Monthly Archives: September 2018

Week-end Wrap – September 29, 2018

Week-end Wrap - September 29, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Simulcasting The Second International Conference of Modern Monetary Theory (#mmtconf18), Friday-Sunday, Sept 28-30, The New School, New York City [via Naked Capitalism]

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 9-25-18] 
“Judges in Seattle have decided to quash convictions for marijuana possession for anyone prosecuted in the city between 1996 and 2010. City Attorney Pete Homes asked the court to take the step ‘to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of colour.’ Possession of marijuana became legal in the state of Washington in 2012.”

Can the US win a trade war?
By Marshall Auerback, September 22, 2018 [Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 9-23-18]

The Democratic Party response to Trump's trade war so far has been straight out of an Economics 101 textbook, or a briefing paper by the Council on Foreign Relations. Unfortunately, this response is basically a defense of the economic status quo, which has been disastrous for the living standards of working class Americans.
....the US president is probably right in his implicit assumption that the US, not China, is likely to come out ahead in its steadily intensifying trade conflict with Beijing – at least in the short term, until China can wean itself off its export-led mercantilist growth model.
Here I think Auerback is wrong: China has already weaned itself "off its export-led mercantilist growth model." Just look at how far advanced is China's high speed rail system or how aggressive is China's program of building new electric power generating capacity -- which includes coal fired power plants as well as renewables. This is an aspect of national economic development most economists and USA policy makers simply do not understand: at some point in a country's economic development, it is exporting goods not because it is following an "export-led mercantilist growth model" but simply because it has become the producer of the best, most advanced, and/or most cost effective machinery and technology. Alexander Hamilton, the first USA Treasury Secretary, who designed the basic structure of the USA economy, understood this thoroughly. This is the reason South Korea remains, after China, the world's largest shipbuilder, or that Toyota is now a larger car maker than General Motors or Ford.
Trump’s goal is to disrupt this “Chimerica” nexus and induce bringing supply chains back to the US. However, one potentially adverse outcome is that this policy may be inflationary, by creating short-term bottlenecks as the flow of cheap Chinese imports is disrupted. Furthermore, a tariff, like a devaluation, is expansionary as it diverts demand from foreign to home producers, thereby further contributing to potential inflation. 
For Trump, this might be a reasonable trade-off. But if the president is successful in securing these objectives, he might well find himself winning a trade battle with China, but losing the inflationary war.

The Metal That Started Trump’s Trade War 
[Bloomberg Businessweek, via The Big Picture 9-29-18]
Much useful detail on the aluminum industry. Democrats should carefully note the positive response to Trump's tariffs by both management and labor, and start figuring out a way to respond that does not involve very worn out and discredited pro-trade and pro-globalism nostrums.

Labor Market: “Army blames strong economy for missing recruiting goal” 
[ABC News, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]  
“For the first time in thirteen years the Army has failed to meet its annual recruiting goal and Army officials believe the strong U.S. economy is partially to blame. The Army failed to meet its recruiting goal of 76,500 new recruits for fiscal year 2018, bringing in 70,000 recruits — an 8.5 percent shortfall from this year’s goal.”
Lambert Strether wrote: "So, thirteen years of stagnation, then? That seems about right."

Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017
by Kayla Fontenot, Jessica Semega, and Melissa Kollar, September 12, 2018 [U.S. Census Bureau]
Report Number P60-263

Lots of numbers that reflect a "good" economy. You can bet Trump and the Republicans will be using these numbers a lot. But see “Best Ever” Economy? How much credit does Trump deserve for the current state of the economy?

Bernie Sanders: Donald Trump and GOP want to cut Social Security. We should expand it instead.
[USA Today, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]
“If Trump actually cared about saving Social Security, he would support my bill to expand Social Security benefits and extend its solvency for the next 60 years by requiring the wealthiest Americans — those making over $250,000 a year — to pay their fair share of Social Security taxes…. A moral society does not give tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations, and then cut back support for struggling seniors or people with disabilities.Our job now is to rally the public to ensure that everyone in America can retire with dignity and everyone with a disability can live with security.” 

Bernie Sanders backs Scottish Government’s Amazon funding freeze in workers’ Living Wage battle
[Daily Record, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]
Our exclusive last week revealed that Amazon will have to pay workers the Living Wage of £8.75 an hour if they want to access public cash in the future. And Sanders, who ran for president in 2016, has now called on America to follow Scotland’s lead.

Iowa Medicaid’s per-member cost increases nearly triple since privatization 
[Des Moines Register, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18] 
“Since fiscal 2017, the first full year of privatization, the per-member cost of Iowa’s Medicaid program has risen an average of 4.4 percent per year, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. In the previous six years, the per-member cost rose an average of 1.5 percent per year, the agency said….. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in an interview Wednesday she remains confident in the promise of private Medicaid management, despite the new cost numbers. Reynolds said Department of Human Services administrators have assured her part of the explanation for the recent spike in per-member Medicaid costs was bills incurred in past years were being paid in the current budget year.”

An “Unprecedented Amount of Fraud:” A Decade after Great Recession, We are still cleaning up Lehman mortgage mess. 
by Aldo Svaldi, September 15, 2018 [Denver Post, via The Big Picture 9-23-18]
...Most people have moved on since what became known as the Great Recession, but not Denver attorney Chris Carrington. 
Carrington has spent much of his career since 2009 tracking down and deposing hundreds of borrowers who submitted falsified loan applications. More recently, he has been hunting down the mortgage brokers and originators behind those bogus loan applications. 
A dry erase board in Carrington’s office shows the web of subterfuge and complex entities some loan brokers have used to hide their tracks. “What I kept seeing over and over again is how greed manifests itself,” he said. “There was an unprecedented amount of fraud.” ....“It was crime on a massive scale, but nobody viewed it that way,” he said.
Carrington, who never worked for Lehman but rather the bankruptcy estate, had the task of getting borrowers to admit in depositions that the information on their loan applications wasn’t true.

