Jan 29, 2013

It's time to return to some core values | The Australian


THE primary purpose of democratic government is to secure its people's freedom. This is a forgotten truth.
Governments should secure freedom by protecting borders, making streets safe, commerce trusted and merit respected.
Australia is one of the world's treasured democracies. It should always fight on the side of democracy, but never against a democracy. It should vigorously recruit new citizens, but never accept those who are unwilling to play by its rules.
In recent decades, government has not so much civilised capital as derailed it. It has not failed to offer protection to the poor so much as smothered and pandered the non-poor. It has made too many a client of government. They are the poorer for it.
The High Court has taken it upon itself to invent threats to rights, for example, to free speech, where none existed. Governments have appointed commissioners to tell Australians how to behave: they were never asked to do so. Above all, government must never tell Australians how to think or to speak. Australia must remain a vigorous democracy.
There is an unwritten contract between a government and its electors. Government should be a backstop only for those in need, an umpire for those in conflict. But it should never offer to solve problems that government cannot hope to solve.
Most Australians do not need the assistance of government, but where they do it should be available within a capacity to pay. In return for assistance, each person has an obligation to contribute at all times, either by paying tax or fulfilling obligations. Mutual obligation is strong civil glue. Whether original inhabitants or the last person in the door, the rules are the same, the obligations are the same.
Business does not need government help to create wealth. Every business program and every regulation that prevents wealth creation should be abolished.
I agree with the Productivity Commission, there is still a long "to do" list to achieve Australia's full productive potential. The market system creates and destroys businesses every day. The government's duty is not to protect business, but to enhance the skills and mobility of workers to jump to new opportunities.
Civil society, for the most part charities, does not need government help. Charities preceded the formation of the welfare state, but in recent years charities have spent too much time lobbying government for a bigger welfare state.
Charities spend too little time being charitable. Too much of the taxpayer dollar flows to the charity, too little to the donor and the recipient. I would go further than the Community Council of Australia: all tax concessions should go to the donor, not the charity. Charities should inform donors how their money is spent.
The commonwealth is built on competing jurisdictions. Australian governments have smothered the best of competitive federalism in a blanket of bribes. Australia needs a more vigorous federation. States should run schools and hospitals without federal interference. These are not the business of the federal government.
Because the commonwealth does not administer schools and hospitals, it has no practical advice to give. The commonwealth has accumulated powers that it may be reluctant to give up. But these powers have purchased interference, not solutions. Different ways of delivering education or health are not bad. Indeed, states constantly look to their fellow states for advice.
The commonwealth can raise money for services, on behalf of the states. On an agreed basis, federal taxation dollars should be distributed to the states as a right. Discussion about constitutional change is a waste of time.
Only the politicians can solve the problems created by smothering and uncompetitive federalism. Only the politicians can remake the federation so as to advantage both the national economy and the services that are best delivered as locally as possible.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to give citizens the chance to vote on whether to stay in or leave the EU. He did so not because he wants to leave the EU, but because he wants EU bureaucrats off the backs of Britons.
For Cameron, the European Union is a "means to an end . . . not an end in itself". So, too, is Canberra a means to an end. The federal government should not be used as everyone's backstop.
Canberra has become synonymous with handouts. The federal government has overreached. It cannot keep its hands off our lives and our livelihoods.
The federal government should make all funds transfers to the states transparent, all services outcomes measurable in comparable terms, but it should deliver none. It should act as record keeper and umpire, not as a player.
A competitive and reinvigorated federal compact can create a national unity for individual freedom and vigorous diversity.
This I pledge.

