Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The cost of investing in virtue and punishing sin

The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment, firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion ...
The Vice Fund invests in businesses that are considered by many to be socially irresponsible. Recently renamed the Barrier Fund, it has assets of USD 290 million invested in “industries with significant barriers to entry, including tobacco, alcoholic beverage, gaming and defense/ aerospace industries.” The Social Index
Fund tracks an index screened by social, human rights, and environmental criteria. Constituents have superiorenvironmental policies, strong hiring/promotion records for minorities and women, and a safe workplace. There are no companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment,
firearms, gambling, nuclear power, and unfair labor practices. It has assets under managementof USD 1.5 billion …
A different study comparing "sin stocks" to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The "sin" industries in this study included  alcohol, tobacco, "adult services," weapons, and gambling.
A different study comparing “sin stocks” to market returns for a variety of countries from 1970 to 2007. In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.
  • Invest in vice or virtue? – In most countries, sin stocks comfortably beat the market. The “sin” industries in this study included alcohol, tobacco, “adult services,” weapons, and gambling.
  • Recent warming of Pacific Ocean could be early indication of El Niño – Recent warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean has primed the Pacific for El Niño. However, history has shown El Niño does not always develop from the ocean trends currently observed. International climate models monitored by the Bureau [of Meteorology] indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with all models predicting El Niño thresholds will be reached or exceeded by mid-year.
  • No Easy, Reliable Way To Screen For Suicide, Specialists Say – Even a careful psychiatric examination of the co-pilot involved in last week’s Germanwings jetliner crash probably would not have revealed whether he intended to kill himself, researchers say. “As a field, we’re not very good at accurately predicting who is at risk for suicidal behavior,” says Matthew Nock, a psychology professor at Harvard. He says studies show that mental health professionals “perform no better than chance,” when it comes to predicting which patients will attempt suicide.
  • Greek Voters Want Their Government To Show Some Fight – The leftist Syriza party swept into office on a promise to stand up to European austerity demands. But the new government has had to soften its tone. Some Greeks worry the party is giving in.
  • Fortress of Nationalism: Russia Is Losing Its Political Morals – The murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov reveals that Russia has become morally unhinged. The country is transforming into a nationalist fortress and the powers that be are happy to ignore the potentially dangerous implications.
  • China’s New Normal and America’s Old Habits – China is generating a lot of confusion nowadays, both at home, where senior officials now tout the economy’s “new normal,” and abroad, exemplified by America’s embrace of Cold War-style tactics to contain China’s rise. On both counts, the disconnects are striking, adding a new dimension of risk to the impact of the “China factor” on a fragile world.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Dementia and the coherence of self

  •  The disremembered – Dementia undermines all of our philosophical assumptions about the coherence of the self. But that might be a good thing
  • Senate to launch broad inquiry into wine industry – South Australian Senator Anne Ruston, who lives in the state’s Riverland wine region, moved for the inquiry to investigate whether there was market failure in the industry and whether government policies could help the industry become more profitable.mortgage1mortgage2
  • Mortgaging the Future? – In the six decades following World War II, bank lending measured as a ratio to GDP has quadrupled in advanced economies. To a great extent, this unprecedented expansion of credit was driven by a dramatic growth in mortgage loans. Lending backed by real estate has allowed households to leverage up and has changed the traditional business of banking in fundamental ways. This “Great Mortgaging” has had a profound influence on the dynamics of business cycles.
  • Xi Jinping’s challenge is to be strong enough to loosen control – China’s president will face resistance if he fails to readjust
  • Nissin Offers Virtual Date Experience for Ramen Lovers – Nissin Foods Holdings Co. has launched a special site for ramen lovers who feel a bit lonely slurping down their instant noodles alone. The website, called Mitsumete Light+, features Japanese actor Takumi Saitoh gazing at the visitor from the other side of the screen while they prepare and enjoy their snack. Users are asked to click on a button once they pour hot water into their ramen cup, at which point a timer starts counting down the three minutes until the food is ready.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Newspoll influence

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

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cash from Australia sending Indonesians to fight with IS