After witnessing first hand what caused the thousands of stress fractures that sent Lehman tumbling down a decade ago, Carrington worries it is only a matter of time before it happens all over again. “Hardly anyone got prosecuted, and that suggests that there’s little risk in folks running these same plays,” he said.
 Mortgage Bonds Issued by Banks & Private Institutions
[Source: Curbed, via The Big Picture 9-22-18]

by Barry Ritholtz, September 25, 2018 [The Big Picture 9-23-18]
Last week, I was at an ETF conference in Reykjavík. As I was flying there, it dawned on me I know practically nothing of Iceland. What little understanding I had, had come second-hand, via Michael Lewis’ epic tale of Iceland’s financial collapse, “Wall Street on the Tundra.” His 10,000-word Vanity Fair missive is practically a Norse Saga of its own.
Lewis explores the Icelandic bubble in delicious detail. The short version is that the Icelandic banks scaled up their debts from a mere few billion dollars to over $140 billion, without growing the asset base at the same time. To quote Lewis quoting an economist, it was “the most rapid expansion of a banking system in the history of mankind.” 
....Unlike here in the states or in Europe, the Icelanders told the bankers to piss off. Instead of bailing them out, they were sent into bankruptcy. The results were a fast and sharp decline, followed by a rapid, post-crisis economic recovery — faster and stronger than any other country in the world. 
As I flew home, I put a few thoughts down about the lessons we should learn from Iceland.
[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 9-25-18] 
“Slightly more American adults would now feel “proud” to work for the Wall Street giant, as opposed to “embarrassed,” according to new data from YouGov’s Plan & Track, a research firm tracking brand awareness and perception… ‘We’re working hard to be more transparent and we are pleased that some of the work is gaining traction,’ a Goldman spokesman said.” 

How Dirty Money Disappears Into the Black Hole of Cryptocurrency
[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 9-28-18] 
A North Korean agent, a stolen-credit-card peddler and the mastermind of an $80 million Ponzi scheme had a common problem. They needed to launder their dirty money. They found a common solution in ShapeShift AG, an online exchange backed by established American venture-capital firms that lets people anonymously trade bitcoin, which police can track, for other digital currencies that can’t be followed…. The company’s financial backers include Pantera Capital and FundersClub in California and Access Venture Partners in Colorado. Partners with Pantera and Access said their legal reviews satisfied them that ShapeShift is operating within the law. FundersClub and its partners didn’t respond to messages seeking comment…. A Wall Street Journal investigation identified nearly $90 million in suspected criminal proceeds that flowed through such intermediaries over two years.

How Puerto Rico Became the Newest Tax Haven for the Super Rich 
[GQ, via The Big Picture 9-22-18]

CEO-to-worker compensation ratio
[Source: How Much, via The Big Picture 9-28-18]

Is there any correlation between the phenomena portrayed above, and that portrayed below?

One Third of Americans Have $0 Saved for Retirement
by Barry Ritholtz, September 27, 2018 [The Big Picture]
Very scary: nearly a full third of Americans aged 56 to 64 have zero savings for retirement. Anyone who wants to cut or "reign in" Social Security is just evil.

Labour Would Force U.K. Firms to Hand 10% of Equity to Staff
By Thomas Penny, September 23, 2018 [The Guardian, via ZeroHedge]
U.K.-based companies with more than 250 employees would be forced to give 10 percent of their equity to staff if Labour wins the next election.
John McDonnell, the man who would set economic policy should the U.K.’s main opposition party come to power, will make the pledge in a speech on Monday.
The shares would be handed over at a rate of one percent a year and held in Inclusive Ownership Funds that would pay annual dividends to a maximum of 500 pounds ($653) per employee.

Wealth Of Top 1% Surpasses $100 Trillion: More Than Global GDP And All Central Bank Balance Sheets
[ZeroHedge, September 25, 2018]

A Publicly Owned Bank for LA?
by Glenn Daigon, September 26, 2018 [Black Agenda Report]
A city-owned bank could extend the credit lines of community banks and credit unions to offer loans to low-income residents and help bankroll affordable housing.  
“LA public bank advocates estimate Los Angeles pays $3.14 billion in debt service, the cost to borrow money, from Wall Street.” 
If Los Angeles were to establish a public bank — an issue its residents will vote on in the fall — one of two things could happen. 
In the opinion of plan proponents, a public bank would free the city from predatory Wall Street institutions and save taxpayers a lot of money. That money could then be used to fund needed projects, such as affordable housing, infrastructure, renewable energy, and small-business expansion. 
Opponents of the proposal, on the other hand, predict that such a bank would be a disaster. Untethered from market forces, the “public” bank might make loans to the politically connected without regard to profitable returns. Critics argue it would be so inefficient and poorly managed that city taxpayers would eventually be forced to bail it out. 
“It could jumpstart other efforts by cities and states that are considering setting up their own public banks.”
[Urban Affairs Review, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18] 
“A growing body of evidence indicates that local police departments are being used to provide revenue for municipalities by imposing and collecting fees, fines, and asset forfeitures. We examine whether revenue collection activities compromise the criminal investigation functions of local police departments. We find that police departments in cities that collect a greater share of their revenue from fees solve violent and property crimes at significantly lower rates.”

World Poverty Falls Below 750 Million, Report Says
[The Big Picture]
Neoliberal economists are fond of arguing that their emphasis on market reforms has resulted in a large reduction of poverty in the world, as reported by the World Bank. But look carefully at this graph.
What I see is a large reduction in poverty in East Asia, which I think means China. Poverty in South Asia, probably meaning mostly India, has fallen but not nearly as dramatically as in China. Poverty in Africa appears to be as large a problem as ever, and South America looks to have budged just a bit. The obvious conclusion: the Chinese Communist Party has the world's most effective program for reducing poverty. Western neoliberal economists, not so much.

Unions Did Great Things for the American Working Class 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 9-25-18]

It's about a half century too late for the various mouthpieces of finance to finally realize that Justice Louis Brandeis was basically correct in arguing that organized labor was a very much needed counterbalance to the concentrated economic power of corporations. But, progress is progress, I guess. 

Amazon’s Aggressive Anti-Union Tactics Revealed in Leaked 45-Minute Video
[Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 9-27-18]

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 9-28-18]  
“A Business Insider analysis showed that median wages for truck drivers have decreased 21% on average since 1980. In some areas, they’ve declined as much as 50%… Trucking is obviously resistant to outsourcing, and self-driving technology has yet to replace any drivers. Still, its pay, prestige, and working conditions have tumbled over the past several decades…. So, why are America’s 1.8 million truck drivers faring worse today than they did in the 1970s? The academics who study trucking point to one law: The Motor Carrier Act of 1980…. ‘This was a conscious decision to make the trucking industry a dog-eat-dog industry,’ Larry Mishel, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, told Business Insider. ‘The prices of trucking got cheaper, but the ability to make a living evaporated.’… Economists say that wage decline can be traced back to the ease with which a company could enter the trucking industry.”
I think it should not be forgotten that deregulation of trucking, railroads, and airlines was the first phase of deregulation, and was begun in the 1970s, led by two liberal Democratic leaders, Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.

