Organ Donation

The Guardian has a really interesting article on organ donation which interviews everyone involved in the donor trail, from the mother who chose to donate her son’s organs, to the recipient, the transplant surgeon and on up to the top transplant person in the Department of Health.

It’s an enlightening read, revealing all sides of the debate on increasing the availability of organs for transplant, which is currently going on in the UK. The government is in favour of an opt-out system where you are assumed by default to be an organ donor unless you specifically choose not to be, though that has the potential to be extremely hard on grieving family members.

A preferable system, which gets a mention in the article, is the one employed here in Australia. When you apply for, or renew, a driving licence, you are given the option of ticking a box assenting to the donation of your organs. You’re also given the option of choosing to only donate certain organs.

Ticking this box results in your licence stating that you are an organ donor, and is legally binding in the event of your death, overriding the wishes of your family. It seems a far more sensible solution as the wishes of the deceased are upheld, which is infinitely preferable than having a bureaucratic decision foist upon a grieving family.

I ticked the box. Might as well, I certainly won’t be needing my organs after death.

Nice One Kev!

Australia has switched its position and voted against Israel on two resolutions which it had previously supported. Howard spent his term voting in lockstep with the US, but some common sense has now prevailed and we are starting to take a more principled stand.

In the weekend vote in New York, Australia supported a resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing settlements in the Palestinian territories and a resolution calling for the Geneva Conventions to apply in the Palestinian territories.

The resolutions on the Middle East peace process are held annually and the Howard government had backed both from 1996 to 2002 but in 2003 began to vote against or abstain. It was a move that aligned Australia with only the US, Israel, the US Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Micronesia and put the country at odds with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and France.

Australian officials told the UN the Government had changed its position because it supported a two-state resolution of the conflict to deliver a secure Israel living beside a viable Palestinian state and that Australia believed both sides should abide by their obligations under the Road Map for Peace.

Seymour Hersh

The Guardian has a piece on Seymour Hersh in which he intimates that there’s a whole can of worms waiting to be exposed once Bush leaves office…

A Democrat who truly despises the Bush regime, he is reluctant to make predictions about exactly what is going to happen in the forthcoming election on the grounds that he might ‘jinx it’. The unknown quantity of voter racism apart, however, he is hopeful that Obama will pull it off, and if he does, for Hersh this will be a starting gun. ‘You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on 20 January [the date of the next president’s inauguration],’ he says, with relish. ‘[They say:] “You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then.” So that is what I’ll do, so long as nothing awful happens before the inauguration.’ He plans to write a book about the neocons and, though it won’t change anything - ‘They’ve got away with it, categorically; anyone who talks about prosecuting Bush and Cheney [for war crimes] is kidding themselves’ - it will reveal how the White House ‘set out to sabotage the system… It wasn’t that they found ways to manipulate Congressional oversight; they had conversations about ending the right of Congress to intervene.’

Should be interesting.

A Bit Late Now

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s ousted Prime Minister, has given an interview to an Israeli newspaper in which he admits that, in order for there to be a lasting peace with Palestinians, Israel will have to withdraw from almost all the Occupied Territories, and will have to concede to a split of Jerusalem.

We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories,” Olmert said. “We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”

Contrast this with a report from a group of leading NGOs claiming that no progress is being made despite the involvement of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia.

The report says that despite the Quartet saying in June that such progress was vital to building confidence in the negotiating process, it has failed to press home its own calls on Israel for a freeze on settlement building, an improvement in the movement of Palestinian people and goods, and a revival of the collapsed economy in Gaza.

On settlements it says there has been a “marked failure to hold the Israeli authorities to their obligation under the [internationally agreed] road map and international law”. It urges the Quartet to go “beyond rhetoric” and take “concrete steps” in the face of a “marked acceleration” in settlement building since Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were kick-started by the Annapolis summit last year.

So Olmert recognises that Israel will have to give back occupied territory, but while in power he accelerated the building of illegal settlements on the same land.

Credit Crisis Synopsis

Good Math, Bad Math has a post entitled Economic Disasters and Stupid Evil People which provides a nice summary of how the US financial system got to be in such a mess.

What we’ve been seeing over the last couple of weeks is the same basic scam as the mortgage mess, but on an even larger scale. Lending money is a profitable business. Bundling loans into investment vehicles is an incredibly profitable business for producing what appear to be high-yield, low-risk investments.

Naturally, when there’s a big opportunity to make lots of money, there’s a ton of people looking to get in on it. Of course, just like with the mortgages, there’s a limit. Realistically, there’s only a certain amount of money that can be loaned at any time to people who can pay it back. But there was so much money to be made that as the high-quality loans ran out, they started looking for other things that they could wrap up as investments. Of course, since people who buy these kinds of investments are typically looking for something really safe, that means that they can’t just give money out any-which-way; they need to have some plausible way of saying “This is really safe”.

And here’s where the stupidity really started kicking in.

How do you take a bunch of loans that might not be repaid, and turn them into something that’s safe? Well, what do you do if you had a lot of money tied up in a piece of property that you could lose in an accident? Like, say, a car or a house? You’d buy insurance!

That’s basically what the investment firms did. They gave out shit loans that any sane person should have known couldn’t be repaid, and then they bough insurance on them to guarantee that at least the principal would be safe.

So who did they buy insurance from? Mostly each other.

The whole article is worth a read, as are his earlier pieces on the Subprime Crisis: Part 1 & Part 2


Looks to me like the Republicans are acknowledging that Sarah Palin isn’t fit for the job. The Independent covers their attempts to change the format of the VP debate to minimise the chance of her being made to look foolish by Joe Biden.

Under pressure from Republicans, the organisers of the debates have tweaked the format of the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin set for St Louis on 2 October to limit significantly the time available for free-flow debate and direct challenges to one another. Because of Ms Palin’s star power, that debate may be at least as big an audience draw as the presidential clashes.

Aides to Mr McCain had insisted on the more structured format because of concern that Mrs Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, might be put on the back foot too easily by the more seasoned Senator Biden. Advisors to Mr Biden gave no indication that they objected to the change, however, possibly a reflection of concern on their side about their candidate’s famous capacity for loquaciousness and gaffes.

You’d think that the last thing anyone would want would be a VP who’s unable to argue her position and restricted to pre-canned answers!

Oh Fuck

The Guardian has an article covering Sarah Palin’s first TV interview last night in which she put forth her foreign policy credentials.

A hawkish and occasionally combative Sarah Palin warned last night she might commit US troops to a war against Russia in defence of Georgia and Ukraine in her first interview since John McCain chose her as his running mate.

Palin, who admitted last night she made her first trip outside North America last year…

Palin’s interview was carefully stage-managed to counter criticism that she lacks foreign policy experience…

In sometimes tense exchanges, Palin demonstrated a more bellicose posture towards Russia than the Bush administration during the conflict with Georgia. She also supported military action against Islamist extremists in Pakistan even without the support of the Islamabad government.

So she might commit troops to a war against Russia, which still has probably more nukes than the US, and she also advocates conducting military operations on Pakistani soil without the support of the Pakistani government? That’s all we need. Another fucking idiot in the White House who thinks that bombing the shit out of things is the answer to everything.

BTW, I’d hate to see what she’d come out with on a non-stage-managed interview!

US Officially Supports Torture

George W. Bush, as promised, “has vetoed a bill”: which would have outlawed the CIA’s use of waterboarding to torture suspects.

Bush said that any attempt to restrict CIA interrogators would weaken them in the fight against al-Qaida. He claimed the CIA had used its own secret methods to foil several attacks, including plans to attack Heathrow, to fly a plane into the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles and to hit the US consulate in Karachi.

In the UK meanwhile, there are growing demands for an independent inquiry into the use of UK territory by the CIA’s rendition flights after it emerged last week that flights had landed at Diego Garcia.

Last month, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, apologised to MPs, admitting that contrary to "earlier explicit assurances" two flights had landed at Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean territory where the US has a large airbase. He said the flights had refuelled there, and each had had a single detainee on board who did not leave the aircraft. British and US officials have refused to give details about the two detainees other than that one was in Guantánamo Bay and the other had been released. Miliband said he had asked his officials for a list of all flights on which rendition had been alleged.
Shit Hits Fan

Well it looks like the global economy is finally going in to meltdown. It’s been a long time coming, but yesterday seems to be the final realisation that the house of cards is on shaky foundations. The Aussie sharemarket dropped 7% yesterday, along with significant drops around the world, and it’s now down 24% since its high of November.

I moved my superannuation out of shares and into diversified fixed-interest back in September, only to watch the share market go up by 10%, leaving me worrying that I’d made the wrong decision. Now however, with the market down 17% from when I got out of it, things are looking a bit more rosy. For once I’ve made a financial decision which hasn’t cost me money!

The Financial Times has an article on why the American recession will be hard to shift, explaining that reserve banks’ dropping of interest rates isn’t an instant fix to credit worries.

Interest rate cuts work their way through to the real economy by a number of transmission channels. During the 2001 recession in the US, the most important was housing credit. The rate cuts came at a time when the housing market was already booming. They turned the boom into a super-boom. Inflationary expectations were low. People expected interest rates to remain low. It was a great moment to take on extra debt, and this was precisely what Americans did.

The current US downturn could not be more different. House prices are falling, and have further to fall before reaching a more sustainable level (in terms of the price-to-rent ratios as well as several other measures). Core inflation has been above the Federal Reserve’s comfort zone for some years now. There is no way that either the Fed, the Bank of England or the European Central Bank could, at this stage, create another housing boom even if they wanted to. Housing downturns have a strong dynamism, which is not easy to break. This is not a great time to take on debts, but to pay them off.

What about the other channels?

The corporate credit channel works more slowly. A company faced with an acute downturn in demand for its products is not going to start investing immediately when interest rates fall. At the very least, it would only do so if it expects variable interest rates to remain low for some time.

For that to happen, inflationary pressures have to be well contained, which they clearly are not.

Hicks Free

Captured while fighting for the Taliban in 2001, and held illegally in Guantanamo Bay ever since with the complicity of the Australian Government, David Hicks was finally freed from prison today

“Right now I am looking forward to some quiet time with my wonderful Dad, my family and friends,’’ Hicks said.

“I ask that you will respect my privacy as I will need time to readjust to society and obtain medical care for the consequences of five and a half years at Guantanamo Bay.

“I have been told that my readjustment will be a slow process and should involve a gentle transition away from the media spotlight.’’

It is widely believed that Hicks was tortured while at Guantanamo, and finally pleaded guilty to charges of ‘providing material support for terrorism’ in order to get out of the place, but since he’s under a gag order until the end of March, he won’t be speaking opening about his detention and trial until then at the earliest.
Hicks is under a gag order until the end of March,