Quote Of The Year

Timeless Quotes - Sadly The Late Paul Shetler - "Its not Your Health Record it's a Government Record Of Your Health Information"


H. L. Mencken - "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Macro View – Economics, and Politics and the Big Picture. News Relevant To E-Health And The Health Sector In General Among Other Things.

February 28, 2019 Edition.
Trump flies to Vietnam for a Summit with Kim, the Emergency has 16 States suing to stop it, he is fiddling to make abortion harder and the Mueller Inquiry draws ever closer. Testimony from Michael Cohen added spice to Trump's week!
Brexit is still a mess with both major parties now losing members to the 2nd Referendum push.
In Australia the pork-barrel is being rolled out across the country while scandals and data-leaks abound. Additionally we have Snowy 2.0 and a Royal Commission into the disability sector!

Major Issues.

'Huge sentiment shift': Sydney, Melbourne auction clearances pick up

Updated Feb 17, 2019 — 1.27pm, first published at 11.08am
Sydney's auction clearance rate hit a nine-month high and Melbourne's also picked up on the weekend buoyed by hopes of an interest rate cut and relief that banks were unlikely to tighten lending further after the Hayne royal commission.
Sydney's clearance rate picked up to 61 per cent based on the initial results of 521 auctions scheduled in the week to Saturday, CoreLogic's preliminary figures showed.
While the rate is likely to fall, once the results of more auctions are factored in, this was the strongest preliminary rate since the first week of May last year, when the figure was 63.1 per cent.

Interest-only loans worth $230 billion 'trap' 650,000, warns Morgan Stanley

By Duncan Hughes
Updated Feb 15, 2019 — 7.52pm, first published at 6.00pm
About 650,000 borrowers with loans totalling around $230 billion are 'trapped' in their interest-only loans and could struggle to refinance, forcing many to sell into already deteriorating property markets, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.
Borrowers will need to extend the interest-only period, switch to a principal and interest loan or find a buyer for their property as their low rate terms expire, warns the analysis, which was done in conjunction with AlphaWise, a customised researcher for hedge funds and finance companies.
"Almost half of interest-only borrowers are 'trapped'," the analysis warns.
"These households appear high risk on a variety of metrics, and we expect added selling pressure on the housing market when their interest-only periods expire in the next two years."

Financial Review-Ipsos poll: Coalition closes in on Labor 51:49

Feb 17, 2019 — 6.00pm
The Morrison government has moved to within striking distance of Labor in the latest The Australian Financial Review-Ipsos poll, which shows the gap has closed to where it was before the party moved against Malcolm Turnbull.
The poll shows the government trailing Labor on a two-party preferred basis by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, an improvement of 3 percentage points for the government since the last poll taken before Christmas, which had Labor leading by 54 per cent to 46 per cent.
The parties were previously this close in July last year, a month before the coup was instigated against Mr Turnbull. The unrest saw the government's vote fall and it stayed low after Scott Morrison supplanted Mr Turnbull as leader.
If the 51-49 result was replicated on election day, which is just over two months away, it would represent a swing to Labor of 1.4 points since the last election in 2016.

Financial Review-Ipsos poll: Generational divide over Labor's franking credits policy

Feb 17, 2019 — 11.59pm
Plans by Labor to end cash refunds for excess franking credits have polarised the voting public with neither a clear majority for or against.
But those who stand to be directly affected by the change – those either approaching retirement or already retired – are most hostile whereas the younger generations support the change.
The latest The Australian Financial Review-Ipsos poll shows that on the back of a concerted campaign by the government against what it calls the "retiree tax", 40 per cent of voters support to policy and 43 per cent are opposed.
The impact of the change will be most profound for self-funded retirees using self-managed superannuation funds. Anyone on a pension, part or full, would be exempt.

'Shocking' lack of preparation exposed Darling River to fish kills: study

By Peter Hannam
February 18, 2019 — 10.43am
The lack of environmental water in the northern Murray-Darling Basin was the "root cause" of the massive fish kills near Menindee, and the "viability of the Darling" is at risk without urgent action, a study by the Australian Academy of Science has found.
The study, commissioned by federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, also calls for the repeal of the Northern Basin Amendment last year that cut the planned environmental savings for the region by 70 billion litres a year. It also backs the scrapping of a cap on water buybacks, and the suspension of a plan to re-engineer the Menindee Lakes.
Craig Moritz, chairman of the multi-disciplinary team that compiled the report, said the sight of millions of dead fish on the lower Darling River should serve as "a wake-up call", akin to a "coral bleaching event for the mainland".

'Something needs to change': Woolworths drops $1-a-litre milk

By Patrick Hatch
February 18, 2019 — 10.34am
Woolworths will stop selling $1-a-litre milk at its supermarkets, in a move it says will help restore Australian dairy farmers' commercial viability.
Both Coles and Woolworths started selling $1-a-litre milk in 2011 as part of their price battle for market share.
The cut-price home brand products have proved controversial, and has been blamed for cutting farmers' profitability.

Having stuffed up deregulation, let's not stuff up re-regulation

By Ross Gittins
February 18, 2019 — 12.00am
As the banking royal commission finishes, the aged care royal commission begins investigating the mistreatment of old people by – taking a wild guess – mainly the for-profit providers. Surely it won’t be long before the politicians, responding to the public’s shock and outrage, are swearing to really toughen up the regulation of aged care facilities.
It’s not hard to see we’ve passed the point of “peak deregulation” and governments will now be busy responding to the electorate’s demands for tighter regulation of an ever-growing list of industries found to have abused the trust of economic reformers past.
But having gone for several decades under-regulating many industries and employers, there’s a high risk we’ll now swing to the opposite extreme of over-regulation. That could happen if politicians simply respond to populist pressures to wield the big stick against greedy business people.

Adrenaline shot for Morrison's government, but beware adrenal fatigue

By Peter Hartcher
February 17, 2019 — 11.45pm
The Morrison government has received an adrenaline shot, giving it a priceless rush of energy in the approach to the federal election.
The first Ipsos poll of the year shows the government emerging from a long funk and into a highly competitive position.
The Coalition still lags Labor, but at 49 per cent to Labor's 51 the ruling party is within striking distance of winning the election expected in May.

Apartments casting a shadow over the Australian economy

  • 7:16AM February 18, 2019
According to the ABS there are 225,221 apartments under construction in Australia, or at least there were last September, which is the most recent data available.
Going by the building approvals data it looks the average value of those dwellings is around $400,000, which sounds about right, so there is a bit less than $100 billion worth of apartments in total being built. More than half of them — 135,000 — are in Sydney and Melbourne.
Most, if not all of them, were sold off the plan. Not many developers can afford to fund a block of apartments on spec, and financiers want deposits to have been paid before lending the money.

