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The Sunday Bits for Sunday June 5, 2011

June 5th, 2011 at 09:49am

Good Sunday Morning. Plenty to get through this morning, so we’ll dive straight in.

A little while after I posted many details on the fact that the US economy is in serious trouble, more evidence of this came to light.

The US government’s jobs report showed hiring by US companies slowed markedly in May, while the unemployment rate kept rising.

Non-farm payrolls rose by 54,000 last month as the private sector posted the smallest job gain in nearly a year, according to the Labour Department. The jobless rate, which is obtained from a separate household survey, unexpectedly rose to 9.1 per cent in May.
[..]
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 97.29 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 12151.26, led lower by Alcoa, which dropped US28 cents (1.7 per cent) to $US15.92. The blue-chip index has dropped 5.1 per cent during its five-week losing skid and closed today at its lowest level since March 23.

(h/t Steven Russolillo, Dow Jones Newswires, via The Australian)

The fact is, the US economy was never in recovery despite what the Obama administration would have you believe. It had a decent period of stability on the back of over-the-top government spending, but it never entered a recovery, and as was always going to happen, the government’s crippling debt is now an even bigger problem than the original economic woes were. If there ever was any doubt (I’d say that there wasn’t, but it’s an arguable point), it’s gone now, Obama owns this recession and seemingly has very little idea of how to fix it.

***

On a similar note, another market isn’t doing so well. The carbon trading market.

THE World Bank has revealed the global market for trading in carbon permits has stalled, just weeks out from the federal government’s release of its detailed plans to shift to an emissions trading scheme.
[..]
The value of the primary Clean Development Mechanism market fell by double digits for the third year in a row, ending lower than it was in 2005.

(h/t Graham Lloyd and Siobhain Ryan from The Australian)

Even the bankers can’t work out how to make a quid out of this crazy scheme. It seems that trading in fresh air just isn’t lucrative, so what makes Ms. Gillard and friends think that taxing the air will be any more successful?

***

In the news today we have a rather interesting story which seems like a good idea…and like many good ideas these days, somebody in the media has decided to label it as “radical”.

CHILDREN as young as 12 would be allowed to drive under a radical road-safety training proposal to be put to the State Government this week.

That opening line sounds crazy, but if we dig a little deeper, we find that it’s misleading.

Under the CAMS plan, schoolchildren would be given up to four practical lessons each year from age 12. CAMS will explore the idea of using dirt tracks or paddocks for lessons, which would include driving along a skid pan.

CAMS president Andrew Papadopoulos – who taught his own children to drive at age 12 – said the existing school driving courses needed to include a much greater practical component.

He said waiting until students were 17 or 18 to teach them driving skills was too late, because many young people had already developed attitudes towards driving by that age.

“This is about instilling the right attitude to driving in kids early,” he said.

(h/t Linda Silmalis, The Sunday Telegraph)

If, as the opening line suggest, this idea was about letting twelve-year-olds loose on the roads, then I’d agree that it’s “radical” and alarming, but the actual idea is an incredibly good idea. Our current system puts kids (they’re under 18, they’re kids, even if the ACT government disagrees and thinks 12-17 is “young person” and not “child”) in a position where driving is a novelty to them, and generally a fun thing rather than a serious thing. The problems tend to be attitudinal ones more than capability ones.

This idea would change the attitudes of kids before they are old enough to drive on the open road by taking them through practical sessions which would imprint the fact that driving is a serious activity.

If it were up to me, I’d be implementing this idea immediately. I also have ideas to overhaul the driver’s licence system in a way which would make the process of getting a licence similar to the current arrangements for motorbike licences, with an emphasis on solo learning under limited demerit points. People who could successfully graduate from such a system would then go straight on to a full licence, while people who fail either by racking up too many demerit points or by failing assessments would be forced through a logbook system for basic skills before they could graduate back to the solo-learning system.

