Monthly Archives: March 2021

The S&P 500 Reaches New High with Lifting of Government Restrictions on Growth


The S&P 500 (Index: SPX) closed at a new record high of 3,974.54 on the trading week ending 26 March 2021. The new highs were achieved as growth looks to be strong with the lifting of state and local government lockdown restrictions, as more states open COVID vaccine eligibility to all adults.

During the week however, stock prices traded near the lower end of the redzone forecast range, as ongoing volatility prompted by rising interest rates in the bond market led to the continuation of tech stock selloffs, as bond investors acted to minimize their losses. Stock prices gained on Friday as key inflation data came in lower than expected, lowering bond yields and boosting tech stock prices.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2021Q1 - Standard Model (m=+1.5 from 22 September 2020) - Snapshot on 26 Mar 2021

Bank stocks also got a boost on Friday after the post-market close Federal Reserve announcement it would lift restrictions on dividends for most banks after its June stress test, which boosted bank stocks. All in all, it's pretty amazing how something like lifting restrictions imposed by government entities improves the expectations for growth in the future.

Other stuff also happened during the week. Here are the market moving headlines we tracked:

Monday, 22 March 2021
Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Thursday, 25 March 2021
Friday, 26 March 2021

Elsewhere, Barry Ritholtz's lists the positives and negatives he found in the past week's markets and economics news.

Australian Politics 2021-03-29 06:25:00


Queensland Public Trustee denies making profit from clients, despite report criticising high fees and charges

They might not make a profit in any accounting sense but they are a bloated bureaucracy with well-feathered nests for their bureaucrats

They are run for the benefit of their employees, not for those they are supposed to serve. They have been left basically unsupervised for far too long

People on disability support and aged care pensions with assets will continue to be charged up to 40 per cent of their low incomes for financial administration services by the Public Trustee of Queensland, despite a report criticising the practice.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman tabled the Public Advocate's report into the Public Trustee in state parliament earlier this month.

It documented high fees for asset-rich pensioners, fees for no service and charging multiple sets of fees on managing the same funds, like superannuation.

In response, the state government announced that a board would oversee the Public Trustee.

However, the government has not yet set a timeframe for when this would occur and what authority it would have.

The Public Advocate's report also exposed routine profiteering from cash assets that were funnelled exclusively into the Public Trustee's own investment products – something called the "interest differential".

"The practice of directing all client funds into Public Trustee investments also means that the Public Trustee earns income and fees additional to the general Asset Management Fees it charges clients for providing administration services," the report stated.

"This practice raises questions about whether the Public Trustee is fulfilling its fiduciary duties to avoid conflicts with its clients' interests and not to make unauthorised profits from clients."

The report found that in 2019-20 alone, the Public Trustee kept $12.9 million in interest earnings from the cash assets of clients.

"The conflicts inherent in this funding arrangement appear to be incompatible with the duties and obligations of a trustee and fiduciary to not profit from its clients and to avoid conflicts," it said.

Public Advocate Mary Burgess made 32 recommendations and in a statement responding to the report, Ms Fentiman said the majority of the recommendations were primarily the responsibility of the Public Trustee to implement.

One of the recommendations included changing the legislation to clarify when and how the Public Trustee could invest client funds.

Another was to ensure the Trustee does not profit from administration clients unless expressly permitted by law.

Ms Fentiman did not say whether the government would review its legislation to determine whether profit was permissible under the Public Trustee Act, and she denied the report's finding that the Public Trustee profits from financial administration services.

"A moratorium on fees and charges would impact on the Public Trustee's ability to provide important services to vulnerable Queenslanders," Ms Fentiman said.

She also said many of the reforms had already been implemented or were underway.

The Public Trustee said a review on fees and charges was already underway but would not be completed for another six to eight months.

The Public Trustee denied it made a profit.

Sue Nunn, who has a person close to her who has been under financial administration, said she was sickened by the way they had been treated.

Ms Nunn said her complaints and concerns about the Public Trustee had fallen on deaf ears.

The Guardianship and Administration Act prevents the ABC from disclosing anything that could identify a person under a financial administration order — something that critics said prevented them from speaking out.

The person Ms Nunn is advocating for is paying close to 40 per cent of a disability pension in Public Trustee fees for financial and asset management.

"They're taking 40 per cent of his income – how can you say that's not profiting from somebody with a disability?" Ms Nunn said.

She said she was disappointed by the response of the state government to the Public Advocate's report. "At what point do we matter?" Ms Nunn said. "How many people have to be gouged of their finances?

"How many people have to lose everything they have, before we become important, and before it's enough to say 'stop, things need to change'."

Ms Nunn said she had lost count of the number of complaints she had made to assorted government bodies and ministers, and in her view, Ms Fentiman had downplayed the extent of the issues in her response to the parliament.

Steven Collins is another person with multiple family members who either are, or have previously been, under financial administration.

Mr Collins said he had observed questionable financial decisions being made for a family member, including trying to sell their house for more than it had been valued.

He claimed the family member was moved into rental accommodation that was costing more per week than the mortgage repayments had been. The person was moved back into their house when it had not sold.

The same family member was being given just $100 a week to live on at one stage, once the Trustee had extracted its fees and charges.

"The way it looks to me from things that have happened is it's just about getting money at any cost and from any angle — it's not about the client," Mr Collins said.

Mr Collins said when he started advocating on his family members' behalf, and asking questions of the Public Trustee, they stopped responding. "The letter I got back from them was actually quite appalling — it was a generalised, bureaucratic letter, and it really didn't get into the heart of any of the questions I asked," Mr Collins said.

"From there, they really stopped talking to me and wouldn't communicate with me from then on out."

Shadow attorney-general Tim Nicholls is now calling for an independent audit of the Public Trustee, and for the legislation that governs it to be either rewritten or amended substantially.

"It's really the case that the report has been done, the government has looked at it, and then handed it to the Public Trustee and said, 'You solve your own problems'," he said.

"There's no clarity about the [fee] review and what the changes are likely to be. "The Public Trustee continues to milk those clients for every cent under a flawed system that sees the most disadvantaged people paying more and getting less."


Veteran Adelaide radio host Jeremy Cordeaux sacked over Brittany Higgins tirade

Must not question St. Brittany

Veteran radio broadcaster Jeremy Cordeaux, who called Brittany Higgins a “silly girl who got drunk” and questioned her story, has been sacked.

The award-winning host was branded a “dinosaur” online over the appalling comments on air on FIVEaa over the weekend about the alleged rape at Parliament House in 2019.

“I just ask myself why the prime minister doesn’t call it out for what it is. A silly little girl who got drunk,” Cordeaux said at 6.26am during his weekend breakfast show.

“If this girl has been raped, why hasn’t the guy who raped her been arrested? Apparently everyone knows his name.”

“Security, you know, should never have let these two into the minister’s office at two o’clock in the morning. Never,” Cordeaux said.

“The defence minister. Can you imagine security taking someone who was obviously drunk, so drunk I think that the young lady, during the week on television, said she couldn’t get her shoes on.

“My advice to the prime minister – as he was sort of monstered by A Current Affair – my advice would be to stop worrying about offending somebody.”


‘It feels very political’: Principals sorry schools rushed to sign plan to tackle consent

One of the state’s longest-serving independent school heads says a cross-sector “statement of intent” to improve consent education was driven by political expediency rather than a desire for change, and she wishes her sector had not signed it.

Several other principals privately agree with her, with one saying “it feels very political”.

The statement, which has been signed by the public, Catholic and independent sectors, commits all schools to taking “concrete actions” to strengthen their students’ ability to form healthy relationships and prevent harmful situations.

However, it does not include parents’ groups as signatories as originally proposed by the Association of Independent Schools NSW, which came up with the concept three weeks ago. Parents’ groups told the Herald they would have signed it.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the statement was intended to be signed by the three school sector heads individually, with further collaboration with other key groups to follow.

“While this is a whole-of-society challenge, the statement signed by the three education heads acknowledges the key role schools and teachers, in partnership with parents and parent organisations, will play in supporting change,” she said.

But Jenny Allum, who has led SCEGGS Darlinghurst since 1996, said while she supported the ideals articulated in the statement – which included hearing the voices of students and basing decisions on evidence – parents should have been signatories even if their involvement delayed the process.

