Australia: Don Argus incorrectly blames Labor

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An article appeared in The Australian on 12 December 2016 in which former National Australia Bank CEO Don Argus accused the Labor government of 2007 to 2013 of spending up big and putting a “dead weight” on the country’s finances. He complained about the government’s “cavalier approach to spending” in 2008. Not a scrap of data was provided to back up the claims. See http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/don-argus-says-ruddgillard-spending-weighs-on-economy/news-story/a89fdbb6f0a4c3b6d94bcd192eaafc05.

For a start, the stimulus packages were not announced until February 2009. They totalled about $52 billion and the reason for them was to keep the economy out of recession in the face of the global financial crisis. Australia’s GDP growth fell to about 1% and without the stimulus packages, the economy would have contracted by around 2.5%. This would have resulted in many more businesses going broke or being in trouble and a considerably higher unemployment rate.

Expenditure as a proportion of GDP in 2007-08 (Labor was in office for the last seven months) was 23.1 %, the lowest it had been since 1989-90. It rose to 25.1% in 2008-09 and 26.0% in 2009-10 with the stimulus packages. It then fell to 24.5% in 2010-11, 24.9% in 2011-12 and 24.1% in 2012-13. Since mid September, the right wing Coalition government has been in office and expenditure rose to 25.6% of GDP in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 and 25.8% in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 (projected).

When the GFC hit, revenue went through the floor. It had been 25-26% of GDP in the years before the GFC. It then fell to 23.3% in 2008-09, 22.0% in 2009-10, 21.4% in 2010-11, 22.1% in 2011-12 and 23.0% in 2012-13. This is the main reason for the deficits and debt in that period rather than the extra expenditure to keep us out of recession. It is sometimes thought that mining and exports to China saved us from recession (rather than the stimulus packages). But gross value added by mining grew by about $3 billion in 2008-09 and exports to China by around $12 billion, which together was about 1% of GDP.

Australia came out of the GFC with the third lowest government debt to GDP ratio of the 34 OECD countries. Many commentators have applauded the Labor government’s efforts during this time. Nobel prize winning professor of economics Joseph Stiglitz of New York said: “You were lucky to have, probably, the best designed stimulus package of any of the countries, advanced industrial countries, both in size and in design, timing and how it was spent – and I think it served Australia well,” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-08-06/stimulus-served-australia-well-despite-waste/935002 The article also stated that Stiglitz felt that such programs are “preferable to the waste of human and capital resources that would have resulted if there was no stimulus.” The packages weren’t perfect at such short notice but they did the trick.

Expenditure has risen under the Coalition government. Also, it doesn’t seem to think there is a revenue problem, which we’ve had since the GFC. It was 23.5% of GDP in 2015-16, still a couple of per cent below pre-GFC. The Coalition wants to give corporations a $50 billion tax cut, which Argus and others support. But consumer demand for goods and services isn’t there, which means that tax cuts will be unlikely to go to business investment. They will more likely go to shareholders, which is likely to result in more money spent on overseas holidays and more residential investment properties. Any tax cuts will also make the deficits even larger. The UK and Canada have reduced corporate tax rates half a dozen times over the last eight years. The US and Germany hasn’t, but if anything their economies have done better than the UK and Canada.

Overly generous tax concessions (negative gearing and capital gains exemption) to investors in residential property have been another major problem in Australia and an important reason the economy is underperforming and the deficits are larger than they should be. Our housing prices are among the highest in the world and first home buyers have been priced out of the market by speculative investors in property pushing up demand, prices and rents.

Don Argus also said we are “becoming one of the highest-taxing economies in the OECD”. This is simply not true either. We are one of the lowest if company and personal taxes, GST type taxes and others are taken into account. Our GST rate is especially low. He mentions Donald Trump proposing to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%. This will have a devastating effect on the budget. Deficits and debt will grow. Services such as health, education, law and order, and roads will decline, and the economy will struggle even more than now.

If Argus and a few other commentators on the right had a look at the facts and figures, they might not come up with such outlandish and incorrect statements.

Donald Trump: the system got him there

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Yesterday, an article appeared in The Conversation in Australia: ‘A flawed system delivered Trump victory – and now we brace ourselves for what’s next’. I wrote the following comment …

Yes, I think it was a flawed system that delivered Trump. It took 16 months to find someone that a minority of people voted for. If you win California or Florida or New York by one vote, you win the whole state. The system goes back to 1787 and is crazy in 2016.

