Shift in Expectations Boosts S&P 500 in Week 2 of September 2017

U.S. stock prices during the second week of September 2017 were largely driven by two news events:

  1. Actual damage from Hurricane Irma in Florida proved to be considerably less than had been projected.
  2. Inflation data put rate hikes back onto the Federal Reserve's table in the near future.

By "near future", the likelihood that the Fed would next hike short term U.S. interest rates went from last week's zero percent chance of happening anytime soon to a greater than 50% probability that they will act to make it happen in December 2017, where the CME Group's FedWatch Tool indicates that the market expects no change in rates to be announced at the Fed's meeting this week.

Probabilities for Target Federal Funds Rate at Selected Upcoming Fed Meeting Dates (CME FedWatch on 15 September 2017)
FOMC Meeting Date     75-100 bps 100-125 bps 125-150 bps 150-175 bps 175-200 bps 200-225 bps
20-Sep-2017 (2017-Q3) 1.4% 98.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
13-Dec-2017 (2017-Q4) 0.6% 41.6% 55.6% 2.2% 0.0% 0.0%
21-Mar-2018 (2018-Q1) 0.4% 31.7% 52.0% 15.0% 0.8% 0.0%
13-Jun-2018 (2018-Q2) 0.3% 22.6% 45.9% 25.6% 5.1% 0.3%

The effect of this new information on stock prices can be seen in our alternative futures "spaghetti" chart.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2017Q3 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 15 September 2017

With investors shifting their forward-looking focus from 2018-Q2 to 2017-Q4, the S&P 500 rose to reach a record high during Week 2 of September 2017, although right now, the data suggests that investors are splitting their attention between 2017-Q4 and 2018-Q2, where stock prices are reaching toward the very top of the echo effect-adjusted range we indicated for 2018-Q2 just last week.

The thing to pay attention to this week that might more fully cement investor focus onto 2017-Q4 is the statement that will be issued by the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Comittee at the conclusion of its upcoming meeting on Wednesday, 20 September 2017, as well as the statements of individual Fed officials in the following days.

Looking backwards, here are the more signficant market moving headlines that caught our attention during Week 2 of September 2017.

Monday, 11 September 2017
Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Thursday, 14 September 2017
Friday, 15 September 2017

Meanwhile, Barry Ritholtz succinctly summarized the positives and negatives for Week 2 of September 2017.

The German auto giants face an existential challenge

A few weeks back, a friend of mine bought himself a used Nissan Leaf. Even though it is fully electric, this car is a long way from being a Tesla—its range is less the 100 miles and quite honestly, it is kind of ugly. Even so, I am pretty sure that no purchase in his life has made him happier. It actually makes him giggle.

Based on this small sample size, I am quite willing to announce the day of the electric vehicle (EV) has arrived. Yes they are still quite expensive although his used 2015 with less than 20k miles on the odometer cost about $11,000. Yes their low range and high recharging times make them still something of a hardship to own. But the upside is a luxuriously quiet ride combined with hiccup-quick acceleration and premium handling due to a very low center of gravity. This is in addition to a seriously reduced need for routine maintenance, lower costs for fuel, and the satisfaction of knowing your vehicle is arguably the cleanest set of wheels around. But just to make sure my friend has plenty to giggle about, Nissan has built in an incredible electronic feature set. His favorite seems to be the announcement of available chargers whenever his range drops below 20% complete with directions for finding them.

But even if EVs are the future, the current reality is that they still constitute less than 1% of cars on the road. And nobody is making money selling them. This leaves the auto giants with a monumental problem. If they spend the big money developing EVs, they will be manufacturing a money-loser that will take sales away from the highly profitable vehicles they already sell—a least for the foreseeable future. And so the temptation to not change anything is very high. This problem is especially acute in Germany where the automakers sincerely believe that they already make the best cars on the road.

The Arrival of Tesla—German Auto Giants Face an Existential Challenge

BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen have been struggling to adapt to the advent of the electric car, held back by conservatism and internal challenges. Now, Tesla is making inroads in Germany -- and the country's automakers face an uncertain future.

Simon Hage, September 15, 2017

At the start of this year, Karl-Thomas Neumann was planning a minor revolution. His plan was to transform German carmaker Opel, known for basic models like the Astra and the Corsa, into a purely electric brand. Electric cars were to be designed at Opel's R&D center in Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, destined for the world market.

As the head of Opel at the time, Neuman was convinced that the end of the internal combustion engine was closer than many believed. He now hoped he could bring the necessary technology to Germany.

His idea was also born out of necessity. As a small manufacturer, it is especially challenging for Opel to adjust its internal combustion-powered cars to increasingly stringent emissions standards. Opel vehicles had attracted unwanted attention because of their excessive emissions and Neumann was at least trying to treat the diesel crisis as a chance to start over.

His ambitious electric plan for Opel failed, however, when the company's U.S. owner, General Motors, suddenly lost interest in the European market and sold Opel to French rival PSA in the summer.

Neumann no longer works for Opel, but he still believes his ideas are the right ones. The former CEO fears that the auto industry - especially BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen - has underestimated the momentum of the transformation, and that it is resting on its laurels instead of developing new concepts.

The German auto industry needs "a clean break," says Neumann. It has to "accept that diesel is gradually going extinct." Of course, he adds, the auto industry can still make money with internal combustion engines for a number of years. "But it's time to reduce complexity, that is, develop a much smaller number of different engines," says Neumann. He recommends car companies use the money they save to invest heavily in electromobility.

