Alarmism – it really frightens people and it sucks


California’s imminent deathbed? Really?

Green alarmism generates newspaper sales, TV ratings and hits on social media but it is a big problem standing in the way of reasoned and effective political responses to environmental problems. The latest alarmism comes from California where the Internet is abuzz with talk of California’s water supply running out in a year’s time. It is amazing how many publications, including mainstream ones, have run this line.

The Guardian’s headline said it all: “Drought-stricken California only has one year of water left, Nasa scientist warns”.

Good heavens! Who can argue with a NASA SCIENTIST?! The Guardian names the Nasa scientist – an expert on the global water cycle, Jay Famiglietti. He has an impressive curriculum vitae.

The original source for all this is the Los Angeles Times, which ran an opinion piece by Dr Famiglietti.

On social media, there is a photo doing the rounds showing the 1930s dustbowl period in the US with a caption: “R.I.P. California (1850-2016): what we’ll lose and learn from the world’s first major water collapse”. The opener claims that NASA has announced that California is on its death-bed and only has 12 months of water left.

Alarmism is a scourge but it can easily be repudiated with some good critical thinking:

1. Always read the article, not just the sensationalist heading and opening paragraph. In The Guardian above, the actual article offers no evidence whatsoever for the claim in the headline and Dr Famiglietti’s words do not make that claim. No other Nasa scientist is quoted. The Nasa scientist has been misrepresented. Neither does Nasa claim that California is on its death-bed.

2. Check the original source, do not rely on the journalist’s take on it. Who knows, they may be influenced by green doomsdayism! Or out to sell their paper. Or, more likely, both. In this case, on checking the LA Times article by Dr Famiglietti, there is again no claim by him that California’s water supply is about to run out within 12 months. The LA Times later ran a retraction, of sorts, pointing out that the original headline suggested that California only had a year’s supply of water left and that what they meant was that there was only a year’s supply in storage. So, the editor changed the headline. And also apologized to Dr Famiglietti for calling him James instead of Jay. This aspect to the apology ran first, followed by the bit about storage. True.

3. Google the scientist to see what they actually believe. Normally I would do this but it hasn’t been necessary as a week later, on March 20th this year, the LA Times itself published a second report which allowed correction by Dr Famiglietti of the original article’s misrepresentation of his views. The key bit is: “he never claimed that California has only a year of total water supply left”. Say what? Now that’s quite a difference, a huge difference, and a point of view that does not serve an alarmist agenda. But it won’t stop the scores of thousands of sharers of the original false report spreading their alarmism via social media and other media, all with the imprimatur of a (non-existent) Nasa scientific source.

The LA Times article continues:

“He (Dr Famiglietti, the Nasa scientist) explained that the state’s reservoirs have only about a one-year supply of water remaining. Reservoirs provide only a portion of the water used in California and are designed to store only a few years’ supply. But the online headline generated great interest. Famiglietti said it gave some the false impression that California is at risk of exhausting its water supplies. The satellite data he cited, which measure a wide variety of water resources, show “we are way worse off this year than last year,” he said. “But we’re not going to run out of water in 2016,” because decades worth of groundwater remain”.

Decades worth of groundwater. Okay?

4. Be rational in considering political responses. No-one disputes that California is experiencing a severe drought, one of the worst in its history. Like Australia, that’s the way it has been for a very long time. Severe droughts are part of the landscape of America’s west coast. California has a pressing problem to do with stored water – “way worse off than last year” – during a period of extended drought. Practical responses are needed.

Why is it that no Californian government has built a large dam for water storage since the mid-1970s? The State’s population has increased by 15 million since then. I have a feeling that those who spread false alarmism also oppose the construction of large new dams to capture the rain that does fall (and that has fallen over California since the last dam was built in the 1970s). This is a logical outcome of a ‘green’ world outlook that opposes progress through mastery of Nature and development and that seeks harmony with Nature through sustainability. It is the opposite of a Marxist-influenced left-wing outlook.

Oh yes, and some good news. While southern California is still in a bad way, northern California has had a reasonable soaking. Rainfall levels are at 100 percent of their historic average or above in nearly every city, and reservoirs, while still not back to normal, are steadily filling.

New dams anyone?

Remote hopelessness (via Bill Kerr blogspot)

Thanks to Bill Kerr for permission to republish the following post from his Bill Kerr blogspot.

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I watched Remote Hope on 4 Corners. In some respects it was quite a good expose about how bad things have become but it still didn’t drill down deep enough into the fundamental basis of the problem or interview those who have thought deeply about it and grappled with a solution.

Tony Abbott (“lifestyle choices”) and Colin Barnett (“put yourself in my shoes”) have both shot themselves in the foot and are easy targets. But what is needed is not a free kick of unpopular politicians but an honest description of the problem and some deep thought about a solution.