'Friendless and ignored': the retirement reform the PM has lost interest in

By Shane Wright
February 18, 2019 — 3.00pm
The Financial Services Inquiry could not have been clearer. Headed by former CBA boss David Murray, the inquiry – which Joe Hockey set up to deliver a "root and branch" review of the financial system – made a set of recommendations around the superannuation sector.
The first was the most important. The government of the day should set a "clear objective for the superannuation system to provide income in retirement".
Australians could be more than half-a-million dollars richer in retirement under the biggest shakeup of the compulsory superannuation system.

China key suspect in pre-election hack against major parties

By David Wroe
February 18, 2019 — 11.45pm
Chinese spies are the prime suspects in an unprecedented hack of Australia’s political parties that could have exposed information about voters and private data of MPs ahead of the federal election.
In what sources have branded an "A-team" attack, the Liberal, Labor and National parties have all been subjected to cyber operations by a skilled foreign government that was also responsible for a breach of federal Parliament’s computer systems.
While authorities say there is no evidence the hacking is an effort at political interference, they have also acknowledged they do not know what data was taken, nor what the motives were.

We've seen this political hacking movie before - and it didn't end well

By Matthew Knott
February 18, 2019 — 3.35pm
New York: To grasp the potential significance of the unprecedented cyber hack on Australia's major political parties, consider the state of affairs across the Pacific Ocean.
More than two years after the 2016 election, US President Donald Trump is still impatiently waiting for Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election interference to end.
US Acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker says the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia during the 2016 election is 'close to being completed'.

Treasury warns on housing downturn risks, backs go slow on mortgage brokers

Feb 20, 2019 — 10.11am
Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens has warned that "falling house prices could also cause consumer spending to be weaker than forecast" and said "care must be take" on mortgage broker reforms.
Mr Gaetjens told an estimates committee that government needed to remain fiscally disciplined at a time where debt to GDP was now at 14.6 percent and risks were now falling house prices.
"With new risks emerging it is vital that discipline be maintained," Mr Gaetjens said.

China and Australia's political relationship enters year of living anxiously

Updated Feb 19, 2019 — 6.17pm, first published at 6.00pm
No matter what happens to on-again, off-again trade wars between China and the US, the political relationship between China and Australia has already changed dramatically – for the worse.
This year will probably only reinforce mutual tensions.
The big fall in Chinese investment in Australia reflected in the Foreign Investment Review Board figures this week is just part of the shift. So is Australia's decision to block China's global telco Huawei from the 5G mobile network on national security grounds.
No one in Canberra tries to refer to China too specifically, given the desire to maintain the restoration of diplomatic niceties after China cut off ministerial visits and most formal contact for much of last year.

Are we prepared to pay Beijing's high price for prosperity?

By Chris Uhlmann
February 20, 2019 — 12.00am
When the Australian journalist’s phone lit up she didn’t recognise the number but the country code was clear – it was coming from her homeland, China.
On the other end of the line was a woman who did not identify herself. She politely asked the journalist to come home to discuss a series the writer had penned, in English and Mandarin, on the Falun Gong.
The computer servers of Australia’s major political parties have been hit by a cyber-attack with a “sophisticated state actor” suspected to be behind the plot, says the prime minister.

What if the political hack was part of an influence campaign?

By Chris Zappone
February 19, 2019 — 1.04pm
The computer servers of Australia’s major political parties have been hit by a cyber-attack with a “sophisticated state actor” suspected to be behind the plot, says the prime minister.
If the cyber intrusion of Parliament and the major parties was the prelude to a hack-and-leak influence campaign, how would Australia react? Would we as a society know how to minimise the damage?
Following the disclosure by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, we know only that a nation-state is likely to be behind the sophisticated hacking of Australia's political world. To date, there are no signs the stolen data has been weaponised and used against politicians, parties or the public.

The economy is at risk of a 'doozy recession', claims bear Gerard Minack

By Duncan Hughes
Feb 20, 2019 — 10.50am
The economy is at risk of a "doozy recession" as the housing downturn accelerates at an "alarming pace" weakening consumer sentiment, warns former Morgan Stanley global strategist Gerard Minack.
Mr Minack, who is known for calling the global financial crisis, said a recession would drive cash rates to zero, 10-year bond yields to 1 per cent and the Australian dollar to $US60 cents.
The likelihood of a recession should become clear around the time of the May federal election, forcing economic management to the top of the political agenda.

Fletcher Building surprised by speed of Australia's housing downturn

Updated Feb 20, 2019 — 11.45am, first published at 9.10am
Fletcher Building chief executive Ross Taylor says the speed of the Australian housing market downturn has been much faster than the company had been expecting, prompting an escalation in the already fierce competition among building products suppliers all chasing sales in a shrinking market.
"It has come off faster than we thought," Mr Taylor said on Wednesday. He expects the weakness in the Australian construction market to extend into 2019-2020.
Fletcher's Australian operations, which include Tradelink plumbing and bathroom supplies, Iplex pipes, Rocla concrete, Stramit steel products, Tasman Sinkware and Fletcher insulation, make up 34 per cent of Fletcher's entire business.

Magellan's Hamish Douglass says tread cautiously in unpredictable markets

Updated Feb 20, 2019 — 4.14pm, first published at 3.59pm
Magellan chairman and chief investment officer Hamish Douglass is treading cautiously in markets that he regards as stuffed full of two-way risk, saying, "I'll reverse Chuck Prince from 2007, the music might be playing but it's not time to dance."
Mr Douglass was invoking the famous line by the then-chief executive of Citigroup from July 2007, just before the full force of the global financial crisis hit.
"When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated," Mr Prince told the Financial Times. "But as long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance."

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans breaks from big four with rate cut call

Updated Feb 21, 2019 — 1.21pm, first published at 12.35pm
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans is the first of the big four's top forecasters to call for the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates this cycle, sending the Australian dollar tumbling and undoing all of the currency gains from a "strong" January labour report.
Mr Evans anticipates two cuts, in August and November, which would take the cash rate to 1 per cent. Previously Westpac forecast the Reserve Bank would remain on hold in 2019 and 2020. He was the first economist to call the start of the RBA's easing cycle in 2011.

Jobless rate holds at 5pc as economy creates 39,000 new jobs

Feb 21, 2019 — 11.57am
The Australian economy created 39,100 new jobs last month - outstripping expectations of a gain of 15,000 new positions - helping to keep the jobless rate at an unchanged 5 per cent.
The rate, which remains the lowest it has been since 2011, could still weigh on inflation expectations and add further fuel to chances of a rate cut - where the Bloomberg consensus of economists now expects a 52 per cent chance of a 25 basis point rate cut by August this year.
The number of full-time jobs rose by 65,400 to 8.7 million while the number of part-time jobs fell 26,300 to just over 4 million.
The number of unemployed climbed 6600 last month.