He has a warning for the entire sector: Unless the auto industry consistently reforms itself, it "runs the risk of being outpaced by new competitors from China and the United States."

Customers and, in some cases, companies, are still skeptical. The arguments against electric cars cited by critics include their lack of significant range, high costs and questionable carbon footprint.

But does that mean that automobile manufacturers should simply continue pursuing the status quo?

Unprecedented Pressure for Carmakers

For decades, the auto industry kept building bigger, faster and more powerful vehicles outfitted with gasoline and diesel engines. And business has been good. In 2016, BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen reported €465 billion ($552 billion) in sales and close to €30 billion in profits. But their growth came at a high price.

The systematic deception got started in the companies' development departments about 10 years ago. Unable to satisfy increasingly stringent emissions requirements, the engineers resorted to software that was designed to cheat the system. It guaranteed good emissions results in vehicle testing stations, but allowed the supposedly clean vehicles to emit harmful nitric oxides on the road. In the United States, Volkswagen has already admitted to committing emissions test fraud and obstructing justice. VW and Daimler are currently under investigation in Germany. Only BMW has been spared the judicial scrutiny.

After DER SPIEGEL in July exposed decades of collusion between the three companies on technology, suppliers and exhaust-gas-cleaning systems, the three major German automakers could face further legal troubles. They are making intensive preparations for possible investigations or searches. At BMW, which denies any wrongdoing, 18 lawyers are now analyzing data and documents spanning almost three decades.

The suspicions of collusion are also complicating the plans of BMW, Daimler and VW to cooperate more closely on topics like mobility services and autonomous driving. "From now on, there will always be a lawyer present at any meeting with a competitor, no matter how harmless," an auto company representative explains. Instead of a collective spirit of optimism, a feeling of mutual mistrust reigns.

The German auto industry has never faced this much pressure. Auto executives describe it as a "perfect storm." The old business model is increasingly coming under pressure, both legally and economically.

More and more countries are planning to phase out combustion engine technology. Great Britain and France want to ban cars with gasoline and diesel engines by 2040, while Norway plans to take the same step by 2025. China is expected to impose a minimum sales quota for electric cars starting next year. Surveys show that 60 percent of Chinese car buyers could imagine buying an electric vehicle as their next car.

To be able to sell its products in the future, the auto industry needs alternative, low-emission engines. It also needs to offer mobility concepts like car sharing and ride services. Otherwise the business will no longer be run by BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen in the future, but by foreign competitors.

Tesla Arrives in Germany

The biggest cause for concern in the German auto industry is an American rival, Tesla. Founded in 2003, it has achieved what the German manufacturers failed to do for years: build an electric car that many customers want.

More than 450,000 consumers have already pre-ordered Tesla's new Model 3, and the company says that it is receiving another 1,800 orders a day. "Tesla now has a cult status that other brands can only dream of," says Neumann.

The German carmakers' identity crisis comes at a convenient time for Tesla. While the U.S. company has been restrained in its public statements, Tesla Managers speak off the record about "illegal manipulations in the context of the diesel scandal."

The U.S. company smells an opportunity to finally gain a foothold in Germany, a country that has had relatively little affinity for Tesla in the past and is the home market of Daimler, BMW and VW. The company has more than doubled its German sales in the first half of 2017, for a total of 2,000 vehicles. This is an impressive number for Germany, which lags behind other developed nations when it comes to electric cars.

Management at BMW, Daimler and VW are working on counter-offensives.

The office of Klaus Fröhlich, BMW's head of development, is dominated by model cars on the window sill, relics from the old auto world. The collection ranges from long-extinct brands like the NSU Ro 80, car of the year in 1968, to the Porsche Carrera and the Land Rover Defender, a muscular SUV.

Fröhlich actually wants to talk about BMW and his planned electric strategy, not about the competition. But he keeps coming back to the company's California rival. The BMW executive mentions the word "Tesla" 16 times within 60 minutes.

He sees BMW as being "neck and neck" with Tesla, but plans to have trumped his US rival in no more than three years. Like Tesla, BMW will place a stronger emphasis on "emotionalizing" its electric cars in the future, with wider tires and more dynamic designs.

Fröhlich draws three curves on a piece of graph paper. They illustrate the likely increase in electric car sales in the coming years. The first curve represents sales in China. Starting in 2020, it points almost vertically upward.

BMW plans to produce cars more efficiently to satisfy exploding demand. Plants and vehicle designs are being upgraded so that every car can be flexibly outfitted either with an internal combustion engine, a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric powertrain. As demand increases, the company expects to be able to start producing hundreds of thousands of electric cars by essentially flipping a switch. As such, says Fröhlich, BMW will be ready if consumers in China decide to buy only electric cars.

Fröhlich's second curve represents the east and west coasts of the United States. According to his calculations, the electric car boom will begin there in about 2025. Germans will follow suit about five years later. Fröhlich describes Germany as a country "where they like to talk about e-mobility" but where "relatively little is being done." He blames policymakers, pointing out that Munich, for example, currently has only 50 charging stations.

The Auto Giants' Dilemma

Like all German manufacturers, BMW is trying to perform a balancing act. The company wants to continue selling gasoline and diesel vehicles while simultaneously preparing for the electric age. It has announced 25 electric vehicle models for 2025, but the startup costs are massive. BMW has already invested sums in the double-digit billions in sustainable drives. The Munich company is making a bet on the future. At the moment, it is losing money on every electric car it sells.

The auto industry's dilemma is that its new business, which is still losing money, is cannibalizing its profitable, existing one, creating incentives to delay the necessary change.