“I am very sorry that we rushed to sign the statement of intent after it had been made clear that some parent groups would also like to sign the statement,” she said. “The signing of the statement in such a rushed fashion has more to do with political expediency than any desire to actually affect change.

“There is no quick fix here, no short-term critical incident to manage and wait for it to go away.

“A better course of action would have been to have a continued dialogue about consent and sexual coercion, as well as sexual assault and abuse, violence against women, gendered stereotypes, sexualisation of girls and women, and so on.”

Ms Allum said parents were the primary educators of their children, and so needed to be involved in conversations about respect, consent and violence towards women.

“Why was it important to sign something by yesterday afternoon, except that either the minister wanted it that way, or the [school] systems could look like they were doing something?” she said. “From what I can tell it’s relatively cosmetic. What practical solution does it offer?

“If you can’t name a practical solution, you’ve got to think it was political.”

Another principal, who did not want to be named, said the problem of sexual assault ran much deeper than students’ understanding of consent. “I don’t think [the statement] is the answer,” she said. “I don’t know how a statement of intent even begins to address it.”

Another said the document was “full of motherhood statements” but signing it did no harm and sent a positive message.

Julie Townsend, from St Catherine’s School, said it was appropriate for schools to work together. “Parents’ organisations can similarly unite with a common intent,” she said. “Both the school sectors and parent organisations can work side by side.”

Other principals, who also did not want to be named, said they would have preferred to wait for guidance from the Australian Human Rights Commission, which consulted with the sector at a roundtable on Friday.

They believe that a firm set of guidelines or recommendations from the commission, which has also helped the university sector and defence force, would be the most likely avenue to create lasting and meaningful change.

The AISNSW board voted to sign the statement after discussing it on Thursday night, AIS chief executive Geoff Newcombe said. “The board noted that this should be seen as a first step in dealing with what is a whole-of-society issue,” he said.

“The association also is currently in discussions with the NSW Parents Council so that we can recognise the critical role that parents will play in trying to resolve this problem.”


Muslim haters tracked down

A Queensland dog trainer and a Melbourne gemstone trader have been arrested as “senior players” of a sophisticated Australian terror network paying for foreign fighters to travel to Syria to join Jabhat al-Nusra.

Joint counterterrorism teams from Queensland and Victoria yesterday pounced on the men in co-ordinated raids, charging them over their alleged involvement in a sophisticated terrorist network being run out of southeast Queensland.

Gabriel Crazzi, 34, from Chambers Flat in Logan, and Ahmed Talib, 31, from Melbourne, are alleged to have been key players in the religiously-motivated extremist organisation.

The network is understood to have been responsible for funding Queensland man Ahmed Succarieh’s 2013 trip to Syria where he became Australia’s first suicide bomber.

The former schoolboy from south of Brisbane is believed to have blown himself up when he drove a truck loaded with explosives into a military checkpoint in Syria in September, 2013.

The explosion killed 35 people.

It will be alleged Crazzi and Talib developed networks in Australia, Turkey and Syria that helped Australians get into Syria to fight for Jabhat al-Nusra in 2012 and 2013.

Crazzi has been charged with seven foreign incursion related offences, while Talib is facing one charge.

Talib appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday and is facing extradition to Queensland.

Crazzi is due to appear before the Brisbane Magistrates Court today.

AFP Commander Stephen Dametto said the arrests were a culmination of the AFP, Queensland Police Service and ASIO working together to keep the community safe.

“Today is an example of our commitment to discourage Australians from fighting overseas and holding people to account for their involvement in supporting terrorism and terrorist organisations,” he said.




Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 28, 2021


 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 28, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy


[Brasilwire, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

In January of this year, a study published by the Center for Research and Studies on Health Law at the University of São Paulo, and NGO Conectas, proved that the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil was a government strategy. The same researchers now insist the president should be investigated for genocide.

In May 2020, the far-right president insisted that “only the weak, the sick and the elderly should be worried” about Covid-19. What sounded like denialism a year ago now reads like a candid admission…. No other country on earth had a head of state actively preventing their population from being vaccinated, whilst leaving the poorest unable to protect themselves through isolation.

A recent study in Brazil’s largest city São Paulo shows that those living in its poorest neighbourhoods are 3 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than those in its wealthiest.

A Better Path to Tech Reform? Felony Charges 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-21]

...there are two options to buy time, neither of which requires congressional action. It merely requires the government to apply regulatory tools that do not get used frequently, namely subjecting business executives to felony prosecution.

The first option is an antitrust case against Google led by the attorney general of Texas that alleges a price fixing conspiracy in digital advertising. The complaint names Facebook as a co-conspirator. Price fixing falls under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, significant because it does not require proof of harm. The attempt itself is a crime. And if, as has been alleged, there is evidence of an agreement for mutual legal defense, there may be a second count. When appropriate, executives can be subject to felony prosecution, punishable by up to three years in prison. Google denies any wrongdoing.

The Biden Justice Department has an opportunity to join the Texas case or to pursue its own case as a felony. DOJ can adds Google and Facebook executives to its criminal antitrust indictments. The situation warrants it, as the harms in question are the result of deliberate business choices. The threat of imprisonment might change the calculus for internet CEOs, creating for the first time an incentive to make the changes to their business model necessary to stop harm to public health, democracy, privacy, and competition….

The events of the past year have exposed structural flaws in the economy, the health care system, the electrical grid, and American politics. Some of these problems may appear to be less acute than the pandemic, but all require attention now. This poses a huge challenge for the Biden administration, which is hamstrung by 40 years of deregulation and underfunding of government institutions. They have to use every available tool.

“Top Obama lawyer being vetted for antitrust post”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-26-21]

“The Biden team is vetting Jonathan Sallet — a former top lawyer under the Obama administration and architect of net neutrality rules — for a top antitrust post, two sources familiar with the process told POLITICO…. Sallet would bring decades of experience in antitrust and technology issues. For the past two years, Sallet has worked for Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser heading up the multistate antitrust investigation into Google’s online search products. He was the principal author of the complaint that more than 30 states and territories filed in late December against Google — which takes aim at the search engine’s conduct to make inroads into emerging technologies such as connected cars and home speakers — and served as the lead lawyer on the case until last month. Sallet’s selection for DOJ antitrust chief or FTC chair would signal the Biden administration intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of Google, Facebook and other tech giants.”

Health Care Crisis

Higher COVID Deaths Linked To For-Profit Health Care, Private Equity

[DailyPoster March 23, 2021]

According to a new report from Public Citizen, a national consumer watchdog group, the United States’ for-profit health care system was a leading cause of COVID-19 deaths. The study concludes that “millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19 unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented.” In total, the report found that one-third of COVID-19 deaths and around 40 percent of infections were linked to a lack of health insurance.

The report singles out employer-based health care, hospitals focusing on profits over safety, understaffing at nursing homes, and underfunding of public health infrastructure. It notes that existing disparities exacerbated the impact of the pandemic in Black communities in particular.

“The cardinal sin of our health care system is that it puts profits over people and corporations over communities,” the report reads.

“Rural-Urban Differences In Severe Maternal Morbidity And Mortality In The US, 2007–15”

[Health Affairs, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-25-21]

“severe maternal morbidity and mortality increased among both rural and urban residents in the study period, from 109 per 10,000 childbirth hospitalizations in 2007 to 152 per 10,000 in 2015. When we controlled for sociodemographic factors and clinical conditions, we found that rural residents had a 9 percent greater probability of severe maternal morbidity and mortality, compared with urban residents.”

Why Does the US Pay the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs? (hearing)

[U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions, via Naked Capitalism] Starts at 14:42. L 3-24

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

“Because of Monopolies, Income Inequality Significantly Understates Economic Inequality” (PDF)

[Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-23-21]

“In social science research, household income is widely used as a stand-in for, or approximation to, the economic well-being of households. In a parallel way, income-inequality has been employed as a stand-in for inequality of economic well-being, or for brevity, “economic-inequality.” But there is a force in market economies, ones with extensive amounts of monopoly, like the United States, which leads income- inequality to understate economic-inequality. This force has not been recognized before and derives from how monopolies behave. Monopolies, of course, raise prices. This reduces the purchasing power of households, or the value of their income. But monopolies, in fact, reduce the purchasing power of low- income households much more than high-income households. What has not been recognized is that, in many markets, as monopolies raise the prices for their goods, they simultaneously destroy substitutes for their products, low-cost substitutes that are purchased by low-income households. In these markets, then, while high-income households face higher prices, low-income households are shut out of markets, markets for goods and services that are extremely important for their economic well-being. It often leaves them with extremely poor alternatives, and sometimes none, for these products. Some of the markets we discuss include those for housing, financial services, and K-12 public education services. We also discuss markets for legal services, health care services, used durable equipment and repair services. Monopolies that infiltrate public institutions to enrich members, including those in foster care services, voting institutions and antitrust institutions, are also discussed.” • Pretty amazing, for the Fed. Maybe one day they’ll write about the workplace.

