May 26, 2022 Edition
Hard to go
past the fact of a change of Government in OZ. I can't say I will miss either ScoMo or Greg Hunt! I wonder who will be the new Federal Health Minister?
Otherwise we see Biden touring in Asia to shore up the position of the US in Asia and a push back on China.
Little of note in Europe other than the horrible grinding war in Ukraine and the worsening economic position in the EU and US.
Morrison launches his own rescue plan
Scott Morrison is running out of time to turn an electoral tide that seems to be carrying the Coalition out to sea. His new housing policy is an attempt to persuade more voters he has an answer to the housing crisis - and one Labor can’t copy
Jennifer Hewett Columnist
May 15, 2022 – 4.44pm
None of the enthusiastic applause and constant repetition of the word “strong” could obscure the sense of Coalition desperation lurking outside its official campaign launch in the Brisbane convention centre.
Standing in front of signs declaring “STRONG ECONOMY STRONGER FUTURE”, Scott Morrison is frantically trying to salvage a much weaker future of his government. Even his colleagues’ belief in that future has been seeping away as polls resolutely refuse to budge and a mood for change tolls ominously in marginal electorates.
It turns out Morrison’s confidence in his ability to harvest community doubts about Anthony Albanese’s character and competence in time for the election seems overwhelmed by greater community dislike and distrust of himself as prime minister. Checkmate.
Yet, Morrison’s unwavering belief in miracles is strong enough to propel him through this last few days of the campaign with another big promise to persuade more voters a Coalition government really is there to help them.
6:00am, May 16, 2022 Updated: 9:25pm, May 15
Alan Kohler: The time for lazy, comfortable government is over
If Treasurer Josh Frydenberg loses his seat on Saturday his best legacy could end up being his commissioning of a review of Australian productivity.
He sent the terms of reference to the Productivity Commission on February 7, and the final report is due next February, which should be just about when the next government is looking for something to do.
The PC’s report will provide the Prime Minister and federal cabinet with a set of boxes; all they will have to do is tick them.
Not that there is any mystery about what’s required: Reduce child care costs, improve education outcomes, fix health care and aged care, reform the tax system, improve transport infrastructure, build a lot more social housing and take steps to improve housing affordability, create a national integrity commission to stop corruption and misuse of public money and, last but not least, put a price on carbon to sharpen the incentives for decarbonisation.
Why portfolios should include private equity
Retail investors need to be wary of traditional investments that are now riskier given the concentration in large-cap listed markets. As businesses evolve, so should portfolios.
Giselle Roux Contributor
May 16, 2022 – 5.00am
The role of private equity in an investment portfolio has become normalised, initially with US endowments achieving stellar returns from large allocations to illiquid assets encouraging family wealth into the segment alongside institutional money. The commitment to private markets is often cited by large investors as a key to their success.
Private access for many is frustrating. Deals are done behind doors for the favoured few, while larger fund managers offer only limited, expensive broad access.
The size of the asset class is huge, with the Australian private equity sector stated at $90 billion, up 42 per cent from 2019. This may not include all the global money or debt that supports these deals.
The influence is significant. Every week a new offer arises from a private equity firm to take over a listed company – front of mind is the proposition for Ramsay Healthcare. The thesis behind this bid can be summarised as taking advantage of earnings disrupted by COVID-19, property assets to be realised and pricing advantage thanks to a narrow set of competitors.
AUKUS limits Labor’s room to move on China reset
James Curran Historian
May 16, 2022 – 5.00am
Next Sunday morning, either Anthony Albanese or Scott Morrison will confront a world where military hostilities continue in Europe and where the possibility of war in Asia and the Pacific continues to be aired by senior political leaders in Canberra and Washington, Tokyo, Taipei and Beijing.
Labor believes a softer tone, presumably a modification of the ideological fervour that Morrison has adopted since mid-2020, will restore decorum to relations with China.