Jan 24, 2013

Samba 4 review: No substitute for Active Directory -- yet - Computerworld


Samba 4.0 is a milestone release that brings Active Directory functionality to the open source SMB/CIFS (Server Message Block/Common Internet File System) file and print server. Samba 4.0 can serve as an Active Directory Domain Controller, provide DNS services, handle Kerberos-based authentication, and administer group policy. The Samba 4.0 Domain Controller can even be managed using the native Windows Active Directory admin tools.
However, there are restrictions in this release -- mainly issues with file replication -- that limit the number of Domain Controllers you can join to only a single domain. Support for cross-forest trusts and multiple domain controllers is still to come. When that support arrives, Samba will be truly useful as an Active Directory replacement. Until then, the Domain Controller functionality is suitable mainly for testing. Not many environments can make good use of a single domain controller.
Beyond file and print servicesSMB is the protocol behind all network file communication used natively by Windows Server and Windows clients; it's also known as CIFS. Support for SMB/CIFS on other operating systems has primarily come from the Samba project. Samba started back in 1992 as a way to connect Unix and Linux machines to Microsoft's LAN Manager network operating system. It's provided the plumbing necessary for Unix and Linux machines to connect to Microsoft networks ever since.
The most common use of Samba is still in the client role, but that has changed along the way with the ability to provide file and print services to Unix and Linux clients, as well as systems running various versions of Windows.
Samba has maintained a solid capability as a file server and client but has never had the ability to function as an Active Directory Domain Controller until now. Samba 4.0 has been under development for quite a long time, and the Domain Controller functionality has been available in beta form during the later stages prior to release. Samba 4.0 delivers a stable release of this new capability but in a severely limited form.
For Samba 4.0 to be useful in large and multisite environments -- the sort that rely on Active Directory -- it will need to support cross-forest trusts and multiple domain controllers. Support for multiple domain controllers requires directory and file system replication to maintain the user database and the sysvol and netlogon shares. (The sysvol share stores the Group Policy Template along with other system templates and scripts, and the netlogon share contains system-wide logon scripts for the likes of assigning home directories and updating virus definitions.) Directory replication works reliably in this release, but the file system replication piece remains under development.

Samba 4.0 installation and setupThere are a number of ways to get Samba 4.0 installed, depending on your system and how you want to go about testing. You can download the latest release in gzip form and install it yourself. TheSamba Wiki has a complete how-to detailing the process step by step. For popular distributions such as Ubuntu, there are packages available for installing using the normal methods. From a terminal window in Ubuntu 12.10, you can simply type:
apt-get install samba4
For the purposes of this review I downloaded the Excellent Samba4 Appliance, a ready-made virtual appliance based on SLES 11 SP2 64-bit and Samba4 Stable 4.0.0. The Excellent Samba4 Appliance virtual machine is available in the OVF format; in a VMware image that will work with VMware, VirtualBox, or KVM; and in a VHD file for use with Microsoft's Hyper-V. I chose the VHD file and installed it on an HP ProLiant DL385 G7 server running Windows Server 2012.
You must run a script to initialize a number of settings (IP address, domain name, admin account name, and so on) before you can actually start the Samba Domain Controller. Once you've entered the required information, the script (dcpromo.sh) will configure the appropriate DNS settings and create default DNS records. DNS is a requirement for Active Directory and must be running to enable client machines to connect to the domain.
Configuring an Active Directory domain in Samba is straightforward, though not as easy as in Windows Server. It's a much easier process on native Windows as the pieces come with Windows Server and you don't have to download anything. Many of the configuration tasks are handled in Windows Server 2012 with wizards.
Managing the Samba Domain ControllerWith your Samba Domain Controller up and running, you can use the standard Windows Active Directory administration tools to manage computers and users. The Excellent virtual appliance provides the 32-bit installer for Windows XP and Windows 7 in the /srv/www/htdocs directory. (If your Samba distribution doesn't include them, the tools are freely available from Microsoft's website.) You can get to the files on the Excellent Samba4 Appliance by opening a Web browser and entering the IP address of the appliance. It will present a list of files that you can then right-click on and save or run.
Microsoft's administration tools come in the form of an .msu file, which will add options to the "Turn Windows features on or off" area of your Windows client machine's Control Panel. Once the installer finishes, you'll have to open Control Panel, find Programs and Features, choose "Turn Windows features on or off," then navigate to the Role Administration Tools section (see Figure 1). From there, expand the AD DS Tools section and choose the AD DS Snap-ins and Command-line Tools. Note that the Active Directory Administrative Center requires Active Directory Web Services, which Samba 4 does not support. If you want to use PowerShell, you should check Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell as well.
Figure 1: From the Role Administration Tools section of the Control Panel on your Windows client machine, expand the AD DS Tools section and choose the AD DS Snap-ins and Command-line Tools.
PowerShell offers a number of built-in features to query and manage an Active Directory installation. Choosing to install the Active Directory Module makes these AD-specific commands readily available at the PowerShell command line. As an example, the dsquery command will return a wide range of information about the directory including computers, groups, servers, and users. There are also command-line tools such as dsadd, dsmove, and dsrm for adding, moving, and removing objects, and plenty more. Help is available for any of the commands by typing the command followed by /? at the command line.
One of the other big uses for Active Directory is in the area of GPO (group policy objects) and permissions. Samba 4.0 fully supports GPO settings for both computers and users. Group policy is especially useful for such capabilities as blocking access to Control Panel on a Windows machine so that normal users can't alter settings or install software. When you create a group policy, it is tied to a specific OU (organizational unit). Once set it applies to all computers or users in that OU.
The Microsoft Group Policy Management Editor provides the means to create or edit a group policy that will be attached to a specific domain. Figure 2 shows the GP Demo policy for the Linux.tstsamba.com domain and the default rules. You can restrict specific pieces of Control Panel such as the Add or Remove Programs feature, or choose to prohibit access to the Control Panel altogether.
Figure 2: Viewing the GP Demo group policy through the Microsoft Group Policy Management Editor.
Another management option is Webmin. This freely available tool installs on the system running the Samba 4 server and provides a Web-based interface to manage a wide range of internal server settings (add administrators and users, create new file shares, share printers, allow and deny hosts) and software. I was able to get it running on the Samba 4 appliance with just a few minor tweaks to the configuration settings. Figure 3 shows the Webmin Samba module, which includes an icon labeled SWAT (Samba Web Administration Tool). This is the native Samba management tool (see Figure 4), which handles all of the traditional Samba user administration and server settings.
In short, Samba does not yet offer GUI tools for managing the Domain Controller or GPO settings from Unix or Linux, but there are Python-based hooks into the internals of Samba 4 that should make these easy to build.
Figure 3: The Webmin GUI on Samba (above) and Figure 4: The native Samba Web Admin Tool (below).
The bottom lineSamba 4.0 is definitely a zero point release, meaning it still has some growing and maturing to do. It is a good first step in providing a completely open source solution that mirrors much of Microsoft's Active Directory core functionality. Although the Domain Controller in Samba 4.0 appears to be stable, the single-domain limitation currently restricts it to small deployments. An obvious use case would be in education and training, where Samba 4.0 would provide a good platform for teaching domain administration. But in the real world, most small workgroups for which the Samba Domain Controller is suited will choose to do without.
On the plus side, there are new Python-based programmability features in Samba 4.0 that could prove useful to anyone looking for a way to either expand or more fully utilize the Samba 4 server functionality. PowerShell provides another avenue to script actions against a Samba Domain Controller.
The bottom line: Samba 4.0 is definitely early code and not enterprise-ready yet. As it matures, it will present an interesting option to larger organizations that rely on multiple Active Directory domains. If the Samba team meets its goal of a 9-month release cycle, we can hope to see a more scalable and useful version by late summer or early fall.

