Afghanistan:

James Burke writes: Re. “Afghanistan: another 30 years for the sake of the alliance” (yesterday, item 3). I’ve written several times before arguing against a withdrawal from Afghanistan. I’m now of the view that Australia should consider pulling out within the next couple of years. This is not a mea culpa though (sorry guys, and Guy).

Media commentators on the war tend to admit only two arguments for the allied presence — “preventing terrorism” and “alliance maintenance”. Both arguments are specious and always were. I favoured intervention in the first place, and have continued to support it. I did so not for either of the conventional arguments (though the destruction of al-Qaeda’s terror camps was certainly necessary), but mostly because I hate everything the Taliban stand for and believe that had there been no invasion, Pakistan would now be a Talibanic state. Assuming that that country and its neighbour, India, were still recognisable as anything other than radioactive piles of rubble.

That we are still “over there” is due to a number of reasons, most of which can be sheeted home to Bush and his lackeys, including Howard: the Iraq adventure, the drunk-gunslinger incompetence of the US military, the “Axis of Evil””malarkey which helped topple the moderates in Iran, and the bolstering of Musharraf and other two-faced regional despots.

But there has been (awfully slow) progress in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It no longer appears likely that Pakistanis would sit idly by while Islamist maniacs took over their state, nor that they would welcome the return of a Taliban regime in Kabul. There’s no guarantee that this progress will continue, but it’s probably time to say that Australians have been helping hold the fort long enough.

If anyone, surely the Chinese can step into the breach. Beijing — which was instrumental in Pakistan getting nukes and causing this crisis to start with — already has mining interests in Afghanistan, and doubtless has its eyes on all that lithium. Maybe it’s time for the People’s Liberation Army to step up, and for China to take some of the responsibility due to an aspirant superpower. I doubt the “alliance maintenance” crowd would be too enthusiastic though.

Peter Wotton writes: Wars in our times are generally about old men sending young men away to die for the old men’s beliefs or egos. The days when the king of duke rode out to battle with his men are gone. A pity, since reversion to that custom might stop a lot of current operations! Just imagine Kevin or Tony out there swinging a sword or battle axe!

Brett Gaskin writes: Martin Gordon (yesterday, comments) could get a job as Greg Sheridan’s tea lady. Martin’s suggests aiming for peace in Afghanistan would result in “helping totalitarianism, terrorism, and civil unrest.”  Martin, could you provide a few examples of successful wars waged because of (please insert right wing reason of choice — ,terrorism, dictatorship, oil, women’s rights,…..) , and I’ll show you how completely inept the West is in both reasoning and implementation.

It’s strange how only the nutters that disagree with the US or Israel is a dictator.  Dictators that agree with the US are statesman (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South America). Must be a great feeling to be one of the many right wing war mongers.  Thankfully truth and experience are irrelevant, and one doesn’t have to be so committed to any war as to actually get anywhere near the action.

Let’s see some of the brave commentators put their families where their mouths are rather than letting some other poor Australian spill their blood.

Jackie French writes: There are two questions to ask about our involvement in any war: not just “why are we there?” but “would things be worse if weren’t?” We may not agree with the reasons why our governments sent troops to Afghanistan, but we also need to ask: “Would things be worse  if Australians left?”

Australians are fighting  the international drug trade, which finances religious fascism and terrorism. No matter what the reasons were for  our governments’ choices, I am proud that we are there.

RSPT:

John Carmody writes: Re. “Bartholomeusz: forget the class battle, RSPT is a mining civil war” (yesterday, item 21). Freedom of speech is all very well, but why is Crikey giving Stephen Bartholomeusz space to advance the false arguments and propaganda of the mining executives? Where on earth does he get his figure of an “effective” tax rate of 55% for BHP-Billiton? That claim is totally spurious.

The “super profits” rate will be 40%; I assume (but, not yet having seen the legislation) that the rate of 40% will be levied on the profits in excess of 6% (or whatever the final point of increase proves to be) and that until that the tax on the first 6% of profits will be 30% as it is now.  This makes the overall rate of tax between 30-40%, depending on the real profit.  Assuming that the companies are honest in their profit reporting.

Last week, indeed, a serious analysis by the Sydney Morning Herald “Business Day” section revealed that, in the period between 2003 and the most recent reporting date, Xstrata reported a profit of $12.8 billion and paid tax of $2.1 billion, i.e. a tax rate of 16.4%.  So the claims of the miners’ advertising and lamentations in the press seem egregiously exaggerated.