The new Chinese Ambassador, Xiao Qian, clearly wants to get beyond the rancour. But both sides of Australian politics, for the moment, are reluctant to take his olive branch.
The question for the next term of government is how – indeed, whether – the two countries can recover credibility with each other.
Bonds regain defensive appeal despite vicious tumble
Alice Gledhill and Liz Capo McCormick
May 16, 2022 – 3.17pm
A few brave souls in the investing world are starting to move back into bonds to ride out an oncoming economic storm.
While debt bulls on Wall Street have been crushed all year, market sentiment has shifted markedly over the past week from inflation fears to growth.
Market-derived expectations of US price growth dropped from multi-year highs while nominal yields in the US, Germany, Italy and UK retreated. At the same time a report showing higher than expected price increases for American consumers failed to ignite a sustained rout - a sign of bear-market exhaustion after a historically bad start to the year.
With inflation pressures still rampant everywhere, no one is betting with conviction that yields in any of the world’s major markets have peaked. But the argument goes that the asset class still offers a powerful hedge as the Federal Reserve’s aggressive tightening campaign threatens to spur a downturn in the business cycle that could ripple across global assets.
Road to riches: how to work out your net worth and track it
11:16AM May 16, 2022
Most homeowners who experienced last year’s property price boom are much wealthier than before the pandemic, but their surge in net worth may not be enough to retire as rich as they want.
Net worth – calculated by totalling all assets minus all debts – is a valuable tool to help people map their financial growth and make changes where needed.
Money specialists say people’s net worth needs differ depending on the desired lifestyle, but there are some helpful guides.
For those relying solely on superannuation, super fund statements contain projections, while calculations by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia show the average super balance required today to deliver the $545,000 necessary for a single’s comfortable retirement using personal wealth and the pension.
It says a 25-year-old average worker needs only $17,000 in super today to reach $545,000 by age 67, while a 35-year-old requires $93,000, a 45-year-old should have $195,000, a 55-year-old should be at $330,000 and a 65-year-old – two years from pension age – would require $503,000.
Super plan could lift Sydney house prices by $45,000
Michael Bleby Senior reporter
May 16, 2022 – 7.27pm
Letting prospective buyers tap $40,000 of superannuation would push up housing prices, with the median price in Sydney rising by $45,000 and by almost $100,000 in Brisbane, independent modelling shows.
The effect on housing prices of a $40,000 super boost – close to the $50,000 limit under the Coalition’s super for housing proposal unveiled over the weekend – would be lowest in Melbourne, where it would push the median price up $31,126, a report published by the McKell Institute last year shows.
In Sydney, the median price would rise $45,342 and in Hobart it would gain $57,413, but the effect will be much greater in the other cities, with Brisbane’s median rising by $99,346, Hobart by $92,796 and Adelaide by $84,543, the think tank’s report says.
While the effect in cities varied, the leverage a first home buyer would gain from the cash taken out of their super – based on a 20 per cent deposit – would push their spending power up by five times in broad terms, leaving buyers with less super and more debt, McKell Institute executive director Michael Buckland said.
Could this be the election in which News Corp’s impotence is exposed?
Journalist, author and academic
May 16, 2022 — 5.00am
I am not sure News Corporation bothers to deny its bias these days. But could this be the election in which the impotence of its skewed reporting is exposed?
Some of the content in News Corporation tabloids has read like political advertising for the Coalition.
There was the multi-page spread in the Herald Sun which read like a paid advertisement for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his contest against independent candidate Monique Ryan. The headline was not subtle: “Why you need to vote for me”.
And on Friday many of the state-based News Corp tabloids ran a story asking the “teal” independents about their policies on “China’s advance in the Pacific, changes to income tax, defence spending and transgender athletes”.
Fair enough. They are, after all, asking for votes. But the spin in the way it was written was enough to take this old-school journalist’s breath away.