Blow Up the Global Trading System 

Clyde Prestowitz [Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 3-27-21]

Prestowitz is a former USTR.

This is very different from what the free world expected when it welcomed China into the free trade body in 2001. From the time of Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of some market methods in 1979 and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, free world leaders believed increased trade with and investment in China would inevitably lead to the marketization of its economy, the demise of its state-owned enterprises, and at least some liberalization of its political system, although the crushing of protestors at Tienanman Square in 1989 certainly dampened headier expectations of democracy. That this anticipation was wildly at odds with reality was made clear on March 1, 2018, by none other than a former champion of China’s admission to the WTO. The Economist’s cover story of that day declared that the free world had “made the wrong bet.” China, it said, was not liberalizing politically or economically….

The system arose out of the Pax Americana and a deep faith that the U.S. would always be the world’s manufacturing and technology superpower, have the highest productivity, pay the highest wages, and always run a surplus or balanced trade account. Today’s low transportation and communication costs, huge economies of scale, mercantilist trade policies, cross-border investment, and financial investment incentives were simply not envisioned. Nor was the absence in other countries of effective labor unions and environmental and safety facilities. All these factors were simply not recognized at the time.

Prestowitz lies outright here: “the absence in other countries of effective labor unions and environmental and safety facilities… were simply not recognized at the time.” Every labor union in USA tried to warn there would be a “race to the bottom” exactly because of these absences. Many critics were silenced, some by murder:

"The Chicago Boys in Chile: Economic Freedom's Awful Toll"
Orlando Letelier, August 28, 1976 [History is a Weapon]

Less than a month after this was published, Orlando Letelier was assassinated by Chilean secret police in broad daylight on the streets of Washington DC.

Fast Food Giant Claims Credit For Killing $15 Minimum Wage 

Walker Bragman, Andrew Perez, and David Sirota, March 26, 2021 [DailyPoster]

The parent company of some of America’s largest fast food chains is claiming credit for convincing Congress to exclude a $15 minimum wage from the recent COVID relief bill, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm named after an Ayn Rand character, also says it is now working to thwart new union rights legislation.

The company’s boasts come just a few months after a government report found that some of its chains had among the highest percentage of workers relying on food stamps.

Inspire Brands — which owns Jimmy Johns, Arby’s, Sonic, and Buffalo Wild Wings, plus recently acquired Dunkin’ Donuts for $11.3 billion in November — on Thursday sent employees and franchisees a review of its government lobbying activity that highlighted its success in keeping the $15 minimum wage out of Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief bill…. 

Thomas Piketty and Karl Marx: Two Totally Different Visions of Capital 

[The Hampton Institute, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

Richest Americans Hide 20% Of Income, Costing You $175 Billion Annually 

[Heisenberger Report, via Naked Capitalism 3-23-21]

Reporting on a new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Tax Evasion at the Top of the Income Distribution: Theory and Evidence.” (pdf)

The top 1% hides a fifth of their income from the IRS. Or, if you want to leave the rich blameless in this equation, you can restate the takeaway as follows: The IRS fails to track down 20% of the income earned by the rich.

There are two main culprits: Offshore accounts and pass-through businesses. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, that’s precisely what I meant on March 2, when I not-so-gently suggested that anyone who’s rich and still paying a lot in taxes has “failed as a rich person.”

Average corporate tax rate plunged by more than half after GOP overhaul

[Politico, via The Big Picture 3-23-21]

The average tax rate on U.S. corporations fell by more than half, to 7.8 percent, in the wake of Republicans’ 2017 tax overhaul, according to a new government analysis.

In a report sure to inflame the debate over corporate taxation, the official Joint Committee on Taxation also said businesses continue to make extensive use of offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to reduce their tax bills.

[LA Times, via The Big Picture 3-25-21]
The unreported income for the 1%, households with more than about $420,000 in annual income, is as much as one-third higher than previously estimated, the authors wrote. For the 0.1%, households with at least $7.5 million in annual income, it’s 80%.

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

Biden's New Deal: Re-engineering America, quickly

[Axios, via Doug Henwood on Facebook]

President Biden recently held an undisclosed East Room session with historians that included discussion of how big is too big — and how fast is too fast — to jam through once-in-a-lifetime historic changes to America.

Why it matters ... The historians’ views were very much in sync with his own: It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.

Four things are pushing Biden to jam through what could amount to a $5 trillion-plus overhaul of America, and vast changes to voting, immigration and inequality.

  1. He has full party control of Congress, and a short window to go big.
  2. He has party activists egging him on.
  3. He has strong gathering economic winds at his back.
  4. And he’s popular in polls.

….People close to Biden tell us he’s feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party.

  • He loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.

“A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.” — John Adams

The Years of Work Behind Washington’s Best-Liked Man 

(The New York Times, via The DailyPoster 3-26-2021]

Economist Claudia Sahm recounts the decades of work by progressives to reshape the policy priorities of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

The Conservative Assault on the Law

The People's Parity Project [you may have to scroll down a bit]

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic 3-16-2021]

…The Federalist Society project was decades in the making: wealthy conservatives poured money into it, year after year, both in creating a Federalist pipeline at law-schools, then securing positions for baby Federalists in large firms and courts.

As the project of corrupting the courts bore fruit, producing elite-friendly, wealth-friendly decisions that reversed decades of progress against discrimination and exploitation, it gathered steam and supporters and became a lobbying priority across multiple industries.

The Trump appointments were a massive leap forward for the Federalists. Thanks to McConnell's stonewalling on appointing judges under Obama, there were many vacancies to fill, including a Supreme Court seat, when Trump took office….

Taking On Corporate Law, in Both Parties

Daniel Boguslaw [The American Prospect 3-16-2021]

The People’s Parity Project (PPP), founded in 2018 by four Harvard Law students, was initially conceived as an activist group to reform the legal profession. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, the organization kicked off by advocating against the forced-arbitration contracts used by corporate law firms to silence young attorneys, while also calling attention to the gender and racial discrimination running rampant in highly competitive clerkships…. 

the upstart legal group has grown into a sprawling and multifaceted organization, equipped to challenge not only the Federalist Society, but the economic and social formations that enabled and sustained its rise. With support from Demand Justice and the Center for Popular Democracy, the People’s Parity Project has lobbied President Joe Biden to appoint a vetted suite of progressives for circuit court judgeships, successfully ended forced arbitration at massive firms like Kirkland & Ellis (for both attorney and non-attorney staff), and launched chapters at over a dozen high-profile law schools, including Harvard, NYU, and the University of Michigan. On these campuses, a new, progressive legal dogma is starting to take shape.

“Law school plays a huge role in creating a series of blinders that elevate prestige and competition and which can turn law students into high-achieving drones who won’t question their role in a fundamentally corrupt environment,” Anne Tewksbury, a PPP chapter organizer at NYU, told the Prospect. “But our rigged legal system isn’t actually fixed in place: It’s made up of lawyers like us. And we do have power here when we bring a labor organizing approach to this work and remind ourselves and our classmates that we’re not just fighting the system from the outside, but that after graduating, we’re going to be the system.”

The core tenets of organized labor play a recurring role in both the structure and philosophy of the PPP, from an organizing model that seeks to recruit new members by advocating for their rights on campus, to the chapters’ growing ranks of students pressuring politicians on radical labor reforms like the PRO Act. PPP’s campaign against forced arbitration also situates the rights of lawyers alongside minimum-wage workers, arguing that nobody should be forced to sign coercive contracts, given their staggering impact on the workforce. According to the PPP, $12.6 billion was stolen from low-wage workers in 2019 due to forced arbitration, 98 percent of workers abandon employment claims when the only option is arbitration, and 60 million U.S. workers are now blocked by forced arbitration from suing for their rights….

