Monthly Archives: December 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 26, 2021


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 26, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy


Capitalism Didn’t Make the iPhone, You iMbecile


The creation of the entire new era of computers and information technology can be precisely traced back to one event, when U.S. Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research convened a seminar to deliberately share the technologies developed by various government programs and projects during World War Two:

August 1946: The Moore School Lectures


The Moore School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was at the center of developments in high-speed electronic computing in 1946. On February 14 of that year it had publicly unveiled the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, developed in secret beginning in 1943 for the Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory. Prior even to the ENIAC's completion, work had begun on a second-generation electronic digital computer, the EDVAC, which incorporated the stored program model. Work at the Moore School attracted researchers including John von Neumann, who served as a consultant to the EDVAC project, and Stan Frankel and Nicholas Metropolis of the Manhattan Project, who arrived to run one of the first major programs written for the ENIAC, a mathematical simulation for the hydrogen bomb project…. The 8-week course was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Army's Ordnance Department and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, who promised (by verbal authorizations) the $3,000 requested to cover lecturer salaries and fees and $4,000 for travel, printing, and overhead. ($1,569 over this figure was ultimately claimed.)

Another Crisis Surrounds Us: Life expectancy drops almost two years in the U.S., and it’s not just from COVID-19.

[The American Prospect, December 23, 2021]

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, the largest single-year drop since national statistics were made available in 1933. The U.S. totaled 3,383,729 registered deaths, more than 500,000 higher than the year before. And that’s not even the worst statistic from the newly released mortality data.

Death rates for every age group 15 years and over increased from 2019 to 2020. The increase continues across men and women, regardless of race. However, rates sharply rose most among Black and Latino men.

Strategic Geo-Politics

Russia’s ultimatum to the West 

[The Saker, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021] 

Because most of the “international community” which “supports” (well, obeys) the USA is the EU, which itself is in a terminal crisis on too many levels to count here!

Compare the red and the grey zones on the map, and ask yourself these questions: which zone has the most powerful military? which zone has the most natural and human resources? which zone has the most promising trading routes? which zone has a real GDP, as opposed to a purely FIRE one?  Which one is literally dying spiritually under the trans-national “Woke” ideology and which one has retained the willingness and ability to fight for its spiritual, cultural, and civilizational values?  Finally, which zone has a viable vision of the future?

I could go on and on with many more such questions, but I think that you see my point: the USA is not only losing militarily, but it is also losing on all fronts!

The Epidemic

Why the coronavirus’s delta variant dominated 2021: Delta’s unique constellation of mutations explains why it has wreaked so much havoc.

[Science News, via The Big Picture 12-20-2021] 

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-22-2021]



“Beneath a Covid Vaccine Debacle, 30 Years of Government Culpability”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-23-2021]

“How the Koch Network Is Spreading COVID Misinformation”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]

“Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff — are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures. The trio also has ties to the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely rebuked yet influential missive that encouraged governments to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ policy letting COVID-19 spread largely unchecked, even as the virus has killed more than 800,000 Americans.”

How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On COVID 

[Daily Poster, December 22, 2021]

When COVID began its spread across the United States in early March 2020, states responded by locking down to varying extents. All 24 Democratic governors and 19 of the 26 Republican governors issued weeks-long stay-at-home orders and restrictions on non-essential businesses.

Lockdown measures drove down cases in the U.S. and likely saved millions of lives globally. But the decline of in-person shopping and work, combined with factory shutdowns in places like China, disrupted the economy. A 2020 report from the corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found the hardest-hit industries would take years to recover.

One sector in particular that took a big hit was the fossil fuel industry. Oil demand fell sharply in 2020, placing the global economy on uncertain footing.

Before long, business-aligned groups — particularly those connected to fossil fuels — began targeting the public health measures threatening their bottom lines. Chief among them were groups tied to billionaire Charles Koch, owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately held fossil fuel company in the world.

The war on public health measures began on March 20, 2020, when Americans For Prosperity (AFP), the right-wing nonprofit founded by Charles and David Koch, issued a press release calling on states to remain open.

“We can achieve public health without depriving the people most in need of the products and services provided by businesses across the country,” it read.

A month later, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business lobbying group partially funded by Koch Industries, published a letter calling on President Donald Trump to enable states to reopen. That letter was signed by over 200 state legislators and “stakeholders,” including leaders from Koch-funded groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the James Madison Institute.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

This block used to be for first-time homebuyers. Then global investors bought in

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]

Progress Residential acquires as many as 2,000 houses a month through the use of a computerized property-search algorithm and swift all-cash offers. Efficient management practices have been a boon to their tenants who cannot afford to buy one of the “entry level” homes. But Progress Residential has been ringing up substantial profits for wealthy investors around the world while outbidding middle-class home buyers and subjecting tenants to what they allege are unfair rent hikes, shoddy maintenance and excessive fees. 

Wyoming Is the Onshore-Offshore Tax Haven of Oligarch Dreams 

[Esquire, via Naked Capitalism 12-22-2021]

SEC gives JPMorgan Chase record fine for using WhatsApp to conduct business 

[UPI, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]

“To get around federal record-keeping laws.”

Deregulated aviation confronts deregulated telecom….

“Boeing, Airbus executives urge delay in U.S. 5G wireless deployment”

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]

“‘5G interference could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate,’ the letter said, adding it could have ‘an enormous negative impact on the aviation industry.’ The industry and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have raised concerns about potential interference of 5G with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters. The FAA this month issued airworthiness directives warning 5G interference could result in flight diversions.”

The World’s Most Profitable Traffic Jam 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]

Clogging up the ports is a $150 billion business, but a bipartisan bill to re-regulate the sector is moving through Congress. Why is Congress about to do the right thing?

Climate and environmental crises

The Race to Secure Water in the Western U.S.

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 12-25-2021]

How four cities are trying to survive future droughts, from expanding reservoirs and tapping neighboring watersheds to pushing conservation efforts.  

Predatory Finance

OCC Report Shows JPMorgan Chase Owns 62 Percent of all Stock Derivatives Held at 4,914 Banks in the U.S.

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 23, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

The Fed Gets Its Ducks in a Row for the Next Wall Street Bailout; Quietly Adds Goldman Sachs Bank, Citibank to Its New $500 Billion Standing Repo Facility

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 21, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

JPMorgan’s Crime Wave Continues, Calling into Question the Justice Department’s Lax Settlement with the Bank Last Year

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 20, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined the securities unit of JPMorgan Chase $125 million for evading the ability of the SEC to adequately conduct its investigations of the bank because there was “firmwide” use by traders, supervisors and other personnel of non-official communications devices to conduct its business, while the firm failed to record and retain these messages as required by law.

These new violations occurred despite similar conduct during the bank’s participation in the rigging of the foreign exchange market, which brought a criminal felony charge against the bank by the Justice Department in May of 2015.