Federal Reserve officials unsure of need for higher rates this year

By Ann Saphir
Updated Feb 21, 2019 — 6.58am, first published at 6.21am
Washington | Federal Reserve officials widely favoured ending the runoff of the central bank's balance sheet this year while expressing uncertainty over whether they would raise interest rates again in 2019, minutes of their January meeting showed.
"Almost all participants thought that it would be desirable to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing the Federal Reserve's asset holdings later this year," according to the record of the Federal Open Market Committee's January 29-30 gathering.
"Such an announcement would provide more certainty about the process for completing the normalisation of the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet," the minutes said, referring to the roll-off of assets from the $US4 trillion balance sheet that began in late 2017.

What you need to know about ageing at home

By Louise Biti
Updated Feb 21, 2019 — 11.28am, first published at 11.15am
With another royal commission kicking off, this time into aged care quality and safety, we can expect to see an increase in media stories on what can, and has, gone wrong in residential care services.
Unfortunately most attention is given to the stories of abuse or neglect, and very little to the majority of residents who have positive experiences.
Most of us hope we never need to move into residential care but if care is needed, more people would prefer to receive this care at home. The stories coming out of the royal commission are likely to increase some people's aversion to residential care and further increase the demand for home care.

A new beginning: let's fund two years of early learning for all kids

By Jessica Irvine
February 21, 2019 — 12.00am
I don't want to win an award for the most obvious statement of the year, but here goes: being a new parent is hard. Oh, yes, there’s joy and smiles and giggles, of course. But the stress on relationships and the lack of sleep? Jeesh.
It’s been nearly 4½ years since I was freshly minted into the "mummy" ranks. Which means it’s almost four years since I began navigating Australia’s complex and confusing maze of childcare and early-learning options for under-5s.
Childcare is something you don’t spend much time thinking about until you’re in it. And then, when you do, you’re in such a sleep-deprived state, it’s hard to make much sense of it.

Year starts with a surge in full-time jobs as unemployment rate holds steady

By Shane Wright
February 21, 2019 — 12.09pm
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been delivered an important economic boost with new figures showing 64,000 full time jobs created across the country in January.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday reported the national unemployment rate was steady in January at 5 per cent.
A re-elected Coalition government will create 1.25 million jobs over the next five years, promised Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying Labor's election will see a negative impact on the economy.

Home loan arrears at highest since 1996: S&P

By Clancy Yeates
February 21, 2019 — 12.00am
The proportion of borrowers who are behind on their home loan payments has edged up to its highest level in more than two decades, with Queensland and Western Australia driving the rise.
Figures from Standard & Poor's on Wednesday showed the share of home loans that were more than 90 days behind on their scheduled payments had risen to 0.75 per cent in December, up from 0.73 per cent in November, and 0.65 per cent in January 2018.
Although still low in absolute terms, it was the highest level since the credit ratings agency began collecting the data in 1996.

Wesfarmers boss Rob Scott cites franking credits in warning on tax policies

  • February 21, 2019
Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott has cautioned both sides of politics against policies that crimp household disposable income, just as consumers face pressure from stagnant wages growth, rising costs of living and tighter access to credit.
Mr Scott said that while the ALP’s policy to remove excess franking credits on shares was “not the end of the world”, these tax refunds were relied upon by many Australians to fund their retirement.
The boss of a company which owns leading retail chains such as Bunnings, Kmart and Target said politicians must be mindful about cost pressures facing consumers in the lead up to the election, and not make things worse by further strangling incomes.

Leading Chinese newspaper says slowdown in delivery of Australian coal exports to China may be political

  • 1:25PM February 21, 2019
The slowdown in delivery of Australian coal exports to China could be linked to its ban on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei supplying equipment for the 5G network, according to a leading Chinese newspaper.
“Can’t even sell coal to China?” the newspaper Cankaoxiaoxi wrote yesterday. “Australia can’t stand it any longer.”
A populist paper published by Chinese newsagency Xinhua, Cankaoxiaoxi pointed out that Australia was one of the first countries to follow calls by the US to ban Huawei.

US, Japan look attractive in a world post-franking credit reform

Feb 21, 2019 — 5.00pm
Investment experts are urging Australian shareholders to use the looming end to franking credit refunds to address longstanding biases towards Australian equities and diversify into more exotic fare.
In a packed auditorium at the SMSF Association's annual conference at Melbourne's Exhibition Centre, a panel of portfolio managers and analysts said self-managed superannuation funds should consider global equities and debt, nominating Japanese and the US equities markets as offering comparable risk-adjusted returns.
Schroders head of fixed income and multi-assets, Simon Doyle, said investors should be cautious of structured products that promise to "fill the void" left by fully franked Australian shares and instead explore the risks and opportunities of going offshore.

Josh Frydenberg urges calm amid fears over China ban on Australian coal

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 11.05am, first published at 9.07am
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Reserve Bank Governor Phil Lowe have downplayed suggestions Australia is being punished for anti-Chinese sentiment after a Chinese port banned Australian coal imports.
Dalian Port Group in China's north has reportedly banned imports from five harbours and other Chinese ports had instituted a go slow, delaying shipments by 45 days.
Dr Lowe warned there would be "very difficult" economic consequences if the coal restrictions were a sign of a broader "souring" of the Australia-China relationship.

IMF says ASIC and APRA should lift their game on data and analysis

Feb 22, 2019 — 10.42am
Australia's financial regulators need to be more transparent, co-operate more and invest heavily in data collection in order to meet the standards established by global peers according to a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF's Financial System Stability Assessment published on Friday morning is another blow to Australia's financial regulators including the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), which have been under fire since the Hayne royal commission found them wanting.
APRA chairman Wayne Byres said the report had many positive things to say about Australia but conceded there was more work to be done around data collection to ensure local efforts were on par with our global peers.

Julie Bishop was a very good foreign minister in a time of head-spinning change

By David Wroe
February 21, 2019 — 6.08pm
Julie Bishop wasn’t a foreign policy philosopher of epic proportions. Rather she approached the job that will define her place in the political history books by practically and pragmatically pursuing Australia’s interests.
She has been criticised for the lack of a grand vision or an overarching blueprint for how to navigate the turbulent first quarter of this century - something you might badge the “Bishop doctrine”.
Outgoing Liberal MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop left the chamber before Prime Minister Scott Morrison could even pay tribute to her lengthy career of service to Australia.

Bashing up banks and miners won't make us richer

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 10.43pm, first published at 6.55pm
The International Monetary Fund suggests that Australia's potential economic growth rate will settle down to 2.6 per cent for the first half of the 2020s. That could be acceptable for an old-world European economy or an ageing Japan. But not for a frontier economy such as Australia, positioned to service the growing middle-class markets of Asia. But it basically matches Australia's growth rate of the past decade. And that's nearly a full percentage point less than the decades straight out of the early 1990s recession and leading up to the GFC.
Labor has framed the national debate as one of unfairness. Sluggish wage or government revenue is the fault of companies not paying enough tax on profits that are too high. Yet, as the Productivity Commission has shown, Australia has not become significantly more unequal over the past decade or two. The problem is not that the economic pie is being shared less equally. The problem is that the pie is not growing as fast as it used to – certainly not as fast as during the resources boom when national income expectations were over-inflated. China helped shield Australia from the global financial crisis. But the adjustment to the end of the China-driven resources boom has been drawn-out. The "important policy challenge" now, says the IMF, is to lift productivity growth in order to revive the economy's growth potential.