Accounting for Incorporation: Part I
[Law and Political Economy, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]
In the early days of the American Republic: “Corporate privilege represented a profound departure from these longstanding background principles of moral and legal responsibility – a departure that only sovereigns or near-sovereigns like US states could authorize, and only for reasons of extraordinary necessity. Hence the familiar ring, until relatively recently, of phrases like ‘the [state-conferred] corporate franchise,’ and adages like that pursuant to which corporations are observed to be ‘creatures of the state.’ The corporate privileges were also, again, meant solely to encourage the owners of scarce capital to organize and finance projects for the public good, during a time when capital was indeed scarce and reliable public revenue correspondingly hard to come by. For this very reason, the privileges were operative only insofar as the incorporated entity was actually pursuing such projects. They were, in other words, strictly conditional. And both the state’s Secretary of State and committees of interested citizens had to agree that the conditions were likely to be met before any firm’s corporate charter would be conferred or renewed.”

Citizens United, Thoroughly Debunked: Corporations are NOT “Associations of Citizens”
reported by Peter Dorman, September 26, 2018 []
by Jonathan Macey and Leo Strine,
Citizens United As Bad Corporate Law, University of Pennsylvania, Institute  for Law and Economics Research Paper No. 18-28; Harvard Law School, John M. Olin Institute for Law, Economics, and Business Discussion Paper No. 972; Yale Law and Economics Research Paper No. 598
In this Article we show that Citizens United v. FEC, arguably the most important First Amendment case of the new millennium, is predicated on a fundamental misconception about the nature of the corporation. Specifically, Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited the government from restricting independent expenditures for corporate communications, and held that corporations enjoy the same free speech rights to engage in political spending as human citizens, is grounded on the erroneous theory that corporations are “associations of citizens” rather than what they actually are: independent legal entities distinct from those who own their stock…..[C]orporations do not have owners, they have investors who have contract-based, financial interests in the firms and limited management rights....
In Citizens United, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority opines that Congress may not take into account the distinctions between corporations and human beings in regulating political speech, and that corporations must be permitted the same freedom to speak as human beings. In dissent, Justice Stevens fails directly to challenge Justice Kennedy’s existential conception of the corporation notwithstanding the fact that that it constitutes the core of the majority opinion. This Article fills that void. We reject the Citizens United majority’s conception of the corporation as an “associations of citizens” and reaffirm its status as an artificial, metaphysical, and legal construct that exists separate and apart from its investors. The Citizens United view of the corporation as an association of individuals is inconsistent with the established conception of the corporation as a juridical entity with limited liability.

Majority of 2016 nonvoters wouldn’t vote again in hypothetical rematch
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]
“The survey, conducted by Hill.TV and the HarrisX polling company found that 53 percent of those who did not vote said they would not vote again in a hypothetical rematch…. Eighty-three percent of voters said they were “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to vote in the midterms, according to an April Suffolk University/USA Today poll.”
The Democratic Party leadership should stop fighting the populist insurgency from the left, and get serious about designing an alternative to the neoliberal economics of unfettered markets, financialization, unchecked oligopolies and monopolies, and free trade.

Judge: Proof of Kingston coal ash workers exposure to toxins ‘legion,’ enough for trial
[Knox News, via Naked Capitalism 9-28-18] 
“A federal judge says hundreds of blue-collar laborers who cleaned up the nation’s largest environmental disaster have amassed enough evidence to allow an East Tennessee jury to decide if the coal ash in which they toiled unprotected for years is killing them….. More than 30 workers are dead, and more than 200 are dying since the spill. The workers and their survivors say supervisors of the California government contractor TVA put in charge of the clean-up of the 5 million cubic yards of coal ash – loaded with toxins including arsenic and radium – lied to them, denied them protective gear and tampered, influenced and destroyed test results.”
One step forward, two steps back:

U.S. appeals court tightens the arbitration screw in Uber case
[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 9-25-18]
“Uber Technologies Inc won a legal victory on Tuesday as a federal appeals court said drivers seeking to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors must arbitrate their claims individually, and not pursue class-action lawsuits…. Uber’s defense got a boost after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Epic Systems Corp v Lewis, ruled 5-4 in May that companies could compel workers to waive their right to class actions and instead pursue arbitration for various workplace disputes. In Tuesday’s decision, Circuit Judge Richard Clifton said arbitration was necessary in light of the Epic ruling, as well a 9th Circuit ruling from 2016 in another case against Uber.”
Arbitration in employment and consumer contracts must be made illegal in order to restore equality before the law. The evidence is overwhelming that arbitrators decide in favor of corporations by extremely lopsided margins.

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 9-24-18]
A neat interactive map that makes the enormous scale of the country clear.
Even in Washington, D.C., nearly half of friendship links extend to people who live within 100 miles. Nationwide, in the average county, 63 percent of friendship links are that close, probably reflecting that many people on Facebook know one another through real-world sites like grade schools, colleges and offices. Other research shows that these sites tend to be close to home: The typical American lives just 18 miles from his or her mother. The typical student enrolls in college less than 15 miles from home.
There are a few counties that stand out for their massive number of links to other counties. One is in North Carolina:
Other county outliers in the data can be explained by distinct roles some communities serve: Onslow County, N.C., which is connected to much of the country, is home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

Life expectancy progress in UK ‘stops for first time'
[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 9-26-18].
“Life expectancy in the UK has stopped improving for the first time since 1982, when figures began. Women’s life expectancy from birth remains 82.9 years and for men it is 79.2, the figures from the Office for National Statistics, for 2015-17, show. In some parts of the UK, life expectancy has even decreased.”

President-Elect of Mexico’s Bombshell: Economy in “Situation of Bankruptcy”
[Wolf Richter. EM, via Naked Capitalism 9-26-18]
“Ha, imagine the hue and cry that would have a arisen had a certain recent US president insisted on similar total-compensation restrictions on execs at bailed-out US banks. (To say nothing of actually prosecuting the leaders of the TBTF fraud cartels.)”

American nuns win victory holding Smith & Wesson accountable
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 9-26-18]

Time to Wake Up: the Neoliberal Order is Dying
by Jonathan Cook [Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 9-26-18]
...power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are of course deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.... 
The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.
The rise of renewables marks a complete shift in the way the world uses energy, writes Liam Denning. Citing a blog post by Carbury Consulting's Harry Benham, Denning explains how the production of thermal energy results in wasteful generation -- it takes 4 gallons of gasoline to produce one useful gallon -- and how the rise of wind and solar can eliminate that waste.

[CleanTechnica (9/26) , via American Wind Energy Association 9-28-18]
The Connecticut Green Bank seeks investment opportunities with clean energy projects that use proven technology, reliable developers and a demonstrated use case, says Chief Investment Officer and Executive Vice President Bert Hunter. He notes the firm is open to offshore wind projects.

EIA maps show the evolution of the US energy mix
[Ars Technica (9/23), via American Wind Energy Association 9-24-18] 
Four new maps out from the Energy Information Agency detail the evolution of energy production in the US from 2007 to 2017. One map tracking renewables shows wind was the dominant renewable energy source in seven states in 2007 and in 16 states by 2017.