Cisco virtual desktop users to get access to Jabber HD voice and video - Computerworld


Users of Cisco's virtual desktop system will soon be able to engage in voice and video communications with their colleagues using the Jabber instant messaging tool.
Previously, Cisco virtual desktop users could tap into Jabber's IM text communications and presence capabilities, but a newly developed software component will make it possible for them to also do high-definition voice calls and video conferencing.
In this way, users will get an expanded set of capabilities to collaborate at work, acccording to Phil Sherburne, vice president of Enterprise Smart Solutions Engineering at Cisco.
The new software component is called Virtualization Experience Media Engine (VXME) and it extends the Jabber capabilities within Cisco's Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) Smart Solution desktop virtualization system, Cisco said on Thursday.
The expanded Jabber features for VXI systems will be first available for Cisco's own Virtualization Experience Client (VXC) 6215 thin client in March, followed later in this year's first half by Dell Wyse's Z50D thin client and Windows PCs and thin clients.
The VXME software uses computing and processing resources of the user's desktop device, and it also makes the VXI system network aware of desktop device's voice and video traffic, according to Cisco.
Cisco also announced on Thursday that Logitech and Jabra plan to release new accessories for Cisco virtual desktop users in March, including a keyboard, mouse and webcam from Logitech and a Jabra handset.

Jan 17, 2013

Wanted: Weapons of mass financial destruction


What are the world's most dangerous financial products?  Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament is on a mission to find them and stamp them out.

The European lawmaker has launched a competition with two non-governmental groups, to find the next financial product - such as subprime mortgage or collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) - that could unleash turmoil on the financial world.