There’s a Nasty Public Battle Raging Over Control of the Federal Agency that Insures Bank Deposits

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, December 16, 2021 [Wall Street on Parade]

Information age dystopia

AI debates its own ethics at Oxford University, concludes the only way to be safe is “no AI at all” 

[ZMEScience, via Naked Capitalism 12-21-2021]

Charging Julian Assange with espionage is a greater threat to democracy than Jan. 6 

[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]

Collapse of independent news media

Altercation: The Sins of the Mainstream Media = The many reasons why the media is failing to reckon with the loss of our democracy

Eric Alterman, December 23, 2021 [The American Prospect]

The media critic Dan Froomkin wrote an excellent column recently which pointed to another aspect of the problem. Nina Bernstein, a reporter who covered homelessness for The New York Times, tells him that at the Paper of Record, “To write factually, up close, with what I like to call intelligent compassion about these people’s lives basically invited charges of partisanship … Many reporters across the traditional news media are struggling against institutional tics and timidities that make ‘balance’ a false idol.” The result: “The inadvertent normalization of existential threats to democracy and public health by one party and its right-wing media echo chamber.” Bernstein points the finger at Times mid-level editors. They are often the ones “who are more timid, more ready to water down or reject a story.” But, she notes, “They’re trying to do what they think the top editors want.”

Democrats’ political suicide

How months of talks between Biden and Manchin over Build Back Better broke down 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-2021]

“The Democratic Agenda Dies of Delusions”

Eric Levitz [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-21-2021]

“Manchin and his Democratic critics each fell prey to their respective delusions. Put simply, Manchin cannot recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of Clinton-era conceptions of fiscal responsibility, while the Democratic leadership has refused to accept that it has no real leverage over him.” • Good analysis from Levitz, worth reading in full (though I still think prosecuting Manchin’s daughter would be an option of Merrick Garland weren’t who and what he is).

Now Can We Try the Day One Agenda?

David Dayen, December 21, 2021 [The American Prospect] 

With Joe Manchin pulling the string on Biden’s signature legislation, it’s past time for him to use his own authority to make progress….

It just so happens that well over two years ago, this magazine wrote a guideline to using presidential power called the Day One Agenda. We identified 77 discrete actions the next president could take on their own authority simply by executing laws already passed by Congress. In fact, we wrote it imagining precisely the kind of political gridlock we now face, where there just aren’t enough votes to advance policy.

There’s a lot of energy that will be put forward in the coming days to calling executive action a weak substitute for a wide-ranging legislative package like BBB. And certainly, it’s not the preferred path of congressional reporter tip sheets that measure progress by a legislative scoreboard they can easily track. But enormous progress could be made through executive action. Some already has.

The Biden administration has taken at least some action on about one-third of the 77 policies we outlined. He raised the minimum wage for nearly half a million federal contract workers to $15 an hour, got started on a postal banking pilot test to promote financial inclusion, and engaged a host of actions at the Federal Trade Commission to resolve inequities caused by corporate giants. Just this week, Biden imposed a new tailpipe emissions standard that mandates fleet-wide fuel economy of 55 miles per gallon by 2026.

But he has shied away from some of the more impactful ideas. Biden could cancel student debt for 42 million borrowers. He could give millions more workers access to overtime pay. He could deschedule marijuana from the list of controlled substances, effectively legalizing a burgeoning industry. His IRS could end the carried interest loophole that makes private equity so attractive and prohibit private equity management fees, weakening this cancerous financial scheme that is destroying hundreds of businesses. On the near-term crisis of the pandemic, Biden has several options, from ensuring cheap at-home tests by approving more for use, to using approved funds to improve ventilation in indoor public spaces like schools.

Most important, in areas that intersect with Build Back Better’s priorities, Biden has not only been fairly muted, but has failed to use his power in ways that could spur Manchin and Congress to act. The new tailpipe emissions are a start, but Biden has significant command-and-control authority to meet his Paris Agreement goals, which if used aggressively could spell the end of a certain mining technique Manchin is wedded to in West Virginia. In the absence of Build Back Better provisions lowering prescription drug costs, Biden could use federal law to seize drug patents developed with public money and assure they will be distributed affordably. (And yes, the Supreme Court could seek to block such actions, but that would be a pitiful excuse for not even trying.)

“A Good Day w/Special Guest Matt Stoller” (podcast)

[The West Wing Thing, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-21-2021]

Includes a ruthless takedown of Vice-President Kamala Harris 

Why Democrats Need Unions More Than Ever: A new study makes clear how union members voted substantially more Democratic in 2020 than their non-union counterparts.

Harold Meyerson, December 21, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Here’s some of what they found:

  • Union women were 21 percentage points more likely than non-union women to vote for Biden, while union men were 13 points more likely than their non-union counterparts.
  • White union voters were 18 percentage points more likely to vote for Biden than white non-union voters, while Hispanic unionists were 13 points more likely to go for Biden. Black voters preferred Biden by such overwhelming margins that there was no significant difference due to union status.
  • College-educated unionists went for Biden at a rate 22 percent higher than their non-union counterparts, while working-class union members favored Biden by 6 percent more than working-class nonmembers. Among Hispanic working-class voters, the union margin over non-union voters was 16 points; among whites, just six points (though that six-point margin certainly helped Biden carry Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania).

Just a glance at these numbers makes clear the toll that 70 years of declining union strength has taken on the Democrats’ electoral prospects. If the unionized workforce constituted 20 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, as it did 40 years ago—let alone the 35 percent it did in the middle of the last century—Democrats would be winning elections by far larger margins.

Liberalism v. civic republicanism

“Power and the Liberal Tradition”

Samantha Hancox-Li [Liberal Currents, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-22-2021]

“This conception of faction and its power has implications for our conception of a liberal society. Contra Rawls et al., the precondition of liberal democracy is not the mere moral equality of human beings. It is to be found in the power structure of society’s factions. To reframe Madison: the republican principle consists of the idea that the power of the faction of the people as a whole outmatches that of private factions, at any given level of analysis. ‘Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,’ Madison says in Federalist no. 51. One might instead say ‘power must be made to counteract power.'”

Lambert Strether comments: “As I wrote, considering Federalist no. 10: “[T]he protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property [is] central to the material basis for faction formation.” Hancox-Li seems to assume that property interests are evenly distributed among a homogenous people; they are not; hence the people cannot be a faction. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see a reasonably self-aware liberal try to struggle out of the straitjacket they’ve locked themselves in.”

Law's Republic (pdf)
Frank Michelman [The Yale Law Journal,  Volume 97, Number 8, July 1988]

1499 “It is the very purpose of our Constitution ... to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of temporary political majorities." ​​​​​​​One possible way of making sense of this is by conceiving of politics as a process in which private-regarding "men" become public-regarding citizens and thus members of a people. It would be by virtue of that people-making quality that the process would confer upon its law-like issue the character of law binding upon all as self-given.

1502-3 [TW: republicanism is not optional] ... belief in juris-generative politics that it seems must play a role in any explanation of how the constitutionalist principles of self-rule and law-rule might coincide.

Yet republican thought is no less committed to the idea of the people acting politically as the sole source of law and guarantor of rights, than it is to the idea of law, including rights, as the precondition of good politics. Republican thought thus demands some way of understanding how laws and rights can be both the free creations of citizens and, at the same time, the normative givens that constitute and underwrite a polity….