But the question remains: where did Bartholomeusz dig up that absurd figure of 55% “effective” tax?  It can only be because he has added royalty payments to what he claims as “tax”.  But, quite simply, royalties are not taxes. Few if any economists would contest that point. They are simply cosys of doing business. Just as builders, for example, must buy paint, nails, timber etc. in order to go about their business, miners must pay for — and it’s really a token amount, considering their profits (and over the past decade it has been a decreasing proportion of their profits) — the raw materials which they extract and sell.

The fact that royalties are paid to governments does not make the4m a tax, any more than the fact that some of the companies’ freight costs are paid to state entities, or that (in earlier times) telephony costs were paid to the PMG’s Department. To insist that those costs are “taxes” can only be done at the cost to the proponents’ integrity (however much the mining companies might have).

Tim Mackay writes: We, the Australian people own the resources and we allow the mining companies to take risk, extract the resources and to consequently make a profit. If the Australian people didn’t own the resources and instead the mining companies did, the Australian people would get 30% of profits in the form of taxation. That then should be the starting position.

However, we do own those resources and, according to Stephen Bartholomeusz, BHP’s effective tax rate will be 55% if the tax is introduced. That means mining companies will be paying an 25% of their profits (55% less 30% company tax rate) to the Australian people due to the fact that we own the resources. They will retain the remaining 45% of profits as risk related return on their investment.

So above the amount the mining companies would normally pay as company tax, the Australian people get 25% and mining companies get 45%. That is an effective 35/65 split between owner and operator which sounds pretty fair to me.

If the industry will not agree to this split, can they publicly tell us what share, if any, they think the Australian people are entitled to as owners of these scarce and limited resources?

Duncan Roads writes: It is my understanding that the RSPT results in the Federal Govt collecting the revenues generated, instead of the states collecting it. Being a grassy-knoller from way back, I just had to send this in.

During the mid-late 80’s, there was a public servant whistleblower, who alleged all sorts of rorts were occurring in his department (Social Security I think it was called back then). His superiors ignored and smeared him, so he and his wife toured around Australia, practicing every social security rort they knew of, and handed the money back in, — all on an episode of 60 Minutes (so I am told, I never actually saw the episode).

Anyway, during the height of his notoriety, said whistleblower was approached by other prospective whistleblowers from other federal govt departments.

I interviewed said whistleblower while working for Simply Living Magazine (mid-late 80s), and during the course of discussion, he revealed that he had been “told” what the future of Australia was to be.

He told me back then, that (and I am paraphrasing wildly here)  the high-level, bi-partisan plan for Australia, being implemented over decades, by a secret cabal of internationalists and their faithful conspirators down-under, was to have:

  • a strong federal government
  • NO state governments
  • regional councils to be merged into super-councils (exact words)
  • New Zealand to become a state of Australia

I laughed my sides off, the sheer logistics of it all overwhelmed me.  He stressed, it was a plan that would succeed by gradualism, and would require a GST to be collected by the states, removal of state incomes from resources taxes; and the obvious harmonisation of a myriad laws, curriculums, standards etc etc.

Should I be worried … ?

Huawei Technologies:

Jeremy Mitchell, Director of Corporate & Public Affairs, Huawei Technologies (Australia) Pty Ltd, writes:  Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 5). I would like to correct the record in relation to the mention of Huawei in the “Tips & Rumours” section of Crikey.

Huawei is a privately-held global company owned entirely by its employees. No government or government agency has any ownership stake. For the past five years Huawei has been successfully delivering the UK’s NBN equivalent for BT, and is currently building the Singapore, Malaysian and UAE NBNs.

Globally we partner with 45 of the top 50 operators. In Australia we partner with every major Telco and over 70% of our staff are local — with local experience, local knowledge and are delivering great services for Australia now and into the future.

Queen’s Birthday honours:

John Collins writes: Re. “Women on the Queen’s Birthday honours list weigh in at 34%” (yesterday, item 13). All the policies in the world won’t alter the fact that it is the networks that are the number one factor in nominations for honours.  Males, at this stage , have networks that are far more sophisticated simply because they have existed for a longer time. Once women’s networks thrive ,as some do now, then the percentages will change.

Rosemary Kelly writes: Given the number of people with Irish ancestry in Australia why not substitute Bloomsday for the Queen’s Birthday? Republicanism rather than the monarchy. I don’t claim this as an original idea!

