Beds Are Burning  

Posted by Big Gav

In last night's post I was still holding to my original line that our "national emergency" over social problems in Aboriginal communities was primarily the Rodent playing with The Power Of Nightmares to try and distract voters from the issues the government is getting hammered on. I did, however, speculate that it could also be a land grab for uranium mines - an idea Crikey was promoting with gusto today.

In retrospect, I think I failed to be cynical enough - this makes a lot more sense - what is happening seems to be a camouflaged "rolling back" native land rights to enable the radioactive future most of us are against to happen against the wishes of the people who own the land. Big government conservatives at it again - the American version are oil thieves, ours are uranium thieves.

One of the most irking things about this (ignoring the creepos at The Australian trying to blame the "crisis" on libertarianism) is the way the Aboriginal communities have been systematically deprived of the means of managing their own affairs (with the example of the tribe that owns Uluru not being allowed to set up a coffee shop on their own land to sell much needed refreshments to tourists - a business which would make an absolute killing - being a classic illustration of this). Next time some "conservative" tries to tell you they are pro-business, remember to tell them they are nothing but pathological liars...

Anyway, first off from Crikey, Alex Mitchell on the Rodent's "last throw of the dice".

Long-serving Sydney political journalist Alex Mitchell writes:
This is the last throw of the dice for John Howard. He is doing one big favour for the mining industry which he has faithfully served in public life for the past 30 years by rolling back Aboriginal ownership of their tribal lands. Cynically, cruelly but utterly predictably, he’s doing it under the hypocritical colours of humanitarianism. (Very similar to the invasion and occupation of Iraq sold as “spreading democracy”).

In his four terms as PM, he has starved indigenous health, education and housing of funds, abolished ATSIC and pointedly marginalised the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. This particular pre-election pitch is aimed at Lateline viewers, readers of The Age and The SMH and ABC stalwarts, the demographic that constitutes Australian (small “l”) liberalism. These are the feeble-brained, hand-wringers who are congenitally incapable of separating the wood from the trees. They are types currently heard sobbing: “I’m no fan of Mr Howard, but at least he’s DOING SOMETHING!” Yes, he is: he’s giving the mining giants the leg-up they need to start exploring, digging and quarrying in indigenous lands in the Northern Territory and then elsewhere.

He is being aided and abetted by Kevin Rudd’s craven behaviour. Instead of falling into line with Howard’s agenda, he should have demanded complete details of the plan, the highest-level briefing, sought face-to-face meetings with Aboriginal leaders, state premiers, police and army officers and taken the lead in a national debate. Instead, he mouthed pieties such as “I’m taking Mr Howard at his word” and “I believe the Prime Minister when he says he is responding to a national crisis” etc etc. Has anyone realised that these are almost the same words used by Kim Beazley when he backed Howard during the Tampa scam? By his pusillanimous approach, Rudd has vacated leadership on the tragic issue of rescuing Aboriginal communities and given Howard the opportunity to play his sickening Father of the Nation role. Paul Keating, you were right about the Rudd team of fixers, hucksters, flyweights and spineless opportunists.

- Alex Mitchell

And to be honest, we couldn't have put it better ourselves.

Next from Crikey, Gavin Mudd (no relation) on using children to nuke Aboriginal land rights.
As an environmental engineer, Gavin Mudd has over ten years' experience in issues concerning Aboriginal land rights and mining. He is a lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University, and a concerned Australian. He writes:

It is ironic that at the time of the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum John Howard is in the middle of gutting the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 (ALRA) -- the Commonwealth legislation made possible by that referendum.

The land rights were long overdue, hard fought for and won by Aboriginal people, but they are about to be critically undermined, not just by the politics of military-style interventions in problematic Aboriginal communities, but by a more insidious, as yet unrecognised agenda -- mining and nuclear waste on Aboriginal land.

The ALRA gives legitimate powers such as access permits for entry to Aboriginal freehold lands, a veto over exploration and mining and other activities. As noted by the 1974 Woodward Land Rights Inquiry, to deny Aboriginal people the right to prevent mining on their land is to deny the reality of their land rights.

Since gaining control of the Senate, the Howard Government has finally had the parliamentary power to gut the ALRA, which they are doing, but have needed a massive diversion before they introduce the most controversial reforms: radically altering the mining royalty regimes, and potentially remove the veto provision for exploration and mining.

It is no coincidence that many of the communities targeted for “military style intervention” are also areas that are heavily targeted for minerals exploration, particularly uranium, as well as for potential nuclear waste dumps. This includes Western Arnhem Land and Central Australia, where numerous known uranium deposits are being actively investigated by various wanna-be uranium producers.

I have personally visited numerous Aboriginal communities, including some with major social dysfunction and others which have escaped the tyranny of petrol sniffing, grog and domestic violence. This was achieved by the communities and took hard yakka over a decade (or more). Now, they are vibrant, positive and functional communities proud to be truly sustainable. Mining has rarely aided this process.

The use of “social issues” as a diversion to hide the gutting of Aboriginal land rights is malicious and cold-hearted. As with almost everything Howard does, there is clearly more at play -- perhaps it’s time to have a real debate about problems, true partnerships and the future.

As noted by Yvonne Margarula, Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirarr-Gundjeihmi clan of Kakadu and on whose lands the Ranger uranium mine and Jabiluka project lie, “None of the promises last, but the problems always do!”