1517 In sum, the dialectic of foundership and citizenship may be taken as republicanism's traditional, figurative expression of what I have presented as American constitutionalism's problematic and dynamic core-that is, its endless interplay between the principles of legality (entailing respect for historical commitment) and self-government (entailing respect for the human capacity for

1525 [TW: To highlight the contrast in the impulses derived from democracy and republicanism, Michelson contrasts the decision in Bowers v. Hardwick to that of Brown v. Board of Education]

If we imagine the Brown Court acting in accordance with the understanding… of constitutional adjudication as always proceeding from within an on-going normative dialogic practice, then that Court's willingness to be thus enlisted must signify its grasp of the enlisters and their work as lying within the bounds, if away from the center, of our then constitutional practice. Thus informed, the Brown Court spoke in the accents of invention, not of convention; it spoke for the future, criticizing the past; it spoke for law, creating authority; it engaged in political argument. In Hardwick's case the Court did the opposite.

[TW: A few pages later, Michelson provides another example jurisgenerative politics of a community thus far allowed only “partial citizenship” struggling to “accumulate” citizenship, this occurring in our own time]:

1530 How does such a new slant on the world penetrate the dominant consciousness? …does anyone doubt the primary and crucial role in this instance of the emergent social presence and self emancipatory activity of Black Americans? Does anyone doubt that their impact on the rest of us has reflected their own oppositional understandings of their situation and its relation to our (and increasingly their) Constitution—developed, in part, through conflict within their own community, in a process that both challenged and utilized such partial citizenship as the Constitution granted and allowed them (and left its clear imprint on constitutional law both within and beyond the topical area of race)? Does anyone doubt that the judicial agents of the challengers' accumulating citizenship drew on interpretive possibilities that the challengers' own activity was helping to create? (1530)

Thus, IF it properly understands republicanism and defends its precepts, “The Court helps protect the republican state… from lapsing into a politics of self-denial. It challenges "the people's" self-enclosing tendency to assume their own moral completion as they now are and thus to deny to themselves the plurality on which their capacity for transformative self-renewal depends”

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Report Spotlights Massive GOP Push to 'Hijack Elections in This Country'

[Common Dreams, December 24, 2021]

A detailed analysis published Thursday shines further light on the Republican Party's sprawling assault on voting rights and the democratic process nationwide, an effort that includes legislation that would "politicize, criminalize, and interfere" with elections.

Compiled by the States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward, the new report identifies at least 262 bills in 41 states that—if enacted—would "interfere with election administration." More than 30 such measures have become law in 17 Republican-led states.

"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment."

But the report makes clear that the intensifying Republican attack on democracy reaches far beyond the legislative process. "The nature of the threat," the authors warn, "has metastasized beyond proposing or passing bills."

Sons of Anarchy How an F.B.I. informant stopped the gun-crazed, conspiracy-theorizing group behind the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.

[Air Mail, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]

There might be no better state in which to play army than Michigan. Summers are verdant and the wetlands come alive with animals. The man-made world feels very distant. But it’s a poor state, and when the high green corn is cut and trees turn leafless under the months-long Midwestern winter, the poverty shows: idled auto-parts factories, tractor trailers waiting out the black ice, dinged S.U.V.’s spilling children at Dollar Generals.

The Paperwork Coup 

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]

A much more dangerous insurrection was under way in the inboxes of Trump’s inner circle in the weeks before January 6.

Meadows Was Deeply Involved in Fighting Election Outcome, Jan. 6 Panel Says 

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]

The House committee laid out its case for a contempt of Congress charge against Mark Meadows, the chief of staff to former President Donald J. Trump.

Donald Trump’s Megaphone: Fox News news hosts knew that Trump’s lies were lies—and they amplified them anyhow  

[The Dispatch, via The Big Picture 12-19-2021]

I didn’t want to be complicit in so many lies. I know that a huge share of the people you saw on TV praising Trump were being dishonest. I know it, because they would say one thing to my face or in my presence and another thing when the cameras and microphones were flipped on. Punditry and politics is a very small world—especially on the right—and if you add-up all the congressmen, senators, columnists, producers, editors, etc. you’ll probably end up with fewer people than the student population of a decent-sized liberal arts college.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-20-2021]



The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Judge rules The New York Times must destroy documents and not publish reporting on conservative group 

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 12-25-2021]

The New York Times must return memos it obtained that were written by an attorney for the conservative activist group Project Veritas, a judge in New York ruled Friday.

The ruling by New York state court judge Charles Wood affirms his temporary order last month in favor of the conservative activist group. The developments prevent The New York Times from reporting on memos written years ago by Project Veritas' attorney Benjamin Barr, which the paper had published last month, along with a story about how the conservative group, notorious for sting operations often conducted under false names or with hidden cameras, obtains information.

The New York Times story in question, "Project Veritas and the Line Between Journalism and Political Spying," had reported on Barr's advice to Project Veritas members about, among other things, the group's efforts to spy on government employees to gauge their sentiments toward then-President Donald Trump.

I very much doubt the judge would issue a similar ruling if the plaintiff were the ACLU or a labor union.

Georgia’s Original Sin and the 2022 Secret Vote-Crushing Scheme 

Greg Palast [via Naked Capitalism 12-23-2021]


Australian Politics 2021-12-26 07:09:00


Nadia Bokody: Sex dwindles at Christmas, but you can save it

I am not sure we should be getting sex advice from a lesbian but what Nadia says below does sound pretty right to me

About a month ago, my girlfriend brought me home to meet her parents. The trip did not go well.

Stress and sleep deprivation bubbled over into a terse exchange during lunch, and ultimately, a not altogether discreet argument.

My ineptitude at moderating my emotions in tense situations meant that, instead of putting my best foot forward, I quite likely left her family with the impression our relationship is more problematic than an episode of And Just Like That

Of course, we aren’t perfect. I cry often over small things, have a propensity to be unnecessarily dramatic (if you haven’t texted me back in 13 minutes, I’m already holding a focus group)

My girlfriend can be snappy when she’s in a bad mood, consistently leaves clusters of long black hair in my bathtub, and says “I love you” when we’re sitting together on the couch – at which point, I usually turn and realise she’s speaking to her dog.

Regardless of our flaws, we’re very happy most of the time. Blissful, even. Which makes it all the more frustrating that, for the few short days we were with her family, we were the least palatable version of ourselves.

That’s the thing about stress, though. It has a habit of bringing out the worst in us, and it’s usually our intimate relationships that bear the brunt.

The real deathblow? This often translates to a drop-off in physical intimacy.

I got to thinking about this recently because, with arguably the most anxiety-inducing time of year upon us, research shows we’re all feeling more frazzled and less amorous than ever toward our partners – women, especially.

A Stanford University study that looked at over half a million women’s annual sexual activity logs confirmed there’s a steep decline in our interest in sex around Christmas.

And it makes perfect sense.

After all, who wants to get it on when they’re still fuming about the fact they received an ironing board cover instead of the necklace they explicitly circled in that conspicuously left out Michael Hill catalogue??

