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Clean up – day 2

The clean up continues with ever increasing community spirit. Many thanks to the countless community groups who provided supplies including food, drinks, disinfectant, gloves and tools. A special thanks to the local Muslim community who provided 650 packaged hot meals for the volunteers and the many others who made sandwiches and BBQs.

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Clean up – day 1

Today I spent all day helping out with the clean up in St. Lucia, the next suburb from where I live. I was shocked at the magnitude of the damage (see photos below). The place looks like an absolute war zone. At the same time I was very touched by the community response to the clean up effort. I volunteered on one street, and on that street alone there were many hundreds, maybe even a thousand volunteers, happily getting covered in septic mud to help clean up the places of people they’d never met before and never will. Countless community groups had stations along the road organising human resources, providing BBQs and drinks. It was really very touching that so many people had the community spirit to do this. Well done to everyone involved – you make our community proud!

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What will happen with the Euro?

This article is loosely inspired by this article from STRATFOR Intelligence, which provides a comprehensive analysis of this topic.

The Greek bailout, largely owing to German intervention, raises some serious questions about the overall viability of the Euro as a currency. The Euro is unlike any other major currency such as the US dollar, the Japanese Yen, or the Chinese Renminbi. The difference is that in all these other examples the underlying currency is governed by central, unified macro-economic policy. In the European Monetary Union on the other hand, there are over a dozen member states, each employing the same currency, but each with vastly differing economic policies and budgetary situations. One of the main advantages of fiat currency is that the currency can revalue as the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s economy evolve, allowing for adjustment of the currency to reflect the underlying economic fundamentals. For example, should a country acquire too much debt, investors will lose confidence, capital flows away from said country, and the currency revalues to reflect this. The Euro is very different is this regard. There are over a dozen members, each with differing economic policies. Some are hugely in debt (see Greece, Portugal, Spain), while others are in a stronger situation (see Germany). With independent currencies the Greek currency would weaken owing to its poor economic situation (debt and deficit). This weakening in turn would make Greek labour and exports more competitive, thereby boosting its economy. However, with a unified currency this kind of revaluation is not possible. Greece is tied to the Euro, which is strong, undermining the ability of its economy to adjust, which would make it more competitive. Unfortunately Greece is not the only example – the Greek disease could realistically spread to the other Eurozone states with huge national debt and budget deficits. This is the fundamental problem – having a single currency without a single, coherent economic policy, undermines the ability of individual member states to adjust their monetary policy as necessary.

In my mind there are three main possible outcomes to this mess:

(1) Things continue as they are. The rich countries like Germany continue to bail out the weaker ones. And, as more and more countries are bailed out, more and more countries lose incentive to manage their economies successfully as a result of the precedent that has been made. As an increasing number of countries fall, so too will the desire for the rich countries to continue providing the capital to provide for this.

(2) The Eurozone merges into a federation with a single coherent macro-economic policy, and a single budget. Most member countries would oppose such a move, and perceive it as an assault on their independence.

(3) The Euro will collapse and countries will revert to their previous national currencies.

Option 1 is unsustainable. There is only so much tolerance the rich countries will have towards bailing out countries that spend themselves out of existence. Option 2 is unlikely for political reasons. Option 3, seems to likely be a realistic outcome.

Unfortunately all of these options are highly unfortunate and all will have very serious consequences, both within and outside of the Eurozone. The Euro is the worlds largest currency, even larger that the US Dollar, and its instability or outright collapse would be devastating internationally. The implications cannot be overstated. Furthermore, a collapse of European economic integration would stir up huge animosity between member states. This situation is rather ironic, since European integration arose out of historical grounds and was intended to foster joint interests between member states. From this, the opposite could arise.

Australian internet censorship

One of the main communications policies being advocated by the Australian government at the moment is the introduction of nationwide internet filtering to block illegal and ‘inappropriate’ material and to ‘protect children’. The government proposes doing this using a blacklist of sites which internet service providers (ISPs) will be legally obliged to block. While protecting children from inappropriate material and preventing the dissemination of child pornography and terrorist material are certainly amiable objectives, a nationwide internet filter is the least effective and most unworkable approach, and one with an enormous potential for misuse.

From a technological perspective, a nationwide filter simply will not work for two reasons. First, there are literally billions of websites on the internet, with millions more popping up every day. Maintaining a blacklist of sites to block, when there are so many sites in existence and more coming into existence every day, is folly. Second, an internet filter will only block unencrypted websites (HTTP). It will not, and cannot, block other internet protocols such as encrypted sites (HTTPS), or point-to-point (P2P) protocols. Pedophiles do not use websites to distribute child pornography – they use encrypted channels. If they did use unencrypted websites, they all would have been caught by now.

In addition to being technologically ineffective, a nationwide filter may have the effect of slowing down internet traffic, as all traffic first must pass through the filter, which resides in software on the ISP’s servers. This is somewhat ironic, as the same government is complaining about how slow the internet is, and is intending to speed it up by introducing a national broadband network (NBN).

Technological issues aside, there are still strong reasons for concern about the introduction of a mandatory internet filter. There is incredible potential for abuse. At the end of the day, the blacklist will sit in the hands of a small group of bureaucrats. Should these select few have nefarious or partisan intentions, they could easily manipulate the internet filter to decide what opinions, news stories or political views we are able to access. This is exactly what has happened in the few countries where filters such as this exist (see China and Iran). The Federal Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has already indicated that should the policy pass through parliament, the contents of the blacklist will not be made public. This is a police state in the making – next stop thought police. On one hand the government wants to reserve the right to block any material they deem ‘offensive’, while on the other hand they refuse to disclose what is on their list of offensive material. The mere fact that the Government intends to keep this list secret, to me, is indicative of potentially very sinister intentions. Additionally, if the list is secret, parents will have no influence over what it is which their children should be protected against, which completely undermines the point of the exercise.

Finally one must question the need for a nationwide filter at all, when client side software is available which achieves the same outcome. Net Nanny-like software is commercially available, which parents can install on their home computers and use to block specific sites or keywords. This client side model gives parents much greater flexibility as to what their children can and cannot see than a blanket nationwide filter. So if the goal of the filter is to protect children, then a client side approach is more flexible, gives parents greater control, and doesn’t impose extra regulatory and financial burden on ISPs, while slowing down the internet for everyone else.

Conroy’s internet filter is a shamble. It is technologically unviable. It won’t protect children. It undermines the parent’s ability to make parental decisions for themselves. It will stop the circulation of neither child pornography nor terrorist material. It may infringe on freedom of speech. And, there is enormous potential for abuse of the system by politicians and bureaucrats.

This policy is cheap politicking. Conroy is leveraging off the fact that as soon as you say you are ‘protecting children’ or ‘preventing pedophilia’ you can win votes instantly by playing on the emotions of the public who are largely unaware of the details of the proposal.

I urge all Australians to contact their federal representatives with regards to this draconian policy.