Archive for July, 2014

Europe’s ground zero and other news and views for Thursday 31 July

July 31st, 2014 Comments off
  • Europe’s Ground Zero: Fairy Tales and Fabrications in Eastern Ukraine – “There’s an eerie silence at the MH 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine, even as a civil war and propaganda battles rage around it. Few here seem concerned that the investigation into the tragedy could influence future ties with Europe.”
  • Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent – “After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.”
  • Gaza’s Network Of Tunnels Is A Major Hole In Israel’s Defenses – “Many Israelis [are] asking why their forces didn’t stop Hamas from building the elaborate tunnels in the first place. And in Israel, calls are mounting for an investigation into how authorities have handled the tunnel threat.”
  • Ankle tags to monitor offenders’ alcohol consumption – “Offenders convicted of alcohol-related crimes will have to wear ankle tags to monitor whether they are still drinking, under a new pilot scheme. The tags will record levels of alcohol in their sweat.The 12-month trial in four London boroughs – Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Sutton – gives courts the ability to ban people from drinking alcohol.”
  • What Science Says About Marijuana – “While marijuana is not harmless, it is less dangerous to human health than alcohol and tobacco.”
  • The Rich Man in his Castle – ” Few now believe that the positions of the high and the lowly are ordained by God, but the increasingly entrenched political defenders of the super-rich still maintain that massive inequality is in the nature of things and must at all costs be preserved. As Gore Vidal said and Thomas Piketty’s study confirms, it’s not enough to succeed – others must fail.”
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Ho hum – just another billion dollar fine for a bank

July 31st, 2014 Comments off

Another day and another ruling against a bank for fraudulent practices. A New York judge has ruled that Bank of America’s Countrywide business must pay the US government $1.3bn for selling defective home loans. Former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone must also pay $1m.

A BBC report says Countrywide was found guilty of selling bad loans, as part of a programme called “hustle”, to US mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2007.

Bank of America has spent nearly $40bn on legal matters relating to the housing market collapse, and the bank is expected to announce a multi-billion dollar settlement with US regulators over similar charges in the coming weeks.

The “hustle” suit came about after Edward O’Donnell, a former Countrywide executive, issued a whistleblower complaint alleging fraud.

Mr O’Donnell said a programme Countrywide instituted in 2007 known internally as the “high-speed swim lane” (also known as “HSSL” or “hustle”) did not properly screen mortgage applications, and that employees – who were paid based on loan volume and speed of processing – were give incentives to approve loans.

The programme was overseen by Ms Mairone.


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The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia and other news and views for Wednesday 30 July

July 30th, 2014 Comments off


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Job seeking

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

There’s nothing else to say about the Eric Abetz work for the dole scheme really.


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El Niño back to fifty fifty

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

2014-07-29_elninowatchThe odds of an  El Niño developing this year, and with it the chances of an ultra-hot year for the planet, have dropped considerably. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported this afternoon that despite the tropical Pacific Ocean being primed for an El Niño during much of the first half of 2014, the atmosphere above has largely failed to respond. Hence the ocean and atmosphere have not reinforced each other. As a result, some cooling has now taken place in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, with most of the key NINO regions returning to neutral values.

While the chance of an El Niño in 2014 has clearly eased, warmer-than-average waters persist in parts of the tropical Pacific, and the (slight) majority of climate models suggest El Niño remains likely for spring. Hence the establishment of El Niño before year’s end cannot be ruled out. If an El Niño were to occur, it is increasingly unlikely to be a strong event.

Given the current observations and the climate model outlooks, the Bureau’s ENSO Tracker has shifted to El Niño WATCH status. This means the chance of El Niño developing in 2014 is approximately 50%, which remains significant at double the normal likelihood of an event.
El Niño is often associated with wide scale below-average rainfall over southern and eastern inland areas of Australia and above-average daytime temperatures over southern Australia. Similar impacts prior to the event becoming fully established regularly occur.

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) index has been below −0.4 °C (the negative IOD threshold) since mid-June, but needs to remain negative into August to be considered an event. Model outlooks suggest this negative IOD is likely to be short lived and return to neutral by spring. A negative IOD pattern typically brings wetter winter and spring conditions to inland and southern Australia.


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The physical attributes that underpin our first impressions and other news and views for Tuesday 29 July

July 29th, 2014 Comments off
Synthesized face-like images illustrating the changes in facial features that typify each of the three social trait dimensions

Synthesized face-like images illustrating the changes in facial features that typify each of the three social trait dimensions

  • How facial features drive our first impressions – “Whether it’s a curled lip or a keen cheekbone, we all make quick social judgements based on strangers’ faces. Now scientists have modelled the specific physical attributes that underpin our first impressions. Small changes in the dimensions of a face can make it appear more trustworthy, dominant or attractive. The results, published in the journal PNAS, could help film animators or anyone looking to create an instant impression on a social network. Dr Tom Hartley, a neuroscientist at the University of York and the study’s senior author, said the work added mathematical detail to a well-known phenomenon.”
  • Transparency and central banking – More data, less gumption – “The Federal Reserve is ‘the most transparent central bank to my knowledge in the world,’ claims its chairwoman, Janet Yellen. Transparency is a commonly prescribed remedy for all manner of governmental failings. But is it always beneficial? A recent paper suggests that greater openness may turn central bankers into politicians, who show off their knowledge of economic data but are timid about recommending policy.”
  • Anti-Semitism comes back to haunt Europe

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Japanese financiers no different? Fraud at the home of the mafia

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

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It seems appropriate somehow that the Japanese financial giant Nomura chose Sicily for what Italian police allege was a 175 million euros fraud. According to police Colonel Francesco Mazzotta, four Nomura employees from back in 2000 to 2006 are under investigation, along with three other people, for using complex financial products to defraud the regional government of Sicily in the years leading up to the financial crisis.

Bloomberg reports that Italy’s financial police have seized bank accounts and credit valued at 98 million euros from Nomura, along with 6 million euros in property, shares and cash belonging to the seven suspects.

The amount represents the profit the bank allegedly made from the trades, police said.

Nomura created three derivatives contracts to restructure Sicily’s debt that wound up costing the region 60 million euros, police said. Sicily also lost 115 million euros on the securitization, or bundling, of health-care debt in 2002 at an “onerous” interest rate, police said.

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The Daily Mail gets it right – throw crooked bankers in jail

July 29th, 2014 Comments off

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London’s Daily Mail reports this morning that the clamour grows as the Bank of England chief says Lloyds traders ‘clearly broke the law’. In summary:

  • Mark Carney says Lloyds staff involved may be guilty of ‘criminal conduct’
  • Bank ripped off Treasury during financial crisis with creditworthiness lies
  • It gained access to tens of billions from Government at favourable rates
  • MP says public don’t understand why rogue bankers haven’t been jailed

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The Mail was not alone in taking a hard line on banking practices. That daily bible of the financial community The Financial Times reported how Lloyds Banking Group has been criticised for “highly reprehensible” behaviour by the Bank of England after it became the first lender to be fined for rigging rates to cut the cost of a financial crisis rescue scheme, effectively costing the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Categories: European media, Ticket clippers Tags:

Eric Abetz a sure fire vote loser

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

I must have spent too much time behind that one way glass. I can’t help thinking when I see a politician on television how those ordinary swinging voters will be reacting. Not to the words coming out of the mouth. They don’t really count. But to the look and the sound of the person uttering them.

And if there is one thing this old political adviser is certain of it is that Eric Abetz is doing his team great harm every time he appears on the screen or is heard on the radio. The Minister for Employment is a Liberal disability of the highest order. He just looks and sounds frightening whether or not you agree with his work for the dole message. A guaranteed vote loser who Labor must be hoping is kept in his role as government leader in the Senate where he will be guaranteed frequent appearances as the Abbott team struggles with being a minority administration.

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Time to stop Putin and other news and views for Monday 28 July

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

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  • Stopping Putin: The Time Has Come for Europe to Act – a Der Spiegel editorial – “Vladimir Putin has ignored Western demands that he cease arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. As such, he shares responsibility for the shooting down of MH17. It is now time for Europe to take tough action.”
  • Is India’s politics becoming less dynastic? “New research by political scientist Kanchan Chandra of New York University actually points to a fall in the number of dynastic MPs in the new parliament, formed after May’s general election.”

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  • The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police – “The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.”
  • Gloomy Pageant -a review of Mammon’s Kingdom: An Essay on Britain, Now by David Marquand, Allen Lane, 288 pp, – “What happens when you set out to look the present in the eye but can’t quite bear the thought? Much of David Marquand’s powerful essay about ‘Britain, now’ is an elegy for a lost past, unsullied by ‘masterless capitalism’, a sad story of the light growing dim, good running to bad, the public realm hollowed out by vested interests, greed and unexamined selfishness: a ‘moral economy’ transformed by unfettered markets and the ideology that contrived to shove them down our (obliging) throats. All this is presented with the clarity of a historian who never lost his faith in Britain’s institutions – parliament, monarchy, church and family – but who senses we’re caught in a thrilling rush towards the abyss. There’s nonetheless an eloquent song and dance before he takes us to the brink.”
  • What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming?– ” … the Chinese refrigeration boom is only just beginning. This is not simply transforming how Chinese people grow, distribute and consume food. It also stands to become a formidable new factor in climate change; cooling is already responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of greenhouse-gas pollution. Of all the shifts in lifestyle that threaten the planet right now, perhaps not one is as important as the changing way that Chinese people eat.”
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No ethics in the political classes and are journalists any better?

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

Most voters probably will never know the story of the lost dictaphone machine so the impact on the Victorian political future will be near enough to zilch. Which is a pity really. For the lesson that should be learned is that operatives on both sides of politics are unethical grubs. Anyone interested in honesty in politics would avoid Labor and Liberal like the plague. And when it comes to journalists, they should be despised for their habit of secretly recording conversations in a manner condoned by their editors.

A pox on the lot of them.

And if you wondering what I’m going on about then read this report from the ABC: Victorian Labor admits staff destroyed journalist’s recording device after listening to its contents. It is a shameful story.

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When Australia is not Australia – Scott Morrison and the mad, mad world of boat people

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

On AM  this morning:

CHRIS UHLMANN: Why have you broken your policy for off-shore processing and decided to sent them to Curtin?

SCOTT MORRISON: We haven’t broken our promises for off-shore processing. Off-shore processing is the backstop measure. Where we can get people sent back to the country from which they’ve come from, then that’s exactly what we’ll do and that’s the step we’re now engaged in. 

It’s not the policy of this Government to send out the water taxi the second the whistle goes up, as was the practise of the previous government, that’s not what we do. We seek to frustrate every aspect of this venture, and that includes having people sent back where we can do that. And now you’ll know that he mainland of Australia is an excised off-shore place for the purposes of the migration act.

CHRIS UHLMANN: That’s true, Australia is no longer part of Australia for the purposes of the Migration Act.

SCOTT MORRISON: And that was the legislation brought in by the previous government which we supported. Now that means the off-shore processing options remain open to the Government in relation to this caseload of people that have come by this method, and the Government reserves those options.

And I particularly liked the “anyhow, don’t blame me it was Labor wot done it” reference: ” Unfortunately true enough to make a fellow want to go green

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Big hook nosed Jews

July 28th, 2014 Comments off

From my former Crikey colleague Christian Kerr in the Oz’s Strewth! column this morning comes this observation:

SATURDAY’S Sydney Morning Herald featured a nuanced — not — column on current events in the Middle East by Mike Carlton, accompanied by an equally subtle cartoon of a nasty Israeli with little round pebble glasses and a big nose. Just like, as eagle-eyed spotters at Quadrant noticed, this cartoon from Der Sturmer from 1934. How very tasteful.