Thankfully, there’s a cure for festive sexlessness, and the specific kind of anxiety that comes with wanting to reassure your girlfriend’s parents their daughter isn’t saddled with a neurotic argument-monger (or, you know, at least not the latter).

Connective acts like holding hands, extended eye contact and kissing are all linked to decreased cortisol and a boost in the feel-good, calming hormone oxytocin (which, incidentally, also helps us feel more bonded with our partners

Ironically, the more of these non-sexual activities you participate in, the greater likelihood there is you’ll end up getting it on under the mistletoe after all. Because the calmer we feel, the easier it is to become sexually aroused.

All that said, on what is supposed to be a day of peace and love, we should also probably cut our partners some slack if they’re not exemplifying Christmas cheer.


‘Not if, but when’: Uncomfortable Covid truth Australians have to face

As countless Christmases sit ruined by a renewed spike in Covid-19 cases following the arrival of the Omicron strain, a large number of Australians seem to be asking the same thing: will I eventually get coronavirus, no matter what precautions I take?

One expert has said it’s now almost inevitable that we will all come into contact with Covid-19.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said.

After almost two years of the pandemic, just over 1 per cent of Australians (282,589) have contracted the virus, but the latest strain has experts worried about the potential for an exponential rise in cases.

The good news from the early scientific consensus is that while Omicron is easier to catch than earlier strains of the coronavirus, it’s effects are less severe.

The first official UK report into Omicron revealed the risk of hospitalisation is between 50 to 70 per cent lower than those with the Delta variant.

In South Africa, virus watchers are tentatively declaring the latest wave has already hit its peak.

Francois Venter, a medical professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, predicted that at the current rate of decline Omicron would “be pretty much gone” from all of South Africa by the end of January.

The figures bode well for Australia, where cases have surged to record levels in recent days, but we are still yet to see similar increases in hospitalisations or deaths.

Despite the positive results, Australians still remain cautious with several forced into isolation and locked out borders on the eve of the Christmas season.

‘Not a matter of if, but when’

Medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System, Dr Bernard Camins believes Australians have to come to terms with the fact they will be exposed to someone carrying the virus in the future.

“I’ve been telling this to anyone who would listen: It’s not a matter of if you get exposed to the Omicron variant or any other variant of the coronavirus, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “Everyone will run into somebody with a Covid infection,” reported NBC.

However, Dr Otto Yang of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA says just because you are exposed, it does not mean you will definitely contract the virus, regardless of the strain.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that everybody will get Covid-19,” he told the US Today Show. “I would prefer not to learn to live with Covid. I would prefer to get rid of it, and theoretically, it’s possible.

“The scenario that I’m hoping will play out is that the numbers of Covid cases are reduced drastically to the point that there are small outbreaks here and there that are easily contained and most of the population is not being exposed.”

Early hope that a double dose of the vaccine would severely reduce the chances of catching and spreading the virus have been dashed after NSW recorded a record high number of 6200 daily cases on Christmas Day, with a statewide vaccination rate of 93.5 per cent.

Dr Yang has encouraged the population to get their booster shots for the best possible protection against the Omicron strain.

“It’s looking very much like people who get a booster have protection against getting it,” he continued, adding there will “always be a possibility” for you to contract the virus regardless of vaccination status.

Director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Rochelle Walensky said “there are going to be breakthrough cases of Omicron, but they will be certainly milder if you’re vaccinated and boosted”.

“Certainly, your outcome is going to depend on your vaccination status. We will see that those who are vaccinated and boosted will have less severe outcomes, less risk of mortality.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has encouraged Australians to get their third vaccine dose after authorities moved the interval between jabs from six to five months.

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) head Professor John Skerritt told reporters that “unfortunately the answer is we’ll have to wait and see”.


‘Kisses are out’: New Year’s Eve Covid-19 warning for Sydney and Melbourne

For the second year in a row, NSW residents are looking at a pared back New Year’s Eve – but now with health recommendations that you shouldn’t even have a midnight kiss.

Last year, the Northern Beaches Covid-19 cluster forced Sydney revellers to have just five guests over at their homes on December 31.

This time around, there are no restrictions on how many people you can invite to your end of year bash, but epidemiologists are warning people to be sensible in what could end up being a superspreader event.

In particular, a cheeky midnight smooch is not recommended as Omicron cases surge past 6000 a day in the state.

And Victorians haven’t been spared either, as surging coronavirus cases also spark concerns across the state.

“Hugs and kisses are out this year but big smiles are in,” University of Sydney infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy, told The Daily Telegraph.

Former World Health epidemiologist Adrian Esterman joked to the publication: “If both parties wear a face mask when they kiss, we’ll be pretty safe.”

However, there was a ring of truth to what he said, with one expert even going a step further and calling for face masks to be worn outside.

Epidemiologist Professor Nancy Baxter told The Herald Sun: “It’s better to not go at all, or to watch the fireworks from the car, but if you do go, make a wise decision and wear masks outdoors because you won’t be socially distanced.”

Earlier this week, NSW and Victoria both reintroduced face mask mandates as case numbers continued to mount across the two states.

In NSW, anyone over the age of 12 has to wear a face mask at all indoor settings except inside a private home. Victoria has the same rule except for people from the age of eight years old onwards.

Face masks must also be worn in the southern state will at all major events where there are more than 30,000 people present.

It’s not all bad news for New Year’s Eve, though.

Another epidemiologist thinks holding an event outdoors is a huge game changer which bodes well for the end of year festivities. If you are outside you have much better ventilation.

“If you have got masks on and you aren’t close to people, if you are careful not to hug and/or kiss your family, but just … give them a big smile, you can do a bunch of stuff that makes it safer outside and I think they [big events] can go ahead.”

He added in warning: “I think people should be as careful as possible. I know about a family event at Christmas yesterday. They did all of the right things and already someone is positive.”


Australia's vaccine certificates not accepted in some EU countries

The Australian Government's International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate (ICVC) is designed to open doors in foreign lands, but it might not work for all doors.

The certificate contains a QR code in a format adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. That QR code can be read by airlines and immigration authorities to prove you've been vaccinated, but many restaurants, bars, indoor entertainment venues, galleries, museums and other places in Europe also require proof of vaccination status, and the ICVC might not do that.

In The Netherlands for example, you need a coronavirus pass to enter the Van Gogh Museum, obtained via the country's CoronaCheck app, but those vaccinated outside the EU only qualify if they are a Dutch national or were vaccinated in Aruba, Curacao or St Maarten

Austria has the Grune Pass, the green passport, and according to the pass' website ( "Persons who have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 can prove this with officially recognised vaccination passes such as … the e-vaccination passport." The ICVC would appear to qualify, but that might not cut the mustard with the maitre'd at die Wilderin restaurant in Innsbruck.

However some countries make it easier. In France, foreign nationals can apply for a COVID Certificate, a passe santaire, at selected pharmacies, provided they can prove they've been vaccinated with an approved vaccine, and all those administered in Australia are (

According to the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italy will accept the ICVC as the equivalent of its Green Pass, allowing you to drink and dine in bars and restaurants ( There's a good chance a restaurant in Bologna or an art gallery in Bari might not know that, so better carry the ministry's injunction as proof.