The Age says the "PM 'got it wrong' on abuse plan".
JOHN Howard's radical plan to protect Aboriginal children from sex abuse has come under strong attack from the man whose report inspired him to act.

Days after the Prime Minister announced his unprecedented intervention, Rex Wild, QC, has accused the Government of adopting an excessively heavy-handed approach, sending people to descend on remote indigenous communities "like a plague of locusts". Mr Wild, co-author of the landmark report Little Children are Sacred, said Canberra should have been trying to build up trust with indigenous people. "Now you'll find the problem is that people's backs are up," he told the ABC's Lateline Business. Referring to his contact with communities before the publication of his report, Mr Wild said: "We didn't arrive with a battleship. We came gently … Now they are just having the gunships sent in."

He also said some "pretty good ideas" among his team's 97 recommendations appeared to have been ignored by the Government. Among them was a proposal to get all children from pre-school age into schools by January 2008.

By contrast, the contentious plan for comprehensive medical checks on indigenous children was not among the report's recommendations. Asked who was advising the Federal Government now, Mr Wild said he didn't know. "Nobody phoned me from Canberra." He said the Government, which had enormous resources and collected $6 billion a year in taxes on alcohol alone, should spend more to help fix problems in Aboriginal communities, such as the shortage of housing. ...

Democrats senator Andrew Murray, who drove a Senate report into children in institutional care, urged the taskforce not to repeat the mistakes of the past. His inquiry found vulnerable children had been subjected to what amounted to "state-sanctioned rape" by medical examiners that haunted them for the rest of their lives. Senator Murray urged the adoption of strict medical protocols to protect children. ...

A senior Federal Government adviser on indigenous substance abuse warned that banning alcohol in Aboriginal communities could cost lives. Ted Wilkes, chairman of the Government's National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee, said a chronic shortage of treatment services in the NT meant people with alcohol addiction faced dangerous withdrawal without support. He has held meetings with Canberra health and drug strategy advisers to warn against a blanket ban on alcohol in Aboriginal communities without investment in rehabilitation.

Plus some reader comments at Crikey:
Matthew Campbell writes: I am surprised at the vitriol directed at Guy Rundle as a result of his article (yesterday, comments), and that he, by making some valid observations, is basically on the side of the abusers. I don’t know the experience of those who wrote in but it seems like it might be less than mine. I currently live in Alice Springs and previously lived in four Aboriginal communities in northern Western Australia. I have been working in indigenous communities in the NT for the past eight years and can attest that there are things in most of the communities I have visited that are working. These ventures are the product of a lot of hard work between well-trained professionals and Aboriginal people who together are developing and implementing innovative solutions to issues in these communities. They are, by their nature local initiatives, and where adequate time and resources have been invested continue to be successful, in some cases employing people, and in most leading to noticeable increases in self-esteem ownership and increased ability to develop new solutions to other issues. These sorts of things of course do not get reported on, meaning that in a situation like we have today, they are overlooked while non-indigenous Australians pronounce "nothing else has worked so this is worth a try". This latest plan will fail no doubt. However, don’t think that this means that attention should not be drawn to Aboriginal communities. It should be, but if we based the response on building on what works, engaging in partnership with Aboriginal people we might have a chance. We need the spotlight turned on, but lets turn it on together so that in a few years all those saying currently "this is worth a try" won't have to acknowledge that solutions imposed from the outside don’t work.

John Craig, Centre for Policy and Development Systems, writes: Re. "Make no mistake, Howard's NT plan is a new apartheid" (Monday, item 1). Might I respectfully suggest, in relation to your article, that: there is no doubt (as your article suggested) that making new special laws for Aborigines does not end "Aboriginal exceptionalism". However: apartheid means living apart (ie. as separate communities). It is not a term that strictly can be applied to preventing anyone from exercising legal rights they would otherwise have in particular places -- which is a quite routine effect of government regulations on land use (for example); special laws for Aboriginal people (and thus inequality before the law) were made possible by the widely supported 1967 referendum; inequality before the law was cited most vigorously by One Nation (whose name suggested their opposition to the idea of separate communities, but whose policy 'solutions' seemed unlikely to be particularly beneficial). As far as I can tell the position of Aboriginal Australia has not improved over the past 30-40 years -- arguably because the focus has been on gaining "benefits" (eg. native title to land, government funding) through political pressure, with virtually no attention to what is required for indigenous people to be economically successful. The real requirement to improve their situation is not to further force the Australian community to "cede power", but to gain economic power by participating in enterprises that entice consumers to part with hard-earned cash to pay for attractive products and services. Boosting any other form of power will simply leave Aboriginal people worse off through increasing their dependence on government handouts. While I have not yet studied the PM's proposed "solution", if it contains steps along the lines your article mentioned, then your article's suggestions about its likely failure and parallels with Iraq are (unfortunately) likely to be valid. In the case of Iraq also, the cultural and institutional preconditions for democracy and economic prosperity (and their absence in Iraq) were simply ignored. The Federal Government has "shot itself in the foot" by creating an organisation so politicised and centralised that it is virtually incapable of generating practical initiatives in relation to any problem (see the CPDS article: Decay of Australian Public Administration); The initiatives being advanced on both sides of politics seem equally insubstantial (On Populism in 2007); The problems facing indigenous communities are unlikely to be resolved as long as the practical effect that cultural assumptions have on any people's ability to be materially successfully continues to be put in the "too hard" basket and officially ignored (The Challenge of Aboriginal Advancement).

