30 June 2012

Soviet penetration of ASIO

The context is a Quadrant article on Chinese spying in Australia, especially cyber spying, but the backgrounder on Soviet penetration of ASIO was fascinating.
Australia was rather poorly served during the Cold War by its counter-intelligence services, in large measure because they were deeply penetrated by the Soviet Union. This remains a subject that the Australian government is extraordinarily reticent about. That makes it possible for the Left to get away with the old Cold War canard that ASIO was a right-wing organisation obsessed with allegedly mythical reds under the bed. It turns out that the reds were not merely under the bed; they were in it...
...the KGB files on Australia have somehow never seen the light of day, despite the publication of two fat volumes, in 1999 and 2005, on the Mitrokhin revelations from the KGB archive. I noted that there were, indeed, revelations to be had about Soviet spies in Australia, but that these had apparently been suppressed, for no clear reason. I claimed that this had been done at the request of the Keating government. I added that, as prime minister, Paul Keating had, nonetheless, quietly set up two inquiries into Soviet penetration of Canberra and specifically of ASIO. ... 

...I have been informed that ... up to ten suspected moles were quietly retired and that one of these individuals had worked inside ASIO from 1952 until 1985, ending up as head of security vetting. ...

Time-lapse of the earth from space

These are sort-of becoming routine, but since I find this is one of the better forms of prayer, I think this is still worth the 2 minutes of one's time it will take to watch.

24 June 2012

Seeking asylum in Ecuador is not completely nuts

If like me you were wondering what the hell Assange was doing seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy of all random places, here is a fascinating article in Business Insider on why this is not a completely wacko move, as I had assumed. That is not to say that it is not a move of desperation, however, and it may not work.

Most surprising key points:
  • There is a precedent of Sweden unlawfully handing over asylum-seekers at the behest of the U.S.
Amazing that Sweden should be the US's stooge while Ecuador is not.

The article goes on to say that:
...former CIA analyst Ray McGovern considers Assange's move an "artful dodge" and says that "not only is Julian Assange within his rights to seek asylum, he is also in his right mind." 
McGovern openly wonders how Assange slipped through the various police checkpoints and walked into the Ecuadorian embassy...
The article and/or its source go on to suggest that Assange seeking asylum in Ecuador allow the British government to neatly wash their hands of him while not displeasing the US.

20 June 2012

Chinese general threatens Australia

From the SMH:

Australia has to find a godfather sooner or later,'' Mr Song told the Herald yesterday. ''Australia always has to depend on somebody else, whether it is to be the 'son' of the US or 'son' of China. 
''[It] depends on who is more powerful and based on the strategic environment.'' 
Mr Song said Australia was dependant on exporting iron ore to China ''to feed itself'' but that it had not done enough to engage with the middle kingdom. 
''Frankly, it has not done well politically,'' Mr Song said.

Good. Now we know who our friends are.

H/t: The Interpreter.

Endangered native species: Oenpelli python

I envision a future where, enthusiasts who are members of officially recognised 'native species owners' clubs can do a one-day training course in caring for species X and get licenced to keep and breed that species. Firearms are regulated in precisely this way and it works well.
Given their rarity and mystique, the [Oenpelli] pythons, which are found only on Aboriginal homelands, have also been the target of illegal hunting and smuggling. Making them commercially available would help prevent this, [Dr Bedford] said.
Full article.

More information on the Oenpelli python.

19 June 2012

How Australia spent its mining boom windfall

Where did the money go? According to this report from PerCapita:
Our estimate is that the pre-GFC phase of the boom delivered at least $180 billion over and above long-term GDP growth trend. What did we do with this bounty? 
Just over half of the windfall, $105 billion, was used by the Howard and Rudd Governments to shore up the fiscal position of the Commonwealth. We paid off $36 billion of sovereign debt and put $69 billion into long-term savings funds.
This was the responsible course of action. But the remaining $75 billion represents a big missed opportunity. The Howard Government gave at least $25 billion away in tax cuts and concessions, on everything from fuel excise to voluntary superannuation contributions.
It used another $50 billion on inflated spending programs and various cash handouts, from the baby bonus to the First Home Owners’ Grants.

H/t: Australian Policy Online

18 June 2012

10 things economics can tell us about happiness

For the full thing, see this article at The Atlantic. #6 is for Mr Tout.
2) Generally speaking, richer people are happier people. But young people and the elderly appear less influenced by having more money. 
3) But money has diminishing returns -- like just about everything else. Satisfaction rises with income until about $75,000 (or perhaps as high as $120,000)... 
4) Income inequality reduces well-being, and higher public spending increases well-being. 
5) Unemployment just makes you miserable. 
6) Inflation makes you pretty unhappy, too. But its effect is weaker than unemployment. The mixed evidence seems to suggest that a volatile inflation rate decreases well-being, but in countries with generally stable prices, a little inflation has a small effect on happiness. And guess whose happiness inflation ruins the most? Right-wingers, apparently. 
7) Working more hours makes you happier ... until it makes you miserable. 
8) Commuters are less happy. 
9) Self-employed people are happier. When workers think they're good at their job and that their bosses like them, they're more satisfied. ... But another study suggests that only rich self-employed people are happier to be self-employed. 
10) Debt sucks. The kind of debt matters. Mortgage debt doesn't correlate much with happiness. Credit card debt does -- in a negative way. Either way, high debt correlates strongly with anxiety and depression.
H/t: The Interpreter

16 June 2012

US v al Qa'ida across Africa

H/t: Washington Post

NB: Yemen appears to have recaptured most of AQAP's territory, although I imagine AQAP's influence will remain there.

15 June 2012

How Australia can boost its economy

A report from the Grattan Institute, entitled Game Changers, on how Australia can boost its economy. Note that it focuses solely on economic - not social or other - benefits and ignores any questions of political feasibility.

If Australian governments collected more revenue from efficient taxes that encourage economic activity, and less from inefficient, distortionary ones, GDP could increase by $25 billion per year. In particular, we need to broaden the GST to cover education, health and food, and use the revenue to reduce corporate and income taxes while compensating those on welfare.

Australian women would only have to participate in the workforce at Canadian rates to deliver a $25 billion boost to the economy. The big driver of female participation rates is how much extra income working women take home after paying tax, forgoing benefits and paying for child care... 
GDP would be $25 billion higher by 2022 if the workplace participation rate of older Australians were raised so that they were closer to levels in New Zealand. Most people retire in Australia because they “reach retirement age”...

Seems pretty simple, huh?

11 June 2012

Will our kids be a different species?

Juan Enriquez ponders on why there is only one species of human when the normal state of affairs is to have several - and how we will diverge into different species in the future.

And some scary Gattaca-esque info.