Some of the companies' efforts to prepare for the future seem half-hearted. In late 2016, Daimler, Ford, BMW and VW announced a joint initiative for rapid-charging stations. The project was scheduled to begin in 2017, with about 400 locations across Europe planned in the first phase.

Nine months have passed since the announcement and the current number of charging stations is still zero. The first charging station is expected to open this year, allegedly with charging technology superior to Tesla's. By comparison, Tesla has already installed more than 6,300 of its so-called Superchargers worldwide. It aims increase that number to 10,000 by the end of the year.

The U.S. company still isn't making a profit on its electric vehicles, but unlike the German automakers, Tesla does not have to worry about a massive existing car business. This helps explain Tesla's aggressive approach to marketing, which makes it seem like the company is less interested in selling cars than in changing the way the world uses energy.

That doesn't mean it's true. Tesla founder Elon Musk is, of course, pursuing uncompromising economic interests. But his message sounds more convincing than that of the German auto industry, which constantly fluctuates between commitments to electromobility and statements of loyalty to the internal combustion engine. Their mantra is that the diesel engine is far from finished.

The industry spent decades resisting overly substantial changes. Anyone who talked about electromobility or car sharing in the 1990s was immediately mocked.

VW offers the most prominent example. Top executive Daniel Goeudevert wanted to reform the brand back in 1991 by introducing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, but failed. He was also working on a car-sharing joint venture with German national railroad Deutsche Bahn. His conclusion, at the time, was that fewer and fewer people wanted to own their own cars in favor of using shuttle services.

When Goeudevert predicted the demise of the diesel engine, the Volkswagen leadership decided it had had enough. In his last meetings with VW, Goeudevert was told something he never forgot: "You will be amazed at all the things we can still get out of diesel."

The 75-year-old now lives in a town near the Swiss capital Bern, rides an e-bike and regards the vehicle industry from a distance. "Because of its great successes, the auto industry has become blind to the true needs of customers," he says. "For much too long, Volkswagen and the others were only interested in speed and luxury."

In his view, German carmakers' only hope is to drum up enthusiasm among young people. Many teenagers feel more of a connection to the Apple logo than the Mercedes star.

A quarter of a century after his departure, Goeudevert's ideas are now treated as common sense. His former employer, Volkswagen, wants to become hipper. Designers and futurologists run riot in its Future Center in Potsdam outside Berlin, in an idyllic location on the Havel River. People wear sneakers, speak a lot of English and reject formality.

Its latest development is a concept vehicle called Sedric, which VW hopes will serve as a driverless robot taxi in urban areas sometime in the next decade. The designers are especially proud of its futuristic interior, which includes a large display for multimedia applications, such as karaoke, a tool that is meant to appeal primarily to Asian customers.

New Ways of Working

The VW employees in Potsdam are also trying to come up with new ways of working. In conversations with retirees, for example, they discovered they had to simplify the process of ordering a robot taxi as much as possible. The designers developed a remote control with only one button, aptly named the One-Button. VW is even seeking the advice of small children. The Future Center recently played host to the neighboring kindergarten.

"We are just getting started at establishing direct contact with our retail customers," says Thomas Sedran, who has been the chief of strategy at the Volkswagen Group for about two years. This is "a real challenge for a company that has before now primarily been shaped by its focus on engineering." As absurd as it sounds, for years Volkswagen had almost no idea who was driving its cars and what services VW drivers would like to use. Volkswagen interacted mainly with its authorized dealers.

The company is now painstakingly trying to approach its customers through apps and shuttle services. Starting next year, VW plans to offer a kind of on-call bus service in Hamburg. The new service, which will initially consist of 200 electric shuttles, is a test to determine whether VW can make money with taxi services. Most of all, though, it is an attempt to create long-term brand loyalty among customers.

Chief strategist Sedran believes that VW can no longer afford to miss out on any new development. He predicts a "major shift in the entire auto industry," which could even include the disappearance of individual brands.

Whether Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW will be among the survivors depends on whether pioneering thinkers like Sedran prevail. Many managers remain unconvinced that deep-seated reforms are truly necessary. Some even believe that the diesel crisis is somehow over.

They feel persecuted by their critics, including Deutsche Umwelthilfe, an environmental group fighting in court for diesel bans. And by the politicians who are sharply critical of the automakers' manipulation of emissions values. And, finally, by the press for its reporting of these stories. "A key industry is being criminalized here," is a sentence often heard at the auto companies. VW Chief Executive Officer Matthias Müller believes that there is an "ongoing campaign against the diesel engine."

Many managers also express the hope that the Tesla problem will eventually resolve itself. They argue that their U.S. rival's battery technology isn't mature, which keeps Tesla from producing its cars in a cost-effective manner. "A company like that, which is only losing money, could never exist in Germany," said a top executive with a German automaker.

His analysis is not exactly wrong. Investors could in fact lose patience and cut off Tesla's funding. But would that change anything? Even a Tesla bankruptcy would not stop the transformation, because other manufacturers, especially from China, have also discovered the appeal of electromobility. And they are doing their utmost to achieve global market leadership.

Ten years ago, another technology sector made the mistake of underestimating its challenger: the mobile communications industry. Manufacturers like Nokia and Blackberry had long been the undisputed market leaders, but success made them sluggish. New, more innovative competitors had hardly appeared on the scene before the former pioneers were forced from the market.

