Sunday, 27 November 2011

The reason for the Occupy Wall Street crackdown?

Charlie Stross in More news from our Martian Invaders quotes from a Naomi Wolf op-ed The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy. Naomi Wolf describes three main wants of the Occupy movement:
  1. Get the money out of politics.
  2. Reform the banking system, and in particular, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act.
  3. Close the loophole that "currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors".
They both then note that it was the Department of Homeland Security that coordinated the Occupy crackdown:
OWS had become a direct threat to the personal prosperity of the members of the House homeland security subcommittee (to whom DHS is answerable). If allowed to gather momentum and turn into an independent third party, why, OWS might actually put an end to the corruption. Certainly they're pointing at the right targets.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Possible News Limited Scandal

It seems that Federal police are investigating allegations by Bill O'Chee, former National Party Senator from Queensland, that News Ltd offered him a "'special relationship' involving favourable coverage if he crossed the floor on a vote of financial interest to the company".
Mr O'Chee, a Queensland senator between 1990 and 1999, has had a long and difficult relationship with the Murdoch press, which spent years reporting on his large parliamentary superannuation payout and an acrimonious split with his first wife.
A week later he called the executive and told him he would not cross the floor. 'After this conversation, it became almost impossible for me to get anything published in the Queensland newspapers which News Corporation controlled, even though I had been able to do so before the lunch meeting.'

Mr O'Chee lost his Senate position three months later.


Ross Gittins on the Mining Boom

Ross Gittins has written an interesting column on the contribution of the mining industry to the Australian economy. Although it only makes up 10% of Australia's GDP and employs less than 2% of the workforce, the flow on effects contribute significantly to the service sector of the Australian economy.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Fairfax might remain free

Alan Kohler in Fairfax calculates risk of a paywall-free presence records that Fairfax might continue to publish its (non AFR) content for free. Fairfax also seems to be admitting that the expensive paywall (the highest in the world) on the AFR might have been a mistake.

I find many of the columnists published on the various Fairfax websites to be interesting and insightful. Let's hope Alan's article is right.

Arctic sea ice or the lack thereof

Stefan Rahmstorf in Can we ignore the second warning? looks at declining sea ice in the Arctic:
In 2007 sea ice in the Arctic was at an all-time low. Dismissed as a fluke, it has re-occurred in 2011. It doesn't look much like a fluke any more.

Police tactics on Occupy protesters

Alexis Madrigal in Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike looks at how Police in the USA have changed their tactics in dealing with protesters.

Bernard Keane also comments on Police tactics in Occupy crackdowns perfectly illustrate the movement's claims.

Fair Work Act may assist employers implement structural change

Paul Barry in Gillard's IR test: first Qantas, now the nurses union writes that the Fair Work Act might be tougher on unions than many people think.
According to Ron McCallum, Professor of Industrial Law at Sydney University, "Fair Work Australia will not arbitrate over how you should run your business."

This makes compulsory arbitration an attractive outcome for employers—so attractive that Qantas was prepared to lock out its workforce and ground its entire fleet to ensure it got there. "The reason why Qantas shut down the airline," says McCallum, "was that Joyce's advisers at Freehills would have told him that arbitration would bring an end to the industrial action but would not stop the strategy to shift jobs offshore."
The article then looks at how the Baillieu Government may be trying to "goad" the nurses into industrial action so it can seek compulsory arbitration and so get through cost cutting measures that would not be achievable through negotiation.

Laura Tingle ponders the impact of the changes at News Ltd

In Labor reads a lot into news about News Laura Tingle looks at the anti-Labor tone in News Limited papers and wonder's if there will be any changes under new CEO Kim Williams (the son-in-law of Gough Whitlam).

Some bad press for Tony Abbott

Over the last few weeks there's been a few columns that have been critical of Tony Abbott and the Coalition. I don't know if this is the start of a trend or not (something Drag0nista also ponders). He's a summary of some of the recent columns.

On October the 15th Laurie Oakes in Both sides in trust shortfall noted that Tony Abbott had form when it came to broken promises.
What's more, senior Liberals admit privately that their leader has made more promises than he can keep; he has made promises that are unaffordable.
On October the 21st Andrew Probyn in Future not so simple for Abbott noted that while Tony Abbott will probably win the next election, he's currently sowing the "seeds of his own destruction":
But unless he sets about seriously reconfiguring various policies, when he becomes prime minister he will either have to break promises, commit humiliating backdowns or attempt to wheedle his way out of controversy.