In other local news, one of the big storms we have had recently resulted in a bulk coal carrier being washed up on the main surf beach at Newcastle (our primary coal export port), with efforts still underway to try and refloat it. In the meantime, local activist groups have been having fun shining a massive "coal causes climate chaos" slogan on the hull of the ship.
The day has arrived for salvage experts to attempt to refloat the bulk carrier Pasha Bulker from a sandbar at Newcastle's Nobbys Beach. The bid comes after Greenpeace activists last night staged a protest against coal at the salvage site, beaming messages against the ship's hull including "Coal causes climate change chaos".

Three tugs and winches aboard the $35 million coal carrier will haul together during today's 7pm high tide to heave the massive vessel seaward. The 40,000-tonne ship's ballast water, which has been holding her steady on the sand, will be pumped out and the hull pressurised.

Since the Pasha Bulker ran aground during a severe storm on June 8, its plight in pounding seas has been a source of fascination. The ship has about 700 tonnes of fuel and 100 tonnes of other chemicals on board, prompting worries of a possible hull breach.

Wind gusts of up to 80 km/h and three-metre waves around the ship are forecast to ease today and continue to lessen over tomorrow and Saturday, when the salvage operation is expected to continue.







Dave Roberts has a great article in The Guardian on liquid coal. Sounds the coal industry works the same way everywhere - sucking up government subsidies while despoiling the environment.
They say the first thing you should do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. But if there's one thing the coal industry loves, it's digging.

Generating electricity by burning coal has ravaged the climate, but it's made coal barons in the US rich. They worried for a while that global warming would mean the end of the gravy train - they're the ones who started the massive climate-change disinformation campaign back in the 1980s - but instead, to their delight, they've discovered that climate change is a gravy train itself.

They're being showered with government subsidies to develop and deploy carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), whereby the emissions from coal-fired power plants are collected and stored underground. It's technologically precarious and enormously expensive, but with taxpayers footing the bill, what the hell?

Now they've got a new idea, and it's audacious. They want taxpayers to fund the creation of another coal industry, one that that would generate liquid transportation fuel from coal (coal-to-liquids, or CTL). Of course, liquefying coal is every bit as dirty as burning it for electricity, so - this is the brilliant bit - they want US taxpayers to simultaneously fund a new set of carbon sequestration projects.

In one fell swoop, using public money to create a dirty industry and public money to clean it up, skimming hefty profits off the top. It's like a two-rail bank shot of rent-seeking, a bamboozle almost without precedent. Even the ethanol guys must be impressed. You'd almost have to admire it, if it weren't your money and your climate at stake.

The Huffington Post has a rebuttal of Raymond Learsy's "Peak Oil Is Snake Oil" post recently by ASPO USA's Steve Andrews. There are a few over the top claims in here which weaken his case in my view (arguing Iraq's flat oil production is somehow related to peak oil is ridiculous, for example).
It seems Learsy thinks small non-profit groups like ours -- the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas/USA -- are in cahoots with the oil companies, joined at the hip in a conspiracy to hype the "fabricated drama of peak oil" in order to drive up oil prices and profits. This is a delusional notion with zero substance that deserves no further comment.

Except for those in extreme denial about our oil problems, even casual observers looking at the facts and trends listed below should see that we're on the front edge of an enormously challenging energy transition:

1. Some 20 nations around the world produce 83% of the world's oil. In half of those, production is either flat (Iran, Iraq, Venezuela) or permanently declining (the USA, Mexico, the UK, Norway and Indonesia, among others).

2. World oil production outside of OPEC and the former Soviet Union (FSU) grew for many decades until 2002. Since then, it has declined slightly for four straight years, during an era of unprecedented high oil prices.

3. Oil production in the FSU collapsed from 1990-96, then rocketed back and should match their previous high oil mark (1987) this year. But Russia's production growth trend has slowed dramatically and will probably peak soon.

4. Roughly two-thirds of the world's oil lies in the Middle East -- a cauldron for geopolitical, religious, cultural and military conflict. This obviously reduces the security of long-term supply, which drives up prices.

5. Over 90% of the world's oil is owned by government-controlled oil companies. ExxonMobil only ranks #13 in size, dwarfed by Saudi Aramco. On a daily basis, the Saudis produce much more oil from the world's largest single oil field -- Ghawar -- than ExxonMobil produces from its many multi-billion-dollar projects scattered worldwide. As a retiree from Saudi Aramco wrote recently, those government-controlled oil producers "are no longer inclined to rapidly exhaust their resource for the sake of accelerating the misuse of a precious and finite commodity." That's our new reality, Mr. Learsy.

6. Resource nationalism is rearing its ugly head around the world, especially in Russia and Venezuela. During the last 12 months, Russia and Venezuela expropriated oil producing assets developed and paid for by the world's major investor-owned oil companies. Expect slightly tighter supply and higher prices from this trend.

7. New oil discoveries listed by Mr. Learsy are fine and dandy for both oil companies and consumers, but new discoveries peaked during the 1960s and are down substantially since that oil heyday. Further, those new discoveries are increasingly located in deeper water and colder climates that add to cost and are prone to delays and weather-related shut-downs.