One anecdote from an executive meeting at RIM, which produces the Blackberry, has now become legendary. It is said that when managers delicately passed around an iPhone, most of those present just shook their heads. The phone with the large screen would not make it, the managers believed, because the battery performance was insufficient.

The good old mobile phone, they argued, was far from dead. more

Australian Politics 2017-09-17 15:44:00

Dumping green folly will secure energy future, reboot economy

In the blink of an eye we are confronted by a national energy pricing and supply crisis. This is the cost of virtue signalling — that propensity for those on the political left, including moderates in the Liberal Party, to advocate policies aimed more at demonstrating their moral superiority than delivering practical results.

This nation’s most pressing economic challenge, it is also the most volatile political dilemma that threatens to derail Malcolm Turnbull’s career for a second time. (It cost him the Liberal leadership in 2009.) Climate and energy are set to define the next decade of ­national affairs just as they have plagued us since 2007.

To comprehend the politics we need a helicopter view; to examine first principles and the true aims of the policies. Far too much of the debate is predicated on gestures rather than results.

We are an energy-rich nation. Last year we exported 388 million tonnes of coal (valued at $35 billion) to supply affordable and ­reliable energy to countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and India. Our liquefied natural gas exports are doubling from 30 million tonnes a couple of years ago to almost 80 million tonnes (valued at $42bn) by 2019.

Australia also remains one of the largest exporters of uranium (nuclear energy is the ­silver bullet if we ever get serious about emissions) and, after a price and volume slump, trade will ­rebound to values of more than $1.2bn during the next few years.

While we happily export our energy advantage, we have deliberately sacrificed it at home. Households are paying some of the highest electricity prices in the world and manufacturing industries have been closing or downscaling because of cost pressures created in part by rapidly rising power prices. Energy bills are also creating commercial hardship for struggling retailers as well as hospitality and other sectors.

The largest single factor in the power crisis is the renewable ­energy target demanding 23 per cent of electricity be supplied by renewables, which are subsidised by consumers. When the renew­ables (mainly wind turbines) supply power they can do so at zero cost, thereby undercutting the viability of baseload generators and hastening their demise. The trouble is renewable ­energy can’t supply all our needs at any time and, crucially, is intermittent and unreliable. So we still need all of the baseload and peaking generation.

Under this formula we must ­either be caught short of supply or need to almost double our investment in energy so every megawatt of renewable energy is backed up by storage or thermal generation.

And just when we need more rapid-response gas generation to back up wind energy we have a gas supply/price issue courtesy of long-term export contracts and state restrictions on exploration and exploitation. What a mess.

What we don’t ever hear our major party politicians ask is why we are doing this to ourselves. We might also expect this would be a line of inquiry for media in fearless pursuit of their audiences’ interests. But no; incurious acceptance of the imperative for emissions ­reductions is universal in the public broadcasters and love media.

News Corp papers and Sky News are the only mainstream media likely to offer a plurality of views. Journalists who sail with this zeitgeist will justify their position by pointing to the political consensus on the emissions reductions targets set in Paris. But public and media debate should not be about accommodating convenient bipartisan compromise; it should be about reality and the public ­interest.

If the justification for our self-imposed energy crisis is saving the planet, then any reference to the facts will expose the futility. Australia’s carbon emissions make up about 1.4 per cent of global emissions and we are looking to reduce them by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030. Simultaneously, emissions are rising elsewhere by quantities that dwarf our total emissions, let alone our inconsequential reductions.

As this newspaper reported this week, China has 299 coal-fired power stations under construction and India 132. Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines, South Africa and other nations also are expanding coal-fired generation so that an extra 621 plants are under way. Yet we disrupt our economy, surrender a natural economic advantage, shed jobs and reduce our standard of living to phase out a handful of plants.

On the first principle of whether our efforts do any environmental good — no matter the urgency or otherwise of climate action — the answer is our efforts are pointless. So we are then left with the diplomatic commitment to Paris that both major parties support.

Astonishingly, less than a day after Donald Trump won the US election promising to abandon Paris, Malcolm Turnbull announced Australia’s ratification. The Prime Minister thumbed his nose at the obvious opportunity to hold out, see if the US withdrew (as it has) and perhaps forestall our own commitment.

The accord is dramatically weakened without the world’s largest economy, especially given other powerhouses such as China and India will continue to increase their emissions. (Ironically, perhaps no country is making a greater contribution to emissions red­uct­ions than the US through its innovation in areas such as fracking and battery technology.)

The Paris Agreement is not binding, so we don’t need to meet our targets anyway. Yet the political-media class seems viscerally locked onto them.

Turnbull talks about the energy “trilemma” of affordability, reliability and emissions reductions. But even the Finkel review noted these objectives are at odds with each other.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel tried to prescribe “policies that simultaneously provide a high level of energy security and reliability, universal access to affordable ­energy services, and reduced emissions. This is easier said than done. There is a tension between these three objectives.”

Neither Turnbull nor Finkel or Labor are willing to compromise on the third leg of the trilemma. Their starting point is emissions reductions; and they accept that reliability and affordability can be compromised to meet the target.

Finkel says: “The uncertain and changing direction of emissions reduction policy for the electricity sector has compromised the ­investment environment in the NEM.” But his solution — and that of the Coalition and Labor so far — is to try to formulate a settled, preferably bipartisan, emissions reductions scheme.

So the aim is to provide investment certainty even if it locks in higher electricity prices. The obvious alternative of relegating emissions reduction aims in favour of cheap, reliable power is simply not considered, even though we know it would have no discernible ­impact on the global environment. (We can always run other carbon abatement and energy efficiency schemes if we feel the need.)

