Saturday, August 30, 2008

A heartbeat away from President?

Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, is no Hillary Clinton. John McCain's newly announced running mate, is apparently both inexperienced and quite conservative compared with McCain himself. Given the age factor in this election, Sarah may well be just a heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the world in a short time.

There are already questions about her environmental credentials. According to North Coast Voices:

Greenpeace is less than impressed by Republican presidential candidate John McCain choosing the very conservative Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, as his vice-presidential running mate. McCain's VP is an anthropomorphic climate change sceptic?

Wikipedia has an updated entry. Interesting times we live in.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Indigenous Communities: A Healing Approach?

The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association has called for a "healing approach" to replace what it sees as the deeply flawed Northern Territory Intervention.

The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) says the federal intervention has had a negative effect on the health and emotional wellbeing of people in the targeted communities.
Shame, humilation, anger the legacy of intervention: doctors (ABC News 29 August 2008)
AIDA describes itself as "a not-for-profit, non-government organisation dedicated to the pursuit of leadership, partnership & scholarship in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, education and workforce. There are currently an estimated 125 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and 125 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical students in Australia."

Their Submission to the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board can be downloaded from their website. It is well worth reading. Online comments on the ABC article show that the dismal ignorance on these issues continues unabated, with blame the victim alive and well.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Presidential Dogfight: Convention Clouds

Wonder if George W. Bush will be able to give John McCain as rousing an endorsement as the Clintons gave Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Mind you McCain won't want to be too close to George W.

As Hillary suggested it would be seen as Republican twins in the Twin cities next at Minneapolis-Saint Paul. His convention clouds seem a lot darker at present.

This animation is an expansion of the image in my last post.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Defying Conventional Wisdom at the Presidential Parties

Defying conventional wisdom?

You have to wonder whether Denver or Minneapolis-Saint Paul will have the greater convention cloud hanging over it. Is George W. Bush or the Clintons the greater anchor to be dragging into November? The next couple of months will be stormy for both of them, with or without the mixed metaphors.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Senate Watch: keeping the bastards honest

Paul Keating famously called the Senate “unrepresentative swill”.

If that’s the case, why is it so important?

Don Chipp’s Democrats were supposed “to keep the bastards honest”. Of course he meant the major parties. But for most of the last 50 years we could well ask who was keeping the minor parties and independents honest? Particularly when they held the balance of power. Nor can the Coalition Senators be forgotten as they can make or break government legislation as well.

We had a brief moment during the past 3 years when the Howard government had a majority in the Senate. Work Choices was its most glaring result. For most of my voting career of 40 years, minor parties have held the balance of power or the Coalition have had the numbers.

The coalition aside, The Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon will decide what part of the government’s legislative and fiscal programs get the nod. Why do they need to be watched?

I’ll be watching the Greens to see how they deal with climate change.

Family First’s and Xenophon’s moral agendas are an obvious focus but more importantly we need to scrutinise how Fielding votes on other issues and why. Senator Brian Harradine extracted a ban on the abortion pill RU486 by supporting other Coalition legislation.

When he negotiates about issues such as Fuel Watch, South Australia’s Lower Lakes and an Emissions Trading Scheme, we can expect Nick to push his private member’s bill banning ATMs at poker machine venues.

Fielding's family values, which many regard as Christian values, will also be on the table. Usually these equate to matters related to sexuality and censorship. And we are not talking about freedoms or choice.

The issue of horse trading and narrow agendas is not the only reason why we should be watching the Senate very closely. A short list would include:

• Its power to block Supply
• Its narrow mandate
• Its role as a States house: States Rights and interests
• Public accountability and scrutiny through Question Time and the Committee system
• The politics of climate change

More on these in later posts.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Lower Lakes' bleak outlook

When we passed through South Australia's Lower Lakes and the Coorong last week, water levels were still well below average. Ironically water was lying everywhere else as saturation point seems to have been reached following high rainfall lately.