Non-compulsory voting tends to bring out the right with their stronger views than those on the left, and also those with transport, the time and the physical mobility, which again tends to be those on the right.

The FBI is partly to blame, for bringing back the email saga and then once again deciding there isn’t a problem.

I think there is also a lack of education which sees people voting in a person with no idea about economics, budgets, climate change, government policy, or much else. It’s perhaps a cultural problem too. A lot of the thinking away from the east and west coasts is from the 19th century: Bible in one hand and gun in the other [or that’s the impression we often seem to get in Oz].

The polls got it right; people wanted Clinton. But the system gave them Trump. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen over the next four years as Trump is all over the place and doesn’t have a clue.

See https://theconversation.com/a-flawed-system-delivered-trump-victory-and-now-we-brace-ourselves-for-whats-next-69142?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20November%2024%202016%20-%206151&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20November%2024%202016%20-%206151+CID_8b701dfc28e82e3a56f52016c4d173fa&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=A%20flawed%20system%20delivered%20Trump%20victory%20%20and%20now%20we%20brace%20ourselves%20for%20whats%20next

Malala Yousafzai

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(updated from the original published to Bubblews writing site a few years ago, now gone)

Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 years of age, the youngest person to win a Nobel prize. She has also won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize, which has been renamed the National Malala Peace Prize. And she has won the International Children’s Peace Prize, as well as the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and numerous other awards. She was on the cover of Time magazine and listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She spoke at a United Nations session on her 16th birthday; I saw the entire speech and was very impressed.

She started campaigning for the education of girls when she was 11 after her father nominated her to write anonymous blogs about life under the Taliban for the BBC, after other, older girls had declined through fear of reprisals. In her home district of Swat, Pakistan, the Taliban had been banning female education, blowing up numerous girls’ schools, as well as banning television and music and preventing women from shopping. At the time, Malala spoke against the Taliban on a Pakistan current affairs television program.

What an amazing young person to stand up to a force such as the Taliban. Seems they are still after her. Let’s hope her minders can successfully protect her from these thugs and that Birmingham, UK is far enough away from them. Her efforts are sure to make the world a better place.

 

Is one’s astrological sign based on actual or due birth date?

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(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

I’m not particularly into astrology but whenever I’ve read a general description of personalities and traits, I seem to belong much more to the sign I was supposed to be born under than the one I was actually born under. Yet when I checked a few forums such as Yahoo answers, I’m told that your sign is based on your actual birth date.

I was born on September 26 which makes me a Libra (Sept 23 to Oct 22), but I was 10 days late and was supposed to be born on September 16 which, on this basis, would make me a Virgo (Aug 23 to Sept 22).

This is some of what the Virgo page at astrology.com (http://www.astrology.com/article/zodiac-signs-virgo-sun-sign.html) has to say, together with my comments:

“picky and critical.” Yes. Those who knew me on the Helium forums would probably agree.

“born to serve.” I was in the public service for 25 years.

“industrious, methodical and efficient.” I would like to think so.

“work for the greater good.” Yes, I’ve always been more interested in this than making a heap of money.

“modesty and humanity.” Yes.

“enjoy indulging their practical and logical side and poring over their projects to the nth degree.” Yes, both in the workplace and outside.

“good at fact-finding.” Yes.

“exacting (… pedantic) behavior.” Often.

“asset in the workplace … no detail will be overlooked.” I think I had a reputation for this.

“brain is in overdrive most of the time.” Seems to be much of the time.

“prone to skepticism.” Yes.

“studious.” Six and half years’ full time equivalent at university.

“careful analysis.” Yes.

“enjoy studying a situation in great detail.” Yes.

“perfectionism.” Often. Hey, I’m an editor.

“extremely health conscious.” Maybe “quite” or “very” rather than “extremely.”

On the other hand, the Libra page (http://www.astrology.com/article/zodiac-signs-libra-sun-sign.html) says this:

“first and foremost focused on others and how they relate to them.” Well, not really.

“do not want to be alone.” I work, study, research, analyze better alone.

“everything is better if it’s done as a pair.” I’m happily married, but we each like our own space and time for a portion of the day.