China’s economic woes add to RBA’s policy challenge
Cecile Lefort Markets reporter
May 17, 2022 – 4.48pm
The deterioration in the Chinese economy will pose a growing concern for the Reserve Bank of Australia, as it assesses the magnitude and pace of monetary tightening to wrest control of inflation.
Australian bond futures, which have scaled back the chance of a super-sized cash rate increase of 40 basis points amid mounting global growth concerns, are now implying a 98 per cent chance of the standard 25 basis points move next month.
If correct, it would take the cash rate to 0.6 per cent next month, from 0.35 per cent.
Futures expect the cash rate to reach 2.73 per cent by the end of the year, which equates to nine quarter-point increases at the remaining seven Reserve Bank policy meetings.
Chinese stocks were up before the close of trade. The CSI 300 advanced 1 per cent to 3997.7 points and in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng was up almost 3 per cent to 20,534.9. The rally signified confidence that Beijing would be able to nurse growth with stimulatory policy and Shanghai exiting lockdown.
What you need to know about the Coalition’s super home buyer scheme
Economists warn about “unforeseen economic consequences” of encouraging young home buyers to dip into their super.
Duncan Hughes Reporter
May 18, 2022 – 5.00am
The Coalition’s super home buyer scheme could be a “windfall” for existing property owners’ retirement plans, but economists say it could make it even harder for some first home buyers to get into the market and limit the mobility of upgraders.
Plans to expand the eligibility of downsizers to make a one-off super contribution of up to $300,000 after the sale of a home – down from 60 to 55 – plus rising property prices are tipped to increase returns for homeowners preparing for retirement.
But the proposed changes are only a marginal measure for young first home buyers who generally do not have enough superannuation to transfer a game-changing amount to their home purchase, says Alex Dunnin, an executive director of Rainmaker Group, a financial services management consultancy. Even if they could, he says, they would struggle to keep pace with recent price rises.
There could also be unforeseen long-term economic consequences for job mobility if future home owners decide it is easier to remain in their existing residence rather than have to “refund” their pension if they decide to move, adds Brendan Coates, economist at the Grattan Institute, a public policy think tank.
Date with density: Major parties ignore real cause of housing pain
May 18, 2022 — 8.30am
As both major parties make their final pre-election pitches on housing – shared equity from Labor, super for housing from the Coalition – neither side has shown much willingness to tackle the fundamental factors that are making housing less affordable.
The simple fact is we have not built enough housing to meet the needs of Australia’s growing population. Among developed countries, Australia has had the second-biggest decline in housing stock relative to the adult population over the past 20 years.
Our cities offer too little medium-density housing in their inner and middle rings. Australian capital cities are more sparsely populated than cities of similar size in other developed economies.
This is not what most Australians want. It is a myth that all new first-home buyers want a quarter-acre block. Many would prefer a townhouse, semi-detached dwelling, or apartment in an inner or middle suburb, rather than a house on the city fringe.
The stock of smaller dwellings – townhouses, apartments, etc – made up 44 per cent of Sydney’s houses in 2016, and 33 per cent of Melbourne’s. Yet, Australians say they actually want those numbers to be 59 per cent in Sydney and 52 per cent in Melbourne.
Election 2022: Character question hangs over Liberal Party
12:00AM May 18, 2022
It was harder to put pen to ballot paper this election than any in which I have voted previously. As I filled out my postal ballot last week, my hand hovered over several boxes. Previously, in Britain and here, it had ticked Conservative or Liberal without a moment’s thought. If I am like this, heaven knows how others yearning for the centre-right are feeling.
I set up the Tory Club at a left-leaning college in London in the mid-1980s and worked for Liberal leaders in South Australia and Victoria during the ’90s. Supporting a political party is often like following a football team. Irrespective of how they play, you must be a lifelong fan. But what if the values of the club go missing? Even some Collingwood fans will question renewing their season tickets following Heritier Lumumba’s revelations of racism.