"Financial products can be dangerous in several ways," said Giegold. "They might be intransparent for investors, investing in harmful technologies or products, causing systemic risks or are unnecessarily complex."
Although there is no prize for the winner, Giegold hopes the competition will spur supervisors and regulators into taking more action, such as banning certain high-risk products.
Although many of the riskiest and most complex products, such as multi-tiered synthetic CDOs, unravelled five years ago when the financial crisis first struck, the shockwaves from products such as underperforming pensions and mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI) are still being felt.
"Today's low interest rates provide a fertile ground to sell unsuitably complex financial products to investors looking for excess return," said Frederic Hache, a former banker who sold structured products and now works for Finance Watch, a public-interest group that seeks to shape regulation.
"Much remains to be done to curb unnecessary complexity in product design."
Those concerns were echoed by Paul De Grauwe, an economist with the London School of Economics and one of the most influential voices in assessing Europe's sovereign debt crisis.
"There is lots more regulation for sure but the banking model has not changed much," he said. "Banks continue to develop highly intransparent products."
The competition, which closes on Feb. 15, will accept proposals on its website.


Jan 13, 2013

ECB Damps Talk of New Stimulus - WSJ.com


A united European Central Bank sent a strong signal that it is unlikely to cut interest rates despite economic contraction and record unemployment, suggesting the euro-zone economy must find its own footing without additional help from the central bank.
At his monthly news conference, ECB President Mario Draghi stopped short of declaring an end to the euro bloc's three-year-old debt crisis or even that the worst has passed, saying "it's too early" to claim success or weigh an exit from its lending to banks and other existing policies.
"We are now back in a normal situation from a financial viewpoint, but we are not seeing an early and strong recovery," he said.
Associated Press
ECB President Mario Draghi unveils the new €5 banknote at Frankfurt's Archaeological Museum Thursday, saying the aim is to keep the notes' security 'state of the art.'
Mr. Draghi's more-upbeat tone compared with recent months spurred sharp rally in the euro against the U.S. dollar, as expectations for further ECB monetary stimulus, which tends to weaken a currency, faded.
"Economic activity should gradually recover" in 2013 due in part to "considerable" improvement in financial markets, Mr. Draghi said.
Officials voted unanimously to leave their key lending rate at a record-low 0.75% and announced no new stimulus measures.
One month ago, Mr. Draghi said there had been a "wide discussion" and "prevailing consensus" on interest rates, suggesting some members favored a cut in December.
Thursday's decision "implies there was no request for a rate cut," Mr. Draghi said. He ticked off a number of positive developments in the past six months: lower bond yields; renewed capital inflows; rising bank deposits in Southern Europe; and improvement in sentiment measures.
"His message was very clear: do not expect more stimulus from us," said Christian Schulz, economist at Berenberg Bank.
Gross domestic product has failed to expand in the euro zone since the third quarter of 2011. It is expected by economists to have declined sharply in the fourth quarter with the region's largest economy, Germany—which has so far withstood the three-year-old debt crisis with strong growth—sliding into contraction.

Global Rates

Rate changes since 2004 in dozens of countries.
But Mr. Draghi said the improved health of financial markets "should work its way through to the economy" and that global demand should strengthen, boosting exports.
In September, the ECB unveiled an open-ended bond-purchase program to reduce borrowing costs in Spain and other at-risk countries. Though the facility has yet to be used—governments must first seek assistance from Europe's bailout funds to qualify—the mere presence of an ECB backstop has brought Spanish and Italian bond yields down markedly since the summer and spurred a rally in equity markets.
Mr. Draghi has said the effects of the bond-purchase plan on markets were more powerful that rate cuts could have achieved.
Spanish bond yields fell to a 10-month low Thursday after the government sold nearly €6 billion ($7.8 billion) of bonds, a larger amount than had been expected. That pushed the yield on the 10-year bond below 5% for the first time since March.
The hope is that lower government-bond yields will translate into reduced borrowing costs for households and businesses, fueling new spending, investment and hiring. Yet there is little evidence outside of business surveys that the improvement in financial markets is spurring renewed activity in Southern Europe.
The euro zone's unemployment rate rose to a record 11.8% in November, and there are deep divisions within the 17-member currency bloc. Spain's unemployment rate is 26.6%, compared with 5.4% in Germany. Nearly 60% of Spanish youths are without work, compared with 8% in Germany.
There is little the ECB can do to bring these rates into better balance, Mr. Draghi said, noting that the ECB's sole mandate is to keep inflation low. Labor-market policies that protect older workers have forced young people to bear the brunt of the adjustment to weaker economic growth, he said, while a lack of mobility has prevented workers in struggling countries from seeking work elsewhere in the euro zone.
"Monetary policy cannot do much about that," he said.
Despite having interest rates at record lows, the ECB has refrained from the types of aggressive measures other central banks are taking to safeguard their economies. The Federal Reserve is buying mortgage bonds to bring unemployment down. The Bank of Japan is buying large amounts of assets, including government bonds and real-estate investment funds. Switzerland's central bank has purchased currencies of other countries in order to hold down the level of the Swiss franc.
The result of such expansionary policies is often a weaker currency, which provides a boost to exports. Mr. Draghi signaled that while the euro's exchange rate is important for growth and inflation, the ECB won't take any steps designed to cheapen the euro.
The exchange rate "isn't a policy target," he said.