This could be the death of his prime ministership, as it was with Kevin Rudd. But more of that later.
He noted that the "simple message is what often hooks voters" but seemed to question the policies that lay behind them.
Stuff that sounds neat and well-packaged can pass muster on presentation but when unwrapped and analysed it is much more thorny.
On October the 22nd Peter Hartcher in Biz-bashing rewards Abbott looked at how Tony Abbott seemed to be upsetting the big end of town:
But Abbott's opposition shuts down debate about workplace reform, shows signs of being tempted away from a wholehearted commitment to free trade, proposes a new tax on big business to fund an expensive parental leave scheme, and, while it certainly monitors government spending closely, has yet to explain its own fiscal policy.
On the same day Lenore Taylor wrote in Ignore all facts and just run with the bluster that the Coalition seems to be avoiding facts when it came to carbon taxes or asylum seekers:
Whether it is because The Lie has given it cover or just a manifestation of the age of post-truth politics, the Coalition has proceeded to attack the carbon pricing scheme with virtually no reference to facts.
Shaun Carney in Blood oath reality is taking Abbott out of comfort zone noted that Tony Abbott's attacks on the Government had been "almost entirely policy free":
For the first time in a long time, a small window of opportunity has opened up for the government to go after Abbott. Now that what he calls the toxic tax is to take effect, he must at last move outside his comfort zone of highly charged rhetoric into the place where what he says has real consequences.
On October the 23rd Drag0nista's Blog asked Is the tide turning for Tony Abbott?

On October the 28th Laura Tingle in Labor hopeless, Abbott a hollow man (which I've quoted from before) called Tony Abbott a hollow man and noted that the Government's unpopularity shouldn't "stop some proper scrutiny of the nonsense Abbott keeps sprouting". She then tore apart his policies on refugee boats.
Yes, he has been there shielded from the implications of these views by the fact that voters like the PM even less. But two years is a long to get away with being such a negative, opportunistic and hollow man.
On October the 31st Alister Drysdale in Dr No cant' last forever noted that "over the past couple of weeks some of the more respected scribes who’ve make a life-long living from political reporting out of Canberra – and have seen the birth and death of dozens of Party leaders – have started to question the 'no' strategy of the Opposition Leader." Borrowing from the Melbourne Cup he's noted that this political race has turned out to be a "long distance endurance test" rather than the spring that Tony Abbott had wanted.

On November the 1st Geoff Gallop in Tony Abbott and the role of the Opposition looked at the problems created when Oppositions only oppose:
Firstly by opting out of so much policy consideration the ability to influence outcomes is diminished. I say diminished rather than sacrificed because oppositions can still have an indirect influence on policy through the public pressure they generate.

It guarantees an adversarial Parliament and can't be good for a legislative process which requires input from a range of sources. We live in a world of complexity that needs serious deliberation across the traditional ideological boundaries if solutions are to be found.

Secondly, it feeds into the populist culture and the short-termism it creates. If they are to act in the public interest governments will need to tackle vested interests opposing change. Bad opinion polls – at least in the short-run – may have to be accepted.
I hope to come back to this topic at a later date.

On the same day Marius Benson pondered what sort of Government Tony Abbott would lead in Passion-driven policy: picturing an Abbott Government.

On November the 5th Laurie Oakes in Mining tax has exposed Abbott questions Tony Abbott's stance on the mining tax. He also attacks the Coalition's response to the Government's support for improved resourcing of the IMF.
Politicians don't come any more ferocious and brutal than Abbott. He reverted to the wild the moment he got his paws on the Liberal leadership.

His style is pure attack dog, as feral as you'd get. Everything, irrespective of merit, has to be opposed and torn to pieces.
On November the 7th, Michael Pascoe in Abbott's gross failure of economic credibility attacks Tony Abbott's opposition to the mining tax and questions the need for a surplus at the moment. He opens with:
It's not just Europe and the United States where base politics can make for bad economics. There's a danger that cheap populism is about to lock in a bad outcome for Australia in the next financial year and, depending on the extent to which you can trust political leaders to lie, worse beyond that.

For all the opinion poll perceptions though, it's not the government that's guilty of a gross failure of economic credibility. It's the opposition, both in the short and medium terms.
And finishes with:
Further out, there are bigger worries if the likely events come to pass and Abbott is elected prime minister and Hockey becomes his treasurer.

Hockey's apologists claim he just has to run with the policies Abbott invents, but that excuse is wearing very thin. Hockeynomics looks like a dangerous cult – a world in which Canberra increases services but cuts taxes, while building up a massive surplus. No, it does not add up.
On November the 9th Paul Kelly in Super backflip breaks dam for Abbott argues that the Tony Abbott lead opposition has been running a negative argument for too long and is fighting on too many fronts.
Why is Abbott vulnerable? He is vulnerable because he has become Dr No, rejecting policies on populist grounds regardless of principle and past Coalition belief. By opposing virtually everything, he cheapens his case and credibility for opposing what matters.
On November the 23rd Phillip Coorey in Abbott victim of friendly fire as Liberals criticise Coalition leadership noted that there was some dissent within the party ranks. He also noted that "Mr Abbott grew testy and shut down the debate". That's not going to make the troops happy, although it is consistent with how he handles door stops and press conferences apparently.