The only pragmatic argument against scrapping the emissions reduction imperative is that it, too, may fail to break the investment strike because potential investors will still fear a future carbon pricing scheme. The political temptation is to lock in expensive and debilitating long-term policy solely to deliver the certitude of bipartisanship. This is the ­antithesis of seeking bipartisanship in the national interest.

All the federal government has succeeded in doing so far is taking ownership of the energy mess from the states. The Coalition will not admit that the RET — which it has backed, along with Labor, out of political convenience — is the heart of the problem.

On present settings the government is doomed to fail at the next election and then we will see a Labor government lock in permanently higher energy costs through a carbon pricing scheme. Perhaps the only salvation for the Coalition — and the economy — would be to call time on this green folly in the interests of protecting consumers, boosting jobs and rebooting a competitive advantage.

It would be a risky gambit contested by the rent-seekers in the energy sector. But it would be a fight for the national interest. The question is whether Turnbull, who has always claimed to be as green as Labor, can find it within himself to make the case.


Israel Folau says vote no, David Pocock says vote yes — but does anyone care?

ISRAEL Folau isn’t known for making political statements. His Twitter feed is usually full of snaps of his training sessions for the NSW Waratahs, endorsements for brands he spruiks and posts about his deep religious faith.

All that changed at 2.16pm on Wednesday when Folau became one of the most prominent people so far to say ‘no’ to same-sex marriage.

Folau’s forthrightness move came as a surprise to some. His Wallabies team are supporting marriage equality. Also, it was only a few years ago that Folau was on the front cover of lesbian and gay community publication, the Star Observer, publicising the Bingham Cup, a global rugby competition fought between gay and inclusive rugby teams.

But, Folau insisted, his no vote was also no judgment. “I love and respect all people for who they are,” he wrote.

His position puts him at odds with not just the Australian Rugby Union but just about every major sporting code in Australia, all of which have increasingly pinned their colours to the rainbow mast, publicly cracking down on homophobia.

This weekend in Melbourne, teams from both sides of the Ditch have competed in the annual Purchas Cup, the “Bledisloe Cup” of gay rugby.

Players competing have told they are worried Folau’s no stance could hold “sway” with some fans who are on the marriage fence.

Away from the battles on the pitch, can a sports star win the battle for the hearts and minds of sports fans when it comes to same-sex marriage?

Israel Folau was previously a cover star of LGBTI magazine the Star Observer supporting a gay rugby tournament.

Israel Folau was previously a cover star of LGBTI magazine the Star Observer supporting a gay rugby tournament.Source:Supplied
And what effect does a sports great saying ‘no’ while a code says ‘yes’ have on a punter?

Monash University’s Dr Kerry O’Brien has studied extensively how sport influences behaviour, such as drinking. He agrees sport can have a big impact on supporters in “transmitting values, attitudes and norms”.

Of course, some feel codes should keep out of the debate entirely. Like AFL legend and Footy Show panellist Sam Newman.
He told Mark Latham on his Outsiders online show that he was unhappy at seeing rainbow flags fluttering at the SCG.

“People go to the football to get away from political agendas. That’s their outlet and I honestly don’t know why they (the AFL) do it.” People had the right to be whoever they like,” Newman said, but he would banish all “agendas” from stadiums bar breast cancer appeals.


Thought crime fears motivate same-sex marriage opponents at 'no' campaign launch

Leading "no" campaigners, including Turnbull government MPs, say they fear it will become illegal to oppose same-sex marriage in word or even thought, if gay marriage is legalised.

The extraordinary claims, made at the campaign launch for the Coalition for Marriage on Saturday night, went as far as expressing fear that thought crime would be punished by law.

Cory Bernardi drives 'No' campaign

The South Australian senator claims that the anti same-sex marriage campaign is on the 'right side of legal and moral history'.

Matthew Canavan, a member of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's cabinet until he resigned over his dual citizenship, told the 1500-strong Sydney audience: "The 'yes' side want to make it illegal to just express a different view about marriage, that is their agenda."

On the sidelines, he told Fairfax Media he feared "a strong push to effectively eradicate the view that marriage should be between a man and a woman, to make it illegal".

Asked if his concerns about freedom extended as far as thought-crime, replied: "Yeah, well it is. The anti-discrimination [laws], particularly the state-based ones, are very wide ranging in application."

Senator Canavan was backed by Turnbull government minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi, who said these were valid concerns of same-sex marriage opponents.

"If the state redefines marriage, it also redefines how you can speak, think, advocate and believe about marriage," Senator Bernardi said. "That is the very real consequence of what is to come if we lose this battle."

Several speakers at the $15-a-head event cited the case of Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous being hauled before the state's anti-discrimination commission over a booklet opposing same-sex marriage - a case in which the church prevailed.

Speakers also portrayed the "no" side as the victim of a concerted campaign by elites, the media and big business. There were boos from the audience for Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore, who is backing the "yes" side with ratepayers' money.

Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman Sophie York described the "yes" side as "carefully orchestrated, cashed-up and ruthless".

To rapturous applause, she suggested a "no" vote in Australia could be the start of a global "push back" against same-sex marriage, which has been legalised in more than 20 countries.

Outside, 60-year-old Doreen Kirchner from Pennant Hills said she feared moral decline if marriage were to be expanded to include gay couples.

"I think if same-sex marriage gets in it'll be a slippery slope downhill morally. And I want to protect my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren," she told Fairfax Media.