The Cloister and the Closet: Decoding the sexual crisis in the Catholic Church

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 2.43pm, first published at 1.45pm
In the firestorm of sexual scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church, Frédéric Martel stands at ground zero.
He's speaking with AFR Weekend over an encrypted link from Paris about his book on hypocrisy and homosexuality in the Vatican.
Hours earlier Le Monde has reported French police are investigating groping allegations against Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Papal Nuncio to France.

Australian firefighter Troy Thornton dies after lethal injection in Swiss clinic

By Tracey Ferrier
February 23, 2019 — 8.22am
Veteran Australian firefighter Troy Thornton has died in a Swiss euthanasia clinic, leaving a powerful message for Australian politicians and voters.
He wanted the nation to think deeply about the concept of dying well, and to challenge the notion that choosing death is somehow wrong.
The 54-year-old Victorian died by lethal injection late on Friday, Australian time. His wife Christine was there to hold his hand, but he died without his two teenage children - Jack, 17, and daughter Laura, 14 - by his side. He farewelled them in Australia on Sunday.

We've had plenty of new jobs - but don't believe the numbers

By Ross Gittins
February 23, 2019 — 12.00am
You can be sure Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will be boasting about this week’s job figures, which show the jobs market remaining unusually strong. But their critics know not to believe the numbers.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures for January show the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment steady at 5 per cent – the lowest it has been since the start of the decade. The more reliable “trend” (smoothed) estimate is little different at 5.1 per cent.
Sticking with the trend figures, employment has increased by more than 295,000 people over the past year. That’s a rise of 2.4 per cent – a lot bigger than the average annual growth rate over the past 20 years of 2 per cent.

Power price falls for one in five households under new default system

By Shane Wright and Michael Koziol
February 23, 2019 — 12.01am
One in five households and businesses across NSW, Queensland and South Australia will enjoy cuts in their power bills averaging $174 a year under new default prices to be introduced by the Morrison government.
The new system, starting from July 1, will force retailers into ditching standing offers that regulators found were being used to keep loyal or disengaged customers on artificially high prices while offering discounts to woo new business.
Across NSW, some of the largest savings will be made by people who are supplied power by Energy Australia through the Endeavour Energy network. Energy Australia's current standing offer is $1955.65 a year but this will fall to $1720 under the government's changes.

If there's nothing to hide, why care if the servers are hacked?

By Crispin Hull
February 23, 2019 — 12.00am
The major parties, particularly the Liberal Party, were not even aware of the stench of their own hypocrisy. They went into a complete tizz when a foreign state, presumably China, cyber-hacked their internet servers and information.
Yet, for the past decade or more, the Coalition has been banging the drum demanding more government access to everyone’s metadata and access to anyone’s internet account on the grounds of national security, saying “if you have got nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”.
So, major parties, if you have nothing to hide, you should not be too troubled if your servers are hacked and the material made public.
But you have a lot to hide, don’t you?

Anxiety plus ignorance: Why Millennials are embracing socialism

By Tom Switzer
February 23, 2019 — 12.00am
If a week is a long time in politics, as British prime minister Harold Wilson once famously remarked, then 30 years is an eternity.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire collapsed. The end of the Cold War, we were told, buried the idea of history as the armed rivalry of opposing ideologies. It was widely believed that liberal democracy was on the march and market economics was universally accepted as superior to socialism.
However, the world has not followed the end-of-history script.
In recent years, a plethora of books lamenting the crisis of Western democracy has been published: How Democracies Die, How Democracy Ends, The people vs Democracy, Fascism: A Warning  and so on.

Tribal warfare saps our energy

  • 12:00AM February 23, 2019
Australia is being convulsed by its contradictory identity: a fossil fuel-endowed nation enriched by its resources set against a middle-class moralism hooked on climate change action — an internal division that plagues the voting base of both Coalition and Labor.
Party values and voting loyalties are being trashed. As climate change activism turns into an anti-coal mantra buttressed by a finance sector unwilling to invest, the clash over competing economic interests and cultural values will provoke large-scale political disruption. Both Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten are trapped in these dilemmas.
Labor’s fidelity to immensely popular renewables highlights its alienation from coal and the wider industry as the CFMEU mining division in Queensland joins with the state’s mining industry to ­assault the Palaszczuk government over de facto sabotage of the Adani mine.

Morrison government moves to establish de facto price regulation for energy retailers

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 9.51pm, first published at 12.00am
Electricity suppliers are set to face de facto price regulation and a potential $100 million-plus hit to retailing revenues after federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Morrison government would introduce a default market offer to replace existing expensive standing offers.
In a further intervention by the Morrison government into the energy market just before the May election, the default market offer — proposed in a draft ruling to be released by the Australian Energy Regulator on Saturday — would act as a "safety net" for electricity customers who were unable to negotiate a better deal off their retailers.
Mr Taylor renewed his attack on energy suppliers, saying the policy was a direct result of their putting "massive" profits ahead of their customers.

What worries voters - and how that's changed since the last election

By Matt Wade
February 24, 2019 — 12.00am
Politics has moved on since the last federal election.  And so have the voters.
There have been some intriguing shifts in what Australians rate as their key concerns since Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten faced off at the ballot box almost three years ago.
The first is a heightened worry about household finances. The Ipsos Issues Monitor survey, which regularly asks a representative sample of Australians to select the three most important issues facing the nation, shows the “cost of living” has replaced healthcare as our number one worry.
Voters’ hip-pocket nerve is always sensitive. What’s unusual is that living costs are top of mind at a time when inflation has been very low for a long time. The main driver of voters’ financial worries is not higher prices but an extended period of low wages growth.

Westpac’s Bill Evans ‘gobsmacked’ by lending drop

  • 12:00AM February 23, 2019
As chief economist of Westpac, Bill Evans has a pretty good bead on the economy.
But when he looked at the ­December housing finance data this month, he was shocked.
New lending for housing had fallen almost 15 per cent since mid-year, confirming his growing sense of unease about a rapid slowdown in the economy after the end of a record housing boom that was spiked by slowing Chinese demand and a crackdown on risky lending.
 “I’ve been gobsmacked by the rate at which new lending has ­collapsed,” Mr Evans told The Weekend Australian. “That fall, coming on top of earlier falls, was very surprising.”

China’s coal shoulder hits home

  • 12:00AM February 23, 2019
Australia’s coal miners are becoming concerned about the increasing frequency of restrictions on imports into China following this week’s moves to bar some shipments of Australia’s most valuable export.
While local coal producers appear so far to have emerged largely unscathed from China’s latest attempts to restrict imports into the key port of Dalian, the move has added to concerns for investors while also raising the prospect of a possible violation of the free trade agreement between Australia and China.
China consumes about a quarter of Australia’s coal exports, and Dalian itself is estimated to receive only about 7 million tonnes of Australian coal or just 2 per cent of the nation’s total coal exports.