The problem for the Liberal Party now is there appear to be a lot of people like me who are no longer willing to be taken for granted. Keener to go blue than any other colour, which now includes teal, I want to know the party or team I support has a set of core values in which I can believe.
The Liberal Party maintains a strong understanding of the economy. While it has borrowed much this term, it did so because of a once-in-a-century pandemic. JobKeeper helped save countless businesses, and credit should go where it is due. The implementation of more free trade deals sets up opportunities for growth in the years ahead.
6:00am, May 19, 2022 Updated: 7:25pm, May 18
Alan Kohler: The major parties have no plan for housing affordability
The Coalition’s idea of letting first-home buyers use their super to buy a house is another stinker in a long line of housing policy stinkers.
Another is Labor’s “Help To Buy” shared equity scheme, and the Coalition’s Home Guarantee Scheme.
The only housing policies with any merit this year are Labor’s idea of a fund to build social housing and the Coalition’s plan to give $2 billion to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to do the same. But neither of them is anywhere near enough – no more than a start.
But let’s face it, politicians do not want house prices to fall. The shadow housing minister, Jason Clare, acknowledged that to me this week, saying nobody is proposing to do that.
“I don’t think anyone would want to see that. You know, anybody who owns a home wants to see the value appreciate. If house prices were to drop, the economic impact for Australia would be phenomenal. What we do need to do, I think, is come up with policies to help people who want to buy a home.”
Dislike of Morrison remains the dominant factor in this campaign
Award-winning political commentator and author
May 19, 2022 — 5.00am
It had all the hallmarks of a dead man walking when Scott Morrison promised, without actually admitting to his transgressions and in fact seeking to redefine them, that if only he could be spared execution he would be a better man and a better leader.
The narrow track to victory that he had been predicting so confidently for months suddenly loomed as his path to political oblivion.
After more than three years in the job, after countless accusations of bullying, hypocrisy, fibbing, fudging, fumbling, blame shifting, incompetence and failing to rise to the occasion, after millions of people had already voted, with a week to go, Morrison appeared to have a come-to-Jesus moment, which he felt compelled to share with all Australians.
Finally acknowledging that perhaps he was the problem, he vowed to change. He couldn’t say exactly when or how he would change, except that he would work at being more empathetic and more inclusive, as if his only defect was the perception he lacked compassion, rather than candour and competence. It turned out to be what a friend describes as a ScoMopology. Valid only on the day of issue.
Election 2022: Unemployment rate falls to lowest level in 50 years
19 May 2022 - NCA NewsWire
The national unemployment rate has fallen to a 48-year low, in what the Coalition will no doubt say is evidence of good economic management just two days out from the election.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday reported the unemployment rate edged from 4 per cent to 3.9 per cent in April.
That is the lowest level since 1974 and the sixth consecutive monthly gain in employment.
“In April, we saw employment rise by 4000 people and unemployment fall by 11,000 people,” ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said on Thursday.
“As a result, the unemployment rate decreased slightly in April, though remained level, in rounded terms, with the revised March rate of 3.9 per cent.”
We need to sharpen national security edge – here’s how
12:00AM May 19, 2022
We live in turbulent and fast-changing times, and there’s work to be done on our national security agencies and architecture by whichever party wins the election on Saturday.
With a boost in defence spending, the establishment of an office of the national security adviser, a reviewed and revitalised Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and a regular health check for the intelligence community, Australia’s national security community will be better prepared to meet the security challenges that lie ahead.
Australia is well served by the men and women who dedicate their careers to working quietly and effectively for the security of Australia, whether they be in DFAT, Home Affairs, Defence, the Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police or one of our 10 intelligence agencies and entities.
From this perspective we’re in good shape to confront the challenges of the next decade. But those challenges will be more serious than the ones we faced in recent decades, and some of our national security structures and processes need to be sharper.