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Antarctica’s point of no return and other news and views for Sunday 27 July

July 27th, 2014 Comments off

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  • Antarctica’s Point of No Return – “Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. … Rather than reacting to global warming with gradual and predictable patterns of change, the West Antarctic ice sheet has suddenly “tipped” into a new state. A relatively small amount of melting beneath the Amundsen Sea’s ice shelf has pushed its grounding line to the top of a sub-glacial hill, from which it is now “rolling down.” Simply put, one thermal kick was enough to initiate an internal dynamic that will now continue under its own momentum, regardless of any action that humans might take to prevent it.
  • Powerful and Coldhearted – “Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them? Psychological research suggests the answer is no. … On the basis of a study we recently published with the researcher Jeremy Hogeveen, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, we contend that when people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others.”
  • Five myths about the gender pay gap – 1. The pay gap is closing rapidly. … 2. Women earn less because they work in industries that pay less. … 3. Women earn less because they don’t negotiate well. … 4. Women earn less because mothers choose to work less. … 5. To close the pay gap, we should focus on deterring discrimination. …
  • Boat turnbacks make harsh deterrents pointless – “Australia’s policy of mandatory detention isn’t what is stopping the boats, and we should put an end to the untold damage that is being inflicted on people’s lives, writes Mike Steketee.”
  • Government anti-piracy plan one of the world’s toughest – “Australia would have some of the toughest anti-piracy measures in the Western world if leaked government proposals to crack down on online copyright infringement were implemented, according to copyright experts. The draft discussion paper, published by news site Crikey on Friday, includes proposals to block overseas websites that host pirated content and to compel internet service providers (ISPs) to stop users illegally downloading movies and music.”
  • The Long History Of The Gaza Tunnels – “In his forthcoming book, Gaza: A History, Jean-Pierre Filiu describes the ‘first historic reference to the loose subsoil of Gaza’ during Alexander the Great’s 332 BC siege of this Mediterranean city, then under Persian rule. Filiu writes that Alexander expected quick victory. But ‘the siege of Gaza involved 100 days of fruitless attacks and tunneling.’ When Gaza finally fell, Alexander was infuriated and went on a vengeful rampage.”

Miranda Devine’s selective selection to “prove” Fairfax hating

July 27th, 2014 Comments off

From Miranda Devine’s Sunday Telegraph column this morning:


Look at the original SMH letters page and decide for yourself who has “an obsession bordering on sickness”.

2014-07-27_atlastA critical and, in my opinion, wrong-headed letter, sandwiched between two that praise the government, does not seem very obsessive to me.

But then, I clearly have different view on many things to Miranda Devine. Consider for a moment the implications of this opinion also offered in this morning’s column:


Now I have no desire to support head-lopping terrorists but I do worry about a system that would allow people with Ms Devine’s views to judge which natural born Australian citizens are to be forever banished from Australia. Just a tad sick and obsessive?



An update on bank settlements still flowing from the financial crisis

July 27th, 2014 Comments off

A deal to resolve a U.S. regulator’s claims against Goldman Sachs Group Inc over mortgage-backed securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac leading up to the financial crisis could cost the bank between $800 million and $1.25 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person said Goldman Sachs is discussing a settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which filed 18 lawsuits against Goldman and other banks in 2011 over about $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities that later went sour.

Goldman Sachs and the FHFA declined to comment on Saturday.

via Goldman mortgage deal with federal agency could reach $1.25 billion: source | Reuters.

In other ticket clipping news, Reuters reports that according to a Swiss newspaper about 80 of the 106 Swiss banks that signed up for a deal with U.S. tax authorities could be fined less than they had feared for their role in helping wealthy Americans cheat on their taxes, but must widen their cooperation. The banks, which include Geneva-based Lombard Odier and Zurich firm EFG International, came forward under a program brokered by the Swiss and U.S. governments, after criminal investigations of roughly a dozen Swiss banks including Credit Suisse in the United States.

NOTE: For other stories on this subject see the Owl’s Ticket Clippers archive.

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A 1968 Robert Kennedy speech on GDP I’d like an Australian politician to give today

July 26th, 2014 Comments off

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  • Robert Rubin Echoes Robert F. Kennedy: GDP Is Fatally Flawed Measure Of Economic Health – “Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin has a must read piece in the Washington Post, ‘How ignoring climate change could sink the U.S. economy.’ The centrist economic panjandrum main point: The notion that tackling climate change will harm the economy is the exact opposite of the truth. In this regard he makes a similar point to one Climate Progress made last week — one that Sen. Robert F. Kennedy made so powerfully on the presidential campaign trail nearly half a century ago … — the GDP is a deeply flawed measure of the economy’s health.”
  • When all the jobs belong to robots, do we still need jobs? – “… there’s a real scarcity of economists willing to think about the possibility that abundance makes markets obsolete altogether. Property rights may be a way of allocating resources when there aren’t enough of them to go around, but when automation replaces labor altogether and there’s lots of everything, do we still need it?”
  • Longest UK slump in a century ends – “Of the G7 major economies, only Italy has taken longer than the UK to regain its pre-crisis size and output per head in Britain is still 4 per cent below its pre-crisis level. A muted Mr Osborne admitted there was ‘still a long way to go’.The big question for him is whether the rebound has come too late to save the Conservatives at the next election, but he is convinced voters will not turn back to a Labour party that was in power when the crash hit in 2008.

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  • Britain’s economy is finally bigger than it was in 2008. What took so long? “Britain’s economy is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. And finally, six years later, it’s an economy that’s bigger than it was before the Great Recession.”
  • Former CIA Officials Denied Chance To Preview ‘Torture’ Report – “About a dozen former CIA officials named in a classified Senate report on decade-old agency interrogation practices were notified in recent days that they would be able to review parts of the document in a secure room in suburban Washington after signing a secrecy agreement. Then, on Friday, many were told they would not be able to see it, after all. Some of them were furious, while Democratic Senate aides were angry that they were given the chance in the first place. It’s the latest chapter in the drama and recriminations that have been playing out behind the scenes in connection with what some call the Senate torture report, a summary of which is being declassified and is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

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Down under a carbon tax goes down and other news and views for Friday 25 July

July 25th, 2014 Comments off
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A Prime Minister without spin doctors

July 25th, 2014 Comments off

A 70-year-old aide who does not mix with journalists as a public relations officer and for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that’s the media team. This novel approach of largely ignoring the press extends as far as not inviting New Delhi political correspondents to fly on Air India One for international visits. And the flacks, the BBC reports, are sulking about it.

Ministers and bureaucrats have also been reportedly told to avoid the media and speak only when Mr Modi offers an “official line”.

“Mr Modi’s attitude is now percolating to his council of ministers who were once media friendly, but are now avoiding journalists,” says senior journalist Kuldip Nayar.

Even the media-friendly Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offered just a handful of interviews after presenting the federal budget earlier this month.

Mr Modi has deputed Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, both former party spokesmen, to speak on behalf of the government.

Mr Modi has not spoken about limiting access to journalists, but many observers say it may have something to do with his troubled relationship with the media.

When he was the chief minister of Gujarat, he faced severe media criticism for doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in his state in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead. He has always denied the allegations.

“He simply doesn’t trust the media very much,” says a senior journalist, who prefers to remain unnamed.

As for the PR man, Jagdish Thakkar, he is described by journalists as rarely interacting with the media. “He simply smiles. And then we smile. There is no exchange of information,” says a senior reporter, requesting anonymity.

Categories: International politics, Media Tags:

Selecting a Cabinet with the help of social media

July 25th, 2014 Comments off

Indonesia’s President-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is using an unusual method to help him select a Cabinet. He is asking people to vote on his website for one of three choices for each of the 34 available posts. There is also an option to write in another name.

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25-07-2014 cabinetvoteThe Jakarta Post this morning says several names from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, Coordinating Economic Minister Chairul Tanjung, Bank Indonesia (BI) Governor Agus Martowardojo, former trade minister Gita Wirjawan and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan are on the list.

The list also includes former UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic state university rector Azyumardi Azra and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim, who are touted as potential religious affairs minister candidates, while popular economists including National Economy Council member Aviliani, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) academic Sri Adiningsih and energy expert Kurtubi are named as potential candidates to fill economic posts.

Several Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politicians, including Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, Pramono Anung, Maruarar Sirait, Puan Maharani, Hasto Kristiyanto and Eva Kusuma Sundari are also on the list.

When asked about the survey, Jokowi said, “I just want to hear the public’s views.”


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Raising minimum wages sees faster job growth and other news and views for Sunday 20 July

July 20th, 2014 Comments off


  • States That Raised Minimum Wage See Faster Job Growth, Report Says – New data released by the Department of Labor suggests that raising the minimum wage in some states might have spurred job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen. In a report on Friday, the 13 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1 have added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.”
  • Tea Party support linked to educational segregation, new study shows – “The political polarization that we witness today is linked to the way in which Americans live in segregated worlds.”20-07-2014 tonyserra
  • Court’s ‘Verbal Warrior’ still has lots of fight left – “On Thursday morning, Tony Serra will put on his best $10 suit and loose secondhand shoes to begin what could be his last big courtroom battle – the defense of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, presumed leader of a Chinatown money laundering ring and a central figure in an indictment that has also targeted state Sen. Leland Yee. The hearing, in federal court before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, will involve 29 defendants. Among their lawyers, Serra will be easy to spot – shaggy side hair, broken teeth, loud tie, but still at his fighting weight of 195 pounds and arguing for his client at every turn.”

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When the law of even-Steven does not apply and other news and views for Saturday 19 July

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

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The case for jail terms for bankers

July 19th, 2014 Comments off

What can you say – unless you are a banker – to disagree with the conclusion of this piece that while it will always be true that bankers do not want to turn away business, they would probably rather sacrifice some of their yearly bonus than risk spending a decade of their life behind bars?

Did the Banks Have to Commit Fraud? | Beat the Press.

Floyd Norris has an interesting piece discussing Citigroup’s $7 billion settlement for misrepresenting the quality of the mortgages in the mortgage backed securities it marketed in the housing bubble. Norris notes that the bank had consultants who warned that many of the mortgages did not meet its standards and therefore should not have been included the securities.

Towards the end of the piece Norris comments:

“And it may well be true that actions like Citigroup’s were necessary for any bank that wanted to stay in what then appeared to be a highly profitable business. Imagine for a minute what would have happened in 2006 if Citigroup had listened to its consultants and canceled the offerings. To the mortgage companies making the loans, that might have simply marked Citigroup as uncooperative. The business would have gone to less scrupulous competitors.”

This raises the question of what purpose is served by this sort of settlement. Undoubtedly Norris’ statement is true. However, the market dynamic might be different if this settlement were different.

Based on the information Norris presents here, Citigroup’s top management essentially knew that the bank was engaging in large-scale fraud by passing along billions of dollars worth of bad mortgages. If these people were now facing years of prison as a result of criminal prosecution then it may well affect how bank executives think about these situations in the future. While it will always be true that they do not want to turn away business, they would probably rather sacrifice some of their yearly bonus than risk spending a decade of their life behind bars. The fear of prision may even deter less scrupulous competitors. In that case, securitizing fraudulent mortgages might have been a marginal activity of little consequence for the economy.

Citigroup’s settlement will not change the tradeoffs from what Citigroup’s top management saw in 2006. As a result, in the future bankers are likely to make the same decisions that they did in 2006.

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The state of the climate in 2013 and other news and views for Friday 18 July

July 18th, 2014 Comments off


  • The State of the Climate in 2013 – a supplement to the July 2014 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
  • .The Rise of the Non-Working Rich – “The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing. In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history. The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs. It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.”


Some thoughts on why idiots succeed in politics

July 18th, 2014 Comments off

Stumbling and Mumbling: Why idiots succeed.

Prompted by the example of Britain’s recent Cabinet reshuffle one of my favourite bloggers presents eight mechanisms through which, sometimes, organizations and markets can actually favour incompetence.

1. The wet bed. If a man has pissed the bed, you don’t ask someone else to sleep in it. …

2. A disposition effect. … Just as stock market investors tend to hold onto bad stocks, because of their refusal to admit error, so employers hang onto bad staff.

3. Noise vs signal. In many contexts, feedback about performance is noisy. …

4. The devil you know. In many jobs, a worker’s ability can only be assessed after he has done it. … mechanisms 2 and 3 above suggest that the bar for mediocrity might be set so low as to allow idiots to thrive.

5. Survival of the unfittest. Bjorn-Christopher Witte describes how, sometimes, competition between fund managers can encourage reckless risk-taking with the result that lucky chancers rather than the genuinely skilled will thrive. …

6. Desperation. If people are desperate for a very high pay-off, they’ll be attracted to incompetents and fraudsters, as only these are stupid or criminal enough to offer such rewards. As Laurie has said, “sometimes when you’re dying of thirst, you have to drink the Kool-Aid.” This is why con-artists often prey upon the terminally ill or bereaved. But it also lies behind what I’ve called the Bonnie Tyler syndrome – the urge (often on the left) for a great hero.

7. Product differentiation. In a wonderful paper (pdf) on the persistence of the market for quack medicines in the 19th century, Werner Troesken points out that the manufacturers of such remedies spent fortunes on advertising and product differentiation. In this way, the failure of one medicine did not discredit the industry, but merely shifted demand to other quacks. ,,,

8. Like hires like. … The upshot of this … is that organizations can eventually be run by second-rate MBAs whilst technical skills are completely weeded out. Joao Ricardo Faria shows (pdf) that this sort of mechanism can generate the Dilbert principle.

