Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"All cows are green"

The [Australian] Carbon Sense Coalition today called on all farmers and those who eat farm products to raise their voices in opposition to the silly proposals of Australian and New Zealand governments to include emissions and motions from farm animals as a taxable carbon emission. The chairman of "Carbon Sense" Mr Viv Forbes, claimed that New Zealand has already agreed to include farm animal emissions in their taxable emissions output and Prof Garnaut is also thinking of driving Australian farmers to the Kyoto bail for a similar milching. "We smart farmers in the South Pacific must have the longest cows in the world - they feed on farms in Queensland and Queenstown and are about to be milked in Canberra and Wellington.

Forbes, who is an animal breeder, pasture manager and soil scientist, said he could not believe the lack of noise from farm groups and consumers on this matter. "Any farmer would know that no cow, sheep, pig or goat has yet managed to create carbon out of nothing. Nor do they eat fossil fuel. Every bit of carbon sequestered in meat, bones, wool and milk, or expelled in solid, liquid or gaseous animal waste, was extracted from the air by the pastures and grain crops the animals ate. Pastures, crops and soil fungi live on carbon dioxide, the universal plant food from the atmosphere, and water and minerals from the soil. Ultimately, all carbon in the food chain comes from the air (apart from some artificial "foods" made from coal or petroleum derivatives, and very minor soil humus derived from oxidised coal or oil shale).

"This carbon extraction process starts the day the animal is conceived and ceases on the day it dies. This is the carbon food cycle we all live by. "In fact all farm animals should get a carbon credit, because they sequester part of the carbon extracted from the air in bones, meat, milk and wool. Much of this carbon then gets transferred to the bones and flesh of the growing human population, and eventually gets sequestered in sewerage (often, unfortunately, on the sea floor), bones in the coffins, and soil in the cemeteries. This is a proven process which provides more secure and far cheaper carbon sequestration than some of the billion dollar schemes being investigated. "In this respect grazing animals are just like trees; both sequester CO2 for their lifetimes, sometimes much longer.

"Of course other parts of the food chain generate net carbon emissions for agricultural machines, processing, chemicals and transport. Each of these activities would attract its own carbon tax. None are essential elements in the raising of domestic animals - the essentials are soil, water, grass and the atmospheric gases, especially oxygen and carbon dioxide.

"No matter how you do the sums, farm animals cause a net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Thus they should get a carbon credit, certainly not a carbon tax. "We all know the moon is made of green cheese. It is time to educate politicians that "All cows are also green".


The cultural "liberals" infesting Australia's public broadcaster are a mainstream unto themselves

There can be little doubt things have improved at the ABC since the appointment of Mark Scott as managing director and the appointment of Maurice Newman as chairman. A new broom has swept aside some of the egregiously obvious problems of bias and a more professional approach has supervened. There have been new programs that increase debate, including the ill-fated, experimental Difference of Opinion, to be replaced with a new question and answer program, based on the lively and controversial BBC show Question Time. Media Watch is not as politically partisan. Paul Chadwick has been appointed as director of editorial policies to try to ensure that the ABC fulfils its statutory obligations under the ABC Act to be accurate and impartial. In terms of balance, Middle East correspondents Matt Brown and David Hardaker are marked improvements. For anybody who believes that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster needs to be impartial and accurate, balanced and fair, this is all to the good.

The two main issues for the ABC are those of bias and genuine diversity. The culture of the ABC is clearly left of centre. Bias has not been so much party political as cultural. It is often not deliberate but bespeaks assumptions, mind-sets, that are far from the concerns of the mainstream Australia that pays for the ABC and that, in return, the ABC is supposed to serve and be fair to in its range and content. It is not the job of the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster to act as a counterweight to other media or mainstream ideologies perceived to be too right wing by a staff whose centre of gravity is way to the left.

Why is it that the only intentionally liberal-conservative program on Radio National is titled Counterpoint? It is a counterpoint to a way of thinking that dominates the culture of the ABC in the assumptions of the "people like us" who broadcast to other "people like us".

In 1968, German student leader Rudi Dutschke, drawing on the idea of hegemony of Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci and of Marxist critical theory, suggested "a long march through the institutions" of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of it; as critical theorist Herbert Marcuse put it, "working against the established institutions while working in them". The countercultural capture of cultural institutions meant the emergence of what Swinburne University sociologist Katharine Betts calls a "new class" whose object was not old wealth. Instead, Betts writes in her 1999 book The Great Divide, "the attack was concentrated on the Australian mass and its materialism, racism, sexism and insularity".

A noticeably homogenous class of inner city, tertiary-educated social professionals, often referred to as the chattering classes, has an identity that developed together with mass tertiary education. While the old Left emphasised economic reforms to help the working class, the new class focused on issues such as refugees, multiculturalism, reconciliation, civil liberties and so on. This new class of social professionals includes teachers, academics, public servants and welfare workers who adopt distinct ideological positions and values that serve as social markers for the new class. The "knowledge class", which includes ABC journalists, is an important segment within the new educated class that has more distinct values that increasingly set them apart from business and the general community.

I mention this not because I think the ABC has no diversity at all but because it's a trend embedded within the institutional culture that will take another "long march" to reverse, this time in the opposite direction towards the centre. It's a march that has begun from the top but needs to infuse its way to the bottom.

A Four Corners program, Dangerous Ground, broadcast on March 10, illustrates some of these issues. The program began with problems about setting up an Islamic school in Camden. Those against a Muslim school being set up are described in primarily racist terms. In the next suburb, according to the blurb, "Aussie-born sons of the Middle East bitterly complain of being treated like enemies in their own country. Now some community leaders", the program blurb continued, "are warning of a nasty backlash due to the hostility that young men like these feel is aimed against them. The program is concerned that counter-terrorism and security could actually be increasing the threat of breeding home-grown terrorists."

