General Motors:

Gideon Haigh writes: Re. “Rundle: RIP Detroit, as the US goes socialist” (yesterday, item 4). I hate to dampen Guy Rundle’s spirits, but I suspect that GM belies his argument that “US capitalism delivers uncertainty, chaos, and collapse”. The company has been a synonym for corporate bastardry since Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) and for chronic management ineptitude since at least John De Lorean’s On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors (1979), yet its decline and fall ended up spanning generations.

Guy may have missed an opportunity to indict his ideological antagonists even more effectively: GM could be regarded as demonstrating how American-style capitalism, far from unfailingly redistributing capital from bad management to good, can for protracted periods protect CEOs and boards from the consequences of their incompetence.

Guy also errs in describing GM as “the company whose director once said ‘what’s good for General Motors is good for America'” — a common fallacy. Charles Wilson, President from 1941 to 1953, actually spoke (mainly) of the opposite idea: “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

And in doing so, sixty years ago, he was also proposing the obsolescence of such a sentiment.

Alan Kennedy writes: Guy Rundle dismisses mighty Detroit far too lightly. Apart from being the coldest place I have ever been, Detroit lives in my memory for the Ford Museum an amazing collection of Americana including a test tube allegedly containing Thomas Edison’s last breath, the adjoining Greenfield Village (Google it) and last, but by no means least, the Motown Music museum. The town also produced Bob Seger whose song Makin Thunderbirds is a classic.

And while downtown may be the domain of weasels and foxes the deco skyscrapers are wonderful.

Indian students:

Cherian Philipose writes: Re. “Indian press on Australia’s racism: a Crikey wrap” (yesterday, item 12). I was dismayed by the quality of the debate on the issue of the safety of Indian students. Many commentators wrote about the matter in the most narcissistic and self-serving terms. It was all about protecting “our image” and “our education industry”. There did not seem to be enough about protecting Indian students.

Their focus on protecting profits first, was indescribably vulgar and a matter that was essentially a humanitarian one, was couched in the most narcissistic and self-serving terms. Since Australia makes billions of dollars by enrolling Indian students, surely it can spend some money to enhance their safety.

Disregarding this basic duty of care is going to result in many students giving Australia a “Sol Trujillo style” farewell. Since the preferred method of running an Australian university is by enrolling overseas students in it, perhaps we should take the next logical step and enrol only Australians in our universities.

The Indians can then take their intellect and earning power to a more appreciative country and tertiary education can suffer the ignominious collapse that it seems to so richly deserve.

Childhood obesity:

Kathy Chapman, Chair of Coalition on Food Advertising to Children, writes: Re. “Where is the evidence that junk food ads make kids fat?” (Yesterday, item 14). Let’s get over this constant debate of whether food marketing causes childhood obesity and by how much. Public health advocates are quite clear that more effective regulation of advertising directed at children is a necessary ingredient in the mix of strategies to address childhood obesity.

The facts are these — the evidence clearly demonstrates that:

  • Food advertising is a likely contributing factor in the obesity-promoting (“obesogenic”) environment;
  • There is a strong link between exposure to TV food advertising and children’s food preferences, food purchasing and food consumption — systematic reviews show this quite clearly;
  • Improved regulation will be a cost effective strategy to reduce childhood obesity;
  • Young children are not sufficiently cognitively developed to understand the persuasive intent of advertising;
  • The current high level of unhealthy food advertising undermines the role of parents in promoting healthy eating; and
  • Government has an obligation to protect children from possible harms, and the impact of food advertising on nutrition behaviours and health represents one such harm.

We are never going to have unequivocal evidence that advertising causes obesity. To design a randomised controlled trial that would prove causality would require finding a group of children who have no exposure to food marketing — perhaps if there is life on another planet we could have such a trial.

I wonder how many advertisers make pitches to their big food company clients and say that their expensive ad campaigns will result in a 2% increase in sales.

And let’s also be clear, calls for effective regulation are not the same as banning all food advertising. The Coalition on Food Advertising to Children (CFAC), which includes 15 prominent public health groups and individuals, supports a reduction in the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (which could be determined by nutrient profiling or some other criteria to classify foods as healthy or less healthy). CFAC wants to see a reduction in advertising of unhealthy foods during the times and programs when large numbers of children are watching TV — regulations would need to apply between 7am to 9am and 4pm to 9pm weekdays and 7am to 9pm on weekends.

Other countries, such as the UK have recognised that food marketing to children is an issue that needs addressing through regulation. Does Australia have to lag behind?

Peter Lloyd writes: Chris Berg’s defence of the junk food industry and indeed the mere fact that the Institute of Public Affairs regards this as a worthy cause demonstrates why the right-wing think tanks spawned of the greed is good era have outlived their relevance. Members of such groups make the mistake of thinking that just because society does not quite believe in banning a harmful product, sellers of it should therefore automatically enjoy unrestricted rights of trade. It’s not a new notion — indeed the British fought two Opium wars over it — but it is a mistaken and extreme one.

It is no surprise that obesity cannot be easily linked on one product or form of advertising. The interaction of complex systems allows the endless invocation of “reasonable scepticism”, as the Intelligent Design mob know when attacking our limited knowledge of the overall story of evolution. Society denies us such easy measurement and anyway the far right has never tried to prove any of its dubious economic theories. There is no need for laboratory-test proof.

Junk food and the industry of endless lies called advertising can be called to heel, restricted or limited by a democratic society and until they can prove some compelling benefit to offset their social cost, the IPA could well find more worthy beneficiaries of its libertarian lobbyings.

Tony Barrell writes: Is the Institute of Public Affairs of which Chris Berg, is a “research fellow” and claims there is no connection between junk food and childhood obesity, the same IPA that denies there’s such a thing as global warming? Perhaps the Mr Berg should direct his research towards the whether fat people are less likely to fall off the edge of the world. BTW I’m told that any group of people can register themselves as an “Institute”. It’s one way of encouraging journalist-depleted newspapers to fill their columns with more or less free copy from what might seem to be a credible source. Pity Crikey has to do the same.

David Havyatt writes: It is extremely rare that I agree with Chris Berg or any of his fellow travellers at the IPA, but in his article he makes a fair point. That point is that the correlation hasn’t been demonstrated, though I’d hate to be telling my boss at the fast food company that our ads didn’t encourage kids to eat the crap. But the people worried about junk food advertising need to ask why we think it is appropriate to mandate that networks broadcast children’s television at all.

Left to their own devices they’d show Golden Girls re-runs and the few kids watching TV would go out and play.

Don’t ban the advertising; just stop mandating that networks have to broadcast this kind of TV.

Bob Ellis:

Gerard Henderson writes: Re. “Bob Ellis: it’s time for a national Liberal voter register” (yesterday, item 7). I noticed that Bob Ellis engaged in another of his steam-of-unconsciousness rants in Crikey yesterday. It was up there with his recent gig on Q&A where the False Prophet maintained a Queensland weed exists which can eat carbon and promulgated the theory that Australia’s water problems can be solved by building a “bloody great” pipe from New Guinea to northern New South Wales. Some weed. Some pipe.

Yesterday Bob Ellis opined that letters critical of me are never published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the West Australian. This is bunk. He also maintained that I have repeatedly refused to debate him for 20 years. In fact I have only once been invited to appear with Bob Ellis and I accepted — the discussion took place in early 1993 on Network 10.

Over the past decade the False Prophet has personally challenged me to a public debate. I wrote to Bob Ellis on 2 February 2005 advising that I was willing to debate him at a “mutually convenient location” —  but only after he had paid the remaining debt he owed me on his failed wager of almost a decade ago. So far, the False Prophet has forked out $750 out of $1000.