Whilst earlier photos of Lake Albert at Meningie show an even more bleak situation, these images capture a lot of the current story.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Visitor: We are not helpless children!

The Visitor is a film you shouldn't miss.

"We are not helpless children!"

Richard Jenkins is Walter Vale, a Connecticut Economics professor struggling, through music, to find some meaning in his life without his wife. "Tarek is teaching me the drum. I sound a lot better when he is playing with me."

Haaz Sleiman is Tarek, a gentle but passionate professional drummer from Syria who faces deportation from the U.S. as an illegal alien. "I just want to live my life and play my music. What's so wrong about that."

Danai Gurira plays Zainab, Tarek's Senegalese partner. She works as a jewellery-maker living each day in fear of deportation. "Sometimes Tarek would point at the Statue and jump up and down like we are arriving in New York for the first time."

Hiam Abbass, is Mouna, Tarek's mother, trying to protect her son from the fate which killed her husband.

Tom McCarthy's direction is both understated and in-your-face. It is hard not to be touched by each of the main characters and their troubled lives. They are finely drawn without resorting to stereotypes.

On the other hand he is not afraid to make his political points without subtlety. The clichéd symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, both in its real form and as a mural in the detention centre, is only trumped by seemingly innocent references to the Twin Towers and Ellis Island.

You don't have to be deeply interested in issues related to refugees, asylum seekers or 21st Century xenophobia to enjoy this film. In fact it might help. It was the personal rather than the political level that made The Visitor the best U.S. movie I've seen for ages.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Bill McHarg: not easy being green

If you didn't see Bill McHarg on Australian Story, don't miss the repeat on Saturday 23 August at 12.30 pm.

It's Not Easy Being Green
is a reminder of what we fought for during the election last year and what we need to fight for in coming years. Bill is an Aussie hero.

For more details check Getup Confab or the ABC Australian Story website.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

The Ubiquitous Nick Xenophon's Flip-Flop

You can't get away from the ubiquitous Nick Xenophon now that he shares the balance of power in the Senate. This is especially true in South Australia where we are at present, but he also popped up on Channel Nine's new Sunday morning program and ABC Radio National's Life Matters this morning. He is the new Barnaby Joyce or Pauline Hanson. His opinion is sought about every topic, sometimes even the issue he was elected on, poker machines.

His interview with Laurie Oakes yesterday was intsructive. He promised that he would not indulge in horse-trading or bartering his vote. He'll be the first! He will determine things on the merits of the the facts. He claimed his approach is evidence-based. He looks at the facts. He will " look at every piece of legislation on its merits". Nick's going to be a busy boy!

I'm more worried about a values-based approach such as we have seen from the likes of Brian Harradine and Steve Fielding. The government gets fuel watch or its equivalent and we get restrcitive laws on sexuality, scientific research and censorship.

It is easy to play the populist on water for the Lower lakes and fuel prices. Interesting that he supported a fuel watch scheme in the SA parliament but admits to doing his homework afterwards and is now opposed. He told Oakes, "I live and learn". In the major parties it's called shooting from the hip followed by a flip-flop.

It's not as easy to find out where independents stand on other more controversial topics. I tried to find out more on his website and Facebook but didn't find much that was new or enlightening.

If the Senate is meant to keep the bastards honest, let's hope the media will apply that to all of our elected, not just the government.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

McCain's new foregin policy

Do you sometimes wonder whether he's listening to himself. Can't help but agree with John McCain's view of international relations. His comment on the Georgia/Russia conflict:

in the 21st century nations don't invade other nations
Huffington Post has the story.

Hardly the views of an aspirant to the title of WAR PRESIDENT.

For a different take, also in the candidate's own words try Dazed and Confused:

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Murray Darling murky waters

The great water debate continues unabated. Can the lower Murray and the Coorong be saved? Is this a national emergency? Is disaster inevitable if something is not done now to release water from further upstream. The facts are murkier than the politics. Hopefully the new audit will help but I doubt it.