I believe that one of the great flaws of our current system is that it teaches reliance on a passenger rather than on one’s own judgement, and considering that the vast majority of driving is done on one’s own, it is important for people to learn on their own…and people who are incapable of that simply shouldn’t be on the road. Of course another thing I would do is get rid of the crazy system which is in place in New South Wales where artificial speed limits are imposed on L and P platers which prevent people from learning to overtake, prevent them from learning to handle a vehicle at highway speeds, and provide a slow-moving hazard for the rest of us.

Anyway, my plan could probably be legitimately considered “radical”. The plan from CAMS on the other hand should not be considered radical, and should be implemented immediately, and it’s good to see the O’Farrell government taking it seriously.

***

Also in New South Wales, and the sideshow this week has been centred around filibusters, not that I can work out why this has caused so much excitement.

The basic story is that the O’Farrell government introduced a bill which would give the Premier the ability to set wages for public servants, something which sounds like a sensible idea for a boss to be able to do. The Greens and Labor, predictably, didn’t like the idea and so tried to block it with a filibuster and a deluge of amendments. Nothing out of the ordinary here, this is a regular tactic in politics and is permitted under the rules of parliament, even if it’s not a regular occurrence in Australian governments. Then, after a few days of this, the Liberal/National coalition used their majority to, as is allowed under the rules of parliament, break the filibuster and restrict debate on the deluge of amendments.

The bill passed the lower house yesterday, and will pass the upper house soon.

Yet, incredibly, this has all sparked outrage from both sides of politics. On the right, there was outrage about the Greens babbling on and on for hours and hours and hours, with individual members setting new records for the amount of time a person has spoken in the New South Wales parliament, and now on the left there is outrage over the government using their massive majority to break the filibuster and pass the bill. Both sets of outrage are ill-considered. It could just be that, due to the rarity of these events in Australian parliaments, people think there is something wrong with the events, but it’s more likely that people are just using the opportunity to make their points on the bill rather than the actual events which have occurred in the parliament.

Either way, I think the simple solution here is to say “move along, nothing to see here” as the political machine just moves through its regular processes.

***

Of course there was also a sideshow in federal politics this week involving cat noises. While it was dumb of Senator David Bushby to meow at Senator Penny Wong, at least he had the grace to apologise for it afterwards. We’re still waiting for the apologies from Ms. Wong’s colleagues for the similarly sexist comments which are shouted at Julie Bishop during every session of parliament.

***

Back to the New South Wales parliament, and Queen Princess Clover is AWOL.

FOUR overstretched and stressed-out State MPs will quit their second jobs as mayors, declaring they can’t cope with the workload of both positions.

But the most prominent double-dipping MP – Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore – refuses to concede there is a problem despite missing every day of parliament last week while on a mayoral junket to Brazil and New York City.

In fact, while parliament was open for business yesterday continuing its marathon session about public sector pay, Ms Moore was tweeting from New York City, where she was checking out bike lanes.

Ms Moore, who has missed 25 per cent of parliamentary sittings since Barry O’Farrell took office, is tightly holding her grip as the Lord Mayor and the MP for Sydney despite politician mayors from all sides of politics admitting it can’t be done.
[..]
Ms Moore, who pulls two six-figure salaries, has three offices and two distinct sets of advisers and staff for each position despite insisting there is overlap in the positions.

(h/t Linda Silmalis, The Sunday Telegraph)

It should be illegal to hold political office in multiple governments. It’s illegal to be a public servant and hold a political office, and the conflicts of interest there are similar to the conflicts of interest in holding multiple political offices.

In Clover’s case, it’s beyond me why she needs to inspect bicycle lanes in New York City when she has already plastered the darn things all over Sydney. And the climate change summit in Brazil…catch a plane to that one did we Clover? Wouldn’t a teleconference have been less carbon dioxide intensive? And how exactly are you being an effective member of the New South Wales Parliament if you’re absent a quarter of the time?

Beyond Clover, we’ve seen similar issues with politicians missing votes in the federal parliament. Here’s a thought, perhaps the rule should be that in order to get paid, the politicians have to turn up to the parliament. If you don’t turn up, your pay is docked…just like it would be in the private sector.

***

The AAMI building in Fyshwick
In business news, AAMI Insurance is set to close all of its branches, moving all of its customer service to the phone and online.

Spokesman Reuben Aitchison says the branches these days contribute just two per cent to the business and transactions of the Suncorp-owned company, while there has been a significant growth in business through the Internet.

He says the insurer will now concentrate on providing telephone and online services, and hopes to employ half of about 100 affected staff in call centres.

(h/t Australian Associated Press via The Herald Sun)

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. If the branches, which are retail outlets anyway and not really able to manage insurance claims, are costing more to run than they are bringing in, then effectively my premiums are subsidising the branches, and I would much rather see AAMI’s running costs reduced than to see my premiums go up. I have no problem with their telephone and online customer service, in fact I have nothing but praise for it. If people really want to sit across a desk from an employee of their insurer, then they can go and pay some other insurance agency the extra money to make it happen.

(Image: AAMI’s Fyshwick building at a tad after 5am yesterday morning).

***

As a general rule, I find that most reasonable people like to help other people. A decent proportion of people are nice enough to want to go out of their way to help people that they don’t know, and are often willing to pay more for a product if they think it will provide a better deal for the person who produced the product. Unfortunately, as a result, these people tend to open themselves up to charlatans who have no qualms with pretending that an expensive product is helping someone, when in fact it isn’t.

For a very long time I have suspected that the “Fair Trade Coffee” market was a scam which was, at best, not helping farmers, and at worst, making their lives worse. Until recently, this was just a suspicion which lacked proof. Now though, proof exists.

That fair-trade cup of coffee we savour may not only fail to ease the lot of poor farmers, it may actually help to impoverish them, according to a study out recently from Germany’s University of Hohenheim.

The study, which followed hundreds of Nicaraguan coffee farmers over a decade, concluded that farmers producing for the fair-trade market “are more often found below the absolute poverty line than conventional producers.

“Over a period of 10 years, our analysis shows that organic and organic-fair trade farmers have become poorer relative to conventional producers.”

(h/t Lawrence Solomon, National Post, and additional h/t to Casey Hendrickson who alerted me to the story some time back)

Have a read of the article. Lawrence, its author, is very well versed in the coffee trade and goes in to some detail about how much of a scam the whole fair trade coffee thing is, and how it discriminates against the poorest of farmers. The highlight of which, for me at least, is:

It discriminates against the very poorest of the world’s coffee farmers, most of whom are African, by requiring them to pay high certification fees. These fees -one of the factors that the German study cites as contributing to the farmers’ impoverishment -are especially perverse, given that the majority of Third World farmers are not only too poor to pay the certification fees, they’re also too poor to pay for the fertilizers and the pesticides that would disqualify coffee as certified organic.

Their coffee is organic by default, but because the farmers can’t provide the fees that certification agencies demand to fly down and check on their operations, the farmers lose out on the premium prices that can be fetched by certified coffee.

To add to the perversity, it’s an open secret that the certification process is lax and almost impossible to police, making it little more than a high-priced honour system. Although the certification associations have done their best to tighten flaws in the system, farmers and middlemen who want to get around the system inevitably do, bagging unearned profits. Those who remain scrupulous and follow the onerous and costly regulations -another source of inefficiency the German study notes in its analysis -lose out.

I won’t repeat the whole thing here, although I do implore you to read it. Lawrence Solomon’s work here is exemplary.

***

In domestic media news, Derryn Hinch continues to fight his decades-long battle for the right to name sex offenders who prey on children, despite the fact that it could very easily see him spend his final days in a jail cell.

3AW drive time host Derryn Hinch has been found guilty this afternoon of breaching suppression orders relating to the naming of two sex offenders.

AAP reports that the journalist is facing the possibility of up to five years in prison, after Magistrate Charles Rozencwajg ruled he had breached suppression orders four times on his website and at a public rally. A fifth charge was dismissed.
[..]
Hinch remains defiant over his decision to name those guilty of sexual offences towards children.

“I still feel the same way I always have… people have a right to know,” he said outside the court.

“I know what I have done. I am not sorry for what I have done. It is a good cause and the law is a bad law.

“I don’t like getting convictions. There are always risks in doing the sort of work that I do and you pay for it.”