8. Depletion of aging oil fields is relentless. The world's largest oil fields -- all of which once produced at least one million barrels of oil/day -- are all in permanent decline. The smaller new fields brought into production can't offset the declines in the old war horses. It's like being on a treadmill that is both speeding and ramping up, where you work harder and harder just to stay in place.

9. New technology isn't saving the day. In the US, where we've applied the best technology available, production has slowly declined since the late 1970s.

10. Oil exports are riding for a fall. In exporting countries like Mexico, where production slips while domestic consumption grows, exports will shrink at an accelerated rate. China, the UK and Indonesia, oil exporters during the 1990s, are now importers. World oil exports will peak before world oil production peaks.

Highly hyped liquid substitute fuels, such as ethanol from corn and liquids from coal or oil shale, come with their own unique baggage. They can't be scaled up quickly, require huge energy and water inputs, and pose a range of environmental problems.

Given the above facts and trends, ASPO-USA and a growing list of respected energy analysts anticipate a peaking in world oil production soon, most likely between 2010 and 2015. Such a turning point in world energy consumption and production patterns will undoubtedly have serious consequences on the world's economy. Those possible consequences should be anticipated and acted upon by decision makers at every level. Those who deny this looming reality are part of the problem, not part of the intelligent response.

Bruce Sterling's latest Viridian Note is out, this one focussing on manifestations of the "khaki green" future we should be trying to avoid.
Key concepts: Khaki Green, British military, Air Marshall Jock Stirrup, military implications of the climate crisis
Attention Conservation Notice: keenly depressing, yet something of a tribute to Viridian foresight.

Links:

Climate crisis in former location, central Texas:
http://blog.wired.com/sterling/2007/06/climate-crisis-.html

Climate crisis in current location, southeast Europe:
http://blog.wired.com/sterling/2007/06/planet-ark-five.html

Link:
http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/42799/story.htm

Armies Must Ready for Global Warming Role == Britain
UK: June 26, 2007

LONDON == Global warming is such a threat to security that military planners must build it into their calculations, the head of Britain's armed forces said on Monday.

Jock Stirrup, chief of the defence staff, said risks that climate change could cause weakened states to disintegrate and produce major humanitarian disasters or exploitation by armed groups had to become a feature of military planning.

Link: Air Marshal Sir Graham Eric Stirrup, (1949 - ):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jock_Stirrup

But he said first analyses showed planners would not have to switch their geographical focus, because the areas most vulnerable to climate change are those where security risks are already high.

(((Interesting, isn't it? The places where we've already got hell are gonna have more hell.)))

"Just glance at a map of the areas most likely to be affected and you are struck at once by the fact that they are exactly those parts of the world where we see fragility, instability and weak governance today.

"It seems to me rather like pouring petrol onto a burning fire," Stirrup told the Chatham House think-tank in London. (((Nice fossil-fuel metaphor there.)))

Link:
Chatham House studies on climate change:
http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/index.php?id=189&pid=403
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett chaired the first debate on climate change at the UN Security Council in April this year. She argued that the potential for climate change to cause wars meant it should be on the council's radar.

Stirrup said the unpredictability of the immediate effects of global warming on rainfall patterns and storms meant flashpoints could be advanced by years without warning.

He did not identify the problem areas, but Bert Metz of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the meeting they included Central America, the Amazon Basin, large parts of north, central and southern Africa and swathes of Asia.

(((And New Orleans. And maybe Los Angeles. And Australia.)))

Scientists say average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to burning fossil fuels for power and transport, melting ice caps, bringing floods, droughts and famines, and putting millions of lives at risk.

Stirrup said the security threat was far more immediate than those figures might suggest.

"If temperatures rise towards the upper end of the forecast range we could already start to see serious physical consequences by 2040 == and that is if things get no worse." (((He's not a scientist, folks. He's a general. Well, an Air Marshall.)))

"If things do get worse you don't need to come very much forward from 2040 before, in my terms at least, you are talking about the day after tomorrow," Stirrup said.

He said the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington showed the devastation that attacks fuelled by political, economic and social deprivation could achieve.

(((It's a tribute to the political genius of Al Qaeda that, six years later, people still talk about the damage to two and one-fifth buildings. Meanwhile, where the real paramilitary trouble is:

Global narco-guerillas in North America:
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2007/06/journal_mexicos.html
Hollow states:
http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2007/04/hollow_states.html )))


Now add in the effects of climate change. Poverty and despair multiply, resentment surges and people look for someone to blame," he said.

Even if the world agreed quickly on a way of equitably tackling the climate crisis == which was far from sure == the nature of the problem meant a significant degree of adverse change was already in the pipeline.

"That rapidity, alongside the size of the global population and the complexity of today's society, leaves us particularly vulnerable," Stirrup said. "It is bound to present substantial security challenges of one kind or another."

Asked on the margins of the meeting if that meant military planners should opt for premptive action where they saw a security crisis emerging, he said: "Only in the sense of building governance. Recognising the problem is the first step."

(((So, what's the story here? Well, as I pointed out earlier, green design is winning. Practically every state with a trace of civilization has got capitalist-green fever now. They'll even do it in the teeth of government opposition, as they do right now in the USA. So design, in the sense of a comprehensive grass-roots effort to change the infrastructure, is doing great.

It is scarcely necessary to talk about this; it has become mainstreamed.