South Australian commentator Gary Sauer-Thompson was bleak in his assessment before Federal Cabinet met yesterday:

The calls for restoration of environmental flows to the River Murray from Buying up properties along the Barwon-Darling River and releasing water stored in the Medindie Lakes will go unheeded, despite the growing political pressure about the years of inaction by state governments captured by irrigator interests in the Basin.
and unconvinced afterwards:
So Rudd bowed to political pressure in South Australia and made some modest concessions. An audit only tells us how much water is there; it does not tell us what water is available to save the Corrong wetlands and lower lakes. Secondly, though buying farms and not just licences is a move in the right direction none will be bought in Victoria and nothing is being said or done about the illegal irrigation on the Paroo River in Queensland. gross mismanagement of water 14 August 2008
The Adelaide Advertiser has been running a full frontal assault on all relevant Labor governments through their Save the Murray campaign. There is some good news. We have spent several weeks in South Australia lately and it seems to be raining frequently. Even the Tiser admits that some water is making its way into the lakes and storage downstream:
Reservoirs are at 57 per cent capacity and still 86 gigalitres below full. The level of Lake Alexandrina has increased 8cm from water run-off from the Fleurieu Peninsula.

It is now at 0.34m below sea level, compared with 0.42m below sea level at the start of July.
Creeks flow, lakes rise but drought isn't over 12 August 2008
Like Senator Xenophon, The Australian newspaper seems more concerned with the politics:
THE Government will offer to buy out the water entitlements of entire irrigation communities as Kevin Rudd moved yesterday to appease growing outrage at the plight of the lower Murray River.

The Prime Minister also caved in to demands for an external audit of water remaining in the drought-ravaged Murray-Darling Basin that spans Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Federal cabinet, meeting in Adelaide, a centre of the unfolding crisis, signed off on $50million in additional spending to accelerate the buyback of water rights, which has so far had minimal impact.

But the Opposition dismissed the package as "paper money", while South Australia's balance-of-power senator Nick Xenophon said it did not go far enough.
Water buyouts to ease Murray River anger 15 August 2008
The plan to buy back not only irrigators' licences but also properties and even whole irrigation communities has also met with criticism:
Irrigators say the Federal Government has ignored the impact its plan to speed up buying back their water will have on rural communities.

They're accusing it of a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from environmental groups.
Irrigators criticise Rudd water buyback move ABC Rural 15 August 2008
Ultimately there are more votes in saving the lower Murray than in winning the support of the irrigators. Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong can respond to community pressures but they cannot please all the competing interests. There will be winners and losers in the fight for water. Let's hope the worst predictions about climate change are not realised. Our democratic processes are not ready for the potential apocalypse.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NT election: Waking from a Bad Dream

Idle reflections on the Northern Territory Election

The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Paul Henderson, has finally declared victory. Haven't had a debriefing with any Territory mates yet but here goes.

Now that the clichés have settled, a few thoughts on the NT election. The unexpectedly high swing against the Labor government and loss of seats has caused great speculation. As a resident of 8 years up till 2006 and a sometime president of the Katherine ALP branch, I was less surprised by the 2001 upset victory than this latest result. Last week my post read Topend Poll Setback for Rudd? It should have said "shock"!

Some possible lessons

Machiavelli didn’t live in a democracy

Paul Henderson was far too clever. No one seemed to believe his rationale for going 11 months early. If private polling said it was time to go, then they should get a new pollster.
Protest votes have their own momentum
When the pundits predict an easy victory, protest votes can topple a government. Ask former Country Liberal Party Chief Minister Denis Burke.

Lots of grudges built up over a 7 year period. Speed limits, development versus environment decisions, fishing interests versus indigenous sea rights, the Federal intervention.
Don’t alienate your base or allies.
The teachers' Enterprise Bargaining Agreement should have been concluded before calling an election. Stopwork action during the last week was hardly a vote winner for the government.