Cleveland sets 100% by 2050 renewables, clean energy goal
lNorth American Windpower online (9/21), InsideClimate News (9/22), via American Wind Energy Association 9-24-18]
Cleveland agreed last week to source 100% of its electricity needs from clean and renewable energy sources by 2050. "Cleveland should lead the state and the Midwest in accelerating a just and equitable transition," said Jocelyn Travis of the Sierra Club's Cleveland Ready for 100 campaign.

MHI Vestas introduces 10-MW offshore wind turbine
[Renewables Now (Bulgaria) (tiered subscription model) (9/25), via American Wind Energy Association 9-24-18]
MHI Vestas Offshore Wind has introduced a 10-megawatt offshore wind turbine and expects to begin delivering it in 2021. The model is part of MHI Vestas' V164 platform and features a stronger gearbox and some other changes from the 8-MW version.

China exploring ways to help wind, solar reach grid parity
[CleanTechnica (9/21), via American Wind Energy Association 9-24-18] 
China's National Energy Administration released draft guidelines Sept. 13 outlining plans to help wind and solar projects reach "grid price parity" with coal and other energy sources. The plan includes new government support mechanisms for renewables in less-competitive regions.

Patent Filing May Reveal Design of Bell eVTOL Air Taxi
by Graham Warwick, Augist 23, 2018 [Aviation Week and Space Technology]
A U.S. patent application filed on Jan. 8 may provide clues to Bell’s design for an electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing air taxi. Powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system developed by Safran, a demonstrator is expected to fly in 2020.

U.S. Hypersonics Face Uphill Struggle To Match China, Russia
by Guy Norris, September 21, 2018 [Aerospace Daily and Defense Report]
A staunch advocate of hypersonics, [Michael Griffin,  new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering] says the issues go well beyond the traditional technical challenges of aerodynamics and propulsion normally associated with high-speed flight. His broad line-up ranges from concerns over the robustness of the supply chain for key technologies like thermal protection systems (TPS) to the poor state of the underfunded U.S. national test infrastructure.... 
Although the U.S. pioneered TPS developments for re-entry vehicles and the space program, the challenges of boost-glide and air-breathing hypersonic vehicle thermal protection are even greater because they must sustain thermal peak loads that are higher and longer than either re-entering spacecraft or ICBMs. “Our industrial base for TPS technologies and the development of new such systems has waned,” Griffin says . “We have national labs capable of producing one-offs, but our industrial base capable of producing this sort of thing for a living I’m told is two small companies.”

Japanese Rovers Touch Down on Asteroid Ryugu
by Mark Carreau, September 24, 2018 [Aerospace Daily and Defense Report]
Two Japanese mini-rovers touched down on the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu early Sept. 22 and are in motion and transmitting imagery.
High-speed rail arrives in Hong Kong
[Railway Age,  September 25, 2018]
Hong Kong was finally connected to China’s 27,000km high-speed network on September 23, when around 500 passengers boarded the 07.00 MTR Vibrant Express from West Kowloon to Shenzhen North.

Saudi Arabia inaugurates Haramain high-speed line
[Railway Age,  September 26, 2018]
The 453km line connects the holy cities of Mecca and Medina via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City, with a short branch serving King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, the principal point of entry for Hajj pilgrims

Delta’s fully biometric terminal is the first in the US
by Rachel England, September 27, 2018 [engadget, via Naked Capitalism 9-28-18]
Delta Air Lines is launching what it calls the first "biometric terminal" in the US. The airline will use facial recognition at check-in, security and boarding inside the international terminal at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson -- similar to systems already in place in Dubai and Australia, but more comprehensive than the biometric checks already in use at other airports around the US.

Passengers that want to use facial recognition can approach a kiosk in the lobby and click 'Look', or approach a camera at the ticket counter, TSA checkpoint or when boarding. Once a green check mark flashes on the screen, they can proceed. Delta -- which plans to introduce fingerprint scanning to fold, too -- says passengers can use this system instead of the passports to get through these checkpoints, but you'll still need your passport for use in other non-biometric-equipped airports (although maybe one day we'll do away with passports altogether). 
Privacy advocates are concerned about the security risks present in facial scans, especially as it's an opt-out process. Jennifer Lynch from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, says she sees it as a threat to "our constitutional 'right to travel' and right to anonymous association," and says the biggest risk is a data breach.

Uninformed Consent: Companies want access to more and more of your personal data — from where you are to what’s in your DNA. Can they unlock its value without triggering a privacy backlash? [Harvard Business Review, via The Big Picture 9-22-18]
In 2012, Puerto Rico had passed two laws intended to make the island a “global investment destination.” Act 20 allows corporations that export services from the island to pay only 4 percent tax. Act 22 goes much further: It makes Puerto Rico the only place on U.S. soil where personal income from capital gains, interest, and dividends are untaxed.

Australian Politics 2018-09-30 15:47:00


Australian Politicians again show “Real Genius”

Viv Forbes

Back in the chaotic dying days of the Whitlam-Cairns-Connor government, Canberra was buzzing with Rex Connor’s grand plans for nationalisation of the mining industry, a national energy grid and gas pipelines linking the NW Shelf to the capital cities, all to be funded by massive foreign loans arranged by a mysterious Pakistani named Khemlani. Malcolm Frazer staged a parliamentary revolt. The economy slumped.

A British observer at that time was asked who was the greater Prime Minister - Harold Wilson or Gough Whitlam. He replied:

“Any fool can bugger up Britain but it takes real genius to bugger up Australia.”

Australian politicians are again showing real genius.

Now, we have incredible tri-partisan plans to cover the continent with a spider-web of transmission lines connecting wind/solar “farms” sending piddling amounts of intermittent power to distant consumers and to expensive battery and hydro backups - all funded by electricity consumers, tax-assisted speculators and foreign debt.

We are the world’s biggest coal exporter but have not built a big coal-fired power station for 11 years. We have massive deposits of uranium but 100% of this energy is either exported, or sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent, or blocked by the Green-anti’s.

Australia suffers recurrent droughts but has not built a major water supply dam for about 40 years, and the average age of our hydro-electric plants is 48 years. And when the floods do come, desperate farmers watch as years of rain water rush past to irrigate distant oceans.

Once, Australia was a world leader in exploration and drilling – it is now a world leader in legalism, red tape and environmental obstructionism.

Once, Canberra and the states encouraged oil and gas exploration with geological mapping and research - now they restrict land and sea access and limit exports.

Once, Australia was a world leader in refining metals and petroleum - now our expensive unreliable electricity and green tape are driving these industries and their jobs overseas.