With the AUKUS security pact and the revitalisation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Morrison government has begun to lay down some strong new international security foundations that will serve us well in years to come.
Coalition closing the gap on Labor in final days
Phillip Coorey Political editor
May 19, 2022 – 6.00pm
The Morrison government has clawed back significant ground in the last week of the election campaign, and is hoping a 48-year-low unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent will help it erode what is still an election-winning lead by Labor.
Excluding undecided voters, Labor’s primary vote has fallen two points to 36 per cent, while the Coalition’s first preferences have jumped three points from 32 per cent to 35 per cent.
The Greens are on 13 per cent, One Nation 5 per cent, the United Australia Party 3 per cent and others and independents are on 8 per cent.
Based on 2019 preference flows, which includes allocating preferences of the 5 per cent of undecided voters as to how they voted last time, Labor leads the Coalition by 53 per cent to 47 per cent, enough to deliver a comfortable victory if replicated on election day.
Vanishing Hong Kong: ‘I knew I was crossing a line but I didn’t care’
Louisa Lim’s book ‘Indelible City’ is a deeply personal account of Hong Kong’s complicated past and its current transformation from a thriving financial hub to a security state.
Michael Smith North Asia correspondent
May 20, 2022 – 5.00am
Louisa Lim’s Indelible City opens with an emotional 2019 encounter on the rooftop of a Hong Kong skyscraper.
In these opening paragraphs, the author is torn between journalistic neutrality and her love of the city as she is invited by a “secret co-operative of guerrilla sign painters” to grab a paint brush and help produce the giant pro-democracy banners that became a symbol of Hong Kong’s protest movement.
“Driven by gut instinct, I stood up and walked over to take a paint pot for myself. I knew I was crossing a line, from neutral reporter to voluntary participant in an act of protest, and that in doing so, I was violating the cardinal tenet on which I had based a quarter of a century of journalist endeavour. But I also realised at that instant that I didn’t care,” she writes.
Lim’s account sets the scene for what is a deeply personal account of the city where she grew up – its past, present and future.
Where the election night surprises might spring from
For the record, I’ve still got Labor forming government, winning 10 seats from the Coalition and the teal group gaining six from the Coalition including Kooyong.
John Black Election Analyst
May 19, 2022 – 5.24pm
Saturday night’s count is going to be a bit more complicated than usual, given the fading relevance of the major parties, a trend pushed along by two increasingly unpopular leaders losing primary votes from their traditional supporters wherever they travel, by negatively campaigning against each other and yet still wondering why the contest is getting tighter.
It’s become a bit like opposition leader Billy Snedden’s negative campaign in 1974, carping relentlessly against the then popular prime minister Gough Whitlam and wondering aloud to reporters: Everywhere I go, people tell me something is wrong. Indeed.
For the record, I’ve still got Labor forming government, winning 10 seats from the Coalition: Bennelong, Lindsay and Reid in NSW; Leichhardt and Dickson in Queensland; Boothby in South Australia; Braddon in Tasmania; Chisholm in Victoria; and Swan and Pearce in Western Australia.
I have the teal group gaining six seats, all from the Coalition: Wentworth and North Sydney in NSW; Kooyong, Goldstein and Flinders in Victoria; and Curtin in Western Australia.
And the Greens, having doorknocked most of the Goat Cheese Circle seats of Ryan, Brisbane and Griffith, look like picking up the first two from the Coalition, but I can see a situation where the Liberals, Greens and Labor could win one each.
An election about government doing less for you
The strategy of me-tooing the Coalition means Labor has shied away from suggesting it can change the country.
Laura Tingle Columnist
May 20, 2022 – 4.32pm
Before what feels like the interminable 2022 election campaign began, Labor was testing advertising with voters in focus groups. The party’s leader, Anthony Albanese, wanted to have his beloved little white fluffy dog Toto in some of the ads, prompting conniptions from Labor’s advertising consultants.