The Greens’ preferences flowed 2 to 1 to the ALP, which is lower than might have been expected. Gas plants in Darwin harbour don’t please everyone!

The turnout was low but according to Antony Green apparently in line with the usual low territory vote. Labor need to improve on this as it is their supporters who don't vote.
The media might be free but not numerous
The local media, namely the NT News, were critical of the Government over a long period. The ABC are the only other player.

It’s a similar scene in WA with the West Australian being the only daily newspaper and almost all the regionals in their stable as well. It’s also more anti-Labor to an obsessive degree.
Clean up your own patch
It’s the Peter Beatty rule. Unlike Alan Carpenter in Western Australia, the NT ALP had not cleaned out its bad apples. In fact it had promoted them. Reward for bad boy Len 'a mistake' says chief

Len Kiely and Matt Bonson hardly warranted pre-selection, much less postions as Ministers.
A party divided
The leadership change had left a bitter taste. For all Clare Martin’s inability to get on top of indigenous issues, she is much admired and rightly so.

The ructions between Marion Scrymgour, Alison Anderson and Barbara McCarthy have not helped present a coherent vision about indigenous issues.
Close as Saturday's result was, it's hard to believe that there was a desire for a change of government. It's also hard to imagine that the CLP Opposition Leader, Terry Mills, will survive the next 4 years. The biggest lesson for Labor and for Kevin Rudd's government is take nothing for granted, especially the individual voters.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Brothel clients need a lift

When we were downsizing a couple of years ago, we looked for townhouses with a downstairs bedroom for our twilight years after we finishing skiing (spending the kids' inheritance). Didn't know then you can rent by the hour.

However, our local Bayside Council is not so worried about the problems of age as this local Bayside Leader frontpage story attests:

Stairway to heaven
Brothel move to help elderly clients rejected

A Brighton East brothel owner has been thwarted in its bid to operate from a ground floor room as its elderly clients do not have to walk up stairs... because of age and frailty.

"They don't come in for sex - they come in to talk," Mr Anderson (Ultimate Magic owner) said."They're just lonely old guys, most of them."
That's every client's excuse. Can't decide whether this is ageism, officiousness, wowserism, anti-disabled or all four.

Their clients may have to travel a few kilometres up the road to the aptly named Daily Planet. The brothels in Kalgoorlie are single story as this recent photo shows. Perhaps this is what Paris Hilton meant about her plans to repaint the White House pink.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Paris' Pink House: Spanish Harlem

This post started as a comment on Mark Bahnisch's Always on: the internet, social media, communications and everyday life

“The network society as …an amplifier of the conversation society has with itself”?

The blogosphere is often like the conversations that take place in the cab. Lively, topical, ephemeral. A bar without booze.

I find making video for the net the most time consuming and addictive. And the most rewarding. When you head off for a media free trip up the Gunbarrel Highway, your audience are “always on” and the videos have a continuing life. Sometimes it feels like no one is viewing and then suddenly, after the e-free holiday, the warm glow of the watched returns when you check your channels.

PS. There is a more discerning audience at than Youtube. They never belittle the authors because they never comment. It’s the kind of conversation that happens in a cinema. Unless some Gen Y uses their mobile.

Over the last couple of days there has been a buzz of emails from Voices without Votes authors about Paris Hilton's Pink House video. They're part of that society conversation. This online piece from Paula Góes illustrates the power of that conversation across languages and cultures:
Eduardo Arcos [es] from Mexican blog aggregator alt1040, also believes that the video is beneficial for Obama:

…y con este video es posible que Paris Hilton sea una pequeña parte de la razón por la cual Obama gané, de ahora en adelante cualquier nuevo spot político de McCain va a ser motivo de risa, después de todo inclusive una rubia que va de tonta es capaz de ponerlo en ridículo.