On November the 24th Steven Scott in Disunity a jolt to Liberal leader Tony Abbott's lead in polls wrote that "Abbott faces growing criticism from within his party". He also reported that many Liberals believe that Tony Abbott is too close to Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce. I suspect Steven Scott's report was written before Peter Slipper became Speaker of the House of Representatives.

On November the 26th Michael Gordon in Bitter aftertaste ruins Abbott toast to future wrote that at last year's Opposition Leader's Christmas drinks Tony Abbott told attendees that he would "See you next year at The Lodge for drinks".

Peter Hatcher in Abbott's positively negative wrote that "The Liberal Party is waking up to the realisation that their leader's insistent oppositionism is not helping the cause".

Katherine Murphy asks The question for 2012: can this man go positive?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Will the Internet create the perfect market?

Ross Gittins in Internet commerce will foster price competition looks at how the Internet is making markets behave more like economic theory assumes they do. This should lead to more informed consumers and cheaper prices.

The myth about sporting riches

Justin Shaw in Coates and McGuire: men on a screeching mission agrees with Chris Berg that major sporting events don't offer the economic benefits their proponents claim and with Greg Jericho questioning the level of funding for Olympic sport.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Industrial Relations Regulation

In Shouting slogans will not further Fair Work debate Ross Gittins looks at whether industrial relations is more or less regulated since the change from Work Choices to the Fair Work Act. He also discusses the balance between worker and employees. Here's a sample:
Here's the point: the labour market has always been highly regulated. It remained highly regulated under Work Choices and it's still highly regulated under Fair Work. It's always likely to stay highly regulated for a simple reason: unlike all other markets, the labour market deals with human beings rather than the exchange of inanimate objects.

As a matter of politics, common humanity and common sense, the treatment of people in the labour market will always be carefully regulated. We are, after all, running the economy for the benefit of people.

What changes from time to time is not so much the degree of regulation as the objectives of that regulation. There's a fundamental imbalance of bargaining power between an individual worker and even the smallest employer.

So the main issue the regulation deals with is what should be done about that imbalance. The usual answer - the world over - is to permit workers to bargain collectively.

Green on Blue

Former Army officer Clive Williams writes in Shady goings-on behind latest Digger deaths how cultural issues may be major contributors to so called green on blue attacks in Afghanistan. Green refers to Afghan soldiers or police and blue refers to members of the International Security Assistance Force.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Psychopaths seem to be over represented in management

Paul Barry writes in Are business leaders psychopaths? that yes they are. To quote from his article:
According to the study's co-authors, Belina Board and Katarina Fritzon from the University of Surrey, this means that they are likely to display, "Superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity, manipulativeness, grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitativeness, independence, perfectionism, excessive devotion to work, rigidity, stubbornness, and dictatorial tendencies."

Sunday, 6 November 2011

What happened at Fukushima

24 Hours at Fukushima is a "blow-by-blow account of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl".

Privitisations of monopolies and management veto power

George Megalogenis in Taxpayer may be the ultimate loser looks at how:
When a monopoly or national interest business is privatised, management assumes the veto power the trade unions once held over the economy.
George claims that management of both Telstra and Qantas have gone on strike in an attempt to get their own way. He argues, and I would agree, that this is not something a normal enterprise would do in a competitive market. he finishes with:
The trade unions that cover Qantas accuse management of trying to sneak the airline offshore. If that is really the long game, then both sides of federal politics would need to think carefully about the next step.

The Telstra standoff was finally resolved through a form of de-privatisation. The NBN was Labor's way of restoring the community obligation that Trujillo passed on under the Coalition.

The national interest demands that Qantas and the trade unions find common ground, fast. Otherwise the tab to keep Qantas alive may eventually fall on the taxpayer.

The right to manage

One of the frequent comments made after the recent Qantas dispute was that employers manage an enterprise, not employees. I think this is bullshit and I had hoped this sort of ideology had disappeared over the last decade.

Everyone who works for a company is an employee. Companies, or more specifically their management, who take the view that it's the role of management to manage and employees to do as they're told are probably not going to maximise returns to their shareholders. Organisations work best when there's a cooperative approach, not a culture of mistrust.