The corporate catechism that Coleman describes has long thrived within the American Constitution Society (ACS), a legal group founded on the false belief that a coterie of powerful lawyers and Democratic insiders could create an equal and opposing force to rival the Federalist Society. But since its establishment after the 2000 presidential election decision, the ACS has only evinced the same corporate fealty as the Democratic Party that first spawned it, recently drawing public ire after The Intercept reported that Amazon’s VP of labor relations, Andrew DeVore, sat on its board.

Right-Wing Groups Rally Around Anti-Union Case Argued in Supreme Court Today

[Center for Media and Democracy, via The Daily Poster 3-23-2021]

Provides comprehensive lists of funding sources for conservative extremist legal efforts.

In addition to industry groups like the California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, numerous conservative legal centers and think tanks have filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs in the case. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has identified 14 right-wing nonprofits, including those tied to the Bradley, Koch, Scaife, and Uihlein fortunes, that donated a total of over $1 million from 2015 to 2019 to at least two of the groups that filed supportive briefs, or to PLF and at least one amicus group.

PLF is a right-wing think tank and associate member of the State Policy Network, a web of like-minded nonprofits and think tanks that share funders and coordinate political and legal efforts.

Seven other State Policy Network associate members, including the libertarian Cato Institute, the well-funded Institute for Justice, and the charitable affiliate of Charles Koch’s political group Americans for Prosperity, filed amicus briefs in support of Cedar Point’s argument in December and January. Several additional ideologically aligned groups did so as well. Many of the amicus filers share donors. The top right-wing funders that donated to two or more of the amicus organizations from 2015 to 2019 include the Charles Koch Foundation ($11.8 million to PLF and six brief filers), the Searle Freedom Trust ($7.7 million to PLF and seven filers), and DonorsTrust ($19.2 million to PLF and nine amicus filers).

White Prejudice Against Blacks Has Huge Impact in Jury Trial Results

[National Bureau of Economic Research, via The Daily Poster 3-23-2021]

A new working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research notes that residents from predominantly white and high-income neighborhoods are over-represented on juries and are more likely to convict Black defendants and give them longer sentences. “We estimate that equal representation would reduce Black defendants’ median sentence length by 50 percent and the probability of receiving a life sentence by 67 percent,” it reads.

Information Age Dystopia

How Biden Can Clean Up Obama’s Big Tech Mess 

Matt Stoller, BIG, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

The Growing Movement to End the Surveillance Economy

David Dayen, March 24, 2021 [The American Prospect]

A new coalition has formed against digital platforms’ dangerous business model of collecting voluminous user data and using it to serve up ads…. a newly formed broad coalition agrees with me that endless tracking around the internet only facilitates the interests of monopolies at the expense of society, feeding addiction, disinformation, toxic politics, and the death of the free press. Here’s an excellent short video from the coalition.

Thirty-eight different advocacy organizations have come together to Ban Surveillance Advertising. They argue that as long as social media platforms profit from collecting more user data—so they can use it to target ads—then they will do whatever possible to hook and keep users on their sites, amplifying “echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies.” By enabling Facebook and Google to track and serve ads across the web and deliver precisely modeled audiences to advertisers, targeted ads also rob news publishers of their own business model, by making irrelevant the unique specialness of their readerships…. 

Since I’ve been looking at this for a few years, let me address some of the big questions around banning targeted ads. First, the government absolutely has the power to do this. Marketing and advertising is routinely monitored through the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive practices and truthfulness. The U.S. has banned cigarette ads on TV and radio, banned ads for smokeless tobacco, banned 900-number ads marketed to children under 12, among other advertising bans targeted at kids, and banned the online collection of data from children under 13. We’ve even banned television ads that are too loud….

We do know that Facebook and Google constantly lie to advertisers about the reach and effectiveness of targeted ads by wildly overstating video viewing, misreporting referral traffic, and even claiming, in Facebook’s case, that they reach more young people than exist in the United States. It’s hard to tell a plausible story that these ads are necessarily worth it for advertisers.

“Amazon Denies Workers Pee in Bottles. Here Are the Pee Bottles”

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-25-21]

“[T]he fact that Amazon delivery drivers pee in bottles and coffee cups in their vans is not invented. It has been well-documented, and is a huge talking point among many delivery drivers. It is one of the most universal concerns voiced by the many Amazon delivery drivers around the country that Motherboard has interviewed. Delivery workers, who drive Amazon emblazoned vans, often deliver up to 300 packages a day on a 10 hour shift. If they take too long, they can be written up and fired. So spending time locating and using a bathroom is not always an option. In fact, here’s a photo of an Amazon delivery driver’s pee bottles. Motherboard confirmed the driver’s position and employment.” • In fact, “urine bottles” are the subject of management directives:


Climate and environmental crises

Climate change is driving a metals and mining boom

[Coppola Comment, via The Big Picture 3-22-21]

The world is transitioning from a carbon-intensive to a metals-intensive economy. Low-carbon technologies use much larger amounts of metal than traditional fossil fuel-based systems. Demand for metals is rising exponentially, fueling a boom in mining and production. But this creates an environmental challenge. Metals extraction and processing is a significant contributor to global warming and a major pollutant. (Coppola Comment)

Climate Anxiety Is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon 

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 3-25-21]

Financial world greenwashing the public with deadly distraction in sustainable investing practices 

(USA Today, via The Big Picture 3-23-21]

Former BlackRock executive blows the whistle on Greenwashing; Fear of missing out on fund flows gives asset managers a strong incentive to pretend all their offerings are green.

The Promise of Offshore Wind

Brittany Gibson, March 24, 2021 [The American Prospect]

We can create good jobs and clean, cheap power by bringing back production as well as accelerating installation.

Collapse of Independent News Media

Project Veritas Wins Victory Against New York Times In Defamation Action 

Jonathan Turley [via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

The Dark Side

America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 16 maps and charts 

[Vox, via  The Big Picture 3-25-21]

Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they own roughly 45 percent of all the world’s privately held firearms

The charts are graphic and compelling.

“Sweeping changes to Georgia elections signed into law”

[Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-26-21]

“Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed a vast rewrite of Georgia’s election rules into law Thursday, imposing voter ID requirements, limiting drop boxes and allowing state takeovers of local elections after last year’s close presidential race.” This is especially ugly: “The bill also will allow the State Election Board to take over county election boards that it deems need intervention. Skeptics say that will allow Republican officials to decide which ballots count in majority Democratic areas, such as Fulton County.”  

“Neil Gorsuch Supports an Originalist Theory That Would Destroy Modern Governance”

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-22-21]

“On Thursday, the Columbia Law Review published one of the most important and topical scholarly articles in recent memory, “Delegation at the Founding.” Its authors, Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, put forth a sweeping argument: They assert that an ascendant legal theory championed by conservative originalists has no actual basis in history. That theory, called the nondelegation doctrine, holds that the Constitution puts strict limits on Congress’ ability to let the executive branch set rules and regulations. Congress, for instance, could not direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set air quality standards that ‘protect public health,’ and let the agency decide what limits on pollution are necessary to meet that goal. Nondelegation doctrine has enormous consequences for the federal government’s ability to function, since Congress typically sets broad goals and directs agencies to figure out how to achieve them. The theory is supported by a majority of the current Supreme Court; in 2019, Justice Neil Gorsuch signaled his eagerness to apply the doctrine, and at least four other conservative justices have joined his crusade.” 

What is a republic?

How Small A Minority Should Be Allowed To Rule?

David Sirota [Weekly Poster 3-24-2021]

A filibuster-free Senate would still give 17 percent of the population enough representation to stop anything…. In the modern era, the structure of the Senate has often turned the upper chamber into a place that does not merely respect minority rights — it has actually allowed the minority to rule, regardless of the status of the filibuster. As CNN’s Ronald Brownstein recounted last year, “While the GOP has controlled the Senate for about 22 of the past 40 years, Republican senators have represented a majority of the nation's population for only a single session over that period: from 1997 to 1998.”

….That is because under simple-majority voting rules, the majority of the country’s population does not necessarily rule the Senate. Even without the filibuster, the Senate is still a place where the 265,000 South Dakotans who elected Thune get as much representation as the 2.2 million Georgia voters who elected Raphael Warnock. Consequently, a filibuster-free Democratic Senate would still allow a minority of the population’s senators to rule, if they so choose — because the Senate still provides far less than half the country with the 51 votes necessary to stop any legislation in its tracks….