… and with this video, Paris Hilton is possibly a small part of the reason why Obama will win as from now on any new political plot by McCain will be motive for laughter. After all, even a blonde taken as stupid was able to ridicule him.
Paris Hilton Ready to Lead America 6 August 2008
It also enriches my point about video. A picture is worth a thousand clichés.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Carpenter's Call

WA Election: September 6

They must have waited until I left. A pity because I would have had few misgivings working to elect Alan Carpenter's government. For those who like it straight my Kimberley Community Cabinet video series from April this year may be informative. they can be found under WA Politics or Kimberley. I reckon it captures Carpenter pretty much as he is.

Still enrolled up there. Must fix that and get rid of the Broome plates as well. Never know who might be tempted.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paris embed with the enemy

What money can buy! I never dreamt that Paris would end up embedded on this blog.

Strange embed fellows.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Perhaps Britney Spears could be her Vice-Presidential play mate?

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Musing on the Markets: not amused!

Today's rally on global stock markets shows there is a lot of bull about this bear market. Those of us with a superannuation pension watch the markets almost as closely as the sports news.

The commentators seem unable to get anything right. When they make their annual predictions for the New Year it should be mandatory to own up to how last year's went.

Nor is there any real investigation by the mass media into the manipulation of money matters in Australia and internationally.

Some random thoughts on matters economic:

It seems only days since $200 a barrel oil prices were just around the corner. They may be but that's not today's news. Oil and petrol prices have dived. Only diesel users are being ripped off because of some market mechanism which eludes satisfactory explanation. Gaps of 35 cents per litre between unleaded and diesel are common at present. Don't they come out of the same oil barrels? At the start of 2008 they were on parity in Broome.

Is just my imagination or does the Australian Stock Market seem more likely to dip on Fridays than any other day whether it's a bull or bear market? Is it end-of-the-week profit taking? Fear that Wall Street might collapse that night? Monday too far away? A bet each way? The rush to get to lunch?

Economic analysts should use precise terms like "recession" with precision. Doesn't it mean 2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth? Even The Economist can't quite make up its mind:

Broadly speaking, a period of slow or negative economic GROWTH, usually accompanied by rising UNEMPLOYMENT. Economists have two more precise definitions of a recession. The first, which can be hard to prove, is when an economy is growing at less than its long-term trend rate of growth and has spare CAPACITY. The second is two consecutive quarters of falling GDP.

Australia's highly protected big 4 banks are soaking existing home loan customers to pay for losses which are not related to domestic market or the price of funds. Shareholders have to be protected from a drop in profits. Aren't banks allowed to lose money when they make poor investment decisions?

Where are the ACCC? The current rip-offs with both diesel and loans are clearly anti-competitive and probably collusive as well.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hey Abbott: Who's on first?

Peter Costello must appreciate that Tony Abbott and other Liberal MPs "love him". To use a baseball metaphor he's not running for first base. Instead he's waiting to walk. It's typical of his arrogance and his indolence. Hope his ghost writer isn't as lame.

Brendan Nelson has two shadow Opposition Leaders lurking. At least Malcolm Turnbull is an active, open player, not a passenger. This 10 second video, After John Howard, was made a year ago before Nelson was in the race. Still seems apt.

Still the pundits have a poor track record, to mix metaphors. Maybe Nelson will hang on and deserve his own video.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Topend Poll Setback for Rudd?

The headlines can be written now for the Northern Territory election: Topend Poll Setback for Rudd

A swing and loss of seats are inevitable after the landslide last time. The intervention and the often inaccurate claims that the Labor government was doing nothing about indigenous issues will bite. So will fishing versus sea rights, the 130km/hr speed limit and the change of leader.

Some postive words about the Chief Minister Paul Henderson:

After the 2001 ALP victory it was difficult to get Ministers to meet with the Katherine ALP members. This was despite repeated requests, which I can confirm as branch president for some of that time. The one notieable exception was the then novice Paul Henderson who not only organised a meeting with labor locals but brought John Ah Kit with him as well. The sort of interaction that is often neglected in political parties, especially in unwinnable seats such as Katherine. Good stuff!