This problem is not insurmountable. The EU has a Digital COVID Certificate that allows free travel across its borders and entry to indoor venues. That certificate is available to non-EU citizens vaccinated outside the EU provided their country is a member of the EU's Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) program. Several non-European countries are, including Panama, Ukraine and, since mid-November, New Zealand, but not Australia.




Australian Politics 2021-12-25 13:05:00


Warship Construction Hits Major Delay as Faulty Aluminum Imported from China Found

“It was made in China” is a phrase that is often used to explain why something is shoddily made, or cheap.

The Royal Australian Navy is now experiencing this firsthand after getting poor-quality aluminum from China, which is now prohibiting the launch of new patrol boats.

In March, shipbuilders announced a delay due to the botched materials, which are believed to have been sourced from Wuhan, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Austal, the shipbuilder company awarded a contract to supply the navy with six vessels, said that “the aluminium had been independently certified by a globally accredited certification company prior to arriving at Austal,” according to the ABC.

But upon checking the aluminum, a company spokesperson it was problematic.

“A random spot check subsequently conducted by Austal indicated that it did not meet Austal’s quality requirements,” the Austal spokesperson said.

This will cost the Australian navy tens of millions of dollars since it will now have to keep its older fleet working. The ABC estimated that it will cost an extra $44 million to keep the old fleet afloat.

China’s faulty materials are now costing everyone in Australia.

“As always, taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for their stuff-ups, and our Defence personnel are left without the capabilities they need, when they need it,” Shadow Assistant Defence Minister Pat Conroy said, according to the ABC.

It should come as no surprise that China’s materials are lacking in quality. This year, China has been struggling with its aluminum production and has scaled it back in many ways.

As China has supposedly tried to scale back on energy consumption and emissions, the aluminum industry was one of the first to suffer, the South China Morning Post reported.

This spiked prices to a 13-year high. It also, apparently, made quality plummet.

Australia should have taken the crises in China into account before ordering supplies for their navy from the communist nation


Queensland records 765 new COVID-19 cases, no-one in intensive care

Queensland has recorded 765 new cases overnight — another daily case record — with 151 of those cases confirmed as the Omicron strain, Health Minister Yvette D'Ath says.

Health authorities are currently looking at how rapid antigen testing kits can be used, Ms D'Ath says. There were 33,971 tests recorded and there was now 2,147 active cases in the state.

There are only five people being treated in hospital due to mild and moderate symptoms from the virus. Ms D'Ath said a person who was being treated in an intensive care unit has now been moved out.

There has been 90.36 per cent of eligible Queenslanders aged 16 and over who have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 85.88 per cent are double vaccinated.

Ms D'Ath said the number of people in quarantine had decreased and she understood the challenges of spending Christmas in isolation.

"We thank those … people who are in quarantine, who are probably missing time with family and friends today," she said.

"We know it's difficult but we are so grateful for what you're doing, and I just want to reinforce [that to] all those people interstate who have done the right thing and got their PCR tests."


Federal government’s Christmas Eve veto of research projects labelled ‘McCarthyism’

The Morrison government has been accused of using the cover of Christmas to politicise research funding, after a federal minister vetoed grants for six recommended projects.

Proposed research relating to climate activism and China were among the projects recommended through Australian Research Council processes but blocked by the acting education minister, Stuart Robert.

Robert has argued the projects he rejected “do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest” – but the decision, announced on Christmas Eve, has drawn criticism from education figures and the federal opposition.

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, Prof Brian Schmidt, said that in a liberal democracy it was “completely inappropriate for grants to be removed by politicians, unless the grant rules were not followed”.

The Victorian Labor senator Kim Carr said the government was using Christmas Eve to “sweep under the carpet” its “further politicisation of the ARC and research” in Australia.

Carr, a former minister for research under the Rudd and Gillard governments, tweeted: “Their McCarthyism subverts research which was recommended by the ARC.”

The winning Discovery Projects for next year were finally revealed on Friday, with a report published on the ARC website saying it had received 3,096 applications for funding commencing in 2022.

The report said 587 of those projects had been approved for funding, totalling $259m over five years.

“Of the unsuccessful applications in 2022, 51 were found not to meet eligibility requirements and six were recommended to, but not funded by the minister,” the report said.

A spokesperson for Robert said the minister had approved “98.98%” of the 593 Discovery Projects the ARC recommended, but had not accepted the following six:

Robert’s spokesperson said the minister “believes those rejected do not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest”.

“After going through a peer review process, it is clear to the minister the application of the national interest test is not working in every case,” the spokesperson said.

“This test should ensure taxpayer-funded Australian government research funding is directed to areas of national importance and delivers public value. It’s why in his letter of expectation the minister asked the ARC to strengthen the test.”




Australian Politics 2021-12-24 11:09:00


Why won’t governments fix housing affordability?

Becausre they CAN'T. No government has ever found a way. And the reason is simple. Housing is a commodity like everything else that is bought and sold. And anything that is bought and sold is governed by the law of supply and demand. If the demand outstrips supply, the price will rise. So it follows that there is only one way to get the price of housing down. You have to increase the supply of it

But governments put up lots of obstacles to block an increase in supply, -- principally land use restrictions. And local governments are big on both lande use restricions and building restrictions. So local governments have to be stamped on to increase the supply of housing. And that is politically dynamite any time it is attempted. Existing homeowners like the restrictions. They keep "riff raff" out of their neighbourhoods

Rapidly rising property prices have led to increasing concerns around affordability, but support for government intervention may actually decline as affordability worsens, a new paper suggests.

Authors of the study argue that homeowners seek to protect their property price gain from being taxed away or undermined by growing housing supply, resulting in less support for government intervention in housing market inequality.

While based on European data, local experts and economists say it points to the challenge of rolling out reforms to improve housing affordability when more people, and voters, are homeowners than not.

Grattan Institute household finances program director Brendan Coates said the politics of improving housing affordability was fraught because most voters already owned a house or investment and mistrust any change that might dent property prices.

“The interest of homeowners tends to outweigh the interest of renters. There’s that classic adage from John Howard who [as prime minister] said that no one is complaining in the streets about their house value going up,” Mr Coates said.

The political consequences of housing (un)affordability, published in The Journal of European Social Policy earlier this month, used data drawn from European and British social surveys and an analysis of British elections to explore the relationship between housing affordability – house prices relative to incomes – and the demand for redistributive and housing policy.

Authors Ben Ansell, a professor at Nuffield College and the University of Oxford, and Asli Cansunar, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, found consistent evidence that declining affordability, driven by increasing house prices, decreases support for interventionist housing policy, especially among homeowners across Europe, and increased votes for the conservative party in the UK.

The beneficiaries of unaffordability, who they noted were those who own property, will prefer to keep policies and parties in place that keep prices high and rising, they concluded. However, while citizens on aggregate become less supportive of intervention, this masked a growing polarisation in preferences between renters and owners in less affordable regions.