Greens politicians make up their own rules on breaking the law | thetelegraph.com.au


IT'S commonly called the Golden Rule, or the principle of reciprocity, and a variation of it is found across almost all forms of religion. In modern English, it's usually shortened to "do unto others".
And it's something that the Greens just don't seem to understand.
The latest example of the Greens' questionable political ethics is their enthusiastic endorsement of a fraudulent media release purporting to be from the ANZ Bank.
The fake media release related to an Australian coal mining company, Whitehaven Coal. It caused a mild panic on the stock market, and led to Whitehaven Coal shares plunging by about $300 million.
The share price recovered, but not before many investors had been burned - including superannuation companies who invest the retirement savings of millions of Australians.
ASIC is now investigating and criminal charges may be laid.
But regardless of whether it was illegal, it was unethical - if you accept the Golden Rule of treating others as we wish others to treat us.
The Greens, however, have no qualms about the ethics of making and releasing forged documents.
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon congratulated the forger on Twitter.
Greens leader Senator Christine Milne went further, claiming that the forgery was "part of a long and proud history of civil disobedience, potentially breaking the law, to highlight something wrong".
The Greens' communications director, Tim Hollo, described the forgery on social media as a "clever act" and "hugely successful".
For the Greens, the Golden Rule of ethical behaviour seems to be "the ends justify the means". Or in other words, "committing a crime is OK if it's for a cause that we support".
I wonder what Mr Hollo, or his boss Senator Milne, would think if a fake Greens media release was distributed during the election campaign announcing, for example, that the Greens supported reintroduction of the death penalty for "climate criminals".
What if it caused Greens supporters to change their vote?
Would they support the right to distribute fake media releases if they were the victims of the forgery?
I am wholeheartedly supportive of people campaigning for causes they believe in.
I admire people who stand up for their principles.
But I do not believe that the ends always justify the means.
I would be horrified if my union, the AWU, was misrepresented in a fraudulent media release, and I would never endorse fake media statements as a legitimate campaign tactic.
The Greens not only have a problem with ethics, they also have a problem with perspective.
A few weeks ago the leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Nick McKim, defended the rights of environmental protesters to break the law.
He described protesters who disrupted local timber mills as successors to the suffragettes, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Seriously.
Of course, the union movement has a long and proud history of activism, and at times we have resorted to acts of civil disobedience.
After all, it was the union movement that initiated the Green Bans which saved historic buildings and parks in and around Sydney.
But the law is there for a reason, and it should be respected. It is hardly appropriate for our parliamentary law-makers to be telling people that it's OK to break the law.
Despite what the Greens think, they are not above the law, and nor should they be.
Given their disregard for the welfare of others, and their disregard for the Golden Rule, the law is the only thing that will stop the Greens from causing more malicious damage to people and to communities.