Some good people have thought deeply about the issue of remote indigenous community dysfunction: Peter Sutton, Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, Bess Price and Stephanie Jarrett, to name a few. They are the whistle blowers and they blew the whistle a long time ago. Noel Pearson’s essay Our Right to Take Responsibility was delivered in 2000. Why didn’t the ABC interview these people?

I thought some of the people interviewed were very good in describing the problem:

  • the Broome mayor, Graeme Campbell
  • John Hammond, the Perth Lawyer, who supported some shut downs of dysfunctional communities
  • Anthony Watson who plans to camp on Cable Beach, inconveniencing tourists, and bringing a real problem to the attention of Australians
  • Karl O’Callaghan, the WA police commissioner, was good, pointing out facts (sex abuse 10 times higher than anywhere else), supporting closures of dysfunctional communities and even providing an emotional response, that he couldn’t sleep at night, whether rhetorical or not, it was correct
  • Susan Murphy right at the end, we can’t keep giving handouts

I thought Tammy Solonec of Amnesty International was terrible, talking about human rights in the abstract, not based on any analysis of reality.

The best attempt at a solution so far is that proposed by Noel Pearson and his Family Responsibility Commission. See the article by Catherine Ford about that, Great Expectations: Inside Noel Pearson’s social experiment.

Admittedly nothing about this issue is going to easy. But the problem came about due to bad policy that superficially looked like humane policy. Equal wages led to indigenous unemployment. Welfare led to alcohol and drug abuse and child abuse. The bad policy has dragged on for many years after it was pointed out. Nevertheless, bad policy can be corrected. Of course, it is too late for many but correction of bad policy offers real hope which can grow over time for some.

Kerry O’Brien said right at the end that there was no easy solution but still the puzzle is why they didn’t put Noel Pearson on who has come up with a hard solution. I think the ABC is more interested in easy hits on Abbott and Barnett than proposing a real solution. See my earlier article, The closure of remote indigenous communities, for links to the ideas of Marcia Langton and Stephanie Jarret on this issue.

Magna Carta: Reignite the spirit of rebellion!

Freedom is never given to us – it must be won.

As long as the human spirit retains its aspiration for liberty, Magna Carta will serve as a symbol of the neverending struggle for freedom.

No sooner did the rebellious barons force King John to grant them Magna Carta in June 1215 than it was annulled, just 10 weeks later, by Pope Innocent III. Although it was reissued by John’s son Henry in 1216, its status remained insecure, until a definitive version was conceded in 1225. What the experience of the 13th century demonstrated is that hard-won rights and freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Magna Carta was by no means the last word on freedom. It was a medieval document that provided safeguards against the arbitrary rule of the king. It implicitly upheld ideals that would gradually crystallise into a tradition that respected the rule of law. Some historians have questioned the iconic status of Magna Carta, on the grounds that it was a ‘Baron’s Charter’ and did little to protect ordinary people from injustice. However, what was important about this document was not simply what it said, but how it was seen by successive generations.

Magna Carta provided the foundation for a political culture that celebrated freedom against the exercise of arbitrary authority. English customary law drew on the precedent of the rebellion against King John to question and, in the end, unsettle the claim to Divine Right Kingship. Magna Carta was idealised and turned into a foundational myth by the radical wing of the parliamentary opposition to the Stuart dynasty. One of my heroes John Lilburne (1615-57), a true champion of liberty and one of the leading voices in the Levellers, linked the ideals of Magna Carta to the foundation of a new nation. Lilburne went to prison to defend the right not to incriminate oneself. He argued that self-incrimination violated Magna Carta.

Over the centuries, Magna Carta has become a historic document to which a bewildering variety of parties have attached their democratic and freedom-oriented ambitions. Although it has served as a foundation for English identity, its idealisation has transcended the borders of any single nation. Its universal appeal speaks to the universal attempt to overcome the obstacles to freedom.

The necessity of almost every generation since 1215 to appeal to the precedent set by Magna Carta points to the always precarious status of freedom. Freedom depends on a political culture that takes the principles of an open and democratic ethos seriously. History shows that freedoms that really mean something are won through the action of public-spirited people rather than being gifted by a benevolent ruler or state. In the current era, this lesson is often overlooked, as campaigners and movements look to the state to ‘empower’ them.

This misconceived project of finding freedom through the state rather than fromthe state is encouraged by an ideology that mistrusts people. Eight hundred years after the sealing of Magna Carta, we are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that in many Western societies, individual freedoms are no longer highly valued. The casual manner in which freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are often disregarded means that the rule of others – whether formal or informal — can too often be implemented with little resistance.