From Wikipedua: The Dilbert principle refers to a 1990s theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert says that "leadership is nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow". Adams himself explained,[1] I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don't want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.

From Wikipedia: The Dilbert principle refers to a 1990s theory by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995, Dogbert says that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow”. Adams himself explained,
I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.

Categories: Political snippets Tags:

A case for trans fat bans and other news and views for Thursday 17 July

July 17th, 2014 Comments off
We find that trans fat bans reduce CVD deaths by 12 per 100,000 persons, reduce heart disease deaths by 9.5 per 100,000 persons, and reduce stroke deaths by 2.6 per 100,000 persons. (These are estimated reductions of about 4.4%, 3.9%, and 8.5% relative to our sample means.)

We find that trans fat bans reduce CVD deaths by 12 per 100,000 persons, reduce heart disease deaths by 9.5 per 100,000 persons, and reduce stroke deaths by 2.6 per 100,000 persons. (These are estimated reductions of about 4.4%, 3.9%, and 8.5% relative to our sample means.)

  • Do trans-fat bans save lives? – “Eliminating artificial trans fat – which has no known health benefits – from the global food supply has the potential to lead to substantial reductions in the loss of life and health care costs associated with CVD.”
  • What’s The Matter With Kansas And Its Tax Cuts? It Can’t Do Math – “Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his state legislature have embarked on a wonderful natural experiment. Once again we are testing the question: Can tax cuts pay for themselves? The answer– yet again– is a resounding no. We’ve tried this experiment time and again. And tax cut proponents such as economist Art Laffer continue to insist they can turn fiscal dross to gold: Cut taxes deeply enough and the resultant boom in economic activity will boost revenues. Magic. Painless. Everything a politician would ever want. Except this is fiscal snake oil. Over the past few years, Brownback and the Kansas legislature have gone all-in on this theory. The good news: They have left little room for ambiguity.”
  • How Google’s New Font Tries to Anticipate the Future – “… the new Roboto is a workhorse, not a show horse. The face itself isn’t designed to grab attention, but rather, to perform well in many contexts. It sports a rounder, friendlier look. Dots in the i and j have changed from rectangles to circles; letters like the B, C, and D now sport softer curves; and the stark angles of some letters, like the R, have been straightened.”

17-07-2014 pewreligions

17-07-2014 depression

  • Why more psychological therapy would cost nothing by Richard Layard, David M. Clark – “Mental illness is the main sickness of the working age population with economic costs around 8% of GDP. This column, based on the authors’ recent book, discusses the effectiveness of a large programme of psychological therapy, launched in England in 2008. The savings due to welfare benefits, extra taxes, and physical healthcare outweigh the costs of the programme. In this case, psychological therapy costs nothing.”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Some banks are under scrutiny (again)

July 17th, 2014 Comments off

What a wonderful industry. Are there any ethics in banking at all?

via Barclays, Deutsche Facing U.S. Senate Hearing – Bloomberg.

Barclays Plc (BARC) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) face scrutiny over their sale of products to a hedge-fund manager that allowed it to skirt borrowing limits and avoid taxes, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations plans a hearing next week on what it calls abusive transactions by financial institutions, according to a July 14 notice from the panel. The companies, which aren’t named in the notice, are Barclays, Deutsche Bank and hedge-fund manager Renaissance Technologies LLC, the people said. Representatives for each of the companies plan to testify at the July 22 hearing, the people said.

The investigation is another blow for Antony Jenkins, chief executive officer of London-based Barclays, as he seeks to restore the firm’s reputation after it became the first lender to be fined for rigging Libor. For Deutsche Bank, the hearing comes less than four years after the Frankfurt-based lender paid $554 million to avoid unrelated U.S. criminal charges involving the sale of tax shelters.

Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

The IMF gives a recipe for “The Double Irish Dutch Sandwich”

July 17th, 2014 Comments off

17-07-2014 taxingtimes

The International Monetary Fund called its Fiscal Monitor back in last October Taxing Times as it analysed ways that nations reducing budget deficits might raise revenue to help do so. In passing I note that on the Fund’s reckoning Australia is well down the list of those needing to take drastic action with its projections of debt to GDP by 2030.
17-07-2014 2030debtThere we are on the far right but I’m not sure of the assumptions used to put us there in pride of place. Perhaps the current Senate shenanigans might change things but there is hardly evidence there that Australia is facing some imminent disaster.

Be that as it may, what intrigued me when I belatedly discovered the paper was the description in a section on increasing company tax receipts of how some of those large multi nationals avoid paying much at all.

“So many companies exploit complex [taz] avoidance schemes, and so many countries offer devices that make them possible, that examples are invidious. Nonetheless, the “Double Irish Dutch Sandwich,” an avoidance scheme popularly associated with Google, gives a useful flavor of the practical complexities. Here’s how it works (Figure 5.1):

•• Multinational Firm X, headquartered in the United States, has an opportunity to make profit in (say) the United Kingdom from a product that it can for the most part deliver remotely. But the tax rate in the United Kingdom is fairly high. So . . .
•• It sells the product directly from Ireland through Firm B, with a United Kingdom firm Y providing services to customers and being reimbursed on a cost basis by B. This leaves little taxable profit in the United Kingdom. Now the multinational’s problem is to get taxable profit out of Ireland and into a still-lower-tax jurisdiction.
•• For this, the first step is to transfer the patent from which the value of the service is derived to Firm H in (say) Bermuda, where the tax rate is zero. This transfer of intellectual property is made at an early stage in development, when its value is very low (so that no taxable gain arises in the United States).
•• Two problems must be overcome in getting the money from B to H. First, the United States might use its CFC [controlled foreign corporation] rules to bring H immediately into tax. [Note: The “controlled foreign corporation” rules seek to reduce the ability of companies to move profits to another country via a pure paperwork transaction to what is really the same company.] To avoid this, another company, A, is created in Ireland, managed by H, and headquarters “checks the box” on A and B for U.S. tax purposes. This means that, if properly arranged, the United States will treat A and B as a single Irish company, not subject to CFC rules, while Ireland will treat A as resident in Bermuda, so that it will pay no corporation tax. The next problem is to get the money from B to H, while avoiding paying cross-border withholding taxes. This is fixed by setting up a conduit company S in the Netherlands: payments from B to S and from S to A benefit from the absence of withholding on nonportfolio payments between EU companies, and those from A to H benefit from the absence of withholding under domestic Dutch law.
This clever arrangement combines several of the tricks of the trade: direct sales, contract production, treaty shopping, hybrid mismatch, and transfer pricing rules.

Categories: Economic matters, Ticket clippers Tags:

An animal welfare election promise and other news and views for Wednesday 16 July

July 16th, 2014 Comments off

16-07-2014 cosmetics


  • Kasimir Malevich’s ‘Black Square’: What does it say to you? – A pivotal moment in the history of modern art or the work of a self-publicist with the gift of the gab? Michael Glover searches for meaning in The Independent – “The painting itself sits in a relatively darkened room at Tate Modern, where a major retrospective of the career of its creator, Kasimir Malevich from Kiev, opens today. Given that the painting is black from top to toe and hip to hip, and that it is often said to represent a pivotal moment in the history of abstraction and the art of the 20th century, this strikes the onlooker as an odd decision. Why not be given the opportunity to see it as clearly as possible?”

Standing fully clothed in the shower to wash away negative campaign ads

July 13th, 2014 Comments off

Here’s a stunt Clive Palmer could copy every time he is attacked by Hedley Thomas in The Australian: take a shower while fully clothed and declare of such negative stories ““every time I see one, I feel like I need to take a shower.” That’s the approach Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper took in his winning gubernatorial campaign four years ago as he attempted to combat the pervasive use of negative ads attacking him.

Like our man Clive, Gov. Hickenlooper does not have a conventional politician’s background. He was a geologist then a brewpub owner before running for office.

A new draft-only beer commemorates Wynkoop founder John Hickenlooper being sworn in as Governor of Colorado

A new draft-only beer commemorates Wynkoop founder John Hickenlooper being sworn in as Governor of Colorado

But now that he has taken the chair of the National Governors Association, the showers will be out of his campaign repertoire as he seeks a second term but the dislike of negative campaigning will continue as he made clear in an interview with the Washington Post:

As he runs for reelection, Hickenlooper’s first priority is to win a second term. … Hickenlooper has another mission about which he sounds equally passionate. He wants to rid the country of negative ads. The country, he believes, is in a deep trough politically. “I think that the system has created an intensity of conflict,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sustainable over a long period. People will become so jaded and disillusioned they won’t support anything and we will begin to slip behind.”

He believes that the voter anger that he and virtually every politician can see in their states is a result of the conduct of political campaigns. “The attack ad,” he said, ‘ has become the kind of utility kit for almost every statewide campaign in the country now.” …

The businessman in him knows that negative ads are effective, but companies avoid them. If McDonald’s and Burger King went at each other in a TV ad war, he said, both would suffer and probably see their sales drop. “What we’re doing now is depressing the product category of democracy,” he said. “People turn off the news, stop reading in-depth magazine articles — especially young people. Look at the increasing reluctance of young people to vote. I think a lot of that is directly, you can lay it at the feet of these negative campaigns and relentless attack ads.”

Hickenlooper wants the media to join him in calling out those who air negative ads. “If I can convince people that good people don’t do attack ads, and that we want good people to represent us, then the attack ads work against themselves.”

Although he vows that his campaign will not air any negative ads, he knows there will be negative ads aired in Colorado between now and November, lots of them, and some perhaps aimed at helping him get reelected. He says he is powerless to prevent his allies from running them. “Trust me, I’ve talked to the lawyers on this,” he said. “I can say that every ad that I control, that I’m going to make sure my ads are positive.”

Categories: Elections Tags:

Endangered species condoms and other news and views for the day

July 13th, 2014 Comments off

12-07-2014 condoms

  • Endangered species condoms: ‘Safe intercourse saves the dwarf seahorse’ – “Protection for endangered wildlife can sometimes be a tough sell, especially when it’s the ever-expanding footprint of us callous humans that’s the problem. But when you can gently raise both health and environmental issues, throw in a little sex and have a bit of fun all at the same time, well, you’ve got a public relations hat trick.”
  • Sex, drugs, and the proper measurement of economic activity
  • Unions and productivity – ‘if unions are good for productivity, why have bosses traditionally been opposed to them? The answer, I suspect, lies in this paper, which finds that unionization “is significantly associated with lower levels of total CEO compensation.” ‘
  • Climate Politics Are Stranger Than Fiction In Australia
  • Financial Scandals Tarnish Spanish Soccer Glory – “This spring, FC Barcelona was indicted for tax fraud. Prosecutors say the team didn’t declare the full amount it paid — believed to be around $120 million — to sign the Brazilian superstar Neymar last year. The team is accused of underestimating that figure by some $50 million, in order to pay less tax.”
  • Why they went to war – “Why did the soldiers join up and go to be slaughtered in France, Belgium or Gallipoli? Sometimes because the misery of their lives made them think that anything would be better.”
  • News Corp. rumored to be putting together a new bid for Tribune newspapers – “Rumor has it that News Corp — with a $2.5 billion cash kitty for acquisitions — may be mounting a new bid for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the six other Tribune newspapers.”
  • Institutionalised Disregard for Palestinian Life – “One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile.”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

Living longer with mum and dad

July 12th, 2014 Comments off

The only evidence I have is anecdotal but these US figures seem to ring true about Australia in my experience:

12-07-2014 livingathome

This is how a slump becomes self-perpetuating. Young people moved back home when the economy cratered, and stayed there when it didn’t bounce back. There just weren’t enough jobs, let alone well-paying ones, for them to afford to move out—especially if they had student loans to pay back. But all of these micro decisions to set up camp in their parents’ basements had a macro effect: there wasn’t as much demand for new housing. And that’s been a big part of why the recovery has been so underwhelming.