(h/t “Big Dan”, Mediaspy)

I happen to agree with Derryn on this one. I am of the belief that people who commit sexual offences against children are sick, vile people who are beyond help. I think they should rot in jail for life or face the death penalty, however in lieu of such laws, we should have the right to know exactly who these people are. The existing laws are wrong.

I hope that Derryn doesn’t have to spend his final days in prison, although if he does, then I have to admire his courage and his convictions (moral, that is, not legal).

***

To sport, and you may have noticed that I gave up on the footy tipping again. Truth is, I’m pretty hopeless at it, and I’ll gladly accept it and move on. I just can’t see the point in continually tipping with less than 50% accuracy.

That said, I am still a fervent fan of the Bulldogs in both the NRL and AFL. Alas that means this weekend has been a pretty poor one.

Watching David Smorgon’s (AFL Bulldogs’ President) body language yesterday, I got the distinct impression that he had a heavy heart from a difficult decision, and as such, I believe that Rodney Eade’s days as coach are very limited and he will not see out the season. This is a shame, because I think Rodney is doing a good job, and it’s the players which are letting him down. Just watching Rodney’s pure frustration in the box each week makes that obvious to me.

As far as I can see, the Dogs had a great chance at winning the Grand Final last year with a team which could not physically last beyond the year. The chance was squandered by the powers that be when they sacked Jason Akermanis. Jason provided the team with the extra option on the field that they needed, and were never able to fill once he left. Rodney Eade tried to work around the loss, but it simply wasn’t possible.

This year, be it through injury or an aging lineup, the situation is worse.

I strongly believe that Rodney could build up a great team within a few years if given the chance with some new talent in the side, and that this is our best shot at a flag in the coming years. A rebuilding phase is needed, but sacking Rodney is a bad idea at this time. I do hope that I misread David Smorgon yesterday.

In the rugby league’s version of the Bulldogs, it is reported today that coach Kevin Moore has lost the support of the board. I can’t say that I’m surprised. I’ve never been a big fan of Kevin Moore as a coach, and I don’t credit him with much of the success the club had in 2009 as I see a lot of that as being the result of board decisions and good players rather the coaching decisions. Kevin is one coach who I won’t miss should he happen to leave.

***

Some audio for you this morning which will touch the hearts of animal lovers everywhere.

Mark Levin, a great radio host and constitutional lawyer in America (we’ve discussed his work here previously), is a dog lover. Sadly his best friend, the lovely dog Pepsi passed away a couple weeks ago. Mark took a week off to mourn the loss and spend the time with his devastated family. I was very saddened when I heard about the loss (Mark mentioned it on Facebook before disappearing for a week) and sent a card to Mark which apparently arrived on Friday. Many thanks to the nice people in Landmark Legal Foundation’s Virginia office for passing the card on to Mark.

When Mark returned to work on Tuesday, he devoted some of his show to explaining what had happened, and just how much Pepsi meant to him. I cried when I heard it, and I gave Nattie a really big hug when I got home. The audio moved me so much that I have to share it with you, with thanks to Citadel Radio for the audio.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


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Mark Levin's dogs Pepsi, Griffen and Sprite

Mark, whose two other dogs Sprite and Griffen were shelter dogs whom he and his family rescued, is very passionate about rescuing dogs which have been abandoned. To that end, he and his family have set up a special fund, “Pepsi, Griffen & Sprite’s Legacy Gift” to help dogs who have been abandoned for one reason or another. All proceeds of the fund go to the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation who provide dental services, surgery, heartworm treatments, diagnostic testing and more for dogs who would otherwise be overlooked in crowded shelters. I know that Mark contributes greatly to the fund, so I simply ask that if you are at all interested in helping out and can spare a few dollars, please consider donating. I know that you will make a dog somewhere very happy if you do.

***

And that’s it for this week’s rather large Sunday Bits (3,500 words or thereabouts). I visited the Captains Flat weather radar during the week, so you can look forward to some photos from that trip soon.

Until next time, tada.

Samuel

Entry Filed under: Bizarreness,General News,Global Warming,Samuel's Editorials,Sport,The Sunday Bits,TV/Radio/Media

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