owners from LEGALLY stealing that much from businesses and their customers — not because he abused his power, but because he took that power from the more powerful. It was ever thus.

Tampa:

Mungo MacCallum writes: So Marcus Vernon (yesterday, comments) does not believe that the Tampa played any significant part in the 2001 election result because it didn’t actually change any votes. Well, that’s not what Lynton Crosby, the federal director of the Liberal Party who ran the campaign believes. Asked shortly after the poll what proportion of the vote had been swayed by the Tampa and its aftermath Crosby replied that it was perhaps 10 percent. It is a matter of history that the coalition won the two party preferred vote by just over two percent. Not decisive, Marcus? You do the maths.

David Lenihan writes: Marcus Vernon can live in cuckoo land if he wishes. It is an absurdity to suggest the Tampa played no major role in the outcome of the election of 2001. To come up with a childish Tampa test, is as pathetic as his contribution. He really expects intelligent people to accept asking a question about a voting habit would result in an honest answer, get out of it.

I close with this … .The crew of the Tampa received the Nansen Refugee Award for 2002 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for their efforts to follow international principles of saving people in distress at sea, despite repeated threats of imprisonment and confiscation of the ship from the Australian government.

Shaun Cronin writes: Marcus Vernon wrote: “If you’re still not convinced, try what I call the Tampa Test — attempt to find anyone (family, friends) who actually changed their vote over Tampa. It doesn’t matter who they voted for, simply whether they actually changed their vote — you will spend a long time asking, without success.” Changed my vote. Had been a Labor voter all my voting life but with Beazley’s cowardly support of Howard regarding Tampa, I voted for the Democrats instead. Hope that passes your test.

Moira Smith writes: Marcus Vernon challenges readers to “attempt to find anyone … who actually changed their vote over Tampa“. I did. Not only did Labor lose my vote over this issue, but the Greens gained a paid-up member.

Rudd’s stimulus:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Rudd’s Package III: Stimulate with a Vengeance” (yesterday, item 1). I found myself increasingly unsurprised by the beginning of the Rudd stumbles. To the asylum missteps and vastly expensive (“nation-building” always a worrying phase to current and future taxpayers and consumers) National “Narrowband” Network, we could add fobbing off the pensioners to the point they are angry. Mean spirited environment cuts since reversed.

Job limiting workplace changes, just as the recession starts to bite. Stimulus payments that aren’t working and cutbacks to services to fund the stimulus payments that aren’t working. Rudd is starting to run up serious misjudgement questions.

Tempest in a Tea Party:

Adam Rope writes: Re. “Letter from… Richmond, Virginia, USA” (Monday, item 16). In a further comment on Karyn McDermott’s insider piece on the Tea Parties on Monday, I noted she claimed that “Whilst there is some basic organization the tea parties are fundamentally a grassroots phenomenon”. Yeah right, it was so grassroots that even she had admit that “Fox, it must be said, promoted the heck out of the tea parties.”

Promoted the heck being, as Jon Stewarts Daily Show pointed out in Tempest in a Tea Party, effectively “sponsoring” the event by putting the networks initials in front of the event title, as in FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.

The next night, Stewart had fun with Fox itself, in Nationwide Tax Protests, showing the numbers claimed to have attended against shots of crowds at American Idol auditions, and then tore into Fox, and it must be said several other networks, showing the hypocrisy of their reporting on this “grassroots” issue, against their reports on other ‘protests’ whilst Bush was in power.

The red meat industry:

Sharon Hutchings writes: Re. “Eating red meat: like smoke from a hungry an-s” (Tuesday, item 17). For a few years now the red meat industry has been going to desperate lengths to defend, promote and spin the unsavoury aspects of it’s product (‘Eating red meat: like smoke from a hungry anus’ yesterday). You won’t find any credible independent health organisation these days that states meat is “essential” for good health. Because it isn’t.

Then there are the separate, but equally important environmental issues like resource use, ghg emissions and peak phosphorus. Check out this recent UTS/ABC Fora lecture, including a presentation from highly respected nutritionist Rosemary Stanton “Eating the Earth“.

On the abattoir issue mentioned in The Age article, it is one of the greatest hypocrisies that an individual can salivate over a veal parmigiana, but dry-retch over the thought of the calf being slaughtered and butchered — now there’s a great idea for the MLA’s next ad campaign, and I’m sure they could put some sweet spin on it! School curriculums should include full and frank disclosure of meat and other food production, including tours of intensive production and abattoirs.

It is a curious thing that most parents avoid telling their children the complete truth about meat, then by the time they do make the connection they are virtually desensitised and hooked on it. Meat is so entrenched in Aussie social culture, that to shun it on any grounds, no matter how valid or compassionate, can negatively impact your social life and subject you to amazingly obtuse questions like “but don’t carrots feel pain too?”

Torture:

Gerard McEwen writes: Re. “183 waterboardings: drowning in torturous detail” (Monday, item 15). The salient point regarding the G.W. Bush administration as revealed in the so-called “torture memos” is the disturbing return to the pre-Watergate Nixonian doctrine that “If the President does it, it is not illegal” (see Frost interview).