“true team players at work.” I did better work by myself. Teams sometimes frustrated me (as member and leader) as they often seemed to get bogged down or go in circles.

“abhor conflict.” I wouldn’t say that.

“strategists, organizing groups with poise and getting the job done.” Yes for the first and third parts, but perhaps less strong at organizing groups (though could still do this).

“companionable, sociable.” Maybe not all the time.

“do so well at cocktail parties.” Not really my scene.

“suave.” Doesn’t really sound like me.

Thus I seem to fit much more into the Virgo mold than I do Libra. But then I had a look at a couple of other sites looking at true star signs, such as livescience.com article, “Astrology: Why your Zodiac sign and horoscope are wrong”, at http://www.livescience.com/4667-astrological-sign.html. They indicate that conventional star signs accord with constellation positions over 2000 years ago. The star signs and birth dates according to this web page are now (I’ve added the number of days as they vary a lot):

Capricorn – Jan 20 to Feb 16 (27 days)

Aquarius – Feb 16 to Mar 11 (23 days)

Pisces – Mar 11 to Apr 18 (38 days)

Aries – Apr 18 to May 13 (25 days)

Taurus – May 13 to Jun 21 (39 days)

Gemini – Jun 21 to Jul 20 (29 days)

Cancer – Jul 20 to Aug 10 (21 days)

Leo – Aug 10 to Sep 16 (37 days)

Virgo – Sep 16 to Oct 30 (44 days)

Libra – Oct 30 to Nov 23 (24 days)

Scorpius – Nov 23 to Nov 29 (6 days)

Ophiuchus – Nov 29 to Dec 17 (18 days)

Sagittarius – Dec 17 to Jan 20 (34 days)

According to this, I’m a Virgo. But it seems this version of star signs is far less commonly used than the conventional one. So where does this leave us? Perhaps I should continue to not worry about astrology too much and just get on with things. Anyway, it was an interesting little project.

Family history

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(originally published a couple of years ago to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

Anyone into family history? I’ve been researching mine on and off for a few years and am finding it quite interesting. I’ve gone back to the 1400s on a couple of lines on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side, as well as several lines back to the 1500s and 1600s on both sides. [I’ve possibly since tracked one line back to William the Conqueror.] 

One line on my father’s side were Huguenots from France, migrating to London in the 1600s to escape religious persecution. A line on my mother’s side also escaped religion persecution by moving from Germany to London around the same period, but London wasn’t taking refugees at the time and large groups were forwarded to Ireland! 

I haven’t stumbled across any royals as yet, but apparently just about anyone from Europe, including the UK, is related to royalty. Once you find one, it means you’re related to all the others because all the royals are related. [see above]

Records can be sketchy the further you go back and I’ve come across a lot of family trees on ancestry sites that go off in wrong directions due to 1 or 2 people in there that don’t actually belong. Many trees include royals, but I suspect that a lot of them can’t be proved.  

Some trees include a lot of the ancient royals and other famous people, including biblical characters, but again I suspect most are inaccurate somewhere along the line, mainly in getting from the commoners to the royals around the 1000s to the 1500s. One tree has various biblical characters right back to Noah and Adam and Eve and starts with God! 

During my research, I’ve found a number of third and fourth cousins and a sixth cousin who I communicate with.

Today’s cotton wool kids

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(originally published in 2014 to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

In our Sunday Mail newspaper here in Brisbane, Australia, there was an article on today’s cotton wool kids and all the safety rules and regulations and so on. I wrote a letter to the editor for possible publication next week (it got published), below:

I refer to the article on today’s cotton wool kids (SM, Feb 2). In the early 1960s in Melbourne, the 200 or so grade 3-6 boys at my school spent morning play, most of lunch break and afternoon play on a rough, uneven field of dirt and clumps of grass up to a foot long, about the size of a soccer field. There was footy (kick to kick for each grade), a cricket “pitch” in each corner, marbles, chasey, brandy, British bulldog, and general running around.

None of these were organised, other than by the kids. No teacher was ever on duty there. The area couldn’t be seen from any classroom or staff room. Very occasionally, a teacher would join in kick to kick. I can’t recall any serious dust-ups, abuse or injuries, although there were a few bloody scratches and bruises, and plenty of dirty knees, elbows and hands.