Mr Coates said the research design was plausible in the European context, and that poor affordability would likely impact the preferences of political constituents. However, it was not clear if the politics would play out the same way in Australia, noting that at the last election, when Labor was promising changes to negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, the electorates that swung to Labor tended to be those of higher income earners, while lower income electorates swung toward the Coalition.

However, Mr Coates also noted it was inner city working-class suburbs that had won big in the “housing lottery” as prices climbed over the years, as they were the group with the largest share of their wealth in housing, while the wealth of higher income earners was typically more diversified.

Mr Coates added there was a clear trend in Australia, though, of wealthier areas being more resistant to increased housing supply, but this was driven by multiple factors and not just potential concern of downward pressure on property prices.

“The real question in the Australian context, where there are clearly more house owners than renters making housing policy transformation really hard, is whether there is enough interest from baby boomers … sufficiently worried about whether their kids can ever buy, that leans them more to reform.

“Or whether the solution [they reach] is to double down … by giving [their children] more access to the bank of mum and dad [to get into the market].”

Mr Coates said both tax reform and increased supply would be key to improving housing affordability in Australia, and worried about staunch proponents of either approach downplaying the other at the current inquiry into housing affordability and supply in Australia, when both were clearly needed.

Independent economist Saul Eslake said supply side reforms were only part of the solution and the federal government needed to back away from policies that inflate housing demand, and had been pursued by both sides of government, such as first-home buyer grants, negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount.

It was a tragedy that Labor had walked away from proposed changes to negative gearing and the capital gains tax, he noted, with the opportunity for such reform now possibly gone for a generation.

A greater focus on building more social housing was also needed, with both parties allowing the proportion of such housing to decline egregiously over the decades.

Appearing before the affordability inquiry last month, he asked members of the committee whose interests they were most concerned about: the 11 million Australians who already own at least one property, and the more than two million who own more than one, or the minority, albeit a growing minority, who have been unable to buy. He noted their answer would determine what they recommended to Parliament, with their report expected early in 2022.

Mr Eslake said while politicians shed “crocodile tears” for young Australians struggling to get onto the property ladder, there was a huge gulf between what they say and do. However, Mr Eslake, who also referenced Howard’s comments, acknowledged most homeowners did not want to see government action that would stop the value of their property going up.

“There is a very large constituency that is resolutely opposed to anything that would dampen the rate of house price inflation, yet that is surely at the heart of what you have to do if you’re going to solve the affordability issue.”

Mr Eslake said it was unclear if Australians had become any more opposed to redistribution policy as affordability declined, but noted that while Australia had quite a progressive income tax transfer system, wealth was taxed very lightly compared to other countries.

Any polarisation in preferences between renters and owners was less obvious locally, Mr Eslake added, saying he was often surprised that there was not more anger from young Australians about the way in which the market has been rigged against them by their parents’ generation. But even if they were to adapt their voting behaviour, he said, who would they vote for, with no big reforms on the table from either party.

The last federal election showed the concern homeowners had for housing reform.

Economist Jim Stanford, director of The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, said that in the context of declining housing affordability it made sense for homeowners to be more cautious about their future and reforms, as they could feel more insecure in their situation, but was sceptical of the paper’s suggestion that they had benefited from unaffordability, noting few could sell off property without needing to buy elsewhere.

Many would also worry about their children and see that their kids did not “have a hope in hell” of buying a decent property, if poor affordability continued.

“I don’t think they are better off, even middle-class homeowners would be better off with a policy that thought of a housing as a more basic service. I don’t accept that they have made money off this boom [and just want] to continue to,” he said.

However, the last federal election had shown the concern homeowners had for housing reform, Dr Stanford said, noting that rightly or wrongly, those who saw themselves as housing investors could be influenced by scare campaigns against policies that made a lot of sense, like Labor’s proposed change to negative gearing.

“The government tried to portray it as a tax on homeowners, which is nonsense, but given how the election unfolded everyone is going to be curious about what they propose in this election, that experience sort of ratified the point … with this article.”

Dr Stanford said a big part of the solution would be building up Australia’s supply of non-market housing, which governments had basically walked away from over the last generation, with the time right for an ambitious plan to build more social and affordable housing.

Housing Minister Michael Sukkar and shadow minister for housing and homelessness, Jason Clare, were contacted for comment.


Australia to get the first of its nuclear submarines FIVE YEARS ahead of schedule as America fast-tracks $90billion project in face of rising tensions with China

Rising tensions with China have fast-tracked the delivery of the first Australian nuclear submarine under the $90billion deal with the USA and the UK.

Australia now looks set to launch its first nuclear-powered submarine five years ahead of schedule as the West braces for confrontation with China.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has revealed the UK and US are 'pulling out all the stops' to speed up the massive project.

The controversial deal - which saw Australia abandon its contract with France for a fleet of diesel submarines - could now see the new subs coming into operation in the first half of the 2030s.

They were originally not expected to join the Australian naval fleet until 2040 at the earliest, but the US Defense Department is pushing to bring the timeline forward.

It comes as fears grow of a stand-off between the West and China over Taiwan, with Australian pledging to support any US response if the situation escalates.

'I think we are advancing at a quicker pace than what we could have imagined even at the time of the announcement,' Mr Dutton told The Australian.

'There has been no game-playing, no roadblocks, they are pulling out all stops to make this work. It’s a capability that we want to acquire quickly and we are in those discussions right now.'

He added: ' I think it’s the Americans’ desire to see us with capability much sooner than 2040 and obviously options are being explored at the moment.

'I believe very much we can realise the capability in the first half of the 2030s and we are absolutely working towards that and I am only encouraged, not discouraged, out of the conversations we have had.'

Mr Dutton also hinted the submarines could even be built in Australia, despite the current lack of suitable shipyard facilities or nuclear power knowledge.

Australia has yet to decide if they will be using the US Virginia Class nuclear submarine design or the UK's similar Astute Class.

But any move to manufacture them in Australia will require training shipyard workers, new equipment and specialist nuclear experts.

Some experts have predicted that may not be possible within the new shortened timeframe to rush the submarines into service.

However moving production to Australia may be inevitable as Mr Dutton said the UK and US had limited spare production capacity to build the Australian submarines.

And he said work was already underway with the international partners on designing local shipyards.

The new timeframe now matches the original plan for the introduction of the axed French submarines which were due to come into service in 2035.

Australia's current Collins Class submarines would need major overhauls to extend their service life beyond 2038, making it vital to get the nuclear subs in the water as soon as possible.

The deal with the US and UK is for eight nuclear submarines, and they are likely to be built in Adelaide if the plan to manufacture them locally goes ahead.

China branded the AUKUS deal as 'extremely irresponsible" and has now pushed its backing for a nuclear-free treaty for south-east Asia.

A Chinese government official Lijian Zhao said the deal will 'intensify regional tensions, provoke a military arms race and threaten regional peace and stability.'

Mr Dutton said the rhetoric against Australia should be seen as just part of China's attacks on all the other nations which oppose it and speak up against them.

He added: 'We want a productive and fruitful friendship with China. 'But we have values that we adhere to and we will not deviate from those values and adherence to international law.'