However, nation-states couldn't get it together to create a Kyoto-friendly world order, so we're seeing many failed states and hollow states. These areas are defeating the armies of nation states through the simple tactic of becoming and remaining ungovernable. This, as Stirrup is pointing out here, is making failed states indistinguishable from climatic disaster areas. They are going to become the same thing. Khaki Green, as an idea, is far from mainstreamed, but this article is a strong signifier of it.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, but the rain is going to fall with particular virulence on places where there is no government. No army. No civil services. And no functional ability to restore the infrastructure.

Peoples who defeat nation-states through tactics of civil disorder are going to be particularly vulnerable to climate-crisis starvation and epidemics. After the era of operations-other-than-war, there will be mass-deaths-other-than-genocide. Mass deaths of peoples, mass deaths of former nations, but without any institutional entity inflicting it. That's the Unthinkable, but it is certain to happen, and is already happening in isolated locales. The question for the next decades is: how much Unthinkable, how big is it. It's a process that "could be advanced by years without warning.")))

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
THE LESSONS HERE? (A)
DON'T LET YOUR STATE FAIL;
(B) DON'T IMAGINE YOU CAN
PUT OUT FIRES WITH BAYONETS
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

Dan at The Daily Reckoning has some interesting observations on the wheat crop and on the financial treadmill and the debt traps facing the average Australian.
--It's raining outside. Again. All the rain has been great news for wheat growers in Victoria. But is now the time to go bearish on wheat, before the ground is even dry? Yesterday's Financial Review ran an article detailing how a lack of maintenance and upkeep has reduced the speed and traffic on the rail lines that carry Victorian wheat to market. Is another Queensland-coal-like bottleneck forming in wheat?

-- And then there's the question of wheat prices. Our commodity-trading analyst friend Steve Belmont chimed in with this from Chicago yesterday. "Since 1978, every spike high in wheat above US$4.50 per bushel has reversed, causing prices to retreat below US$4.00 per bushel within 7 to 9 months. Markets anticipate. Wheat is an international crop. It is grown everywhere. High wheat prices increase acreage, which increases supply, which lowers prices. Will the same thing happen this time? We don't know. There is always the possibility 'things will be different this time.' However, every time we hear that phrase we want to run the other way. This is precisely what we want to do now."

--Globalisation is rigged to force households deep into debt they can never repay. That was the gist of our argument this week about housing. But this applies to the whole gamut of modern economic life. Both partners work in a modern marriage, which seems to be the result of both choice and necessity. To afford the median priced home, a car, insurance, and the basics of modern life you need two incomes, and even that is not enough.

-- "Australians love their bit of land, but Census figures reveal we're less likely to own a home now than we were five years ago while the level of household debt has gone through the roof," reports Nicki Bourlioufas at news.com.au. The census figures also showed the number of Australians who actually own their homes outright declined from 40% in 2001 to 32.6% today.

--Before-tax incomes have risen by nearly 24% in the last five years, from AU$375 per week to AU$466 per week. The trouble is, rents and average mortgage repayments have risen faster. The average mortgage payment is up over 50% in the last five years from AU$867 to AU$1,300. The average weekly rent is up slightly less at 31%, from AU$145 in 2001 to AU$190 last year.

--"But that's great," a real estate agent might say. "Mortgage payments are up because house prices are up. And when house prices go up, people are getting richer. It's a little thing we in the real estate business call 'capital appreciation.'"

--What's not up for anyone, anywhere, is affordability. To chase rising home prices, Australians are having to load up on debt. Borrowed money fills the gap between slowly-rising incomes and fast-rising house prices. As a man in a grey suit said on the TV last night, and we're paraphrasing here, "It's more accurate to describe Australia as a nation of home buyers than as a nation of home owners."

--And here's another thing to think about. Housing bubbles are more accurately described as mortgage-lending bubbles. It's the supply of money, in this case cheap housing credit and grants from the State and the Federal governments - that push up house prices. The affordability crisis begins with an increase in housing credit. But how does it end?

--With falling prices. Buying a home only makes sense under the right financial circumstances. Today, the housing market is rigged to make mortgage brokers, real estate agents, and the tax man rich based on high appraisals and sales prices. But for the buyer? Reject the debtor's bargain, dear reader!

--We're not offering an easy alternative, by the way. It is tempting to try and get rich in housing. But we think it's more likely that in trying to get rich on 'capital appreciation' many people will become much poorer. As with investing, the first rule is to not lose your capital.

TomDispatch has a look at the situation in Iraq - "Iraq by the Numbers - Surging Past the Gates of Hell".
A caveat about numbers: In the bloody chaos that is Iraq, as tens of thousands die or are wounded, as millions uproot themselves or are uprooted, and as the influence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national government remains largely confined to the four-square mile fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, numbers, even as they pour out of that hemorrhaging land, are eternally up for grabs. There is no way most of them can be accurate. They are, at best, a set of approximate notations in a nightmare that is beyond measurement.

Here, nonetheless, is an attempt to tell a little of the Iraqi story by those numbers:

Iraq is now widely considered # 1 -- when it comes to being the ideal jihadist training ground on the planet. "If Afghanistan was a Pandora's box which when opened created problems in many countries, Iraq is a much bigger box, and what's inside much more dangerous," comments Mohammed al-Masri, a researcher at Amman's Centre for Strategic Studies. CIA analysts predicted just this in a May 2005 report leaked to the press. ("A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.")