And of course nearly everyone walked or rode their bike to and from school. From my second day onwards as a five-year-old, I walked to school, until age 10 when I rode my bike.

It used to be pink for boys and blue for girls

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(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)

These days, we think blue for boys and pink for girls. But it wasn’t always this way. Until the late 19th century, white dresses were the norm for boys and girls up to the age of 5 or 6. Longish hair was in fashion for children and you could hardly tell boys from girls.

New chemical dyes meant colors gradually became more popular in the 19th century as they no longer faded when washed. Pink and blue were worn by both boys and girls up to about the time of World War I (1914-18). Around this time, pink became more popular for boys and blue for girls. In 1918, trade magazine Earnshaw’s Infant Department said:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

This rule seemed to be promoted by magazines and stores in the 1920s. There were exceptions, such as blue sailor suits for boys, which had been popular since the late 19th century.

By the 1940s, manufacturers and retailers were pushing blue for boys and pink for girls. The main influence may have been French fashion, which was predominant and had traditionally used pink for girls and blue for boys.

Man-made global warming deniers are back

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Here in Australia, one of the new senators, Malcolm Roberts, denies anthropogenic global warming. He and/or one of his staff plus a few other deniers have been busy posting odd things refuting AGW on his Facebook page, including various odd explanations and selective bits and pieces, old quotes, etc, to declare that AGW is all a hoax by scientists, scientific organisations and governments around the world. I’ve been picking the deniers to pieces over there but they don’t give up. I posted this comment on his video which he posted to his page a few days ago (although all I get in response is that I’m talking rubbish and more odd comments and selective quotes as the deniers continue to try and support their position) …

This video is misleading and gives totally the wrong impression. Carbon dioxide might be a small percentage of the atmosphere and man-made CO2 a smaller percentage still. But I think he’s mixing up his stocks and flows. He’s right in saying that man-made CO2 is only 3-4% of all CO2 but he seems to be saying that this is the level (stock) of man-made CO2 when in actual fact this is the percentage of man-made CO2 emissions (flow).

The problem is that only about two-fifths of this additional CO2 is absorbed and the rest stays in the atmosphere, building up steadily over time. Roberts seems to forget this. Before the industrial revolution, the CO2 absorption and release sides were pretty much in balance. Since then, we’ve had additional CO2 released by humans in ever-increasing volumes through all our various activities. It may seem small overall but, as I said, it builds steadily over time.

CO2 is now at about 400 parts per million or 0.04% of air as per the video. But over the last 400,000 years and up to the industrial revolution, CO2 varied between about 180 and 280 parts per million, in natural cycles. It was around the top of this cycle at the start of the industrial revolution and is now 40-45% higher at 400 ppm. Normally, it takes 5,000 to 20,000 years to increase by 100 ppm; this time, it has taken perhaps 150 years to increase by 120 ppm. The extra CO2 acts like a blanket, or a thicker blanket, enveloping the earth and keeps the heat in, thus the steadily increasing temperatures. This causes the ice the melt, sea levels to rise and an increase in wilder weather, with increasingly severe storms, larger tidal surges and more coastal flooding, causing damage and displacing people, often in the poorer parts of the world.

He then seems to compare Australia’s CO2 with the world’s total air. His subsequent statistics and analysis are therefore quite flawed.

I’m not sure where his carbon dioxide tax figures come up: $72 billion in five years. This was the estimated cost over this period of an American scheme in the 1990s. Emissions fell when we had carbon pricing in place, they rose before that and have risen again since. Also, getting rid of carbon pricing was estimated by the PBO to cost the budget $18 billion over four years, adding extra pressure to the budget. We now have the useless Direct Action policy.

Roberts says that temperature changes come first and then CO2 levels follow. It actually works both ways. In other words, changes in carbon levels both cause, and result from, changes in temperature. For example, when ocean temperatures rise, more CO2 is released into the atmosphere making the air warmer which means more CO2 is released. We have to also consider the rapid increase in temperatures this time around, much faster than historically. Graphing temperatures and CO2 levels since the 19th century, we can see a very high correlation over this period, which makes sense because the large increase in CO2 acts as a blanket keeping the heat in. To say that nature alone determines CO2 levels not humans, as Roberts states in the video, is simply wrong.

