Wednesday, 10 February 2016

China's revival of totalitarian scare tactics and other political news and views

China’s Rule of Fear - China is once again gripped by fear in a way it has not been since the era of Mao Zedong. From the inner sanctum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to university lecture halls and executive suites, the specter of harsh accusations and harsher punishment is stalking China’s political, intellectual, and business elites. ... Beyond the bureaucracy, academics, human-rights lawyers, bloggers, and business leaders are also suffering. In universities, the government has recruited informers to denounce professors espousing liberal values in their lectures; several outspoken liberal academics have lost their jobs. Hundreds of human-rights lawyers have been harassed and arrested. Many business leaders have gone missing temporarily, presumably detained by anti-corruption investigators. ... With China’s international influence growing by the day, the revival of totalitarian scare tactics there has far-reaching – and deeply unsettling – implications for Asia and the world.

Do Political TV Ads Still Work? - One more twist in an already unusual campaign season - the candidate on the Republican side who spent the most money on TV ads by far is lagging far behind in the polls. The two candidates who did best in Iowa hardly spent anything compared to years past.

The Great Populists - The rise of a new kind of political leader – as seen in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland – constitutes a new threat to the global order. If this type, in the form of US presidential candidate Donald Trump and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen, wins in the heart of the West, the risks to stability will rise sharply.

Greece’s frightening inability to deal with the refugee influx
Digitally disrupted GDP - Digital technologies are having dramatic impacts on consumers, businesses, and markets. These developments have reignited the debate over the definition and measurement of common economic statistics such as GDP. This column examines the measurement challenges posed by digital innovation on the economic landscape. It shows how existing approaches are unable to capture certain elements of the consumer surplus created by digital innovation. It further demonstrates how they can misrepresent market-level shifts, leading to false assessments of production and growth.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

China's bad debt problem enough to make any Australian Treasurer a "bed wetter"

Just another thing for the Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison to worry about.
China's bad debts could exceed $5 trillion, a staggering number that is equivalent to half the size of the country’s annual economic output.
The speculation is growing that Chinese growth rate will slow even more with serious consequences for Australia.

Toxic Loans Around the World Weigh on Global Growth - The New York Times:
"Beneath the surface of the global financial system lurks a multitrillion-dollar problem that could sap the strength of large economies for years to come.
The problem is the giant, stagnant pool of loans that companies and people around the world are struggling to pay back. Bad debts have been a drag on economic activity ever since the financial crisis of 2008, but in recent months, the threat posed by an overhang of bad loans appears to be rising.
China is the biggest source of worry. Some analysts estimate that China’s troubled credit could exceed $5 trillion, a staggering number that is equivalent to half the size of the country’s annual economic output.
Official figures show that Chinese banks pulled back on their lending in December. If such trends persist, China’s economy, the second-largest in the world behind the United States’, may then slow even more than it has, further harming the many countries that have for years relied on China for their growth."

'via Blog this'

The role of money in politics and other political news and views

Financing Democracy - Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture - The recent debate on the role of money in politics has shed the light on the challenges of political finance regulations. What are the risks associated with the funding of political parties and election campaigns? Why are existing regulatory models still insufficient to tackle those risks? What are the links between money in politics and broader frameworks for integrity in the public sector? This report addresses these three questions and provides a Framework on Financing Democracy, designed to shape the global debate and provide policy options as well as a mapping of risks.


Finance is a necessary component of the democratic processes.
Mmoney enables the expression of political support.
It enables competition in elections.
However, money may be a means for powerful narrow interests to exercise undue influence e.g. newly elected officials maybe pressured to "return the favour" to corporations.
Infrastructure and urban planning are particularly vulnerable to the risk of policy capture.
Consequences include inadequate policies that go against the public interest.

Loopholes in existing regulations

Current funding rules need attention to ensure a level playing field for all democratic actors.
Loans, membership fees and third-party funding can 'go-around' current spending limits.
Countries are struggling to define and regulate third-party campaigning (charities, faith groups, individuals or private firms).
While many countries have adopted online technologies to support proactive disclosure.
There is a need for more efficient and independent oversight and enforcement.
Political finance regulation as part of an overall integrity framework

Political finance regulations are ineffective in isolation.

They need to be part of an overall integrity framework that includes the management of conflict of interest and lobbying.
Fewer than half of OECD countries have set or tightened lobbying standards.
Janet Napolitano Reviews Peter Bergen’s ‘United States of Jihad’ - Bergen seeks to understand why some Americans choose to become jihadists, how our institutions have responded to terrorism and how American society has been changed by terrorist threats.