This morning’s Jakarta Post reports:
is groups

Another Post story reports claims by an Indonesian official that Australia has sent back 15 illegal immigrants from Nepal, Iran and Bangladesh into Indonesian waters off West Java’s Sukabumi.
The illegal immigrants had reached Australia’s Christmas Island and stayed there for three days, an official of the Sukabumi Immigration office, Markus Lenggo, quoted the immigrants as saying.
“They said they crossed to the Australian island from the Pamengpeuk coastal village of Garut [in West Java] on March 17, but after three days they were sent back to Indonesian territory,” Markus said.
The 15 illegal immigrants — six from Iran including three girls, seven from Bangladesh and two from Nepal – were found stranded on the coast of Pangumbahan in Sukabumi by the police on Sunday.
They were then sent to the Sukabumi Immigration Office, which put them in its detention center, he said. Nine of them were in possession of official documents from the UNHCR refugee agency showing that they were asylum seekers, but the rest claimed that they had lost their documents.
“We are awaiting directions from IOM [International Organization for Migration] and the Law and Human Rights Ministry on what to do with the immigrants,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.
One of the asylum seekers, Muhamad Baleyet Husain from Bangladesh, said the Australian authorities told them they had to be sent back to Indonesia as the two countries were in the midst of a political row following the planned execution of two Australians drug convicts.
“We arrived on Christmas Island but the local authorities sent us back to Indonesian waters using a boat accompanied by Australian officers,” Husain said.

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

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

Monday, 23 March 2015

Another day and another probe into another bank

Benjamin Lawsky, the New York regulator known for taking a hard line against overseas banks, has shouldered his way into the long-running Libor scandal, investigating Deutsche Bank for alleged manipulation of the benchmark borrowing rate, according to people familiar with the matter.
The probe by New York’s Department of Financial Services adds to a litany of US regulatory problems for Germany’s largest lender.

Labor gains in Morgan Poll

Friday, 20 March 2015

Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter

sea iceClick to enlarge
Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has fallen to the lowest recorded level for the winter season, according to US scientists.The maximum this year was 14.5 million sq km, said the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
This is the lowest since 1979, when satellite records began.
A recent study found that Arctic sea ice had thinned by 65% between 1975 and 2012.
Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics said: “The gradual disappearance of ice is having profound consequences for people, animals and plants in the polar regions, as well as around the world, through sea level rise.”
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said the maximum level of sea ice for winter was reached this year on 25 February and the ice was now beginning to melt as the Arctic moved into spring.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Warming world trend continues

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

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Advice on Greens for Labor from Labour

The Australian Labor Party has struggled in recent federal and state elections to work out how it should treat the threat of Greens candidates snatching their votes in previously safe inner city seats. A vote for a Green risks giving the Liberals extra seats has become a familiar Labor cry without there being much evidence to support such a claim with the electoral system’s preferential voting. An end result of such misguided thinking is for Labor to play preference games in voting for upper houses where a seeming desire to punish Greens for their inner city naughtiness has led to some real opponents of a conservative bent being elected.
This phenomenon of a traditional left of centre party having trouble dealing with another leftist party is not uniquely Australian. European socialists have been dealing with it for 20 years with an acceptance of coalition governments making it relatively peaceful. Not so in Britain where the Australian born leader of the Green Party of England and Wales is being cast in the villain’s role by British Labour as that country’s election approaches.
From The Observer this morning:
Labour is trying to scare leftish voters away from the Greens with the thought that they will go to bed with Natalie Bennett and wake up to find David Cameron back in Number 10. One Labour MP who has tried this on the doorstep reports: “It doesn’t work. Your 18-year-old who is going to vote Green doesn’t give a toss about that. They want to make a statement by voting Green.” A statement about the world, about Westminster, about themselves.
The comment of that anonymous Labour MP pretty much sums up what I believe to be the situation in Australia. Rather than trying to beat the Greens the task should be finding more ways to join with them in presenting a united left of centre coalition to combat our governing right of centre one. Surely preferential voting makes that possible.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cardinal George Pell carries out sweeping reforms

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

Friday, 13 March 2015

Turnbull and the Keating influence

The more I see, hear and read of Malcolm Turnbull these days, the more inclined I am to believe my informant that the would-be Prime Minister is getting some tactical advice from former Prime Minister Paul Keating. See my political snippet from back in February The new besties – Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating where I mentioned that what I’ll call “a normally reliable and well informed Sydney friend” assured me that the pair have developed a close friendship. They are regularly, I was told, in each others company as the Liberal leadership pretender gets a tip or two on playing politics from the former Labor master.
For further evidence, take these comments as recorded by Simon Benson in a thoughtful Daily Telegraph column this morning:
“Labor had committed to several high-profile promises that if delivered would vastly increase outlays over the next decade, with much of their cost conveniently hidden beyond the budget’s four-year forward estimates window.
“Kevin Rudd’s 2010 deal with the states to fund hospitals, Julia Gillard’s 2013 Gonski reforms to schools funding, and the National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are the iconic examples. According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, these three types of spending will have a joint annual cost of $73 billion by 2023-24 (equal to 14 per cent of total budget outlays). If we allow this situation to continue we will put the security of every family and every business at risk. The deficits continue, our debt and interest payments balloon — and all this at historically low interest rates. What happens when rates rise again, as they assuredly will?
“Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014-15 budget attempted to address these trends. Evidently by doing so it disappointed many in the community. In addition there was a deeply felt sense in much of the community that our proposed budget measures were unfair to people on lower incomes when taken as a whole. In my view the failure to effectively make the case for budget repair was our biggest misstep, because it was a threshold we never crossed.
“We — and I include myself and every member of the government in this criticism — did not do a good enough job in explaining the scale of the fiscal problem the nation faces, and the urgency of taking corrective action.”
To my mind that’s exactly how the author of the banana republic comment would summarise things.
And for good measure think about the similarity of the views Turnbull and Keating have on the purpose of superannuation. They argue as one on the silliness of allowing first home buyers to raid their super balances to get a deposit.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Has Tony Abbott committed Australia to a never ending war?