The major difference was that the Bush advisors hid behind a bizarre concept of war powers that the defendants at the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials would have found most useful. A simple exercise in changing the names exposes this arrogant nonsense for the rank hypocrisy it is.

Making headlines:

Alan Lander writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 12). Richard Farmer wrote about the famous New York Post headline: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR.” Yeah, not bad, but it doesn’t come close to the UK Times headline, when former Labour MP Michael Foot, a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament member, went to chair a European group which was set up to disarm the atomic bomb.

The headline: “FOOT HEADS ARMS BODY”.

International radio broadcasting:

G.C. Dunstan writes: The recent imbroglio in Fiji has highlighted the value of traditional “Short Wave” international radio broadcasting.

“Short Wave”, or High Frequency radio broadcasting has been with us for around 80 years. Short Wave broadcast stations use powerful transmitters and large antenna arrays to beam programs into the target country or region, often thousands of kilometers distant.

Short Wave broadcasting reached its zenith during the Cold War, with the US and the Russians operating massive facilities in many countries — indeed, the Russians often jammed the US stations in a kind of electronic battle for dominance of the radio airwaves.

Unfortunately, Short Wave is seen as old fashioned by broadcasters these days. Short Wave isn’t “sexy”, like the ‘net.

Admittedly, Short Wave broadcasting stations are costly to establish and run, principally because of the complex antenna systems and very high power transmitters required.

As a result, many major broadcasters have closed, or severely rationalised their services. Our own Radio Australia is a mere shadow of its former self, with only one main station near Shepparton in Victoria, and a small facility south of Townsville, Queensland.

Gone are the heady days of the extensive stations at Carnarvon in the west and Darwin in the north, when the voice of Australia could be reliably heard throughout Asia, the Pacific and even Europe.

These days, Short Wave is being supplanted by the internet and relays using local FM radio stations in the target country. Bean counters love these technologies, as they are cheap to set up and run.

Of course, the problem with internet delivery is that there aren’t too many internet connections available in a remote village in PNG or an atoll in Kiribati, for instance.

This doesn’t seem to register with Radio Australia management (or the BBC, for that matter), who sing the praises of internet streaming and promote it heavily on the air and their web site. Poor old Short Wave barely gets a mention – one has to dig deeply into the website to find mention of Short Wave frequency schedules.

A couple of years ago, the ABC (who operate Radio Australia) had plans to close all their Short Wave facilities. These plans were reversed after complaints from listeners.

Radio Australia also uses local FM stations in target countries to relay a satellite feed of their program. There are local FM relays in most Pacific countries. This system works very well during normal times — the FM signal is loud and clear, and there is none of the fading and noise which sometimes accompanies Short Wave reception.

However, as we have seen in Fiji, it is a simple matter for these local FM transmitters to be switched off, and the internet shut down.

In this situation, good old Short Wave radio will still get through.

Thank goodness common sense prevailed, and we kept our Shepparton and Townsville Short Wave stations on the air…

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Mark Byrne writes: Simon Mansfield (yesterday, comments) says that he is aware the world is a “complicated place”. But he advises us that anything from the Greens on “virtually any topic” is unreliable (his interpretation on the nuance of the world). Mansfield then complains about a skew towards “the easy thinking”. Handily Mansfield exemplifies the problem with his claim that, Greens hate biofuel. A more nuanced analysis would reveal that Greens support development of many biofuels including second and third generation. They “hate” perverse subsidies to specific biofuels which take more energy than they produce, or perversely displace food crops, or require clearing of rich ecosystems.

Mansfield even tries to create the illusion the Greens are against efforts to address peak oil. A difficult illusion to sustain given the Greens leadership role in bringing on parliamentary debate and inquiry into the issue.

I have a great idea for Mansfield’s first story for Crikey, why doesn’t Simon give us the scoop on his industry commercial relationships. He’s certainly covering a good number of bases with all those domain names. Can I suggest you also setup the site CleanCoalDaily.com? Before long we can all see the world through Mansfield’s lens.

Mark Hardcastle writes: Simon Mansfield reckons arguments presented against Penny Wong’s ETS are simply junk. Apparently “It’s called compromise and starting a process that will take years to ramp up”.

Perhaps Mansfield could enlighten us as to how negotiations are going with mother earth? What are her terms before she will turn carbon sinks into carbon sources? I’m also interested if Mansfield’s would enlighten us as to the likely impact will be of taking Wong’s legislated target upper limit of15%, to global negations in Copenhagen?

This appallingly weak target from the nation with the highest per capita emissions. I imagine that would help deliver quite a predictable outcome for global reductions. I think its called “suicidal sabotage”.

That fits quite well with your other site spacewar.com “Your World at War”. Such a pretty thought.

Israel/Palestine cage match (now with its own blog):

Hamish Craib writes: Re. “Carlill vs Rundle: Ahmadinejad, Palestine and Israel” (yesterday, item 19). Bren Carlill should have used more exclamation marks and sarcasm in his considered response to Guy Rundle’s recent article.

I fear Mr Carlill’s failure to be hysterically outraged may risk readers not to appreciate how entirely blameless Israel has been toward Palestinians.

I, for one, have absolutely no idea how Mr Rundle could suggest that the West’s tolerance of Israel’s behaviour could used politically to benefit the leader of an Islamic country.

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