After reading “United States of Jihad,” one can only conclude that where American jihad is concerned, the sole constant is change. Al Qaeda has already spawned numerous spinoffs. The most recent and violent iteration is ISIS. Our security agencies and law enforcement must continue to adjust and improve, and the public itself must play an ever more important role, even as the risk of another attack such as the one in San Bernardino cannot be eliminated. It is important that we remain resolute and neither lower our expectations nor jettison our values out of some misguided belief that jihad presents easy answers or that conventional efforts must be totally scrapped. And we must keep our perspective. After all, an American residing in the United States in the years after Sept. 11 was 5,000 times more likely to be killed by a fellow citizen armed with a gun than by a jihadist.
High Court not the answer to Nauru depravity - Frank Brennan writes that: "There is no joy to be found in our High Court applying a Constitution even more bereft of human rights protections than the Nauruan Constitution. It's time for our politicians to address the political and moral question: what purpose is actually served by sending this mum and her baby back to Nauru, given that the boats have stopped and will stay stopped regardless of where we now place this mother and child and others like them? It's time to walk and chew gum at the same time. It's not an either/or proposition. There is no longer any need for a circuit breaker. The circuit is permanently cut. We can prevent people smuggling, save lives at sea, maintain the integrity of our borders and deal decently with the residual caseload of asylum seekers including this mother and her child.

Behind the plot to kill ICAC - An extraordinary combination of forces and interests has put the future of NSW's corruption-fighting body at risk, writes Neil Chenoweth.

Rubio sees surge of support after strong showing in Iowa

China’s growth prospects - China’s diminished growth prospects are in the news and seem to spell bad news for just about everybody. This column assesses the evidence, arguing that China’s economic growth will be much slower from now on, reducing international trade. Perhaps the biggest challenge for China will be future political tensions in reconciling economic dreams with economic realities.

Campaigns and Elections: TV Crosses Party Lines to Deliver Voters

The United States botched the Syria talks before they even began - The Obama administration’s failure to think through shifts in policy has all but guaranteed that Syria’s war will drag on.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The death of the political influence of newspapers?

Just something to think about before you get your knickers in a knot about headlines in the Murdoch tabloids. Newspapers are getting less and less influential.
News and information about the contentious 2016 presidential election is permeating the American public, according to a new survey of 3,760 U.S. adults by Pew Research Center. About nine-in-ten U.S. adults (91%) learned about the election in the past week from at least one of 11 types of sources asked about, ranging from television to digital to radio to print.
This high level of learning about the 2016 presidential candidates and campaigns is consistent with recent research that has shown strong interest in this election, even more so than at the same point in the previous two presidential elections.1Americans are divided, though, in the type of sources they find most helpful for that news and information.
When asked if they got news and information about the election from 11 different source types, and then asked which they found most helpful, Americans were split: None of the source types asked about in the survey was deemed most helpful by more than a quarter of U.S. adults.
At the top of the list is cable news, named as most helpful by 24% of those who learned about the election in the past week. That is at least 10 percentage points higher than any other source type. Our past research indicates though, that the 24% is likely divided ideologically in the specific network they watch and trust.
After cable, five source types are named as most helpful by between 10% and 14% of those who got news about the election: Local TV and social networking sites, each at 14%, news websites and apps at 13%, news radio at 11% and national nightly network television news at 10%.
In the bottom tier are five source types named by no more than 3% of Americans who learned about the election. This includes print versions of both local and national newspapers, named by 3% and 2% respectively. It also includes late night comedy shows (3%) as well as the websites, apps or emails of the candidates or campaigns (1%) and of issue-based groups (2%).

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Replacing the Movable Cultural Heritage Act and other political news and views

Final report for review of Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 released - From the report: Previous reviews have come up with long lists of recommended improvements and suggestions for further consultation but what all of these, and indeed any analysis of the Act will show, is that the problems of the Act are systematic. They cannot be dealt with by tinkering amendments. I have adopted the position that any attempt to undertake piecemeal amendment would be inefficient and that what is needed is a new model by which the Australian Government can deliver effective, cost-efficient and balanced protection for significant cultural material. Accordingly, I have chosen a different path from my predecessors—to create a model designed to replace the current scheme.