Climate, the far-Left and the devilish problem facing the Greens

Rachel Griffiths, the Golden Globe-winning Australian actress, is no stranger to prompting public debate through outrageous stunts.

In 1997 the Muriel’s Wedding star famously paraded semi-naked outside Melbourne’s Crown Casino in protest of a state government she claimed was “raping” the city of its dignity, compassion and sense of community. When asked by a journalist why she felt the need to be topless, Griffiths replied: “If I didn’t flash my tits, you wouldn’t have put me in the paper.”

It’s what makes Griffiths’ most recent political commentary all the more interesting.

When the Australian Greens party announced a proposal to ban horse racing and impose a 1 per cent levy on all bets to fund a transition, Griffiths was outraged.

“When the planet is melting this will not help you save it. Focus on carbon emissions/boosting infrastructure and you might make a difference,” she wrote on Instagram this week.

She said a ban on the nags would only alienate any Greens voter who was over 40 living outside all but six inner-city postcodes and “help re-elect a government you won’t have a voice in”. Griffiths, who coincidentally now plays a crossbench MP in ABC political drama Total Control, neatly highlights the challenge the Greens have in the coming months.

It is an increasingly contested space for minor parties to find relevance, cut-through and, importantly, air-time. It will be even harder as the election looms with several climate-focused, progressive, independent candidates stealing their limelight as they fight for seats that not so long ago the Greens had hoped they might one day win.

In Melbourne the Greens vote in both Higgins and Kooyong leapfrogged Labor in recent years and put them both firmly in the targets of Adam Bandt’s party. But the independent push is now costing them members, donors and likely volunteers at voting booths on election day.

And so once again chances of winning any of the 10 or so lower house seats identified on the party’s regular triennial hit list are already looking bleak.

The Greens vote has for more than 15 years now been highly influenced by the wider context of the public debate and the issues which voters perceive the election to be about. Loyalty levels of its voters are well below those of the major parties, but if issues which are strongly associated with the Greens are front-and-centre then they can be assured of some success. If not, things go backwards.

While the Greens have often targeted “soft” Labor voters, they’ve found there are equally a lot of “soft” Greens voters that they can - and often do - lose at each election.

Which begs the question, what is the relevance of the Greens at the next federal election? Can they ever again match the almost 12 per cent of the vote achieved under Bob Brown in 2010 or has their influence peaked?

On Sunday this masthead reported that businessman Graeme Wood, who has poured more than $2 million into their campaigns over the past decade, had grown frustrated with the party. The founder of online travel company Wotif said they needed a “shot in the arm” because the party’s support had not increased in the past decade.

Wood isn’t the only big donor over the Greens. David Rothfield, an environmental campaigner and philanthropist who donated half a million dollars to the Greens, Labor, and activist group Get Up, has quit the party. He’s joined the “Voices of” movement to oust incumbent Liberal MP Tim Wilson in the seat of Goldstein.

Former Wallaby [Rugby footballer] David Pocock, who is tight with a number of Greens figures, is standing as an independent for the Senate in the ACT. Those close with him say he stands a better chance of being elected without the baggage of the party and is assured of their preferences in a jurisdiction where the Greens vote is north of 17 per cent.

Pocock, outspoken on social justice issues and was once arrested after chaining himself to a digger at a NSW coal mine protest in Leard State Forest, says he is open to receiving money from businessman Simon Holmes a Court’s Climate 200 fund, a war chest of as much as $20 million to bankroll candidates who are cutting the Greens lunch.

The party can take credit for consolidating its 10 per cent of the vote over a decade but has all but dealt itself out of negotiations by regularly ruling out deals with the Coalition. The handful of times it was prepared to reach deals with a conservative government it was torn apart with bitter internal feuding.

So, why would Anthony Albanese agree to a power-sharing deal if he can’t win a majority at the next election? He knows Bandt would always back a Labor government on supply.

Bandt hopes to make the Greens the biggest third party in the Senate’s history by adding two seats at the next election. But when he promises he’ll win extra lower house seats and influence government policy, that’s what he will be judged on.

The Greens’ long-term issue is that they’ve become the natural home of anyone who is concerned about climate, but also of the far left. And when their broader policies alienate those who care about the climate but aren’t of the far left, that’s when a Climate 200-backed independent might be a more appealing choice.


Paradise Dam will be rebuilt to full capacity

The State Government has determined Paradise Dam will be completely rebuilt following detailed investigations and extensive safety works.

It comes after work to lower the dam’s spillway and install the temporary crest were completed earlier this year amid ongoing concerns about the dams structural capacity.

Minister for Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, Glenn Butcher said the dam would be rebuilt to full capacity.

“From the start of this process we’ve said the solution must deliver water security and safety for the people of Bundaberg – this option delivers both,” Mr Butcher said.

“We’ve heard from the Deputy Prime Minister and other Federal Government representatives that they’re open to providing funding for this project.

“We’ve been working with them collaboratively and will continue those discussions. “Further details about the project will be released in the new year.”

Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith thanked the Bundaberg community for its patience. “I know this has been a tough time for our community and the agricultural sector,” he said. “I’m really proud of how our community has come together to work with the Government to find a solution on this project.

“I can also confirm today that irrigators will not be asked to pay the cost of returning the dam wall to full height.

“These works, once underway, will be a significant undertaking that will also create hundreds of jobs in our region.




The Biggest Math Story of 2021

With 2021 just about over, it's time to celebrate the year's biggest stories in math!

Because we're of a practical bent, we seek out maths stories that involve doing math to do things, whether that's making progress toward resolving long-standing questions, developing practical applications, or otherwise impacting the real world. We've provided deeper information about the topics covered in our summary of 2021's biggest math stories where we can, so be sure to follow the links if you want to learn more.

We'll also identify what we think qualifies as the biggest math story of the year. Buckle up, it's time to get started!...

Making Connections with Sheaves

What better way to start than with the biggest pure mathematics story of 2021? Mathematicians Laurent Fargues and Peter Scholze made significant progress toward achieving one of the goals of the Langlands Program, which seeks to develop a grand unified theory of mathematics by connecting seemingly separate branches of math. Their achievement provides a means of translating the math of p-adic groups to Galois groups using sheaves, which are special tools that can connect local and global properties within a geometric or topological space.

The featured video lecture in this section will provide a basic introduction to them, but you'll have to make it through to the 51-minute mark before they're even introduced because of having to go through the foundational material it takes to get there. And then, there are at least four more video lectures that follow it to build on the concept!

Fargues and Scholze's achievement represents something of a halfway point in the Langlands Program's quest, because the challenge of starting with the math of Galois groups and going in the opposite direction to translate it into p-adic groups remains. But the tool they used to pull off their accomplishment has turned up in a more practical application as well.

Robert Ghrist and Jakob Hansen utilized sheaves to develop a new mathematical model for more realistically model how opinions are disseminated over social networks, where they also deployed the math of Laplacian operators and diffusion dynamics.