Iraq is # 2: It now ranks as the world's second most unstable country, ahead of war-ravaged or poverty-stricken nations like Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, and North Korea, according to the 2007 Failed States Index, issued recently by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. (Afghanistan, the site of our other little war, ranked 8th.) Last year and the year before Iraq held 4th place on the list. Next year, it could surge to number #1.

Number of American troops in Iraq, June 2007: Approximately 156,000.

Number of American troops in Iraq, May 1, 2003, the day President Bush declared "major combat operations" in that country "ended": Approximately 130,000.

Number of Sunni insurgents in Iraq, May 2007: At least 100,000, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar on his most recent visit to the country.

American military dead in the surge months, February 1-June 26, 2007: 481.

American military dead, February-June 2006: 292.

Number of contractors killed in the first three months of 2007: At least 146, a significant surge over previous years. (Contractor deaths sometimes go unreported and so these figures are likely to be incomplete.)

Number of American troops Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon civilian strategists were convinced would be stationed in Iraq in August 2003, four months after Baghdad fell:): 30,000-40,000, according to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco.

Number of armed "private contractors" now in Iraq: at least 20,000-30,000, according to the Washington Post. (Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestseller Blackwater, puts the figure for all private contractors in Iraq at 126,000.)

Number of attacks on U.S. troops and allied Iraqi forces, April 2007: 4,900.

Percentage of U.S. deaths from roadside bombs (IEDs): 70.9% in May 2007; 35% in February 2007 as the surge was beginning.

Percentage of registered U.S. supply convoys (guarded by private contractors) attacked: 14.7% in 2007 (through May 10); 9.1% in 2006; 5.4% in 2005.

Percentage of Baghdad not controlled by U.S. (and Iraqi) security forces more than four months into the surge: 60%, according to the U.S. military.

Number of attacks on the Green Zone, the fortified heart of Baghdad where the new $600 million American embassy is rising and the Iraqi government largely resides: More than 80 between March and the beginning of June, 2007, according to a UN report. (These attacks, by mortar or rocket, from "pacified" Red-Zone Baghdad, are on the rise and now occur nearly daily.)

Size of U.S. embassy staff in Baghdad: More than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals.

Staff U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker considers appropriate to the "diplomatic" job: The ambassador recently sent "an urgent plea" to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for more personnel. "The people here are heroic," he wrote. "I need more people, and that's the thing, not that the people who are here shouldn't be here or couldn't do it." According to the Washington Post, the Baghdad embassy, previously assigned 15 political officers, now will get 11 more; the economic staff will go from 9 to 21. This may involve "direct assignments" to Baghdad in which, against precedent, State Department officers, some reputedly against the war, will simply be ordered to take up "unaccompanied posts" (too dangerous for families to go along).

U.S. air strikes in Iraq during the surge months: Air Force planes are dropping bombs at more than twice the rate of a year ago, according to the Associated Press. "Close support missions" are up 30-40%. And this surge of air power seems, from recent news reports, still to be on the rise. In the early stages of the recent surge operation against the city of Baquba in Diyala province, for instance, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times reported that "American forces.... fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba," while Apache helicopters attacked "enemy fighters." ABC News recently reported that the Air Force has brought B-1 bombers in for missions on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Number of years Gen. Petraeus, commander of the surge operation, predicts that the U.S. will have to be engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq to have hopes of achieving success: 9-10 years. ("In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.")

Number of years administration officials are now suggesting that 30,000-40,000 American troops might have to remain garrisoned at U.S. bases in Iraq: 54, according to the "Korea model" now being considered for that country. (American troops have garrisoned South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.)

Number of Iraqi police, trained by Americans, who were not on duty as of January 2007, just before the surge plan was put into operation: Approximately 32,000 out of a force of 188,000, according to the Associated Press. About one in six Iraqi policemen has been killed, wounded, deserted, or just disappeared. About 5,000 probably have deserted; and 7,000-8,000 are simply "unaccounted for." (Recall here the President's old jingle of 2005: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.")

Number of years before the Iraqi security forces are capable of taking charge of their country's security: "A couple of years," according to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group.

Amount of "reconstruction" money invested in the CIA's key asset in the new Iraq, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service: $3 billion, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar.

Number of Iraqi "Kit Carson scouts" being trained in the just-captured western part of Baquba: More than 100. (There were thousands of "Kit Carsons" in the Vietnam War -- former enemy fighters employed by U.S. forces.) In fact, Vietnam-era plans, ranging from Strategic Hamlets (dubbed, in the Iraqi urban context, "gated communities") to the "oil spot" counterinsurgency strategy, have been recycled for use in Iraq, as has an American penchant for applying names from our Indian Wars to counterinsurgency situations abroad, including, for instance, dubbing an embattled supply depot near Abu Ghraib, "Fort Apache."

Number of Iraqis who have fled their country since 2003: Estimated to be between 2 million and 2.2 million, or nearly one in ten Iraqis. According to independent reporter Dahr Jamail, at least 50,000 more refugees are fleeing the country every month.

Number of Iraqi refugees who have been accepted by the United States: Fewer than 500, according to Bob Woodruff of ABC News; 701, according to Agence France Presse. (Under international and congressional pressure, the Bush administration has finally agreed to admit another 7,000 Iraqis by year's end.)

Number of Iraqis who are now internal refugees in Iraq, largely due to sectarian violence since 2003: At least 1.9 million, according to the UN. (A recent Red Crescent Society report, based on a survey taken in Iraq, indicates that internal refugees have quadrupled since January 2007, and are up eight-fold since June 2006.)