Royal Commissions And Similar.

Aged care mea culpa: we abandoned our patients

Authored by Ludomyr Mykyta
THE Royal Commission into Aged Care has opened. I look forward to it with great anticipation, but even greater trepidation that it will end the same way as previous high level inquiries into elements of aged care: tweaking round the edges and high-sounding cosmetic changes that have no impact on the fundamental causes of the problems.
My concern is that the focus will be on processes and practices within a structure and a system that is taken as a given, the status quo that remains unquestioned. This would be akin to investigating the collapse of a building without examining the foundations.
The Commission resulted from the widespread public concern about the abuse of residents in aged care facilities, most clearly typified by the Oakden disaster. This should make us think. I made several submissions to the various inquiries into this affair because I strongly believe that it represented an example of the gross failure of clinical duty of care. One thing that the victims had in common was that they were somebody’s patients. Most of the victims had some degree of dementia, and it is highly probable that many had been assessed by a geriatrician or psychogeriatrician prior to their admission into a residential care facility.

Westpac adds ASIC to list of woes as it posts flat Q1 net profit

Updated Feb 18, 2019 — 10.32am, first published at 10.02am
Westpac's quarterly result has revealed both the business and regulatory environment for banks remain challenging after ASIC gatecrashed the announcement with plans to appeal the outcome of a superannuation test case to the Federal Court.
The case, heard last year, involved a campaign run by Westpac that involved $650 million being rolled over into its BT Funds Management arm. The Australian Securities and Exchange Commission said Westpac staff were offering personal advice in breach of the law over a period of three years, but Justice Gleeson saw otherwise and ruled in favour of the bank.
ASIC's deputy chairman, Daniel Crennan QC, said it was important for the regulator to obtain further clarity and certainty on the difference between general and personal advice as soon as possible.

The corporate regulator is getting a taste for bank blood

By Elizabeth Knight
February 19, 2019 — 12.00am
The freshly turbocharged corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, is throwing grenades into just about every crevice in the financial services industry - and Westpac is the latest to feel the heat.
Yes, this is the same regulator that was tarred and feathered during the banking royal commission for being way too friendly with the institutions it was meant to police. Its recent headline-catching vigilance involved banning Commonwealth Bank's financial planning business CFPL from charging fees or taking on new customers for being too slow to fix its fees-for-no service reparations.
This new "RoCo cop" is now setting its sights on using the courts to take the grey area out of what constitutes general financial advice and what constitutes personal advice.

No assessment of impact of $2bn cuts on aged care

  • 12:00AM February 19, 2019
The nation’s top health bureaucrat says no work was done to check if the care and safety of elderly residents in nursing homes was compromised after a $2 billion hit on funding hobbled the sector for years, the royal commission has heard.
In wide-ranging evidence to the inquiry yesterday, Department of Health secretary Glenys Beauchamp also revealed the ­extent of the federal government’s scramble to deal with chemical ­restraint and “doping” of nursing home residents, first revealed in The Australian early last month.
New regulations, announced by Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt on January 17 in response to those reports and promised within weeks, have not been developed.

Aged-care royal commission: airconditioning ‘not needed’ in nursing homes

  • 12:00AM February 20, 2019
The chief executive of the aged-care providers’ peak body has faced tense questioning over ­apparently successful lobbying ­attempts to make new quality standards “more vague” and ­remove a requirement for airconditioning in nursing homes.
Appearing at a royal commission into the aged-care sector, Leading Age Services Australia boss Sean Rooney was asked why his group suggested the federal government remove a reference to “continuously” monitoring the quality of care in the new standards with the word “regularly”, an amendment that was adopted by the Coalition.
LASA’s response to the draft indicators, which come into effect in July, also queried a line that referred to ensuring a “comfortable internal temperature” for residents, which was also struck from the final code.

Labor rejects royal commission via mortgage broker backflip

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 10.40am, first published at 10.30am
Labor has made an important policy backflip on mortgage brokers that has resulted in it formally rejecting one of the royal commission's most significant recommendations, which undermines its credibility in the brewing election debate.
Labor can no longer claim to have accepted the royal commission's recommendations, as it said it would do word for word before the report was even released. It can also no longer pretend to embrace the recommendations "in principle", which was its position after the report's publication.
One of Kenneth Hayne's signal recommendations was that brokers should be bound by the same laws as financial advisers, and "conflicted remuneration" (payments from banks to brokers) banned outright. Hayne argued that brokers should be subject to a duty to always look after their customers' best interests with 100 per cent of their compensation coming from borrowers, not banks.

Regis boss to step down, profit hit by aged care royal commission

Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 11.03am, first published at 10.34am
Regis Healthcare has spent more than $300,000 dealing with the aged care royal commission that began hearings last month, the nation's largest aged care provider said on Friday.
Managing director Ross Johnston will step down on September 3, the $1 billion company also said.
Mr ​Ross, who is also chief executive, joined Regis 11 years ago when it was a privately owned aged care operator and led the business through its transition to become a listed residential aged care provider.

Elderly dying before home-care aid arrives

  • 12:00AM February 21, 2019
A further 10,000 home-care places­ being rolled out early across the aged-care system are mostly lower-level support packages that will have little effect on a long waiting list on which elder­ly Australians have died before they receive help, a Senate estim­ates hearing has heard.
Department of Health secret­ary Glenys Beauchamp could not tell the hearing yesterday if the number of people waiting for their assessed support package would rise from the 127,000 currently on the list but said she expected the average waiting time for high-level support, currently more than a year, to “come down by some months” in June.
The committee also heard the federal government had an issue policing the way funds were used in the multi-billion-dollar segment of the aged-care portfolio and only recently ran a “pilot” trial to boost compliance.

National Budget Issues.

IMF calls for bank levy to back deposit guarantee

By Clancy Yeates
February 22, 2019 — 5.41pm
The government should use a levy on banks to help to cover the multibillion-dollar costs of any future use of the taxpayer guarantee of bank deposits, the International Monetary Fund says.
In a detailed review of the financial system, the Washington-based IMF reiterated its support for moving to a government-guarantee of bank deposits that is specifically funded by a levy - such as the government's bank tax - rather than paid for from the budget if a bank were to collapse.
Although it acknowledged the idea had previously been rejected by the government, and the 2014 financial system inquiry, the fund on Friday said the current system, introduced at the height of the global financial crisis, is fraught with "moral hazard."

Health Issues.

NIB's latest profit upgrade doesn't come with a healthy glow

Feb 18, 2019 — 11.22am
Most chief executives who've delivered two earnings upgrades in the space of four months would be walking on sunshine. But Mark Fitzgibbon, the chief executive of private health insurer NIB, is sounding more than a few notes of warning.
This is not so much about the state of his company, which appears to be performing well against a difficult backdrop.
But Fitzgibbon has ongoing concerns health of the private health insurance sector, which are magnified by the attitudes of consumers and politicians.

Permanent health reform commission should include Reserve Bank-style expertise

Updated Feb 18, 2019 — 12.46pm, first published at 10.59am
Kevin Rudd's handpicked health reform adviser says a new permanent body should combine elements of the Productivity Commission and the Reserve Bank, to boost continuing and durability across the political cycle.
Notre Dame University dean of medicine Christine Bennett - who led the Rudd government's 2009 health and hospitals review - said there was merit in exploring a standing body which could improve advice and decision-making outside changes at the state and federal levels, provided the body engaged effectively with government, providers and the private sector.
Last week, Labor said it would create a permanent health reform commission if it wins this year's federal election, promising to end the boom-and-bust cycle of government funding and policy development and improve health delivery.

Doctors in danger of work burnout

  • 12:00AM February 19, 2019
More doctors-in-training are being compelled to work excessive hours in hospitals, despite the potential risks to staff and ­patients, according to a survey of nearly 9000 health professionals.
Amid an ongoing debate over safe rostering, the latest results from the long-running University of Melbourne survey reveal an alarming increase in the proportion of doctors who routinely work long hours.
The 10th MABEL (Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life) survey was undertaken by 8937 doctors, including 1153 participating for the first time. It found hospital registrars working, on average, 43.6 hours a week and hospital medical officers (HMOs) 44.2 hours a week.

No more 'open body orifices': TGA revamps CAM indications

Watchdog uses CAM experts for advice on dubious claims
19th February 2019
The TGA has been forced to tweak it controversial list of “official” clinical indications for alternative therapies after discovering some of the indications were bogus.
It meant that the makers of the products could include labels claiming their treatments could “disinhibit water”, “uplift sunken middle Qi”, “replenish essence”, as well as “moisten dryness in the Triple Burner”.

Australia's healthcare paradox: World-class care but patients left behind

By Jill R Margo
Feb 18, 2019 — 11.00pm
There is a hidden paradox at the heart of Australia's healthcare system. While the country has one of the top-five health systems in the world, it consistently fails to deliver good patient-centred care.
Given that doctors put patients at the heart of clinical care, how is this possible?
The contradiction will be unpacked at The Australian Financial Review Healthcare Summit in Sydney on Tuesday.

Cocaine the drug of choice in Sydney, according to Australia's sewers

By Lucy Cormack
February 20, 2019 — 12.00am
Sydneysiders are consuming more than twice as much cocaine as people in Melbourne and Brisbane, according to the nation's sewers.
In August last year, for every 1000 people, 1.2 grams of cocaine was consumed daily in Sydney, compared with just over 400 milligrams in Melbourne and Brisbane.
The figures were revealed in the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's most recent examination of wastewater treatment plants across the nation, compiled in partnership with the University of Queensland and University of South Australia.

Link between menopause and Alzheimer’s

  • By Sumathi Reddy
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • 12:54PM February 19, 2019
Women make up nearly two-thirds of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in the US, in part because they live longer than men. Now, researchers are exploring whether hormonal changes related to menopause affect the development of the disease.
“The truth is that Alzheimer’s is not a disease of old age, it’s a disease of middle age,” says Lisa Mosconi, director of the Weill Cornell Women’s Brain Initiative in New York City, a research program aimed at reducing Alzheimer’s risk.
“In reality, the brain changes start in mid-life.”
Most people think of how menopause affects fertility.

Children’s hospitals worst for bloodstream infections

  • 12:00AM February 20, 2019
Children’s hospitals had the worst rate of serious bloodstream infections last financial year, putting their patients and potentially ­future funding at risk.
Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital had a golden staph blood infection rate of 2.79 for every 10,000 patient days while Sydney Children’s Hospital had a rate of 1.94.
With the AIHW using peer groups to better judge performance, the two hospitals pushed up the average for children’s hospitals to 1.42, considerably higher than the average for either major, large or medium hospital groups.
The result was also higher than the previous year.

Children deliberately overdosing on antidepressants and antipsychotics

By Kate Aubusson
February 21, 2019 — 1.00am
Rising numbers of children and adolescents are deliberately overdosing on antidepressant and antipsychotic medications, Australian research shows.
Self-harm from poisoning has more than doubled in a decade among children as young as five, according to the detailed analysis calls to poisoning centres in NSW and Victoria.
The researchers also found a dramatic rise in antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs prescribed and dispensed to minors.

Calls grow to ban a chiro treatment on babies after 'horrifying' video

By Melissa Iaria
Updated February 20, 2019 — 1.58pmfirst published at 11.59am
Calls are growing to ban spinal manipulation of infants across the nation after "horrifying" footage emerged of a Melbourne chiropractor performing the controversial treatment on a two-week-old.
The video, posted to Cranbourne Family Chiropractic's Facebook page in August, shows the chiropractor hanging the baby, believed to be two weeks old, upside down and applying spinal and neck manipulation treatments.
The chiropractor also uses an activator – a small spring-loaded instrument – to deliver a controlled impulse to the spine, causing the baby to cry.

Growing old is no longer graceful

  • 12:00AM February 22, 2019
Getting old in Australia is “sometimes shameful, always hidden and certainly not celebrated”, making people anxious about planning for retirement, says consumer research commissioned by the federal government.
Not only is there deemed to be an entrenched ageism in society, but circumstances are changing to the apparent detriment of older Australians, who are the most pessimistic about their future ­finances and care arrangements.
“The path to seniority used to be clear: work hard, then stop fully and — hopefully — enjoy life without limits again,” says the research, obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

Bupa CEO compares doctors charging medical gap fees to greedy bankers

Sue Dunlevy, National Health Reporter, News Corp Australia Network
February 22, 2019 8:00pm
Exclusive: The boss of Australia’s biggest health fund has compared medical specialists charging super-sized fees to bad bankers and says they should be hounded out of the profession.
The call comes as frustration is building in the private health insurance industry over delays in government action on a major investigation into medical gap fees carried out by the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
Health funds have evidence of massive out of pocket fees of over $20,000 for deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and $10,000 for hip and knee replacements that are not covered by Medicare or health funds.

Elderly woman dies of listeria infection as authorities warn thousands at risk

By Paul Sakkal and Liam Mannix
Updated February 22, 2019 — 4.38pmfirst published at 1.44pm

Talking points

  • Late January: Elderly woman admitted to Knox Private Hospital
  • February 4: Woman dies after developing listeria-related illness in hospital
  • February 20: Six positive tests for listeria bacteria at I Cook Foods kitchen
  • February 21: Department of Health shuts down I Cook Foods
  • February 22: Health authorities reveal thousands may have been exposed
A woman has died and thousands of people are at risk of listeria infection after the bacteria was detected in food from a south-east Melbourne catering company that supplies food to hospitals, aged care homes and Meals on Wheels.
The catering service I Cook Foods has been shut down after the woman, who was aged in her 80s and from the eastern suburbs, died in Knox Private Hospital on February 4.