"I don't have a problem with gays per se, I don't have a problem with them having a civil union. But the Marriage Act is for a man and a woman."


Universities going smoke-free

Earlier in the week, the University of Queensland announced it hoped to become a smoke-free educator by mid-2018 and early indications suggest the majority of students support the announcement, however an outraged group of students have created an opposing campaign and begun posting contested messages online.

One of the leaders of the UQ DARTS Facebook page, which advocates against the smoke-free plan, is Kurt Tucker - former president of the university's Liberal National Club. Since the announcement on Tuesday, the page has posted that the decision would see smoking banned in residential colleges and described the decision as "enforcing a complete ban", which is misleading according to the university.

UQ announced it intended to become smoke-free from July 1, 2018, and that the decision "aligns with UQ’s responsibility and desire to provide healthy and vibrant campuses, and reflects evolving societal norms". The university has started education campaigns to encourage staff and students to reduce or quit smoking and UQ's efforts would continue to ramp-up as the July deadline approached.

Since a Parliamentary Committee Inquiry last year, the Queensland government has been working with all tertiary education providers to reduce the use of tobacco on campuses. The Queensland University of Technology and Australian Catholic University are already smoke-free, while the University of the Sunshine Coast has announced it aims to become smoke-free by the start of 2018.

UQ Occupational Health and Safety director Jim Carmichael said the announcement would see the implementation of a strategy based around "informing and educating".

He added that university officers would not confiscate cigarettes and take disciplinary action if they saw students smoking on campus, but rather question whether they realise the risks, ask them to move off campus and discuss whether they have any intention of quitting. However, Mr Carmichael said firmer discussions and potential disciplinary action would be used against repeat offenders, but he hoped it would not come to that.

Mr Carmichael said initial surveys of students saw the "vast majority" of respondents say the decision was a great idea. This was supported by a poll in the Facebook group UQ StalkerSpace, which acts as a "platform for discourse about University of Queensland campus life" according to the description. The poll asked whether group members supported UQ going smoke-free in 2018, and the results, as of Saturday afternoon, showed a clear victory for the 'Yes' option, which had received almost five times the number of votes the 'No' option had.

On the flipside, UQ DARTS spokesman Sam Jackson described the university's decision as a "complete ban" which he labelled as "disappointing" and "a real shame", claiming students had not been given a sufficient consultation period.

The Facebook page also claimed that the university's decision "means nearly 3000 students will be unable to smoke in their own homes" because the policy will incorporate the residential colleges on campus.

"Whilst we do not deny there are no negative effects of smoking, it is not the Vice-Chancellor's role to erode personal freedom and responsibility," Mr Jackson said.

Security concerns were also raised by Mr Jackson. He said if students were asked to leave the security of the campus grounds to smoke at night, they risked being attacked.

However, Mr Carmichael emphasised that a "hard-line approach" would not be used and the university would "encourage students not to smoke, rather than put themselves at risk". He also added that the university's decision could not directly affect the residential colleges, because they were independently managed. The individual college masters could decide whether they wanted to follow the university's decision.


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

Mexico’s deficient asylum system

While the Mexican government has enacted certain reforms to address the needs of asylum seekers in the country, the Kino Border Initiative has identified significant shortfalls.

  • "Lack of adequate screening to determine candidates for asylum.
  • Misinformation about the asylum process and rights, or active discouragement of seeking asylum.
  • Lack of access to legal assistance or representation.
  • Prolonged detention as well as poor and often intimidating conditions there, including use of force and other mistreatment.
  • Poor training and supervision of immigration agents.
  • Expedited asylum decisions that don’t give full consideration to the applicant."
Asylum seekers are expected to get the process moving within 30 days of arrival in the country, which is an unreasonable expectation. Mexico is expecting to process three times as many asylum applications as they did last year. Conditions in Central America have not demonstrably improved to lead anyone to expect push factors have been reduced. 

Mexico should expect increased asylum applications for the foreseeable future, as the US continues to fortify its southern border and make itself a less welcoming place for immigrants and asylum seekers, especially for those people of color. As the US must invest in its asylum process, so it should assist Mexico in developing its own. However, neither should replace US and Mexican efforts to address the root causes of migration out of Central America and elsewhere in the region.

Australian Politics 2017-09-16 15:52:00

Mate, it’s time to drop the Murphy name

Talk of Lionel Murphy’s “little mate” featured prominently in yesterday’s revelations about the late High Court judge, and not just about his friend Morgan Ryan. Someone’s little penchant clearly led him astray. A weakness for Asian prostitutes and orgies? A very silent partnership in a brothel with organised crime figure Abe ‘Mr Sin’ Saffron? A Swiss bank account? Presumably High Court judges were so poorly paid back then that a cash-strapped Murphy, also a recipient of a ministerial pension, had to moonlight.

It appears though that the second job was a lucrative one. In September 1985, in between Murphy’s two trials for attempting to pervert the course of justice, The National Times reported on the judge’s property holdings. They comprised “a building in the heart of Fyshwick, Canberra” (Australia’s porn capital), a house in Forrest, ACT (Canberra’s most expensive suburb), six units in Queanbeyan NSW, and a “harbour-front house in Sydney.” In addition he shared “173 hectares on the Yass River with some business associates.”

Nonetheless the Hawke government later made an ex gratia payment of $420,000 (around $1.1m today) for Murphy’s legal costs. After all, apart from his impressive property portfolio, and whatever was stashed in the alleged Swiss bank account, his Honour clearly was short of a quid.

