Ban those car radios. Back in the 1930’s legislators in Massachusetts seriously considered legislation to ban radios in cars on the grounds that listening would distract drivers.

This week the US National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states and the District ban cellphone while driving.

“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.

“It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”

Personally I cannot understand why talking to someone on a hands free phone is any more distracting than talking to the passenger alongside or in the seat behind. And certainly the evidence about the extent of accidents caused by mobile phone talking is scant as the graph above suggests.

Family matters. Andrew Bolt is not the only prominent conservative opponent of same sex marriage with a lesbian sister not entirely happy with his views on sexuality. I expect there are some tensions within a good parliamentary Liberal Party family too.

Hardly a deft political touch. Whatever you think about the likelihood of there actually being a challenge to Julia Gillard’s Labor leadership some time down the track, it’s hard not to marvel at the way a Cabinet reshuffle supposedly to strengthen the government’s standing has quickly become a way of weakening it.

Another lot of leadership speculation. Anything Canberra can do Hobart can do too. Including having its own bout of leadership speculation.

As the local ABC in Tasmania reported yesterday, Tasmania’s Infrastructure Minister David O’Byrne has rejected suggestions he is planning to challenge Lara Giddings for the leadership. Mr O’Bryne, who was elected into parliament at last year’s state election, says he is happy just being minister.

Undeterred by that denial the report continued: “But he has not ruled out a leadership move in the future.”

Let’s hope they can do it. Chinese officials have just finished their annual economic talkfest known as the Central Economic Work Conference with a commitment not to allow global uncertainties to disrupt what it called “relatively fast growth.”

In Australia we should be hoping that they can pull it off while adjusting to the likelihood that “relatively fast growth” will be less than our miners have benefited from in recent years.

From this morning’s China Daily:

More notes on reputable forecasts. The Chinese pundits, we should remember, are talking about the future and are thus in the forecasting business. A reminder of just how wrong those forecast things can be was given overnight by Poul Thomsen, Deputy Director, IMF European Department. when talking about developments in Greece.

Back in May last year when the IMF joined in the $US140 billion three year bailout plan, Greece was predicted to be back to a growth economy by 2012. After its most recent review the IMF now predicts that the Greek economy will shrink by about 6 percent this year — more than twice the rate expected when the three-year bailout was approved in May 2010 — and will continue contracting through 2012.

With that result in mind, the following question at a press conference was hardly surprising:

QUESTIONER: I would like to ask Mr. Thomsen if he would be ready and willing to admit that mistakes have been made in the implementation and the design of this program on the side of the IMF?

MR. THOMSEN: I think that there are some lessons to be learned. I just gave you one of them. I think there has been too much of a reliance on taxation. That’s certainly one of them that won’t lead to a refocus of the program.

Also clearly one of the things that is fundamentally different is, as I said, in terms of the implementation of the program—I do think that reforms, structural reforms—as I said in my introductory remarks—have fallen short. They are well behind schedule. They are well away from this critical mass, where people conclude that Greece is doing business in a fundamentally different way.

And I think, above all, this is the main reason why the hope for bottoming out of the recession has not yet happened.

QUESTIONER: I have one specific question on language in the report, if I could. And then sort of a broad one about where we stand. You say that, regarding the PSI, that “low participation in debt exchange, and a significant amount of holdouts that would be amortized with European support.” And you characterize this as “a real risk under a purely voluntary approach” that could leave debt at 145 percent of GDP in 2020. Is that to hint, in any way—I mean, it seems to hint very strongly that the IMF feels an involuntary exchange—i.e., a credit event—may be necessary to make this work. Is that true?

MR. THOMSEN: No, we are hopeful that having participated as an observer to these discussions, that Greece and its creditors will come up with a deal that is with a very high participation—a voluntary deal with a very high participation.

I think given that there is this $30 billion involved, that’s a lot of money. I think that should be possible.

QUESTIONER: And the broad question is this: I assume we’re at a point right now where any change in the financing gap is going to have to either come from increased European support, or increased private-sector support.

And I guess what I’m wondering is, why trust them any longer? This has dragged on for a year-and-a-half. At what point does the IMF say, “You know what? We don’t need to be involved in this anymore. They’re not doing what they say?”

MR. THOMSEN: Well, we recognize that this, as far as policy implementation is concerned, it’s a very complex situation. And process has been made on many fronts. The fact is that there is still quite a long way to go, and this will take longer than originally expected—in part because the external environment is so much less favorable, but also because it has been more difficult to get the broad political support that we also had hoped for when we started out.

So, we are facing much stronger headwinds. It doesn’t mean that we’re not making progress. We are making progress. And it’s certainly not a reason to give up.

As far as debt is concerned, I come back to what I said before, that the combination of the July summit, which provided this “for as long as it takes” commitment on the part of the official sector, to provide financing at triple-A financing rates, and this comprehensive PSI that is now on the table—the outlook for debt surely has improved, compared to the Fourth Review.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW