Like to know what’s in Grange? Most years Penfolds has to break the law to tell you

December 5th, 2016 Comments off

Grange. Australia’s most famous wine. The red that put our country on the world’s quality wine map. Yet most years Penfolds has to break the law to tell people what’s in it.
If you think that sounds like madness, well, yes, it is. Yet Wine Australia, the federal government body that controls how wine is labelled and promoted does, outlaw telling the truth about Grange and many other wines blended from different regions.
This is the idiotic bureaucratic regulation that defines the offence:

(Click to enlarge)
And the section of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act 2013 that the regulation refers to:

The problem arises because the grapes that end up in Grange regularly come from more than three regions as the company website explains.

So Penfolds is in breach of the law with this reference in its tasting note for the 2010 Grange:

VINEYARD REGION Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Magill Estate

Oh no! Five GIs mentioned when you are only allowed three.

I wonder if and when the regulatory bulldogs of Wine Australia will threaten Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago with jail like they have the proprietors of that little Baross winemaker

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James Halliday as Wine Australia would censor him

November 14th, 2016 Comments off

The repressive attack on freedom of speech by Wine Australia has not yet reached the level of stopping wine journalists giving sensible information to consumers. But should a wine maker or retailer dare to quote the words of James Halliday, the country’s most famous wine writer, they would face two years in jail.
To give you an idea of just how ridiculously draconian Wine Australia’s censorship powers are, we reproduce below how a recent Halliday column would need to be censored to conform with Wine Australia’s law.
And if you think you know what the blacked out words are, enter Censored by Wine Australia’s competition by sending your guess at what the illegal words are to: 

There are $50 wine voucher that can be redeemed at for correct and/or witty entries.
Click on the column to enlarge it.

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What is the name of the Sparkling Wine from East of Paris – up around Epernay?

November 14th, 2016 Comments off
By David Farmer
I returned to Tasmania in 1970 after 5 years overseas and was by then very interested in wine. Enough to find out what was happening in Tasmania, so father, who knew everyone set up a meeting with the Department of Agriculture in Launceston.
I was told viticulture had no future as it was far too cold but a ‘crack-pot’ was planting a vineyard at Pipers Brook and the location was worth going to see. I did not meet the ‘crack-pot’ Andrew Pirie but I did meet his brother David who was propagating vine cuttings. I also went to the La Provence vineyard.
So naturally I have followed with great interest the growth of the Tasmanian wine industry.
The early to late 1980s were ……….. years and over a six year period I led the pack that producers two award winners of the professional class of the Australian Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de ……….. (C.I.V.C.), Chris Shanahan (1983) and Adrian Marsden Smedley (1986).
Thus I know a lot about sparkling wines and ……….., enough to tell you that the cheap French cooperative ……….. which have been flooding the local market are not worth your money. These are the ones with oddly familiar but made up names and have the initials CM on the label.
Tasmania is the place where you should be looking and Wine Australia says: House of Arras, Delamere and Pirie. These are wines of breed and complexity: age-worthy wines that take the classic ……….. blend…..that makes them unique……The wines are sough-after (sic)… and offer a value quotient that puts equivalent quality ……….. or ……….. in the shade.
As readers know this site is censored by Wine Australia and since what I have told you is advertising copy not wine writing, the words which will offend you must be dotted out and this is true even when I quote Wine Australia.
I thank customers who have sent in emails of support and report that this stupidity continues. Alas I have a fear Wine Australia want to dilute your interests as a consumer.
If you would like your views on this absurd censorship to be known by the federal government that supposedly control Wine Australia then click the Send Email bottom on the top right and let the relevant minister know.
And email with the censored name i.n the headline and you could win a $50 win voucher from David Farmer’s business.
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Wine Australia chairman’s company breaking own law that carries a two year jail term

November 10th, 2016 Comments off

They might proudly call it Méthode Tasmanoise but the Hill-Smith family, who purchased Jansz in 1997, seem quite keen to stress a French connection. You will notice, for one thing, that their sparkling is made by the Méthode Tasmanoise rather than the Tasmanian method. But that’s a minor dipping of the lid to proper champagne compared with other French references on the Jansz website.  References like this:

In 1986, esteemed Champagne house – Louis Roederer partnered with the owners of Heemskerk Wines to produce Tasmania’s first premium vintage sparkling wine. They saw the similarities between the climate here and the famous wine region of their homeland.

And this:

It could be argued we’re completely mad growing grapes in the wild and unforgivingly cold Tasmanian environment. But there’s méthode to our madness.
The climatic conditions of the Jansz vineyard rival the famed French wine region of Champagne. In fact, it was originally with French contribution that Jansz became Tasmania’s first sparkling made using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Today we call it, Méthode Tasmanoise. It’s the essence of a partnership between the environment and our winemaker. Just as the cool Tasmanian climate creates spectacular beauty in nature, it is also instrumental in the creation of art in bottles.

All that’s quite accurate and reasonable in my opinion but that’s no defence under the draconian laws administered by Wine Australia. The Hill-Smith family, whose wines usually carry the Yalumba label, have clearly breached what Rachel Triggs, Wine Australia’s Legal Counsel, describes in this way:

Under the AGWA Act and Regulations, it is an offence to sell, import or export a wine with a false description and presentation, or with a misleading description and presentation (sections 40C and 40E respectively). This extends to advertising on a website and would extend to the use of third party material, such as articles by wine critics, used to present and describe your wine and subsequently to promote and sell your wine.
It is important to clarify the differences between ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ use, as the interaction between these two elements is often misunderstood. The AGWA Act clearly states that the description and presentation of wine is misleading if it includes a registered geographical indication and the wine is misleading as to the country, region or locality in which the wine originated. It is often argued that certain unauthorised use of a GI “could not possibly mislead anyone” and, therefore, should be permitted. The description “A Barossa version of a Cote-Rotie”, for example, makes it absolutely clear that the wine is from the Barossa, not from the GI protected for France.
However, the Act provides an addition level of protection where the use of a GI is false for the purposes of the Act. This places a blanket prohibition over the use of a registered GI in relation to a wine that did not originate in that GI, regardless of whether the use is misleading as to the origin of the wine (with some small exceptions).
Such exceptions include pre-existing trade mark rights, terms used as part of an individual’s name or winery address, and common English words. …
This situation was clearly explained when the Act was introduced to Parliament, notwithstanding the example used was ‘Chablis’, rather than ‘Cote-Rotie’. A description such as ‘Australian Chablis, Product of Australia’ could not possibly mislead a reasonable person as to the true origin of the wine but is false use of the Chablis GI and constitutes an offence under our Act.
Penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment apply in relation to false or misleading statements or (or in addition to) $21,600 for an individual, and five times that for a company. Cancellation/suspension of export licences may also apply where the wine is being exported and any interested party, including AGWA, may make an application for an injunction restraining a person or a company from selling a wine that uses a GI contrary to the legislation.

If you want to read all of Ms Triggs’s opinion you will find it HERE

This breach of the law should be highly embarrassing to Wine Australia’s chairman Brian Walsh. As the Corporation’s website notes, “Brian boasts a 24 year career at Yalumba, spanning roles of Chief Winemaker, Director of Production and Director of Strategy & Business Development as well as 20 years working in winemaking and management positions in McLaren Vale.”

It suggests to me that Mr Walsh is unaware of the law he is charged with administering. He should be urging the federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce to change the Act so that consumers can be given information that helps them make sensible wine buying choices.

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A US Presidential election prediction – Clinton 332 electoral college votes to Trump’s 206

November 8th, 2016 Comments off

When it comes to predicting election results I’m still a wisdom of crowds man although with so many media pundits now following the betting markets there is growing evidence of people trying to influence things purely because they have more money than the markets can comfortably cope with. That’s why when it comes to this US presidential election I’m using the Iowa Electronic Market as my guide to what the true wisdom is. That’s because the IEM, run by the College of Business at the University of Iowa, has a lot of participants but with sensible limits on how much any participant can invest.

As I am writing this at 10pm Canberra time the Iowa consensus is that Clinton will end up with 53.7 per cent of the two party (Democrat plus Republican) vote to Trump’s 46.3 per cent. That predicts that Clinton will do 1.7 points better than Obama did in 2012 and have a comfortable win.

Comfortable but not enough to do better than Obama when it comes to the number of electoral college votes. On the IEM prediction of the national vote, if it turns out overall to be uniform, the electoral college result would be identical to 2012 – Clinton 232 to Trump on 206.

I’ll go with the pluses in some states being cancelled out by the minuses in others so 332 to 206 is my fearless prediction.

Win free wine in the Wine Australia censorship contest

November 8th, 2016 Comments off

The federal government body Wine Australia has decreed that the website cannot use certain words when trying to give consumers an honest opinion of a wine’s merit. Thus thick black lines have started appearing on the small Barossa winery’s tasting descriptions.

Harem ‘Fatima’ Barossa Grenache Mataro 2012

Ben got a lot of pleasure from taking the initial building blocks and assembling them on the tasting bench to make the final ‘Fatima’ blend. The ‘Layla’ style of Grenache appeals to me and I am thrilled with the result, whereas the ‘Fatima’ is a deep rich,                              style which will last.

Grenache no doubt dates back to the 1830s and was much liked in the days of making fortified wines as it gives heavy crops with high sugar. Smart wine makers have been playing with the rich heritage of old vines left over from this time and at last the winemaking artistry has clicked with the vines awaiting discovery. The model is the famous wines of the                             ,                                               , and those now made in McLaren Vale and the Barossa, equal or surpass these wines.

This censorship madness sees Wine Australia threatening a two year jail term for the South Australian winemaker/retailer if he continues to use words on his website like those blacked out in the examples above. The offending words are not misleading about where the wine comes from or mentioned on a wine’s label. The Wine Australia bureaucrats argue that the very mention of specified words on a website or in a printed description of a wine is illegal under legislation to ratify an agreement between Australia and the European Union.

So what are the words behind the blacked out sections? The Owl has five $50 vouchers you can use at to give away for answers in his Wine Australia Censorship Contest.
Email your entries to The Owl will reward entries based on accuracy, wit and wisdom.
Categories: Drinking Tags: ,

Wine Australia wants to censor small Barossa winery from giving consumers an honest opinion

November 7th, 2016 Comments off
Wine Australia is threatening to have a South Australian winemaker/retailer sent to jail for two years if he continues to use words like these on his website:

‘This Tasmanian sparkling wine represents far better value than most champagnes.’

The offending word is champagne even though it is not mentioned on the label. The wine bureaucrats argue that the very mention of the word on a website or in a printed description of a wine is illegal under legislation to ratify an agreement between Australia and the European Union.


By David Farmer

All wineries keep records which allows a check that wineries are doing the right thing and one role of Wine Australia is be the inspector or auditor.
It is unexpected that they also have another role which is to control the use of particular terms and phrases which are grouped under a banner called geographical indicators often shortened to GIs.
The Wine Australia email specifically mentions; Rioja, Champagne, Cote du Rhone (including Rhone), and Cote Rotie, terms I have used in my selling descriptions.
It goes on to mention that usage is also restricted for Australian regions.
For 35 years I have been aware that the French are very protective of the use of wine terms to which they feel they have ownership. This first flared up in the late 1970s when local wineries labelled light red styles as Beaujolais.
At the time the business Farmer Bros. was a big importer of French Beaujolais and of course sold the local ‘Beaujolais’ wines as well. I watched the buying habits of customers with great interest.
I can report customers never had a doubt as to which Beaujolais was French and which Australian. This observation has edged me closer to the school of marketing which says; all publicity is good publicity.
Another example is that in recent years the French have been aggressive in protecting use of the word Champagne.
As the exports of Australian wines began to grow part of the agreement to gain entry to the European Union was to phase out the usage of common European wine terms on Australian labels. In other words the European are wanting to protect what it believes is its intellectual property.
At some time later this trade legislation has been strengthened to restrict not only the use on labels but how these terms can be used in the media.
The Australian Grape and Wine Authority or AGWA which operates under the name Wine Australia, came into being on Tuesday, July 1, 2014 following the merger of Wine Australia Corporation and the Grape and Wine Research Development Corporation.
My suspicion is that at this time a blanket ban was placed into the legislation controlling the use in advertising, as distinct from wine writing, of the large number of agreed geographical terms or GIs.
Over the next few weeks we took advice from a number of sources and replied as follows.

Wine Australia replied on 16th September.

We took the approach of letting them tell us explicitly what the problem was and it came in this form.

This email interested brother Richard and he sent the following thought to a colleague on the 27th August:
The draconian nature of trade agreements between Australia and other countries is well illustrated by recent actions of the federal government body Wine Australia.
Wine Australia is threatening to have a South Australian winemaker/retailer sent to jail for two years if he continues to use words like these on his website:
‘This Tasmanian sparkling wine represents far better value than most champagnes.’
The offending word is champagne even though it is not mentioned on the label. The wine bureaucrats argue that the very mention of the word on a website or in a printed description of a wine is illegal under legislation to ratify an agreement between Australia and the European Union..
Categories: Drinking Tags: ,

Censored by Wine Australia – Surprise Email from Wine Australia Creates Concerns

November 4th, 2016 Comments off
Wine Australia is threatening to have a South Australian winemaker/retailer sent to jail for two years if he continues to use words like these on his website:
‘This Tasmanian sparkling wine represents far better value than most champagnes.’
The offending word is champagne even though it is not mentioned on the label. The wine bureaucrats argue that the very mention of the word on a website or in a printed description of a wine is illegal under legislation to ratify an agreement between Australia and the European Union.
By David Farmer
If I have learnt one thing after 41 years of selling wine it is that wine is easy to make but very hard to sell.
For over four decades I have gone about my business of copy writing which sets out reasons why the wine being described has appeal.
Since I have a vast fund of knowledge it is useful for customers to know what I think about each wine.
On the 17th August, 2016 an email from the legislative body Wine Australia and tagged ‘high importance’ was sent to myself and my wine making colleague Benjamin Parker.

This email is not about the wine in the bottle matching what is on the label or ‘label integrity’ but something else which says there are rules about what you can say in advertisements about a wine.
Not whether comments are misleading but that certain terms may not be used in advertising copy and that some of the place names I use are controlled or not allowed.
I sent a copy to my brother, Richard Farmer, a man with vast experience in so many areas.

Is this to be taken seriously? eg at times I may mention in copy references to French DOC regions and Australian regions.

He replied thus:

I will have a look at the legislation that establishes Wine Australia and get back to you. In the meantime have a look at other websites – eg First Choice and Dan Murphy – and see if they are doing the same thing as you when it comes to comparisons and locations.

And a day later added.

I will have a look at some of Halliday’s writing. This is a real free speech issue. We can have some fun about bureaucrats going mad.

It seems that after selling wine for 41 years, Wine Australia is telling me to change how I sell wine, when I thought their job would be to help in selling more.
This email from the Wine Australia is quite disturbing since it implies censorship and believing this will interest Glug customers I will keep you posted.
Categories: Drinking Tags: ,

The bureaucratic hypocrisy of Wine Australia – do as we say not as our directors do

November 3rd, 2016 Comments off

Wine Australia is a federal government body supposedly under the control of the Minister for Agriculture and his Assistant Minister.  It is charged with regulating and promoting the local wine industry. The current aims of Wine Australia seem to be kowtowing to the French and supporting local producers who claim to be the fine wine people. The result of both aims is to prevent consumers being given an accurate assessment of the real merits of both imported and local wines.
Wine Australia is trying to prevent anyone who sells wine from giving advice about wines from one region compared with wines from another.
It is currently threatening my brother David Farmer, who runs a small winery in the Barossa, with a two year jail term because he dared to suggest, for example, that a Wrattonbury cabernet might be as good as one from Coonawrra. You will find the details on David’s website HERE.
Meanwhile, a member of the Wine Australia board, is committing exactly the same so-called offence.
Mr Edouard Peter, the Wine Australia board director who is the majority shareholder of Dural Wines that controls Kaesler Wines with headquarters, like glug, in the Barossa, has his company defying the same laws that sees the directors of glug are being threatened with the full force of the law and facing a two year jail terrm.

Tut, tut. The reference to Graves is in defiance of Wine Australia’s “geographical indications” law.
Go to jail. Go directly to jail and pay a tens of thousands in fines while you do so.
And cop another sentence for daring to mention Bordeaux in this description.

And while Wine Australia is on its Big Brother vendetta it better begin the prosecution of that other board member Brian Croser. Brian, poor fellow, has dared to use a prohibited word in promoting one of his products.
The mists of Mersault indeed. The slammer for you Brian.
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Australian opposition to Muslim immigration exaggerated – Roy Morgan Research

November 1st, 2016 Comments off

Source: Australian opposition to Muslim immigration exaggerated – Roy Morgan Research

In stark contrast to the widely reported Essential Research Poll in mid-September that claimed Australians opposed Muslim Immigration 49% cf. 40%, independent research by Roy Morgan shows Australians continue to support Muslim immigration (58% cf. 33%) as well as Asylum Seeker Immigration (66% to 25%).

Five weeks ago, Australians were bombarded with the news that we, as a nation, or the majority of us, did not want Muslims coming into the country – based on a poll by Essential Research.

I said at the time, in several interviews (Listen to radio interview with 2SER), that we believed it was highly unlikely that these results were true.  Roy Morgan surveys over several years from 2010 to 2015, showed majority support for Muslims, refugees and others immigrating to Australia. We believed it highly unlikely that sentiment would have changed so dramatically. The latest Roy Morgan Research showed indeed Australians continue to support Muslim Immigration, albeit with a reduced majority.

It is crucial that public opinion surveys on such important issues as this are independent and conducted with a sample which is truly representative of the Australian population.

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Newspaper has Shorten comfortably ahead in contest with Abbott

June 18th, 2015 Comments off
From The Age this morning.
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The US Congressional moves to stop data collection

May 21st, 2015 Comments off
  • Rand Paul launches bid to block NSA surveillance programme – “We do need surveillance — what we do not need is indiscriminate surveillance,” Mr Paul said. “The collection of records that is going on is beyond your imagination.”
  • An NPR Reporter Raced A Machine To Write A News Story. Who Won?
  • Fighting for History – Paul Krugman writes: … in a postmortem on the UK election Simon Wren-Lewis notes one failure of Labour in particular: it made no effort at all to fight the false narrative of Blair-Brown profligacy. Wren-Lewis writes, I suspect within the Labour hierarchy the view was to look forward rather than go over the past, but you cannot abandon the writing of history to your opponents. … But I’m with Wren-Lewis here: progressives are much too willing to cede history to the other side. Legends about the past matter. Really bad economics flourishes in part because Republicans constantly extol the Reagan record, while Democrats rarely mention how shabby that record was compared with the growth in jobs and incomes under Clinton. The combination of lies, incompetence, and corruption that made the Iraq venture the moral and policy disaster it was should not be allowed to slip into the mists.
  • Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists
  • “Consistent With” – In discussing Paul Romer’s wonderful concept of mathiness, Peter Dorman criticizes economists’ habit of declaring a theory successful merely because it is “consistent with” the evidence. His point deserves emphasis. If a man has no money, this is “consistent with” the theory that he has given it away. But if in fact he has been robbed, that theory is grievously wrong. Mere consistency with the facts is not sufficient. This is a point which some defenders of inequality miss. Of course, you can devise theories which are “consistent with” inequality arising from reasonable differences in choices and marginal products. Such theories, though, beg the question: is that how inequality really emerged? And the answer, to put it mildly, is: only partially. It also arose from luck, inefficient selection, rigged markets, rent-seeking and outright theft.
  • You Just Lived Through The Earth’s Hottest January-April Since We Started Keeping Records – With April, we have once again broken the record for the hottest 12 months on record: May 2014 – April 2015. The previous record was April 2014 – March 2015, set last month. The record before that was March 2014 – February 2015. And the equally short-lived record before that was February 2014 – January 2015.
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Bankers who aren’t cheating aren’t trying

May 21st, 2015 Comments off

Some words of truth remembered by London’s Financial Times this morning in a report on six banks being fined $5.6bn over rigging of foreign exchange markets.

Repeated efforts by traders to manipulate daily fixings of currencies and interest rates as outlined by the regulatory actions announced on Wednesday illustrate the dark underbelly of many of the trading operations run by global banks.

Or in the words of one Barclays trader from 2010, who was quoted in a settlement document: “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

The thread that runs through three solid years of benchmark rigging cases is the assured way in which traders pushed around the prices of a whole series of financial products. They all seem to have believed they were immune from being rumbled for abusive behaviour.

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Attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength

May 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • Why No One Wants The Rohingyas  – The spectacle of thousands of desperate Rohingya Muslim “boat people” being denied landfall in Southeast Asia has laid bare the region’s religious and ethnic prejudices as well as its fears of being swamped by an influx of migrants. … The Rohingya practice a blend of Sunni and Sufi Islam. At best, the migrants have been received with resignation — at worst with contempt — even by the region’s Muslim nations.
  • Rumors, Truths, and Reality: A Study of Political Misinformation – Bad news, fans of rational political discourse: A study by an MIT researcher shows that attempts to debunk political rumors may only reinforce their strength. “Rumors are sticky,” says Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT, and author of a paper detailing the study. “Corrections are difficult, and in some cases can even make the problem worse.” More specifically, Berinsky found in an experiment concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that rebuttals of political rumors about the supposed existence of “death panels” sometimes increased belief in the myth among the public.
  • Robert Fisk: Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It amazes me that all these warriors of the air don’t regularly crash into each other. … The sectarian and theological nature of this war seems perfectly clear to all who live in the Middle East – albeit not to our American chums. The Sunni Saudis are bombing the Shia Yemenis and the Shia Iranians are bombing the Sunni Iraqis. The Sunni Egyptians are bombing Sunni Libyans, it’s true, and the Jordanian Sunnis are bombing Iraqi Sunnis. But the Shia-supported Syrian government forces are bombing their Sunni Syrian enemies and the Lebanese Hezbollah – Shia to a man – are fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Sunni enemies, along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an ever-larger number of Afghan Shia men in Syrian uniforms.
  • Beyond Quid Pro Quo: What Counts As Political Corruption?
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Conservatives favoured to win most seats

May 7th, 2015 Comments off

The opinion polls pretty much have it 50:50. The Owl Indicator has the Conservatives favourite to win most seats and to provide the Prime Minister.


The doubts about Abbott remaining Liberal leader continue

May 4th, 2015 Comments off

Federal parliament has not been sitting for a few weeks so the parliamentary press gallery has laid off on its obsession about Liberal leadership challenges, But out in the world where people are prepared to put their money where their opinion is the belief remains that Prime Minister Tony Abbott will not be Prime Minister when the next election comes.

The Owl’s leadership indicator, based on the betting markets, puts Abbott’s chances of remaining in charge at only just over 33%. That’s an improvement from earlier this year hardly encouraging as the House of Representatives returns for the budget session.
4-05-2015 liberalleaderindicator

Nina Simone sings Randy Newman’s Baltimore

May 2nd, 2015 Comments off

nina simone baltimore

  • Baltimore – For this week’s Plus One Podcast we take a closer look at a song that seems to be on a lot of people’s minds this week: Nina Simone’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Baltimore.”
  • Black Culture Is Not the Problem – It is policy and politics, the very things that bind together the history of Ferguson and Baltimore and, for that matter, the rest of America. Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods. The problem originates in a political culture that has long bound black bodies to questions of property. Yes, I’m referring to brand labour ad
  • Jo Brand stars in new Labour Party Election Broadcast – Comedian Jo Brand stars in the Labour Party’s latest election broadcast which puts the spotlight on the Conservative Party’s record on the NHS. This is exactly what a party election broadcast should be.1. It’s single-minded.2. The language used by the talent feels vaguely authentic.3. The delivery isn’t forced.
  • An Unending Refugee Tragedy: Europe’s Path to Deadly Partition – Germany and its European Union partners want to prevent further refugee dramas in the Mediterranean Sea. But a look back at the policies adopted after the 2013 tragedy in Lampedusa shows they have made a terrible situation even deadlier.
  • Pope Francis Calls Gender Pay Gap A ‘Pure Scandal’
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership is great for elites. Is it good for anyone else?
  • The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking
  • Norway’s sovereign oil fund earns more than government spends – The Government Pension Fund Global, which invests Norway’s oil wealth, made more money in the first three months of the year than the government spent in the same period — and then some.
  • A Better Way to Rein In Lobbying – It’s easy to get depressed about the state of American democracy. But we don’t need to be. The solutions are not overly complicated: Give government the resources it needs to think for itself and to develop policy without having to depend almost entirely on outside lobbyists. Make sure all sides have the resources to make their best case. The politics of checks and balances can do the rest.
  • Gay Marriage: Unthinkable or Inevitable? – Twenty-five years ago, same-sex marriage was for all practical purposes unthinkable. Today, it seems close to inevitable. This remarkable shift highlights the particular difficulty of the marriage equality case that came before the Supreme Court on Tuesday—but also points to the right result. On the one hand, the petitioners are asking the Court to recognize a constitutional right to something that until recently few Americans even deemed conceivable, and the Court is not the usual forum for radical change. On the other hand, once the question began to be asked, it turned out states had no good reason to deny recognition to gay and lesbian couples who seek to marry, as has become ever more clear over the past two decades. At this point, the Court has only two choices: to vindicate the demands of equality and liberty, or to validate discrimination. There is no third way.
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In praise of Alan Jones

April 29th, 2015 Comments off

Political speech for most people can be expensive rather than free. Australia’s defamation laws make it so. And it’s not even a matter of losing a court case at the end. Even for winners the costs of lawyers along the way are crippling. The system is stacked against any person trying to expose what they consider to be impropriety.
So thank goodness for public figures like broadcaster Alan Jones. Call him a shock-jock if you will but he is one of the few media commentators well paid enough to say what he thinks despite the attempts by politicians to silence him with legal actions.
Some times Jones pays a high price for his outspokenness. Damages payments can be expensive. But that does not stop him from keeping on speaking out. As he did during the last Queensland state election when he relentlessly kept pursuing Liberal National Premier Campbell Newman and state Treasurer Jeff Seeney by suggesting they “prostituted” themselves in support of an LNP donor’s controversial coal mine.
Jones ignored the legal stop writs and kept on campaigning. After receiving the legal notices he commented that it was “nice to hear from you, Mr Newman”.

“You remain a bit of a political novice if you think that’s the way to win an election or to silence people, you need to actually think again, but thanks for writing,”

So how good to read today that calling the bluff of Messrs Newman and Seeney worked. The pair of defeated politicians today withdrew their lawsuit. I can only hope that they will have to pay a sizeable amout to cover the broadcaster’s legal costs

Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Will Pope Francis make climate change an issue for Tony Abbott

April 28th, 2015 Comments off
  • Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm  – Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far. But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.


  • Obama Finally Gets Angry At Climate Science Deniers And It’s Hilarious b- President Barack Obama just gave pitch-perfect delivery to one of the most brilliant pieces of writing on climate change you are ever going to see. At the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday night in DC, Obama used devastating humor to express rare passion and anger over climate science denial.
  • U.S., Japan unveil new defense guidelines for global Japanese role
  • Waiting for the fallout: Australia and return of the patrimonial society – So, Australians have no room for complacency. In an economy dominated by capital, and in the absence of estate taxation—briefly discussed, and quickly dismissed, in the recent Treasury tax discussion paper (Treasury 2015)—there is little to stop the current drift towards a more unequal society from continuing and even accelerating. On the other hand, Australia’s relative success in using the tax and welfare systems to spread the benefits of economic growth provides grounds for optimism. Australia’s experience belies the claim that any attempt to offset the growth of inequality must cripple economic growth.
  • Gay Liberal senator Dean Smith slams Tanya Plibersek over gay marriage move – Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek has “wrecked” progress within the Liberal Party towards a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, the Liberal Party’s first openly gay federal parliamentarian says.
  • How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal – In 1981, Mrs Thatcher needed a boost from the press. By supporting Rupert Murdoch’s bid for the Times and Sunday Times, she made sure she got it. Harold Evans, who led an unsuccessful staff takeover bid, recalls a historic carve-up.
  • Elections are now about digital loathing, not what the newspapers say – Wade through the digital comment at the bottom of so many election pieces and you stumble into web swamps heaving with hate. … Apparently today’s version of democratic freedom means avoiding reading something you don’t agree with.
  • “Smaller and simpler” mantra rings through banking boardrooms – Deutsche Bank’s plan to jettison much of its German retail bank and withdraw from one in ten countries sees it join a growing list of banks choosing to shrink and simplify to survive. The benefits of size and reach, for years considered the holy grail of global banking, are now viewed as being outweighed by the cost and complexity of running businesses across dozens of countries. Many bank bosses have given up on trying to offer everything to everyone. But as unwinding years of expansion proves difficult, pressure for action has intensified, from politicians who show little patience with institutions they consider too big and complex and investors wanting more return on equity
  • Could a Carbon Tax Finance Corporate Rate Cuts? – How about using revenue from a carbon tax to help pay for corporate tax rate cuts? That’s the idea proposed yesterday by Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). His political calculation: Democrats would back the bill as a way to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. Republicans would support the plan to cut corporate tax rates while retaining at least some popular business tax subsidies. Delaney would use revenues from a $30-per-ton carbon tax to cut the corporate rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. Some of the cash would also provide a tax credit to reduce the burden of the energy tax on low- and moderate-income households. Still other dollars would help coal industry workers who would likely lose jobs as a result of such a tax.

The world-wide growth in house prices

April 27th, 2015 Comments off
  • Since 1900 house prices in advanced economies have increased threefole. The overwhelming hare of this increase occurred  in the second half of the 20th century.

    Since 1900 house prices in advanced economies have increased threefole. The overwhelming hare of this increase occurred in the second half of the 20th century.

    house prices australia

    No price like home: Global house prices 1870-2012 – How have house prices evolved over the long‐run? This paper presents annual house prices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we show that real house prices stayed constant from the 19th to the mid‐20th century, but rose strongly during the second half of the 20th century. Land prices, not replacement costs, are the key to understanding the trajectory of house prices. Rising land prices explain about 80 percent of the global house price boom that has taken place since World War II. Higher land values have pushed up wealth‐to‐income ratios in recent decades.

  • Nobody Said That – Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs — maybe a paid pundit, maybe an supposed expert in some area, maybe just an opinionated billionaire. You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. … But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do? You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error. … Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.
  • 8 Obama Jokes That Stood Out From The White House Correspondents Dinner


((Click to enlarge)

  • Poetry is going extinct, government data show
  • Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless
  • Can we predict happiness? – What makes us happy? Well-being researchers have identified many variables related to happiness, but we still don’t know exactly how the events of our daily lives combine to influence how we feel from moment to moment. People should get happier when good things happen, but clearly this is not the whole story. We designed a study to investigate the relationship between rewards and happiness. We brought people into the lab and asked them repeatedly about their happiness as they chose between safe and risky monetary options. Risky choices were gambles with equal probabilities (like a coin toss) of a better or worse outcome. If they chose to gamble on a given trial, they then found out whether they won or lost. Based on the data, we developed a mathematical equation to predict how self-reported happiness depends on past events. We found that happiness depends not on how well things are going, but whether things are going better or worse than expected.

    Happiness depends on safe choices (certain rewards, CR), expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV), and whether the outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected. This final variable is called a reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between the experienced outcome and the expectation. The neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to represent these signals which might explain how people learn about rewards (if you get more than you expected, next time you should expect more).

    Happiness depends on safe choices (certain rewards, CR), expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV), and whether the outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected. This final variable is called a reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between the experienced outcome and the expectation. The neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to represent these signals which might explain how people learn about rewards (if you get more than you expected, next time you should expect more).

PJ O’Rourke tries to make sense of the UK election

April 26th, 2015 Comments off


  • “PJ O’Rourke on the UK Campaign Trail” – In this year’s British general election the traditional two party system looks set to be blown apart with up to seven parties having a say in the result. It could be most interesting campaign in decades but it could also be the weirdest. PJ O’Rourke travels across Britain trying to work out why party politics in the UK is being shaken up. From the Tory heartlands of the South that do not seem that keen on the Tories any more to Labour’s battle for Scotland, PJ meets politicians, pundits and the voters, to find out what it takes to get elected to the mother of Parliaments in 2015.
  • Republicans want a bumper sticker world – The case for Mr Obama is that in seeking to deploy economic and diplomatic power, and to leverage US influence through multinational coalitions, he has recognised the complexities of this new landscape. The case against is that he has sometimes gone too far in drawing the limits of US power. What has been missing is an overarching framework — a set of principles clear and practical enough to deter adversaries and to reassure allies. A grand strategy, in other words, that balances ambition and realism. Republicans used to have a reputation for such thinking. Now they prefer bumper stickers.
  • Humans aren’t the only ones to genetically modify crops. Nature does, too. – Now, as a new study shows, horizontal gene transfer in nature has likely modified some of the very crops we eat without any human input at all. Nearly 300 samples of human-grown sweet potatoes, as well as some wild ones, contain bits of DNA originally found in some of the very bacteria that inspired genetic modification, researchers reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their findings suggest we might rethink how “unnatural” GMOs really are.
  • Oklahomans Feel Way More Earthquakes Than Californians; Now They Know Why – A magnitude-3.0 earthquake is small, but most people can feel it. Historically, Oklahoma got less than two of those a year, but in 2013 it became two a week. It’s only gotten more active since then — last year, the state had three times as many earthquakes as in the entire seismically active state of California. This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey will issue its first comprehensive assessment of the hazard posed by earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling. In the preliminary report, the survey details oil and gas-related quakes in eight states. The earthquake surge is strongest in Oklahoma, where the state government has formally acknowledged the link for the first time earlier this week.
  • The Fight Over Canada’s Patriot Act – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has introduced an ambitious and unpopular intelligence reform agenda. Can anyone stop it?
  • The United States Does Not Know Who It’s Killing – A remorseful acknowledgment of the drone deaths of American civilians is not an acceptable answer for a counterterrorism policy out of control.
  • Europe’s asylum seekers and the global refugee challenge – The human tragedy of thousands of asylum seekers floundering—and dying—in the Mediterranean highlights an unprecedented global challenge for the 21st century. … We should by all means tackle this human tragedy and end the horrors being witnessed in the Mediterranean. But we should also recognize that the global problem is getting worse as the wars in the Middle East and elsewhere continue, and people are displaced, killed, and maimed every day. Closing doors and building fences work in very limited ways. Refugees can have an impact on whole societies and regions decades after the tragedies that led to their displacement. Just as we are doing with climate change and global epidemics, it’s time for a global response to the refugee crisis—before it further destabilizes an already fragile global order.
  • Eight officers stormed into my bedroom shouting Met Police’: Reporter’s three-year ordeal ‘for writing story about a fox’

Thoughts of a politician on the paleo diet

April 26th, 2015 Comments off

From the daily email news summary of The New York Times:


Categories: Eating Tags:

Thoughts on the UK election and links to other interesting news and views

April 25th, 2015 Comments off
  • UK election: Who will run Britain? – The polls have been static for weeks, with the Conservative and Labour parties stuck on roughly 34 per cent each. So the real drama is likely to take place after 10pm on polling day, as David Cameron, the Tory prime minister, and Ed Miliband, his Labour rival, try to claw their way to power. The bookmakers name Mr Cameron favourite to win most seats in the House of Commons, but expect him to fall short of an outright majority. They reckon Mr Miliband is most likely to be Britain’s next prime minister.
  • Politics and the Australian language – Sexism, plain talking (when it suits them) and obfuscating euphemism: politicians down under abuse language, too
  • Republicans want a bumper sticker world – The case for Mr Obama is that in seeking to deploy economic and diplomatic power, and to leverage US influence through multinational coalitions, he has recognised the complexities of this new landscape. The case against is that he has sometimes gone too far in drawing the limits of US power. What has been missing is an overarching framework — a set of principles clear and practical enough to deter adversaries and to reassure allies. A grand strategy, in other words, that balances ambition and realism. Republicans used to have a reputation for such thinking. Now they prefer bumper stickers.
  • Oklahomans Feel Way More Earthquakes Than Californians; Now They Know Why – A magnitude-3.0 earthquake is small, but most people can feel it. Historically, Oklahoma got less than two of those a year, but in 2013 it became two a week. It’s only gotten more active since then — last year, the state had three times as many earthquakes as in the entire seismically active state of California. This morning, the U.S. Geological Survey will issue its first comprehensive assessment of the hazard posed by earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling. In the preliminary report, the survey details oil and gas-related quakes in eight states. The earthquake surge is strongest in Oklahoma, where the state government has formally acknowledged the link for the first time earlier this week.
  • Clinton Rules – So there’s a lot of buzz about alleged scandals involving the Clinton Foundation. Maybe there’s something to it. But you have to wonder: is this just the return of “Clinton rules”?

Death penalty to follow departure of world leaders

April 24th, 2015 Comments off

The ending of a Jakarta conference attended by the leaders of 22 countries apparently removes the last major obstacle to the death by firing squad of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. In a front page story today The Jakarta Post reports Indonesian Attorney General M. Prasetyo said on Wednesday that all preparations for the executions were in place. “We are prepared, so we can decide on a date any time,” he told the House of Representatives.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Murdoch loses his cool because The Sun not attacking Labour vigorously enough

April 22nd, 2015 Comments off

murdoch loses his cook

  • Rupert Murdoch, fearing company’s future, told Sun journalists to get ‘act together’ on Labour coverage – The News Corp chairman –  who owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times – visited London at the end of February, and reportedly warned journalists on his tabloid newspaper of the threat a Labour government would have on the company. Last week, in its manifesto, Labour pledged to ensure that no “one media owner should be able to exert undue influence on public opinion and policy makers”. It said: “No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law.” This appears to be a reference to the News UK (the UK’s biggest national newspaper publisher) and the hacking scandal. The Independent reports this morning that the News Corp boss, who has made no secret of his dislike of the Labour leader, told the editor of The Sun, David Dinsmore, that he expected the paper to be much sharper in its attacks on Labour.

    the asun n milliband k.itchensA hint of his frustration was evident on Twitter when the News Corp bosswrote: “Cameron’s Tories bash vulnerable Miliband for months with no effect on polls. Need new aspirational policies to have any hope of winning.”

    Two days after Mr Murdoch’s visit the paper devoted a two-page spread to the election – with the left-hand page containing a 10-point “pledge” to voters written by David Cameron. The right-hand side of the spread was an attack on Ed Balls under the headline: “I ruined your pensions, I sold off our gold, I helped wreck [the] economy, Now I’m going to put up your taxes.”

    It is understood that Mr Murdoch reminded executives that Labour would try to break up News UK, which owns The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. The party has suggested that no owner should be allowed to control more than 34 per cent of the UK media, a cap which would force News UK to sell one of the titles.

Categories: European media, Media Tags:

March 2015 Easily Set The Record For Hottest March Ever Recorded

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

noaa temperature map for march

  • New Report: March 2015 Easily Set The Record For Hottest March Ever Recorded – This was easily the hottest March — and hottest January-to-March — on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s latest monthly report … :

    March 2015 was not only the hottest March in their 135-year of keeping records, it beat “the previous record of 2010 by 0.09°F (0.05°C).”

    January-to-March was not only the hottest start to any year on record, it also beat “the previous record of 2002 by 0.09°F.”

    March was so warm that only two other months ever had a higher “departure from average” (i.e. temperature above the norm), February 1998 and January 2007, and they only beat March by “just 0.01°C (0.02°F).”

    Arctic sea ice hit its smallest March extent since records began in 1979.

    Last week, NASA also reported this was the hottest three-month start of any year on record. In NASA’s database, though, this was the third warmest March on record. It was the warmest in the dataset of the Japan Meteorological Agency. These three agencies use slightly different methods for tracking global temperature, so their monthly and yearly rankings differ slightly, even as they all show the same long-term trend driven by carbon pollution.

  • Up to 1m migrants waiting to enter Europe, warns Italian prosecutor
  • Conservative Election Manifesto by Robert Skidelsky – The Conservatives have continued to spin their familiar yarn of having rescued Britain from ‘Labour’s Great Recession’. This, as they must know, is the mother of all lies. The Great Recession was caused by the banks. Governments, the Labour government included, by bailing out the banks and continuing to spend, stopped the Great Recession from turning into a Great Depression. Yet practically everyone seems to believe that the Great Recession was manufactured by Gordon Brown.albrechtsen2
  • Fun times over for power-hungry ICAC – ICAC has unwittingly delivered a model case study of the perverted influence of power within a body charged with hunting down systemic corruption. After being told by Australia’s highest court that you have acted outside your jurisdiction, the normal response is to immediately acknowledge your error, accept it and learn from it. In ICAC’s case, that means returning to its legislative role of investigating serious and systemic public corruption. Instead, this star chamber seems to think it’s part of some kind of tin-pot dictatorship where it can expect government cronies to bolster its power. In its statement, ICAC demanded the NSW government retrospectively amend the ICAC Act to reflect the way ICAC has always operated. Even a first-year law student knows the most basic principle of the rule of law is that laws should be prospective, not retrospective.
  • France’s ‘Pathetic Reality Family Show – Marine Le Pen is betting that this is the far-right National Front’s moment to triumph. But will a feud among the founding family tear the party apart?

Why are politicians still referring to marijuana as a gateway drug?

April 21st, 2015 Comments off

Miriam Boeri, Bentley University

With states legalizing marijuana by popular vote, some politicians, including Boston mayor Marty Walsh and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, are still calling marijuana a gateway drug.

The gateway theory argues that because heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine users often used marijuana before graduating to harder drugs, it must be a “gateway” to harder drug use. The theory implies that there is a casual mechanism that biologically sensitizes drug users, making them more willing to try – and more desirous of – harder drugs.

Yet the gateway hypothesis doesn’t make sense to those who use marijuana or have used in the past. Research shows that the vast majority of marijuana users do not go on to use hard drugs. Most stop using after entering the adult social world of family and work.

So why is it still part of the rhetoric and controversy surrounding the drug? A closer look reveals the historical roots – and vested interests – that are keeping the myth alive.

Explaining hard drug use

When analyzing what acts as a “gateway” to hard drug use, there are a number of factors at play. None involve marijuana.

With so much research challenging the gateway theory, it’s important to examine – and dispel – the research that proponents of the myth latch onto.

But what about all that evidence?

Most of the research linking marijuana to harder drug use comes from the correlation between the two. However, as any junior scientist can tell you, correlation does not mean causation.

Correlation is a first step. A correlation can be positive or negative; it can be weak or strong. And it never means a cause unless a rational reason for causality is found.

The brain disease model, which describes changes in the brain during the progression from drug use to addiction, currently gets a lot of attention as an potential causal link of the gateway theory. For example, in a 2014 article, neuroscientist Dr Jodi Gilman reported that even a little marijuana use was associated with “exposure-dependent alterations of the neural matrix of core reward systems” in the brains of young marijuana users. The reasoning goes that this would predispose them to use other drugs.

But other researchers were quick to point out the flaws of the Gilman study, such as a lack of careful controls for alcohol and other drug use by those whose brains were studied. Nonetheless, Dr Gilman’s research continues to be cited in the news media, while its critics are ignored.

In another study supporting the gateway theory, the authors admit to limitations in their study: that they excluded younger cocaine users from the analysis, as well as older cocaine users who had never used marijuana. This means that those cases that might provide evidence of no gateway effect were left out of the analysis.

One the other hand, there’s a wealth of research showing the flaws in the gateway theory. Unfortunately, the common thread among these studies is that much of them come from outside the US or from grass-roots organizations within the US that are promoting marijuana legalization.

A myth ingrained in politics, perpetuated through policy

So why is it that most of the funded research pointing out flaws in the gateway theory comes from overseas?

Harry Anslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Wikimedia Commons

As Nathan Greenslit explained in an Atlantic article last year, US drug policy began with racist fear-mongering by Federal Bureau of Narcotics director Harry Anslinger in 1937.

The Nixon administration strengthened drug control with the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, which classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, against the advice of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse.

Because marijuana is still officially classified in the US as a Schedule I drug with no medical value, carefully controlled research using marijuana must receive approval from several federal departments. On the rare occasions that researchers do get approval, local politics can thwart the study.

Meanwhile, in the United States, addiction researchers and addiction treatment professionals are heavily invested in the weakly supported claim that marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs. For decades, scientists who study addiction have received millions in government and pharmaceutical funding to perpetuate the gateway hypothesis. Many would lose their respected reputations (or continued funding) if a gateway mechanism is not a legitimate research goal.

Those who work in the vast addiction treatment profession are especially invested in keeping the gateway theory believable, since the majority of their treatment patients are marijuana users. Their jobs depend on a belief in addiction as a disease and on marijuana being an addictive drug.

Scare tactics

Today, what started as scare tactics under Anslinger has been “modernizied” (and mystified) by scientific jargon.

Sociologists Craig Reinarman and Harry G Levine described how the media and politicians manufacture drug scares to influence policy. One fear perpetuated is that marijuana use will increase if decriminalized.

But a 2004 study compared Amsterdam, where marijuana was decriminalized, to San Francisco, where cannabis was, at the time, still criminalized. The authors found that criminalization of marijuana didn’t reduce use, while decriminalization didn’t increase use.

The gateway fear has focused mostly on youth. For example, newly-elected Maryland governor Larry Hogan announced that he is against legalization partly out of concern that “marijuana use would increase among young people.” Meanwhile, parents are concerned by recent research showing marijuana’s effect on the brain.

These studies showed structural changes and loss of white matter in marijuana users, although the limitations of these studies and implications were questioned by other research.

But fears of decriminalization resulting in increased use among youth haven’t been supported by research from countries where drugs were decriminalized. Nor has this trend been noted in studies of US states that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. For example, in an article published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the authors found no evidence that young people had increased marijuana use in states that had legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

The worst impact on kids, according to these authors, was the potential for criminal prosecution.

A gateway to jail

Studies consistently find that the traumatic experience of being arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession is the most harmful aspect of marijuana among young people. Arrest for possession can result in devastating – often permanent – legal and social problems, especially for minority youth and low-income families.

Getting arrested can be a traumatic experience for young people.
‘Cuffs’ via

According to studies by the ACLU, nearly half of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession, and the majority of those arrested were African American. In some states, African Americans were more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.

Unfortunately, marijuana legalization has not changed arrests and incarceration disparities for minorities. While African Americans have always been over-represented for drug arrests and incarceration, new research shows African Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession after marijuana reform than all other races were before marijuana policy reform. Although in some states, decriminalization makes possession a “noncriminal” offense, it can still be illegal and can result in an arrest, court appearance and stiff fines.

Marijuana as a gateway – out of hard drugs

On the periphery of the marijuana-as-gateway-drug debates are studies showing marijuana as beneficial for the treatment of opiate addicts.

These have been largely ignored. However, now that marijuana has become legal for medical purposes in some states, new research offers substantial findings that can’t be dismissed.

Crime has not increased in states that have legalized marijuana; it’s actually gone down. Surprisingly, opiate overdose deaths have gone down as well.

As I’ve written previously for The Conversation, anyone who actually talks with problem drug users (and doesn’t simply talk about them) knows that marijuana can help drug users prevent, control – even stop – hard drug use.

If anything, marijuana can work as a gateway out of hard drug use – an exit strategy that needs to be studied and, possibly, implemented at the policy level.

It’s time to move beyond marijuana as a gateway drug and start to study its use as treatment for the deadly, addictive and socially devastating drugs.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

Assaults on Jews rose in 2014

April 20th, 2015 Comments off


  • Tel Aviv University says violent anti-Semitic attacks spiked in 2014 – An annual report from Tel Aviv University researchers reveals that anti-Semitic incidents rose dramatically worldwide in 2014, with violent attacks on Jews ranging from armed assaults to vandalism against synagogues, schools, and cemeteries.
  • The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State – An Iraqi officer planned Islamic State’s takeover in Syria and SPIEGEL has been given exclusive access to his papers. They portray an organization that, while seemingly driven by religious fanaticism, is actually coldly calculating.
  • Greece Flashes Warning Signals About Its Debt – That Athens might still be exploring ways to restructure its debt underscores how close the country is to defaulting.
  • Greece short-term bond yields hit another high
  • KFC’s new ad sees the peddler of peppered poultry sink to new lows – Few would have thought it possible for KFC to come up with something even more monstrously unspeakable than popcorn chicken, but it’s managed it. The chain is now using orphans to flog its food.
  • The marriage calculus – Women with money and education tend to get and stay married in America. Why don’t working-class women do the same?
  • Why Kill Charlie? – [Slain editor, Stéphane Charbonnier – “Charb”] Charb’s choice of symbolism and rhetoric marked him out as a distinctly old-fashioned leftist – of the kind which has no hang-ups about hurting other people’s feelings and whose instinctive reaction to fascism is to oppose it without equivocation. It also shows that he too had a sense of being embroiled in a “grande bataille” – one that transcended the everyday mediocrity which he scorned in his weekly column entitled “Charb n’aime pas les gens” (Charb doesn’t like people). For Charb the freedom to ridicule was a higher value, beyond normal practical considerations. It was a quasi-religious cause for which he was overtly prepared to sacrifice himself – a show of defiance that is at once inspiring and unnerving. Did he overdo it? Of course he overdid it. Did they have to publish the caricatures? Of course they did not have to publish them. They chose to do so. That is the whole point. Freedom of speech only becomes an issue when others decide to shut you up.
  • Abe breaking arms taboo with Japan’s first defense trade show – Japan will host its first international defense trade show next month, underscoring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to loosen the shackles of its postwar pacifist Constitution amid territorial tensions with an increasingly assertive China. … The lifting of the ban on arms exports allows Japan to take part in joint development projects, as well as potentially exporting finished products to bring down unit costs for its military. While talks are underway about a sale of its Soryu submarines to Australia, doubts remain as to the level of success Japan will have in boosting overseas shipments.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Global military spending decline, a note on Crowding In and the Paradox of Thrift and other interesting bits and pieces

April 20th, 2015 Comments off

military spending

  • Snapshots of Global Military Spending – Since the Great Recession hit, global military spending has dropped a bit (as measured in inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Crowding In and the Paradox of Thrift – From Paul Krugman’s blog: … these days you can pretty much count on the semiannual World Economic Outlook to offer some dramatic new insight into how the world works. And the latest edition is no exception. The big intellectual news here is Chapter 4, on business investment. As the report notes, weak business investment has been a major reason for global economic weakness. But why is business investment weak? … it manages in passing both to refute a very widely held but false belief about deficits and to confirm a highly controversial Keynesian proposition. The false belief is that government deficits necessarily “crowd out” investment, so that reducing deficits should free up funds that lead to higher investment. Not so, says the IMF: when governments introduce deficit-reduction measures, investment falls instead of rising. This says that the deficits were crowding investment in, not out. And there’s another way to look at it: when governments introduce austerity measures, they are trying to reduce their net borrowing – in effect, they are raising their savings rate. What the IMF tells us is that such attempts to increase saving actually lead to lower, not higher, investment – and since saving equals investment, actual savings fall. So what we have here is an empirical confirmation of the existence of the paradox of thrift! Remarkable stuff.

bouvier's monkey

  • Critically Endangered Monkey Photographed In Congo’s Newest National Park, Ntokou-Pikounda – Two primatologists working in the forests of the Republic of Congo have returned from the field with a noteworthy prize: the first-ever photograph of the Bouvier’s red colobus monkey, a rare primate not seen for more than half a century and suspected to be extinct by some, according to WCS (the Wildlife Conservation Society).
  • Deal Reached on Fast-Track Authority for Obama on Trade Accord – Key congressional leaders agreed on Thursday on legislation to give President Obama special authority to finish negotiating one of the world’s largest trade accords, opening a rare battle that aligns the president with Republicans against a broad coalition of Democrats. In what is sure to be one of the toughest fights of Mr. Obama’s last 19 months in office, the “fast track” bill allowing the White House to pursue its planned Pacific trade deal also heralds a divisive fight within the Democratic Party, one that could spill into the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Marco Rubio: the 2016 presidential campaign’s $40 million man – “Marco Rubio will have the resources necessary to run a first-class campaign, that’s already been determined,” said billionaire Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, a former Jeb Bush supporter who is now one of Rubio’s highest-silhouette donors.
  • Gazing Into Those Puppy-Dog Eyes May Actually Be Good For You – Gazing into your dog’s eyes apparently triggers happy feelings in both parties – suggesting that dogs really may love us back. … If you’re a dog owner, this question may have crossed your mind. Does she really love me, or is she just looking at me that way to get a treat? New research out this week in the journal Science may provide some clues.
  • What in the world does China own?
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

A renewable energy nightmare

April 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • American Companies Are Shipping Millions Of Trees To Europe, And It’s A Renewable Energy Nightmare – With climate change already contributing to the frequency and intensity of forest fires and associated loss of forest, the addition of a profitable, extensive, and poorly overseen biomass industry could push the forests further into disrepair.
  • Renewable energy – Not a toy – Plummeting prices are boosting renewables, even as subsidies fall
  • Abbott government’s energy white paper fails to face reality – By failing to take global warming seriously, the white paper discourages solar power, encourages doomed coal investment, hobbles the RET, and misses the chance to raise petrol taxes.
  • Bali tourist areas exempt from beer ban – The Trade Ministry’s new regulation on alcoholic beverages, scheduled to take full effect on Thursday, will not be enforced on Bali as the ministry has decided that tourism areas would be exempted from the ban.On Thursday minimarkets, small vendors and beachside beverage vendors across the country were to stop selling beer. Bali administrations, retail associations and vendors had expressed opposition against the beer ban
  • The Jakarta Post | Editorial – Stop drinking? – Simple solutions are appealing, a fact that politicians here and everywhere know well. As such, it has not only been moralists pushing for legal instruments to regulate behavior at the local and national levels. The latest evidence is a bill that seeks to ban liquor, which has received backing from almost all political parties that control the House of Representatives. It is appealing to millions of citizens concerned over violent drunks and long-term excessive consumption of liquor. Though we share the concerns, which, along with smoking, contribute to the ruin of poor families, we oppose the bill, which is driven not only by the Islamist political parties.
  • The Westminster museum of artless bullshit: a look inside the post-debate spin room – Spin doctors scurry around trying to parrot the same scripted observations to as many hacks as possible – frankly, the whole thing is crying out for infiltration by a telly satirist

choice on anz

Lies, damned lies and the British election and links to other interesting stories

April 16th, 2015 Comments off
  • Lies, damned lies and the British election – Promises mean little when the parties have only the vaguest idea of how things will turn out
  • Blackwater’s Legacy Goes Beyond Public View – “This industry is now truly global,” said Sean McFate, author of “The Modern Mercenary,” a book on the private security industry. “That’s the legacy of Blackwater — they didn’t really make the business, but they’ve symbolized it. They’ve become the hood ornaments for an industry that was for centuries pretty much illegal, and now it’s pretty much re-emerged.”

ft shame

ft editorial

  • From today’s Financial Times of London editorial – a bit different to our Financial Review?
  • U.S. Soldiers, Back in Iraq, Find Security Forces in Disrepair – American troops returning for the first time since 2011 said they were stunned by the state of the army they had once trained.
  • Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change – Catholic officials announced on Tuesday plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference to be hosted at Vatican later this month, the latest in Pope Francis’ faith-rooted campaign to raise awareness about global warming. The summit, which is scheduled for April 28 and entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” will draw together a combination of scientists, global faith leaders, and influential conservation advocates
  • Meet The World’s Expert On Climate Change And ‘Game Of Thrones’ – She is not Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. She is Manjana Milkoreit, a post-doctoral Fellow with the Walton Sustainability Fellowship Program at Arizona State University. …  If you are wondering how one becomes the world’s expert on climate change and “Game of Thrones” [aka GOT], the answer is two things. First, you write a 40-page scholarly paper, “Winter is Coming”: Can Game of Thrones change Climate Change Politics? Then you get Reuters to write a story about you, “Is ‘Game of Thrones’ aiding the global debate on climate change?”
  • Driver’s License Suspensions Create Cycle of Debt
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Are big banks just licensed thieves? A ticket clippers update

April 16th, 2015 Comments off

Earlier this week it was just the National Australia Bank fessing up that its UK arm had cheated customers. Today the NAB is among the financial institutions that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission is investigating for charging clients for financial advice that was never given.

Not that the update by ASIC named those helping it with its enquiries. The corporate cop still seems strangely diffident about naming and shaming. You have to look elsewhere to discover that it is the wealth arms of the Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, ANZ Bank, Macquarie Group and AMP that is being investigated.

Still, I suppose a semi-silent investigation is better than no investigation.

The ASIC statement:

ASIC today provided an update on its Wealth Management Project which is focusing on the conduct of the largest financial advice firms.

ASIC is investigating multiple instances of licensees charging clients for financial advice, including annual advice reviews, where the advice was not provided.  Most of the fees have been charged as part of a client’s service agreement with their financial adviser.

Deputy Chairman, Peter Kell said: ‘ASIC will consider all regulatory options, including enforcement action, where we find evidence of breaches of the law relating to fees being charged where no advice service has been provided. We will look to ensure that advice licensees follow a proper process of customer remediation and reimbursement of fees where such breaches have occurred.’

The ASIC Wealth Management Project was established in October last year with the objective of lifting standards in major financial advice providers. Under this project ASIC is carrying a number of investigations and is conducting a range of proactive risk-based surveillances with particular focus on compliance in large financial institutions.

ASIC’s investigations are continuing.

Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Moore’s Law at 50

April 15th, 2015 Comments off
Here's a figure showing the trends of semiconductor output and price over time. Notice that both axes are measured as logarithmic scales: that is, they rise by powers of 10. The price of a transistor was more than a dollar back in the 1950s, and now it's a billionth of a penny.

Here’s a figure showing the trends of semiconductor output and price over time. Notice that both axes are measured as logarithmic scales: that is, they rise by powers of 10. The price of a transistor was more than a dollar back in the 1950s, and now it’s a billionth of a penny.

  • Moore’s Law at 50 – the driving force behind information and communications technology has been Moore’s law, which can understood as the proposition that the number of components packed on to a computer chip would double every two years, implying a sharp fall in the costs and rise in the capabilities of information technology. But the capability of making transistors ever-smaller, at least with current technology, is beginning to run into physical limits. IEEE Spectrum has published a “Special Report: 50 Years of Moore’s Law,” with a selection of a dozen short articles looking back at Moore’s original formulation of the law, how it has developed over time, and prospects for the law continuing.
  • An economic future that may never brighten – Martin Wolf on how the decline in potential growth leads to debate about the savings glut and secular stagnation

break your routine

  • Is Your Job ‘Routine’? If So, It’s Probably Disappearing – The American labor market and middle class was once built on the routine job–workers showed up at factories and offices, took their places on the assembly line or the paper-pushing chain, did the same task over and over, and then went home. New research from Henry Siu at the University of British Columbia and Nir Jaimovich from Duke University shows just how much the world of routine work has collapsed. The economists released a paper today, published by the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, showing that over the course of the last two recessions and recoveries, a period beginning in 2001, the economy’s job growth has come entirely from nonroutine work.
  • The Cost of Trout Fishing – If we continue to ignore the impact of hatchery fish on aquatic ecosystems, we will soon regret what has been lost.
  • Can the Greens keep the bastards honest? – The Greens have continually defied predictions they will go the way of the Australian Democrats, but they do face some challenges to the slow gains they’ve made over the decades, writes Mike Steketee.

game of thrones

  • ‘Game of Thrones’ Ratings: HBO Show Returns With Series High – Once considered something of a niche show, “Thrones” is now delivering numbers topped on cable only by AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Nielsen estimates than an average audience of about 8 million watched the initial telecast of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday — up 1.16 million viewers (or 17%) from its year-ago debut of 6.84 million. It’s also about 800,000 more than any other episode of the show to date.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

A warm world for a Paris climate meeting?

April 14th, 2015 Comments off

The odds are increasing that the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris from 30 November until 11 December will come at the end of another record hot year for the planet. January and February provided the warmest start to a calendar year apart from 2007 and an emerging El Niño is laying the foundation for hot temperatures to continue.

el nino alert (1)

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology today upgraded its ENSO Tracker to El Niño ALERT. This means the likelihood of El Niño developing in 2015 is at least 70%. All international climate models monitored by the Bureau indicate that El Niño thresholds will be reached or exceeded by June. Earth’s previous hottest years have coincided with an El Niño

el nino predictions

The BOM reports:

All eight of the surveyed international climate models indicate the central Pacific Ocean will warm further during the coming months. All surveyed models indicate that NINO3.4 will reach or exceed El Niño threshold levels by mid-year. All models suggest that SSTs will remain above threshold levels for a sustained period. The average value of NINO3.4 expected by the end of the southern winter is about +1.5 °C; however, it is too early to determine with confidence how strong this potential El Niño could be.

Model outlooks spanning February to May (the traditional ENSO transition period) have lower confidence than forecasts made at other times of year.

The political speculator’s diary: No false modesty here. Late acting on my post!

April 8th, 2015 Comments off

No false modesty here. Late acting on my post!

dollar trades

Click to enlarge

I prefer the explanation that the lads just took some time to act on my post of yesterday.

Anyway there was another modest collect with $82 jumping in which at least put me modestly in front on my interest rate predictions.

The all-time profit on all predictions now stands at $1252.49. (See The portfolio – the record so far for full details).

So far this calendar year we have had a turnover of $700 for a profit of $542).

This blog, as well as being a bit of fun, does have the serious purpose of letting people check my record as a political pundit. I note that not many of me peers are game to keep a score sheet.

via The political speculator’s diary: No false modesty here. Late acting on my post!.

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A depressing view of economics and elections and links to other interesting news and views

April 7th, 2015 Comments off
  • Economics and elections – A depressing quote or two from Paul Krugman: Economics and Elections: [A] large body of political science research [on elections shows] … What mainly matters is income growth immediately before the election. And I mean immediately: We’re talking about something less than a year, maybe less than half a year. This is, if you think about it, a distressing result, because it says that there is little or no political reward for good policy. A nation’s leaders may do an excellent job of economic stewardship for four or five years yet get booted out because of weakness in the last two quarters before the election. … What, then, should those of us who study economic policy and care about real-world outcomes do? The answer, surely, is that we should do our jobs: Try to get it right, and explain our answers as clearly as we can. Realistically, the political impact will usually be marginal at best. Bad things will happen to good ideas, and vice versa. So be it. Elections determine who has the power, not who has the truth.
From The Laughing Bone where I learned Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate "suicide" attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings' venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.

From The Laughing Bone where I learned: “Lemming suicide is fiction. Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not periodically hurl themselves off of cliffs and into the sea. Cyclical explosions in population do occasionally induce lemmings to attempt to migrate to areas of lesser population density. When such a migration occurs, some lemmings die by falling over cliffs or drowning in lakes or rivers. These deaths are not deliberate “suicide” attempts, however, but accidental deaths resulting from the lemmings’ venturing into unfamiliar territories and being crowded and pushed over dangerous ledges. In fact, when the competition for food, space, or mates becomes too intense, lemmings are much more likely to kill each other than to kill themselves.”

  • Are Money Managers Lemmings? – It was once widely believed that the rise of professional investors would make financial markets less prone to manias, panics and crashes. Lately, the opposite belief has begun to take hold. … a burgeoning new official literature on the problems with asset managers. … The main problem with asset managers, one learns from reading (or, in a couple of cases, skimming) these papers and reports, is that they behave too much like other asset managers. That is, they “herd” — buying into particular securities or asset classes mainly because lots of other asset managers are doing it. In the process, they make market highs go higher and market lows go lower. This acknowledgement that professional investors don’t automatically drive prices toward something close to their correct levels is a welcome shift in economic consensus.
  • A Penny for Your Sugar: Setting a Price on Sin – What do you have to drink in your refrigerator? I’ve got kids in grade school, and our fridge always holds their favorite: Juice boxes filled with 100% apple juice. I felt pretty good about that “100%” until I looked at the label. There are 18 grams of sugar in one 6.75-ounce serving. Coca Cola? Six ounces contain 19.5 grams. Oops. Look: Sugar tastes great, but in excess, it can do a real number on a waistline. I can take some solace in the fact that my kids’ juice has no added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that we all cut back on added sugar to help curb obesity. Sugar-added beverages are pretty popular, and given the US obesity rate and its associated costs, they pose a problem. Can the problem be solved with a sin tax? Or in this case, as it’s more palatably known, a “soda tax?” (That is not an all-inclusive term, it just rolls off the tongue more easily than “sugar-added beverage tax.”)
  • Clinton campaigns for underdog status – As Hillary Clinton prepares to announce her long-awaited second bid for the White House, her advisers are touting a new strategy to dispel the air of inevitability that hangs over her candidacy.


  • How Criminals Built Capitalism – Whenever buyers and sellers get together, opportunities to fleece the other guy arise. The history of markets is, in part, the history of lying, cheating and stealing — and of the effort down the years to fight commercial crime. In fact, the evolution of the modern economy owes more than you might think to these outlaws. That’s the theme of “Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds, and the Rise of Modern Finance” by Ian Klaus. It’s a history of financial crimes in the 19th and early 20th centuries that traces a recurring sequence: new markets, new ways to cheat, new ways to transact and secure trust. As Klaus says, criminals helped build modern capitalism.
  • At this election, British politicians can afford to speak out against Rupert Murdoch – In the past all parties have played it safe but after the phone-hacking scandal, with its exposure of the abuse of power, they have nothing to lose but their fear

An interest rate cut by Reserve Bank narrowly favoured

April 6th, 2015 Comments off

The Owl’s election indicator narrowly supports the view that the Reserve Bank board will decide to lower official interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point.

april 2015 interest rates

The curse of the petrified pollster

April 6th, 2015 Comments off
  • Election punditry is tricky when the polls are this greasy – “Miliband flops”, crows the Telegraph. “Miliband riding high”, replies the Mirror. But that brings us to the heart of the problem: the curse of the petrified pollster.
  • In poverty-stricken Philippine militant breeding ground, farmers plow in fear – Two months ago, the farmer’s marshland village of Tukanalipao was the site of a daylong battle between Muslim militants and police that left more than 60 people dead as security forces hunted down alleged top terrorists. The latest carnage has seriously jeopardized efforts to end a four-decade Muslim separatist rebellion that has claimed 120,000 lives, dimming hopes again that people such as Pangaoilan will be able to prosper in peace.
  • The hidden penalties of being a mother in the workforce – … it’s called the Motherhood Penalty. … According to Diversity Council Australia, mothers experience a 17 per cent loss in wages over a lifetime. They take an average 4 per cent pay cut after the birth of their first child and a 9 per cent cut for each subsequent child.
  • Malaysia opposition faces challenging times – Nurul Izzah, daughter of Malaysia’s jailed opposition leader, thinks Malaysia is becoming Islamicised, under the guise of a Malay agenda.
  • Johnston Press shows there is life in local newspapers yet – “The digital tipping point” has been reached, declares Ashley Highfield. He’s the man who swapped developing new technology at the BBC such as the iPlayer for an ink-stained desk at Johnston Press, owner of The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.
  • Science vs Conspiracy: Collective Narratives in the Age of Misinformation – In spite of the enthusiastic rhetoric about the so called collective intelligence unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories—e.g., chemtrails, reptilians or the Illuminati—are pervasive in online social networks (OSN).
  • The mute button – The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception.

Joe Hockey and tax and things – The Owl gets a larger audience

April 5th, 2015 Comments off
  • The bankers behind Hockey’s tax Re:think – “When Joe Hockey delivered Re:think – Better tax, better Australia, he employed the Coalition’s preferred method of delivering policy: eschew details in favour of three-word slogans. Hence the official summation of this week’s taxation conversation starter: Lower, simpler, fairer.” Looking at the detail of the prelude to the government’s make-or-break 2015 budget, Richard Farmer finds telltale thumbprints of Hockey’s internal office. In choosing advisors, Hockey has forgone the choice of previous treasurers: experienced political operatives sceptical to the pleading of business. Instead, Hockey has filled his office with those very people: ex-banking executives and corporate bosses.
  • This Woman’s Job Is to Recast Hillary Clinton’s Image – To get a brief reprieve from the pressures of working in the White House, Kristina Schake, a former aide to the first lady, Michelle Obama, took a class about her favorite painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. … Having helped shape Mrs. Obama’s public image into that of an accessible everywoman, Ms. Schake is about to face what may be her toughest challenge yet: working to get another first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, elected president.


  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Heretic’ – Following the events of the Arab Spring, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes in her latest book, “Heretic,” she came to the conclusion that “ordinary Muslims are ready for change.” Hirsi Ali has strong thoughts on what form that change should take for Muslims: a major overhaul of their religion. “Without fundamental alterations to some of Islam’s core concepts,” she says, “we shall not solve the burning and increasingly global problem of political violence carried out in the name of religion.”
  • Inside the List – At least since the frenzied days after 9/11, some pundits have called on moderate Muslims to criticize the more extreme elements of their faith from within. Ayaan Hirsi Ali would seem to fit the bill: Born in Somalia to a Muslim family, she fled to the Netherlands rather than submit to a forced marriage, and has since been vocal in chastising radical Islam for its embrace of violence as well as its treatment of women, gay people and nonbelievers; in short, she’d like to see Islam evolve to become more secular and ecumenical. … A professed liberal, she applied for work with left-leaning think tanks when she moved to America in 2007, but found no takers. “They didn’t say it to my face, but I got the feeling that they were uncomfortable with what I had been saying about Islam,” she told the author Sam Harris last year. Instead she found a home with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which seems at peace with her message that Islam is a religion of war.


  • All hail the messy Pope? – The dramatic gestures and demotic pronouncements of this extraordinary pontificate usually require some decoding, as well as an informed understanding of the culture in which their initiator was shaped. This is a task for which Ivereigh, a journalist and commentator with a published doctorate on religion and politics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Argentina, is well qualified.
  • Gender difference in moral judgments rooted in emotion, not reasoning, study finds – If a time machine was available, would it be right to kill Adolf Hitler when he was still a young Austrian artist to prevent World War II and save millions of lives? Should a police officer torture an alleged bomber to find hidden explosives that could kill many people at a local cafe? When faced with such dilemmas, men are typically more willing to accept harmful actions for the sake of the greater good than women. For example, women would be less likely to support the killing of a young Hitler or torturing a bombing suspect, even if doing so would ultimately save more lives.
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Blades and bones: Pigstock festival of pork –

April 4th, 2015 Comments off

The pig is carefully chosen and dispatched in its pen in the woods. The process is remarkably quick and strangely peaceful. We join in hefting the carcass into the bucket of a tractor and then follow it quietly back to the central clearing of the encampment. The big Austrian hangs it, head down, from the digger bucket and calmly talks us through the evisceration. The cooks carry the choicest offal to their fires, while a woman takes the spleen from which she scrapes the pulpy meat to be cooked and smeared on toast. This is carried back to the watching circle along with the brain, scrambled with eggs.

Pigstock is most emphatically not like Woodstock. It’s an annual private event run by Tom Adams, one of the founders of the successful Pitt Cue restaurant in London. It’s a little bigger than a party and a little smaller than a local festival and held on the farm of a family friend in Cornwall. The vibe is relaxed, welcoming and gently lubricated with alcohol but it has nothing to do with music. Each year, the participants get together to celebrate cooking and eating pork.

via Blades and bones: Pigstock festival of pork –

Categories: Eating Tags:

Corporate traders aren’t exactly saints, either –

April 4th, 2015 Comments off

Every few months now, it seems, another price manipulation scandal emerges. First, it was bank traders fixing Libor, the interbank lending rate, in exchange for steak dinners and bottles of Bollinger. Then, many of the same banks were accused of doing much the same thing to foreign exchange rates. From there, the investigations have spread to traders of precious metals. Critics say the burgeoning probes are proof positive that banks have a cultural problem.

Now comes a complaint from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission that accuses Kraft Foods Group and Mondelez, the sister companies created by the 2012 break-up of Kraft Foods, of manipulating the price of wheat. According to the CFTC, while still combined as Kraft Foods, the group bought a “huge” wheat futures contract in order to push down the prices of actual wheat for sale in Ohio, near the mill that made flour for the group’s cookies and crackers.

While Kraft routinely bought wheat futures contracts as a price hedge, it almost always closed them out in favour of buying wheat on the local market, the complaint said. That is because futures wheat is lower quality and costs much more to transport to the mill. But, in late 2011, Kraft bought $90m in contracts, 87 per cent of the market for that particular date, and then took delivery of some of the wheat. Prices in the local wheat market fell as farmers reacted with fear to Kraft’s new source of grain. The company then sold most of its futures, netting more than $5.4m on all the price moves.

via Corporate traders aren’t exactly saints, either –

Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Backing Labour’s Millliband to become UK Prime Minister

April 4th, 2015 Comments off

The opinion polls have the UK election at level pegging. The market has the Conservatives at $1.51 to win the most seats. On Betfair David Cameron is $1.75 to continue as Prime Minister after the election with Labour’ David Milliband at $2.34. To me those odds just don’t make sense.

Here is how The Guardian assesses what the current polls would produce:

(Click to enlarge)

Sure the Conservatives by that calculation should be a narrow favourite on the most seats market. But Cameron favourite to continue as PM?
Here is how The Independent assessed things this morning:

Because Labour-held constituencies are smaller than Conservative ones, it is easier for Labour to win most seats. Even though Labour continues to be at risk of heavy losses in Scotland, our latest seat projection puts the party on 293 seats, eighteen ahead of the Conservatives on 275.
With Nick Clegg projected to secure just 16 seats, the Prime Minister would be left with too few allies to be able to sustain a government. The 48 MPs that might be won by the SNP together with their Welsh and Green allies would be able to carry out their threat to block Mr Cameron’s path back to power.

Yet this how the Betfair markets have moved.
Winner of most seats
PM after next election

I already have had a couple of investments on Labour to win the most seats (see Details HERE). But to me the most likely result is a hung parliament and that the Scottish National Party will end up giving the initial nod to David Milliband. Hence my 100 unit investment on him at the $2.34.

Categories: Betting, UK election Tags:

Green Energy Investments Worldwide Surge

April 3rd, 2015 Comments off


Click to enlarge

  • World’s Muslim Population Will Surpass Christians This Century, Pew Says – Islam is growing more rapidly than any other religion in the world, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center that says the religion will nearly equal Christianity by 2050 before eclipsing it around 2070, if current trends continue. … The finding is part of the center’s report on the future of the world’s religions. You can see the full report at the Pew site, which has also published an interactive tool to help readers drill down by geography and religion.
  • Iceland has a radical plan to redefine money – Iceland’s prime minister commissioned a report from Frosti Sigurjónsson, a parliamentarian, that argues banks shouldn’t have the power to create money.
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Making individual tax returns public information by putting them on the web

April 2nd, 2015 Comments off
  • Should Individual Tax Returns Be Public Information? – Norway is the world leader in disclosure of income tax information. … In the fall of 2001, a national newspaper offered online access to tax information for the whole population through the web version of the newspaper, and soon all of the major national newspapers followed. Now, one could simply sit at home by the computer and obtain information about relatives, friends, neighbors, or celebrities. … The web pages offering search engines for tax information have been among the most popular websites in Norway, especially shortly after the release of new annual information.
  • German government approves controversial fracking bill – German cabinet has decided to allow shale gas fracking in Germany, but only under strict regulation and for testing purposes. Even so, lawmakers criticized the proposed bill for not being strict enough. According to the government proposal, fracking should be prohibited in so-called sensitive regions such as nature parks or water bore areas, and in depths above 3,000 meters. However, the bill allows for exceptions such as scientific tests, and it does not eliminate the possibility of commercial drilling past 2018. The public remains hostile to the plan, with environmentalists, unions and even churches criticizing the proposal. There is even strong resistance within the ruling coalition itself, which holds 504 out of 631 seats in the German parliament.
  • .N. site on flight in conflict zones to start up Thursday – The website, a test program proposed after a Malaysian airliner was downed in Ukraine last year, will be accessible to the public at the url starting on Thursday.
  • Where the right to speak is howled down – It is hard to avoid the depressing conclusion that at Sydney University today mob rule works. – Peter Baldwin, minister for higher education (1990-93) in the Hawke-Keating government, writing in The Australian

russian growth

  • Russia Economic Report 33: The Dawn of a New Economic Era? – The World Bank projects a negative growth outlook for Russia in 2015-2016, with the economy expected to contract by 3.8 percent in 2015 and modestly decline by 0.3 percent in 2016.
  • In 20 years, the world may run out of minable gold – According to Goldman Sachs, the world has about 20 years’ worth each of known minable reserves of gold diamonds and zinc. Platinum, copper and nickel reserves only have about 40 years or less left.
  • Obama Removes Weapons Freeze Against Egypt – Seeking to repair relations with a longtime ally at a time of spreading war in the Middle East, President Obama on Tuesday lifted an arms freeze against Egypt that he had first imposed after the military overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government nearly two years ago. Mr. Obama cleared the way for the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles and M1A1 Abrams tanks, weapons prized by Egyptian leaders, who have smoldered at the suspension. In a telephone call, Mr. Obama assured President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt that he would support the full $1.3 billion in annual military assistance the Cairo government traditionally receives, even as others seek to cut it, the White House said.
  • The U.N.’s War on Israel – The United Nations is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It was intended to be a temple of peace, but this once great global body has been overrun by the repressive regimes that violate human rights and undermine international security.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The cost of investing in virtue and punishing sin

March 31st, 2015 Comments off
The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment, firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion ...

The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index
Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment,
firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion …

A different study comparing "sin stocks" to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The "sin" industries in this study included  alcohol, tobacco, "adult services," weapons, and gambling.

A different study comparing “sin stocks” to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.

  • Invest in vice or virtue? – In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.
  • Recent warming of Pacific Ocean could be early indication of El Niño – Recent warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean has primed the Pacific for El Niño. However, history has shown El Niño does not always develop from the ocean trends currently observed. International climate models monitored by the Bureau [of Meteorology] indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with all models predicting El Niño thresholds will be reached or exceeded by mid-year.
  • No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide, Specialists Say – Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week’s Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say. “As a field, we’re not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior,” says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals “perform no better than chance,” when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.
  • Greek Voters Want Their Government To Show Some Fight – The leftist Syriza party swept into office on a promise to stand up to European austerity demands. But the new government has had to soften its tone. Some Greeks worry the party is giving in.
  • Fortress of Nationalism: Russia Is Losing Its Political Morals – The murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov reveals that Russia has become morally unhinged. The country is transforming into a nationalist fortress and the powers that be are happy to ignore the potentially dangerous implications.
  • China’s New Normal and America’s Old Habits – China is generating a lot of confusion nowadays, both at home, where senior officials now tout the economy’s “new normal,” and abroad, exemplified by America’s embrace of Cold War-style tactics to contain China’s rise. On both counts, the disconnects are striking, adding a new dimension of risk to the impact of the “China factor” on a fragile world.
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Dementia and the coherence of self

March 27th, 2015 Comments off
  •  The disremembered – Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. But that might be a good thing
  • Senate to launch broad inquiry into wine industry – South Australian Senator Anne Ruston, who lives in the state’s Riverland wine region, moved for the inquiry to investigate whether there was market failure in the industry and whether government policies could help the industry become more profitable.mortgage1mortgage2
  • Mortgaging the Future? – In the six decades following World War II, bank lending measured as a ratio to GDP has quadrupled in advanced economies. To a great extent, this unprecedented expansion of credit was driven by a dramatic growth in mortgage loans. Lending backed by real estate has allowed households to leverage up and has changed the traditional business of banking in fundamental ways. This “Great Mortgaging” has had a profound influence on the dynamics of business cycles.
  • Xi Jinping’s challenge is to be strong enough to loosen control – China’s president will face resistance if he fails to readjust


  • Nissin Offers Virtual Date Experience for Ramen Lovers – Nissin Foods Holdings Co. has launched a special site for ramen lovers who feel a bit lonely slurping down their instant noodles alone. The website, called Mitsumete Light+, features Japanese actor Takumi Saitoh gazing at the visitor from the other side of the screen while they prepare and enjoy their snack. Users are asked to click on a button once they pour hot water into their ramen cup, at which point a timer starts counting down the three minutes until the food is ready.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The Newspoll influence

March 25th, 2015 Comments off

I am not sure why it is but Newspoll is the pollster that has the most influence in Canberra. Perhaps it’s because of the regularity of appearing every second Tuesday.  Perhaps it’s because of being published in the nation’s only remaining broadsheet. Whatever. It is so. So Tony Abbott will leave the Parliament hothouse this week with his position secure.

But overall the  opinion polls as a whole show his government is still in serious trouble.


Give us all a pill – making people more sensitive to inequality

March 24th, 2015 Comments off
  • Altering brain chemistry makes us more sensitive to inequality = What if there were a pill that made you more compassionate and more likely to give spare change to someone less fortunate? UC Berkeley scientists have taken a big step in that direction. A new study by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers finds that giving a drug that changes the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex of the brain causes a greater willingness to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as ensuring that resources are divided more equally.
  • An exceptional autumn hot spell in northern and central Australia – Many records were set during this hot spell. The Northern Territory and Queensland had their hottest March days on record in area-averaged terms, whilst the event also included the highest temperature ever observed in Australia in the second half of March.
  • Why Greek default looms
  • The new authoritarianism – In recent decades, new forms of dictatorship based on manipulating information rather than on mass violence, have emerged. This column explores the trade-offs and techniques of the modern dictator. Such dictators can survive using little violence in the face of moderate economic underperformance. Economic downturns often prompt an increase in censorship and propaganda. Though new information-based dictatorships are better adapted to a modernised society, modernisation and access to information, as well as economic contractions could undermine them.
  • Thomas Piketty: Student Loan Debt Is the Enemy of Meritocracy in the US – Higher and more equitable growth in the United States requires more public support for higher education, argues economist and best-selling author Thomas Piketty. Changes are necessary for the stark reality of higher education to match the purported American values of meritocracy, hard work, and equal opportunity/mobility. If we really want to promote these things, says Piketty, we need to do something about student debt.
  • We’re Frighteningly in the Dark About Student Debt – The … United States government … has a portfolio of roughly $1 trillion in student loans, many of which appear to be troubled. The Education Department, which oversees the portfolio, is … neither analyzing the portfolio adequately nor allowing other agencies to do so.
    These loans are no trivial matter… Student loans are now the second-largest source of consumer debt in the United States, surpassed only by home mortgages. In a major reversal, they now constitute a larger portion of household debt than credit cards or car loans. … The frightening reality, however, is that we are remarkably ignorant about student debt…, we can’t quantify the risks that student debt places on individual households and the economy as a whole. …
  • Controlling the past – In his novel 1984 George Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” We are not quite in this Orwellian world yet, which means attempts to rewrite history can at least be contested. A few days ago the UK Prime Minister in Brussels said this. “When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat, we had similar sized budget deficits. The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people. I am determined we do not go backwards.” In other words if only those lazy Greeks had taken the difficult decisions that the UK took, they too could be like the UK today. This is such as travesty of the truth, as well as a huge insult to the Greek people, that it is difficult to know where to begin.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Cash from Australia sending Indonesians to fight with IS

March 24th, 2015 Comments off

This morning’s Jakarta Post reports:

is groups


Another Post story reports claims by an Indonesian official that Australia has sent back 15 illegal immigrants from Nepal, Iran and Bangladesh into Indonesian waters off West Java’s Sukabumi.

The illegal immigrants had reached Australia’s Christmas Island and stayed there for three days, an official of the Sukabumi Immigration office, Markus Lenggo, quoted the immigrants as saying.

“They said they crossed to the Australian island from the Pamengpeuk coastal village of Garut [in West Java] on March 17, but after three days they were sent back to Indonesian territory,” Markus said.

The 15 illegal immigrants — six from Iran including three girls, seven from Bangladesh and two from Nepal – were found stranded on the coast of Pangumbahan in Sukabumi by the police on Sunday.

They were then sent to the Sukabumi Immigration Office, which put them in its detention center, he said. Nine of them were in possession of official documents from the UNHCR refugee agency showing that they were asylum seekers, but the rest claimed that they had lost their documents.

“We are awaiting directions from IOM [International Organization for Migration] and the Law and Human Rights Ministry on what to do with the immigrants,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

One of the asylum seekers, Muhamad Baleyet Husain from Bangladesh, said the Australian authorities told them they had to be sent back to Indonesia as the two countries were in the midst of a political row following the planned execution of two Australians drug convicts.

“We arrived on Christmas Island but the local authorities sent us back to Indonesian waters using a boat accompanied by Australian officers,” Husain said.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Labor gains in Morgan Poll

March 23rd, 2015 Comments off
  • Federal ALP increases lead as NSW prepares to vote in State Election – ALP support increased to 56% (up 2.5%), still well clear of the L-NP 44% (down 2.5%) on a two-party preferred basis.  If a Federal Election were held now the ALP would win according to this week’s Morgan Poll on voting intention conducted over the last two weekends, March 14/15 & 21/22, 2015, with an Australia-wide cross-section of 3,146 Australian electors aged 18+. Primary support for the ALP increased to 40% (up 2%) now ahead of the L-NP 38% (down 1%). Support for the other parties shows The Greens at 11% (down 0.5%), Palmer United Party (PUP) 1.5% (down 0.5%) while Independents/ Others were 9.5% (unchanged.
  • Will the real Netanyahu please stand up? – Doomed to endless occupation, Palestinians will become more not less violent, says Simon Schama
  • Alex Salmond predicts vote-by-vote deal with Labour – Alex Salmond has predicted a “vote by vote arrangement” between a minority Labour government and the SNP is the most likely outcome of the election. Scotland’s former first minister said his successor as SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, would lead the negotiations. Mr Salmond also said he wanted the SNP to form a “progressive coalition” with Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
  • Asia’s deadly secret: The scourge of the betel nut – It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population. It gives people a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is used variously as a symbol of love, marriage and a cure for indigestion and impotence.nBut it is also leading tens of thousands to an early grave. The culprit? The humble betel nut. Found across Asia, these nuts are harvested from the Areca palm and are chewed for their warming glow and stimulating properties. Such is its effectiveness, that alongside nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, betel nuts are believed to be one of the most popular mind-altering substances in the world.

sin city

Another day and another probe into another bank

March 23rd, 2015 Comments off

Hardline New York regulator Lawsky targets Deutsche Bank over Libor –

Benjamin Lawsky, the New York regulator known for taking a hard line against overseas banks, has shouldered his way into the long-running Libor scandal, investigating Deutsche Bank for alleged manipulation of the benchmark borrowing rate, according to people familiar with the matter.

The probe by New York’s Department of Financial Services adds to a litany of US regulatory problems for Germany’s largest lender.


Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter

March 20th, 2015 Comments off

sea iceClick to enlarge

Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to the lowest recorded level for the winter season, according to US scientists.The maximum this year was 14.5 million sq km, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

This is the lowest since 1979, when satellite records began.

A recent study found that Arctic sea ice had thinned by 65% between 1975 and 2012.

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics said: “The gradual disappearance of ice is having profound consequences for people, animals and plants in the polar regions, as well as around the world, through sea level rise.”

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the maximum level of sea ice for winter was reached this year on 25 February and the ice was now beginning to melt as the Arctic moved into spring.

via BBC News – Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Warming world trend continues

March 16th, 2015 Comments off


mpvingaverage globalfeb temps

  • NASA: Earth Tops Hottest 12 Months On Record Again, Thanks To Warm February – NASA reported this weekend that last month was the second-hottest February on record, which now makes March 2014–February 2015 the hottest 12 months on record. This is using a 12-month moving average, so we can “see the march of temperature change over time,” rather than just once every calendar year.funds
  • How Many Mutual Funds Routinely Rout the Market? Zero – The bull market in stocks turned six last Monday, and despite some rocky stretches — like last week, when the market fell — it has generally been a very pleasant time for money managers, who have often posted good numbers. Look more closely at those gaudy returns, however, and you may see something startling. The truth is that very few professional investors have actually managed to outperform the rising market consistently over those years. In fact, based on the updated findings and definitions of a particular study, it appears that no mutual fund managers have. …
  • Vatican backs military force to stop ISIS ‘genocide’ – In an unusually blunt endorsement of military action, the Vatican’s top diplomat at the United Nations in Geneva has called for a coordinated international force to stop the “so-called Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq from further assaults on Christians and other minority groups. “We have to stop this kind of genocide,” said Italian Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s representative in Geneva. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t so something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”
  • Bad thinkers – Why do some people believe conspiracy theories? It’s not just who or what they know. It’s a matter of intellectual character
  • Media blackout: would I be happier if I didn’t read the news? – Writer Jesse Armstrong couldn’t go even a few minutes without checking the headlines. So he set himself a challenge: no news for a month. Would he feel better about the world – or just out of the loop?

Advice on Greens for Labor from Labour

March 15th, 2015 Comments off

The Australian Labor Party has struggled in recent federal and state elections to work out how it should treat the threat of Greens candidates snatching their votes in previously safe inner city seats. A vote for a Green risks giving the Liberals extra seats has become a familiar Labor cry without there being much evidence to support such a claim with the electoral system’s preferential voting. An end result of such misguided thinking is for Labor to play preference games in voting for upper houses where a seeming desire to punish Greens for their inner city naughtiness has led to some real opponents of a conservative bent being elected.

This phenomenon of a traditional left of centre party having trouble dealing with another leftist party is not uniquely Australian. European socialists have been dealing with it for 20 years with an acceptance of coalition governments making it relatively peaceful. Not so in Britain where the Australian born leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is being cast in the villain’s role by British Labour as that country’s election approaches.

From The Observer this morning:

Labour is trying to scare leftish voters away from the Greens with the thought that they will go to bed with Natalie Bennett and wake up to find David Cameron back in Number 10. One Labour MP who has tried this on the doorstep reports: “It doesn’t work. Your 18-year-old who is going to vote Green doesn’t give a toss about that. They want to make a statement by voting Green.” A statement about the world, about Westminster, about themselves.

The comment of that anonymous Labour MP pretty much sums up what I believe to be the situation in Australia. Rather than trying to beat the Greens the task should be finding more ways to join with them in presenting a united left of centre coalition to combat our governing right of centre one. Surely preferential voting makes that possible.

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

Cardinal George Pell carries out sweeping reforms

March 14th, 2015 Comments off
  • Pope Frances’s Financial Reforms Rattle Vatican’s Old Guard – Pope Francis has made significant progress in bringing transparency to the Vatican’s finances. Cardinal George Pell is carrying out sweeping reforms.
  • To fix inequality, Democrats are pushing unions – At a time when GOP is gaining ground in very public attacks on labor, the left is coming to the defense of collective bargaining. … In recent months, a collection of left-leaning politicians, economists, and public intellectuals have started making a renewed case for collective bargaining as a tool to heal the ailing middle class. The pitch doubles as an effort for Democrats to preserve a key constituency they’ve long relied on to win elections, at a time when conservatives are making strong gains in often very public attacks on union power.
  • The Next Internet Is TV – Websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone.
  • The Biology of Being Good to Others – Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others?
  • Can the world get richer forever?
  • To tip or not to tip? – Tipping is confusing, and paradoxical. We tip some people who provide services but not others who work just as hard for just as little pay. It is insulting to leave any tip in Tokyo but offensive not to leave a large one in New York. It is assumed that the purpose of tipping is to encourage good service but we leave one only after the service has been given, when it is too late to change it, often to people who will never serve us again. Tipping challenges the sweeping generalisations of economists and anthropologists alike. To understand how and why we tip is to begin to understand just how complicated and fascinating we human beings are.
  • CU Denver study shows product placement, branding growing in popular music – Many people thought music was the last bastion free of marketing but that train has left the station. Many musicians these days make less money from their recorded work so they must become marketing entities since the music doesn’t entirely pay the bills
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Turnbull and the Keating influence

March 13th, 2015 Comments off

The more I see, hear and read of Malcolm Turnbull these days, the more inclined I am to believe my informant that the would-be Prime Minister is getting some tactical advice from former Prime Minister Paul Keating. See my political snippet from back in February The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating where I mentioned that what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” assured me that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I was told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor master.

For further evidence, take these comments as recorded by Simon Benson in a thoughtful Daily Telegraph column this morning:

“Labor had committed to several high-profile promises that if delivered would vastly increase outlays over the next decade, with much of their cost conveniently hidden beyond the budget’s four-year forward estimates window.

“Kevin Rudd’s 2010 deal with the states to fund hospitals, Julia Gillard’s 2013 Gonski reforms to schools funding, and the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are the iconic examples. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, these three types of spending will have a joint annual cost of $73 billion by 2023-24 (equal to 14 per cent of total budget outlays). If we allow this situation to continue we will put the security of every family and every business at risk. The deficits continue, our debt and interest payments balloon — and all this at historically low interest rates. What happens when rates rise again, as they assuredly will?

“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014-15 budget attempted to address these trends. Evidently by doing so it disappointed many in the community. In addition there was a deeply felt sense in much of the community that our proposed budget measures were unfair to people on lower incomes when taken as a whole. In my view the failure to effectively make the case for budget repair was our biggest misstep, because it was a threshold we never crossed.

“We — and I include myself and every member of the government in this criticism — did not do a good enough job in explaining the scale of the fiscal problem the nation faces, and the urgency of taking corrective action.”

To my mind that’s exactly how the author of the banana republic comment would summarise things.

And for good measure think about the similarity of the views Turnbull and Keating have on the purpose of superannuation. They argue as one on the silliness of allowing first home buyers to raid their super balances to get a deposit.

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

Has Tony Abbott committed Australia to a never ending war?

March 12th, 2015 Comments off

A couple of stories this week that make me wonder what Tony Abbott has got us into by sending our troops back to Iraq to tackle the ISIS threat.

One is on the Foreign Policy website – Let Me Make This as Unclear as Possible. It makes the case for “why the Obama administration’s authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State is intentionally an open-ended ticket to forever war … again.”

The author, Micah Zenko, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at recent congressional hearings on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Obama administration sought even while claiming a president did not need such a thing. Two bits of evidence stood out:

In a telling exchange last week, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine] Wormuth was asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) how she would define victory against the Islamic State. Wormuthdeclared: “When ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States.” O’Rourke pushed the Pentagon’s top policy official further: “So as long as ISIL is seen as a threat to ourselves or any of our partners around the world we have not won?” To this, Wormuth replied: “I think that’s fair.”

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Gen. Dempsey was similarly asked what victory over ISIL would look like. The most senior uniformed U.S. military officer answered: “That’s not for us to declare. Their ideology has to be defeated by those in the region.” But just who declares victory on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition, or how air strikes help in defeating an ideology, was not explained.

Zenko concluded that these two contrasting depictions of victory are a long way from Barack Obama’s previously articulated strategic objectives to “destroy” and later “defeat” the Islamic State.

But the Obama administration has been consistent since Aug. 7 in its use of fuzzy language, the gradual mission creep, and shifting implausible objectives. Now, 216 days and more than 2,200 strikes later, Congress is assuming its expected role of debating the language of what is, by all accounts, a meaningless AUMF. A uniquely brave senator or congressional member might better use hearings or floor debates to explore how this has become the normal state of affairs for how the United States goes to war.

And as is clear since the Abbott decision to send extra troops to “train” the Iraqi armed forces, as goes the United States, so goes Australia.

The second story for the week to set me wondering about where this renewed Australian intervention in the Middle East might end up was in London’s Independent – Isis in Afghanistan is a disaster waiting to happen – Its black flag has replaced the white ones of the Talibs in a swathe of areas including in Helmand.

Kim Sengupta the paper’s Defence Correspondent, that Isis spreading tentacles in Afghanistan has, internationally, gone largely unrecorded.

The gains for Isis are not purely military in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban they are grabbing chunks of the narcotic stocks which can then be moved west along the parts of Iraq under its control. This is of great value at a time when their income from sale oil from captured fields, said not so long ago to be a $1 million a day, are being hit by US led air strikes: the latest ones were today at a refinery in Tel Abyad. …

It has taken a while for official recognition of the Isis threat in Afghanistan. Last month General Ali Murad, of the Afghan army, stated that “elements of Isis, masked men, are active in Zabul [another Taliban dominated province] and Helmand and have raised black flags. Now, they are trying to spread their activities to the north.”  …

Afghanistan is a war and a place the West would like to forget, there’s too much of a sense of futility about the very long mission there. But that is the way we also felt about Iraq. There, too, Isis started on a slow burn and look what happened. Like Iraq, the West may have to revisit Afghanistan as well, this time facing an enemy more implacable and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Another remarkable Telegraph column – Do as I say not as I do

March 10th, 2015 Comments off

A wonderful addition from this morning’s Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to my “Journalists talking about each other” section. The regular Tuesday purveyor of the paper’s vitriol column – Sarrah Le Marquand – has reached heights of which her peers Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt surely would be proud.

Ms Le Marquand spent a couple of hundred words putting the boot into Mark Latham for his “I hate-youse*-all bile dressed up as an opinion column” that appears in the Australian Financial Review.

haterNothing wrong with that. If you hand it out like Latham you must expect to get it back, and as the Le Marquand writes, that “is the very result he so craves.”

Rather it is the “do as I say rather than what I do” hypocrisy that follows that puts this column onto the Tele’s top shelf.

Latham has proven beyond a doubt he has nothing of substance or merit to impart.

His columns are little more than the attention-seeking tantrums of a self-entitled toddler, so why waste time and energy in reading them? Responding hysterically to every new insult he hurls is only prolonging his shelf life.

Left to his own devices, he is nothing more than a washed-up, embittered has-been.

Ironically it is only the noise made by his detractors that affords him any oxygen. Only when his work attracts the attention it deserves — which is none — will his supply be cut off.

Practising what you preach might have been a good way to start such a process.


Changing views on drug smugglers by the Sydney Daily Telegraph

March 8th, 2015 Comments off

Contrasting from pages – then and now.


(Click to enlarge)

My thanks to James Carleton for drawing this change in attitude to my attention.

Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Spanking kids still overwhelmingly acceptable

March 6th, 2015 Comments off

spanking (1)

Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

China’s slower growth rate – Australia to feel the pain

March 5th, 2015 Comments off


  • China Warms Up to ‘Low’ Growth Rate Other Countries Would Kill for – Today, China’s leaders are increasingly aware that what really matters is ensuring adequate employment and growing incomes. That’s particularly true of Li, premier since March 2013, who has a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Peking University and who is known as an advocate for more economic reform. The leadership can even afford to miss its GDP target, as arguably it did last year, when the goal was “about 7.5 percent,” as long as Chinese are employed and keep earning more. It’s been working. Last year, Li promised that China would add 10 million urban jobs and then handily beat the target, with 13 million. People’s livelihoods improved, too. … Expect the real pain to be reserved for resource-rich countries such as Australia and Russia. The value of crude oil, steel, and iron ore imports to China is already falling rapidly, a trend likely to continue as China’s property sector and new construction cools.  insect
  • Insectophilia – In Japan, beetles are pets, grasshoppers a delicacy and fireflies are adored. Is the creepy-crawly a Western invention?

the banker

  • Eurozone meltdown: how can it be avoided? – Resolving the eurozone crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing the global economy. Steady global growth cannot resume until a proper solution is found, as nearly all major economies – the US, China and Brazil – are impacted by failure in the common currency area. But, for the past five years, the euro area has lurched from one disaster to another, amid bitter argument over who is to blame and with reform and key initiatives moving at a snail’s pace. [ Free registration required]
While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.

While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.

  • Renewed warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean – The Bureau’s ENSO Tracker has been upgraded to El Niño WATCH. This is due to a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and models showing that further warming is likely in coming months. El Niño WATCH indicates about a 50% chance of El Niño forming in 2015.
  • Mugabe’s New Best Friends in Brussels – Why is Europe suddenly cozying up to Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian kleptocrat?

Tony Abbott the flag man

March 4th, 2015 Comments off


  • Surge in poles: Tony Abbott’s flag count hits a new high – The PM’s latest speech at Parliament House was backed by no fewer than eight Australian flags, marking a steady rise in recent months
  • Cash Today – Student loans are in principle a straightforward business. The government lends students money; after they graduate, they begin repaying it. From the perspective of politicians and the Treasury the advantage of loans over grants is clear: the money isn’t simply given away, it comes back over the lifetime of the loan. Even better, in the national accounts the loans are classified as ‘financial transactions’, not ‘expenditure’, and are excluded from calculations of the deficit.​
  • Saudi Award Goes to Muslim Televangelist Who Harshly Criticizes U.S. – He has publicly declared that “the Jews” control America, that apostates can be killed, that the United States is the world’s “biggest terrorist” and that the Sept. 11 attacks were an “inside job” by President George W. Bush. But last weekend, Dr. Zakir Naik, a prominent Muslim televangelist from India, appeared at an elaborate ceremony at a luxury hotel in Saudi Arabia, where the new monarch, King Salman, gave him one of the country’s highest honors. The award for “service to Islam” highlighted the conflicted position of Saudi Arabia as an American ally that continues to back Islamists who espouse hatred of the West.
  • Iran’s biggest threat to the world isn’t the one Netanyahu will describe today – Netanyahu’s Ahab-like fixation with his white whale—Iran’s nuclear program—draws attention away from the many other ways that the regime in Tehran represents a clear and present danger to the world. He is right that sanctions relief will empower that regime, but it’s hardly a given that the billions of dollars unlocked ($1.6 billion a monthin oil income, by some estimates) will be poured into a clandestine program to build The Bomb. Much more likely, the money will accelerate and amplify the many conventional (as in non-nuclear) programs Iran conducts in the open—supporting despots, exporting terrorism, destabilizing the Middle East. And, yes, threatening Israel.
  • Finland: Speeding millionaire gets 54,000-euro fine – Finland’s speeding fines are linked to income, with penalties calculated on daily earnings, meaning high earners get hit with bigger penalties for breaking the law. So, when businessman Reima Kuisla was caught doing 103km/h (64mph) in an area where the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph), authorities turned to his 2013 tax return, the Iltalehti newspaper reports.
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Some thoughts on lobbying and other interesting reads for today

March 3rd, 2015 Comments off


  • A Lobbyist Just for You – And two other solutions to counter corporate influence in Washington.
  • Has the global economy slowed down? – Big macroeconomic changes happen slowly, sometimes they aren’t clearly visible until years later. We may currently be living through a structural change in the global economy as big as any since World War II without fully realising it. The world economy may be becoming less integrated, with one of the important drivers of globalisation swinging into reverse. This week the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis released its latest estimates of world trade. This widely-followed measure showed that world trade grew by 3.3% in 2014, that’s up from 2.7% in 2013 and 2.1% in 2012 but still well below the long term average of growth of 5%.


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Toss a coin on Australian interest rate decision

March 3rd, 2015 Comments off

The Owl’s market election indicator cannot pick which way the Reserve Bank board members will vote this afternoon on official interest rates.

march indicator

And my opinion? I am as confused as the rest of the punters.

Categories: Political indicators Tags:

Explaining electoral gerrymanders

March 2nd, 2015 Comments off

2-03-2015 gerrymandering

  • This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see – Gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party — is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above — adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend — and wonder no more.
  • Protecting Fragile Retirement Nest Eggs – A new study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers has found that financial advisers seeking higher fees and commissions drain $17 billion a year from retirement accounts by steering savers into high-cost products and strategies rather than comparable lower-cost ones. The report has rocked the financial services industry — not because it is news but because the industry sees it, correctly, as a forceful statement of the Obama administration’s determination to do something about the problem.
  • Australia’s top 20 greenhouse gas emitters
  • Food Waste Grows With the Middle Class
  • That ugly fruit and veg – believes at least 20% of all produce is wasted just because of it’s size, shape, color, or appearance.
  • Despicable Us –  Maybe those of us who write about politics and campaigns should adopt a bristly uniform of hair shirts, so that we’re constantly atoning for our sins. Maybe we should wear targets, the better for our critics to take aim at us. Oh, how we’re hated.
  • Is the Junk-Food Era Drawing to a Close?
  • Brazil – In a quagmire: Latin America’s erstwhile star is in its worst mess since the early 1990s

Harassment of Jews worldwide reaches a seven-year high

March 2nd, 2015 Comments off


  • Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities – Worldwide, social hostilities involving religion declined somewhat in 2013 after reaching a six-year peak the previous year, but roughly a quarter of the world’s countries are still grappling with high levels of religious hostilities within their borders, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religiondropped from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries.By contrast, the share of countries with high or very highgovernment restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27% in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012. Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths.Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – the study finds that restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.

harassmentAs in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).

  • South Korean court decriminalises adultery – South Korea’s top court has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime, revoking a 1953 law under which cheating spouses could be jailed for up to two years. South Korea was one of only three Asian countries to criminalise infidelity – about 5,500 people have been convicted since 2008.

2-03-2015 brains

  • Shake it off? Not so easy for people with depression, new brain research suggests – Rejected by a person you like? Just “shake it off” and move on, as music star Taylor Swift says. But while that might work for many people, it may not be so easy for those with untreated depression, a new brain study finds. The pain of social rejection lasts longer for them — and their brain cells release less of a natural pain and stress-reducing chemical called natural opioids, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.


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Farewelling Mr Spock today and Tony Abbott on Tuesday?

February 28th, 2015 Comments off


That’s how 7News saw things this morning. It pretty much sums up the attitude of most of the media. Notable exceptions were the two biggest selling Murdoch tabloids and the ABC.

The socialist leaning ABC? Yes the ABC website preferred Mr Spock and a Russian murder. For the PM it was a straight report on meetings in New Zealand.

The Melbourne Herald Sunalso  was very low key on page seven while the Sydney Tele relegated its coverage to page nine with:


Up in Brisbane The Courier Mail brought out the egg eater to whip the leadership speculation along.

courier mail (1)Laurie Oakes had his column elevated to page one, where soe people might actually notice it, rather than being hidden in the boring opinion pages as in the other tabloids. Laurie’s message?

Uncertainty about whether a leadership coup would help or hurt the NSW Coalition could be a key factor if Abbott earns another reprieve.

That is all it would be. The last couple of weeks have provided strong evidence for those believing Abbott cannot change his style. The constant flow of damaging leaks and leadership gossip have left no doubt that efforts to undermine him will continue and promises of time to turn things around were hollow.

The Fairfax tabloids went searching desperately for a different leadership angle.

the age (1)smh

Not much in the story that I could see.

The main story in the Oz was a balanced attempt to look forward.


TONY Abbott will seek backbench approval for a recovery plan for his government, including a likely move within days to dump the Medicare co-payment, as he stares down attempts to panic Liberal MPs into another leadership showdown.

The Prime Minister’s fightback strategy will be to refocus the budget, cement his national security credentials and show he is listening to the concerns of the Liberal partyroom.

Conscious of consulting his colleagues, Mr Abbott wants to discuss options with MPs before any decisions are finalised, but he is considering making a health policy statement to quell concerns about the future of Medicare. He also plans to take announcements on a further troop commitment in Iraq to the partyroom.

Paul Kelly was looking forward in another direction.

THE terrible risk for the Liberals is that they destroy Tony Abbott as PM yet undermine Malcolm Turnbull as the next PM. The media frenzy of the past 36 hours, based on aggressive briefings, shows this danger.

At The Guardian they could barely contain their excitement.

guardianAnd The Saturday Paper was not going to be out done in the sacking stakes.

saturday paper


Tony Abbott’s personal intervention with Indonesian President fails?

February 28th, 2015 Comments off



This morning’s Jakarta Post holds out little hope that the death sentences on Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan will be commuted.

George Brandis: nothing else to say about the man really

February 27th, 2015 Comments off


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Backing Malcolm Turnbull

February 26th, 2015 Comments off

For Tony Abbott it’s just going from bad to worse. I cannot see how he will keep his Liberal Party leadership.
I’m suggesting what for me is a major investment. 200 at the currently available $1,46 that Malcolm Turnbull will be Liberal leader at the next federal election.

See The Speculator’s Diary

Here is the latest Owl indicator.

liberal leader indicaior

Categories: Betting, Political indicators Tags:

The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating

February 26th, 2015 Comments off

If you thought Malcolm Turnbull sounded a lot like Paul Keating when he appeared on Q&A recently then you may well be right. I’m told by what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I am told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor prime minister.

That someone astute is helping Malcolm Turnbull steer through the difficulties of building his credentials without openly challenging Tony Abbott is apparent. And wasn’t this comment on Q&A pure Keating?

“I think firstly you have to set out a vision… describe where you want to go. What’s this all about? What is your goal? You’ve got to explain that. Then you’ve got to explain honestly, not dumbing it down… the problems that we face. What is the problem with the budget? What is the problem with the NBN… Explain it and lay it out factually and then lay out what the options are,” he said.

“I think the government and opposition should be prepared to put their cards on the table and actually have a debate… You never know, out of that debate you might come up with a third solution that is better than either of those.”

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The Twee Tribe and other news and views

February 25th, 2015 Comments off

the twee tribe

  • From The Times Literary Supplement -Consider the following phenomena: owl-shaped cushions, bird-print textiles and kitten ephemera. French horns, ukuleles and accordions. Grown women with wispy fringes who dress like little girls, grannies or Jean Seberg, and young men who sport excessively neat haircuts, horn-rimmed glasses and waistcoats. Cotton candy, gluten-free acai berry cupcakes and quinoa fritters with probiotic goat yoghurt. Anything that is locally sourced, vintage or artisanal. Cream-coloured retro bikes with wicker baskets and 1950s sun dresses in ice-cream shades. Polka dots and cocktails in jam glasses. The comic strip Peanuts, J. D. Salinger and Maurice Sendak. The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian. Taxidermy, stamp collecting and home baking. The films of Wes Anderson. What do they all share? According to Marc Spitz, they are emblems of “Twee” – “the most powerful youth movement since Punk and Hip-Hop”.
  • Basic personality changes linked to unemployment, study finds – Unemployment can change peoples’ core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs.
  • Knowledge Isn’t Power by Paul Krugman – … while the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. “The wages of the highest-skilled and highest-paid individuals have continued to increase steadily,” the Hamilton Project says. Actually, the inflation-adjusted earnings of highly educated Americans have gone nowhere since the late 1990s. So what is really going on? Corporate profits have soared as a share of national income, but there is no sign of a rise in the rate of return on investment. How is that possible? Well, it’s what you would expect if rising profits reflect monopoly power rather than returns to capital. As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.
  • Marijuana Is Now Legal In Alaska, The 3rd U.S. State With Legal Pot
  • A Threat to Europe: The Islamic State’s Dangerous Gains in Libya
  • Australia’s Champagne Cambodia Deal To Dump Refugees Is Turning Sour – Scott Morrison sealed a deal to dump refugees in Cambodia with a glass of champagne. But the deal is in trouble, writes Carla Silbert. … With Australia agreeing to bear the cost of resettling refugees from Nauru at the same time as Cambodia is publicly asserting it has no intention of respecting refugee rights, Australia must move to terminate the resettlement agreement.
  • Predictive Intelligence – Think Hillary Clinton is likely to win? Think again.
  • On the origins of dishonesty: From parents to children – Dishonesty is a pervasive and costly phenomenon. This column reports the results of a lab experiment in which parents had an opportunity to behave dishonestly. Parents cheated the most when the prize was for their child and their child was not present. Parents cheated little when their child was present, but were more likely to cheat in front of sons than in front of daughters. The latter finding may help to explain why women attach greater importance to moral norms and are more honest.
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Clipping the hidden fees of the ticket clippers

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

Reuters reports that President Barack Obama is proposing new rules to protect Americans from being steered into costly retirement investments that produce high commissions for brokers but low returns for investors preparing for retirement.

The proposed rules, which the Department of Labor is expected to submit formally in the coming months, will inject political pressure into an already intense debate over brokers’ obligations.

They would have an impact on thousands of brokerages, from large players such as Fidelity, Wells Fargo , Charles Schwab  and Raymond James, to smaller, independent shops.

Brokers would be held to a higher “fiduciary standard,” requiring them to put their clients’ financial interests ahead of their own.

The White House said the proposals target fees and payments that on average lead to a full percentage point lower annual return on retirement savings at a cost to Americans of $17 billion a year.

In particular, Obama called for new rules preventing retirement brokers from steering clients’ savings into funds with higher fees and lower returns, or advising clients to roll their funds over into higher-cost plans.


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Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

joko widodo

  • Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty – Indonesian President Joko Widodo took office a little more than 100 days ago, buoyed by sky-high expectations for political change. He’s seen as very different from the strongmen and power brokers who have dominated the country for decades. And he’s certainly unconventional. He’s an avid fan of heavy metal groups like Metallica and Megadeth. He’s been photographed wearing black Napalm Death T-shirts and flashing the “devil’s horns” hand sign. But some of his supporters are dismayed by the unexpectedly strong stance he has taken in favor of the death penalty. Last month, Indonesia executed six convicted drug traffickers — five of them foreigners — by firing squad. Two Australians and a British grandmother are among the foreigners still on Indonesia’s death row. So far, Jokowi, as he’s known in Indonesia, has refused all appeals for clemency.
  • NSW Labor has to go Green or go home
  • Oscars Get Political, As Acceptance Speeches Wade Into Social Issues
  • If Your Teacher Likes You, You Might Get A Better Grade – A newly published paper suggests that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimation of student achievement. That is, how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your abilities.
  • Why Some States Want To Legalize Raw Milk Sales – The federal government banned the sale of raw milk across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.But individual states still control raw milk sales within their borders. And despite the health warnings, some Midwestern states have recently proposed legalizing raw milk sales to impose strict regulations on the risky — and growing — market. Raw milk has become popular in recent years as part of the local food movement: An estimated 3 percent of the population drinks at least one glass a week. Many of its fans are fiercely passionate about what they see as its benefits. They say they buy raw milk because it doesn’t contain the growth hormone rGBH, they like the taste, and they enjoy having a direct connection to the food they eat.
  • Hillary Clinton’s grandmother gambit – “Grandmothers know best.” Hillary Clinton attached that line as a hashtag to a tweet about the importance of measles vaccinations earlier this month. Given that Mrs Clinton’s tweets are read like messages from the Delphic oracle, it hasrekindled speculation that the former secretary of state will be leaning on her new grandmatronly status in her all-but-announced upcoming presidential campaign.
  • WHO urges shift to single-use smart syringes – Smart syringes that break after one use should be used for injections by 2020, the World Health Organization has announced. Reusing syringes leads to more than two million people being infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis each year. The new needles are more expensive, but the WHO says the switch would be cheaper than treating the diseases. More than 16 billion injections are administered annually. Normal syringes can be used again and again. But the smart ones prevent the plunger being pulled back after an injection or retract the needle so it cannot be used again.