Erring on the side of aggression - just to be on the safe side - can radicalise and alienate the people who are targeted, analysts tell Four Corners. An expert suggests radicalisation occurs because of "young people feeling under siege from police and wider public. His fear is this could morph into an agenda for violent change", Four Corners asserts. Finally, it suggests, "defeating terrorism presents not just a policing issue but also a challenge to core community values of pluralism and tolerance".

No mention of Muslim cleric Taj Din al-Hilali and those more extreme than him or the effect of Muslim fundamentalism and propaganda, or the role played by police and security forces in protecting us from Muslim extremism. The only actors of any consequence for Four Corners are those who buy the narrative that the causes of Muslim extremism lie in the West. It is a problem of criminality, law enforcement, poverty and racist behaviour towards suspects of Middle Eastern appearance.

Of course, there are legitimate issues here to debate, but I am pointing to the one-sided narrative that suffuses this program and others that does not take Muslim extremism seriously in its own right but mainly as due to its exacerbation by us.

That the Labor and Liberal parties receive similar treatment on the ABC demonstrates that there may not be cultural bias towards one mainstream party rather than the other. It is true that the ABC has criticised both sides through the years, but that may be because it comprises cultural liberals who are to the left of both the main parties, in the direction of theGreens.

The ALP has been the victim of the ABC while in government. During the 1991 Gulf War, the ABC employed Robert Springborg, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at Macquarie University, as its expert commentator for The Gulf Report. In an article in the Melbourne Sun, Springborg equated the modes of government of Saddam Hussein and Bob Hawke. Hawke's decision to send ships to the Persian Gulf was "every bit as much of a one-man show as is the country we may be fighting".

Eleven years of the Howard government, basically bipartisan estimates critiques in the Senate and an ABC board comprising conservative and centrist members have made some difference to all this. The much-mooted number of ideologically conservative members has not translated into a conservative agenda for the ABC.

However, I am pleased to note that this culture does not dominate all parts of the ABC. In news and current affairs, PM is fair, balanced, impartial and professional. I think Lateline casts a wide net and is generally fair and balanced, as is The World Today. The ABC should not advocate causes left, right or politically correct but should be a repository for a genuine diversity of views in addition to being accurate and impartial.


Drug to fight aggressive breast cancer now subsidized in Australia

The breast cancer treatment, Tykerb, has been placed on the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), making it cheaper for women affected by an aggressive form of the disease. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced today that from May 1, Lapatinib, known commercially as Tykerb, would be subsidised under the scheme's arrangements. Tykerb had been found to slow the progress of and improve symptoms associated with advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer, Ms Roxon said. "Without any subsidy, the medicine would cost women between $3500 and $4000 each month," she said. "Lapatinib will be available to people with HER-2 positive metastatic or advanced breast cancer for whom other treatments have proved ineffective."

The drug is used in treating a particularly aggressive form of disease known as advanced HER-2 positive breast cancer. "HER-2 positive breast cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that particularly impacts upon younger women," Ms Roxon said. "Around 87 per cent of patients diagnosed with advanced breast cancer will die from the disease within five years. "About 2000 Australians are diagnosed with HER-2 positive breast cancer each year. "HER-2 positive breast cancer is one that has spread to distant parts of the body (metastasised) or which cannot be removed with surgery."

Ms Roxon said breast cancer was the most common cancer in women and affected 14,000 Australians per year. In 2004, more than 2600 people died from the disease in Australia.

An international study released in 2006 found that Tykerb and the chemotherapy drug Xeloda in combination were effective in women who had failed to react to Herceptin. The combination slowed down the disease's progression compared to chemotherapy alone and reduced the risk of the cancer spreading to the brain. The therapy has already been approved for use in the US and overseas analysts have predicted that Tykerb could eventually record annual global sales of about $A4.5 billion.


Australia rejects up to 400 immigrants a day

HUNDREDS of people are being refused entry to Australia each day because they are deemed not good enough. But the Rudd Government yesterday hinted it had no plans to relax its immigration policy as new data revealed almost 650,000 visa applications had been rejected by the Immigration Department since 2004. The statistics, which equate to about 400 rejections a day, were drawn from a question on notice which took more than a year to table in Federal Parliament. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said 160,956 applicants were denied entry in 2004, 177,684 were knocked back in 2005, 156,479 were refused in 2006 and 153,827 were rejected last year. His response showed it was departmental staff and not the then-minister rejecting hopeful migrants and visitors.

Despite Senator Evans earlier this year pledging to culturally reform his department, he dismissed the need for a review into why hundreds of thousands of people were being denied entry here. "The Rudd Government is committed to strong border security measures and the orderly processing of migration to our country," Senator Evans said. "It is crucial that we maintain the integrity of our immigration system and ensure that people meet the criteria for the visas they apply for."

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja last year asked former immigration minister Kevin Andrews how many visas his department had knocked back after US rapper Snoop Dog was denied entry based on bad character grounds.

A department spokesman said yesterday Australia had a non-discriminatory immigration policy and visa applicants had to meet a range of criteria. He said a person could be knocked back for having poor health, not enough money, bad character grounds or on suspicious they would outstay their visa or work illegally. Answering the question on notice, Senator Evans said it would be too time-consuming to reveal the number of visa applications which had been refused because of a criminal conviction.

But he said the people who failed character tests were associated with people or groups suspected of being involved in criminal conduct; were not of good character because of their past or if there was a significant risk they would "harass, molest, intimidate or stalk another person in Australia". The department can waive the character test under section 501 of the Migration Act if a person's conviction or past behaviour is not considered serious. About 4.3million people were granted temporary and permanent visas to Australia in 2006-2007.


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