Australia Boasts That It Has Met Its Climate Goals, But There’s Reason To Be Skeptical

Studying the Heart of El Niño, Where Its Weather Begins

Further easing of El Niño - El Niño remains strong, but continues its gradual decline. Climate models suggest a return to neutral levels in the second quarter of 2016. ... Based on the 26 El Niño events since 1900, around 50% have been followed by a neutral year, and 40% have been followed by La Niña. Models suggest the neutral state is the most likely for the second half of 2016, followed by La Niñ, with a repeat El Niño assessed as very unlikely. Historically, the breakdown of strong El Niño events brings above average rainfall to some-but not all-parts of Australia in the first half of the year.

How Both Parties Lost the White Middle Class - LONG after the dust settles in Iowa — and New Hampshire, and even the 2016 campaign itself — one question will remain: Why, after decades of supporting the liberal and conservative establishments, did the white middle-class abandon them? Wherever Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders end up, their candidacies represent a major shift in American politics. Since World War II our political culture has been organized around the needs, fears and aspirations of white middle-class voters in ways that also satisfied the interests of the rich and powerful. That’s no longer true.

For voters, elite is a dirty word - Voter distrust towards the political class has become potent. It is potent in the United States, it is volatile in Europe and it is evident in Australia, where the electorate has dispatched ten major party leaders in just 12 years.

Customer Loyalty - How Mark Rubbo Killed Borders Books - US book giant Borders is history. And it's demise all started in Melbourne. The wave that killed the Australian business of US behemoth Borders Group Inc. took shape in the Australian summer of 2003 as new recruits stacked shelves, Blu-Tacked posters and talked about the imminent opening of the Carlton store. Borders management had high hopes for the new Lygon Street store and the recruits, still in festive mood from Christmas, had high hopes for the opening party. Less than 100 metres away on that January day, an independent bookseller was planning to kill Borders in Australia.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Is Scott Morrison getting ahead of Malcolm Turnbull in the GST debate?

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has become a true believer in the cause of raising the GST, determined to drive a major switch in the tax mix. The big question is whether Malcolm Turnbull will end up in the same place as his treasurer.

Turnbull is keeping his options open. “Changes to the GST are certainly part of the tax debate and certainly being actively considered by the government,” he said on Friday.

If Turnbull agrees with Morrison, all will be well and good between them.

On the other hand if Turnbull eventually opts for caution and doesn’t walk down the GST road, or in the shorter term feels Morrison is getting ahead of the game, that would be awkward for the gung-ho minister, who would the need to manage his retreat.

Morrison wants a high profile and he seeks the limelight. But that carries risks.

There is always that salutary tale from Labor days. Paul Keating was passionate about introducing a broad-based consumption tax. Bob Hawke let him have his head. But eventually the prime minister pragmatically pulled the rug out from under his treasurer. It wasn’t pretty.

On Monday Morrison made some comments that have raised eyebrows.

Asked at a news conference whether he was disheartened by Newspoll’s finding that 54% oppose a GST rise to 15%, Morrison said: “I have had a bit of experience with this. I remember before the 2013 election turn-backs actually had lower levels of support in the Australian community. It’s important that when you believe that something’s right for the country, that you remain focused on that.” He also made the point about the unpopularity of turn-backs in his radio spot with Ray Hadley.

The comparison is a strange and unlikely one. Some Coalition marginal seat-holders might find it rather alarming.

The popularity or unpopularity of the turn-back policy was of little relevance. The public wanted boats and drownings stopped. Centrally, the ordinary person was not going to be affected by turn-backs – in contrast, everyone knows they would be affected by a GST rise to finance income tax cuts.

Compared with selling a hike in the GST, turning back the boats was a doddle.

The other notable thing Morrison said was about economic modelling.

When tax changes are proposed, Treasury modelling is a key feature for ministers drawing up policy. The government says it wants tax reform to promote growth and jobs. So the officials model the effects of various proposals. The exercise is imperfect, and much depends on the assumptions fed in. Still, it is the best way of getting an estimate of the benefits or costs of change.

Yet Morrison was sceptical about modelling when he was asked, in the context of recent modelling commissioned by the Finance Services Council, about the relative economic merits of a company tax cut versus a personal income tax cut. The modelling highlighted the benefits of a company tax cut in creating jobs, while Morrison concentrates on talking about income tax cuts to counter bracket creep.

Morrison said: “The sad thing about economic models for those who run them is that they’re not perfect and they can’t predict the future and they’re limited by the assumptions they make, and that in particular is an issue with some of the models that really don’t take account of the real boost that personal income tax gives for small businesses who are unincorporated.”

Regardless of the limitations, the government will have to be guided by modelling. Would it gamble on a radical package if the modelling cast doubt on what it would do for growth and jobs?