George Megalogenis makes the comment in That stale old 70s IR debate again that:
Herein lies the rub of globalisation. If Australia wants to remain on the right side of history, labour and capital have to continue to co-operate as they did during the GFC.
Edit 21/11: Ross Gittens notes that Change is worker's only certainty and looks at how structural change generally makes us all better off. However, such changes may be quite disruptive to some people:
The trouble with structural change, of course, is that the benefits go to the customers - new products, wider choice, lower prices - while all the problems go to the people working in the disrupted industries.
He then looks at Qantas. Qantas is being forced by the market to undertake radical changes. However, the costs of these changes are being resisted by it's employees:
Half the trouble at Qantas is the employees' failure to recognise how the game has changed for their company, robbing them of their former bargaining power. The other half is the arrogance of management in their resort to ''managerial prerogative'', in their failure to explain and debate the new realities with their staff.

It's painfully clear management-employee relations within Qantas are utterly poisonous. The blame for that should be shared equally. The fate of Qantas is important in its own right, but it's more important as a case study in how big, unionised companies cope with structural change.

The good, the bad

Good news: Laura Tingle's Canberra Observed column has come out from behind the AFR's paywall.
Bad news: George Megalogenis' writings are now hidden behind the Australian's paywall.

I greatly respect the work of both these journalists.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Kimberley Ramplin publishes entries from her 1997 diary of her visit to the Syrian city of Hama in Cry, the Pariah Country (Part I). Hama is currently one of the centres of the uprising against the Syrian Government and is currently under attack by the Syrian Army.

US General in Afghanistan sacked for critical remarks

US Army Major General Peter Fuller, deputy commander of NATO's mission to train and equip Afghan forces has been sacked after making some critical comments about the country's leaders, including President Karzai. The comments were made in an interview published by website Politico. Based on what the ABC has published I have a feeling they were probably pretty accurate.

Abbott's real carbon plan?

In No republic on a dead planet: Abbott's real carbon plan Greg Jericho looks at the similarities between the tactics used in the Republic debate a decade ago and the current debate on pricing carbon. He also calls the Coalition's policy "pure carbon snake oil". He also makes the point that Tony Abbott does not care about a 5% reduction in carbon emissions (despite it being his policy), he only cares about winning the next election.

Greg Hunt on Taxing Polluters

Peter Martin has dug up a thesis Greg Hunt, the Coalition's environment spokesman, co-authored and titled A Tax to Make the Polluter Pay. Of course, Greg Hunt now opposes such an idea - although I suspect that's only because he's following the party line.

It does though raise the question, if a person advocates a party position he knows to be wrong what does that then say about his own integrity? And what will he say if in the future the party corrects its position?

The mining boom is a double edged sword

Peter Hartcher in Nation brainwashed by cult of boom looks at the history of mining booms and busts and compares our cultural reliance on it to cargo cults in the South Pacific. The mining industry, although earning substantial export income for Australia, is a relatively small employer in Australia and only makes up 8.4 % of the country's GDP. Unfortunately, not all that it brings is good. The higher exchange rate is damaging to other parts of the economy, especially manufacturing, tourism and education.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Some great charts on what's motivating the Occupy movement

In CHARTS: Here's What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About... Henry Blodget produces some very interesting charts that look at US employment and unemployment statistics, wages growth over the last 20 and 50 years (average production worker wages have increased by 4% since 1990, CEO pays has increased by 300%, real average hourly earnings have hardly increased at all in the last 50 years and dropped since the early seventies).

Edit 20/11: A map showing the Gini coefficient of national income distribution around the world.

According to Wikipedia:
The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of a distribution, a value of 0 expressing total equality and a value of 1 maximal inequality. It has found application in the study of inequalities in disciplines as diverse as sociology, economics, health science, ecology, chemistry, engineering and agriculture.

It is commonly used as a measure of inequality of income or wealth. Worldwide, Gini coefficients for income range from approximately 0.23 (Sweden) to 0.70 (Namibia) although not every country has been assessed.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Article in Industrial Relations Law

In Qantas dispute no reason for rushed IR reform Michael Janda looks at the current rate of industrial disputes and talks to Professor Andrew Stewart about the differences between the current Fair Work Act and the old WorkChoices. It seems that both acts are pretty similar, the big difference being the lack of individual contracts in the Fair Work Act.

The article includes:
However, be aware that if commentators use the Qantas dispute to call for industrial relations reform to reduce strike action and boost productivity it is really the return of individual contracts they are seeking.
"The Labor Government are utilising the corporations power, and the Labor Government understand that in this globalised world corporations, which are bringing in taxpayers' money to the Government, need to operate at a profit."

Some Articles on the Parliamentary Budget Office

I'm not sure who Peter Martin is but I think he's written a great article Labor takes aim at itself. The tragedy of its Parliamentary Budget Office.

Greg Jericho, who I have a great deal of respect for, in Our media! They couldn't report a PBO in a brothel also thinks the PBO is a great idea, but doesn't agree that policies submitted during an election should remain confidential.

On this issue though, I think I side with Peter Martin.