Percentage of refugees, internal and external, under 12: 55%, according to the President of the Red Crescent Society.

Percentage of Baghdadi children, 3 to 10, exposed to a major traumatic event in the last two years: 47%, according to a World Health Organization survey of 600 children. 14% of them showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In another study of 1,090 adolescents in Mosul, that figure reached 30%.

Number of Iraqi doctors who have fled the country since 2003: An estimated 12,000 of the country's 34,000 registered doctors since 2003, according to the Iraqi Medical Association. The Association reports that another 2,000 doctors have been slain in those years.

Number of Iraqi refugees created since UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared a "humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007: An estimated 250,000.

Percentage of Iraqis now living on less than $1 a day, according to the UN: 54%.

Iraq's per-capita annual income: $3,600 in 1980; $860 in 2001 (after a decade of UN sanctions); $530 at the end of 2003, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar, who estimates that the number may now have fallen below $400. Unemployment in Iraq is at around 60%.

Percentage of Iraqis who do not have regular access to clean water: 70%, according to the World Health Organization. (80% "lack effective sanitation.")

Rate of chronic child malnutrition: 21%, according to the World Health Organization. (Rates of child malnutrition had already nearly doubled by 2004, only 20 months after the U.S. invasion.) According to UNICEF, "about one in 10 children under five in Iraq are underweight."

Number of Iraqis held in American prisons in their own country: 17,000 by March 2007, almost 20,000 by May 2007 and surging.

Number of Iraqis detained in Baquba alone in one week in June in Operation Phantom Thunder: more than 700.

Average number of Iraqis who died violently each day in 2006: 100 -- and this is undoubtedly an underestimate, since not all deaths are reported.

Number of Iraqis who have died violently (based on the above average) since Ban Ki-Moon declared a "humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007: 15,000 -- again certainly an undercount.

Number of Iraqis who died (in what Juan Cole terms Iraq's "everyday apocalypse") during the week of June 17-23, 2007, according to the careful daily tally from media reports offered at the website Antiwar.com: 763 or an average of 109 media-reported deaths a day. (June 17: 74; June 18: 149; June 19: 169; June 20: 116; June 21: 58; June 22: 122; June 23: 75.)

Percentage of seriously wounded who don't survive in emergency rooms and intensive-care units, due to lack of drugs, equipment, and staff: Nearly 70%, according to the World Health Organization.

Number of university professors who have been killed since the invasion of 2003: More than 200, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education.

The value of an Iraqi life: A maximum of $2,500 in "consolation" or "solatia" payments made by the American military to Iraqi civilians who died "as a result of U.S. and coalition forces' actions during combat," according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. These payments imply no legal responsibility for the killings. For rare "extraordinary cases" (and let's not even imagine what these might be), payments of up to $10,000 were approved last year, with the authorization of a division commander. According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, "[W]e are not talking big condolence payouts thus far. In 2005, the sums distributed in Iraq reached $21.5 million and -- with violence on the upswing -- dropped to $7.3 million last year, the GAO reported."

The value of an Iraqi car, destroyed by American forces: $2,500 would not be unusual, and conceivably the full value of the car, according to the same GAO report. A former Army judge advocate, who served in Iraq, has commented: "[T]he full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."

Percentage of Americans who approve of the President's actions in Iraq: 23%, according to the latest post-surge Newsweek poll. The President's overall approval rating stood at 26% in this poll, just three points above those of only one president, Richard Nixon at his Watergate worst, and Bush's polling figures are threatening to head into that territory. In the latest, now two-week old NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 10% of Americans think the "surge" has made things better in Iraq, 54% worse.

The question is: What word best describes the situation these Iraqi numbers hint at? The answer would probably be: No such word exists. "Genocide" has been beaten into the ground and doesn't apply. "Civil war," which shifts all blame to the Iraqis (withdrawing Americans from a country its troops have not yet begun to leave), doesn't faintly cover the matter.

If anything catches the carnage and mayhem that was once the nation of Iraq, it might be a comment by the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, in 2004. He warned: "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." At the very least, the "gates of hell" should now officially be considered miles behind us on the half-destroyed, well-mined highway of Iraqi life. Who knows what IEDs lie ahead? We are, after all, in the underworld.

Wired has a look at the Ron Paul online juggernaut.
When Texas Congressman Ron Paul entered the race for next year's Republican presidential nomination, few political analysts paid much notice.

Paul has no backing from political bigwigs or any campaign war chest to speak of. As the Libertarian Party presidential nominee in 1988 he won less than one-half of 1 percent of the national vote.

Yet despite his status among the longest of the long shots, the 71-year-old has become one of the internet's most omnipresent –- and some say most irritating -– subjects.

According to Technorati, "Ron Paul" is one of the web's most searched-for terms. News about Paul has an outsize presence on Digg and reddit, two sites that allow users to highlight their preferred content. Paul's YouTube channel has been viewed over one million times, dwarfing efforts from competitors like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The Ron Paul internet boom has born everything from Belgians for Ron Paul to a reggae music video promoting Paul's views on monetary policy and habeas corpus.

During the 2004 election, a web-savvy campaign staff helped turn Howard Dean's anti-war candidacy into the first online political phenomenon. But the Ron Paul frenzy seems to have sprung from the internet itself. Paul's libertarian message – he is against big government, the war, and pretty much anything that costs taxpayers money – has attracted a group of anti-establishment, tech-savvy supporters who have taken everyone by surprise.