Categories: What the figures show Tags:

Politicians the number one cause of stress in people’s lives and other news and views for Friday 11 July

July 11th, 2014 Comments off


11-07-2014 stress

  • Politicians are the No. 1 cause of daily stress in our lives – “Americans cited “hearing about what the government or politicians are doing” as the most frequent daily stressor on their lives, and at a substantially higher rate than the usual annoyances like commuting, chores and general schedule-juggling.”
  • 11-07-2014 backgermany
  • Singapore Anti-Gambling Council Loses Big On World Cup Ad – “The 30-second public service announcement features a group of boys talking about the World Cup. They each support a different team. Then the mood quickly turns as one boy says he hopes Germany wins because, ‘My dad bet all my savings on them.’As we know now, Germany trounced Brazil in an unprecedented 7-1 victory and is headed to the final against Argentina on Sunday. So the point of the public service announcement, as laudatory as it might be, doesn’t exactly come across.
  • Who Wants a Depression? – “It turns out …  that using monetary policy to fight depression, while in the interest of the vast majority of Americans, isn’t in the interest of a small, wealthy minority. And, as a result, monetary policy is as bound up in class and ideological conflict as tax policy.”
  • Mental illness is our most pressing health problem – “Given the considerable economic costs to society, treatment would pay for itself.”
  • A cheerful Pope Francis reveals readiness to reform Vatican – “… the Pope is putting his skullcapped prelates on alert that their encrusted habits fall short of modern requirements. Whether they like it or not, root-and-branch reforms are coming to the Vatican bureaucracy.
  • Top incomes and the glass ceiling – “The glass ceiling is typically examined in terms of the distribution of earnings. This column discusses the glass ceiling in the gender distribution of total incomes, including self-employment and capital income. Evidence from Canada and the UK shows we are still far from equality. Though the proportion of women in the top 1% has been rising, the progress is slower, almost non-existent, at the very top of the distribution.”
  • Gender diversity in management in Japan is finally emerging: Comparison with China and South Korea – “Japan has one of the highest labour market gender gaps among the advanced economies. This column examines the current status of gender diversity in management in Japan, China, and South Korea. Despite some pronounced differences, economic gender gaps are large in all of the three countries. But overall, gender diversity in management in Japan is slowly beginning to emerge.”
Categories: Betting, News and views for the day Tags:

A rare day – The Senate gets a Senator with clear principles

July 10th, 2014 Comments off

Sen David Leyonhjelm delivered one of the most interesting speeches I have heard in my 50 years covering politics in Canberra. He certainly left me in no doubt as to the philosophical position from which he will be approaching his duties. It’s worth reading in full because in a Senate where the government has no majority his will be an important voice.

Thank you, Mr President. Fellow senators and Australians, last September the people of Australia chose 40 men and women to represent them here, together with the 36 elected three years earlier—just 571 Australians have been granted this high honour. We come from diverse backgrounds and occupations. Beyond this place, each of us has been tempered by the challenges of life. We have all tasted the bitterness of failure and exhilaration of success. Whatever our political alignments, that experience will have imparted in us a collective accumulation of knowledge, judgement, wisdom and instinct that should serve our country well. Indeed, we are the most representative swill ever assembled.

I also believe we are about to begin one of the most exciting periods in the life of the Senate. In the service of this mission, at the outset I declare that I am proudly what some call a ‘libertarian’, although I prefer the term ‘classical liberal’. My undeviating political philosophy is grounded in the belief that, as expressed so clearly by John Stuart Mill:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully ever exercised over any member of a civilised society against his will is to prevent harm to others.

I pledge to work tirelessly to convince my fellow Australians and their political representatives that our governments should forego their overgoverning, overtaxing and overriding ways. Governments should instead seek to constrain themselves to what John Locke advised so wisely more than 300 years ago—the protection of life, liberty and private property.

When I was elected nine months ago, and my party’s policies became better known, there was a wave of rejoicing in certain circles. When I said I would never vote for an increase in taxes or a reduction in liberty, there were people who said there was finally going to be someone in parliament worth voting for. That was quite a compliment. What they, and I, believe in is limited government. We differ from left-wing people who want the government to control the economy but not our social lives, and from right-wing people who want the government to control our social lives but not the economy. Classical liberals support liberty across the board.

I have long thought that leaving people alone is the most reasonable position to take. I always suspected that I did not know enough to allow me to tell other people how to live their lives. But that did not arise in the background, so a bit of explanation is necessary. I never liked being told what to do, and I tend to assume others feel the same. The simple rule do not do unto others what you would rather them not do to you has always driven my thinking. At least since I reached adulthood I have also accepted responsibility for myself and expected others to do the same. Even when my choices have been poor, as they inevitably were at times, I do not recall being tempted to blame others or to consider myself a victim.

During my early years, the issues that raised my blood pressure were those of individual freedom. But for the election of the Whitlam government, I would have either served two years in jail or in the Army. I refused to register for national service. Being forced to serve in the Army, with the potential to be sent to Vietnam, was a powerful education in excessive government power.

The abortion issue was also controversial at the time. There were doctors and women being prosecuted over what were obviously difficult private choices. Backyard abortions were common. I knew some women affected and could never see how the jackboot of government improved things. I also noticed that those opposed to abortion or in favour of conscription were not interested in trying to debate their opponents; instead they sought to seize the levers of government and impose their views on everyone else.

As my family never had much money, I used to think spreading other people’s money around was a good way to make life fairer. As the saying goes, ‘If you’re not a socialist at 20 you have no heart, but if you’re still a socialist at 40 you have no brains.’ By that standard I hope I have preserved a bit of both. Not long after I started full-time work as a veterinarian, I recall looking at my annual tax return and being horrified at the amount of money I had handed over to the government. When I looked for signs of value for that money, I found little to reassure me. To this day I am still looking.

Our liberty is eroded when our money is taken as taxes and used on something we could have done for ourselves at lower cost. It is eroded when our taxes are used to pay for things that others will provide, whether on a charitable basis or for profit. That includes TV and radio stations, electricity services, railways, bus services, and of course, schools and hospitals. It is eroded when our money is taken and then returned to us as welfare, with the only real beneficiaries being the public servants who administer its collection and distribution. It is eroded when our money is used on things that are a complete waste like pink batts, unwanted school halls and accommodation subsidies for wealthy foreign students. It is eroded when the money we have earned is taken and given to those of working age who simply choose never to work. Reducing taxes, any kind of taxes, will always have my support. And I will always oppose measures that restrict free markets and hobble entrepreneurship.

But the cause of liberty is challenged in other ways as well. Liberty is eroded when our cherished right to vote is turned into an obligation and becomes a crime when we do not do it. It is eroded when we are unable to marry the person of our choice, whatever their gender. It is eroded when, if we choose to end our life, we must do it before we become feeble and need help, because otherwise anyone who helps us commits a crime. It is eroded when we cannot speak or write freely out of fear someone will choose to take offence. Free speech is fundamental to liberty, and it is not the government’s role to save people from their feelings. Liberty is eroded when we are prohibited from doing something that causes harm to nobody else, irrespective of whether we personally approve or would do it ourselves. I do not use marijuana and do not recommend it except for medical reasons, but it is a matter of choice. I do not smoke and I drink very little, but it is unreasonable for smokers and drinkers to be punished for their alleged excesses via so-called sin taxes. Liberty includes the right to make bad choices.

Quite a few people say they support liberal values but claim there are valid exemptions. The most common one is security or safety, something that has become pervasive during the so-called war on terror. As William Pitt the Younger observed:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

Perhaps some are scratching their heads right now. How can someone support marriage equality, assisted suicide and want to legalise pot but also want to cut taxes a lot? If you are scratching your heads, it is because you have forgotten that classical liberal principles were at the core of the Enlightenment, the period that gifted us humanity’s greatest achievements in science, medicine and commerce and also brought about the abolition of slavery.

Classical liberals do not accept that there are any exemptions from the light of liberty, but we are not anarchists. We accept there is a proper role for government—just that it is considerably less than the role currently performed. Government can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master—something leading Enlightenment figures, like John Locke, realised. John Locke’s view of the role of the state was starkly different from that of another important philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes thought the natural state of man was perpetual war, with life nasty, brutish and short. In his view, the only way to achieve civilisation was to relinquish all liberties to the sovereign who then allowed us certain rights as he chose. Hobbes is also known for arguing the sovereign should rule with due regard for the desires of the people. There is no doubting though where he thought ultimate power resided or rights originated.

Locke was much more optimistic. Man is peaceful and industrious, he argued. But to establish a society in which private property can be protected it is necessary to relinquish certain liberties to the sovereign. However, this is a limited and conditional arrangement. Only sufficient powers as required for the preservation of life, liberty and property ought to be relinquished and ultimate power remain with the people. If the sovereign gets too controlling, those powers can be reclaimed. Locke was heavily influenced the American Declaration of Independence. As many here will recognise, it says:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …

When it says ‘all men are created equal’ it does not mean everyone is the same or that everyone should achieve the same outcome in life but that no individual or class enjoys moral or legal superiority over other individuals or classes. When it says ‘we are endowed with inalienable rights’ it means rights that cannot be taken from us. Good governments can help protect our rights by reflecting them in governance, but they do not get to dole them out piecemeal. Bad governments may seek to legislate away our rights, but only by usurping them.

The right to life is obviously the most fundamental right of all and no government should ever seek to deprive us of that. That includes not only arbitrary killing but also judicial killing. Likewise, it includes the right to protect your own life and that of others, for which there must be a practical means—not merely an emergency number to call. Self-defence, both in principle and in practice, is a right, not a privilege.

Liberty is not a cake with only so many slices to go around. It only makes sense when the freedom of one person does not encroach upon that of others, but instead reinforces it. Thus it is perfectly legitimate for governments to place limits on things done by a person that limit other people’s freedom. Those include such things as violence, threats, theft and fraud. It is not, however, legitimate for government to involve itself in things that an individual voluntarily does to himself or herself, or that people choose to do to each other by mutual consent, when nobody else is harmed. It is quite irrelevant whether we approve of those things or would choose to do them ourselves. Tolerance is central to the concept of liberty. It may matter to our parents, friends or loved ones, but it should not matter to the government. Those things belong in the private realm.

This distinction between the public and private realms can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks and is well known in Roman or civil law. Some things fall within the legitimate scope of government, some do not. The Declaration of Independence also says ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers’. That means: when governments act to secure rights they are acting justly and when they move to violate those rights they are acting unjustly. They derive that legitimacy from the consent of the governed in places like this. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.

Australia does not have the equivalent of the Declaration of Independence, a bill of rights or even a history of resistance against authoritarian government. The Eureka Stockade, which was prompted by excessive taxation and oppressive enforcement, is about all we have. That makes it especially important that those in places like this understand the only thing standing between an authoritarian state and the protection of life, liberty and private property is a vote in parliament. We must never forget that we are the people’s servants. This means we must be willing to take a light touch and to de-legislate, to repeal. As much as possible, people need to be able to choose for themselves and be free to choose, for good or for ill.

For that reason, some may think of these as being peculiarly American words, but the ideas have their origins in the Scottish Enlightenment. Although it sometimes seems Scotland has produced nothing but incomprehensible socialists, it also gave rise to the modern world’s most liberty-affirming thinkers. Among them was David Hume, who argued that the presence or absence of liberty was the standard by which one ought to assess the past. And on the subject of property, he said:

No one can doubt, that the convention for the distinction of property, and for the stability of possession, is of all circumstances the most necessary to the establishment of human society, and that after the agreement for the fixing and observing of this rule, there remains little or nothing to be done towards settling a perfect harmony and concord.

I do not think the Americans disagreed with the Scots on the importance of private property when they substituted the pursuit of happiness, but, if they did, I would side with the Scots!

Notwithstanding my earlier comments, I am not a student of philosophy. While Locke, Adam Smith and Mill have their place in my thinking, along with Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, I consider the Enlightenment to be part of Australia’s political and intellectual heritage: it does not belong to the Scots, the Americans, or the French.

While I sit in the federal parliament, I do not approve of the extent of its power. Liberty is more secure when power is shared with state governments, independently funded and competing with each other to be more attractive to Australians as places to live and do business, and, of course, each doing their bit to protect life, liberty, and property.

On the subject of private property, there is much today with which Locke would find fault. Rather than protecting private property, governments federal and state have been retreating from this core duty. The property rights of rural landowners have been undermined by bans on clearing native vegetation, imposed at the behest of the Commonwealth in order to meet the terms of a treaty Australia had yet to ratify. Over and over, the value of property is indirectly eroded through government decisions, and typically without compensation. In enacting plain-packaging laws on cigarettes, for example, the previous government destroyed valuable intellectual property. No matter what you think of smoking, it does not justify destruction of property.

We trade years of our lives to pay for the things that we own, and, when governments take them from us or try to tell us what to do with them, we lose part of ourselves. And yet, when it comes to property that we own in common, like national parks and fishing grounds, we are often locked out on the claim that nature is far too important to let scruffy humans enjoy it. Whilst in this place, I will do all I can to oppose this trend. Environmental fanatics are not omniscient geniuses: they do not know enough to tell other people how to live their lives any more than I do. Indeed, they are the same people who engage in anti-GMO pseudoscience—pseudoscience that is not just nonsense but murderous nonsense.