The spirit of rebellion which animated lovers of liberty from the 13th century onwards need to be reignited, so that the new generations assuming responsibility for the future understand that freedom is not just another word.

Frank Furedi is a sociologist and commentator. His latest book, First World War: Still No End in Sight, is published by Bloomsbury. (Order this book from Amazon (UK).)

War? Huh! What is it good for?! Over-throwing Fasc-ism! Say it again! Victory over fascism – 70th anniversary

“I have always believed and I still believe that it is the Red Army that has torn the guts out of the filthy Nazis”.
—Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, October 1944

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Awesome groove but bullshit lyrics

May 8 and May 9 marks Victory Days for Europe and the former Soviet Union and is commemorated around the world.

In Australia, the 70th anniversary of this world-historic event did not receive the recognition it deserved. Yet World War One, an inter-imperialist conflict in which the working classes had no real interest, has been a prominent part of television, radio and print-media diet.

The centenary of Gallipoli received scores of millions of dollars in government funding, beginning with the Gillard Labor Government’s provision of $83 million funding for it.

How the world would have been had Hitler and the Axis powers won is too horrendous to contemplate, but it took a terrible toll to defeat them.

In that struggle, Stalin and the Soviet Union played the lead role.

I’m not usually into speculative history, but I sometimes wonder how differently things would have developed had Britain and France agreed to Stalin’s pleas for ‘collective security’ against Hitler’s rise. This would have required collective action in the advent of German aggression. Sadly, the British ruling class at that time hoped that Hitler would keep to his promise to ‘turn east’ in keeping with the ‘lebenstraum’ agenda advocated in ‘Mein Kampf’.

All that can be done now is to ensure that VE Day and Soviet Victory Day continue to be commemorated and that the lessons about the nature of fascism and the need to defend democracy be learned.

The Allied victory in World War Two shows that there is such a thing as just war – war is not “futile” – and it is a momentous mistake to turn a blind eye to, or appease, fascist regimes.

It is ironic indeed that Russian President Putin, himself bearing so many characteristics of a fascist, is trying to attach himself to the anti-fascist Stalin and the Great Patriotic War while embarking upon imperialist aggression in the Ukraine.

Lest we forget the toll of the greatest anti-fascist struggle:

419,000 Americans died
451,000 Britons died
28,000,000 Soviets died.

The Axis deaths exceeded ten million.

In the world today, fascistic regimes such as that of al-Assad in Syria are just as deserving of overthrow as were Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. There are particular similarities with the latter – the rise of fascist dictatorship in Spain in the 1930s – when the international Left called for intervention by the West to restore the elected Republican government.

Only the Soviet Union took military action against Franco. Stalin provided the Republicans with between 634 and 806 planes, 331 and 362 tanks, and 1,034 and 1,895 artillery pieces. Not to do it would have meant leaving the Republicans open to massacre. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were certainly aiding the Franco regime, with Germany supplying powerful air and armoured units, while the British and French governments retained their policy of non-intervention.

Perhaps the finest way to honour the war dead is to ensure victory for the democratic forces in Syria and those elsewhere around the world fighting tyranny. To do this, to support our brothers and sisters fighting fascist regimes, may require war, military intervention.

Sometimes, only war can defeat fascism. Tragically, it is good for something.

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A case for an amnesty for asylum seekers in Australia

…in addition to the cost of keeping 2,500 people in detention, and in addition to the cost of ensuring the other 27,000 don’t abscond, why not advocate something that makes much more sense than wanting nicer, more efficient, ways of keeping people out? Why not allow them the opportunity to contribute to the community and society without the restrictions of the bridging visas by letting them in?

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images refugee
The bloke in the red shirt might be your next dentist…

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Amnesties occur when a government grants a pardon to a group of individuals. It can apply to prisoners, or people in other forms of detention. Or even people not in prison or detention. An amnesty for asylum seekers would be a pathway to permanent residence. 

Australia’s experience of amnesties in the immigration field date back to Australia Day (26 January) 1976 when Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. At that time, this meant individuals who had entered Australia lawfully but overstayed their visas. The period in which applications could be made for amnesty expired on 30 April that year. It was an offer too good to refuse.

The Coalition government realized that these ‘illegals’ were in the country anyway. They were part of Australian society, despite their official status, and working or bludging, or having fun, playing music, fishing, reading, chatting with neighbours, going to the pub, etc, like the rest of us. And, again like the rest of us, they had a future here.   Fraser’s standing in immigration history is being rewritten and mythologized by all-too-eager academics who seem to have put aside any semblance of critical approach.

Fraser was responsible for formalising the distinction between genuine and non-genuine refugees through the establishment of the Determination of Refugee Status Committee in 1978; a decision that laid the basis for all the subsequent problems arising from exclusion.  