It seems incredible in the wake of the additional allegations that the Hawke government did not initially oppose Murphy’s return to the bench following his acquittal. “The allegations against Justice Murphy”, said government frontbencher Gareth Evans in April 1986, “have been dealt with comprehensively, fairly and finally by the criminal courts.”

It was a much less forgiving Gareth Evans who, as Opposition Attorney-General in 1980, urged the Fraser government to pursue conflict of interest allegations against Sir Garfield Barwick, then High Court chief justice and former attorney-general in the Menzies government. “The standards we require of our judiciary are higher than might be reasonable to require of anyone else,” said Evans. A standard far beyond the absence of a criminal conviction, perhaps? To quote then Age journalist Claude Forell “To be innocent of criminal conduct is a necessary but not sufficient test of ethical and moral fitness to be a justice of the High Court of Australia.”

At the time of Murphy’s acquittal, the Stewart Royal Commission, which was investigating the so-called Age Tapes, had provided the Hawke government with a secret volume. Among those revelations were details of intercepted phone conversations between Murphy and Ryan. The royal commission had put seven matters to Murphy, but he refused to respond.

As reported yesterday, the subsequent commission of inquiry into whether Murphy’s behaviour amounted to ‘misbehaviour’ as per section 72 of the Constitution, considered the judge had a case to answer in respect to 15 allegations. They included offering an inducement to a police officer in return for providing information concerning a prosecution; perjuring himself at his first trial; illegally receiving copies of the diaries of NSW Chief Magistrate Clarrie Briese (one of the main witnesses in his prosecution); being knowingly concerned in an attempt to blackmail a NSW Liberal MP; using his political connections to get favourable treatment for Saffron and his business associates; and pressuring then NSW District Court chief judge James Staunton to arrange an early trial for his friend Ryan, who was to be tried on a charge of conspiracy.

The behaviour alleged was said to have occurred in the period 1979-1986, when Murphy sat on the bench. There is no Australian precedent for this level of malfeasance by a judge, let alone one of the High Court. In the absence of these allegations remaining unresolved, then High Court chief justice Sir Harry Gibbs was right to (unsuccessfully) oppose Murphy’s resuming his position on the bench.

Already the Murphy apologists are rallying. “When you look at the breadth of the allegations, how absurd they are,” said the sympathetic biographer of Murphy and Gough Whitlam, Jenny Hocking, yesterday, “It’s a pity they’re getting the circulation that they are.” How ironic that Hocking, a professor of Australian studies, would oppose the release of publicly-held material in respect to her subject. This is the same Hocking who insists that the National Archives release private correspondence between former Governor-General Sir John Kerr and the Queen.

Let’s examine one of those allegations in light of the material’s release, that being the so-called Greek Conspiracy case involving alleged mass social security fraud (as it turned out few of those charged were convicted). The Commonwealth Police chief inspector in charge of that matter, Don Thomas, and his superior, assistant commissioner John Davies, met in 1979 with Murphy and Morgan Ryan for lunch at a Kings Cross restaurant.

Thomas stated that Murphy’s High Court associate had contacted him to arrange the meeting. He was not aware that Ryan would be attending and said later he felt uncomfortable about it. “I’ve invited an old friend to come to lunch”, said Murphy when introducing them. Murphy was in charge of the seating arrangements, and sat next to Thomas.

During lunch, Murphy told Thomas that the criticism of the handling of the Greek Conspiracy case was “political”. “We need to get into power in Victoria and we need the Greek vote,” he rationalised. Thomas declined Murphy’s invitation for him to arrange a meeting between himself and a Labor MP. Murphy allegedly said to Thomas “We’ll soon be in power again. We need to know what is going on. We need somebody in the Australian Federal Police — somebody at the top. If you are willing to do that we can arrange for you to be an Assistant Commissioner when it is formed. We have friends on both sides.” Thomas told Murphy he was not interested.

Even if one does not accept that Murphy said this, what legitimate motive would a High Court judge have to lunch with a mere chief inspector of police? And why was Ryan present?

In 1981, Ryan himself would be charged with forgery and later conspiracy in respect to an immigration scam. He was convicted of conspiracy in 1983, but later successfully appealed the decision. In 1987 the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued the charge.

According to intercepted phone conversations Murphy agreed to make inquiries about the two AFP officers investigating Ryan, James Lewington and Robert Jones. In the transcripts, Ryan later asked “Have you been able to find out about those two fellows who are doing the investigation; are they approachable?” Murphy reportedly replied “The answer was definitely no; they were both very straight.” Does Hocking really believe the allegations against Murphy are still “absurd” in light of this damning revelation?

In the leftist institutions of academia and the legal profession, Murphy is still revered. “I am greatly relieved to hear that the Lionel Murphy Library in this building still bears the name of that creative Attorney-General,” said former High Court judge Michael Kirby in a speech at the Attorney-General’s Department in February 2011. The National Portrait Gallery features a painting of him, along with a lengthy inscription which makes nary a mention of Murphy’s shenanigans.

It is time for the administrators of these legal scholarships, foundations, and libraries to quietly disassociate themselves from Murphy’s name. If they are after a replacement name, how about Briese or Paul Flannery, former judge of the NSW District Court? Both suffered, Briese terribly, as a result of blowing the whistle on Murphy when he attempted to improperly influence them to obtain a favourable outcome for Ryan. That is the price they paid for being a jurist who puts his integrity above doing favours for mates, be they little or big ones.


Do private education dollars count?
Despite new international education data showing Australia spends more on education compared to the OECD average, some media managed to report the opposite -- that we spend less.

How was this mathematical magic achieved? By sleight of hand that makes one category of funding vanish before the audience's eyes. And it requires no rabbits and hats ... just the blithe assumption that: Australia = Australian government.

Of course -- and as you would expect -- if we take into account both public and private money, Australia spends significantly more than the OECD average at all levels of education. This is because, in part, Australia has a relatively high proportion of students attending non-government schools compared to most other countries.

Common sense dictates that if people are spending more of their own money on education, the government should spend less, all else being equal. It's an incredibly strange mentality to think a private dollar is somehow worth less than a public dollar.

In regards to school education, Australian school spending was 3.8% of GDP, higher than the OECD average of 3.6%. Furthermore, public spending on schooling as a percentage of total government expenditure in Australia was 9.4%, much higher than the OECD average of 8.1%. Australia's spending in terms of money per student is also higher.

Based on this data, there is no justification for claims of widespread underfunding in Australia's school system.

In addition, this confirms there is no clear link between school funding and student outcomes at a national level. For example, Japan outperformed Australia on all recent international literacy and numeracy tests but spent much less money.
The comparable data released by the OECD is for 2014 and is always several years delayed, so the figures do not take into account all the large increases in 'Gonski funding' which only began in 2014 and increased at a faster rate in subsequent years. If anything, the numbers likely understate Australia's current level of school spending relative to the rest of the world.

This is a further indication the 'Gonski 2.0' school funding increases are exorbitant, and the government should reduce the excessive funding growth in future years. 


New hospital is a Taj Mahal

This week saw the opening of Australia's most expensive building -- the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. The Royal Adelaide saga has had its share of  political controversy, dissension, threatened walk outs, peace agreements and court appearances.

However, the gigantic $2.4 billion in capital cost is just the start of the impost on taxpayers. The final bill be will north of 10 billion dollars over thirty years. The SA government is on the hook for one million a day till 2046 -- and this will only cover the initial building, ongoing maintenance and provision of non-clinical services in accordance with the private public agreement struck by the state government.

But according to the myths that rule the health debate, this must mean South Australians finally have some good economic news. While the cost of everything else in the state is increasing, led by the highest electricity prices in the nation, the people of South Australia can rest easy in the knowledge they will continue to receive state-of-the-art health care for 'free'.

This, of course, is equivalent to the South Australian state treasurer's voodoo economics claim that the state budget has a surplus 'net operating balance' for 2017-2018.

The even bigger irony is the warnings by health bureaucrats about a 'honey pot effect' -- hordes of patients with minor aliments piling through the front doors.

With 800 beds -- of which all inpatient beds are single rooms -- 40 operating theatres, state of the art technology and "relaxing and healing spaces"  who can blame the punters for seeking the bounty that politicians have promised.

The further irony is that the Royal Adelaide has an emissions reduction target of 50% compared to other hospitals.

If only the boffins had thought of a health policy offset instead of pouring even more money into bricks and mortar hospital infrastructure, before this Taj Mahal of a health project was ever conceived.

The better strategy for the health of the people of South Australia -- and the health of their wallets -- would have been for the South Australian government to have listened to the decades of research showing that health care dollars are far better spent preventing people from going to hospital than building new ones. Another tragic example of how great research and ideas fall on deaf ears when hands are in the money pot.


Israel Folau Is Hardly A Homophobe

The latest public figure to fall afoul of the militant elements in the yes campaign in the same sex marriage plebiscite is Australian Rugby Union star Israel Folau. He put out a respectful tweet stating that he loved and respected people for who they were but would not support gay marriage.

Of course the usual leftist trolls which infest twitter replied to his tweet to accuse him of being a horrible person and treating gay people as inferior.

There were also those who attacked his Christian faith which is the basis for his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But if the yes side thought it was a good idea to label somebody like Israel Folau a homophobe then their abuse is seriously mislaid.

Just because somebody opposes same sex marriage doesn’t make them homophobe and Israel Folau has actively campaigned against homophobia in his sport of rugby union.

In 2014 he was an ambassador for the Bingham Cup which is an international gay Rugby union tournament that was being held in Australia that year. A spokesperson for the Bingham Cup said at the time “Israel is a strong advocate for ending all forms of discrimination in sport”.

He was also happy to appear on the cover of Australian gay magazine the Star Observer to promote the tournament.To their credit the Star Observer acknowledged Folau’s previous activism when reporting his recent tweet, but not before a snide remark at him at th end of the article

When during a game between the ACT Brumbies and the NSW Waratahs Brumbies player Jacques Potgieter was alleged to have used homophobic slurs, in the aftermath Folau said there was no place for homophobia in rugby.

If Folau is a homophobe which is itself a loaded term designed to demonise people then there are a lot of people who have no problem socialising or working with gay people who would also be considered homophobes.

So even though Folau has gone out of his way and used his profile to help gay people feel included in Rugby, because he has a traditional view of marriage that all counts for nothing and he appears to be on par with a gay basher.

Of course you don’t need to imagine if this is the type of abuse an ally like Folau receives what is dished out to others who questions other areas of the LGBT agenda. It has been on display this whole plebiscite campaign. All of this over the top abuse of people during this plebiscite is turning s few people who would be allies in the opposite direction.

Of course Israel Folau is an easy target for these people, it is much harder for these activists to take real homophobes such as Islamic State. Yes campaigners should just respectfully disagree with Folau’s view but still view him as an ally. The people who have directed this abuse at him need to think past their simplistic wooden view of this debate.

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