He doesn’t seem to offer any explanation for the increasing temperatures. It can’t be solar activity as that has fallen if anything since the 1970s, nor volcanic eruptions (these are low historically), nor Earth’s orbit (variations and effects on temperature are long term). That leaves greenhouse gases, which includes CO2 which causes up to a quarter of the greenhouse effect. Water vapour has a larger effect but it’s CO2 levels that have easily changed the most. Or does he think scientists use faulty thermometers, or are fudging the numbers?

History of Arbor Day

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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Here in Australia, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in July as National Tree Day. National Schools Tree Day is on the last Friday of July. I wrote the following article on the history of Arbor Day for American writing site Helium …

Arbor Day is a holiday or a day set aside for the planting of trees, ‘arbor’ being Latin for ‘tree’. Looking after trees has a history that goes back to ancient times. The Celts worshipped a number of tree species, such as holly trees. Norsemen believed that ash trees were the foundation of the universe. Over the centuries, less importance was placed on trees and by the 19th century, the wholesale and indiscriminate felling of trees for commercial purposes seemed to be of little concern to most people.

One person who was concerned about trees was J. Sterling Morton of the US. In 1854, he married Caroline Joy French and they moved west to south-eastern Nebraska. The Nebraska City area had just been opened up for settlement and the young couple staked out a 160 acre claim. At the time, the plains of Nebraska had few trees, but Morton knew that the soil and climate would support many trees.

Morton had grown up in New York and Michigan, and he and his wife missed the thickly wooded areas of the east. They planted many trees on their property, including an apple orchard of 300 trees by the late 1850s. He soon became a leading figure in Nebraskan society, becoming editor of the Nebraska City News shortly after his arrival, and was Nebraska Territory secretary from 1858 to 1861. A constant stream of new arrivals to the area meant there was a demand for trees to produce wood for houses, fencing, farm sheds, and so on. Morton had built a good knowledge of farming and forestry methods and advised local people through his newspaper of the tree species they should be planting on their properties.

His standing in the community continued to grow. By the 1870s, he was on the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, and in 1872 suggested that one day a year should be for planting trees across the state, or a statewide Arbor Day. He organized the day as a competition to see who could plant the most trees, offering a prize of $100 to the winning county and $25 and a ‘farm library’ to the individual winner. Over a million trees were planted on this inaugural Arbor Day.

Other states recognized the good work done by Morton and realized the importance of planting trees, with Kansas and Tennessee legislating for an Arbor Day in 1875. In 1885, Arbor Day in Nebraska was set as 22 April, Morton’s birthday. Many other states followed suit and established their own Arbor Day. Nebraska became known as the ‘Tree Planters State’, with 700,000 acres of trees by 1885.

At the federal level, 50,000 people turned out to a tree planting day in 1882 held by the American Forestry Congress. The National Education Association gave its support to Arbor Day in 1884 when it suggested that the day be recognized in all US schools. In 1893, Morton became the US Secretary of Agriculture and was able to further promote the idea of Arbor Day and the planting of trees.

Morton died in 1902 but his legacy lived on. Arbor Day was observed in 45 states by 1920, and is now recognized by all states. A National Arbor Day has been established by a number of presidents, although in practice, dates for the celebration vary across states due to different climate patterns. The most commonly used day is the last Friday in April.

The popularity of Arbor Day in the US quickly spread to other countries. In Australia, Arbor Day started in 1889 in Adelaide, capital of South Australia. In Queensland, the first Arbor Day ceremony was at Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens in 1890, with 2,500 trees being distributed to schools. The country now has a National Tree Day in late July.

In New Zealand, the initial Arbor Day was in 1890. Great support was received in that country by leading botanist Dr Leonard Cockayne who promoted tree planting in schools in the early 20th century. This nation has held its Arbor Day on 5 June, World Environment Day, since 1977.

Taiwan held its first Arbor Day in 1927 as a result of a recommendation to the Agriculture and Forestry ministry by Nanking University in 1914. Mainland China started Arbor Day in 1981, stipulating that everyone should aim to plant 3-5 trees a year. Germany has celebrated Arbor Day since 1952 and the Netherlands from 1957.

Many countries across all continents now celebrate Arbor Day. What started in a newly settled area in remote Nebraska in the 1850s has become a worldwide movement.