If you happen to be one of those constitutional originalists worried about preserving the power of small states, don’t fret. The power imbalance becomes more pronounced when you take party out of the equation and just look at states with the least population. Fifty-two senators from the least populated states currently represent just 17 percent of America’s total population — but they would still be able to stop all legislation in a filibuster-free Senate under simple-majority rules….

When the Founders created the Senate, they aimed to guarantee that the minority of the population still had rights — they didn’t care about the rights of political parties or factions (which many of them hated).

By contrast, when Republicans like Thune depict the filibuster as a noble bulwark protecting “minority rights,” he is not talking about protecting a minority of the population. He is talking about fortifying the power of the chamber’s minority political factions, regardless of how small a segment of the population those factions actually represent.

I do not disagree with anything Sirota writes here, but a few sentences about (this is a republic not a democracy) irk me, because they exemplify how Democrats and progressives have ceded to conservatives and (not)Republicans a very important fight about political ideology. Also, e ought not disparage ideas such as “Madison’s desire to restrict democracy in order to limit ‘the impulse of sudden and violent passions’ “. Especially since we have such recent example of “sudden and violent passions” in the form of Trump supporters storming the Capitol building on January 6.  “The impulse of sudden and violent passions” is something we must guard against. 

A republic differs from a democracy in that a republic is based on the understanding that ANY concentration of power is dangerous — political OR economic, or even social (such as exclusive country clubs). So, it's not just the danger of a majority trampling the rights of a minority (and where were the conservatives with this argument during the 1950s and 1960s struggles for civil rights?) but even more the danger of a minority trampling the rights and even harming the interests of the majority. After all, isn't that what monarchies, oligarchies, and aristocracies do? And isn't that how the USA as a republic was most easily defined -- that USA stood against monarchies, oligarchies, and aristocracies? Just read Paine's delightful tear-downs of King George and the British ministers!

To paraphrase (not)Republican whip Thune: “Letting a minority do everything it wants to is not what the Founders had in mind,”

Thus, the real difference between a democracy and a republic is that in a democracy, if a majority decides to abridge or ignore the rights of a minority, or harm their interests, there is no recourse for the minority; while in a republic, entire institutions of government are designed with checks and balances, and placed under the rule of law, not the rule of men and women, and political and social traditions created, nurtured, and defended, that also serve as checks on any dangerous minority (for example, the cultural tradition of expecting military officers to refuse involvement in and even comment on, political affairs).

The really interesting and important thing, I think, is that conservatives and (not)Republicans do not discuss this much bigger picture of what a republic is supposed to be. They are obviously only peddling self-serving arguments designed to benefit only them, evincing on their part a complete lack of civic virtue (regard for the public interest and the General Welfare).

Australian Politics 2021-03-28 05:30:00


Calls for Australia’s ‘racist’ laws which can send young criminals to prison aged just 10 to be scrapped – as activists call for offenders to have no responsibility until 14

Because of the stealth skills they have inherited from their hunter-gatherer ancestors, young aborigines are brilliant thieves. And they start from a young age. The age of criminal responsibiity has been kept low in part because there is so much criminality among even very young aborigines. Changing that age is not going to change the criminality.

The one thing that might help is to ensure that they attend school. They truant often and that gives them time in the community to commit offences

The kneejerk reaction that they should be "rehabilitated" instead of being sent to jail just does not work usually. But if their time in jail were used to further their education, that might help. They would usually respond rather well to trade training, which would give them something constructive to do

Keenan Mundine was 14 when he first went to jail for breaking into a car and stealing a laptop. 'I was placed in a dorm with 30 other boys and there were nine- and 10-year-old boys in there that had been there for months,' the 34-year-old said. 'Some of them couldn't even read or write. None of them got visits from their parents.'

The Wakka Wakka and Birpai man grew up on The Block in Sydney's Redfern, an experience he describes as 'f***ing horrible'.

'There were no doors, windows smashed, rats and cockroaches everywhere, abandoned buildings, people shooting up in my backyard while I'm playing on my trampoline, people overdosing, people getting stabbed,' Mr Mundine said.

'It was all normal to me.'

Mr Mundine's parents died by the time he was seven and he was separated from his siblings.

His arrest at 14 marked the beginning of years-long involvement with the youth justice system.

'I was homeless, I had no job, I had no parents, I had no one responsible for me and they just opened the gate after me serving my time and took me back out to the wolves,' Mr Mundine said.

'All I knew was what community taught me to do and that was take things that didn't belong to me because I needed them.'

Mr Mundine turned his life around and founded Aboriginal community-led charity Deadly Connections with his wife Carly.

He has been advocating for years to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14, in line with most international jurisdictions.

Across Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested by police, remanded in custody, convicted by the courts and jailed.

It is estimated almost 600 children aged between 10 and 13 were in custody last financial year. More than 60 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record, said discriminatory laws and policing is to blame for the over-representation of Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system

'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to be stopped by police, arrested and charged instead of cautioned, and locked up on remand instead of being released on bail,' she said.

The earlier a child is driven into the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to stay in it, she added. 'When we lock up children as young as 10, it's not just a prison sentence, it's a life sentence.'

Rodney Dillon, a Palawa elder from Tasmania and Indigenous rights advisor for Amnesty International, agrees. 'Living in that system doesn't address the issues that the kids have got. All it does is make the kids worse,' he said.

Mr Dillion said children under 14 who end up in custody are more likely to skip school, have an undiagnosed disability, suffer from underlying trauma and come from a poor family.

'We know that poverty, poor housing and the criminal justice system all live together. Why don't we address all three issues?' Mr Dillon said. 'All we do, because it's simple, is lock kids up.'

Mick Creati, paediatrician and senior fellow at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said children under 14 are yet to develop the ability to control impulses or foresee the consequences of their actions.

'We are criminalising children as young as 10 for behaviours that are explained by their immature brain development, disability, mental illness and/or trauma,' Dr Creati said.

Children under 14 brought before court are presumed to be 'doli incapax', meaning they don't have the capacity to commit crime because they lack a guilty mind. But young people can spend months in remand during the legal argument.

In January, more than 30 United Nations member states, including Canada, France and Germany, called on Australia to raise the age.

Australia's Council of Attorneys-General agreed to consider raising the age to 14, and has been examining alternatives to imprisonment.

Last year ACT became the first jurisdiction to commit to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and called on other states and territories to follow.

Pressure is mounting in Victoria, where a national-first inquiry into the historic and ongoing injustices committed against Indigenous people has been established and a number of discriminatory laws have been abolished.

The Greens have introduced a bill to the upper house to raise the age but both major parties said they wouldn't support it.

'Tackling the root causes of youth offending is our first priority,' a Victorian government spokesperson told AAP, pointing to a youth justice plan aiming to provide better outcomes for young people.

On Wednesday, the attorneys-general are set to meet for the first time this year, although the federal government's expected ministerial reshuffle may cause a delay and it's unclear if raising the age will be on the agenda.

For Michael Kennedy, a former NSW Police detective who works at the University of Western Sydney, raising the age alone is not enough.

'There is no use lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 14 if nothing is going to be done about unemployment, drug and alcohol problems, sexual assault, domestic violence,' he said.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the average daily number of young people in custody in the 2019/20 financial year was the lowest since 2002.

Mr Mundine said the cost of inaction was grave. 'The ripple effect of not raising the age of criminal responsibility is going to be another 50 years of undoing trauma,' he said.

'I try to remain positive and optimistic and hopeful. Because I've proved them wrong in terms of how they measured me ... and where I'd end up.'


Bungling health authorities reveal man who hosted a party in Brisbane while infected with Covid only had FIVE people over NOT 25

A Queensland man accused of hosting a party with 25 friends while awaiting Covid test results did no wrong, the government has admitted while confirming one new locally transmitted case.

The Sunshine State was put on high alert on Friday after a 26-year-old Stafford man, from Brisbane's north, tested positive to the highly infectious UK varient of the virus.

Authorities then claimed a man who was identified as a close contact of the known case ignored advice to self isolate and instead threw a party with 25 friends after he was tested for Covid on Friday afternoon.