Once, Australia’s CSIRO was respected for research that supported industry and for doing useful things like controlling rabbits and prickly pear and developing better crops and pastures. Now CSIRO panders to global warming hysteria and promotes the fairy story that carbon taxes and emissions targets can change the world’s climate.

Once, young Australians excelled in maths, science and engineering. Now, they are brain-washed in gender studies, green energy non-science and environmental activism.

Once, Australians were proud of our history, our ancestors and our achievements - now we are supposed to feel guilty and apologise.

Once, Australia had a big coastal fleet carrying passengers and goods and catching fish. Now our roads are clogged with cars and freight and we import seafood.

Once, the opening of a railway or the discovery of oil, coal, nickel or uranium made headlines. Today’s Aussies harass explorers and developers, and queue at the release of the latest IPad.

As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.


Why I refused to judge the Horne prize over a restrictive rule change

David Marr

I woke up on Saturday morning to strange news in the Australian. The rules of the Horne prize – named after Donald and run by the Saturday Paper – had been changed. I’ve judged the prize a couple of times and was due to again in 2018. But not after what I saw on Saturday.

It’s a good prize: $15,000 for a 3,000-word essay on who we are and how we live in this country. It’s the brainchild of the Saturday Paper’s whizz kid editor, Erik Jensen, and it’s been doing its job well: bringing stories to light, honouring old hands in the writing trade and turning up new talent.

But, without warning the judges, Jensen decided to radically narrow the rules and issued a list of what the Horne prize was “not seeking or accepting” this year: “Essays by non-Indigenous writers about the experiences of First Nations Australians. Essays about the LGBTQI community written by people without direct experience of this community. Any other writing that purports to represent the experiences of those in any minority community of which the writer is not a member.”

I messaged Jensen at once: “I’ve been a big critic of such restrictions. Men can write about women, gays about straights, blacks about whites. You judge, as always, by quality. That’s likely to be higher when there’s direct experience. But you can’t disqualify for lack of it. And if we’re not going to accept whites writing about Indigenous experience, how can we have whites judging Indigenous writing?”

I could have made that list a lot longer: how could I write about political parties, the Catholic church, criminal syndicates or the high court? I’ve been writing about them for decades but never been a member of any of them.

We spoke. I made it clear I wouldn’t be a judge on those terms.

On Saturday Jensen emailed all the judges – me, the novelist Anna Funder, the Indigenous academic Marcia Langton and a representative of the sponsor Aesop – apologising for springing this on us and explaining: “The guidelines attempted to reduce the number of essays we received that offered chauvinistic or condescending accounts of particular groups of Australians, especially First Australians.”

I’ve judged a few prizes in my time. Someone has to do a first triage. You can’t stop writers offering rubbish. Culling is a chore that has to be done.

Langton told me: “I don’t think you should completely rubbish Erik’s attempt to get rid of the rubbish.” She views the new guidelines as: “Probably a mistake because it’s not the done thing. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for what he’s trying to achieve but it crosses the line on censorship and free speech.”

Funder has also declined to judge the prize under the new guidelines which, she told the Australian, would disqualify a lot of her own work: “I can’t really be judging a prize where my qualifications for doing so are ruled out of bounds.”

The new rules are being ditched. Jensen is working on a plan to extend entries for another month and award the $15,000 as it has been in the past: for best writing.


Tear down ABC’s silos of groupthink

Whoever replaces Michelle Guthrie as ABC managing director and editor-in-chief should be capable of acting, and should be willing to act, in both roles. Without this, the ABC will remain — as it has been for decades — an organisation essentially run by staff collectives.

The essential problem with the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster is that nobody runs it, unlike successful commercial media companies. One-time ABC chairman James Spigelman, a consistent defender of the ABC, acknowledged this reality when interviewed by Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National’s RN Breakfast last Wednesday.

Spigelman told Kelly: “The trouble with the ABC is about a quarter of the staff think that they can run the show better than anyone. It’s a very special organisation, the ABC. And it’s got a lot of different units within it — some would say silos — and they look after their own sphere, and it’s very hard to make significant changes.”

Some say silos, others say staff collectives, others still say soviets. But it’s the same problem. The various parts of the ABC run themselves; they decide what programs to make, which staff to hire and so on. And the managing director fails to resolve this by acting as an editor-in-chief, which they are entitled and paid to do.

Shortly after Mark Scott was appointed managing director and editor-in-chief in May 2006, he invited himself to address the Sydney Institute. The offer was warmly accepted, especially since this was to be his first major public speech in this role. During his talk on October 16, 2006, Scott acknowledged that “some of the ABC’s harshest public critics … love the ABC”. However, he conceded that the critics had “a sense that the organisation has issues with balance and fairness, particularly through its news and current affairs content”.

Rather than condemn the critics, Scott recognised that the ABC had been “too defensive in the face of such criticism” and he declared that it needed “to address the criticism carefully and comprehensively”. He made clear that he would act in his dual roles as managing director and editor-in-chief. This proved to be a broken promise. Within a short time, Scott dropped the commitment to act as editor-in-chief. During his decade at the ABC, Scott gave numerous interviews to his employees where he dismissed the ABC’s considered critics and maintained that there was no lack of political balance at the organisation.

When Scott left the ABC in April 2016, it was a conservative-free zone. The ABC did not have one conservative presenter, producer or editor for any of its prominent television, radio or online outlets. This is what Guthrie inherited when she became managing director, and this remained the situation when she was dismissed on Monday.

The tendency of the ABC to be defensive — which Scott conceded in 2006 — remains extant today. In recent times leading ABC presenters such as Julia Baird, Ellen Fanning, Richard Glover and Leigh Sales have denied the ABC is a conservative-free zone. But they have not been able to name one conservative in any prominent news and current affairs role.

Former Fairfax Media journalist and editor Tom Burton is not a conservative. Writing in public sector news website The Mandarin on Tuesday, he recounted how former ABC managing directors Geoffrey Whitehead and Jonathan Shier had been “mercilessly torn down” (in 1986 and 2001 respectively) “with the powerful Newscaff (news and current affairs) division of the ABC leading the charge”.

Burton added that, to this day, it was this “journo group that drives much of the culture of the national media group that is the ABC”. In other words, journalists — not management — run the ABC. And the like-minded appoint similar like-minded to key news and current affairs positions.

As Burton puts it, “previous ABC MD and former Fairfax editor Mark Scott came from this (journo) world and understood its brother and sisterhood”. Which helps explain why Scott soon dropped his intention to act as ABC editor-in-chief in addition to his role as managing director. It was all too hard.