And Bloomsday is already being celebrated in Australia and likely by more people than would celebrate the Queen’s Birthday. The Bloomsday Honours could then be only open to those who could prove some Irish blood…

The Oz:

James Jeffrey, Strewth columnist, The Australian, writes: Shame on Barry Donovan (yesterday, comments) for failing to mention Bill Leak and Jon Kudelka when listing the cartoonists at The Oz.

Climate change:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (Friday, item 10). I’m actually glad Richard Farmer goaded me into another outburst of correspondence.  The evidence he presents for global warming is telling.

I’ll start with his reference to Arctic sea ice extent, which is tracking at the lower end of its range right now and we all remember how it was at its lowest levels “ever” in 2007 (we’ve only had observation for 30 years, but hey). The problem is that the Arctic Ice sheet has three dimensions and the surface extent measures only two. What about that third dimension — thickness?  It turns out that 2010 and 2007 have lower than usual sea ice extent but higher than usual thickness, so the overall volume of ice hasn’t varied all that much, it’s just changed shape.  Steve Goddard has a great rundown on Arctic sea ice here.

Richard also posts a scary chart that looks at Northern Hemisphere snow cover for May over the past 40 years. But this is surely misleading — why just May? Back in February the snow pack reached its second highest level on record, so why not chart all the Februaries?

Perhaps it’s better to look at longer intervals, like the December-February Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent, which shows a clear increase since 1989.

This brings me to the strength of the current El Nino.

According to the UAH satellite data, which begins 31 years ago, the 2010 El Nino was not as warm as 1998’s. The satellites take high frequency measurements over most of the earth’s surface, day in, day out.

NASA GISS temperature measurements are run by Dr James Hansen, the impartial bloke who calls coal trains “death trains”.   NASA GISS data has diverged upwards from UAH recently and shows the 2010 El Nino to be warmer than 1998’s.

NASA only collect data for 2% of the Earth’s surface themselves.  This comes from 1221 measuring stations around the United States. Anthony Watts set up surfacestations.org to document these measuring stations because he had suspicions about the urban heat island effect, which biases temperatures upwards. What he and his volunteers found was shocking: Measuring stations in jet-wash paths at airports, next to air conditioning exhaust vents, surrounded by hot car parks, and so on.  Fully 89% did not measure up to NASA’s documented standards.

NASA’s data for the other 98% of the Earth’s surface comes from two “independent” data sets.

The first is from Phil “hide the decline” Jones’ recently e-mail busted Climate Research Unit (CRU). They’re the guys that only kept the “value-added” (i.e.; adjusted)  data and lost the raw numbers. What did they adjust these missing raw numbers for?  Well, things like the urban heat island effect.  So here’s how The Guardian reported Jones speaking to the UK Parliamentary enquiry in February about that effect: “for the first time he did concede publicly that when he tried to repeat the 1990 (Urban Heat Island) study in 2008, he came up with radically different findings. Or, as he put it, “a slightly different conclusion”. Fully 40% of warming there in the past 60 years was due to urban influences. “It’s something we need to consider,” he said.

But it gets worse. The second dataset comes from the NCDC-GHCN, but it seems their raw data is coming from fewer and fewer places.  Three quarters of the global reporting station network has been dropped from their database in recent decades.  The thermometers have been disappearing mostly from areas of higher altitude and higher latitude – i.e.; cooler areas.

Joseph D’Aleo and Anthony Watts, the authors of the study determining this, conclude that “Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant “global warming” in the 20th century.”

So which temperature dataset would you use?

But there is something even more fundamental about this debate. Even if 2010 turns out to be warmer than 1998, what does that mean? I think we need some perspective.

Temperature measurement starts at Zero Kelvin, or -273.15C, where matter has zero thermal energy — absolute zero. The Universe’s residual temperature from the big bang is around 3 degrees above absolute zero.  Our snug orbit around the Sun keeps our lower atmosphere a balmy 288 degrees above absolute zero.  Meanwhile, the atmosphere has warmed by 0.4 degrees in the past 31 years.  This dangerous warming amounts to a  0.14% temperature increase.

Then, even though warming spurts of similar magnitude immediately preceded it, we dismiss natural variability for this micro-fluctuation and attribute it to humanity’s 4% annual share of a gas that makes up 0.038% of the atmosphere.

Tap your numerate side for a moment and roll those unbelievably trivial numbers around.  We are essentially arguing about nothing.  Yet we seek to fundamentally change our economy and way of life because of what’s happening:  nothing.

And that’s what is so weird about this crazy mass hysteria.  The entire global warming movement is banging on about nothing.

Peter Fray

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