To do this, Ghrist and Hansen used topological tools called sheaves, previously used in their group. Sheaves are algebraic data structures, or collections of vector spaces, that are tethered to a network and link information to individual nodes or edges. Using a transportation network as an illustrative example, where train stations are nodes and the tracks are the edges, sheaves are used to carry information about the network, such as passenger counts or the number of on-time departures, not only for specific stations but also on the connections between stations.

"These vector spaces can have different features and dimensions, and they can encode different quantities and types of information," says Ghrist. "So the sheave consists of collections of vectors over top of each node and each edge with matrices that connect them all together. Collectively, this is a big data structure floating over top of your network."...

By incorporating Laplacians into their "discourse sheaves," the researchers were able to create an opinion dynamics model that was incredibly flexible and able to incorporate a wide variety of scenarios, parameters, and features. This includes the ability to have agents who can lie about their feelings on a specific topic or tell different opinions to others depending on how they are connected, all within a rigorous and testable mathematical framework.

Ghrist and Hansen's new approach to modeling how information spreads in a network has the potential to greatly improve the understanding of how information diffuses in societies. That in turn has the potential to improve not just polling, but also fields like public health, where it can be used to more effectively develop things like vaccination strategies or to direct scarce resources.

Or to improve pandemic modeling, which became the biggest math story of 2020 because of its failures.

Building Better Models

The failures of pandemic modeling in 2020 pointed to the need to develop better mathematical models of how things work in the real world. 2021 saw developments toward developing more effective models that are improving our understanding of reality.

One example of that happening lies in the work of Cambridge University researchers Eugene Terentjev and Neil Ibata to more accurately model how exercise builds muscles in a new paper. You might think this would be a very well-studied and established science, but until 2021, there was very little understanding for how that actually works. Here's how they built up their biophysical model that focused on the role of titin proteins in building muscle into something that could explain real world observations:

Terentjev and Ibata set out to constrict a mathematical model that could give quantitative predictions on muscle growth. They started with a simple model that kept track of titin molecules opening under force and starting the signaling cascade. They used microscopy data to determine the force-dependent probability that a titin kinase unit would open or close under force and activate a signaling molecule.

They then made the model more complex by including additional information, such as metabolic energy exchange, as well as repetition length and recovery. The model was validated using past long-term studies on muscle hypertrophy.

"Our model offers a physiological basis for the idea that muscle growth mainly occurs at 70% of the maximum load, which is the idea behind resistance training," said Terentjev. "Below that, the opening rate of titin kinase drops precipitously and precludes mechanosensitive signaling from taking place. Above that, rapid exhaustion prevents a good outcome, which our model has quantitatively predicted."

This story provides a good example of why we focus on practical applications for math. Mathematical models can do many things, but unless their results are continually compared with observations to validate them, even the most seemingly impressive math will fall far short of its potential.

That brings us to another example where better modeling is finally resolving a challenge that has existed for over a century: how to more accurately represent turbulent flow in a fluid.

It's no accident that the math of fluid dynamics makes repeated appearances when we cover the biggest math stories of a year, due to the immense practical value advancements in computational fluid dynamics can deliver. This year, it's because a team of researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Oslo led by Björn Birnir and Luiza Angheluta have published a paper providing a mathematical equation describing how fluids behave when they transition from laminar to turbulent flow in a boundary layer where the fluid is moving past a solid surface.

That's a challenge that some of the biggest names in physics and mathematics have been working toward for a very long time. The following excerpt introduces that history to put Birnir's and Angheluta's achievement into context:

This phenomenon was first described around 1920 by Hungarian physicist Theodore von Kármán and German physicist Ludwig Prandtl, two luminaries in fluid dynamics. "They were honing in on what's called boundary layer turbulence," said Birnir, director of the Center for Complex and Nonlinear Science. This is turbulence caused when a flow interacts with a boundary, such as the fluid's surface, a pipe wall, the surface of the Earth and so forth.

Prandtl figured out experimentally that he could divide the boundary layer into four distinct regions based on proximity to the boundary. The viscous layer forms right next to the boundary, where turbulence is damped by the thickness of the flow. Next comes a transitional buffer region, followed by the inertial region, where turbulence is most fully developed. Finally, there is the wake, where the boundary layer flow is least affected by the boundary, according to a formula by von Kármán.

The fluid flows quicker farther from the boundary, but its velocity changes in a very specific manner. Its average velocity increases in the viscous and buffer layers and then transitions to a logarithmic function in the inertial layer. This "log law," found by Prandtl and von Kármán, has perplexed researchers, who worked to understand where it came from and how to describe it...

In the 1970s, Australian mechanical engineer Albert Alan Townsend suggested that the shape of the mean velocity curve was influenced by eddies attached to the boundary. If true, it could explain the odd shape the curve takes through the different layers, as well as the physics behind the log law, Birnir said.

Fast forward to 2010, and mathematicians at the University of Illinois released a formal description of these attached eddies, including formulas. The study also described how these eddies could transfer energy away from the boundary toward the rest of the fluid. "There's a whole hierarchy of eddies," Birnir said. The smaller eddies give energy to the larger ones that reach all the way into the inertial layer, which helps explain the log law.

However, there are also detached eddies, which can travel within the fluid, and these also play an important role in boundary layer turbulence. Birnir and his co-authors focused on deriving a formal description of these. "What we showed in this paper is that you need to include these detached eddies in the theory as well in order to get the exact shape of the mean velocity curve," he said.

Their team combined all these insights to derive the mathematical formulation of the mean velocity and variation that Prandtl and von Kármán first wrote about some 100 years earlier. They then compared their formulas to computer simulations and experimental data, validating their results.

"Finally, there was a complete analytical model that explained the system," Birnir said.

Having a mathematical formula, fluid dynamicists and physicists can now more accurately model the physical flow of fluids, whether they be air over an airplane's wing, liquid mixtures passing through a pipe at a chemical plant, or weather systems passing over the Earth.

That's a big deal, but it's not the biggest math story of the year. That's coming up next....

The Year AI Made Its Mark on Maths

There wasn't one big math story in 2021 so much as there were multiple, independent math stories pointed to what the biggest math story of the year would prove to be. And that story is about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool for making serious advances in multiple fields of maths.

That's on top of the stories where either "machine learning" or "neural nets" appeared as a player behind an accomplishment. What changed in 2021 was the development of AI systems to first generate and then prove mathematical conjectures.

That goes beyond the capabilities of previous knowledge-based tools, such as proof assistants, which also made a big leap in 2021.

What AI promises is a serious boost to the productivity of mathematicians. 2021 is the first year in which that promise became something more than a potential future event, making the rise of AI the biggest math story of 2021.

Previously on Political Calculations

The Biggest Math Story of the Year is how we've traditionally marked the end of our posting year since 2014. Here are links to our previous editions, along with our coverage of other math stories during 2021:

This is Political Calculations final post for 2021. Thank you for passing time with us this year and have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. We'll see you again in the New Year, which we'll kick off with another annual tradition by presenting a tool to help you find out what your paycheck will look like in 2021 after the U.S. government takes its cut from it....

Before we go, we're not the only ones paying attention to the biggest stories in maths. Quanta Magazine has put together a video with their take on the year's top math stories:

We'll see you in the new year!