The Liberal Democrats are strong advocates of capitalism. But, before capitalism, we are advocates of freedom. When people are free and entrepreneurial, free-market capitalism and prosperity are what follow. However, I am pragmatic enough to recognise that two steps forwards require one step backwards. I am only one vote, and one voice.

I am also aware that some senators in this place share my views but are constrained from speaking openly. Whatever party you are in, if you believe in making the pie bigger rather than arguing about how it is cut up, we have plenty in common. To all of you, I would say this: when any specific issue arises—be it legislation or advocacy—that advances the cause of liberty, if I can say or do something to help, you only need to ask. In my party, the only discipline I am likely to suffer will be due to not pursuing liberty enough!

I have pursued liberty through membership of the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the shooters party, so I can say with confidence the Liberal Democrats do not seek power to impose our views on the nation. All our policies are about freedom—the absence of control by others. We seek to have representatives elected in order to restrict the power of the state over individuals, to encourage the government to do less, not more.

I have one matter to address before I close. It is traditional in first speeches to thank those who contributed to one’s being here. I acknowledge that it would not have happened without the help of a number of people. First and foremost is my friend and colleague Peter Whelan. Peter and I have been a tag team ever since 2005, when I introduced him to the Liberal Democratic Party. If Peter had not decided to join, I might never have got involved myself. Peter is perpetually optimistic and willing to help, and has chipped in with even more money than me. One of my enduring regrets is, in failing to submit our preferences in Victoria on time, I destroyed any chance of him also being elected to the Senate.

There are others in the party who deserve thanks. I am reluctant to name them as I am sure to miss out on some, but long-term supporter David McAlary warrants a mention. I also want to thank those libertarians who established the party in 2001 and contributed so much to its principles and direction. I also thank my employee Michelle, who has helped in many ways. I thank my friends and colleagues in business, who never let me take myself too seriously. Finally, I would like to thank my wife of 30 years, Amanda. She has long humoured and tolerated my political activities, never sure if any of it mattered but now immensely proud that it does. I view my election as an opportunity to help Australia rediscover its reliance on individualism, to reignite the flame of entrepreneurship, and to return government to its essential functions. There is much to be done.

Categories: Liberal Democrat Tags:

A victory for Jokowi and the Morgan Poll in Indonesia

July 10th, 2014 Comments off

2014-07-10_jakartaThey have reason to be feeling pleased with themselves at the Morgan Poll headquarters in Melbourne this morning after predicting with some accuracy the result of yesterday’s Indonesian presidential election. The snapshot results findings based on results from a sample of polling booths

The Jakarta Post says the quick counts from “the credible institutions”, based on results from a sample of polling booths, indicate that Jokowi won around 52 percent of the vote, with 48 percent going to Prabowo. The Morgan Poll’s final poll said:

Long-time favourite Jokowi (52%) holds a narrow lead over Prabowo Subianto (48%) according to yesterday’s Roy Morgan Poll on the Indonesian Presidential Election conducted in June 2014 with 3,117 Indonesian electors.The KPU is expected to announce the official result no later than July 22.

The KPU [General Elections Commission] of Indonesia  is expected to announce the official result no later than July 22.


Australia gets a good education report from an OECD PISA test

July 9th, 2014 Comments off

Australian 15-year-old students are among the best performers in an OECD Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) survey of financial literacy. Among the 18 countries and economies that participated in the assessment, Australia ranks somewhere between 3 and 5.

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PISA 2012 defines financial literacy as “…knowledge and understanding of financial concepts and risks, and the skills, motivation and confidence to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make effective decisions across a range of financial contexts, to improve the financial well-being of individuals and society, and to enable participation in economic life”.

The PECD found that in Australia, financial literacy is strongly correlated with mathematics and reading performance. Around 79% of the financial literacy score reflects skills that can be measured in the mathematics and/or reading assessments (compared with 75%, on average, across OECD countries and economies), while 21% of the score reflects factors that are uniquely captured by
the financial literacy assessment.

However, students in Australia perform better than might be expected in financial literacy, based on their performance in mathematics and reading. The difference between observed and expected performance in financial literacy is particularly large among students with high scores
in mathematics.

Categories: Education Tags:

A world first solar roof with heat and power and other news and views for Wednesday 9 July

July 9th, 2014 Comments off
The opening was attended by the Bob Baldwin, the deputy for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane. “This a great display of Australian ingenuity and an example of industry leveraging government funding to make breakthroughs that may lead to advanced manufacturing and export opportunities,” he said in a statement. Next month, Baldwin’s party will introduce legislation to close ARENA, the agency that made this funding possible.

The opening was attended by the Bob Baldwin, the deputy for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane. “This a great display of Australian ingenuity and an example of industry leveraging government funding to make breakthroughs that may lead to advanced manufacturing and export opportunities,” he said in a statement. Next month, Baldwin’s party will introduce legislation to close ARENA, the agency that made this funding possible.

  • Bluescope unveils “world first” solar roof with heat and power – “A small terrace house in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe is hosting what is believed to be the world’s first building integrated solar system that generates electricity as well as heat. The array combines thin-film solar PV and solar thermal technologies into a steel sheet roofing product produced by Australian steel manufacturer Bluescope, with assistance from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.”
  • Climate sceptics are losing their grip – Martin Wolf writes: “Conducting irreversible experiments with the only planet we have is irresponsible. It would only be rational to refuse to do anything to mitigate the risks if we were certain the science of man-made climate change is bogus. Since it rests on well-established science, it would be ludicrous to claim any such certainty.”
  • U.S., China ink coal, clean energy deals in climate cooperation – “The United States and China on Tuesday signed eight partnership pacts to cut greenhouse gases, bringing the world’s two biggest carbon emitters closer together on climate policy.”
  • ‘Trust me, I am a financial adviser’ is not good enough
  • The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal – “Opponents of marijuana-law reform insist that legalization is dangerous—but the biggest threat is to their own bottom line.”
  • West Africa’s Misguided War on Drugs
  • Are the Authoritarians Winning? – “The conflict between authoritarianism and democracy is not a new cold war, we are told, because the new authoritarians lack an expansionary ideology like communism. This is not true. Communism may be over as an economic system, but as a model of state domination it is very much alive in the People’s Republic of China and in Putin’s police state.”

A night on the sake for Tony Abbott?

July 9th, 2014 Comments off

A short clip from today’ breakfast television.

Categories: Media, Political snippets Tags:

Keeping tabs on those US ticket clippers

July 9th, 2014 Comments off

As reports appear that Citigroup Inc is close to paying about $7 billion to resolve a U.S. probe into whether it defrauded investors, the Wall Street Journal has prepared a detailed infographic on the $100 billion that large banks have so far agreed to pay to settle cases related to the 2008 credit crisis. The Journal’s figures include lawsuits over mortgages, foreclosures and some of the fire-sale deals made at the height of the financial meltdown.

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Go the WSJ site and select bars to see details of the individual settlements that make up each bank’s payments. It is a very informative summary.

Meanwhile Reuters quotes “a source familiar with the matter” saying that the latest Citibank settlement is expected to be in cash, but the figure also includes several billion dollars in help to struggling borrowers.

U.S. Attorneys offices in Brooklyn and Colorado have been investigating the bank as part of a larger task force probing faulty mortgage securities that helped fuel the housing bubble in the mid-2000s and contributed to its collapse.

JPMorgan Chase & Co paid $13 billion in November to resolve a range of probes from the task force, in a deal that U.S. authorities said would serve as a template for other banks. Bank of America Corp has also been in negotiations to resolve similar investigations.

Categories: Ticket clippers Tags:

Blaming Labor and the Sydney Tele versus the NY Times

July 9th, 2014 Comments off
The cartoon backed up the editorial view i the stabbing death this week was Labor's fault. As the editorial explained: An Iranian refugee to Australia yesterday appeared in court on charges of stabbing a man to death at Westfield Parramatta. Horrified witnesses claimed the man, an Australian resident since being granted a protection visa in 2010, allegedly stabbed his victim repeatedly with a large knife. The accused killer, Kazem Mohammadi Payam, arrived in Australian waters in 2009. Officials say he carried no identification, yet he was still granted a protection visa the following year. Until 2013, when then-prime minister Kevin Rudd finally restored measures that would deter unidentified arrivals from obtaining Australian residency, discarding visas was a common ruse used by claimed asylum seekers. Having used visas for flights to Indonesia, they were thrown away for the final leg of the journey to Australia.

The cartoon backed up the editorial view – the stabbing death this week was Labor’s fault.
As the editorial explained:
An Iranian refugee to Australia yesterday appeared in court on charges of stabbing a man to death at Westfield Parramatta. Horrified witnesses claimed the man, an Australian resident since being granted a protection visa in 2010, allegedly stabbed his victim repeatedly with a large knife.
The accused killer, Kazem Mohammadi Payam, arrived in Australian waters in 2009. Officials say he carried no identification, yet he was still granted a protection visa the following year.
Until 2013, when then-prime minister Kevin Rudd finally restored measures that would deter unidentified arrivals from obtaining Australian residency, discarding visas was a common ruse used by claimed asylum seekers. Having used visas for flights to Indonesia, they were thrown away for the final leg of the journey to Australia.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph has moved on from sniping at its Sydney rival granny Herald. The world is now its oyster with this morning’s editorial getting stuck in to the New York Times.

9-07-2014 televtimesThe Times, you see, had had the temerity recently to criticise Australia’s attempts to secure its borders, claiming that Australia is “pursuing draconian measures to deter people without visas from entering the country by boat”.

Aside from this being an intrusion into the sovereign affairs of another nation, the New York Times is clearly ignorant of the circumstances surrounding many asylum seeker arrivals. It isn’t that arrivals didn’t or don’t have visas. It is that the documents were deliberately discarded prior to reaching Australian territory. In other words, the very first act committed by these arrivals upon reaching their potential new home was one of dishonesty, intended to thwart background investigations.
The Times continued: “The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said recently that “something strange happens” in the minds of Australians when it comes to asylum seekers who arrive by boat without a visa.
On the contrary, there is nothing strange at all about wanting to know in detail the background of potential immigrants. The US requires similar checks, as do most other nations on Earth.
Presentation of a visa or other identifying documentation is simply standard procedure.

9-07-2014 shoveit



Former adviser to Bob Brown now has the ear of Clive Palmer

July 8th, 2014 Comments off

From 8-07-2014 theconversation

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Clive Palmer is showing that when it comes to playing the political game, he will find the most unexpected allies.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Ben Oquist is one of the most savvy political advisers in the business. He used to be Bob Brown’s right hand man, and stayed on with Christine Milne when she became Greens leader, until they fell out.

Now – in one of the bizarre political twists of which there have been so many recently – Oquist, strategy director at the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, is helping Clive Palmer and his Senate PUPs on some of their agenda.

Oquist had a role in the crafting of Palmer’s climate policy, released at the spectacular appearance with Al Gore.

Attending strategy sessions at their office in the National Press Club building and joining the PUPs in the Parliamentary dining room (but not on their payroll), Oquist’s hand is to be seen in Palmer’s Monday announcement that PUP will block key savings the government is seeking with the repeal of the mining tax.

The measures were originally to have been paid for from the tax and their abolition is included in the repeal legislation, which is the government’s next priority after the scrapping of the carbon tax.

Soon after Palmer’s Press Club announcement that PUP would oppose the scrapping of the schoolkids bonus, the low income superannuation contribution and the income support bonus, the Australia Institute had a paper out detailing the dollars and regional impacts.

Keeping the low income superannuation contribution would cost the budget $2.7 billion over the forward estimates; retaining the income support bonus would be a $955 million cost, while preserving the schoolkids bonus would blast a hole of $3.9 billion in the budget.

In addition PUP will also oppose deferring the increase in the bottom tax threshold (from $18,201 to $19,401), at a cost to the budget of $1.5 billion over the forward estimates. This measure is in the carbon tax repeal package.

Just to stir some political trouble, the Australia Institute paper contains an analysis of the electorates most and least hit by repealing the low income superannuation contribution (a measure designed to help those with insufficient income to benefit from the superannuation tax break higher income earners enjoy).

Of the ten hardest hit seats, five of the top six are held by to the Nationals; the Liberals hold four of the ten. The electorates with the lowest proportion of low income employees tend to be inner city electorates and are held by the Liberal party and the ALP (Solomon in the NT being the exception), the paper says.