But they've now admitted that upon further investigation they learned there were only five people at the home.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said it was 'inflammatory' to refer to the gathering on Friday night as a party.

Instead, he said there were just five people present in the house and that there was 'no evidence' anybody in attendance committed an offence.

The 25 people first identified as being present at the party were initially forced to self isolate, but there are now just five people who are undergoing mandatory quarantine.

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said the information they provided the public was 'given by the man himself' while assisting contact tracers. But she admitted there is a possibility that authorities misunderstood the information he provided.

'That the numbers are far lower and it is contained to predominantly housemates, that is a good outcome, much better outcome than what we thought was occurring yesterday,' she said.

'It is disappointing that we have ended up in this situation, but we also have to act on the information that we have at the time.'

The state recorded three new cases of Covid on Sunday, including one within the community.

The new case is the brother of the 26-year-old Stafford man who sparked the latest outbreak when he tested positive to the highly infectious UK strain on Thursday.

Dr Young explained on Sunday the brother is likely the 'missing link' contact tracers have been searching for.

Early indications suggest the virus was in his system longer than his brother and that he has almost entirely recovered, suggesting he was infected first and passed the virus on.


Universities to smother academic freedom

The University of Sydney has treated Education Minister Alan Tudge with complete contempt within hours of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020 passing through parliament this month. It did so in the typically duplicitous manner we expect from our universities. It pretends to support the minister’s bill that allows academics to take part in contentious arguments, but then insists on a killer proviso — so long as the speech is “respectful”.

Respectful speech is a fine aspiration for all of us. But the word respect has many meanings ranging from bare tolerance to deep admiration. Former High Court chief justice Robert French, on whose report on freedom of speech and academic freedom the legislation is partly based, points out that terms such as “lack of respect” are “legal categories of indeterminate reference … They allow ‘a wide range for variable judgment in interpretation …’ ”.

That is a huge problem for an academic who is accused by their university of disrespectful speech. Who will decide if the speech was respectful enough? The vice-chancellor?

Consider a hypothetical case of a medical vaccine researcher who stated that anti-vaxxers would be responsible for killing thousands of people by scaring people about the risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. The researcher might state this calmly with many supporting facts. But there is nothing more disrespectful than an accusation that somebody is killing thousands of people. I wonder what the VC would decide? I think the medical researcher would probably get away with it because it refers to anti-vaxxers.

But what about another researcher who said that those advocating zero carbon emissions would kill millions in the Third World by making electricity too expensive? Or a scientist who stated that the banning of DDT by medical authorities had been responsible for the avoidable deaths by malaria of millions of children? Would the VC think that was disrespectful? Quite possible, yes. The academic might be fired despite both statements being perfectly arguable positions.

So the problem is that, by insisting on respect, making contentious comments becomes like walking along the edge of a cliff on a foggy night. You can’t see the edge. The only option for an academic is not to say anything remotely contentious.

In other words, Sydney University just killed academic freedom of speech while pretending to support the minister’s new law.

It seems likely that Sydney University is not aware of a recent heated debate over the term respectful at the University of Cambridge. The Cambridge VC tried to force the university academic freedom policy to require speech to be respectful. The Cambridge dons rebelled and voted instead for the term tolerance.

Why should they respect climate change deniers, some Cambridge academics legitimately argued, if they believed deniers would be responsible for the end of the world? They voted eight to one against the VC.

Such a rebellion by academics needs to happen at Sydney University. But you’d be brave to lead such a challenge. This is a university that has already fired an academic (Tim Anderson, whose comments I disagree with) for making statements it did not like.

Sydney University often states its mantra “disagree well”. It is hard to argue against such an aspiration. But it ignores the fact some things cannot be said in a way that everybody can be guaranteed to feel respected. And if academic freedom depends on nebulous terms such as respect, it ceases to exist.

What is most disgusting about the Sydney University statement is that it pretends to agree with the minister and the French review, claiming it “welcomes passage of freedom of speech bill”. It is yet more evidence that many of our universities are going to need much more encouragement to truly embrace free speech.

But the new legislation is a great step in the right direction. It will need to be policed and suitable penalties applied. That inevitably will mean threatening the loss of federal funding. In my view, Sydney University, which clearly does not understand the concept of free speech, needs to be “respectfully” spoken to by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. The universities must be independent of government interference, but to earn that independence they must first act like a university.

Sydney University does not seem to understand what being a university is all about.


Artist abused as ANU-based gallery takes down artwork critical of Chinese government

An art gallery on the campus of the Australian National University has removed three satirical artworks from an exhibition, including one that took aim at the persecution of Uighur Muslims, after complaints from Chinese international students.

Artist Luke Cornish says he experienced a torrent of abuse from Chinese students on social media after his exhibition of street art opened at the aMBUSH gallery on the ANU campus earlier this month.

“I’ve copped a lot of online abuse calling me racist. It was definitely like a targeted attack because it all happened in about an hour. I was just smashed on social media. There was so much of it,” Cornish said. “I understand the gallery is protecting its reputation. But at the same time we shouldn’t be bullied into censoring work about genocide.”

Cornish said he agreed to take down one artwork of a 10 Chinese Yuan currency note featuring Mao Zedong’s face over which he had painted a batman mask. The artwork was captioned: “A shout out to the man that ate the bat in a Wuhan wet market that stopped the f---ing world (which probably didn’t happen).”

The ANU International Students’ Department did not respond to requests for comment, but in a Facebook post said it had asked the gallery to take down the Batman artwork after receiving “multiple reports regarding the harmful nature of the artwork.”

The group said it did not request the removal of the other artworks and “were ourselves surprised to hear the other two artworks were taken down”.

The exhibition featured 54 pieces of Cornish’s artwork and is billed as a commentary on “the rise of authoritarianism, the fall of liberties, the power of the people, and art’s role in inciting change”.

“I was a little bit naive to the racism Chinese people have been facing since COVID and it did offend a lot of Chinese students. So I kind of agreed, yes, we should take that one down,” Cornish said.

But the gallery also took down two other pieces centred around a 10 Yuan note - a decision Cornish did not agree with. One note was painted over with a picture of Winnie the Pooh strangling Tigger. Cornish said the artwork was a comment on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims, with Chinese President Xi Jinping represented as Winnie the Pooh while “Tigger” rhymed with “Uighur”. In 2018, Chinese censors banned the cartoon bear after it became a popular way to mock President Xi.

The third artwork features Mao Zedong’s face marked with digital outlines of facial-recognition software, billed as a comment on the Chinese government’s social credit system and use of mass surveillance.

Cornish said the artworks were not intended to target Chinese people but rather the government.

“I certainly don’t want to offend anyone on an individual level, the country they come from, and the colour of their skin. [The artworks] are like a broad spectrum assault on all governments, anybody that’s abusing power,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said it removed the artworks after feedback from the Chinese community.

“The decision was based around unintended hurt caused to the Chinese community who felt the work was feeding into negative racial narratives,” the spokeswoman said.

“The intention of the artwork was to call out the racism experienced by the Chinese community and the absurdity of racist stories around the virus origin. However, both the artist and aMBUSH understand the experience of the series did not reflected the artist’s intention, and this is why we removed it.

“The rest of Luke’s exhibition remains on display. Including works supporting the Uighur struggle. We respect the artist’s freedom to express his political opinion.” Another piece by Cornish, depicting a Uighur man painted onto a meat cleaver remains in the exhibit.

An ANU spokesman said the aMBUSH gallery was a commercial tenant of the campus’ Kambri Precinct and is not affiliated with ANU.

“ANU is aware artwork has been taken down at Ambush Gallery, which was an independent decision of the gallery. Neither the artwork nor the exhibition were commissioned by ANU,” the spokesman said.




Australian Politics 2021-03-27 09:28:00


Folbigg petition: Science thrown out of court

She was convicted on the basis of an assumption now known to be false

At 10.10am on Wednesday, Australia’s most notorious female prisoner, Kathleen Folbigg, entered a room at Clarence Correctional Facility and sat at a table, facing a camera linked to a court in Sydney. Eight minutes later, looking slightly bemused, she stood up and left.

In the interim, NSW Supreme Court Justice John Basten had taken less than 45 seconds to dismiss an application made on Folbigg’s behalf to overturn the findings of an inquiry held in 2019 into her convictions for the manslaughter of her firstborn, Caleb, and the subsequent murders of her second child, Patrick, and her third and fourth children, Sarah and Laura.