Jan 10, 2013

: NASA U-turn Admits Global Warming Bias on Sun’s Key Role


The astonishing NASA announcement comes in the wake of a compelling new study just published titled, “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate.” One of the participants, Greg Kopp of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, overturned mainstream climate science thinking by declaring even slight changes in solar output have a considerable impact on climate. Kopp conceded, "Even typical short term variations of 0.1% in incident irradiance exceed all other energy sources (such as natural radioactivity in Earth's core) combined."
The full report by Dr. Tony Phillips  is available from the National Academies Press. The news story reveals NASA’supper management was barred from stopping climate activist, James Hansen, head of NASA’s research on climate, from promoting a political agenda. The NASA climate retreat signals that a paradigm shift is now in full swing and the discredited claims of man-made global warming alarmists are being tossed aside at the highest levels of government.
Popular skeptic climatologist, Dr. Tim Ball was overjoyed at the news, ”Finally, NASA seem to have broken free of the “settled science” that the IPCC imposed. Climate science was effectively frozen for thirty years and NASA are now getting back to where they were in the 1970s. The last valuable contribution they made was Herman and Goldberg’s, “Sun, Weather and Climate”, in 1978.”
Of great satisfaction to Dr. Ball was the opening third paragraph that conceded:
“Understanding the sun-climate connection requires a breadth of expertise in fields such as plasma physics, solar activity, atmospheric chemistry and fluid dynamics, energetic particle physics, and even terrestrial history. No single researcher has the full range of knowledge required to solve the problem. To make progress, the NRC had to assemble dozens of experts from many fields at a single workshop.”
For years Dr. Ball has championed the view that climatology is a generalist discipline that requires specialist feedback from numerous and otherwise disparate fields of science, something a secretive and controversial clique of researchers refused to accept. As chairman of Principia Scientific International (PSI) Ball has been instrumental in helping to build a team of almost 200 experts from relevant fields specifically to address facts that the climate science community was either ill-equipped or unwilling to examine. 
Privately, Ball has been kept in the know from influential quarters. He reveals, The information about higher ups came to me directly from a very reliable and knowledgeable management source when I was at the Heartland Conference in Washington. We had a long discussion after I signed a copy of the 'Slayers' book for the person.“
Now widely accepted as a key player in these 'climate wars' Dr. Ball has defended high-profile libel suits filed by two big hitters from the UN's global warming cadre, Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. Andrew Weaver. Ball recalls, “It was an article about this scientific block by IPCC that triggered the first of my current lawsuits.” (article link).
Ball believes this latest NASA publication marks the breaking of the control Hansen had over climate research at the U.S. space agency. “The comments of Hansen’s boss indicate the degree of political power Hansen had as a bureaucrat,” adds Ball. As he has written before, Ball has shown that the evidence is stacking up proving that Hansen was "out of control" and what he has been doing publicly and politically probably should have been censured, even prosecuted under the Hatch Act.
Ball notes, “I understand that upper management were advised by much higher authority not to touch Hansen. When you look at the manipulations used by Senator Wirth for his appearance before Al Gore’s committee it is not surprising.” This is a reference to Wirth's own admission that theatricality was used to unduly influence a key U.S. committee investigating global warming in the 1980's.
To Ball this article may be a small break through scientifically, but its political implications are profound. “Put this with the revisions at the UK Met Office, and it marks an even greater shift." The question now is: can the mainstream media be far behind? They will all want to be on the winning side, especially if it affects funding and credibility.
Ironically, Ball believes some of the scientists will have more trouble adjusting. This will particularly apply to those scientists who also hold the political view of those who hijacked climate science for a political agenda. PSI’s most senior fellow adds:
“I think NASA and others who let themselves be bullied must be held accountable. I remember in Winnipeg three Environment Canada employees telling me after a presentation that they agreed with me but would lose their jobs if they spoke out. I used to have sympathy for this position – not any more. It is precisely this type of coercion that must be countered at all levels. Why is there need for a whistleblower law in a supposedly open and democratic society.”
Perhaps this incredible change of heart from NASA may even prompt the person(s) who leaked the emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to finally reveal themselves.