A couple of stories this week that make me wonder what Tony Abbott has got us into by sending our troops back to Iraq to tackle the ISIS threat.
One is on the Foreign Policy website – Let Me Make This as Unclear as Possible. It makes the case for “why the Obama administration’s authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State is intentionally an open-ended ticket to forever war … again.”
The author, Micah Zenko, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at recent congressional hearings on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Obama administration sought even while claiming a president did not need such a thing. Two bits of evidence stood out:
In a telling exchange last week, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine] Wormuth was asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) how she would define victory against the Islamic State. Wormuthdeclared: “When ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States.” O’Rourke pushed the Pentagon’s top policy official further: “So as long as ISIL is seen as a threat to ourselves or any of our partners around the world we have not won?” To this, Wormuth replied: “I think that’s fair.”
At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Gen. Dempsey was similarly asked what victory over ISIL would look like. The most senior uniformed U.S. military officer answered: “That’s not for us to declare. Their ideology has to be defeated by those in the region.” But just who declares victory on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition, or how air strikes help in defeating an ideology, was not explained.
Zenko concluded that these two contrasting depictions of victory are a long way from Barack Obama’s previously articulated strategic objectives to “destroy” and later “defeat” the Islamic State.
But the Obama administration has been consistent since Aug. 7 in its use of fuzzy language, the gradual mission creep, and shifting implausible objectives. Now, 216 days and more than 2,200 strikes later, Congress is assuming its expected role of debating the language of what is, by all accounts, a meaningless AUMF. A uniquely brave senator or congressional member might better use hearings or floor debates to explore how this has become the normal state of affairs for how the United States goes to war.
And as is clear since the Abbott decision to send extra troops to “train” the Iraqi armed forces, as goes the United States, so goes Australia.
The second story for the week to set me wondering about where this renewed Australian intervention in the Middle East might end up was in London’s Independent Isis in Afghanistan is a disaster waiting to happen – Its black flag has replaced the white ones of the Talibs in a swathe of areas including in Helmand.
Kim Sengupta the paper’s Defence Correspondent, that Isis spreading tentacles in Afghanistan has, internationally, gone largely unrecorded.
The gains for Isis are not purely military in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban they are grabbing chunks of the narcotic stocks which can then be moved west along the parts of Iraq under its control. This is of great value at a time when their income from sale oil from captured fields, said not so long ago to be a $1 million a day, are being hit by US led air strikes: the latest ones were today at a refinery in Tel Abyad. …
It has taken a while for official recognition of the Isis threat in Afghanistan. Last month General Ali Murad, of the Afghan army, stated that “elements of Isis, masked men, are active in Zabul [another Taliban dominated province] and Helmand and have raised black flags. Now, they are trying to spread their activities to the north.”  …
Afghanistan is a war and a place the West would like to forget, there’s too much of a sense of futility about the very long mission there. But that is the way we also felt about Iraq. There, too, Isis started on a slow burn and look what happened. Like Iraq, the West may have to revisit Afghanistan as well, this time facing an enemy more implacable and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

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

A wonderful addition from this morning’s Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to my “Journalists talking about each other” section. The regular Tuesday purveyor of the paper’s vitriol column – Sarrah Le Marquand – has reached heights of which her peers Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt surely would be proud.
Ms Le Marquand spent a couple of hundred words putting the boot into Mark Latham for his “I hate-youse*-all bile dressed up as an opinion column” that appears in the Australian Financial Review.
haterNothing wrong with that. If you hand it out like Latham you must expect to get it back, and as the Le Marquand writes, that “is the very result he so craves.”
Rather it is the “do as I say rather than what I do” hypocrisy that follows that puts this column onto the Tele’s top shelf.
Latham has proven beyond a doubt he has nothing of substance or merit to impart.
His columns are little more than the attention-seeking tantrums of a self-entitled toddler, so why waste time and energy in reading them? Responding hysterically to every new insult he hurls is only prolonging his shelf life.
Left to his own devices, he is nothing more than a washed-up, embittered has-been.
Ironically it is only the noise made by his detractors that affords him any oxygen. Only when his work attracts the attention it deserves — which is none — will his supply be cut off.
Practising what you preach might have been a good way to start such a process.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Changing views on drug smugglers by the Sydney Daily Telegraph