It concludes that “there is a popular perception that the Labor party represents the areas with low income earners and is therefore more likely to pursue policies that redistribute income and resources towards the poor”. But the numbers “suggest otherwise and in fact it is the National party that should be the champion of the low income earner”.

The paper doesn’t have to make the point that Nationals’ electorates could be particularly vulnerable to PUP in the future.

As the government moved a step closer to the repeal of the carbon tax – after the new Senate, after some fits and starts during its first sitting day, finally gave priority to the debate – its position on getting budget measures through the upper house was deteriorating further, thanks to Palmer’s latest position.

And Palmer was showing that when it comes to playing the political game, he will find the most unexpected allies and sources of advice. Or they will find them, when interests coincide across the political spectrum.

Oquist insists that he and the Australia Institute provide policy advice to any side of politics.

“For example, The Institute is more than happy to provide economic analysis to the Palmer United Party when it comes to issues like low income superannuation and the low income support bonus.

“But the Palmer senators know what they are doing – making some popular announcements and playing themselves into the centre of Australian politics,” he says.

Listen to the latest politics podcast with Michelle Grattan here.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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

The politics of silence and the art of avoiding gotcha questions

July 7th, 2014 Comments off

2014-07-06_nothingYou can love him or, more likely, hate him but there’s one thing you have to admit about Scott Morrison – he is one of that rare breed of politician who realises that when you are doing something that many people find unpopular the best thing to say is nothing. Just imagine how much stronger the controversy would be if he was feeding the daily media appetite for details of every little aspect of his operation sovereign borders. It would be headlines every day to the exclusion of anything else the government is doing and while “stop the boats” might be a broadly popular policy with the masses it is not the only, or even the major, message that will determine this government’s future.

Stopping the boats might be approved by many but publicising the sending of people back to a country where they face torture or worse will worry at least some of those supporters. There are limits even for those with xenophobia so silence about the downsides of the Coalition’s policies is politically sensible for as long as you can get away with it.

For how much longer that will be the case is not something I am sure about. The beating to death of that man interned on Manus Island will have troubled some of the government’s supporters. The disappearance of any of the boatload sent back to Sri Lanka this week will add to the uneasiness. For while many Australians might have hard hears when it comes to boat people trying to reach this country, we are not a totally heartless people.

And while on this subject of political silence, I refer you to an interesting column on a different aspect of the subject by John Rentoul in London’s The Independent. 

George Osborne’s refusal to answer the question “What is seven times eight?” shows how clever he is. He was being interviewed by a group of children on television when Sam Raddings asked if he was good at maths. He replied that he had taken maths at A-level, which I had forgotten, although it is in Janan Ganesh’s excellent biography of him (he got straight As in maths, history and politics). Raddings then asked his follow-up question with the ruthlessness of a junior Andrew Neil.
“I’ve made it a rule in life not to answer a load of maths questions,” said the Chancellor. An answer that will be deployed by many pupils taking a maths test in the next few days. But it is actually the right answer. Asking questions to try to catch a politician out is an old media game, and if children ask the questions it doesn’t make it any better.

Osborne knows, because he is a politics obsessive, that Stephen Byers, when he was schools minister, was asked the same question and gave the wrong answer, saying 54 rather than 56. Byers is only human. Seven times eight is one of the harder questions in the times table, along with 12×8, 8×12 and 12×11 – the order makes a difference, apparently – but not as hard as 6×8 or 8×6, which one study identified as the most likely to trip people up. But it looked bad, just as it didn’t look good that Byers, who was later transport secretary, could not drive.

Osborne might not remember, because it is irrelevant to his calculation, that Gordon Brown, when he was chancellor, was once asked, “What’s 13 squared?” He repeated the question to buy time, but said “169” without further hesitation. I was impressed, but I doubt if anyone else was.

And that is the point. No one cares if you get the answer right. It is a story only if you get it wrong and, crucially, more of a story than if you rather obviously dodge the question. Osborne probably knew well enough that the answer was 56, but there is always a risk when you “know” the answer that a synapse has got crossed in the intraparietal sulcus and you will do a Byers on live television.

Which is a long way of saying that Osborne is good at politics.


Categories: Media, Political snippets Tags:

Living without electricity and other news and views for Monday 7 July

July 7th, 2014 Comments off

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  • Roughing it beyond the power grid in Ticino – “The Local’s Emily Mawson ventures to the Valle Bavona, a steep-sided valley amid the mountains of the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, where residents voted against introducing electricity in the 1950s, and discovers a region lost in time.”
  • Indonesia’s tight, dirty presidential race may be decided in West Java – “The closest and dirtiest presidential race in Indonesia’s young democracy could be decided on Wednesday among the mosques and rice paddies of West Java, the nation’s most populous province.”
  • Banks Face Added Capital Requirements – Basel Committee May Reduce Lenders’ Latitude on Weighing Risk – “Global banking regulators are considering new measures that would make it harder for banks to understate the riskiness of their assets, including potentially ending the long-standing treatment of all government bonds as automatically risk-free, according to people familiar with the discussions.”
  • Rolf Harris art: Should owners feel guilty? – “Following Rolf Harris’s conviction for indecent assaults against four girls, the art world has begun to distance itself from the disgraced entertainer. Galleries that once sold his works have removed Harris’s limited-edition prints and sculptures from sale.”
  • In discounter war, will Aldi’s Coke rush fall flat?
  • Europe’s Debt Wish – “Eurozone leaders continue to debate how best to reinvigorate economic growth, with French and Italian leaders now arguing that the eurozone’s rigid “fiscal compact” should be loosened. Meanwhile, the leaders of the eurozone’s northern member countries continue to push for more serious implementation of structural reform. Ideally, both sides will get their way, but it is difficult to see an endgame that does not involve significant debt restructuring or rescheduling. The inability of Europe’s politicians to contemplate this scenario is placing a huge burden on the European Central Bank.
  • My negativity about these words is summiting – Another torture session on the use (or misuse) of words from Robert Fisk:

2014-07-07_fiskwordsNote: The Owl’s current pet hate is “road map”. What’s yours?


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The real Nick Cave and other news and views for Sunday 6 July

July 6th, 2014 Comments off

20,000 Days on Earth will be released worldwide later this year. The film premiered at Sundance 2014 where it was awarded the directing and editing awards, and will continue to screen at film festivals worldwide in the coming months. Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international cultural icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, the film examines what makes us who we are, and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit.

  • I Am the Real Nick Cave
  • 2014-07-06_cavequotesHas GDP outgrown its use? – “Governments and the media obsess about it while statisticians endlessly fiddle – but what is the real point of GDP and can it ever be accurately measured?”
  • The gruesome truth behind an idyllic scene – “More than 66,000 migrants and refugees have arrived on Italy’s shores this year. But many don’t survive the journey – and when the Italian navy went to help migrants crammed on to a boat near Sicily, they were shocked by what they found.”
  • Why the White Working Class Matters – “The bad news: Dems can’t govern without them. The good news: Blue-collar whites are far more diverse than during the era of the Reagan Democrats.”
  • The hand-choppers of Isis are deluded: there is nothing Islamic about their caliphate -“Have we gone back in time? The era of Muslim caliphates came to a close in 1924, when the Ottomans were toppled in Turkey.”
  • How should we think about the Caliphate? – “Obama’s reluctance to intervene in Syria may seem to have backfired. But is it really clear that greater Western funding of the Free Syrian Army would have resulted in the emergence of a democratic, liberal state? The failure of the Arab Spring elsewhere suggests otherwise. Western politicians are having to adjust to their increasing inability to dominate the world. When you consider the alternatives, America’s inaction looks well advised. And while Obama is derided by left and right for his many failings it may just be that after he leaves office in a couple of years’ time, he’ll be missed.”

A statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin outside an apartment complex in Schwerin, Germany. Erected in 1985, four years before communism collapsed in East Germany, it's believed to be the last Lenin statue in Germany and the town is divided over whether it should stay. The inscription reads, 'Decree on land,' referring to a Lenin manifesto that said workers were the real owners of the land.


  • Germany’s Battle Over What May Be Its Last Lenin Statue – “A statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin outside an apartment complex in Schwerin, Germany. Erected in 1985, four years before communism collapsed in East Germany, it’s believed to be the last Lenin statue in Germany and the town is divided over whether it should stay. The inscription reads, ‘Decree on land,’ referring to a Lenin manifesto that said workers were the real owners of the land.”
Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

That knee in the back – the newspapers of the day and Colombia’s Zúñiga is the arch villain

July 5th, 2014 Comments off

A day of ecstasy then agony for Brazilians as reflected by this morning’s papers.

Brasil perde Neyman – Brazil loses Neymar

Neymar leads knee Colombian Zúñiga; back blows are forbidden even in the fiercest fighting in the UFC, and the offender is disqualified from the fight



Categories: American media, Media Tags:

Labor favoured on initial Victorian election indicator

July 5th, 2014 Comments off

Labor is the popular pick in the Owl’s first election indicator on the Victorian State election. It assesses Labor’s chances at two in three.

3-07-2014 vicytoria


Indicators on other elections along with the outcome of past results are at The Owl’s Indicators


Categories: Victorian election Tags:

The data deleted from the United Nations’ last major climate change report and other news and views for Saturday 5 July

July 5th, 2014 Comments off
  • Data Deleted From UN Climate Report Highlight Controversies – “When the United Nations’ last major climate change report was released in April, it omitted some country-specific emissions data for political reasons, a trio of new papers argue, sounding a warning bell about the global politicization of climate science.”

5-07-2014 Rrome

  • Roman Jokers – A review of Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up by Mary Beard – “Elizabethans joked about cuckoldry and venereal disease. Roman audiences laughed at crucifixion jokes, bald men, and dwarves. The epigrams of the early imperial poet Martial circle back again and again to sniggering innuendos about bad breath and oral sex.”
  • ‘National Security Has Become a State Religion’ – In a SPIEGEL interview, Edward Snowden’s lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, and former NSA contractor Thomas Drake discuss the reasons behind the American spying agency’s obssession with collecting data.
  • The new way of war: killing the kids – “In 1994, on the eve of Rwanda’s genocide, Radio Mille Collines, in Kigali, incited listeners with a venomous message: “To kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats.” It was a veiled command to murder the youngest generation of Tutsis, the country’s minority tribe. In less than four months, an estimated three hundred thousand children were slashed, hacked, gunned, or burned to death, according to the United Nations. Among the dead were newborns. The Rwandan slaughter was not unique. The specific targeting of children is one of the grimmest new developments in the way conflicts have been waged over the past fifty years.
  • The Middle East and the Return of History – Ever since Francis Fukuyama argued, more than two decades ago, that the world had reached the end of history, history has made the world hold its breath. China’s rise, the Balkan wars, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global financial crisis of 2008, the “Arab Spring,” and the Syrian civil war all belie Fukuyama’s vision of the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy.
  • The secret to America’s most “disruptive” supermarket—fruits and vegetables – “Every inch of the traditional track around US supermarkets—from the beautifully lit piles of produce and bounteous bakery section to the inviting prepared foods—has been honed to maximize the grocery industry’s tried-and-true business strategy: Promote the national brands and packaged goods that drive customers in the door, but steer them toward the more-profitable, perishable goods—such as fresh produce—where the supermarket really makes money.

Trust the wisdom of the International Monetary Fund? Be it at your own risk

July 5th, 2014 Comments off

Another example of the true meaning when the board announces it has full confidence in the coach!

IMF Concludes Staff Visit to Bulgaria

Press Release No. 14/278
June 12, 2014

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission visited Sofia during June 6–11, 2014, to discuss the economic outlook and government policies with the Bulgarian authorities. At the conclusion of this regular staff visit, Ms. Michele Shannon, IMF Mission Chief for Bulgaria, made the following statement: …

Regarding the financial sector, the implementation of the new EU regulatory regime is on track, including through the adoption of maximum capital conservation and systemic risk buffers applicable to all banks. In addition, the elimination of specific provisions resulted in a commensurate increase in regulatory capital. While credit growth remains low, the system is stable and liquid, with banks’ non-performing loans buffered by provisions and significant capital, as well as a positive net foreign asset position. Efforts by banks to address the stock of distressed assets and claim associated collateral should continue in order to lower asset price uncertainty and thereby support renewed investment.

(Note: emphasis added by the Owl.)