When it came to the ‘Australia Day’ amnesty of 1976, Fraser gave with one hand while taking with the other. He also funded a special unit to hunt them down. A cost-benefit analysis may have found that the benefits outweighed the costs in letting them stay. Not that that is the only – or main – point. But what is important to note is that the amnesty did not alter the basic policy: over-stayers after 30 April 1976 were in big trouble if caught.  

Australia’s next experience of amnesty occurred during the Hawke years when, in 1989, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that the thousands of Chinese students studying in Australia would be permitted to remain here until 31 July 1990 on a temporary basis. This was later extended to June 1994 and then, as was the intention all along, 42,000 were allowed to apply for permanent residence.  Again, it was an offer too good to refuse. Who in their right mind, after the Tiananmen massacre, would want to return to live under a social-fascist regime compared to life in bourgeois-democratic Australia?  

The situation today: about 30,000 in limbo and detention  

Currently, in Australia, living as part of our community and society but separated from it by various restrictions imposed by a ‘bridging visa’ system, there are more than 27,000 people, mostly asylum seekers waiting to have their cases determined. Most have been waiting  for a long time.   There are also 2,500 in detention centres.

It’s always helpful to look on the bright side in any bad situation. There are about ten thousand fewer in detention today than there were under Gillard’s Labor government. When it comes to detention of asylum seekers, Labor holds the record. (Lest we forget).  

It is curious, to me, that pro-refugee groups tend to advocate the more rapid processing of these asylum seekers’ claims, as though it is fair enough to identify those who are not genuine refugees, rather than questioning the system itself. Sadly, this is the main paradigm in public discourse. Nearly everyone, the Greens included, think it’s fair enough to keep out asylum seekers who are not genuine refugees. So, a family might sell everything in, say, Iran, risk their lives by escaping, lose nearly everything to unscrupulous people-smugglers (note: these guys are not to be romanticized) and then having made it across the dangerous, often deadly, waters, under the old ‘Fraser system’ they could be be rejected because they are found to be ‘economic’ refugees not the ‘political’ type.   Needless to say, within this paradigm, they have to leave the country, which they will not do voluntarily. They therefore (the dominant thinking goes) need to be detained in some way, lest they abscond into the community. The Greens want this process to be accomplished quickly, more efficiently and ‘nicely’; Labor and the Coalition are rather less polite about it, though at each election since 1996, Shadow Ministers for Immigration have promised to ‘speed up’ the determination process.  

Those who were denied permanent residency because they were found to be economic refugees made the journey in order to have a better life – and, after such a journey you can be sure that means they will want to improve things generally. My parents paid ten pound each to get here in 1954, and were allowed in. Their motivation was a better life for themselves but mostly for my future. Both my parents made special contributions to their community (in Brunswick, Melbourne) and in other ways. Had they not been ‘authorised’ migrants but rather ‘economic refugees’, and allowed in, their contributions would have not been diminished in any way.

There are financial and human costs involved in maintaining these 30,000 people in their current state. Most of the costs are borne by government – you and me.   We are denying each of them the opportunity to be productive and useful members of society, as a result of restrictions placed on them through the bridging visas. As I say to my wife: That asylum seeker lighting a fire and jumping up and down on top of the detention centre’s roof may be our next dentist!   So, in addition to the cost of keeping 2,500 people in detention, and in addition to the cost of ensuring the other 27,000 don’t abscond, why not advocate something that makes much more sense than wanting nicer, more efficient, ways of keeping people out? Why not allow them the opportunity to contribute to the community and society without the restrictions of the bridging visas by letting them in?  

In other words: let’s call for an amnesty for them all.  

Given the current parliamentary political situation in Australia, the demand could reap some benefits. After all, isn’t the ALP keen to recapture votes it has lost to the Greens on this issue? Aren’t the Greens out to convince us that they represent a humanitarian alternative on the refugee issue? Wouldn’t Labor and the Greens have the numbers in this fine humanitarian and entirely practicable act?   And 30,000 is not a big number. For heaven’s sake, 30,000 is about a third of the net loss Australia experienced through permanent departures last year. And last year we took in 200,000 newcomers.

Above all, from the viewpoint of the prevailing consensus, the actual refugee policy would not have to change. Much as I think it should, and must – and will (one day). An amnesty can be granted as an act of compassion, without any need to change current refugee policy.  

‘Christian compassion’ for Australia Day next year.  

Let’s call it… er… well… “Christian compassion”. Yes, Christian compassion for ‘Australia Day’ 2016. Marking the 40th anniversary of the first amnesty granted by a Coalition government in Australia.  

Tony: ya there?  



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