And when the government’s blueprint is announced, the modelling on which it is based should be available if the plan is to have maximum credibility.

While some of Morrison’s comments are raising questions, NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird and South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill continue to be impressive performers on this messy tax reform field.

Baird on Monday produced a compromise plan which, unlike his initial proposal, would give the Commonwealth most of the extra revenue from a 15% GST, at least up to a review in 2020. Only a modest total of A$7 billion would go the states to help with health and education spending.

But Morrison continues to take the hard line that the Commonwealth would not have any of the extra GST money used for spending – when surely eventually there would need to be some give-and-take by the government.

Weatherill prefers a package that, while involving a GST increase, would give the states access to a slice of income tax, which has a faster rate of growth than the GST.

Weatherill has called out federal Labor for not facing up to the revenue problem; he says the savings it has identified (many of them tax rises) won’t be enough to cover the massive extra spending that will be needed particularly in health. His stands on both the GST and Labor savings have drawn angry responses from his own side.

The tension between federal Labor and Weatherill is on public display and difficult for Bill Shorten. The story of the evolving relationship between Morrison and Turnbull is unfolding behind the scenes, with its outcome critical but unpredictable.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The new political force - some strange influences of the internet on politics and other news and views

Donald Trump’s tantrums drive web traffic—helping him game the entire American media - Traffic to stories about Trump, even if they contained no substantive new information or a comment from the candidate himself, was running some 10 times higher than that of any other candidate. ... In revenue terms, that 10x means if a website earns $20 for every thousand page views, it can make, say, $20,000 on a Trump story, but only $2,000 on an article about Cruz, Clinton, Sanders or Rubio. Given those dynamics and the pressure on many digital media outlets to come up with content that generates page views, more and more stories are likely to be written about Trump, giving him even greater leverage over the media. Thanks to his value on the web, even the smallest items of Trump-related news gets covered. This dynamic gets even more interesting when taking into account a digital media practice of republishing old material to boost traffic. The marginal cost of doing this is about zero; you don’t have to pay a staffer or freelance writer to write it all over again. Depending on whether any of the major tech platforms like Facebook or Yahoo pick it up, page views can match or even outstrip viewership of the original material. So most of that $20,000 drops to the bottom line.

Online journalists' survey: 'Public will soon live off attention-seeking, fact-free, gossipy clickbait'

Better internet access and UK politics: Unintended consequences - The internet is lauded for increasing access to information, but it is unclear whether this translates into a better-informed and more engaged voting populace. This column uses UK data to determine how the internet has changed voting patterns and aggregate policy choices. Internet penetration is found to be associated with a decrease in voter turnout, mainly among the lower socioeconomic demographic. Internet diffusion is also found to reduce local government expenditure, in particular on policies targeting less-educated voters. These findings point to a trade-off between the ‘digital divide’ and the ‘political divide’.

On Wikipedia, Donald Trump Reigns and Facts Are Open to Debate - For a website with no paid writing staff that is still overcoming an out-of-date reputation for inaccuracy, Wikipedia punches above its weight. As a primer for just about any topic, it is especially powerful in an election season: On the day of the 2012 election, Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s entries alone were read 1.6 million times.

Book reveals Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin’s secrets

Buzz builds for Rubio in Iowa - Buzz is growing on the ground in Iowa around Marco Rubio, who many political watchers believe is set for a stronger-than-expected showing at Monday’s caucuses. In interviews with The Hill, Iowa Republicans and independent analysts in the state say Rubio is primed to break free from the second tier of contenders and finally emerge as the candidate to save the establishment from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who are battling for the lead in Iowa.

It’s not presidents but pressure groups who lead US politics

Here’s the Donald Trump bandwagon, and Rupert Murdoch nimbly leaping aboard - Last September, the tweeting Rupert loved Ben Carson, not The Donald. ... Last September, the tweeting Rupert loved Ben Carson, not The Donald. He called it a choice “between a land of hope and a land of fear”. Back at the ranch, his Wall Street Journal editorialists faithfully roasted Trump’s candidacy: Trump-loving conservative media were “hurting the cause”, they said. “If Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him.” But now the Journal’s editorials sing a strangely different tune. “Mr Trump is a better politician than we ever imagined, and he is becoming a better candidate… He might possibly be able to appeal to a larger set of voters than he has so far.” And so on and oleaginously forth, while the greater tweeting Murdoch sings descant. “Trump appeals across party lines – surely the winning strategy.”

German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too