Accusations fly in Bulgaria’s murky bank run

SOFIA Fri Jul 4, 2014 5:50am EDT

(Reuters) – One worker at Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank knew panic was setting in when she spotted colleagues among the anxious depositors lined up to withdraw cash from the troubled bank.

The alarm came in part because the week before, on June 13, with television news crews filming, Bulgarian state prosecutors had raided a building in Sofia that housed Corpbank offices.

Though both the prosecutors and the bank said the raid did not target Corpbank – the building housed other companies as well – customers soon began to withdraw their savings. Within days, the Central Bank had seized control of the bank, the fourth-biggest lender in Bulgaria, and suspended its operations for three months.

Though both the prosecutors and the bank said the raid did not target Corpbank – the building housed other companies as well – customers soon began to withdraw their savings. Within days, the Central Bank had seized control of the bank, the fourth-biggest lender in Bulgaria, and suspended its operations for three months.

The dramatic raid and bank run were reminders that despite progress from the worst days of the euro crisis, parts of Europe’s financial system are still far from secure. The run quickly spread to another bank and saw Sofia announce a protective $2.3 billion credit line.

The Australian reaches new heights in journalists talking about each other

July 5th, 2014 Comments off

From this morning’s Weekend Australian:

5-07-2014 kenny15-07-2014 kenny2Can anyone actually remember any of the wisdom in any of those Paul Kelly books?

Find similar media items at Journalists talking about each other


Calls for Income Redistribution Based on Envy or Justice? and other news and views for Friday 4 July

July 4th, 2014 Comments off

4-07-2014 mpneybags

  • Are Calls for Income Redistribution Based on Envy or Justice? – “There is no doubt that many of those at the top are there because they made important contributions to society. Some inequality is justified. But it also seems clear that a large part of the rise in inequality is due to monopoly power, CEO pay that is unconnected to productivity, bailouts, politicians captured by special interests, corporate welfare, and the like. If so, then returning income to those who actually earned it is not envy, it is the “justice for all” that conservatives claim to support.”
  • Indonesia’s strongman Prabowo makes final election push – “Indonesia’s elite are rallying around former general and self-styled strongman Prabowo Subianto as he makes a final push to defeat Joko Widodo, the reformist Jakarta governor, in Wednesday’s presidential election.”
  • Stability or Sadomonetarism? – “… the BIS [the Bank for International Settlements, who are urging tight money despite weak economies, for fear that investors will take excessive risks] basically just wants to raise rates, and is always looking for a reason. It’s about sadomonetarism, not stability.”

4-07-2014 sillyabbott


Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The really bad news for Abbott from the opinion polls – influencing that odd assortment of Senators

July 4th, 2014 Comments off

3-07-2014 aust

The Owl’s federal election indicator is lagging well behind the opinion polls when it comes to assessing the future prospects of the Abbott government (although it is moving in Labor’s direction) but then the indicator is trying to measure something quite different to the pollsters. The polls are trying to tell us what people think now while the markets the indicator is based on are looking forward to what will happen on a future election day. They are two quite different things. As I have written many times on this site I prefer to take the guidance of the money.

But with new Senators about to take their places in the red chamber it is opportune to repeat something I wrote back in May.

What opinion pollsters say two and a half years out from an election is normally of no interest at all to me. Just ignore them is invariably my advice. Today, though, I am breaking those habits of a political lifetime. The unanimous verdict of all the major pollsters suggesting that Tony Abbott and his government are on the nose does strike me as relevant.

Not because the figures suggest the Liberal-National coalition will lose the next election. Far from it. I’ll stick with the predictive power of the Owl’s federal election indicator which puts Labor well behind. The importance of the polls is the influence they will have on that maverick collection of Senators who will become the real power brokers of politics after 1 July and on the Labor and Greens majority from now until then.

A strong suggestion that voters do not like a government – and the polls are giving just that now – encourages an opposition to stick the boot in because of a belief that will help their own prospects of re-election. Ultimately it might do no such thing but in the meantime it sure does make governing harder.

The ice at opposite ends of the earth still moving in different directions

July 4th, 2014 Comments off

Figures from the National Sea and Ice Data Center show June 2014 is the 6th lowest Arctic sea ice extent in the satellite record, 490,000 square kilometers (189,000 square miles) above the previous record low in June 2010. The monthly linear rate of decline for June is 3.6% per decade.


The trend in the Antarctic was different with a continuation in June of the pattern of increasing sea ice extent.


Categories: Environment Tags:

The Guardian Australia charges ahead towards profitability

July 4th, 2014 Comments off


The Guardian Australia has become my proper news source of choice and it seems I am not alone. The industry website Press Gazette reports this morning that according to ABC figures cited by The Guardian, traffic to Guardian Australia has increased to 5.55m unique browsers in May 2014 (compared with around 3m a year earlier). Just over a year after launch The Guardian claims its Australia edition is on course to turn a profit.


In an interview Guardian Media Group chief executive Andrew Miller answered questions about the Australian launch that included:

Would you have moved into Australia anyway, or did you launch in Australia because of the investment from entrepreneur Graeme Wood?

“We were trying to understand how we grow The Guardian. We saw an audience just like the States, in Australia. We met [Wood] and explored the idea of how we do this.”

How does the investment work? Will he get his money back before the Scott Trust sees a return on Guardian Australia?

“We’ve got a confidentiality agreement. It’s a loan, so he will get his money back first. But if we decide not to continue in Australia then there’s no obligation to repay the loan.”

Categories: Australian media, Media Tags:

Muslims don’t much like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah either

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

There is a terrible tendency to tar everyone with the same brush when fear and loathing is in the air. Hence the importance of this Pew Research Center survey conducted in predominantly Muslim countries.

The headline findings:

As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.

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Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.

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These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).


Pew Research helps you find where you fit in the political spectrum

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

I admit to being a bit of a sucker for those online tests of where you fit in the political spectrum. It does a journalist good to be shown where the prejudices lie and it is no harm for readers either.

The latest I’ve tried is from that well respected non-partisan US organisation the Pew ResearchCenter for the People & the Press which tries to measure the shades and hues of the public’s political attitudes and values.

Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.

The latest Pew Research Center political typology, which sorts voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values, provides a field guide for this constantly changing landscape. Before reading further, take our quiz to see where you fit in the typology.

The findings:

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But where would you fit? Well Pew has devised a little test so you can find out. Here’s the verdict on me after I pretended to be a US citizen:

3-07-2014 ideologyplacementSo what does that suggest I am? According to Pew I am a Solid Liberal along with 15% of the public which means:

2012 vote: 89% for Obama | 3% for Romney
Generally affluent and highly educated, most Solid Liberals strongly support the social safety net and take very liberal positions on virtually all issues. Most say they always vote Democratic and are unflagging supporters of Barack Obama. Overall, Solid Liberals are very optimistic about the nation’s future and are the most likely to say that America’s success is linked to its ability to change, rather than its reliance on long-standing principles. On foreign policy, Solid Liberals overwhelmingly believe that good diplomacy – rather than military strength – is the best way to ensure peace.

Nothing I can disagree with there. So keep that in mind when reading the Owl. It’s better to know the starting point of pundits than not.



Tony Abbott’s Sri Lanka at peace – unlawful killings by security forces … an environment of fear … involuntary disappearances … torture by police

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning at one of his doorstop press conferences:


Prime Minister, what’s happening in the Indian Ocean?


What’s happening is that the Government is purposefully and methodically ensuring that our borders are protected and that the boats are stopped.


Does the public have a right to know about asylum seekers being intercepted at sea?


The public deserve safe and secure borders. They deserve a country which has not become open for the wrong kind of business – the people smuggling business – and one of the tragedies of the six years prior to September was that the red carpet had been laid out for people smugglers and their customers. Now, we’ve rolled up that particular red carpet. The way is closed. They can keep trying but we will keep responding in an appropriate way, doing exactly what we said we would do before the election and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Now I want to make two points: everything that we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything that we do is consistent with our international obligations.


You said earlier this morning that Sri Lanka was at peace. Does that mean that Tamils no longer have legitimate asylum seeker claims?


Well it is a peaceful country – it is a peaceful country. I don’t say it’s a perfect country, not even Australia is that, but it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over. That is to the benefit of every single Sri Lankan, Tamil, Sinhalese; everyone in Sri Lanka is infinitely better off as a result of the cessation of the civil war.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – SRI LANKA 2013 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multi-party republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2010. The Parliament, which was elected in 2010, shares constitutional power with the president. The president’s family dominates government. Two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defense secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the speaker of Parliament. A large number of the president’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Polls were fraught with election law violations by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The major human rights problems were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization by individuals allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who  disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary. Disappearances and killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, attacks, harassment, and threats by progovernment loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities; and neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases plagued the justice system. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and most major media outlets were controlled by the government. Self-censorship by journalists was widespread, and the government censored some news websites. Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle. The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns. Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights violations were Tamils. There was an increase in discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces.

Where there’s a bank there’s a will and a way plus other news and views for Thursday 3 July

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off
  • Another Failure to Regulate Derivatives – “By the time the Securities and Exchange Commission finalized a rule last month to regulate derivatives under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the big banks that dominate the multitrillion-dollar market had already figured out how to game it. This is not a tale, however, of how wily banks always find a way around the rules. In this case, the S.E.C. has written and passed a rule that is custom built for evasion, all the while insisting, unconvincingly, that it does not have the legal authority to be any tougher.”
  • An opportunity missed rather than a case settled – “The authorities have reaffirmed that banks such as BNP are too big to jail. …  If no one goes to jail and the fine does no permanent damage, the settlement becomes more a transaction tax than a deterrent. It is unlikely to be seen as justice in the eyes of the public – people who tend to go to prison when they break the law.”
  • In banking capital punishment works better than torture – “Who can be held accountable when banks misbehave? Not the people who run them. That seems to be the conclusion reached by prosecutors and regulators who, facing a tide of public anger over financial malfeasance, have resorted to putting in the dock not people but corporate defendants: the banks themselves. … Instead of torturing banks financially we should impose capital punishment. A bank that suffers a large loss or a severe compliance failure clearly has not learnt to control risk, and needs a bigger safety cushion. It should be required to hold more loss-absorbing capital. This would punish managers by making it harder to turn a profit.”

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(From Wikipedia)

  • The shark is dead but the price has a bite – Something about contemporary art echoes pyramid schemes … Not long ago I asked Brett Gorvy, head of contemporary art at auction house Christie’s, to estimate the current value of Damien Hirst’s shark – the beast that floats in a tank of formaldehyde … It sold for $8m in 2004. In excess of $70m, Mr Gorvy responded. After all, he said, “Jeff Koons’s ‘Balloon Dog’ sold for $58m last November; is not Hirst’s shark far more celebrated round the world?”

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(From Wikipedia)

What Australians eat and other news and views for Wednesday 2 July

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off

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Categories: News and views for the day Tags:

The Peta Credlin approach to Coalition staff recruitment

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off

From my internet browsing comes this gem from 2009 that seems relevant to today’s Australian politics:

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And perhaps this reflects the Peta Credlin approach to Coalition staff recruitment:

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Categories: Political indicators Tags:

Those CO2 levels keep rising

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off

At the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, where CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been measured since 1958, they have just recorded for the first time three consecutive average monthly levels above 400 parts per million. While there is nothing magical about 400 ppm when it comes to influencing world temperatures, it is another sign that atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas which helps drive global warming are very much on the rise.

2-07-2014 meanCO22-07-2014 fullCO2recordThe dashed red lines represent the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black line represents the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle.


Categories: Environment Tags:

The moral cesspit of Iraq

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off

The Iraq Stain – Paul Krugman writes:

I don’t write much about Iraq and all that these days, but this report from James Risen brings back the horror of the whole thing. And I don’t just mean the fact that we were lied into war; that most of our media and policy elite rushed to join the bandwagon; that the venture led to awesome waste of lives and money.

No, Iraq was also a moral cesspit. Not only were we taken to war on false pretenses, it was clear that this was done in part for domestic political gain. The occupation was treated not as a solemn task on which the nation’s honor depended, but as an opportunity to reward cronies. And don’t forget the torture.

So in a way it’s not too surprising to learn that we didn’t just, incredibly, rely heavily on politically connected mercenaries, but that said mercenaries threatened violence against our own officials:

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

And guess what:

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show.