Contrasting front pages – then and now.
(Click to enlarge)
My thanks to James Carleton for drawing this change in attitude to my attention.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Spanking kids still overwhelmingly acceptable

spanking (1)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

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

  • China Warms Up to ‘Low’ Growth Rate Other Countries Would Kill for – Today, China’s leaders are increasingly aware that what really matters is ensuring adequate employment and growing incomes. That’s particularly true of Li, premier since March 2013, who has a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Peking University and who is known as an advocate for more economic reform. The leadership can even afford to miss its GDP target, as arguably it did last year, when the goal was “about 7.5 percent,” as long as Chinese are employed and keep earning more. It’s been working. Last year, Li promised that China would add 10 million urban jobs and then handily beat the target, with 13 million. People’s livelihoods improved, too. … Expect the real pain to be reserved for resource-rich countries such as Australia and Russia. The value of crude oil, steel, and iron ore imports to China is already falling rapidly, a trend likely to continue as China’s property sector and new construction cools.  insect
  • Insectophilia – In Japan, beetles are pets, grasshoppers a delicacy and fireflies are adored. Is the creepy-crawly a Western invention?
the banker
  • Eurozone meltdown: how can it be avoided? – Resolving the eurozone crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing the global economy. Steady global growth cannot resume until a proper solution is found, as nearly all major economies – the US, China and Brazil – are impacted by failure in the common currency area. But, for the past five years, the euro area has lurched from one disaster to another, amid bitter argument over who is to blame and with reform and key initiatives moving at a snail’s pace. [ Free registration required]
While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.
While the tropical Pacific Ocean is currently neutral, the odds of an El Niño developing in 2015 has increased. Therefore, the ENSO Tracker status has been raised to El Niño WATCH.
  • Renewed warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean – The Bureau’s ENSO Tracker has been upgraded to El Niño WATCH. This is due to a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and models showing that further warming is likely in coming months. El Niño WATCH indicates about a 50% chance of El Niño forming in 2015.
  • Mugabe’s New Best Friends in Brussels – Why is Europe suddenly cozying up to Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian kleptocrat?

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Tony Abbott the flag man

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

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Some thoughts on lobbying and other interesting reads for today

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

Toss a coin on Australian interest rate decision

The Owl’s market election indicator cannot pick which way the Reserve Bank board members will vote this afternoon on official interest rates.
march indicator
And my opinion? I am as confused as the rest of the punters.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Explaining electoral gerrymanders

2-03-2015 gerrymandering
  • This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see – Gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party — is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above — adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend — and wonder no more.
  • Protecting Fragile Retirement Nest Eggs - A new study by the White House Council of Economic Advisers has found that financial advisers seeking higher fees and commissions drain $17 billion a year from retirement accounts by steering savers into high-cost products and strategies rather than comparable lower-cost ones. The report has rocked the financial services industry — not because it is news but because the industry sees it, correctly, as a forceful statement of the Obama administration’s determination to do something about the problem.
  • Australia’s top 20 greenhouse gas emitters
  • Food Waste Grows With the Middle Class
  • That ugly fruit and veg –  EndFoodWaste.org believes at least 20% of all produce is wasted just because of it’s size, shape, color, or appearance.
  • Despicable Us –  Maybe those of us who write about politics and campaigns should adopt a bristly uniform of hair shirts, so that we’re constantly atoning for our sins. Maybe we should wear targets, the better for our critics to take aim at us. Oh, how we’re hated.
  • Is the Junk-Food Era Drawing to a Close?
  • Brazil – In a quagmire: Latin America’s erstwhile star is in its worst mess since the early 1990s

Harassment of Jews worldwide reaches a seven-year high

  • Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities – Worldwide, social hostilities involving religion declined somewhat in 2013 after reaching a six-year peak the previous year, but roughly a quarter of the world’s countries are still grappling with high levels of religious hostilities within their borders, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religiondropped from 33% in 2012 to 27% in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries.By contrast, the share of countries with high or very highgovernment restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27% in 2013, compared with 29% in 2012. Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths.
    Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – the study finds that restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.
harassmentAs in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%).
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).
  • South Korean court decriminalises adultery – South Korea’s top court has ruled that adultery is no longer a crime, revoking a 1953 law under which cheating spouses could be jailed for up to two years. South Korea was one of only three Asian countries to criminalise infidelity – about 5,500 people have been convicted since 2008.
2-03-2015 brains
  • Shake it off? Not so easy for people with depression, new brain research suggests – Rejected by a person you like? Just “shake it off” and move on, as music star Taylor Swift says. But while that might work for many people, it may not be so easy for those with untreated depression, a new brain study finds. The pain of social rejection lasts longer for them — and their brain cells release less of a natural pain and stress-reducing chemical called natural opioids, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.