When he comes up with the remaining $250 (which will go to one of Anne Henderson’s refugee causes), I will do the debate. We would need a small location — I doubt whether anyone would turn up even if some weed and a bloody great pipe was available on the house (so to speak).

Roger Connolly writes: Apart from observing the usual big fat nothing response from Liberals to ugly old Bob Ellis’s crazy, deluded with grandeur rambling — read, total ignore — it’s worth remembering where this thing called THUH media, he and a few others obsess over, sits in the scheme of things in Australia.

The highest rating television programme of all time, live on every television station in Australia (except for some unknown reason, Channel Seven Adelaide), in the middle of winter early in the week more than twenty five years ago — the show that also ran live on eleven channels in New York City, along with God only knows how many other television stations across the world, was the Royal Wedding of Charles and Di.

The audience at the time was presumably split between those who could see some sense of history and those who wanted to see the IRA blow up the couple live on the telly. No media event either before or since has ever gained, or perhaps will ever gain such blanket coverage, and yet going by the media’s own dodgy surveys, somewhere in excess of fourteen MILLION Australians did NOT watch the coverage. Mr Ellis and the entire media world need to remember occasionally that media influence on all our lives comes DRAMATICALLY DOWN from that high point.

Bob, people just don’t give a stuff what YOU think about anything —and ninety nine percent of them have never heard of you or any other political commentator. Collectively, Bob and the rest of the pro-Labor media burblers who stir up a miniscule (and stupid) minority of Liberal voters, are basically preaching to the converted i.e. your Labor party mates who salivate over your every utterance. Most Libs turn off the media around twenty five or thirty years of age and then lead happy busy and productive lives without ever thinking of what Ellis, Keane, Oakes, Adams, not to mention Devine, Henderson, Jones, Laws (retired) Akerman et al on the other side, might ramble on about.

Ellis, you have always obsessed with your own importance. Your problem today, like your quixotic hero Gough Whitlam, is one of even more irrelevance than on the day Charles married Di all those years ago.

David Hand writes: Firstly, I’m a Liberal voter. I’m a paid up member of the Liberal Party. (By the way, it only costs $75 for an annual membership. Contact your state party HQ. Yes, you can make a difference!!). But I can sense Bob Ellis’ pain. He feels that too many Australian voters favour Liberal politics but are unwilling to talk about it.

The reason is obvious. So much noise erupts from the telephone box that represents Bob and his mates these days that it seems better just to shut up. It’s a bit awkward for Bob that there seem to be an awful lot of voters that espouse centre-right views but won’t debate with him. The problem the left has, as typified by Bob’s rant, is that they are so certain in their righteousness, so positive in their claim to the moral high ground, so convinced that anyone holding an alternative view is spawned of the devil, that no alternative view has room to have oxygen before it is drowned out in a tsunami of self-righteous bile. There’s no point in trying to reason with a left wing fundamentalist, so we shut up. And vote.

I don’t expect to win an argument with the megaphone emanating from Bob’s mouth but for the sake of substance I will attempt three issues.

First, I’ve lost count of the correspondence in Crikey, SMH and The Australian, critical of Gerard Henderson.

Secondly, how can Bob dismiss Liberal politics as espousing “handy, belittling cartoons” in the light of Kevin’s remorseless, focus-group-researched sound bites and spin?

Thirdly, Bob reckons that the evil right wing call him an “untidy, shambling eccentric”. I ask all you reasonable leftie latte-sippers, what do you call this lazy diatribe masquerading as comment on Crikey?

I’m all for informed rigorous debate but as far as Bob’s effort goes, “untidy and shambling” seems a reasonable description to me, irrespective of what he actually says. (I mean, do you lefties really want to be like McCarthy?)

And if the inhabitants of the left wing telephone box drown out this effort to engage in reasoned debate, we will still vote Liberal, and there are quite a lot of us.