Doctors seek tighter rein on alternative therapy practitioners

  • 12:00AM February 23, 2019
Health practitioners who spruik unproven and alternative treatments would be required to ­advise patients of the lack of ­evidence, the risks, and the need to continue with any conventional treatments recommended for their condition.
Through new guidelines, still subject to consultation, the Medical Board of Australia has moved to tighten the regulation of such practices and to make clear its right to intervene where patients are being put at risk.
The board is concerned “the use of complementary and unconventional medicine and emerging treatments is increasing and includes a wide range of practices from minimally invasive to major complex interventions”. With new guidelines, the board hopes to clarify practitioners’ obligations and patient rights without reducing choice, restricting practice, adding regulatory costs or stifling research.

More Australians aged over 80 looking to grow older away from home

By Helen Pitt
February 23, 2019 — 12.00am
Patti Skenridge and her husband Chris retired from Sydney to Blackheath where she started oil painting, formed an artist’s collective and felt part of a creative community.
Six years ago her husband died. With no children, the 81-year-old took a big step. She moved back to Sydney and a small Potts Point apartment.
"I miss my old house and garden," she said. "But to be so close to good hospitals and healthcare, where you can walk take a bus or a cab, is so much better than in the mountains where you have to drive everywhere."

Endometriosis treatment costs 'would increase by 20 per cent'

By Dana McCauley
February 23, 2019 — 11.45pm
The federal government's Medicare review has created a political firestorm for Health Minister Greg Hunt, with a key report pushing for changes that experts say would drive up out-of-pocket costs for endometriosis surgery.
Women's health advocates have expressed concern at the prospect of higher gap fees, saying the painful condition is already expensive and difficult to treat.
"The out-of-pocket costs for women with endo are already huge," EndoActive co-founder Lesley Freedman told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
"The girls can't afford the surgery as it is, they save up for years to get it done."

Crucial step towards Australia legalising 'three-person IVF'

By Kate Aubusson
February 24, 2019 — 12.00am
Rhonda Murray was 32 when she learnt her family were players in a deadly genetic lottery.
The artist was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease after her brother Peter had a stroke-like episode when he was 34. The disease would eventually kill him and Rhonda’s mother.
Ms Murray's daughters Annie, 19, and Cassie, 17, also have the faulty genetic mutation in which a person’s defective mitochondria robs a body’s cells of energy, causing organ dysfunction and death.

Why NSW's sickest babies with broken hearts are being flown to Victoria

By Esther Han
February 24, 2019 — 12.00am
Some of NSW's sickest babies are being flown to Victoria because the state's paediatric heart surgery program is "inferior" and unable to attract the best doctors, a leaked document suggests.
Top paediatric cardiologists believe Sydney Children's Hospitals Network's "two-site model" has hindered progress and program development, forcing them to refer babies needing a heart transplant to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
"People don't want to hear about it, but the reality is it's happening, it's a source of shame," a doctor familiar with the matter said.

Gene testing moving mainstream: experts

Genetic testing has become more mainstream in Australian medicine, with pathologists recording a 70 per cent increase in test requests over five years.
Karen Sweeney
Australian Associated Press February 23, 20194:19pm
A growing number of Australians are using genetic testing to help diagnose hereditary diseases and cancers as the technology goes mainstream.
Research by pathologists has found a more than 70 per cent increase in the number of genetic tests being carried out at labs across the country in just five years.
A study has revealed at least 660,000 genetic tests were carried out over the year, with more than half to identify genetic predispositions and one-in-10 for cancer over the 2016/17 financial year.

$35 million in funding for rheumatic heart disease vaccine ‘will save lives’

  • February 24, 2019
The federal government will put $35 million towards developing a vaccine for rheumatic heart disease, a deadly illness that largely affects indigenous communities.
The money from the Medical Research Future Fund will allow for the manufacture and testing of vaccines as well as the fast-tracking and funding of clinical trials, a joint statement from Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt and Health Minister Greg Hunt says.
“Today is a game-changing step. Ending RHD (rheumatic heart disease) is a critical, tangible target to close the gap in indigenous life expectancy,” Mr Wyatt said.

International Issues.

Trump raises a new menace - the S word - and Democrats are stumped

By Mark Z. Barabak and Melanie Mason
February 18, 2019 — 11.26am
Los Angeles: When US Democrats unveiled their Green New Deal to fight climate change, the Republican response was swift and strikingly uniform.
"A socialist wish list," said a spokesman for the national party.
"The socialist Democrats are off to a great start!" exclaimed a spokesman for the GOP's congressional campaign committee.
"Socialism may begin with the best of intentions, but it always ends with the Gestapo," chimed in Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, invoking Winston Churchill.

After two years' silence, Europe opens attack on Trump foreign policy

By Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum
February 17, 2019 — 11.17am
Munich: An annual security conference where Western allies have long forged united fronts erupted into a full-scale assault on the Trump administration's foreign policy. European leaders, would-be Democratic challengers and even the president's Republican backers took the floor to rebuke the president's go-it-alone approach.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel - habitually cautious about provoking Trump - led the charge on Saturday, unleashing a stinging, point-by-point take-down of the administration's tendency to treat its allies as adversaries.
The speech appeared to provide much-needed catharsis. Trump's antagonistic behaviour has bred two years of accumulated grievance in much of Europe but has been met with few substantive answers on how to effectively challenge it.

President Vladimir Putin’s terrifying ‘retirement’ plan: Forcing a ‘unification’ with Belarus

A tiny European country is about to be “absorbed” by Russia as the superpower prepares to make a geopolitical gamble.
Jamie Seidel, AFP
News Corp Australia Network February 18, 201911:20am
The dominoes are once again beginning to fall in Europe. Crimea. Ukraine. Georgia. And it’s all because Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t believe in nation states. Except, perhaps, his own.
Putin has stated that “completely independent states do not exist” and that all countries are “interdependent.”
It’s a convenient line to push under current circumstances: He wants Russia to swallow-up the former Soviet Union state of Belarus.
Belarus, however, isn’t so keen.

Is the Labour breakaway Independent Group a threat to the UK's two-party system?

Updated Feb 19, 2019 — 9.44am, first published at 2.36am
London | A breakaway group of seven MPs from a Labour parliamentary caucus of 256 may not seem like a big deal – but the question is whether it's the tip of an iceberg, which could end up sinking the metaphorical Titanic that is the British political system.
Just think: there are another 165 Labour MPs who voted against Corbyn's leadership at the last time of asking – a large pool of potential rebels for the new Independent Group.
And then there are the several dozen centrist, anti-Brexit Conservatives who would have more in common with the breakaway Labour moderates than with the increasingly tub-thumping and uncompromising Brexiteers of their own party.