Is Diane Ravitch the Cassandra of school reform? | History News Network


In the spring and summer of 1965, as U.S. policymakers debated whether to send large numbers of U.S. ground troops to Vietnam to ensure that the South Vietnamese government not collapse, a longtime Washington insider named George Ball issued a fierce warning that the policy being recommended would be disastrous. Declaring that the conflict in Vietnam was a “civil war among Asians,” not a front of a global struggle against communism, Ball warned that sending U.S. ground troops lead would lead to national humiliation no matter how large the force sent or the technological advantage it possessed because it would cement the character of the war, from the Vietnamese side, as a struggle against a foreign invader. Ball’s advice needless to say, was disregarded, and the result was exactly as he predicted -- a humiliating defeat for the U.S. which extracted a terrifying toll in deaths and ecological damage on the Vietnamese people
In our time, a bipartisan initiative of equal import, though less immediately destructive consequences, a movement to revitalize public education in the U.S. and eliminate racial and economic gaps in educational performance, has prompted an equally momentous dissent from a Washington insider, this time in the person of a education scholar, Dr. Diane Ravitch. An undersecretary of education in the first Bush administration and an initial supporter of landmark “ No Child Left Behind” legislation, Ravitch became convinced that the fundamental assumption that undergirded bipartisan "Education Reform," that the “achievement gap” between black and Latino students on the one hand and white and Asian students on the other was caused by “bad teachers” and recalcitrant teachers unions rather than entrenched poverty, would lead to policy recommendations that would demoralize teachers, destabilize the nation’s public school system, profession, encourage privatization and profiteering and, in the long run, increase performance gaps between racial and economic groups.
As with George Ball before her, Dr. Ravitch’s recommendations were systematically ignored not only by second Bush administration, but also its successor under Barack Obama. And as with George Ball, her warnings are proving to be eerily prophetic. All over the nation, policies are being implemented which are leading to demoralization of teachers, to closing of schools which honorably served communities for generations, to the marginalization of special needs and ELL students, to testing scandals in high needs schools and districts, and to an uncontrolled proliferation of tests that has put profits in the pockets of test companies, while pushing aside science, history and the arts, and making a growing number of students hate going to school.
The question is not whether these policies -- an odd mixture of privatization, universal testing, and teacher/school accountability based on student test scores -- will be effective in reducing the impact of poverty on educational performance. The question is how much damage will be done before a critical portion of the public, the media, and the nation’s political leadership realizes how counterproductive these policies are.
If Vietnam is any precedent, such a “national wake-up call” on educational policy could be quite long in coming, and the damage inflicted immense. And as with Vietnam, only massive protest and civil disobedience will be able to stop the policy in its tracks.

Swan searches for a surplus strategy | The Australian


Lobbecke
Illustration: Eric Lobbecke Source: The Australian
WHEN Wayne Swan promised in the 2010 budget to reach a surplus three years ahead of the 2015-16 schedule, it was partly to impose discipline on his colleagues at the beginning of an election year.
With that promise now abandoned, the government has entered the 2013 election year with no budget strategy at all. Julia Gillard's office is under pressure from both spending ministers and backbenchers to relax the restraints demanding new spending measures be matched by savings.
With the government still lagging in the polls, there is pressure for some pre-election spending.
The argument is that the Coalition will slam Labor for running a deficit anyway, so it might as well run a bigger one and gain some votes with new spending that reflects "Labor values".
The Coalition showed in 2010 it was prepared to bid for votes with a big-spending election campaign and is likely to do so again. The spending sirens say Labor would gain little politically from donning a budgetary hairshirt.
The Treasurer promised to revisit the budget strategy early in the new year while declaring the government would continue to exercise restraint in its spending.
However there is at present no articulated path for returning the budget to surplus. The status of Swan's own guidelines - including that the budget would return to surplus once the economy was growing at its long-term trend rate - is unknown.
The government's financial position has improved since the end of the year, thanks to an unexpected surge in iron ore prices, which will lift mining profits and company taxes. But the true state of the budget is hard to gauge in the wake of the massive financial engineering undertaken in the lost cause of reaching the budget surplus target.
Since the second half of 2011, the budget bottom line has been boosted by more than $10 billion as a result of shuffling of spending out and of revenue into the current financial year.
For example, $2.7bn in carbon tax compensation was pulled back from 2012-13 into 2011-12, as was $1.4bn in infrastructure spending, $1.1bn in infrastructure grants and $1.4bn in Queensland disaster compensation. Changes to accounting practice for the Future Fund added $417 million to 2012-3 revenue, while about $650m came from raids on "lost" superannuation accounts and unclaimed money.
To get a sense of the scale of this budget window-dressing, the funds involved would be sufficient to cover the salaries of 100,000 public servants if real money were involved.
The latest mid-year budget update showed Treasury has real doubts about whether a surplus could be met in the next financial year either.
A clawing forward of company tax payments was calculated to add $5.5bn to the 2013-14 budget bottom line.
While there have been some genuine savings, such as curtailing the baby bonus and tightening eligibility for family tax benefits and sole parent benefits, they are small relative to the budget "enhancements" that serve no economic purpose whatsoever.
The government cannot simply come out with a new date for achieving a surplus. After the countless avowals of a return to surplus this year, any arbitrary date would carry no credibility.
What is needed is greater clarity about the true budget position and the steps the government will take to eliminate its deficits. Following his promised budget strategy review, Swan needs to make a statement that addresses this.
The Business Council of Australia, among others, has argued that stronger budget rules are needed. The BCA argues that the present limit on tax as a share of gross domestic product should be made a "hard cap". It has not spelled out how this would be achieved, but other countries have put budget rules into legislation.
The council also wants firm targets set for the level of budget surplus to be achieved so that a reserve, equivalent to 3 per cent of GDP, is accumulated to deal with economic downturns.
International Monetary Fund research says the use of rules is associated with improved budget performance, although it found that many countries abandoned their rules when the global financial crisis hit.
The idea behind budget rules is that politicians cannot be trusted to impose their own discipline without them.
Each interest group pushes their minister to press for higher spending without regard for the broader effect of all ministers doing so.
The IMF notes, however, that budget rules can both reduce the ability of a nation to respond to financial crises and risk "undermining transparency due to incentives for creative accounting".
Strengthening the rules in legislation would increase those incentives.
Ideally, budget rules and targets should be an expression of government policy, not a constraint upon it.
The use of financial sleight of hand to meet budget targets should be as pointless as cheating at patience.
Good budgeting is not about compliance with rules and targets. It is about ensuring the government's finances are sound in both the short and long term, recognising that taxation is a burden on the economy that should be lightened as much as possible. Truth in budgeting should be the first principle.
The best reassurance the government could give to its budget credibility would be to boost the resources of the new Parliamentary Budget Office, empowering it to prepare independent budget estimates as does the Congressional Budget Office in the US and the Institute of Fiscal Studies in Britain.
The PBO is presently barred from producing an alternative budget or from generating its own forecasts.
It would be a statement that the government has sufficient faith in its budget bona fides that it is happy to expose them to independent scrutiny.

Jan 4, 2013

Jobless priced out of market | The Australian


WITH all the outcry over whether people can live on $35 a day, the simple facts are that to live on such an amount, and also to suffer the daily indignity of having no job, cruels the fabric of our nation.
But wringing our hands and paying them more will not achieve anything but slightly higher payments for people who are being cut out of the opportunities a nation as rich as Australia should be able to provide. Increasing the payment is kicking the can up the road. The real issue is that in an increasingly globalised economy there are no jobs that breach the gap between the $35 a day or $246 per week and the $606 per week that the minimum wage demands.
Employers are not just weighing the direct cost of the $606 a week but increasingly more rigid working relationships, along with increasing daily on-costs for employing staff. To calculate the true cost of employment you have to start with the minimum wage and add 5 per cent for payroll tax, 9 per cent (soon to be 12 per cent) for superannuation, Workcover insurance of 2-3 per cent and provision for training, sick leave and annual leave.
Add to this a litigant environment where all sins are directly slated home to the employer, and it is little wonder the long-term unemployed struggle to find a job - the ratio of risk to reward for the potential job provider is not there. With a 25 per cent on-cost for casuals and 25 per cent more for the on-costs outlined above, the cost of employing a casual long-term unemployed person is more than $900 a week, or nearly 350 per cent more than Newstart.
This is not just bad news for the employer, it is terrible news for the unemployed, for the generational unemployment that now starts to dog our nation and for the cost of living of all Australians.
We are simply avoiding the real question of why these people can't find work - and many genuinely can't - and instead simply taxing a bit more those who do have jobs, to maintain those who don't in relatively less discomfort.
We need to find the political will, and some bipartisanship if necessary, so our economy can survive in the globalised economy, provide jobs and reward for effort and above all dignity to those wanting jobs who are priced out of having a fair go.
The first comment of almost every person who comes back from overseas is: "Wow, things were cheap overseas."
Higher prices here are largely the result of our deliberately increasing the input costs of almost everything we do, so is it any wonder our manufacturing jobs are going offshore? By making Australian goods cost more we are making the Australian cost of living higher and guess who are hurt most by that - the $35 a day people who are not allowed to work.
No amount of hand-wringing and talking about the "cost of living" is going to help any Australian, least of all those who need a hand up most, unless we talk about increasing productivity.
Simply placing supply-side price restrictions on Australian labour will export jobs offshore that could otherwise be done perfectly well here.
So while we pay people to do nothing we import goods and services from those who are now priced into doing the jobs that Australians can no longer be employed to do.
This sees our nation lose, most of all those who are now deemed too old, or too young or too long unemployed, to be given a fair go.