But it’s still shocking, and a reminder of just how deep the betrayal went.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Another day and another billions of dollars fine for a bank and other news and views for Tuesday 1 July

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off
  • BNP pleads guilty to sanctions violations and faces $8.9bn fine
  • A Grieving Father Pulls a Thread That Unravels BNP’s Illegal Deals – “A bus bombing two decades ago — and a New Jersey father’s quest for justice — inadvertently set off a chain of events that led American prosecutors to accuse some of the world’s biggest banks of transferring money for nations like Iran. On Monday, that crackdown culminated with the guilty plea of BNP Paribas, which admitted to doing billions of dollars in deals with Iran and other countries blacklisted by the United States and agreed to pay a record $8.9 billion penalty to state and federal authorities. The trail that ultimately led to BNP began in 2006, when the Manhattan district attorney’s office came upon a lawsuit filed by the father, who blamed Iran for financing the Gaza bus bombing that killed his 20-year-old daughter. Buried in the court filings, prosecutors found a stunning accusation: a charity that owned a gleaming office tower on Fifth Avenue was actually a “front” for the Iranian government, a claim that the prosecutors ultimately verified.”

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The brave Morgan Poll offers an Indonesian forecast

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

I dip my lid to Morgan Polls for venturing into Indonesia to bring one of the few available guides to the presidential election. It cannot be easy to sample public opinion in such a large and diverse nation. Time will tell about the wisdom of trying.

Today’s Morgan report declares the result too close to call with just a week to go.

Long-time favourite Jokowi (52%) holds a narrow lead over Prabowo Subianto (48%) according to yesterday’s Roy Morgan Poll on the Indonesian Presidential Election conducted in June 2014 with 3,117 Indonesian electors.

Analysing the final Roy Morgan Indonesian Presidential Poll by location shows Jokowi leads in most areas of Indonesia, although it is only a very narrow lead on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java: Jokowi (52.5%) cf. Prabowo (47.5%).

Jokowi’s biggest lead is on the tourist, and Buddhist, island of Bali: Jokowi (93%) cf. Prabowo (7%). Jokowi also leads clearly in Sulawesi: Jokowi (60.5%) cf. Prabowo (39.5%); Kalimantan: Jokowi (55%) cf. Prabowo (45%); the Maluku Islands: Jokowi (65.5%) cf. Prabowo (34.5%) and in Nusa Tenggara: Jokowi (68%) cf. Prabowo (32%).

Jokowi’s challenger, Prabowo, leads in the westernmost region of Sumatra: Prabowo (60%) cf. Jokowi (40%) and in the easternmost region of Papua: Prabowo (51.5%) cf. Jokowi (48.5%).

Presidential support by Gender

Analysing by Gender shows Jokowi’s narrow lead is based upon his strong appeal to women. Amongst women Jokowi (55%) is clearly favoured to Prabowo (45%). However, men narrowly favour Prabowo (51%) over Jokowi (49%).

Presidential support by Age

Analysing the support for each candidate also shows a clear difference between Jokowi and Prabowo. Jokowi’s appeal is higher amongst older age groups whilst Prabowo has the edge with younger Indonesians.

17-24yr olds: Prabowo (52%) cf. Jokowi (48%);
25-30yr olds: Prabowo (51%) cf. Jokowi (49%);
31-45yr olds: Jokowi (52%) cf. Prabowo (48%);
46+yr olds: Jokowi (56%) cf. Prabowo (44%).


El Niño likely in 2014

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

I watch with great interest the twice a month reports from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) on the the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) because what happens to world temperatures the next time an El Niño occurs will have a major influence on the global warming debate. The evidence seems to suggest that under the influence of El Niño temperatures rise and a new high temperature reading for the world would be a blow to those who argue that global warming has plateaued over the last 15 years or so. Conversely, an El Niño that does not break the plateauing trend line would be manna from heaven for the climate sceptics.

Today’s report from the BOM continues to point to an El Niño being likely.

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Based on the assessment on 1 July 2014, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Tracker status remains at El Niño ALERT level, meaning that there is at least a 70% chance of an El Niño occurring in 2014. Current observations and model guidance indicate an El Niño is likely to develop by spring.

El Niño conditions generally result in below average winter/spring rainfall over southern and inland eastern Australia, while southern Australia typically experiences warmer days.

In the ENSO report for 1 July the BOM headline says  while some more El Niño-like patterns emerge, but no El Niño yet.

While the tropical Pacific Ocean surface temperature is currently at levels typically associated with a weak El Niño, waters below the surface have cooled and atmospheric patterns continue to remain neutral.
However, over the past fortnight changes have occurred in the atmosphere that may be a response to the warm surface waters–the Southern Oscillation Index has dropped by over 10 points, and weakened trade winds have re-appeared. These changes would need to persist for several weeks in order for an El Niño to be considered established, and it remains possible they are simply related to shorter term weather variability.

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Climate models surveyed by the Bureau continue to indicate that El Niño is likely to develop by spring 2014. The Bureau’s ENSO Tracker remains at El Niño ALERT, indicating at least a 70% chance of El Niño developing in 2014.
For Australia, El Niño is often associated with below-average rainfall over southern and eastern inland areas and above-average daytime temperatures over southern parts of the continent.
The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is currently neutral. Model outlooks suggest the IOD is most likely to remain neutral through winter and spring. The likelihood of a positive IOD event increases with El Niño. Positive IOD events are typically associated with large parts of southern and central Australia experiencing lower rainfall than usual.

Categories: Environment Tags:

Intellectual disability and rorting the welfare system

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

There was a timely contribution this week from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to the debate being created by the Coalition government on the Disability Support Pension – with the suggestion that only people with a permanent disability could receive the payment. Some of the commentary on the just released report A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes suggests that much of the increase in the number of people on disability pensions is the result of some kind of rorting of the system. Hence the value of the ABS’s first issue reporting on Intellectual Disability, Australia, 2012 

1-07-2014 intellectualdisabilityNoting that intellectual disability may affect every day social, emotional and cognitive skills, resulting in a reduced ability to live independently, the Bureau finds:

In 2012, around 567,000 people with intellectual disability needed assistance with at least one activity. The level and type of assistance required for people with intellectual disability varies depending on the severity of their disability. In the SDAC [Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers], the severity of a person’s disability is conceptualised through the level of limitation they have with core activities including communication, self-care and mobility. In 2012, the majority of people with intellectual disability (417,100 people or 62%) had a profound or severe core-activity limitation, which meant they always or sometimes needed help with mobility, self-care or communication. Around 153,000 people (23%) with intellectual disability had a moderate or mild core-activity limitation, which meant they did not need help but had difficulty with at least one of the core activities or had difficulties with minor tasks such as managing stairs without a handrail, picking up things from the floor etc. Another 64,000 people (10%) had a schooling or employment restriction only.

In the SDAC, people were asked about their need for assistance in ten specific areas. Severity of disability affected the type of activities with which people with intellectual disability needed assistance. For those with a profound or severe core-activity limitation and intellectual disability; cognitive and emotional tasks were the most common activity where assistance was needed or difficulty was experienced (92%), followed by mobility (82%) and heath care (76%). Around two-thirds of people with a moderate or mild core-activity limitation also needed assistance with cognitive and emotional tasks (65%), whilst reading or writing (35%) and health care (26%) were the next most common types of activities where they needed assistance.

The greater the severity of a person’s disability the more they needed assistance. The vast majority of people with a profound core-activity limitation (83%), and just over half of those with a severe core-activity limitation (53%), needed assistance with four or more activities. By comparison, most of those with a moderate or mild core-activity limitation needed assistance with between one and three activities (73% and 57% respectively).

People with intellectual disability may receive this assistance from formal or informal providers. Formal assistance refers to assistance provided by organisations (regardless of whether they make a profit) or paid individuals. In contrast, informal assistance is unpaid help or supervision that is provided to people with disability or older people. Of the 668,100 people with intellectual disability, almost one-third reported needing more formal assistance (29%) than they currently received, and around one in five needed more informal assistance (18%).


Categories: Political snippets Tags:

It must be true – I read it in the paper didn’t you? Julia Assange a Fashion Week model

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

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Yes, you read the headline correctly; Julian Assange will model during September’s London Fashion Week.
The WikiLeaks founder will model for Ben Westwood, son of Dame Vivienne, who will showcase the latest collection from his eponymous brand.
The show will take place at Assange’s current residence, the Ecuadorian embassy in London’s Knightsbridge, where ‘celebrity guests’ – rumoured to include George Clooney and his lawyer fiancée, who has acted on Assange’s defence team – will be served Ferrero Roche.

Well, actually, while you might have read the headline correctly and then believed the opening par, the world is not to have a new male model. This morning’s twitter:

1-07-2014 wikileaksIf you had got down to the seventh and eighth pars – and I doubt that many readers would have – this is the information Wikileaks is referring to:

The idea to involve Assange in the show came about a couple of months ago when Westwood was talking with his PR representative, Richard Hillgrove, about the 42-year-old’s case. Hillgrove then duly set about organising the tie-up, though Westwood is yet to actually meet Assange or visit the embassy.
“I haven’t spoken to Julian at all actually yet but I would like to. I’m waiting to hear from him now. It’s funny how these things work – it goes in the press first and then it happens! I don’t see why he wouldn’t do it – after all he needs publicity for his case,” he comments.


Categories: Media Tags:

Extending income management for those on welfare – but does it work?

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

In my little list of stories from around the world that took my interest on Monday was one by Christopher Blattman, an associate professor in the political science department and at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia in the USA, entitled Let them eat cash. This extract gives the flavour but the examples from the full piece as published in the New York Times are worth noting:

“The poor do not waste grants. Recently, two World Bank economists looked at 19 cash transfer studies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost all showed alcohol and tobacco spending fell or stayed the same. Only two showed any significant increase, and even there the evidence was mixed. You might worry handouts encourage idleness. But in most experiments, people worked more after they received grants.”

What adds to the relevance of the argument is the movement within Australia towards placing restrictions on how welfare payments are spent. From Mondays’s Sydney Daily Telegraph:

1-07-2014 doleProfessor Blattman understands that those making welfare payments worry that people might spend handouts on drugs or alcohol. “This pessimism (and paternalism) is common and understandable,” he writes.  “But evidence from other countries suggests we should be more optimistic. …

Perhaps our first duty is to do no harm, but I say that’s our second duty. Our first is to be skeptical of stereotypes of those we purport to help.

These stereotypes have consequences: The Family Independence Initiative tried paying poor American families in return for setting and meeting goals. Its demonstration project showed promising results. But the No. 1 obstacle the organization said it faced? Mistrust by donors and other nonprofits who held hard to the view that poor people can’t make good decisions.

Here in New York, the Opportunity NYC Family Rewards program has experimented with cash transfers to poor families. It sent $8,700 over three years to thousands of families. A randomized evaluation showed that self-employment went up and hunger and extreme hardship went down, at least while the cash transfers lasted.


Categories: Economic matters Tags:

Let Them Eat Cash – the poor do not waste grants and other news and views for Monday 30 June

July 1st, 2014 Comments off
  • Prabowo continues his anti-democratic rhetoric – “Prabowo’s statement on direct elections is another example of his anti-democratic rhetoric, which has been an insufficiently reported feature of the Indonesian presidential campaign.”
  • Drink Up: NYC Ban On Big Sodas Canned – “Big sodas can stay on the menu in the Big Apple after New York state’s highest court refused Thursday to reinstate the city’s first-of-its-kind size limit on sugary drinks.”
  • E-voting experiments end in Norway amid security fears – “Experiments with voting via the net were carried out during elections held in 2011 and 2013. But the trials have ended because, said the government, voters’ fears about their votes becoming public could undermine democratic processes. Political controversy and the fact that the trials did not boost turnout also led to the experiment ending.
  • Let Them Eat Cash – “The poor do not waste grants. Recently, two World Bank economists looked at 19 cash transfer studies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost all showed alcohol and tobacco spending fell or stayed the same. Only two showed any significant increase, and even there the evidence was mixed. You might worry handouts encourage idleness. But in most experiments, people worked more after they received grants.”
  • Bat country for old men – “Daily Telegraph blogger Tim Blair is notorious for inflammatory personal attacks posted on his blog, particularly against women with a public profile and strong opinions. Personal abuse is everywhere on the Internet, on twitter, private blogs, and in comments. But Blair is also a journalist blogging under the masthead of Australia’s most powerful News Corp tabloid, The Daily Telegraph.”
  • Ebola and ethics: Is animal welfare killing wild apes? – “The Ebola virus is not just a threat to humans, but is also wiping out chimps and gorillas. Will a decision to end testing on chimps at a major US medical institute hamper efforts to develop a vaccine that could save primates from Ebola?”
  • Adam Smith on How to Make the Working Class Happier and More Productive: Pay Them More

Categories: News and views for the day Tags: