Wednesday, February 14, 2007

White House defends PM's blast at Obama

The White House has given muted support to Prime Minister John Howard's claim that al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq would be hoping for US Senator Barack Obama to be elected president.

Mr Howard refused to back down yesterday despite a storm of protest from both sides of the Pacific as his attack on Senator Obama's plan to withdraw US forces from Iraq by March 2008 triggered accusations he had endangered the US alliance.

However, in Australia the outrage over the Prime Minister's criticism shifted election-year debate away from climate change and back to the Coalition's strength of national security. But readers were overwhelmingly critical of Mr Howard's remarks.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has said Mr Howard, a staunch ally of President George W. Bush, was merely exercising his right to free speech when he made the comments. Mr Snow said: "The Prime Minister spoke his mind. It is what it is." But at the same time, Mr Snow underscored that US President George W Bush "hasn't talked to Prime Minister Howard since January 9th".

Labor leader Kevin Rudd accused his opponent of "gross insensitivity" after Mr Howard suggested Islamic terrorists would be barracking for a Democratic victory in next year's US presidential campaign. "If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats," Mr Howard said on the Nine Network's Sunday.

Mr Howard won support from George W. Bush's most senior military adviser, General Peter Pace, who warned that a premature withdrawal of US troops would be a "humanitarian disaster" and lead to terrorists "following us home" to Australia and the US. But Senator Obama, who suggested the March timeline for withdrawing US troops as he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on Saturday, accused Mr Howard of "empty rhetoric". In a pointed reference to Australia's modest contingent of 1400 troops in Iraq and around the Persian Gulf, the Democratic star said: "So, if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them up to Iraq."

Senior Liberal figures were confident Mr Howard had succeeded in drawing the political debate back on to the Coalition's flagship issue of national security, and away from climate change.

A defiant Mr Howard refused yesterday to back away from his hardline criticism, despite concerns the remarks could damage Australia's alliance with the US. "If I hear a policy being advocated that is contrary to Australia's security interests I will criticise it," he told parliament as Labor moved to censure the Prime Minister.

Seeking to clarify his earlier remarks, Mr Howard said he was not speaking "generically" about the Democrats but was focused on Senator Obama, who is seeking his party's presidential nomination. "I don't apologise for criticising Senator Obama's observation because I thought what he said was wrong," he said, accusing the Labor leader of "double standards". "Apparently it is in order for any number of people in the Labor Party to regularly attack George Bush, to regularly attack the American administration," Mr Howard said. "That is OK, but dare anybody criticise somebody who might agree with them on Iraq and then somehow or other I am interfering in the domestic politics of the United States."

More here

Australia's climate is changing: it always has

Post lifted from Gust of Hot Air

Tim Flannery has done it again. Recently given the status of Australian of the year for his scare mongering climate doomsday talk, he wrote this piece for the Age.

He suggests that current rainfall trends in Australia support the idea that farmers in the drought stricken south should move further north where the rain is plentiful.

"On the face of it, current rainfall trends would support this idea because southern Australia is receiving ever less rain, while larger and larger amounts are falling over the north, particularly the north-west."

"During the past 50 years, the shift in rainfall has been substantial, with some areas of southern and eastern Australia receiving 250 millimeters less rainfall than they did back then, while parts of the north-west are receiving 250 millimeters more."

He continues on saying:

"But before making large investments in the transfer of agriculture north, we would be wise to ask what is causing these changes in rainfall, and to try to determine whether the trends will continue."

Obviously a great idea. Neville Nicholls as commissioned by the Australian Greenhouse office conducted a study and concluded that

"there is strong scientific evidence that rising temperatures are being caused by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

So a study funded by the greenhouse office concluded that greenhouse gases were the cause. Amazing!

But in the same paragraph suggests that

"These gases are also thought to be causing at least part of the rainfall decline across southern Australia, though land clearance and natural variability of rainfall may also be having an impact"

So in other words, we have no hard proof of why the rainfall has changed, if of course it has. It could be a number of different things. But let's jump to conclusions as Flannery does and suggest that

"it is our human pollution - from sources as diverse as power plants, motor vehicles, and farms - that is contributing to the drying of our country and causing immense hardship"

Astonishingly, Flannery goes on to say that

"Astonishingly, given the huge impact that the loss of rainfall in the east is having on Australia, there have been no detailed Australian studies of the cause of this rainfall loss."

What? So we have no significant research done in this area. But didn't Flannery just conclude that power plants, cars and other evils are the cause? All based on "no detailed Australian studies"? Talk about jumping to conclusions.

Ok, so let's do a simple analysis of the weather then. Once again as shown on the graph below, rainfall has been low in south eastern Australia the last 5 years, but not as low as it has been in the past. Last year south eastern Australia didn't have a lot of rain, but in 1982 we had a lot less. And despite the last 5 years having limited drizzle, the period of 1940 to 1944 had less rain than what we are experiencing now. To me, that just means natural variability, and our statistical analysis proves it so (t = 1.29 p = 0.20).

But what of southern Australia? The graph below shows rainfall for all of southern Australia since 1900. Last year we didn't have a lot of rain, but we still had 70 more millimeters than we did in 1940 and 64 more millimeters than we did in 1944. Looks like a case again for natural variability, although if you look hard enough you can see a slight increase in rainfall over the years. What does our statistical analysis say? Yes! Amazing. Our analysis suggests a statistically significant increase in rainfall in southern Australia (t = 2.06, p = 0.04) at the rate of an extra 0.44 millimeters per year.

So the south is getting more rain, despite not so in the last 5 years. Excellent news indeed.

Now let's head to the north, and we can see from the graph below we get a lot more variation in the year to year differences. We had a whole stack of rain from 1997 to 2001 as well as from 1973 to 1976. There looks to be an increase in rainfall from about this period onwards, but let's let the statistical analysis do the talking. And yes, we find a significant increase in rainfall across Northern Australia (t = 3.08, p = 0.003).

So what can we conclude from this? Well Flannery suggests the possibility that farmers spend millions relocating further up north to get more rain. And it seems that Northern Australia is getting more rainfall then previously, at a rate of an extra 1 millimeter per year. But what about the big dry down south? Well we proved that south-eastern Australia is not significantly drying up, and that southern Australia shows a significant increase in rainfall over the past 107 years.

Sure it's been a bit dry in the last 5 years, but not as dry as it has been previously. But Tim Flannery is correct, our climate is changing. In fact, it always has done.

Muslim child-molester must be given halal food in prison??

A child sex offender fed vegetables, nuts and "fatty and salty" tinned meat because prison authorities would not provide him with fresh halal meat prepared in accordance with Muslim religious laws has won a discrimination case against the Queensland Government.

In a ruling the Government fears could trigger an avalanche of claims from other prisoners denied special dietary requests, the Supreme Court found Sharif Mahommed, who was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment in 2000, had been discriminated against. He will be allowed to keep $2000 in compensation and will not need to contribute to a legal bill of tens of thousands of dollars, which will be funded from the public purse unless the Queensland Government attempts to take the matter to the High Court.

Mahommed, now out of prison, said he had suffered stress and lost weight behind bars because he ate more vegetables and nuts to make up for the denial of fresh halal meat. He blamed prison authorities for their "lack of knowledge in understanding my religious beliefs, poor training skills, coupled with a no-care and negative attitude to inmates in general". The Supreme Court defined halal meat as "meat which has been blessed and slaughtered by Muslim slaughtermen and prepared, cooked and stored in accordance with religious law".

The finding on Friday by judge Ann Lyons in the Supreme Court is an embarrassing defeat for Police and Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence. Ms Spence, who has predicted the opening of floodgates "to other prisoners requesting all manner of special diets", had instructed Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe and barrister Christopher Murdoch in a bid to quash an Anti-Discrimination Tribunal judgment by barrister Jean Dalton SC.

Ms Spence said yesterday she found Justice Lyons's decision surprising. "I have asked Queensland Corrective Services to review the judgment to consider grounds for appeal," she said. "At the moment, Queensland Corrective Services provides diets requested on the basis of cultural or religious needs where possible."

Ms Dalton, who heard the original case, found that Mahommed "received substantially more than his fair share of unacceptable meals because he was put on a vegetarian diet when he was not vegetarian (and) at the time fresh halal meat was difficult to source and extremely expensive, so he was provided with canned meat instead".