A scathing written judgment from the three Appeal Court judges, justices Basten, Paul Brereton and Mark Leeming, confirmed the view of the commissioner who headed the earlier inquiry, Justice Reginald Blanch, that “there was an ample basis, consistent with the scientific evidence, for the judicial officer to conclude that there was no reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt”.

The judges also suggested that: “This was not a case in which the judicial officer’s conclusion was at odds with the scientific evidence.”

What happened next was unprecedented. That afternoon, the Australian Academy of Science issued a statement directly contradicting the judges, saying: “There are medical and scientific explanations for the death of each of Kathleen Folbigg’s children.”

Academy president John Shine told The Australian: “Experts from around the globe have offered an evidence-based explanation for the death of the Folbigg children. It is time that this evidence be brought to bear in the Folbigg case. Any statement suggesting a contrary view should be backed with data. The Folbigg case calls into question the ability for the legal system to assess the reliability of expert evidence.”

Australian National University professor Carola Vinuesa, who gave evidence to the 2019 inquiry, went even further, describing Justice Blanch’s conclusions about the genetic evidence she had helped to present as “incorrect”, and the inquiry’s reasoning as “non-scientific”.

Or in other words, the judges got it wrong.

It’s clear that this is now a bare-knuckle fight between those scientists who believe that plausible natural causes of death have been established for all four of Folbigg’s children, and the judges who continue to reason that other, circumstantial elements of the case, combined with the anguished, ambiguous comments made by Folbigg in her diaries, leave no room for doubt that she smothered all four of her children.

The petition

The Appeal Court verdict comes less than three weeks after 90 eminent scientists — including two Australian Nobel laureates — signed a petition to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, calling for Folbigg’s immediate pardon and release from jail.

That petition is based on peer-reviewed research published after Justice Blanch’s inquiry, which concludes that Folbigg’s daughters, Sarah and Laura, “likely” died of natural causes linked to a genetic abnormality, and it remains a live issue to be considered by the Governor and by the NSW Attorney-General, Mark Speakman, and his team. The petition and its new research were not referred to by the Appeal Court judges in their conclusions about the science.

Newcastle University Scientia professor emeritus Eugenie R. Lumbers told The Weekend Australian that in her view: “The conflict that exists between the legal system and science can be attributed to the rapid progress of new scientific knowledge. It is essential that the legal system takes a considered approach and places reliance on the expertise of scientists currently working in relevant specific areas of inquiry. ”

The challenge to the judges by the scientific community marks a significant escalation in the increasingly frosty relationship between medical and scientific expert witnesses, and the judges who assess that evidence.

This week, two expert witnesses who appeared on Folbigg’s behalf at the 2019 inquiry openly criticised the way in which they and their evidence were treated.

Newcastle University emeritus professor Robert Clancy said: “My experience in giving evidence at the 2019 inquiry was extremely stressful. I was subjected to a ‘vigour of inquiry’ that I found aggressive and beyond anything I had experienced in over 40 years as an expert witness.

“When I could not agree with incorrect and outmoded evidence given earlier, counsel asked me to provide a detailed report — which I did. Without my knowledge, relevant information in it was redacted.”

Caroline Blackwell, conjoint professor of immunology and microbiology at Newcastle University, says she had the impression the inquiry “was not aware of the complexity or the relevance of the information presented by Professor Clancy and myself”.

John Hilton, long regarded as one of Australia’s pre-eminent forensic pathologists, told The Weekend Australian that the medical evidence “certainly in one case, showed a clear-cut, obvious natural cause of death”.

That case was Laura, Folbigg’s fourth child, where Hilton and three other forensic pathologists all gave evidence to the inquiry that her death could be ascribed to myocarditis, a sometimes fatal inflammation of the heart muscle. Hilton describes it as a “strong probability”.

Laura’s myocarditis was also referred to by the cardiac geneticists who reviewed the case and who suggested it may have triggered her underlying genetic condition causing a cardiac arrest and her sudden death.

Hilton says: “For some reason or other, people have found it terribly hard to get their heads around this. They didn’t understand really what the medical evidence was saying.”

The science

This is now the main allegation being levelled at Justice Blanch, and at the Appeal Court judges who reviewed the genetic evidence that was presented to his inquiry — that they didn’t understand the science.

Law professor Gary Edmond, from the University of NSW, says: “If you were designing a system to facilitate an impartial review of a conviction, where the major issue is the biomedical evidence, would you appoint legally trained personnel to conduct, oversee and evaluate the evidence? Why do we have a legally trained chair, legally trained counsel assisting but no forensic pathologist, geneticist or statistician sitting on the panel?”

Referring to the genetic mutation, CALM2 G114R, which Vinuesa and her colleagues discovered in Folbigg and her two daughters, the judges acknowledged this week that: “The scientific evidence raised a theoretical possibility that there were innocent explanations for the deaths of the two girls.”

But, they argued: “Their circumstances departed from the reported cases of deaths associated with CALM abnormalities.” Compared with other cases reported in the literature, the deaths of Sarah and Laura were “outliers”, the judges ruled. One example was that “the girls apparently died suddenly when asleep and not during exertion”. A further example was the contention that they died at a younger age than other, known examples of CALM-induced deaths.

But Vinuesa begs to disagree. “In all four Folbigg children, there is credible medical and pathological evidence, including new peer-reviewed genetic findings, by an international team of 27 scientists published in a top international cardiology journal … that points towards natural causes of death,” she says.

This is the evidence that the scientists published in the highly respected journal, Europace — which Vinuesa believes was not adequately considered by the Appeal Court.

Vinuesa says that the Folbigg girls’ deaths were not outliers with regards to already known CALM-related sudden unexpected deaths.

On Friday, one of the world’s foremost cardiologists and cardiac genetics experts, Peter Schwartz, weighed in. He described the judges’ scientific commentary as “simply wrong”, adding: “It goes against the only serious data available, namely those of our International Calmodulin Registry.

“With over 100 patients enrolled, it is crystal clear that life-threatening or fatal events have occurred in infants and young children at rest or during sleep, and the majority occur without prior warning.” Vinuesa and her team discovered a different genetic mutation in the two boys, Caleb and Patrick, although the scientists acknowledge that here, further research is needed.

The judges’ conclusions implied that CALM mutations that are lethal in children are not inherited from healthy parents. But Schwartz argues that: “It is widely accepted in genetics that highly symptomatic infants can inherit the disease-causing mutations from apparently healthy parents or parents with mild disease. Consistent with the latter, Ms Folbigg had numerous transient fainting episodes (known as syncopes) during childhood and adolescence, including a witnessed syncope while swimming as an 11-year-old child, requiring her to be dragged out of the pool, which rules out it having been a ‘benign’ syncope.”

What next?

Folbigg’s fate now rests with the NSW Governor and the politically appointed Attorney-General, Mark Speakman.

Will they agree with claims by the Australian Academy of Science, that the scientific conclusions reached by the Appeal Court judges are flawed, or will they decide that the circumstantial evidence presented at Folbigg’s trial, and the evidence of her diaries, overrides these claims?

Edmond argues that: “NSW should have an independent criminal cases review commission — like England, Scotland and New Zealand.”

And he adds: “At one level, given the medical evidence, the diary entries may not even be meaningful. If there is no medical evidence suggesting murder or even deliberate harm, does it matter that a woman has written self-deprecating and adverse self-accusations? The ambiguous diaries must be read subject to the medical evidence. If the medical evidence does not support murder, then ambiguous diaries cannot operate as a makeweight.”

Blackwell says: “There have been significant advancements in science and medicine in the last 18 years. This is particularly evident in the field of genetics, which has led to groundbreaking findings that could not have been envisioned almost two decades ago. The law needs to be open to this progress. It also requires scientists to support the legal system in their understanding of the true cause of all unexpected deaths.”

Solicitor Rhanee Rego and barrister Robert Cavanagh, co-authors of the petition seeking Folbigg’s release, believe that the Appeal Court’s decision this week “should not impact on the petition for pardon of Ms Folbigg, which is currently under consideration by the Governor. The petition deals with matters not considered by the NSW Court of Appeal.”

