Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shock: Global Warming Still Happening!

Poneke is the local advocate for the view that global warming stopped in 1998. This canard is related to the fact that 1998 was just a shockingly hot year, the hottest on record.

It is true that warming in the last decade is slower than in the previous
decade due to a dramatic El Nino event in 1998 and La Nina conditions in the last twelve months or so.

However if you get the global average temperature data and fit a line to the last ten years then sure enough it has a positive gradient indicating a warming trend. For what that is worth on such a short timescale.

There is as yet no evidence that the underlying warming trend in global average temperatures has changed.

The Met Office in the UK has just released a press release to go along with this plot of their latest data (their methodology for this data is indeed described in a 2006 peer reviewed article.). (Hat-tip Climate Progress)

Anyone who thinks global warming has stopped has their head in the sand. The evidence is clear – the long-term trend in global temperatures is rising, and humans are largely responsible for this rise. Global warming does not mean that each year will be warmer than the last, natural phenomena will mean that some years will be much warmer and others cooler.

But once again a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a plot of global average temperatures (relative the the average temperature during 1961-1990) for the last thirty years or so.

It's really the thirty year trend that you should pay attention to, that is about the shortest period you should be looking at to determine long term trends related to climate rather than weather.

In their discussion of the current La Nina related "low" temperatures, they note

despite this temporary cooling, 2008 is still likely to be the seventh warmest on the global record.

As a result of such fluctuations, global average temperature trends calculated over ten-year periods have varied since the mid-1970s, from a modest cooling to a warming rate of more than 0.3 °C per decade. Similar behaviour is also seen in individual model predictions of future climate change where the long-term warming trend is forecast to exceed 2 °C per century. Even then, due to the natural variations in climate, we expect to see ten-year periods both globally and regionally with little or no warming and other ten-year periods with very rapid warming. This complex behaviour of the climate system shows why we need to examine much longer periods than ten years if we are to fully understand and quantify how the climate is changing.

Retirement Project for Katherine Rich

Maybe after the election, Katherine, you could write a decent Wikipedia page for Flying Nun? Give your Parliamentary colleagues some inkling of the significance of this Kiwi cultural landmark.

This effort is a pretty poor stub at best.

Better still though, a well informed muso could return Rich's favour and get onto it right away!

Punk Rock Fan Leaves Parliament Her Way

I might annoy some friends if I gush too much about Katherine Rich's valedictory speech. But here goes.

Rich has been a champion for causes dear to the hearts of social liberals, like civil unions and the repeal of Section 59. She is right to place her politics in a liberal tradition in the National party that includes Marilyn Waring among many others and has been responsible for much social reform in this country.

One of my most satisfying political memories is playing a part in the Section 59 debate, although it was not an easy time.

Some said parenting would become illegal, CYF would steal our children and that good parents would end up in jail.

It hasn't happened. I believe the Bradford law will become another chapter in our gradual move to social enlightenment, alongside other seminal pieces of legislation which brought women's suffrage, homosexual law reform, and the recognition of civil unions.

Initially, I supported Sue's bill because I wanted to close the legal loophole that allowed some parents to batter their children and escape conviction.

By the end of the debate I supported the message that hitting children for any reason was not OK - a turning point was listening to another MP talking of the "loving smack" and merits of using an instrument to beat children.

Secondly she seems to take at least one sideways swipe at her caucus. Her assessment of the state of New Zealand's democracy is clear-eyed but hopeful, I wholeheartedly agree with this

I leave positive about New Zealand, and our parliamentary process.

We live in a robust democracy and one of the least corrupt societies in the world.

We should remember that when the daily small scandals threaten to distract us.

Rich's worst year is also one of her finest moments, and she eloquently put on record her views on forcing those on the DPB back to work for a pittance

Every MP has their annus horribilis and mine would have to be 2005.

Members might recall a slight difference of opinion over a welfare speech.

Demotion clearly wasn't a career highlight, but it was preferable than trying explain why I, a well-paid mother with all the supports in the world, intended telling a DPB mum to leave her baby in child care to net less than half the minimum wage.

There is also this plea to New Zealand's next Prime Minister

I know that under your leadership National will not forget those less fortunate.

It's a great pity that Rich will not be at the Cabinet table to argue their case.

Finally I was struck by the slightly incongruous fact that Rich is a huge Flying Nun fan. I am now officially in love. It's hard to tell on YouTube but I couldn't help thinking that many in the House didn't seem to have heard of Flying Nun. More reason for Rich's plea for the funding of New Zealand music.

They had heard of Sid Vicious though so she got a laugh at the end

Mr Speaker, looking back on many valedictories delivered in this Chamber, I find a popular choice for retiring MPs is to quote Frank Sinatra's My Way.

Well, I can't abide crooning.

I've always preferred the Sid Vicious version.

There is a very nice post on Rich from the other side of politics at Homepaddock. Tony has a brief appreciation here.
The ODT has most of the text of the speech here.

Kiwiblog notes that the liberal wing of the National party is being much depleted at the end of this term. I really hope DPF is right that new admissions to parliament will right this balance.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Science journalism and the methane "time bomb"

It must really suck to be a science journalist at a high profile international newspaper. It's a genuinely difficult area to get up to speed on but unlike your colleagues covering Britney Spears you have essentially no chance of getting a scoop.

All the big science news and quite a lot of not very big news gets published in the refereed journals Science and Nature. But both of those journals prepare their own media materials and strictly embargo articles published in them. These embargoes are very tightly enforced by the journals, sometimes even to the extent of sending staff to scientific conferences to check that the authors do not spill the beans in advance of publication. Every week you can find out what's big in Science or Nature by reading the press release regurgitated in the NYT or on CNN's web page.

If you want to make a splash as a science journalist though you should get some hapless fool of a scientist to talk to you about their recent work prior to acceptance, prior even to writing a scientific paper. As No Right Turn and Hot Topic have noted, Steve Connor at the Independent has recently pulled this wheeze. (Note the proud billing "exclusive") We are told that frightening amounts methane are being emitted from ground exposed by thawing permafrost.

Unfortunately it is totally impossible to assess the merits of this research without a scientific article. What I can guarantee is that Orjan Gustafsson's scientific colleagues are spitting tacks at this display of science by press release. And yes, we learn that the enterprising science writer at the Guardian has already found one of them to describe Gustafsson's work as "speculation". The wonders of journalistic competition!

These kinds of articles are part of the problem not part of the solution. Science journalists could make themselves more useful but reporting on the settled scientific knowledge about our changing climate and thinking seriously about difficult issues like "false balance" in their reporting.

Arctic Sea Ice

This year Arctic sea ice has contracted to essentially the same level as last year's dramatic and poorly understood record low. Read about it at Dot Earth but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

This picture of the area of floating ice is stolen from the Dot Earth blog and was prepared by William Chapman at the University of Illinois.

Now Poneke describes this as "good news". Call me a pessimist but that may be overstating the case.

Adding Noughts on Climate Change

When I started writing this blog I thought that I would talk quite a bit about climate change and climate change policy. Partly I was struck at Christmas time when my cousin, who works for a bank in a fairly senior capacity, announced that climate change was just a fraud perpetrated by politicians. Perhaps he was even serious but I was too stunned, and indeed ill-informed, to pursue the topic! In any case, I had the impression that the disparagement of the scientific consensus that human activities are heating the earth, particularly by those on the right of politics, was proving more stubborn in New Zealand than in the US for example. The emissions trading legislation was shaping up as one of the big issues of the year.

I haven't really said much for several reasons. Firstly I don't know enough about economics to get down in the dirty details of emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes. Secondly I am not a climate scientist so I don't have a lot to say about the detailed science. If you want to hear about climate change from climate change scientists read Real Climate and the refereed scientific literature. Thirdly embarking on this issue seems to be a great way to attract cranks and trolls. There is often a tone of barely controlled hysteria on both sides.

So all in all it often seems that there are too many challenges in attempting to communicate effectively on the subject. Instead I've hatched a plan to run a course on the physics of climate and energy. This is probably a better use of my time, and provides an excuse to learn more about the details of the science.

However the Kiwi blogosphere has been replete with discussions of this issue and at some point I just want to get stuck in. I've been trying and failing to write the one perfect blog post about the physics of climate change but I am going to leave that for now and just get stuck in on some recent issues in true reactive blog style.

So henceforth I will be joining the "climate change jihad".

Cloak and Dagger: DIO targets Japan

I'm a bit of a sucker for real life spy stories. But I missed this interesting report in the Canberra Times on the Australian Defence Intelligence Organisation's targets. They focus on the interest in Japan since Japan is such a close Australian ally. The shock that one would spy on an ally seems pretty naive but adds to the story!

According to briefings seen by The Canberra Times, DIO's Transnational, Scientific and Technical Intelligence branches keep a close watch on Japan's nuclear power industry and civilian space programs.

According to one Defence intelligence analyst, this is more than a watching brief. ''We put quite a lot of effort into the Japanese target,'' he said. ''After all they have lots of nuclear reactors, an advanced space sector and an enormous stockpile of plutonium.

Of course if you write such a story you can expect a bunch of guys in dark glasses to arrive at your house and turn the place upside down.

Short Selling in New Zealand?

A propos of yesterday's comments on short selling in New Zealand, it appears that neither the Australian newspaper nor the regulatory body ASIC are of the opinion that the practice is insignificant.

In a hurried decision yesterday, ASIC revealed covered shorts could be taken in dual-listed stocks such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, ANZ Bank and Lion Nathan, as the stocks were at risk of being savagely shorted on their secondary exchanges in London and New Zealand.

This is in marked contrast to the points of view on Morning Report Monday. Not my bailiwick this issue, but it must be possible to find the truth one way or the other.

In general the ban on short selling seems to be attracting increasing criticism.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who has their eye on the ball in New Zealand?

The Peters censure and the start of the election campaign make it difficult to focus on external events.

But it would be a pretty good bet that the consequences of the financial meltdown in the US will have some impact on the public consciousness in New Zealand before November 8.

It seems that the buy-up of bad mortgages in the US may go ahead in some form, despite being criticized on all sides. The US stockmarket's rush of blood to the head on Friday has faded, the dollar is down and oil prices are way back up.

According to Nouriel Roubini in the Financial Times, who has been right before, the next victims of the crisis will be the hedge funds and then private equity firms.

The next stage will be a run on thousands of highly leveraged hedge funds. After a brief lock-up period, investors in such funds can redeem their investments on a quarterly basis; thus a bank-like run on hedge funds is highly possible. Hundreds of smaller, younger funds that have taken excessive risks with high leverage and are poorly managed may collapse. A massive shake-out of the bloated hedge fund industry is likely in the next two years.

Even private equity firms and their reckless, highly leveraged buy-outs will not be spared. The private equity bubble led to more than $1,000bn of LBOs that should never have occurred. The run on these LBOs is slowed by the existence of “convenant-lite” clauses, which do not include traditional default triggers, and “payment-in-kind toggles”, which allow borrowers to defer cash interest payments and accrue more debt, but these only delay the eventual refinancing crisis and will make uglier the bankruptcy that will follow. Even the largest LBOs, such as GMAC and Chrysler, are now at risk.

But we should all be thinking about the effects on the real economy in the US and elsewhere. Roubini again

The real economic side of this financial crisis will be a severe US recession. Financial contagion, the strong euro, falling US imports, the bursting of European housing bubbles, high oil prices and a hawkish European Central Bank will lead to a recession in the eurozone, the UK and most advanced economies.