Paul also visited Maingrida within 36 hours of Cyclone Monica in 2006 and sttod in our water soaked and asbesos ridden classrooms which had bbeen unroofed on 24 April. He came with Clare Martin in what were clearly happier times for them.

Last saw him pulling beer at the Greek festival in Darwin that year. Good luck to Paul and his deputy Marion Scrymgour who is one of the best.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Obama Lies: Republican dishing the dirt

The US election campaign turned nasty last week with John McCain using TV ads to smear Barack Obama. Media Matters, an American site "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media" questions the appoach of the mainstream media which both condemn and exploit smears against Obama.

All week, McCain's attacks have been driving news coverage. Those same news organizations that have declared McCain's charges false have given them an extraordinary amount of attention, repeating them over and over. They have adopted the premises of the McCain attacks even as they acknowledge the attacks are based on false claims. The media narrative of the week has not been, as you might expect, that John McCain's apparent dishonesty may hurt him with voters. Instead, the media's basic approach has been to debunk McCain's attacks once, then run a dozen stories about how the attacks are sticking, how the "emerging narrative" will hurt Obama. The media debunk McCain smears, then promote them (1 August 2008)
Other useful websites for checking campaign smears by both sides include and the ones mentioned in an earlier post
Obama & McCain: Click Go the Smears

Interesting that the self-styled straight talker John McCain is dishing the dirt through his offical campaign rather than leaving it to others.

Mark Shields claimed on PBS's News Hour that the Texas State Republican Convention, a sanctioned vendor there, sanctioned by the party, was selling pins that said, "If Obama is president, will we still call it 'the White House'?"
No doubt McCain will disown that one!

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Climate Sceptics: Is the sky falling?

It seems that the easiest way to get media coverage is to make claims that global warming isn't happening. The climate deniers' claims were aired on The ABC's Lateline and Q&A this week.

What do the scientists say? Ross Garnaut addressed recent claims about lower global temperatures in his draft report.

Is there a warming trend in global temperature

Observations show that global temperatures have increased over the last 150 years (Figure 5.1). The data also suggests that the warming was relatively steep over the last 30–50 years. A comparison of three datasets shows that they differ slightly on the highest recorded temperatures — data from the Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom shows 1998 as the highest year, while data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Climatic Data Centre in the United States show 2005 as the highest year.* All three datasets show that seven of the hottest 10 years on record have been in the last nine years between 1999 and 2007.
There has been considerable debate in recent months on the interpretation of the global temperatures over the past decade. Questions have been raised about whether the warming trend ended in about 1998.
To throw light on this question, the Review sought assistance from two eminent econometricians from the Australian National University to investigate the question. Trevor Breusch and Farshid Vahid have specific expertise in the statistical analysis of time series—a speciality that is well developed in econometrics.

They were asked two questions:

• Is there a warming trend in global temperature data in the past
• Is there any indication that there is a break in any trend present in the
late 1990s, or at any other point?

They concluded that:
It is difficult to be certain about trends when there is so much variation
in the data and very high correlation from year to year. We investigate
the question using statistical time series methods. Our analysis shows
that the upward movement over the last 130–160 years is persistent and
not explained by the high correlation, so it is best described as a trend.
The warming trend becomes steeper after the mid-1970s, but there is no
significant evidence for a break in trend in the late 1990s.Viewed from the
perspective of 30 or 50 years ago, the temperatures recorded in most of
the last decade lie above the confidence band produced by any model that
does not allow for a warming trend (Breusch & Vahid 2008). Garnaut Climate Change Review, Draft Report June 2008. page 113
You have to wonder whether it's the global warming advocates or the deniers who think the sky is falling?

Bound to lots more fantasy science in the US election and its aftermath as the successful candidate tries to implement a cap and trade program.

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