Guthrie did not have the background to act as editor-in-chief. Moreover, as with Shier, she came to the job after many years working outside Australia. In short, Guthrie did not know — or even know of — most of the journo groups that set the organisation’s culture.

Spigelman was appointed by the Gillard Labor government as ABC chairman following his disappointment at not being made High Court chief justice. He was not a very active chairman.

Justin Milne gave his first interview as ABC chairman to The Australian’s Darren Davidson in March last year. Milne is from that subset of the business community that does not exhibit much political or historical knowledge. Milne told Davidson: “I don’t come to the job thinking I need to fix the perceived bias in the ABC because I don’t know that there really is bias.”

Milne ran the familiar Friends of the ABC line that the public broadcaster was criticised by both Labor and Coalition governments. He had in mind the criticism of the ABC by Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating along with Coalition prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott. What Milne overlooked was that all four had a similar complaint: namely they were criticised by the ABC from the Left.

For a while Malcolm Turnbull received favourable coverage by the ABC. However, after the 2016 election he became increasingly critical of the errors and unprofessionalism of some ABC presenters, producers and editors. Initially his attitude was that journalists as a group were on the Left and the public broadcaster reflected this reality. But his criticism of the ABC increased the longer he remained in office.

Guthrie essentially was appointed by Spigelman and Milne was appointed by Turnbull. Now both positions are vacant. This provides a rare opportunity for the board, under its new chairman, to appoint a managing director who has the knowledge and the courage to act as editor-in-chief and knock down the journo silos in the taxpayer-funded conservative-free-zone.


Another angry and ungracious Leftist

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has found herself in a bitter online feud with a Labor MP after sending the woman a handwritten letter as a kind gesture. 

Ms Berejiklian sent the letter to Jenny Aitchison, the member for Maitland, after learning the mother-of-two had both of her breasts removed and reconstructed in July after learning she had a cancer gene. 'I was so sorry to learn of your serious health issue…I hope you are recovering well and our thoughts are with you and your family during this time,' the letter read.

But Ms Aitchison took issue with the message, firing back a scathing letter of her own critiquing the government's approach to health and use of state funds.

Her lengthy response was then uploaded in full on Facebook, accusing Ms Berejiklian of 'wasting billions of dollars on stadiums'.

In her response, Ms Aitchison thanked Ms Berejiklian for her letter but accused Ms Berejiklian of prioritising stadiums over women's health.

'‪I want @GladysB to know first hand what it's like to be a woman in regional NSW struggling with cancer or other 'serious health issues'...Fix our health system...stop wasting billions of dollars on stadiums!' she wrote in a Facebook post.

'When I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene, I had a risk reducing bilateral saplingo oopherectomy and hysterectomy to reduce my breast cancer risk by half and to reduce ovarian cancer risk by 97%,' the letter read. 'Free MRIs once a year, interspersed with annual mammograms and ultrasounds (or when a lump seem to show) delayed my breast cancer.'

She was also unable to take the preventable medication due to menopause.

'I couldn't find a surgeon in the Hunter who could do my surgery and had to wait six months for a private specialist in Sydney,' the Member for Maitland wrote.

'After surgery I had complications where I spent 52 hours in St Vincent's Public Hospital emergency department without being fed for 18 hours. The staff were amazing and overworked but there were no beds in either private or public wards.'

She then went on to explain why she was detailing all this information to the Premier, stressing she knew 'first hand what it's like to be a woman in regional New South Wales struggling with cancer and other 'serious health issues'.'

'I didn't want ask for or want special treatment because I'm a member of Parliament. 'I want you to fix our health system. Fund more screening for all women and education campaigns, and stop wasting billions of dollars on stadiums!'


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Calories in Popular Alcohol-Containing Beverages

What is a standard drink in the U.S.? Source: CDC -

Calories are probably the last thing on your mind when you're drinking alcohol-containing beverages like beer, wine, distilled spirits or cocktails, but these kinds of drinks are far from being calorie-free.

The dietary information that you can typically get for these products will often list the number of calories per serving, but that serving size is often defined by a "standard drink", which in the United States, is 0.6 fluid ounces (14 grams) of "pure" alcohol, which doesn't necessarily match up with what a customary serving size may be.

For example, a customary size for a serving of beer is a pint (16 fluid ounces), where the standard size for a serving of beer is 12 fluid ounces. In this case, the standard size for beer often matches up with the size of containers in which beer can be purchased for home consumption, but will not if you order a beer at a public venue, such as a bar or tavern, where pints are commonly served, or at a stadium or ballpark, where serving sizes of up to 20-21 fluid ounces may be offered.

Similar issues arise for other types of alcohol-containing beverages, which is why we've put together the following dynamic table, which presents both the number of calories for a variety of "standard" alcohol-based drinks and also the number of calories in each per fluid ounce, which you can sort from either high-to-low or from low-to-high values by clicking on the column headings. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to access a working version of the dynamic table.

Calorie Content of Popular Alcohol-Containing Beverages
BeverageTypical Calories per ServingTypical Serving Size (ounces)Average Calories per Ounce
Beer - Light103128.6
Beer - Regular1531212.8
Cocktails - Bourbon and Water129621.6
Cocktails - Cosmopolitan1462.7553.1
Cocktails - Daquiri112256.0
Cocktails - Gin and Tonic129621.6
Cocktails - Manhattan1643.546.9
Cocktails - Margarita168442.0
Cocktails - Martini (extra dry)1392.2561.8
Cocktails - Martini (traditional)1242.2555.1
Cocktails - Mojito143623.8
Cocktails - Piña Colada490954.4
Cocktails - Screwdriver199728.5
Cocktails - Whiskey Sour1603.545.7
Cocktails - Vodka and Tonic129621.6
Distilled Spirits - Brandy, Cognac981.565.3
Distilled Spirits - Gin, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila971.564.7
Distilled Spirits - Liqueurs1651.5110.0
Wine - Champagne84421.0
Wine - Port90245.0
Wine - Red125525.0
Wine - Sherry75237.5
Wine - Sweet1653.547.1
Wine - Vermouth (Dry)105335.0
Wine - Vermouth (Sweet)140346.7
Wine - White121524.2

If you'd like to estimate the calories in a non-standard size alcohol-containing beverage, we could build a tool for you to do that math (and someday we might get around to taking on that project), but the U.S. government already has one. If you would like to see your tax dollars at work, go check it out!

Australian Politics 2018-09-27 16:04:00


A small hiatus

I last went on vacation in the year 2004 so I have begun to feel that I should get out more.  So I have decided to take two or three short breaks in the months ahead.  I will therefore be getting on a train later today for a 7 hour trip to see my gorgeous sister.  To have a great sister but rarely see her is crazy.  And the trip will be on a very modern fast train so the travel alone should be interesting.  I will be away for only a few days and will be unlikely to do any blogging while I am away.  I will however be taking a computer with me so if there is a big drama happening I might put up something.


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is feeling cynical about the upheavals at the ABC

Conservative party bludgeoned by Leftist government for allowing anti-Muslim speech

The lies and misrepresentations of the Leftist press are incredible.  The senator sad that the "final solution" to Muslim problems was democracy, not gas ovens.  It was a pro-democracy speech, not a pro-Nazi speech

Queensland's corruption watchdog has ruled Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and three opposition MPs have no case to answer over the removal of resources from Katter's Australia Party.

Ms Palaszczuk stripped the party of extra parliamentary staff after state KAP MPs refused to denounce federal Senator Fraser Anning for using the Nazi-associated phrase "final solution" during his first parliamentary speech.

In response, KAP Qld leader Robbie Katter referred the premier to the Crime and Corruption Commission claiming she had broken the law by using the extra resources as leverage in urging the KAP to renounce the senator's speech.

He also referred Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington, Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander and LNP member for Warrego Ann Leahy after they called for the premier to withdraw the funding.

The CCC found the LNP MPs had no case to answer, and said the premier may have technically breached the law by threatening to remove the extra funding if the KAP MPs didn't renounce the speech.

"The premier's answer allegedly contained an implied threat to withdraw KAP staffing resources with the intent to influence KAP parliamentary members in their vote," the watchdog said in a statement.

However it also found the relevant section of the criminal code wasn't meant to apply to statements made in parliament.

"The CCC acknowledges that the government of the day has authority to determine appropriate resourcing for ministerial and other office holders."

"The CCC is of the view that parliament is the appropriate entity to decide the propriety of its own proceedings"

The anti-corruption body recommended setting up an independent body to decide resource allocation to parties.

The resources were initially allocated to the KAP during the last term of government when Labor relied on its two votes in the minority government at the time.


Victoria’s nonsensical renewable energy experiment

One of the benefits of a federation is that each state can learn from the mistakes of others. When it comes to electricity, the disastrous experiment of South Australia, with its uncontrolled promotion of renewable energy, should be a salutary lesson for all the others.

South Australia has close to the highest electricity prices in the world and a system that is so fragile it is constantly being propped up — think coal-fired electricity from Victoria and specifically purchased diesel generators. It’s an example of what not to do. But this is not how the Victorian government sees the world as it embarks on an even riskier scheme of promoting subsidised renewable ­energy in that state. Virtue-signalling to attract wavering, inner-city voters trumps concern for keeping a lid on electricity prices and maintaining the stability of the grid.

Deeply unimpressive Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has announced the results of a reverse auction for ­investments in large-scale renewable energy. The government’s legislated target is for at least 40 per cent of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2025. The auctions aimed to ­deliver 650 megawatts (nameplate cap­acity) of new projects. In the end, projects for 928MWs were accept­ed.

But let’s be clear: reverse auc­tions involve huge subsidies to the promoters of these projects, guaranteeing cashflow at high megawatt per hour prices. By contrast, the (federal) renewable ­energy target is a less secure source of subsidy, particularly as total investment is nearing the 2020 final target and the value of the underlying certificates, the large-scale generation certificates, will fall sharply in the early 2020s.

Now, the renewable energy sector will claim wind and solar deliver cheaper electricity than new fossil fuel power plants, although this claim doesn’t take into account the associated costs of firming intermittent renewable energy. This claim is worth interrogating because, notwith­stand­ing a fall in the cost of the solar panels, there is not much in the physical construction of these projects that supports the assertion.

The real answer lies in the subsidised cost of capital that renewable energy projects underwritten by governments are able to secure. In effect, these projects can access debt finance at the long-run government bond rate. (Note that Victoria has a AAA credit rating.) Were new coal-fired plants able to access debt at this concessional rate, their cost per megawatt hour on a firmed basis would be much lower again. But because these plants need to accept direct merchant risk, their cost of capital could easily be 300 basis points above the government bond rate, assuming they can even secure debt finance in this country.

The fundamental problem of the renewable energy policy in Victoria is the refusal to learn from the problems of the South Australian experiment. These include:

The failure to impose any firming obligations on the renewable energy projects to ensure 24/7 supply of electricity.

The failure to take into ­account the extra expenses associated with investment in transmission and distribution needed to connect these often far-flung projects to the grid.

The failure to take into ­account the destruction of the economics of existing generators — in Victoria’s case, the brown coal-fired generators in the Latrobe Valley — and the effects of the early retirement of these assets.

If any Victorian voter is foolish enough to think state taxpayers or electricity consumers are getting a good deal out of these reverse auctions, they need to think again. While these costs are not directly sheeted home to the renewable energy providers — they should be — they are real and will cause economic and social damage down the track.

Consider the firming costs that are necessarily part and parcel of renewable energy. Wind farms produce at most 30 per cent of their capacity, mainly in spring and autumn. Solar farms produce slightly less than 20 per cent, with peak output at 1pm — a time of relatively low demand.

When it comes to firming and using the figures from the current Snowy operation, the cost for solar is about $40 per megawatt hour. In the case of wind, however, a firming cost cannot even be nominated ­because of the inherent unreliability of wind patterns.

So when the Victorian government quotes figures of between $53/MWh and $57/MWh for the successful renewable energy projects in the recent reverse auction, we need to add a minimum of $40/MWh for firming. This makes these projects very expensive.

In terms of the poles and wires issue, there are considerable weaknesses in the way in which the regulation and pricing systems ­operate. Effectively, a renewable energy project can be located anywhere and, as long as the regulator agrees, the cost of connecting the project to the grid is borne by all customers without any cost imposition on the operator.

Note that regulated assets are priced at a fixed margin over the cost of capital, so the transmission/distribution companies do not ­really care who bears the cost.

Let’s also be clear about another thing: the abrupt closure of the Hazelwood power station in 2016 was a disaster for the state and the consequences still reverberate. At the time, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews made the ludicrous claim that retail prices would rise by less than 4 per cent in 2017. The actual rise was four times higher.

There are also some important short-term issues for Victoria, ­including the forecast shortfall of generating capacity of close to 400MW during the coming summer. The Australian Energy Market Operator says a combin­ation of demand management — paying customers to power down — and extra diesel generation will be sufficient to see the state through those very warm days. But it will be a close call.

The Victorian case — and let’s not forget Queensland’s equally bizarre promotion of renewable energy projects, again many in far-flung places — should provide the backdrop to some much needed changes to the operation of the National Electricity Market. The rapid penetration of large and small-scale renewable energy ­demands some new rules to ensure the stability and reliability of the grid as well as deliver lower prices.

These changes must involve the imposition of more obligations on renewable energy providers who have been afforded too many favours. There are three main changes that are required: day ahead pricing; scheduled generation by requiring firmed cap­acity; and developer charges on generators for the cost of extra transmission and distribution.

There is no doubt these changes will be resisted by the ­renewable energy sector. But without them, the stability and reli­ability of the grid will be imperilled. It was one thing for a small state such as South Australia to lose its head and overinvest in renewable energy; it is another thing altogether for several states to do so.

The AEMO is clear we need to extend the lives of our thermal plants for as long as possible but the actions of foolhardy governments promoting renewable energy to secure inner-city votes threaten this outcome. At the very least, consumers in those states should bear the full costs of their governments’ foolish policies.

The hope is that federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor can deal with some of these issues before it is too late.


North Sydney to ban smokers from lighting up on the street – becoming the country's first smoke-free district

North Sydney is set to ban smokers from lighting up in the street, becoming the first Council in the country to create a smoke-free district.

Mayor Jilly Gibson made the recommendation to North Sydney Council who unanimously voted for the ban this week.

'We're not going to hand out fines. It's going to work by goodwill,' Cr Gibson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

'No one should be forced to inhale passive smoke, but also for schoolchildren, they should not have to see people standing around smoking. The less they see, the less they are influenced,' she said.

The ban would include all streets, plazas, parks, and outdoor restaurant and café seating.

Regarding electronic cigarettes, the Mayor said she thinks they would fall into the same category although 'we haven't really thought about it yet.'

Cr Gibson said that the North Sydney CBD could become smoke free by early next year if community consultations are completed on schedule by Christmas.

Dominique Bergel-Grant, president of the North Sydney Chamber of Commerce, said the organisation welcomed the move to ban smoking in an area that sees an influx of 46,000 workers during the week.

In June 2016, Sydney Council permanently banned smoking in Martin Place following a 12 month trial and in September the same year added Pitt Street Mall as a smoke free zone.

The Federal Government increased the price of cigarettes in this year's budget, with each pack now costing almost $40.

The 12.5 per cent tobacco excise hike signals the government has no intention of going easy on smokers' wallets in a country that is already the most expensive place  to buy cigarettes in the world.


Company profits, lower welfare spending drive strong budget

Company profits, surging employment and a reduction in welfare payments have driven the federal budget to its smallest deficit in 10 years, putting a surplus in sight as the Morrison government heads to the polls next year.

The headline figures, which drove the deficit down to $10.1 billion in the final budget outcome for 2017-18, were driven by spending restraint under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and lower than expected welfare payments to the aged, unemployed and the disabled.

They were also pushed along by an accounting change that helped the Coalition add $11 billion to its deficit reduction trajectory by comparing gains with the previous year's budget, rather than the most recent May budget.

The Coalition's headline figure claimed that the deficit has "improved" by $19.3 billion, but without the accounting change the figure would have only been $8.1 billion.

The single biggest saving was the lower than expected numbers of participants entering the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Increasing the aged pension to 67 also saved $900 million in payments, while there was $4 billion in lower than expected spending on people with disabilities.

The lower welfare payments, coupled with a $6.8 billion boost in company tax receipts and an immigration-driven employment boom, effectively delivered Tuesday's result.

But the outcome also contains a warning that the strong company tax revenues may be only temporary. While company tax receipts were $6.8 billion higher than predicted in 2017, they were $930 million lower than the May budget pencilled in.

Up to 350,000 new jobs in 2017-18 effectively added $2.4 billion to income tax takings, while some of that increase was also down to taxpayers being slowly pushed into higher tax brackets despite anaemic wage growth.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the numbers showed the Coalition's economic plan was working, as the government moves to put a platform fiscal responsibility at the heart of its re-election pitch.

In the past month, ratings agency S&P has removed Australia's negative watch rating and the national accounts showed the strongest economic growth since the global financial crisis - the last time Australia recorded a surplus.

"Since coming to office we've kept spending real growth down to 1.9 per cent which is the lowest of any government in 50 years," Mr Frydenberg said. "But we cannot be complacent."

The Coalition has now effectively abandoned a self-imposed budget rule which compelled ministers to make spending announcements by finding savings in other areas.

That rule meant "shifts in receipts and payments due to changes in the economy will be banked as an improvement to the budget bottom line if this impact is positive."

With a wafer-thin surplus now timetabled for 2019-20, Mr Frydenberg has promised a "stronger economy" will now pay for new spending announcements, including the $4.4 billion in extra school funding pledged last week.

Labor, which has proposed up to $200 billion in budget saving measures, accused the government of abandoning its core principle.

"Simply saying the ‘economy’ or ‘growth’ will pay for new spending or tax cut plans is no plan for a sustainable budget repair strategy," said shadow treasurer Chris Bowen.


Australian Catholic University moves up in rankings

Australian Catholic University (ACU) has been ranked in the top 500 of universities worldwide, in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2018, announced on Wednesday 26 September.

This is the third consecutive year ACU has risen in the rankings, indicative of its improving research strengths.

The University climbed from joint 30 position last year to rank 25 out of 35 Australian institutions.

The THE World University Rankings is an annual league table of the top universities in the world. It assesses universities under the criteria of teaching, research, citations, industry income, and international outlook.

ACU’s strong performance included improved scores for research and citations, with ACU positioned in the top 400 for research and top 500 for citations worldwide.

ACU Provost Professor Pauline Nugent said the results were a welcome acknowledgement of the commitment the University had made to priority areas in health, education and theology and philosophy.

 “It is very encouraging to see that our steady growth and a determination to focus on areas that are fundamental to our mission and core values are having an impact.”

“The University has set out to achieve excellent outcomes, by investing in quality research and programs that will deliver genuinely valuable results for others,” she said.

ACU is increasingly making its mark internationally, with other notable rankings such as:

Positioned 501-600 in Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)

A top 100 Asia Pacific (APAC) university, recognised as a leader in higher education in the region (Times Higher Education Asia-Pacific University Rankings 2018)

Recognised as one of the world’s top young universities, included in the top 50 of Generation Y and ranked 101-150 globally (Times Higher Education Young Universities Rankings 2018)

Ranked in the top 100 for a number of subjects:

sport science (26 ARWU)

nursing (41 ARWU)

education (51-75 ARWU)

theology, divinity and religious studies (top 100 QS Subject Rankings)

These results follow closely behind the University’s strong performance in the most recent Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) assessment – with 94 per cent of all ACU research judged to be at or above world standards, and ACU placed equal first in Australia in five Fields of Research.

ACU is a public, not-for-profit university funded by the Australian Government. It is open to students and staff of all beliefs. Its research institutes and faculties focus on the priority research areas of education, health, and theology and philosophy.

Media release from

Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here