European financial institutions are at risk of sharp losses because of the toxic US securitised products sold to them; the massive increase in leverage following aggressive risk-taking and domestic securitisation; a severe liquidity crunch exacerbated by a dollar shortage and a credit crunch; the bursting of domestic housing bubbles; household and corporate defaults in the recession; losses hidden by regulatory forbearance; the exposure of Swedish, Austrian and Italian banks to the Baltic states, Iceland and southern Europe where housing and credit bubbles financed in foreign currency are leading to hard landings.

Thus the financial crisis of the century will also envelop European financial institutions.

By the way, New Zealand did not ban short selling over the weekend, unlike the US, the UK and Australia among many others. We were told by several people on Morning Report Monday that this is because the practice is rather limited in New Zealand. I hope that either that is the case or that the people arguing that the short selling ban is a bad idea are right.

Shared Values and Common Purpose

John McCain has an opinion piece in today's Australian. McCain's real connection with Asia and the South Pacific and committment to free trade are the best reasons why bloggers like The Hive, for example, are so excited about McCain's candidacy. The argument for McCain from an Antipodean point of view is put pretty well by Andrew Shearer at the Lowy Interpreter here.

It's heartening that as well as canvassing the long history of the Australia-US alliance and issues such as terrorism McCain includes a strong statement backing US leadership on climate change and against torture. The foreign policy statements seem to me to have a considerable neo-con, rather than Republican realist, flavour. (I can't resist noting that while it's true that Australians have "suffered terrible terrorist attacks" it shouldn't escape our attention that Australia has not.)

New Zealand readers of course will skim for that all important "Z"

In Asia this means engagement must begin with our allies. Our alliance with Australia sets the standard. Our ally Japan has proved a strong and reliable partner to the US and Australia. South Korea is taking on new global responsibilities. We can reinvigorate our traditional alliances with Thailand and The Philippines and build on newly strengthened partnerships with Singapore and India. And we should recognise our shared values and common purpose with New Zealand.

Now is that the same as small-a "allies"? Having run through 'allies' and 'partners' we get 'and we should recognise'? The tone is quite grudging.

Monday, September 15, 2008

US credit market woes

I haven't read the commentary but the larger than expected Reserve Bank interest rate cut probably doesn't result from an optimistic assessment of the world economy.

The woes in the US did not end when the federal government seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Lehman Brothers are on the verge of bankruptcy. People are worried about the financial health of AIG, Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual. It seems that the best place to read a digest of the business pages along with informed speculation is naked capitalism

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Still waiting for final whistle on US-India nuclear trade

It appears that the backdown last week at the Nuclear Suppliers Group may have been associated with some private side agreements restricting the sale of fuel enrichment and reprocessing technology to India and other countries that are not signatories of the NPT. The report in the Washington Post is here.

The Arms Control Wonk discusses it here and here.

Kessler cites “sources familiar with the discussions” making two claims:

1. “[The NSG] privately agreed last weekend that none of its members plans to sell sensitive technologies to India .. [to] persuade several skeptical member states to support a waiver authorizing nuclear trade with India…”

2. “The NSG separately is nearing consensus on a total ban on sensitive sales to countries such as India that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty … [This was] another factor in persuading countries such as Ireland, New Zealand and Austria to end their effort to write such trade restrictions into the waiver for India.”

This doesn't seem to address the question of what happens if or when India tests a nuclear bomb but it definitely represents a significant win over the public version of the deal.

Those of you interested in Kim Jong-il should be reading the Arms Control Wonk also.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Sorry not to be down with the talking points but I hated this 'trust' line as an election 'theme' from the begining. I'd much rather Labour run on, oh I don't know, some policy initiatives???? But this morning's SMH helped reinforce this for me. Helen Clark has called an election they note

THE New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has taken a leaf out of John Howard's book, calling an election and immediately defining it as being about trust.

Then they explain why Australian readers may find the line familiar

When he announced Australia's 2004 election, Mr Howard said: "This election, ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust." He asked voters to trust him with the economy and interest rates and in the fight against terrorism.

Now I've been banging on in private about the parallels between Clark and Howard for ages. If you want to learn about the condition of Labour in two months time you could I believe do a lot worse than reading Judith Brett's account of Howard's demolition derby with the Australian Liberal Party. Or if you can get your hands on Black Inc's "Best Australian Political Writing 2008" read Pamela Williams article "A Right Royal Mess: How Howard led Libs into chaos"

If you want to test this analogy though, listen to Peter Costello who is all over the Fairfax papers today spruiking his book. Can't find it online but here is his assessment of Howard from the SMH magazine Good Weekend

Leadership is not only about winning; it is also about departing. ...

Unlike Menzies, Howard never managed a transition. He did not accomplish generational change.

After the best economic record of any Australian goverment and after an Age of Prosperity from a golden era of continuous economic growth, the Coalition was defeated in the spring of 2007. We lost because we failed to renew. We mismanaged generational change. We did not arrange the leadership transition. The electorate did it for us.

Sound like anyone we know?

Not to be outdone the Australian has more Costello

Howard identified the interests of his party with his own. After so many years at the top, separating the two became difficult.

At the peak of his power, it was difficult to disagree with that assessment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Glenn taking another turn

Clark deserves this

"She is very self-serving," he said.

"I wouldn't want her in the trenches next to me."

Asked if he would support Labour in future, he replied: "I am not exactly cheering for Labour now, not when they turn the dogs on you."

It's a wonder he didn't say something like this after the Business School opening.

And he is trying to head off the "it wasn't Winston on the phone defense" too

He introduced his executive secretary Laura Ede to say she will sign an affidavit saying she put in the cell phone call to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

I just don't understand why Clark has not already pulled the plug on Peters but surely the time has come? Better late than never.

Obama still ahead?

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic is starting a weekly assessment of the electoral college map in the US presidential elections. This is based on polls and extensive reporting.

There are a lot of big states currently too close to call, including Pennsylvania, and we are still too close to the conventions to get any idea how the candidates are travelling but it looks like this will be worth following.

Don't mock the constitution

The worst applause line in Palin's often hilarious convention speech was this

"Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."

Not so much because of the rights reading as because the Americans having mounted a rather more thoroughgoing assault on the rights of terror suspects and prisoners of war.I really hope that McCain will protect habeas corpus and end torture as president, but we'll see.

Obama has finally come out with a strong attack on this line. After reiterating his determination to target and kill those involved in planning 9/11 Obama mounts a defense of habeas corpus and pleads "don't mock the Constitution".

"The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting," Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. "Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Did we back down on the nuclear agreement? Yes

If you are interested in this issue there are now blog posts at Kiwiblog and No Right Turn.

DPF argues that Clark backed down on this one. I think this is true but I am not sure that I blame Clark greatly. Would a National government have been more resolute on this issue? Even once we were the only country on the NSG to remain opposed to the agreement? At the cost of improved trade access to the US? No I thought not.

Idiot/Savant on the other hand argues that we did not back down because we got most of what we wanted. In this he relies on the Herald's summary of New Zealand's goals in the negotiations.

New Zealand had wanted:

* Action to be taken should India resume nuclear testing;

* For India to sign up to an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol extending its monitoring powers;

* A review of the exemption.

(The full text of the waiver is available here, and a complete analysis from the arms control point of view here.)

It's certainly true that the three points mentioned by the Herald are addressed in the waiver as I/S notes. However this list is drawn up after the fact.

In interviews prior to the NSG meeting Goff was very clear; New Zealand and other nations wanted it written into the waiver that a nuclear test by India would end the supply of uranium. Avoiding this was the goal of US and Indian diplomacy and we backed down, the waiver is not conditional on India refraining from testing.

Here is Goff in an interview by the ABC

LOPRESTI: So with the safeguard agreement would you like to see tighter controls over India such as with the nuclear tests?

GOFF: Well we'd like to see what's already built as part of the United States Hide Act, which allows the United States to undertake nuclear trade with India, which requires that the deal would cease immediately in the event that India would conduct a nuclear test. India's not currently conducting tests; it says that it's made a domestic decision not to do so. We'd like some certainty around that and should not be an impossible ask of India to say that as long as you, in fact it's not even an ask, it could be built unilaterally into the agreement that this exemption would only apply so long as India did not again test its nuclear weapons.

This is a very unfortunate development but I blame the Bush administration rather than New Zealand and the US congress may still act to require such a conditionality at least for US sales.

Particularly unfortunate is the situation whereby countries like New Zealand have had to put their concerns in national statements that do not form part of the waiver. The Arms Control Association notes:

Because of the negotiations were tough and the real differences not fully resolved, there will likely be serious differences between India and most of the NSG about the interpretation of what the guidelines allow and don't allow and what the consequences of any violation of India's nonproliferation and disarmament commitments would be. This outcome is a failure of the NSG as a whole, the U.S. delegation, and the NSG chair Germany.

Also the Arms Control Wonk

I worry this sets up a potential trainwreck:

* Indian officials believe they have what they seek: the legal commitments at the core of a strategy that will mitigate the consequences of a resumption of testing. (The fuel reserve, access to the international marketplace, etc.)

* NSG members, on the other hand, believe they have a political commitment, however weak, from India to refrain from testing and options to isolate India again in the event that it violates the pledge.

One of the two parties is wrong. I am not eager to find out which.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Increasing Importance of Uranium

It's going to be very interesting to see whether Australia now moves toward selling uranium to India. But even without that a lot is going on with respect to the politics and economics of uranium at the moment.

The week before last we had the extraordinary spectacle of Peter Garrett approving the expansion of the Beverly uranium mine in South Australia. Apparently the joke about Garrett now is "every appearance a sell-out."

Last week the Chinese company Sinosteel placed a bid to develop a large uranium mine in South Australia. This places the totally opaque foreign investment rules here under still more pressure. If the Right in New Zealand thinks it is unclear what is and is not a strategic asset they should take a look at the situation in Australia.

The Foreign Affairs minister Steven Smith threatened to reneg on a deal made by the Howard government to sell uranium to Russia in response to the situation in Georgia with a predictably stern response from the Russians.

Why all this interest in Australian uranium?

There is an urgent need to expand world uranium production which currently stands at around 64% of consumption. (Whether this is a serious problem for the nuclear power industry is debatable. The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents depressed demand in the 80s to the extent that there are currently very large stockpiles.) China in particular is rapidly building nuclear power reactors and needs to assure its supply of fuel. Australia has about 23% of known reserves. Canada and Kazakhstan are the other countries with large reserves and mining industries.

Garnaut's new report

Ross Garnaut has released a supplementary report on emissions trading in Australia. He is recommending a very slow start to the program with a target of a 5% reduction on year 2000 emissions by 2020 unless a deal that includes all nations emerges from Copenhagen.

Paul Kelly notes that this takes the heat off Rudd

There are two main stories in the Garnaut report about the 2020 target. Garnaut is advising Rudd to run on two tracks: what Australia does with a comprehensive global agreement and what it does with an ongoing ad hoc post-Kyoto global compromise.

Taking the second scenario (absent any all-in global deal), Garnaut advises Rudd to settle on a 5 per cent Australian reduction by 2020. He stresses this would be consistent with reaching Rudd's non-negotiable 60 per cent reduction target by 2050.

The reason 5 per cent is the most likely target in practice is because, as Garnaut argues, there is only a chance the world will reach a comprehensive deal any time soon. Given this likely failure, Garnaut wants a modest start for Australia.

Because it is inconceivable that Rudd would choose a more ambitious target than Garnaut's, the best calculation under this scenario is that the Rudd Government will settle somewhere between zero and minus 5per cent from year 2000 levels.

NSG agrees to India waiver

In a dramatic last minute agreement the NSG has agreed to the waiver for the US-India uranium deal. Details of the waiver are sketchy and the deal must now get through the US congress.

According to the Hindu, New Zealand was the last to concede in a classic divide and conquer strategy by high level US diplomats.