Paul Lucas writes: One thing the “urban elites” (my favourite label for Bob’s people) never talk about is their association with Kevin Rudd. In his article Ellis described in detail the “Right’s” hatred of Beasley, Brown and Keating — but no mention of Rudd but for his comparable age to Howard. Why is that do you think?

To steal Bob’s idea, I think a truly worthy National Register would not be of Liberal voters but of “Bleeding heart, Old-style, clapped-out 60s leftie, Chardonnay socialists” who believe in Rudd, his philosophies and beliefs — whatever those are.

Surely Rudd is seen as an ends to a mean, for a group who still secretly, no scratch that, openly, cry out for the days of Whitlam et al to return, in some type of “Bob’s Party” situation.

Stimulus and the economy:

Gavin R. Putland writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Your editorial concludes that “it is hard to think what alternative strategy the Government could have pursued to prop up demand and employment that would have worked better.” I beg to differ.

Given that (a) the essence of a recession is reduced production, (b) the basic productive relationship in the economy is the employer-employee relationship, and (c) the pain of a recession consists chiefly in unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment, I submit that the only thing deserving a stimulus is EMPLOYMENT PER SE: Give each employer a tax credit/rebate/prebate proportional to the change in its full-time-equivalent workforce since a certain (past) reference date.

This “employment tax credit” would reduce the MARGINAL cost of hiring without reducing wages. Unlike most “stimulus” measures, it would INCREASE tax receipts — not necessarily from company tax (because the rebate would be against company tax while the base of that tax would expand), but certainly from personal income tax and consumption tax, due to increased employment.

Martyn Smith writes: Although I long ago gave up on newspaper editorials (Murdoch’s = biased) I read Crikey‘s with interest. Your Tuesday editorial included the following snide sentence: “Month in, month out since then the data have proved the Government — or, more to the point, Treasury, behind whom this Government hides on every major economic decision — correct.”

This reminds me of the story of the German general Paul von Hindenburg, victor of the WWI battle of Tanennberg, who reputedly used a staff officer’s plan to attain victory. When a reporter asked him years later whether the laurels should properly go to the staff officer he replied, “I can’t say who won the battle, but I know who would have lost it.” The same applies to your editorial’s sentence, which has the paw marks of Bernard Keane all over it.

In my understanding governments use the civil service for advice and the Treasury is the branch that provides the main financial advice. If the policies are wrong it’s the government that cops the blame, not the Treasury. What sort of ‘hiding behind Treasury’ is it for the government to state the advice it received when explaining government policy. Who ever wrote that devious underhand sentence should go away and hide somewhere.

John Goldbaum writes: I agree with Will Fettes (yesterday, comments) that governments should play a counter-cyclical role in managing the business cycle and that the real debate in Australia is about the nature of the stimulus, its size and timing. Having said that, Kevin Rudd led his Opposition throughout 2007 talking about the need to lift productivity and the need to ease infrastructure bottle-necks. Labor should have had a list of infrastructure projects in mind before they won Government. They should have got them shovel-ready in 2008 instead of mucking around with talkfests.

Rudd’s macro-economic fiscal stimulus would have had the same immediate effect on net employment whether it was splurged on retail consumption or infrastructure investment, but it would have been the gift that kept on giving if it had all been spent on economic infrastructure. Plasma screen TV’s and new sports fields don’t increase Australia’s export revenue. Roads, rail and ports do.

Australia can earn more over the next two decades by shipping hugely increased volumes of minerals at slightly lower prices to China than it did by shipping small volumes at huge prices.

David Lenihan writes: Re. Martin Gordon (yesterday, comments). There is nothing as distasteful as a Liberal acting “holier than thou”. It would probably assist Mr Gordon if he read the comment that preceded his, from Mathew Brennan. The comments by the Opposition leader and Hockey were disgraceful and sheer hypocrisy and obviously are shared by Mr Gordon. Quite frankly it’s the hypocrisy from Liberals that really make them look the pompous rabble they are.

If Ministers travelling first class upsets the contributor and cheap infantile cracks at the PM, who must wear a hard hat on a construction site by law, its obvious the puerile standards being set by Pyne, Hockey and co in the House are perfectly acceptable to the “we were born to rule” Liberals. Stupidity knows no bounds.

Fortunately today’s encouraging financial figures are just what the Opposition do not want to see, it upsets there negative, unAustralian bile they are attempting to woo an electorate with, that is simply not interested in the playtime antics of a leaderless Opposition.

Swine Flu:

Andrew Lewis writes: Re. “Over-the-top fear could spread Swine Flu faster” (yesterday, item 13). I was interested to read Professor Collignon’s suggestion, regarding the swine flu, that “the inappropriate level of fear may paradoxically spread the virus more quickly”.

I can understand his reasoning and I’m no Professor of infectious diseases, but I was just thinking today that this winter might very well see the least number of URTI’s, flu’s of any kind and other
communicable diseases. For the first time in my life, basic hygiene practices have been advertised and included in news stories, and thankfully people are now taking seriously their duty to their colleagues and NOT turning up for work when they are sick.

I know there are issues of people being “infectious” prior to symptoms, but there is a line of argument that with the focus on basic hygiene practices and staying home when ill may actually see a significant drop in the number of infectious illnesses treated this year.

As an HR professional, I look forward to the day that workplaces send the coughers and splutterers home rather than subtly pressure them to come to work unless they are on their death bed. These days many of us can do useful work from home anyway, and besides, I’m sick of the martyrs.

As a matter of concern for your fellow man as much as good health practice, stay home if you’re sick.


Simon Renc writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). Regarding unemployment figures in yesterday’s “Tips and rumours”, I’ve seen a few people make the assumption in recent times that the unemployment figures are based on Centrelink claims and hence people deemed ineligible for benefits are not picked up in the official unemployment rate. From my memory of high school economics this is incorrect, and checking the ABS website seems to confirm this.

From the 6202.0 Labour Force series on the ABS website it states under the Explanatory Notes that:

The Labour Force Survey is based on a multi-stage area sample of private dwellings (currently about 22,800 houses, flats, etc.) and a list sample of non-private dwellings (hotels, motels, etc.), and covers about 0.24% of the population of Australia.

Information is obtained from the occupants of selected dwellings by specially trained interviewers.

As I understand it they basically ask the survey group about any paid work they performed during the reference week and it is from this that the unemployment rate is determined. Hence Centrelink eligibility does not affect the figures. On the other hand, there is a good case that the official figure does understate the “true” unemployment rate because the definition of unemployed is quite narrow.

For example under the Glossary the ABS states you are classified as employed if during the reference week you “worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind in a job or business, or on a farm”.

I would guess that most people would feel pretty unemployed if they were receiving only 1 hours pay each week!

The AF447 mystery:

Tim Hall writes: Re. “Mystery and speculation surround Air France flight AF447” (yesterday, item 2). In The Australian delivered in Canberra yesterday, there was not one word about the loss of AF 447. What time do they put the paper to bed, for heaven’s sake?

Barry O’Farrell:

Kathy Cowley writes: Re. “Local democracy on trial in Sydney’s boroughs” (29 May, item 12). I am writing to correct a statement in the article posted “Local Democracy on trial in Sydney’s Burroughs” which was incorrectly given to Crikey. Barry O’Farrell the local Member for Ku-ring-gai and The State Leader of the Opposition was not evicted from the meeting. I apologise for the mistake.

Weird science:

Harold Thornton writes: Ya gotta love Tamas (yesterday, comments). Why worry about all those thousands of painstaking scientific observations of sea ice when a blurry YouTube video will do the trick just fine? It was a bit chilly last night, so global warming has to be rubbish. What a waste all this science stuff is, hey?

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