The vegetarian diet consisted of salad and a protein replacement at lunch, with hot lunches such as vegetable patties or vegetarian sausages three times a week. At night the vegetarian dinners include lasagnas, curries, pizzas and kebabs. "They'd send me down a salad with chicken in it, they would send me down a pie, they'd send me down a salad with luncheon meat in it," Mahommed said. While rice and noodles were provided to Asian prisoners and special diets - gluten-free, low-fat and low-cholesterol - were granted to inmates with health concerns, no allowance was made for Mahommed's religious preference for halal meat.

Ms Dalton ruled: "There was evidence that nutmeat was served with regularity. He actively disliked some of it, such as the nutmeat and the sausages. He was served more salad and tinned meat than was provided on the general menu and found this unacceptable. It is not a matter of being fussy, or expecting restaurant quality food; no doubt he had to endure his fair share of poor meals, just like every other prisoner."

A Corrective Services spokesman said yesterday: "Where possible, fresh halal meat is served in our prisons."


Australian work habits

It has always seemed somewhat incongruous that Australians could simultaneously enjoy the world's best lifestyle and also rank among the hardest workers on earth. Thanks to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the truth is now out - we don't. As any economist can confirm, leaving a key piece of data from any equation will make a big difference to the result.

As The Australian's economics correspondent David Uren reported yesterday, when the OECD released a study showing Australian workers worked longer hours on average during 2005 than in any comparable country, they forgot an important Australian institution - the public holiday. Including public holidays shaved 33 hours from the average working year, making Australians the world's 14th-hardest workers, not fifth. This means Australians still work harder than their British counterparts but not as hard as Canadians, Americans or New Zealanders. There is a double bonus in the OECD revision. Not only do Australians not have to feel they work harder than everyone else, the shorter working hours also translate into a corresponding increase in productivity. Instead of being the 15th-most productive country, as measured by the amount of goods and services produced for every hour worked, Australia is the 10th.

There is, of course, a serious side to all of this. The notion of the Australian lifestyle being sacrificed on the altar of workplace reform and economic rationalism is a defining battleground on which Australian politics has been fought. In railing against the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation, the Opposition and ACTU have mounted a campaign claiming the new workplace laws are destroying family life. It has been underpinned by the constant reminder that Australian workers already work harder than most and are now being forced to work more. In reality, labour market deregulation has allowed the flexibility for people to choose the work style that suits them best.

Public holidays were not the only anomaly highlighted in the ABS review of the OECD figures. Australia was also over-represented in the number of part-time workers. With unemployment continuing to fall - the Government last week announced the national unemployment rate had hit a new 30-year low of 4.5 per cent - it is reasonable to assume most part-time workers do so by choice. On the other side, workers who are genuinely working longer hours are doing so by choice and are able to under the new flexible workplace arrangements. It is very unlikely that most would choose, or benefit from, a reintroduction of a rigid 37.5-hour, Monday-to-Friday working week, or collective one-size-fits-all workplace agreements.

The Labor Party is showing signs of having recognised that not everyone is unhappy with the flexible workplace. Deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard has suggested her party may reconsider its plan to reintroduce unfair-dismissal laws for all small business. It may instead reduce from 100 the threshold number of employees a small business must have to be exempt. The appointment of Craig Emerson as frontbench spokesman for the service economy is another sign that Labor wants to recapture former supporters, such as tradespeople, who have deserted its ranks for John Howard.

The benefits of labour market reform are plain to see in the snapshot of the Australian economy provided yesterday by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Explaining its decision to keep interest rates steady for the second consecutive month, the Reserve said favourable world conditions had boosted Australia's terms of trade by more than 30 per cent over the past three years to their highest level since the early 1950s. This had been an important source of growth in incomes and spending. Despite the buoyant conditions, there has not been a wages breakout, a precursor to earlier busts. This can be traced to the more flexible workplace arrangements, which have allowed workers in high-demand areas to enjoy wages growth without it automatically flowing through to areas less able to pay. We should thank the ABS for picking up the mistakes in the OECD analysis and continue enjoying the world's best lifestyle, leaving the longer working hours to New Zealand.


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