Donald Trump gives China 'one last chance', car tariffs next

Updated Feb 19, 2019 — 7.58am, first published at 7.18am
Washington | Donald Trump is giving China "one last chance" this week to avoid lasting tariffs, suggests one of his top trade advisers, ahead of yet another round of talks in Washington before a looming March 1 deadline expires.
As the White House received a key report that may trigger a fresh front in Mr Trump's trade war by targeting car imports, one of his regular trade confidants Michael Pillsbury noted Trump's frequent references about how the current tariffs on Chinese imports are bringing "billions of dollars of revenue" to the US.
Any potential US tariffs on the auto industry could have unintended spillover effects for Australian companies that manufacture components for the global auto industry.

Donald Trump spends President's Day nursing 'coup' grievance

By Matthew Knott
February 19, 2019 — 9.26am
New York: Monday was Presidents' Day in the United States - a national public holiday created to mark George Washington's birthday but that now honours all those who have served as president.
Protesters in major cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles used their day off to hold rallies opposing Donald Trump's decision to declare an emergency at the US-Mexico border.
Former top FBI official Andrew McCabe decried the "relentless attack" he said US President Donald Trump has launched against the agency, according to released excerpts of an interview with NPR.

Take that back: In Brexit chaos, England takes on its critics

By David Goodhart
Updated Feb 21, 2019 — 9.56am, first published at 9.45am
To see yourself as others see you is one of the virtues that is hard to achieve but always worth striving for. You do not have to agree with the account that the others give, but it is usually useful to know what it is. Brexit has, at least in that sense, been a worthwhile exercise, providing the "others" with an extended opportunity to say what they think of the British and Britain.
I have had an especially bracing experience of the boot being on the other foot listening in to Germany's Brexit debate. I was a reporter in Germany at the time of reunification and took part in many superficial dissections of the German soul. Now it is my soul's turn.
Reading the Irish writer Fintan O'Toole's critique of Brexit has conjured up similar feelings. O'Toole, a biographer, literary critic and Irish Times columnist, is one of the most influential Brexit critics in the liberal press in Ireland, Britain and the US.

Vladimir Putin threatens to target US with nuclear missiles

  • By Tom Parfitt
  • The Times
  • 2 hours ago February 21, 2019
President Putin has vowed to target the United States if American missiles are deployed to Europe after the collapse of a key arms treaty between Moscow and Washington.
Speaking during his annual state of the nation address, Mr Putin said that if US missiles that could “reach Moscow within 10 to 12 minutes” were placed in Europe, then the Kremlin would be “required to envisage both mirrored and asymmetric responses”.
He added: “Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons that can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centres of decision-making are located.”

Doomsday torpedo: Russia’s deadly new Poseidon can unleash radioactive tsunami

  • AFP
  • 1:58PM February 21, 2019
Hours after Vladimir Putin warned the US against deploying new missiles in Europe, Russia backed up the vow by unveiling a terrifying new weapon.
The Poseidon — dubbed by one expert last year as the “doomsday torpedo” — is a nuclear-powered submarine drone, designed to unleash radioactive tsunamis on coastal areas.
Putin said tests of the Poseidon underwater drone have been progressing successfully, and the first submarine equipped to carry it will be commissioned later this year.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, the Defence Ministry released a brief video showing a test of the Poseidon, which can target coastal areas with a heavy nuclear weapon, causing a devastating tsunami wave.

China's steady plan to take control of the Asia-Pacific region

By James Stavridis
Updated Feb 22, 2019 — 11.20am, first published at 10.58am
A US Defence Department report warns that China's military buildup is reaching the point where it can attempt to "impose its will on the region and beyond."
Visiting recently with senior officials from two US allies in the region, Japan and Singapore, gave me a visceral feeling of how things look on the ground (and at sea). "We are deeply concerned about the US long-term commitment in the region, starting with troops in South Korea - especially in the face of China and their determined military expansion," a senior Japanese official told me.
The constant refrain was simple: The West is becoming a less reliable partner. These allies are dismayed by a US administration that has repeatedly criticised its closest partners and accused them of freeloading on defence.

China confirms ban of Australian coal imports

February 22, 2019 — 8.50am
Beijing: Customs at China's northern port of Dalian has banned imports of Australian coal and will cap overall coal imports from all sources for 2019 at 12 million tonnes, an official at Dalian Port Group has told Reuters.
The indefinite ban on imports from top supplier Australia, effective since the start of February, comes as major ports elsewhere in China prolong clearing times for Australian coal to at least 40 days.
The Federal Government says it's urgently seeking clarification over reports that Australian Coal has been banned from a key Chinese port.

Beijing is not the innocent party

  • 12:00AM February 22, 2019
Interpreting Chinese trade moves and understanding their links to policy and politics is not quite as easy as it looks. That is certainly true of these latest restrictions on Australian coal exports to China.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Beijing is extremely grumpy with Canberra at the moment.
But everything that Canberra has done that annoys Beijing has been forced on it by Chinese ­actions that contradict Australia’s national interests.

Theresa May faces call to quit within three months, after Brexit

By Tim Ross
Updated Feb 23, 2019 — 6.11am, first published at 5.50am
London | Theresa May must resign as British prime minister and Conservative leader later this year after delivering Brexit, according to politicians at the highest levels of her own government.
May has promised her party she will stand down before the next general election, slated for 2022, but she's likely to face pressure to go within the next three months.
Once the UK is out of the European Union, and local district elections on May 2 are over, the premier will have no reason to stay in office, one senior minister said, speaking privately. Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29.

Troops open fire on Venezuelan volunteers in aid convoy standoff

By H. Alexander
February 23, 2019 — 8.35am
Cúcuta, Colombia: A high-stakes bid by the Venezuelan opposition to transport aid into the country turned deadly on Friday as government forces opened fire on a group of volunteers, killing at least two and injuring 12.
Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on a group of civilians attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil for deliveries of humanitarian aid.
At 6.30 am on Friday, a military convoy approached a checkpoint set up by an indigenous community in the southern village of Kumarakapay, on the main artery linking Venezuela to Brazil. Maduro on Thursday ordered the closure of Venezuela’s border with Brazil.

Robert Mueller's report not coming next week: senior US Justice official

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball
Updated Feb 23, 2019 — 11.58am, first published at 11.55am
Washington | Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not deliver his long-awaited report next week on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, a senior US Justice Department official said on Friday (Saturday AEDT), amid expectations that the report was imminent.
"Any reports that the Special Counsel's report will be delivered to the DOJ (Department of Justice) during the week of February 28 are incorrect," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The 21-month Mueller investigation, also focused on possible obstruction of justice, has been a dark cloud over Donald Trump's presidency, with reports of its conclusion being imminent appearing frequently in recent weeks.

Trump sets up abortion obstacles

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and David Crary
February 23, 2019 — 4.21pm
The Trump administration has set up new obstacles for women seeking abortions, barring taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals. The new policy is certain to be challenged in court.
The final rule released on Friday by the US Health and Human Services Department also would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from being housed in the same locations as abortion providers, and require stricter financial separation.
Clinic staff would still be permitted to discuss abortion with clients, along with other options. However, that would no longer be required.
I look forward to comments on all this!