Tony Abbott signs the execution papers?

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

Perhaps in diplomacy words can be bullets. This morning’s Jakarta Post commentary:


[Note – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has also said that execution would have negative repercussions.]

The risk of Tony Abbott carrying the can if Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran do face the firing squad increases.

See also Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game and Jakarta Post reports: TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

A Liberal betraying the standards of the party and the conservative conventions of those that voted for him

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

A kind reader – it was nice to find I had one – sent me an interesting paper that gives a bit of context to that “kind of love” reference in my piece earlier this week Jim and Junie’s kind of love and a lasting relevance for Tom Uren’s words? The paper ‘A KIND OF LOVE’: Supergirls, Scapegoatsand Sexual Liberation, written in 2011 by Kate Laing, referred to an interview Jim Cairns gave to a journalist from the late and great Sydney Sun about his relationship with Junie Morosi:

We know we’re being watched all the time. I don’t give a damn what people say. I have stuck by Junie all the way and I intend to keep doing this… I have not changed my opinion about Junie since the day a few months ago when somebody asked me if I was in love with her. I said then it had nothing to do with the love he was talking about. Love is a word that has many meanings. I said- but I was incorrectly quoted- that love ranged from the kind of thing I might have for the Vietnamese people to the kind of thing his boss had for money. I would like to add though, that in her capacity as my private secretary, Junie must command my respect and trust. Surely you can’t trust somebody in this world unless you feel something akin to a kind of love for them. [Emphasis added]*

*As a historical footnote I should add that in those days in the long ago 1970s politicians did not have chiefs of staff, with the private secretary being the key gate keeper in a minister’s office.

But of more interesting to me in the Laing paper than the main event of Cairns and Morosi were the references to an earlier example of controversy about a senior politician having a key female adviser.

Prior to this scandal, there had been another example that indicated the interest and intrigue in women in the political landscape: Ainsley Gotto was a young girl hired to be the private secretary to Prime Minister John Gorton.
Gotto was used as a scapegoat for an unpopular Prime Minister and the outrage was centred on his lack of judgment in employing her and listening to her advice. The headlines read, ‘PM listened to girl more than to his cabinet’ and ‘Ainsley Gotto (‘it’s shapely… it wiggles’) tells her own story’. They focused on her youth and beauty, implying the reason for her appointment was her sexual attraction rather than her professional experience. When Gotto flew with the Prime Minister to the US on Air Force One for meetings with the President of the US, the reporting seemed almost spiteful, as though she was simply a girl sitting ‘close to the policy makers, the architects of world power, the men whose figures loom larger than life, who with the stroke of a pen can change a nations history’. The reports despised her for thinking she was worthy to be in their presence because of her age and inexperience. …

These two cases have often been compared when talking about the media treatment of women in the workplace and in government employment because of their proximity to each other, the Gotto affair occurring in 1969 and the Morosi affair happening in 1974. Similarly, journalist Alan Reid was highly critical of PM John Gorton and used the Gotto situation as a way of turning public opinion against him, outlining that Gotto was only 22 years old and unmarried, therefore could never be taken seriously, nor could a Prime Minister relying on her advice. …

To compare this scandal once again to the scandal of John Gorton and his secretary Ainsley Gotto which occurred in 1969, this point identifies a fundamental difference. John Gorton and Ainsley Gotto were conservatives of the Liberal party, a party known to be fierce advocates for the nuclear family and the role of the woman as bearer of children and domestic ruler of the home.135 The 1969 scandal was a sensation because by employing the young woman on his staff and listening to advice from the ‘girl’ rather than from his ministers, Gorton was betraying the standards of the party and the conservative conventions of those that voted for him.


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A real Sydney Telegraph exclusive – political correspondent abolishes Tasmania’s upper house

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

Reporting on an opinion poll giving the public view of the New South Wales upper house:clennell1clennell2

From the website of the Tasmanian Parliament:

The Legislative Council of Tasmania

A Message from the President of the Legislative Council,

The Honourable James Scott Wilkinson, MLC.

The Legislative Council, which is the Upper House in the Tasmanian Parliament, is a unique parliamentary institution.

Established in 1825 as the original legislative body in Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) it is the only House of Parliament in the Commonwealth, and probably in the world, that has never been controlled by any government or any political party. It has always had a majority of independent members making it a truly genuine House of Review.

The Legislative Council has extensive constitutional powers, but Members are conscious of their powers and responsibilities and make their decisions accordingly.

The independent nature of the House makes for meaningful debate of the issues without the rivalry and regimentation which is involved in the process in Houses of Parliament dominated by political parties.

Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

If Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran finally are executed, expect Tony Abbott to be cast in the role of villain.

The reaction in Indonesia to our Prime Minister’s argument in favour of having the two drug dealers spared is getting stronger. From page one of the Jakarta Post this morning:

coin for abbott

People in Aceh are collecting spare change for Tony Abbot following the Australian prime minister’s recent comments about a lack of Indonesian gratitude as it readies to execute two Australian drug traffickers.

Organizers said that the money collected would be given to the Australian government to “repay” an estimated A$1 billion worth of aid given to Indonesia after the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

Among initiators of the coin drive are the I Love Aceh community and the Association of Indonesian Muslim University Students (KAMMI), which has set up special posts for people to participate in the drive.

“We are ready to collect coins to be handed over to the Australian government,” chairman of KAMMI’s Banda Aceh post, Martunus, said.

“We call on the Indonesian government to not be afraid of threats or other forms of intervention in connection to the upcoming executions,” he said, calling Abbot’s statement hurtful.

Stories like that are sure to influence the blame game in Australia should the executions take place. Tony Abbott will be accused of sabotaging the diplomatic amnesty attempts.

Punting on the Oscars – it’s Birdman for me

February 22nd, 2015 Comments off

I’m reverting to my normal practice of assuming that the punters don’t get the favourite in short enough when betting on elections. Hence 100 on Birdman at $1.70 to be best picture at the Oscars.

At least it makes watching more interesting.

My record on election betting isn’t bad either. See The Political Speculator’ Diary

Here’s the Owl’s Election Indicator:

best picture indicator

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Jim and Junie’s kind of love and a lasting relevance for Tom Uren’s words?

February 22nd, 2015 Comments off

I am thankful to Gerard Henderson for including this item in his always entertainingly readable Media Watch Dog.

22-02-2015 nancy archive

(You can read the rest of the item HERE)

It brought back such marvellous memories of the Whitlam era and what was described at the time as “a kind of love”. There were pictures like this one:

22-02-2015 junieandjim

And this one.

22-02-2015 barechestedjim

And somehow, when I see a picture like this one, I can’t stop thinking about those words of Tom.

22-02-2015 abbottandcredlin

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Pernicious inflation and an imploding Europe – a few things for Joe to think about

February 22nd, 2015 Comments off

22-02-2015 consumerprices

  • Feeling down – Deflation can be a good thing. But today’s version is pernicious – “Deflation poses several risks, some well-understood, one not. … The least-understood danger is also the most serious, because it is already here. Deflation makes it harder to loosen monetary policy. … Policymakers should be more worried than they appear to be, and their actions to avert deflation should be bolder. Governments need to boost demand by spending more on infrastructure; central banks should err on the side of looseness.”
  • An orderly Greek exit is the only option for Europe – “The euro will eventually break up. But, before it does, we’ll see a lot more democratic transgressions as big countries, aided by the Brussels machine, impose their will on smaller neighbours.’If we aim deliberately at impoverishment, vengeance, I dare predict … will not limp,’ Keynes wrote in 1919. ‘But who can say how much is endurable, or in what direction men will seek at last to escape from their misfortunes?’ I’m not predicting war in Western Europe. But I am saying the eurozone will generate ever-rising tensions and spiralling financial instability until it finally implodes or is deliberately dismantled.
  • The hideous dialectic of Isis savagery – “The methods of the jihadi blackshirts are chillingly savage. But Isis is chillingly smart too.”
  • Facing Up to the Democratic Recession  – Democracy has been in a global recession for most of the last decade, and there is a growing danger that the recession could deepen and tip over into something much worse. Many more democracies could fail, not only in poor countries of marginal strategic significance, but also in big swing states such as Indonesia and Ukraine (again). There is little external recognition yet of the grim state of democracy in Turkey, and there is no guarantee that democracy will return any time soon to Thailand or Bangladesh. Apathy and inertia in Europe and the United States could significantly lower the barriers to new democratic reversals and to authoritarian entrenchments in many more states.”
  • Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science? “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge—from climate change to vaccinations—faces furious opposition. “Some even have doubts about the moon landing.”
  • The Great Jewish Exodus – “Israel is indeed the home of every Jew, and that is important, a guarantee of sorts. It is equally important, however, that not every Jew choose this home. That is another kind of guarantee, of Europe’s liberal order, of the liberal idea itself.”

22-02-2015 shape

Jakarta Post reports: TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

February 21st, 2015 Comments off

There’s no sign in this morning’s report by the Jakarta Post that the Indonesian president intends to change his mind on the death penalty for convicted drug criminals.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made it clear on Friday that the postponed executions of 11 death row convicts, including two Australians, was simply the result of technical problems in the field and it had no relation at all to Australia’s pressure on Indonesia to drop the decision.

“No, there were no such issues. It is within our legal sovereignty [to execute the convicts],” Jokowi said at the Bogor Palace. “I believe the delay is due to technical issues; just ask the attorney general [about the details].”

The President then asked Vice President Jusuf Kalla to brief reporters about his telephone conversation with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Thursday, in which the Australian diplomat clarified the statement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that was perceived as offensive to Indonesia. The Prime Minister said Australia would feel “grievously let down” if the executions proceeded despite the A$1 billion that was given in aid after the 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh and Nias in North Sumatra.

Kalla, who previously denied speculations that the postponement of the executions was based on pressure from Abbott, said Bishop phoned him on Thursday to clarify Abbott’s statement.

“Yesterday [Thursday], Foreign Minister Bishop explained, and certainly regretted, the misunderstanding,” Kalla said.

According to the Vice President, Bishop also said that Abbott merely tried to emphasize the long history of good relations between the two countries, including the period in which Aceh was devastated by a tsunami.

Quoting the Australian diplomat, Kalla said Australia wanted to continue cooperating with Indonesia in a variety of areas, including the fight against drug abuse and trafficking.

Attorney General M. Prasetyo, whose office is responsible for carrying out the execution, reiterated that the government decided to delay the executions from the original date earlier this month simply for technical reasons.

He also warned Australia not to intervene in Indonesia’s domestic affairs. “We never put pressure on others; we hope they also do not put pressure on us,” said the attorney general.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Moeldoko supported the President’s decision saying that he was ready to deploy military personnel to secure the execution site from any threats.

Moeldoko said that he would provide any support that the government needed to complete the executions of the 11 convicts, including the two Australians that the current controversy is centered around, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

“The TNI will never be influenced by anything or by anybody. On the death penalty issue, we have a clear stance; right or wrong this is my country,” Moeldoko said.

Moeldoko said military leaders would hold a meeting with the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Law and Human Rights Ministry to discuss possible threats that might emerge before and during the executions.

“We will make a detailed emergency plan to prepare for any disruptions that may interfere with the executions,” Moeldoko said.

Although Moeldoko declined to give further information on what kind of security threats might emerge as a result of the executions, he insisted that he had sufficient information from TNI intelligence reports.

“Of course we don’t want to clearly state the threats that may come from certain countries. But the TNI understands that there are possible threats. This is why we asked the head of military intelligence to attend the meeting,” he said, adding that he was ready to deploy military personnel whenever the government needed it.

For instance, the military will allocate its personnel to secure several areas in Nusakambangan prison island, Central Java, where the executions are set to take place.

“There are several empty roads on the island that need to be secured from outsiders,” the four-star general said.

death spot or tourist destination

The newspaper also carried a picture of people trying to get a boat to the scheduled location for the execution. The caption reads:

Death spot or tourist destination? Several people wait for a boat at the Wijayapura Port, Cilacap regency, Central Java, on Friday to go to the notorious Nusakambangan Island. Ever since the news that there would be a second round of executions of drug convicts was publicized, more and more people started flocking to the island every day as if it had become a tourist destination.

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The leadership speculation that just won’t go away

February 20th, 2015 Comments off

The prime ministerial way with words has struck again. Tony Abbott’s linking of Australian generosity with aid to Indonesia with the scheduled execution of drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has placed him in dangerous political territory. If the view expressed in the media his morning that he has hindered diplomatic efforts to have the death penalty revoked catches on with the public it may well be the final straw for his leadership.

Already the media dogs are barking about another challenge. Mark Kenny was the loudest this morning with his “Leadership chatter has not stopped. It may all come to a head sooner than you think.”

But for Hockey, the primary question now must be whether he lasts long enough to deliver a second budget. He is as welded to Abbott as Abbott is to him. Liberals say they’ll go down together.

Chatter in the government shows no signs of abating and could yet manifest itself in a sudden move to replace Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull as early as the first full sitting week beginning March 2.

If that happens, the IGR [Intergenerational Report] will still be an important document because the long-term problems aren’t going away. But don’t expect to hear much about university deregulation or the toxic GP payment, no matter what Orwellian name it has acquired by then.*

[*Kenny notes in his story how the GP co-payment is now called, “somewhat comically, ‘a value signal in health’.”]

Graham Richardson in The Australian was delivering a similar warning:

For a party with a long tradition of sticking with elected prime ministers, that vote should have been the wake-up call of a lifetime for an embattled leader fast running out of friends. Whether his loss of sensory perception is in his eyes or his ears doesn’t really matter. Either way it will prove fatal.

The money is pointing in the same direction. The Owl’s market based Liberal Leadership Indicator has the probability of Malcolm Turnbull being PM at the next election increasing.

liberal leader indicator (1)

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Group decision-making exacerbates men’s tendency to lie

February 17th, 2015 Comments off
  • Honesty in groups: Gender matters – “Many nations and corporations strive to raise female membership in decision-making bodies. This column discusses new experimental evidence suggesting that there is more lying (and more extreme lying) in male groups and mixed-gender groups than in female groups. Moreover, group decision-making exacerbates men’s tendency to lie while the opposite is true for women. This suggests that the gender composition of decision-making bodies is important when the goal is to limit the scope of unethical behaviour.”

cancer drug price

  • The Rising Price of Anti-Cancer Drugs – “As the best-fit line shows, back in 1995 the new drugs were costing about $54,000 to save a year of life. By 2014, the new drugs were costing about $170,000 to save a year of life. This is an increase of roughly 10% per year.”
  • The Drug That Is Bankrupting America – “In December 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved Sovaldi, and another formulation, Harvoni, which is sofosbuvir used in combination with another drug. Gilead set the price for a 12-week treatment course of Sovaldi at $84,000, amounting to $1,000 per pill. Gilead set the price of Harvoni at $94,000.According to researchers at Liverpool University, the actual production costs of Sovaldi for the 12-week course is in the range $68-$136. Indeed, generic sofosbuvir is currently being marketed in India at $300 per treatment course, after India refused to grant Gilead a patent for the Indian market. In other words, the U.S. price-cost markup is roughly 1,000-to-1!”
  • With Quakes Spiking, Oil Industry Is Under The Microscope In Oklahoma – “Austin Holland, the state seismologist … says that Oklahoma used to have, on average, one or two perceptible earthquakes a year. Now the state is averaging two or three a day. There were more magnitude 3 or greater tremors here last year than anywhere else in the continental United States, and the unprecedented spike in earthquakes has intensified. Holland suspects that modern oil production techniques are triggering the jump in quakes.”
  • Can de-industrialisation be reversed? – “A new study from the Brookings Institution argues that American prosperity is being driven by advanced industries. It raises the question as to whether de-industrialisation can be reversed.”
  • Tropical Pacific Ocean remains ENSO-neutral – “… all international models surveyed by the Bureau indicate tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures are likely to remain warm, but within the neutral range, until at least May. Beyond that time, outlooks favour warm-neutral or El Niño-like ocean temperatures.”
  • A Dynamic Theory of Romantic Choice – In the tradition of “The Theory of Interstellar Trade” – “I propose an answer to the question “why are all the good guys taken” through a dynamic model of romantic search. Search and matching modelsare workhorses in labor economics. I apply this framework to romance and explain why there are lots of single “boring Bernards and psycho Suzies”, as well as discuss the model’s welfare implications. The key mechanism in the model is that good couples stay together for longer. As such, even if there is a large share of good romantic partners, most single people are crazy.”
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Part timing Australia – the declining full-time jobs

February 17th, 2015 Comments off

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures suggest that Australia is becoming a part-time economy. The trend Labour Force figures for January show that a record high of 30.73% of jobs were part time. Back in February 1978 when the ABS series began the proportion was only 15.17%


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The great cricket sham and other news and views

February 16th, 2015 Comments off

Untitled image (16)

  • Bitter Cup – Cricket’s marquee tournament is a sham – “Over time, the one-day international has gradually shed any pretense of contest—in cricketing terms, a duel between batsmen and bowlers—and recast itself as a glorified showcase of the bat-manufacturer’s craft, where second-rung players routinely found lacking in Test conditions can get away with edges and mishits. Any ball a batsman—even at his most arthritic—cannot hit with ease has been systematically outlawed (one bouncer per over by strict ration; nothing pitching outside leg stump; nothing wider than a foot of off stump, and so on).”
  • Negative rates to shake up financial system, say experts – “It has a huge impact on a lot of simple things like pension funds and insurance companies, and how their whole model works,” said Henry Cooke, executive director at Gryphon Capital Investments. “It is putting them under a lot of pressure . . . and when people are put under a lot of pressure, they take a lot more risk.”
  • Corporate bonds: Emerging bubble – Signs of distress are appearing in companies’ debt

london review of books

  • The Austerity Con by Simon Wren-Lewis – “Of course it is also the case that large sections of the print media have a political agenda. Unfortunately the remaining part, too, often seeks expertise among City economists who have a set of views and interests that do not reflect the profession as a whole. This can lead to a disconnect between macroeconomics as portrayed in the media and the macroeconomics taught in universities. In the case of UK austerity, it has allowed the media to portray the reduction of the government’s budget deficit as the overriding macroeconomic priority, when in reality that policy has done and may continue to do considerable harm.”
  • The War Next Door: Can Merkel’s Diplomacy Save Europe?
  • The World of Our Grandchildren – Noam Chomsky discusses ISIS, Israel, climate change, and the kind of world future generations may inherit.
  • Jailing People Has Little Effect on Crime Levels – At some point, the data indicates, more people in prison doesn’t translate to fewer crimes
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The risks of an apocalypse and other news and views for cheerful Sunday reading

February 15th, 2015 Comments off


  • Twelve ways the world could end – “What are the chances of all human life being destroyed by a supervolcano? Or taken over by robots? A new report from Oxford university assesses the risks of apocalypse.”
  • Corruption: doing the dirt – “The annual yearbook of equity returns, compiled by the London Business School, shows that the more corrupt a country is, the better the returns its equity markets offer.

inflation rates

swedish font

  • Not Too Much, Not Too Little: Sweden, In A Font – “Sweden recently commissioned a team of designers to come up with a font to represent the country on its websites, press releases, tourism brochures and more. The offices of Soderhavet look exactly the way you would expect a Scandinavian design firm to look: clean, sleek and warm, with tasteful bursts of color sprinkled among the minimalistic furniture. And the typeface that these designers created looks pretty much the way you would expect a Scandinavian typeface to look, too.”
  • Obese could lose benefits if they refuse treatment – PM – “People who cannot work because they are obese or have alcohol or drug problems could have their sickness benefits cut if they refuse treatment, the PM says. David Cameron has launched a review of the current system, which he says fails to encourage people with long-term, treatable issues to get medical help. Some 100,000 people with such conditions claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the government says. Labour said the policy would do nothing to help people to get off benefits.
  • Tracing the rise of EU anti-establishment politics, By Professor Archie Brown, University of Oxford – “A darkening cloud looms over mainstream European politicians in the early months of 2015. It is the rise of parties and movements seen by them as either extreme or nationalist, sometimes both. That these relative newcomers have become major players in national politics is viewed not only as a dangerous departure from the natural political order but also a serious threat to the territorial integrity of the state.”
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Jeremy Paxman is my new favourite columnist

February 15th, 2015 Comments off

Staring nightly at the giggle box in Canberra not London, Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight meant nothing to me. Now things are different. Among other things he has turned columnist for London’s Financial Times where he almost justifies on his own making that paper one of the only two I actually pay to read on the internet. Most assuredly his Saturday musings are worthy of being on everyone’s short-list of monthly freebies that apply before the FT’s $ sign goes up.

After a plug like that I hope the journal I used to write for in the days of the first iron ore boom so many years ago will forgive me for ignoring its plea not to copy its words because good journalism is expensive to give this sample from this week’s Paxman’s Diary:

salmon fishing

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Time to change those blue ties

February 14th, 2015 Comments off

My award for the most revealing story of 2014 about Tony Abbott would go to Mark Di Stefano with his The Definitive Ranking Of Every Blue Tie Tony Abbott Wore In 2014. “Tony Abbott”, wrote Di Stefano, “has stuck to a rigid routine throughout 2014: wake up, put on a suit and saddle up with one of his many blue ties. That’s right, if you haven’t noticed Mr Abbott nearly always wears BLUE ties.”

blue ties

The insistence can be traced back to June last year when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a speech about what would happen if Mr Abbott won the upcoming election:

“I invite you to imagine it, a prime minister, a man with a blue tie, who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie, a treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister, another man in a blue tie, women once again banished from the centre of Australia’s political life.”
Since that speech, Mr Abbott has worn a blue tie virtually every single day, in what some consider epic shade being thrown to the Labor Party and Ms Gillard.

The blue tie became a symbol of the Abbott style. Blame Labor. Blame Labor. Blame Labor.

And it worked well when he was Opposition Leader but something different is called for now that Tony Abbott has become as unpopular a Prime Minister as Australia has had in recent memory.

Symbolism being an important component in image making it must be time to change tie colour to accompany a change in rhetoric from opposing to governing.

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Trying to understand the Ruddock replacement

February 13th, 2015 Comments off

In my 50 or so years in Canberra covering politics I have never thought of a party’s whip as being a personal protector of a party leader on the British model. The whip’s duties in Canberra have always struck me as being far more mundane – ensuring that no one clocks off early and that the numbers are there when the votes are taken.

Tony Abbott, the believer in knights and dames, clearly has a different view. Sacking Philip Ruddock can only be explained by the Prime Minister believing two things. The first is that the Liberal Whip should be his personal man as in the House of Commons and the second is that he was truly surprised by the extent of the vote against him in the party room this week. Ruddock, as the Whip, has got the blame for that and paid for it.

Abbott, I expect, will pay his own price in the weeks to come. Philip Ruddock has been a loyal servant of his parliamentary party. I grudgingly admired him when, as Immigration Minister, he loyally supported the John Howard line on asylum seekers even while it destroyed his small “l” liberal reputation and caused a few tensions within his own family if I remember correctly. Whatever else he has been, Philip Ruddock has been a team player.

And his House of Representatives colleagues well know it.

They will be shocked at the way the PM has treated him today. It was the act of a bully-boy.

The consequences will be seen when the Liberal Party next considers its leadership. The likelihood of Abbott’s own sacking have just increased.

13-02-2015 liberalleader

(See the Owl’s other election indicators HERE)

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Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague

February 13th, 2015 Comments off
  • Case against Abbott Government builds at The Hague – “The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, and human rights advocate and lawyer Greg Barns have taken the next step in their formal request for the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate crimes against asylum seekers by members of the Abbott Government.”
  • How Tony Abbott came within 11 votes of oblivion – “This is the story of a leadership spill missing brilliant strategy, cunning organisation or sophisticated internal machinations that brought a Prime Minister within 11 votes of oblivion.”
  • This time the random walk loses – “Notwithstanding the progress made in the field of exchange rate economics, we still know very little of what drives major currencies. This column argues that the best that one can do is to assume that currencies move to gradually restore (relative) purchasing power parity. Contrary to widely held beliefs, this is in general a much better strategy than to just assume that the exchange rate behaves like a random walk. “
  • Do derivatives make the world safer?

cleaner air

  • Stopping at red lights could be slowly killing you – “The average UK commuter spends about 1.5 hours a day at the wheel. While not great for stress levels in general, there are other ways that the daily churn through traffic can negatively affect health. Research by my team at the University of Surrey has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights.”
  • Justice Deferred Is Justice Denied – Review of Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations by Brandon L. Garrett – “At bottom, corporate fraud amounts to little more than executives lying for business purposes, and prosecution depends on proving that the lies were intentional. Are the changes forced upon companies by deferred prosecution agreements likely to materially change the decision of these individuals to lie when it suits their goals?”
  • Author Sono calls for racial segregation in op-ed piece – “A prominent Japanese author and columnist who advised the government has called for Japan to adopt a system to force immigrant workers to live in separate zones based on race. In a regular column published in the Feb. 11 edition of the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, Ayako Sono said immigrants, especially those providing elderly care, would ease the difficulties in Japan’s nursing sector. She also said that, while it was fine for people of all races to work, do research, and socialize with each other, they should also live apart from each other. “Since learning about the situation in South Africa 20 or 30 years ago, I’ve come to think that whites, Asians, and blacks should live separately,” Sono wrote. Sono, who was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to an education reform panel in 2013, cited an unspecified whites-only apartment complex in Johannesburg that black South Africans moved into after apartheid ended. She said there was a problem because black people tended to bring large families into small apartments.”
  • Labor’s first test: putting integrity before politics in Queensland

The nonsense rhetoric about debt and stealing from future generations

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

Debt Is Money We Owe To Ourselves – Paul Krugman blogs: Antonio Fatas, commenting on recent work on deleveraging or the lack thereof, emphasizes one of my favorite points: no, debt does not mean that we’re stealing from future generations. Globally, and for the most part even within countries, a rise in debt isn’t an indication that we’re living beyond our means, because as Fatas puts it, one person’s debt is another person’s asset; or as I equivalently put it, debt is money we owe to ourselves — an obviously true statement that, I have discovered, has the power to induce blinding rage in many people.

The Recent Rise and Fall of Rapid Productivity Growth – Information technology fueled a surge in U.S. productivity growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, this rapid pace proved to be temporary, as productivity growth slowed before the Great Recession. Furthermore, looking through the effects of the economic downturn on productivity, the reduced pace of productivity gains has continued and suggests that average future output growth will likely be relatively slow.

On the recent US-China agreement on climate change – China and the US have recently agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This column asks what quantifiable impact the new targets will have, whether they are any better than previous approaches, and if so, whether they are enough to avoid dangerous climate change. While insufficient for keeping temperature increase below the 2°C limit, the US and China’s bilateral commitments are a step in the right direction, and form the basis for a stronger international agreement in Paris later this year.

monarch butterfly

The monarch massacre: Nearly a billion butterflies have vanished – Threatened animals like elephants, porpoises and lions grab all the headlines, but what’s happening to monarch butterflies is nothing short of a massacre. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summed it up in just one grim statistic on Monday: Since 1990, about 970 million have vanished. It happened as farmers and homeowners sprayed herbicides on milkweed plants, which serve as the butterflies’ nursery, food source and home.

Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Rock, and Burying It

Her Majesty and the Curious Mystery of the Disappearing Corgis – The Queen’s favourite dog breed is on the brink of extinction – and everyone’s looking suspiciously at Buckingham Palace. There’s only one solution: eBay.


Good government comes to Adelaide … Day 1

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

submarine plans


That’s how Adelaide’s InDaily website began its coverage of this morning’s attempt by the Coalition government to rescue Tony Abbott from his latest captain’s choice.

Before the party room vote on a split, the Prime Minister courted South Australian MPs with what one of them, Sean Edwards, described this way:

“I’m very pleased with the decision of the prime minister and when he rang me today with this very good news – it now commits the government to a full and open tender – and this should lead to hat throwing, to punching the air.”

Mr Abbott certainly did not move before the vote to qualify the interpretation that the Adelaide Advertiser put on the vote: Prime Minister Tony Abbott promises South Australia chance to tender for Future Submarines project to win leadership votes.

But clarification was clearly thought necessary now that day one of good government (or is it day two?) has come around. Defence Minister Kevin Andrew was dispatched to the headquarters of the Australian Submarine Corporation to put a little spin on things.

Which resulated in this:

In a bizarre morning media conference at Adelaide shipbuilder ASC, Andrews was flanked by a gaggle of Liberal MPs – including Sean Edwards, Andrew Southcott, Matt Williams, David Fawcett and Rowan Ramsey as well as state colleagues Steven Marshall and Dan van Holst Pellekaan – but effectively said nothing about his plans, or how they’ve changed since last week.

“We’ve decided that in relation to the future submarines program, we’ll have a competitive evaluation process,” he said.

“That will mean there’s an opportunity for anybody who can meet the requirements important to the program to have a part in that.”

But he refused to elaborate, saying: “I’m not going to get into the sorts of definitions and ‘what’s a definition’, all I’m saying as minister is this is the approach we’re taking.”

“I’m not a commentator. What I’m doing is saying to you and everyone who may be listening to me now is the process we’re going to undertake is going to be a competitive evaluation process; there are criteria which will be spelled out in more detail as we progress through them,” Andrews said.

Asked about the distinction between a tender process and an “evaluation process”, Andrews said: “I’ll use the words I choose to use – what we’re doing is a competitive evaluation process.”

Quite what means goodness knows. Probably that the next lot of submarines will be built in Japan but the government will try and find a few bits and pieces that can be built by the Adelaide lot that the predecessor of Kevin Andrews would not trust to build a canoe.

A surer way of ensuring that Christopher Pyne loses his SA seat could not be invented and I suppose that’s something.

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An election designed to be about entertainment – Oscar voting

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

And now for an election designed to be about entertainment.

10-02-2015 best movie oscar indicator

Rupert was feigning disinterest this morning but his Fox Searchlight Pictures does distribute Birdman – the favourite for Best Picture.

10-02-2015 murdochvoting

Good to see the boss man being impartial and not trying to influence the voters. Just the same as he is with those editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal.

10-02-2015 murdochinfluence

I really must apologise for the innuendo in my earlier post Echoes of his master’s voice – Credlin should go




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Echoes of his master’s voice – Credlin should go

February 10th, 2015 Comments off

28 January 2015

murdoch on credlin


10 February 2015 – The Australian editorial:

australian editorial on credlin


10 February 2015 – Melbourne Herald Sun editorial:

Herald sun on credlin

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Will Abbott last the leadership distance? Probably not

February 9th, 2015 Comments off

The voting is over and the market has considered the prospects. Malcolm Turnbull is still the firm favourite to lead the Liberal Party at the next election.

liberal leader indicator

And as for who will be the government? Little change on the day.

federal indicator (1)

The lost art of rhetoric

February 9th, 2015 Comments off
Among all this sloganising, I find myself thinking back to the Greek philosopher Socrates - or at least as Plato presented him. He was about getting to the bottom of an argument. About not giving up on it. About facing his own ignorance and confronting his own prejudices. Most of all, he was about having a real conversation.

Among all this sloganising, I find myself thinking back to the Greek philosopher Socrates – or at least as Plato presented him. He was about getting to the bottom of an argument. About not giving up on it. About facing his own ignorance and confronting his own prejudices. Most of all, he was about having a real conversation.

  • Have modern politicians lost the art of rhetoric? – “When we listen to politicians, we often complain that their words don’t seem to mean anything. And that’s because they don’t … There’s a mismatch between political ideas and politicians’ words. It’s not that the poor things don’t have ideas – they’re just not usually allowed to utter them. The party machine is too risk-averse to countenance real speech. In ancient Greece and Rome, on the other hand, the art of rhetoric was at the heart of political life. Rhetoric can have a bad name, as if it means tricksy or deceptive speech. But the bottom line is it’s a skill of using reasoned argument to persuade. Recapturing some of that lost art might be a good idea, and might get us beyond pretty much indistinguishable soundbites.”
  • No one in control: The algorithms that run our lives – “Software is deciding who gets a loan, who counts as a citizen and what prices you pay online. Who will step in when the machines get out of hand?”
  • California Moves to Ban All Vaccination Exemptions
  • Putin’s Peninsula Is a Lonely Island – No tourists, frightened tatars, and Russians have taken all the jobs. Welcome to Crimea in winter.
  • Don’t forget health when you talk about human rights – “Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released World Report 2015, their 25th annual global review documenting human rights practices in more than 90 countries and territories in 2014. … when one delves deeper, there is a hidden story that often does not make the headlines. That story is the health dimension of human rights. Viewed through the lens of health, the report contains several compelling and disturbing themes.
  • Keep daffodils away from food, supermarkets warned. “Supermarkets have been urged to keep daffodils away from fruit and vegetable aisles this spring – in case they are mistaken for food. In a letter to major stores, Public Health England warned the flowers could be confused with onions or Chinese vegetables, and consumption of them was an “emerging risk”. Daffodils contain toxic alkaloids that can cause severe vomiting, it said.”
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Will Abbott be Prime Minister at the end of next week?

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

There’s not enough data to produce one of the Owl’s election indicators on Tuesday’s Liberal party meeting but here is one guide. Sportsbet had these odds at the time of writing:

abbott as leader

Call it a toss-up.

When it comes to who will win the next federal election the market has barely moved after today’s events.

federal election indicator


Given that the opinion polls have Labor a long way in front it is reasonable to assume that many people think there could be a dramatic change – something like a change of Prime Minister – before polling day.

Abbott to go and Liberals to win

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

I am old enough to remember the jubilation in Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party the day that Billy Mackie Snedden was finally sacked as leader of the opposition after months of withering attacks by the prime minister. And I recollect believing that the euphoria caused by Gough’s “brilliance” would be temporary and disappear with that loss of Labor’s best weapon.

So if I was Bill Shorten today I would be hoping and praying that Tony Abbott survives next week’s Liberal party meeting. Malcolm Turnbull has all the credentials to do to him what Malcolm Fraser did to Gough Whitlam.

Not that I think Abbott will survive. Should he escape on Tuesday it will not be for long. He does not have what it takes to run the country and his colleagues know it. They know as well that Shorten is no world beater. With Turnbull as leader taking on Shorten they have a good chance of keeping their seat.

I will be having a modest investment on the Coalition to win the next election. (See The political speculator’s diary)



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Balanced wise words on Tony Abbott’s fate from a veteran observer

February 6th, 2015 Comments off

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the Liberal leadership

By Stephen Parker, University of Canberra and Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Stephen Parker and Michelle Grattan discuss the week in politics including whether or not Prime Minister Tony Abbott should step down, how likely it is to happen and if Julie Bishop or Malcolm Turnbull would be best to take the position.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Waiting for Newspoll to further inflame the anti-Abbott fire

February 5th, 2015 Comments off

I have no inside knowledge of any kind about what is happening within the federal Liberal Party. I look at politics from afar without speaking to any members of Parliament. My judgment is based on nothing more than a keen interest in what I read, see and hear of people who do pretend to know what is going on with all this leadership business, And my conclusion is a simple one. If Tony Abbott is correct about being supremely confident that he is not facing a challenge to his party leadership, why does he feel the need to keep asserting that confidence? It does not make sense to me.

And if there really is a threat to Abbott’s position, the next Newspoll will have a major impact on what happens. Presumably The Australian will have an update on Monday or Tuesday. Given the media coverage over the last fortnight it will be amazing if there is not a considerable drop in the Prime Minister’s personal approval rating and an improvement in Labor’s share of the two party preferred vote.

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A leadership challenge? Buy your papers and take your choice

February 5th, 2015 Comments off
Julie Bishop insists she is not campaigning for Tony Abbott’s job, but the leadership crisis deepened yesterday when another long-time ally of the Prime Minister joined those critical of his judgment.

Julie Bishop insists she is not campaigning for Tony Abbott’s job, but the leadership crisis deepened yesterday when another long-time ally of the Prime Minister joined those critical of his judgment.

Dennis Shanahan in The Australian:

THE public momentum for a leadership challenge to Tony Abbott is losing pace but the guerilla war continues and could still force a showdown for the prime ministership in Canberra on Tuesday.

As more Liberal MPs realise the enormity of trying to remove a first-term leader in a bloody and disorganised fight without a clear replacement, enthusiasm for a spill is waning. A senior cabinet minister told The Australian last night it looked like people were pulling back “from the brink”.

Steven Scott in The Courier Mail:

MALCOLM Turnbull is firming as the man most likely to be the nation’s next prime minister – and it could happen as early as next week.

With leadership speculation consuming the federal Coalition, some MPs are now determined to resolve the issue at a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday in Canberra.

And while Cabinet ministers are publicly backing Mr Abbott, there is a growing mood in the partyroom that his hold on the nation’s top job is now tenuous.

THE crisis enveloping Tony Abbott’s leadership deepened last night when his former assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, failed to confirm that he would still be Prime Minister by this time next week. ... Coalition MPs are now consumed by the leadership uncertainty. Parliament will resume in Canberra on Monday, and it now seems almost certain that the leadership crisis will come to a head at next Tuesday’s party room meeting.

THE crisis enveloping Tony Abbott’s leadership deepened last night when his former assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, failed to confirm that he would still be Prime Minister by this time next week. … Coalition MPs are now consumed by the leadership uncertainty.
Parliament will resume in Canberra on Monday, and it now seems almost certain that the leadership crisis will come to a head at next Tuesday’s party room meeting.

Mark Kenny in The Sydney Morning Herald:

Malcolm Turnbull has denied telephoning Liberals to canvass support as former minister Arthur Sinodinos became the most senior Liberal to question the judgment of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Senator Sinodinos, a former Abbott loyalist, described his support for the stricken leader as ‘‘ongoing’’ but ‘‘not unconditional’’.

Asked if Mr Abbott would be Prime Minister next week, Senator Sinodinos replied: ‘‘Comrade, ask me next week.’’

Liberals viewed that intervention as crucial with one calling it ‘‘extremely telling’’.

‘‘Arthur’s comment makes it much more serious,’’ said another senior Liberal. ‘‘People will now look around to see if someone is starting to count for an actual candidate.’’

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