Thursday, 31 July 2014

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

  • 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.”

Ho hum – just another billion dollar fine for a bank

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.
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.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

El Niño back to fifty fifty

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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Eric Abetz a sure fire vote loser

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.

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

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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.”

No ethics in the political classes and are journalists any better?

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.

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

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

Big hook nosed Jews

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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Sunday, 27 July 2014

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

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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

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 crisisticket

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.
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.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

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

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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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Friday, 25 July 2014

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