Australia's government this week approved the world's most comprehensive legislation so far regarding global greenhouse gas emissions, including a new tax on carbon emissions.
"Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land. This comes after a quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries, and years of bitter debate and division," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
Australia has spent more than a decade debating the issue, which was instrumental in the 2007 fall of former conservative Prime Minister John Howard and Labor's Kevin Rudd in 2010.
The carbon tax is part of a series of new environmental laws approved by both houses of Australia's government, including the establishment of a Climate Change Authority, and the creation of a Green Fund to spur investments in the renewable energy sector. The bill's passage was a significant achievement for Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Though it only produces a small percentage of the world's carbon output, Australia's heavy industry has made the country one of the highest per capita pollution emitters.
With the new law, Australia now joins a club of countries including Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden where some form of carbon legislation on the books. The Australian law has a much wider scope and will have a broader impact on the country than the carbon taxes passed elsewhere. Some local areas such as Quebec in Canada and San Francisco, California have also issued their forms of local carbon taxes. The European Union does have the emissions trading system (ETS), but its implementation has been sharply criticized because of the weak authority given to its regulators.
Some emerging market countries have also proposed legislation towards reducing pollution. Last year, India passed the first levy on coal producers, which was set to raise over $535 million. China and South Korea have also proposed some types of carbon taxes, but many of the details behind have been left up in the air. Last year, the United States attempted a deal on carbon trading legislation, but was scuttled due to political pressures within Congress.
Governments will try once again to reach a broader, more comprehensive deal at the COP-17 talks that are beginning at the end of November in Durban, South Africa.
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There's no relief in sight for the embattled 80-year-old media tycoon. Today, British analysts grappled with a question many have called unprecedented -- what power, if any, does the Parliament have to compel Rupert Murdoch to testify? Murdoch, an American citizen, declined an invitation to attend a parliamentary hearing next Tuesday (though he said he will participate in a separate inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron).
The chair of the committee said if Murdoch doesn't show on Tuesday, he would be in contempt of Parliament -- though there was confusion about what that actually means since its rarely ever been implemented. The BBC said it was "unchartered waters,"given that Murdoch is a non-Brit.
"If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee," the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said today (referring to Murdoch and his son James, who has also declined to testify Tuesday).
The Murdochs are most likely trying to buy some time, hoping the media frenzy dies down a little before they are forced to talk publicly -- in what is likely to be a very hostile setting. (James said he'd be willing to testify in August).
In the meantime, things aren't going any better for Murdoch in his home country -- the United States -- nor in Australia, his place of birth. The scandal has truly taken on a global dimension.
United States: Today, there were more calls for a congressional investigation. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), a powerful member of the House oversight committee, accused Murdoch's company of potentially engaging in "political espionage or personal espionage."
He joined Republican Peter King, who yesterday called on the FBI to look into whether journalists tried to tap into the phones of 9/11 victims. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said earlier in the week he suspected a U.S. probe would "find some criminal stuff."
A U.S. criminal investigation -- though unlikely -- would be disastrous for Murdoch, who's empire is based in the United States. It would put the company -- and its many holdings, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post,under a microscope like never before. Even beyond illegal activity, embarrassing or less-than-exemplary practices could be exposed.
Eliot Spitzer, for one, believes more shady dealings will emerge -- and will likely include Murdoch properties based in the United States. "Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans-Pacific as well as Atlantic-it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain," the former prosecutor, governor, CNN anchor, and expert on shoddy ethics wrote in Slate.
Australia: Speaking of the Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today said she was open to initiating a probe of Murdoch's Australia holdings -- which comprise nearly 70 percent of the country's print media and a good chunk of its TV market.
Gillard said she was "disgusted" by the extent of the scandal in Britain.
The head of News Limited, Murdoch's Australian media arm, John Hartigan, said there would be an internal review of the company's practices, but said it was "offensive and wrong [to] connect the behavior in the UK with News Limited's conduct in Australia."
So, where does that leave Murdoch? Maybe China, where he's been expanding his footprint lately, is looking like a good refuge. His wife, Wendi, just produced a movie that is a hit there.
In fact, she told the Los Angeles Times -- apparently without any sense of irony -- that she had little trouble raising money for the movie: "Everybody in China wanted to give us money," she told the paper. "In China, everybody knows who I am. It definitely helped. They have confidence in me."
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
With close-fought elections coming up on Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed that the country do away with it's recognition of the British monarchy, but only after the reign of Queen Elizabeth ends:
"What I would like to see as the prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a republic. But I think the appropriate time for this nation to be a republic will be when we see the monarch change."
Ms Gillard added that she obviously wanted to see Queen Elizabeth live a long and happy life.
"Having watched her mother, there's every chance that she will," she said.
Gillard's opponent Tony Abbot is a staunch monarchist. Australians voted against a referendum to replace the monarchy with a president in 1999. Obviously Gillard meant her comments as a gesture of respect to the Queen, but I'm not sure if referring to her eventual demise was the right way to go about it.
Gillard's suggestion does raise an interesting question about the future of European monarchy though. The current generation of Western European monarchs, while excercising no political power, are accorded a certain amount of public respect largely because they've been around for decades. (Juan Carlos I of Spain: 34 years, Beatrix of the Netherlands: 30 years, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden: 36 years, Elizabeth II of Britain: 58 years) It seems likely that their offsping may have a much harder time convincing their subjects of their continued relevance in today's Europe. That case might be even harder for Prince Charles and Prince William after him, who will technically and anachronistically be the heads of state for 16 independent countries.
Australia's National Parks and Wildlife Service, troubled by recent fox attacks on little penguins, have taken protecting the endangered species to the next level:
Fox attacks on endangered penguins have led Australia's wildlife authorities to post snipers at night to protect the birds.
A colony of about 120 little penguins (Eudyptula minor), also known as fairy penguins, at Quarantine beach in Sydney has recently lost about nine of its number to attacks. On Sunday night, the two snipers took their first watch but were unable to shoot the animals responsible[...]
Meanwhile, the snipers are there to stay. "We've had no luck so far finding what has done this so we'll keep on trying," the parks service said. "We'll be there for as long as necessary."
No word yet on whether the Parks Service will be deploying a special cat sniper squad.
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
The Times of India reports a total of 81 confirmed attacks on Indian citizens, mainly students, in Australia since May 23. The New South Wales state government and police admit a reluctance among Indian populations to report crimes against them, alluding to what is potentially a much larger figure. The attacks are believed to be both "recessionist" and racist in nature. The violence has prompted a patrol of Indian men along Melbourne's suburban train system to protect other Indians from attack.
The attacks were condemned by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last month, who insisted that efforts to make international students feel safer would be undertaken at both the state and national levels. Australia currently plays host to over 93,000 Indian students and its education institutions fear a significant drop in attendees from the sub-continent if the current climate of 'curry-bashing' is not effectively dealt with. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland released figures showing 1,447 reported cases of robbery and assault against Indians in 2008-2009, up from 1,083 the year before.
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Discussing the ethics of cosmetic surgery, Slate's William Saletan recalls the strange case of Australian politician Hanjal Ban who at age 23 decided to undergo surgery in Russia to increase her height. She gained around 8 centimeters through a mostly experimental procedure involving breaking her legs in four places and slowly stretching them while they healed. After recovering, Ban went on to successfully win a city council seat inLogan City, Queensland.
Under a pseudonym, Ban wrote a book, God Made me Small, Surgery Made me Tall, and is now republishing a new version, Her Secret, under her own name. Though Ban has vocally said the surgery is not for everyone, book promotion on her official website makes her choice seem almost heroic:
International media recently described her as one of the world's most beautiful politicians. Hanjal's explosive story gripped Australia and gained international attention. Prepare yourself for what you didn't hear in the interviews.
Read how Hajnal over came her darkest moments that almost ended her life. Learn how she turned herself around to become an inspiring role model who exudes confidence, elegance and style.
If you too want to exude confidence and style, The Times of London notes that the surgery is available in at least 18 countries including the U.S. but not the U.K. Do you need to be beautiful to win office? Silvio Berlusconi sure seems to think it can help.
Opium farmers in the Australian state of Tasmania are learning the dangers of leaving their product out in the open:
Wallabies eating in Tasmania's legally grown opium poppy fields are getting "high as a kite" and hopping around in circles, trampling the crops, a state official said.
Tasmania's attorney-general, Lara Giddings, told a budget hearing yesterday that she had recently read about the marsupials' antics in a brief on the state's large poppy industry. Tasmania is the world's largest producer of legally grown opium for the pharmaceutical market.
"We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles," the Mercury newspaper quoted Giddings as telling the hearing. "Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high."
Whether the UN wants to treat the problem as an illness or a crime is at this point unknown.
Remember those movies with such convoluted plot twists that make you say "there's no way that would happen in real life?" Yet, in Australia, the Melbourne gang war continues to prove that fact can be just as improbable.
A vicious gangland struggle that has gripped Melbourne for more than a decade took a surprising twist this week when the matriarch of the city’s most powerful criminal clan was charged in connection with the murder of her brother-in-law.
Behind the image of friendly suburbia the city presents to the world, a battle for control of the lucrative drugs trade has led to the deaths of more than 30 people and brought mayhem to the streets.
The past two years have been quiet — relatively speaking — but that all changed with the killing of Des “Tuppence” Moran, 61, on Monday. He was shot a number of times, at close range, by two masked men as he sipped his daily coffee in a café in the busy Ascot Vale area[...]
About 15 minutes after the shooting, Judy Moran — whose two sons, Jason and Mark, and husband Lewis (Des’s brother) have all been killed in the gangland wars — arrived at the crime scene in tears, screaming his name[...]
However, within 24 hours Mrs Moran, 64, and her friend Suzanne Kane, 45, were charged with being accessories to the murder, with Ms Kane’s partner, Geoffrey Amour, being charged with the killing.
Police told a court that officers saw Mrs Moran dumping the getaway car and a rifle used in the murder, while phone taps caught her discussing the disposal of other items used in the killing. A search of Mrs Moran’s home uncovered three handguns, a loaded shotgun, stolen numberplates, clothing and a wig matching the description of those worn by the gunmen who carried out the hit.
In a further twist, Mrs Moran’s house was damaged severely on Tuesday night in a fire described by police as suspicious.
Thinking this would be a great TV show? Too late to get credit for that: the gang war has already been turned into a critically and commercially successful show in Australia. In fact, it was so popular that the program was banned from being broadcast in one Australian state, for fears of swaying a murder trial. Ironically, many people ended up seeing the series anyways--through illegal copies.
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Agim Ceku, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army who was attending a conference on demobilizing guerilla movments in Colombia, has been expelled from the country after he was placed on an Interpol "red list" at the request of Serbia:
The director of Colombia's DAS security agency, Felipe Munoz, told the AP that Serbia sought the expulsion after Ceku's arrival for the conference, which was organized by President Alvaro Uribe's peace commissioner and attended by Uribe himself as well as by Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom.
The Interpol-issued notices alert member nations that a person is wanted for possible extradition but does not force them to arrest or expel the individual. Munoz said Colombian law compelled the Ceku expulsion.
During the 1998-99 Kosovo war Ceku was the military head of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army.
Ceku says Serbia wanted him expelled because he was the "hero of the conference" and getting too much attention.
This comes two weeks after Interpol redlisted Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales who has sought refuge in Peru after being charged with corruption by Hugo Chávez's government.
To my mind, these two cases raise the question of whether Interpol is allowing itself to be used by governments to crack down on political opponents. Interpol's constitution states:
It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.
I don't know enough about Ceku or Rosales to form an opinion on their guilt or innocence, but I think it's fairly indisputable that both indictments at least have a "political character." With Chávez requesting that a second political opponent be redlisted, it might be time for the organization to review its procedures.
In an ironic twist that was bound to happen sooner or later, the job of watching the U.S.-Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming to take American jobs...has been outsourced. Thanks to live streaming videos, anyone with an Internet connection can now log on and keep an eye on the Texas border and report illegal immigrants or drug smugglers to the authorities. (I watched a section of the Rio Grande for about three minutes yesterday but then I got bored. Sorry America.)
Interestingly, foreigners seem particularly taken with the project:
Anyone with an internet connection can now help to patrol the 1,254-mile frontier through a network of webcams set up to allow the public to monitor suspicious activity. Once logged in, the volunteers spend hours studying the landscape and are encouraged to email authorities when they see anyone on foot, in vehicles or aboard boats heading towards US territory from Mexico.
So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.
"We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, 'Hey mate, we've been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia'," he said.
Since the first 15 of a planned network of 200 cameras went live in November, officials claim that emailed tips have led to the seizure of more than 2,000lb (907kg) of marijuana and 30 incidents in which "significant numbers" of would-be illegal immigrants were spotted and turned back. Some tips came from Europe, Asia and beyond, but most online watchers are based in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the four US states that share a border with Mexico.
A public contest for the "world's best job" -- taking care of a tiny Australian tropical island and writing about the experience -- received an unusual video application from one "Osama bin Laden." ''I enjoy the outdoors and sandy areas,'' the ersatz Bin Laden says. 'I've got experience with videos, delegating tasks and experience with large scale event coordination.''
Australian pranksters seem to have something of a fetish for the terror mastermind.
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