“It was clear to us that as long as these countries were a group, they would remain a problem,” a senior Indian official said. “But we also knew none of them wanted to be the last man standing.” So between the United States and India, a determined political effort was made late Friday night to ensure each of the four came on board. The first to agree was China, said the official, and the last New Zealand, with Ireland and Austria also dropping their objections in between. Though the last three communicated their decision to Washington, the official said the Chinese side directly informed India that it intended to back the consensus.

It seems that little has been done formally to modify the original waiver, but that a statement on September 5 from the Indian Foreign Minister reiterating their moratorium on testing has been mentioned in a 'chapeau' to the waiver. New Zealand is also one of several countries to make a national statement expressing disquiet at the deal. From the Hindu again:

Though several minor changes were made in the India waiver adopted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group on Saturday, the most important change from the point of view of those countries with non-proliferation concerns was the incorporation of a reference to the September 5 statement made by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterating India’s stand on disarmament and non-proliferation.

Among the commitments the statement highlighted were India’s voluntary and unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, its “policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons” and several initiatives the country has taken in recent years to press for the elimination of nuclear weapons at the global level.

For a feeling of the pressure that has been exerted there is this:

Asked for his assessment of the waiver, a diplomat from a European country which initially wanted much stronger conditional language said his government had joined the consensus “very reluctantly.” “I wouldn’t say we’re happy,” he said, adding that his country and several others had been “leaned on at the highest levels.”

I take it we can assume that we have been "leaned on at the highest levels" also.

The Washington Post has run an impassioned critique of the deal here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why the Palin pick is still demoralising

She doesn't believe that human activities are causing global warming, she believes creationism should be taught in science classes and she has no pre-existing interest whatsoever in foreign affairs. That's just for starters. This nomination seems like a continuation of the glorification of incuriosity and trumpeting of faith over reason that started with Bush II.

McCain's bold pick

It's becoming very clear that by the end of the Democratic convention the McCain campaign decided that they could definitely not win the election on experience. The desire for change is too great. To win McCain needed to reclaim his maverick reputation, but could not do so by picking his preferred VP, Joe Lieberman, since that would enrage the Republican base, particularly on the issue of abortion (Lieberman is pro-choice).

As a result of this we will see much more talk of McCain the fighter, McCain the reformer and McCain the maverick. Without being a complete U-turn this emphasis should go a long way towards restoring his standing with independents, and Palin fits this picture almost perfectly.

But the Palin pick is brilliant because by choosing such a socially conservative reforming Republican as VP McCain has totally restored his connection to the base of the party while reinforcing his appeal to independents. The people who do all the hard work in the Republican campaign (many are conservative evangelicals) appear to have fallen head over heels in love with Palin. This guarantees a good Republican turn-out and an enthusiastically run campaign, something that the McCain campaign has conspicuously lacked so far. This appeal results from Palin's red-state just folks hockey-mum image and her evangelical Christian faith. The politics of abortion and the fact that Trig Palin has Downs syndrome are very far from being irrelevant here. (On the focus on Trig during the telecast of the speech see here.) Also relevant has been the strong tinge of elitism in the media reaction to Palin's background and qualifications. This allows her to portray her self as wronged by the liberal media. It helps that Palin is such a good speaker. She is a superstar already, 37.2 million people watched her speech, nearly as many as watched Obama.

It's remarkable that the one national issue on which she is well informed, drilling for oil, is one of McCain's best issues with the electorate. (Ironically she appears to favour windfall profit taxes for oil companies, like Obama.)

Finally of course there is the chance that disgruntled Hilary voters in the backblocks of states like Pennsylvania will want to see a woman in the executive rather than Obama.

When you look at it, it's really remarkable that there is anyone out there that could solve so many of the terrible problems the McCain campaign has been having.

On the other hand she will also be like a red rag to a bull for the Democratic base. Apparently Obama's campaign apparently made 8 million dollars in the 24 hours after Palin's speech.

The risk of bringing someone straight from a state of 600,000 into national presidential campaign remains breathtakingly high and could still backfire. It helps though that the overheated reaction to her nomination means that Palin will hardly ever have to do an interview or a press conference and will not need to have a good relationship with the press.

Whatever happens from here Palin's nomination and speech could well be as important to the Republican party as Obama's was to the Democrats in 2004. She will be a major feature of US politics for some time to come.

This campaign just got really interesting again.

Lets hear it for the Temuka RSA tearooms

I keep checking the government web pages for any further press release from Phil Goff on the uranium issue. Every time I do so I am struck by the fact that Goff was just in Temuka where he gave a speech on the occasion of the the 50th anniversary of the RSA tearooms there.

Sometimes it's just great to be a New Zealander!

The Group of Six Still Making Trouble in Vienna

The first day of the NSG meeting is now over. The Hindu has talked to diplomats representing countries opposed to the US-India uranium deal and the prospects for the deal do not appear bright.

The six countries holding out for tougher conditions to be written into the draft proposal granting India an exemption from the NSG's rules are Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland. But the coalition is a shifting one and the six are getting support from other countries on some of the demands they are making. At the same time, the number of countries pushing for approval of the exemption has also grown, say diplomats.

The biggest issue appears to be the requirement that any nuclear test by India would result in a cessation of uranium sales. Interestingly this may be most strongly opposed by the big uranium supplying nations (France and Russia for example) than by India itself.

Automatic cut-off of supplies in the event of India abandoning its moratorium on nuclear testing "has been our absolute bottom line from the beginning," said the diplomat, "and there is no question of it being dropped". At the same time, he conceded that more than India, it was the "big supplier nations" like Russia and France that were opposing automaticity of termination. "We know the U.S. is committed to terminating supplies [if India tests] but we don't want to leave the decision within the NSG to each individual PG [participating government]".

Eight is Enough

It's a commonplace observation now that the similarity of West Wing Presidential candidate Matthew Santos to Barack Obama is not a case of life immitating art but rather of art being modelled on life.

However I haven't seen anyone notice that the much commented-on line "Eight is Enough" in Obama's acceptance speech last week is taken from a fictional convention speech on the TV series. The Republican vice-presidential candidate uses it in his own convention speech to attempt to tie Santos to the two-term Democratic President Bartlett. This corny appeal to the family entertainment seventies TV show causes Josh Lyman to loose his cool in a bar.

Presumably this is Obama's speechwriters having a little fun with us?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Contrary view on US-India uranium deal

The New York Times editorial has prompted a response from the Times of India, putting the case for the waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group to go ahead.

Realistically speaking, what a ban on nuclear trade with India would achieve is keeping it out of the loop on civilian nuclear technology. That means it'll have to rely primarily on coal-fired plants to meet the electricity needs of an expanding economy, increasing the stock of greenhouse gas emissions. Bringing India into the non-proliferation tent, on the other hand, has its advantages. It's a democratic and transparent country that can't be placed on the same footing as, say, North Korea. That's why Japan, whose non-proliferation credentials can't be doubted, is now in favour of granting India an NSG waiver. So are France, the UK, Russia and the US. Important countries like New Zealand, Ireland and Austria should follow.

Good to hear that we are an "important country"!

Contrary to my misapprehension yesterday it seems that New Zealand and Austria are not satisfied with the new draft agreement being circulated to NSG member. Not only this but China, which had previously acquiesced to the deal is now voicing doubts. (Somewhat cynically given its own record on proliferation issues.) (Times of India, Economic Times.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Second Nuclear Suppliers Group Meeting this Week

The second meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group will be this week. A revised draft of the proposed agreement on supplying uranium to India's civilian nuclear power industry is currently being circulated.

After weeks of following this closely I am beaten to the New York Times editorial supporting New Zealand's stand by Russell Brown. It's definitely worth a read.

I am unsure how Goff's leadership on this issue would be affected by an early dissolution of Parliament. It might be interesting to know what National's position on this issue is.

Update: one comment removed, I had failed to read news report carefully.