Rego says: “One of the biggest tensions in our legal system is the varying levels of scientific literacy of those who preside over and appear in courtrooms.

“This can lead to fundamental errors in the assessment of scientific evidence … We must be conscious to listen to those experts who represent their field of expertise and treat with caution those who do not.”


Outrage as young boys are forced to stand in school assembly and 'apologise for rapes committed by their gender' to female classmates

It's a basic principle of natural justice that you are not responsible for the deeds of others

A school has sparked outrage by forcing its young male students to apologise on behalf of their gender to female classmates.

Brauer College in the south-western Victorian town of Warrnambool held an assembly on Wednesday where boys were told to stand up in a symbolic gesture of apology to girls and women.

One parent said her son in Year 7 was left confused about why he had to stage the bizarre apology, where boys were told to say sorry that women are raped and sexually assaulted.

'He said that he was made to stand up and basically apologise... it wasn’t explained properly to the male students what they were doing or why they were doing it,' the mother Danielle Shephard told 7News.

'They really should have made more of an effort to notify the parents.'

In a separate post on Facebook, Ms Shepherd shared another complaint from a parent who called the assembly 'a joke'.

'Wow just wow... this is actually disgusting Brauer College... not at all impressed that you made my son apologise for something he's never done nor considered doing,' she wrote.

A male student also criticised the assembly in a Snapchat post. 'Today at Brauer they made every guy stand up and apologise to every girl for rape, sexual assault,' the student said. 'Guys go through as much s**t as girls do.'

Brauer College Principal Jane Boyle said the apology part of the assembly was 'inappropriate' but defended the school's intentions.

'The assembly included the screening of a video message by Brisbane Boys’ College Captain Mason Black about being proactive in stopping incidents of sexual assault and harassment,' she said in a statement.

'As part of this discussion boys were asked to stand as a symbolic gesture of apology for the behaviours of their gender that have hurt or offended girls and women.

'In retrospect, while well-intended, we recognise that this part of the assembly was inappropriate.'

One mother said on Facebook their son had told her the exercise was simply intended to 'raise awareness'.

'My son explained they stood not to apologise, but to stand in support and solidarity,' another parent wrote.

'You'll find all schools will be teaching consent over the next year - Braeur won't be the only one.'

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino has since moved to make teaching consent compulsory in all government schools from next month.

The initiative previously did not explicitly direct schools to teach consent and instead focused on relationships, sexuality and safety.

From term two, the directive will compel state schools to teach the government's Respectful Relationships training on free agreements.

Brisbane Boys' College is another of several schools in Australia that has been named in testimonies from private and public school girls who say they were either sexually assaulted, harassed or raped.

Thousands of schoolgirls shared their experiences after Kambala School alumni Chanel Contos, 22, launched a petition on February 18, demanding students be taught about consent.


Gross police abuse of their powers

Police officers have been accused of deliberately intimating a lawyer on his way to court and scaring him so badly he fled through the Magistrate's exit.

The solicitor had been on his way to represent an outlaw motorcycle gang member in a case against NSW Police Strike Force Raptor - the elite bikie-fighting unit. The lawyer was so shaken that the hearing was adjourned.

The abuse of power was detailed in the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's report which was made public late on Friday.

The lawyer, a principal in his own criminal law firm, first noticed a police car driving past his house at 6.30am on May 28, 2019 - the day he was due in court to represent the bikie against Strike Force Raptor, the report said.

Being on good terms with local police in his country town, he waved - but they didn't wave back.

At 7am he reversed out of his driveway onto the empty street and noticed police were following him.

They pulled him over less than 10 minutes away at a nearby Beaurepaires tyre shop, and identified themselves as being from Strike Force Raptor.

The Raptor officers asked for his drivers license - which he had forgotten.

On his way home to get his ID, the Raptor officers stopped him again to conduct a 'roadworthiness check' on his vehicle.

They repeatedly pulled the front seatbelt before claiming it was not retracting.

They then opened the bonnet and told him they could see an oil leak, then defected him for oil leaks, seat belt defects and window tinting, forcing him to walk home in his socks and thongs.

Rattled, he took a taxi to work - but the police followed his taxi, checking it after he arrived at work with their flashing lights on, the report said.

At 8.30am, his client arrived, telling him the police were 'doing laps' outside his office. This worried the lawyer so much he took a back exit from his office to a solicitor friend who rang the regular police - but they said they could not do anything.

He was so shaken that when he appeared before the Magistrate to represent his client against Strike Force Raptor, she adjourned the matter.

When he left the courtroom, five to 10 Strike Force Raptor officers were waiting.

This intimidated the lawyer so much he fled the court by the Magistrate's private exit, with her permission.

He then told his client that he should not represent him anymore - and the client hired another lawyer, the report said.

Integrity Commissioner Lea Drake found that a senior Strike Force Raptor officer had ordered two other officers to 'target, interact and harass' the lawyer so that he did not make it to court, and also intimidated his female friend.

The Commissioner found that the officers' conduct towards the lawyer was 'disgraceful', inventing breaches in order to target him.

'When misused, targeting can create a hostile relationship between the police and citizens who would otherwise have no animosity towards the police,' the Commissioner wrote.

'The Commission is concerned about the sense of entitlement that can develop in an elite strike force and was demonstrated by this conduct.

'Such limited strategies can become unrestrained and unlawful. If you are an elite, are you bound by the rule of law and the policies of the NSW Police Force or are you bigger, better, harder and more entitled?

'The task of these officers is to enforce the law. If the unlawful conduct engaged in by these officers is allowed to continue and be condoned because of some imagined higher purpose, there can be no good to come from it for the people of New South Wales.'

The Commissioner wrote that while Strike Force Raptor had been successful in disrupting criminal activity, it could not be allowed to harass people.

'However, unlawful conduct must not be condoned or covered up.'

Greens MP David Shoebridge was beside himself on reading the report and slammed the conduct within it late on Friday, summing up the story in an outraged Twitter thread.

'Lawless,' he wrote.

'This is seriously lawless behaviour by a number of police acting in concert and it’s close to unbelievable .... We (will) not leave it here I can assure you. Seriously unbelievable.'

A spokesman for NSW Police said the release of the report had been 'noted' and its contents and recommendations would be 'considered'.


Brisbane man claims paramedics took more than four hours to arrive to his code one call

A Brisbane man has called on the government to expedite fixing ambulance response times before someone dies after he said he waited four hours for paramedics to arrive.

Ben Mihan, 33, said he rang Triple-0 at 8.58pm on Friday as he was suffering from severe chest pains along with trouble breathing.

“They put me as a category one patient and they took four hours and 15 minutes to arrive,” he said.

“During the time they didn’t communicate to check in with me considering the long duration of time I was waiting and I was left in the dark.

“Paramedics didn’t arrive until 1.15am the following morning and I was rushed to hospital.”

Mr Mihan who lives alone and also suffers from asthma, said he then spent five days in the cardiac ward at Chermside’s Prince Charles Hospital, where he was hooked up to a heart monitor for the week.

“It was really scary not knowing when the ambulance would even turn up. I thought they forgot about me,” he said.

“Over that period of time in hospital they ran lots of tests and, as a 33-year-old man, the whole experience was pretty intense and scary.”

The Clontarf resident said an abnormal rhythm was detected in his heart twice, with doctors suspecting a possible blood clot.

Mr Mihan said he was shocked with the four hours it took for an ambulance to arrive, but grateful to be alive. “If somebody, like an elderly man is having a heart attack and it’s a definite heart attack, those four hours would make a difference. He won’t survive that,” he said. “Some people are going to die from these wait times.”

He said he wanted to share his story in the hope it would help alert the government that the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) direly needed more resources.

The pressure has been on the Queensland Government to increase the number of QAS personnel after it was revealed in January response times had fallen to an average of 18.3 minutes for a code one – or a life threatening emergency.

The ambulance response time statewide averaged 18.4 minutes during 2019-2020, up from 17.1 minutes during 2018-2019, according to the Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2021.

Ben Mihan said he called Triple-0 three times, and each time was told an ambulance would be there soon. Picture: Supplied
Ben Mihan said he called Triple-0 three times, and each time was told an ambulance would be there soon. Picture: Supplied
The best QAS response time recorded since 2012 was during 2013-2014 when an average time of 14.7 minutes was achieved, but it has continued to creep up ever since.