"The people who are actually working for the campaign are a little overwhelmed with what's happening," says Alex Wallenwein, a supporter who organized two of the 362 Meetup.com groups dedicated to Paul.

To many immersed in the political blogosphere, Paul's passionate supporters seem to be everywhere at once. Editors of political websites are inundated with angry e-mails demanding they devote more coverage to Paul. Blog posts that criticize Paul are often followed by hundreds of livid comments from his fans. Most frustrating to those not on board the Ron Paul bandwagon, he routinely ranks first in online presidential polls on sites ranging from CNN.com to niche political blogs. ...

Matt Margolis runs GOP Straw Polls, a popular series of monthly surveys that are posted on numerous blogs in an attempt to gauge how much support candidates have throughout the conservative blogosphere. Margolis originally didn't include Paul in the polls but added his name when his fan base began to grow. Paul now dominates the polls, winning nearly half of all ballots cast in the most recent survey.

Margolis says Paul's success is the result of his supporters' "coordinated efforts to show themselves and their power in these polls." While most readers will vote once or twice and then move on, Margolis says Paul fans are visiting numerous blogs hosting the polls and voting repeatedly, while encouraging others to do the same through messages on MySpace, Facebook and blogs. ...

Paul supporters say his success is just the results of the wild, wild web operating at its finest, giving voice to a movement that would otherwise find no traction in traditional media. "If we have 20,000 passionate supporters who go and vote in an online poll and Rudy Giuliani can only get 1,000, we're not going to apologize for that," says Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign communication director.

Michael Nystrom, founder of the Daily Paul blog, says, "What I find interesting is that other candidates have more money, but Ron Paul has something money can't buy, and that's this very active online community." Whether or not Paul's online support translates into any real world success, it is clear this candidate has stumbled upon a new brand of internet activism that has the rest of the web scrambling to adapt.

Links:

Alt Energy Stocks - America Forecast To Be Hit By Strong Winds
The Australian - Warmer seas bring whales, dolphins to Scottish waters
ABC - The greening of Alcatraz
Grist - More significant energy developments in D.C. today
Grist - Cellulosic Ethanol - Because Encouraging Efficiency Is Too Hard
Grist - The Fracas In Caracas
AFP - Iran launches petrol rationing plan. Peering past the info-frenzy about rioters and burning petrol stations and the partisan interpretations ("Government about to fall" from us and "See - this is why we need nuclear power" from the Iranians), this does actually make some sense - the cost of subsidising petrol in Iran is enormous (as Iranians get a massive discount compared to most other countries), so the government has 2 choices when it comes to reducing the financial burden (and the huge waste of energy brought on by such an unrealistic cost of fuel) - ration or reduce subsidies. Obviously neither option is likely to make the average driving punter very happy...
SMH - Iran Imposes Fuel Rations.
ABC - Iran's oil restrictions 'a warning for Aust'. Roger Bedzek continues his peak oil tour. I wish headline writers would make a small effort to understand the story they are sticking a title on - Iran is rationing petrol, not oil - because it has a shortage of refinery capacity, not because it has a shortage of oil...
SMH - South Korea To Withdraw All Troops from Iraq
The Nation - Iraq: Taxpayers Lose, Halliburton Gains. Its not just the Iraqis who are getting robbed...
David Strahan (Dissident News) - Iraq - The Real Casus Belli: Peak Oil In A World of Looming Fuel Shortage
WHT / Mobjectivist (The Oil Drum) - Finding Needles in a Haystack. WHT takes his latest peak oil model to a wider audience at TOD.
Heise Online - German Wikipedia receives state funding. The German government is funding people to update Wikipedia's renewable energy sections. While this is no doubt a worthy cause (or at least one that seems likely to result in content aligned with my views), I think its really an example of the slippery slope of Wikipedia - eventually corporate PR and Government propaganda sockpuppets will be paid to engage in endless infowar on the pages of Wikipedia, to the point where reading a page on any hot topic is unlikely to result in a balanced or accurate account. Personally I prefer a model where everyone maintains their own blog or site (or contributes to a group blog), with interlinking guiding you to good content and search engines and social networking sites working out what consensus reality is from the links, votes and other pertinent traffic. Of course, this system can still be hacked, but at least there are many takes on the issues to consider, instead of one eternally changing view at Wikipedia.
ABC - Independents flag foray into US presidential race. Nader and Bloomberg heading for the starting gate - how many more to follow ?
CNN - Warren Buffett talks tax reform with Sen. Clinton. "Berkshire Hathaway chairman suggests greater taxes for private equity firm managers and super rich to presidential hopeful ... Speaking to several hundred supporters of the U.S. Senator from New York, Buffett revealed his puzzlement that he was taxed at a lower rate than many of the lesser-paid individuals working for his company". I can't wait to hear Rush call him a communist, thereby dropping the final straw on tens of thousands of strained conservative minds...
AFP - Doctors back plan to store medical info under your skin. Ready to get chipped yet ?
SMH - Truth first casualty of the internet?. Well - I don't think bloggers invented biased or false news reports - the newspaper industry has centuries of experience at this. TV news, on the other hand, will give us a totally unbiased feed of everything Paris Hilton does. If you read the article, you'll see truth is a casualty in there too...

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