“No!” they were heard to cry. “Just no!”
Little white fluffy dogs might be very nice. But do they convey the sorts of images about leadership that we want in our leaders?
Years ago, the former general secretary of the NSW Labor Party, John Della Bosca, perhaps unwisely observed in an interview that former federal leader Kim Beazley needed to convey a bit more political mongrel. Cartoonist Patrick Cook promptly drew a picture of Beazley walking into a pet shop with an ALP apparatchik.
The deadweight of complacency keeps the Lucky Country down
Political and international editor
May 21, 2022 — 5.00am
Australia is a nation in managed decline. It is running down its stock of assets, its advantages natural, historical and human-made.
The reef is bleaching, the koala is endangered. Australia’s ranking in school standards is sliding, the hospital system is groaning. Productivity is stagnant, federal debt towering. Living standards are going nowhere.
Of all the nations on earth, Australia consistently was ranked No. 1 in the world for overall quality of life as recently as the mid-1990s, according to the World Bank’s Human Development Index. It’s on the decline. Now it’s No. 8, overtaken by Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Germany and Sweden.
And a hostile great power effortlessly is taking rights to occupy strategic ground that Australians died to defend in the Pacific War.
Australia retains extraordinary advantages and untapped potential. This burst into life in the early phase of the pandemic. It showcased the country’s deep medical and scientific expertise to meet the virus, deep fiscal resources to overcome its economic effects and deep social trust to work together for the common good.
Win over white-collar women in the cities, win the election
May 21, 2022 — 5.00am
Get ready for an identity shock. The Australian political system is about to break into three unpredictable parts, between Labor, the Liberal-National Coalition, and none of the above.
It is the only thing the major parties privately agree on at the end of a petulant campaign. Whoever forms the next federal government, whether in their own right or with the support of an enlarged crossbench, is expected to take office with a historically low primary vote. This will mean power without broad appeal for the winning side, while the loser faces an existential crisis, even if they fall only a few seats short of victory themselves.
The fear for both Labor and the Coalition is that their respective primary votes will remain stuck in the low to mid-30s, as the opinion polls have been warning since Scott Morrison called the election six weeks ago for May 21.
If this is indeed the case, it would also mean that the third-party vote – already at a postwar high of 24.7 per cent in 2019 – crosses 30 per cent for the first time. You have to go back to the earliest years of federation, when the Australian Labor Party was in its infancy and the right was split between the Protectionists and Free Traders, for an equivalent period of churn in our democracy.
A fractured electorate will confirm politically what we have known as citizens for some years, and have felt even more keenly since COVID-19 disrupted our lives. Australia is divided by gender, class and place – between women and men, young and old, the cities and the regions, and, within the capitals themselves, between the leafy inner suburbs and the urban fringes.
Labor to form government as independents rise
Phillip Coorey Political editor
Updated May 22, 2022 – 12.20am, first published at May 21, 2022 – 11.01pm
Federal Election 2022
76 seats needed for a majority
13 Still to call
Updated May 22, 2022 – 8.20am
Labor will form government – possibly in its own right – despite garnering less than one-third of the vote, after a night of chaos in which the ranks of the Coalition were decimated by teal independents, the opposition and the Greens.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is among the six Liberals who were either defeated or facing defeat in their once blue-ribbon seats by the Climate 200-backed teal independents.
With more than half the vote counted, Labor had a net 72 seats confirmed by the Australian Electoral Commission. A minimum of 76 is needed to form government. Only Labor is in a position to negotiate minority government should it not win the 76 seats.
The Coalition, which started with 76 seats, had 55 confirmed. Labor had a two-party preferred lead of 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent, which was a swing towards it from the last election in 2019 of 3.1 per cent.
The quiet Australians spoke and they said ‘enough’
Political and international editor
May 21, 2022 — 11.41pm
Anthony Albanese bet everything on a Scott Morrison failure and his bet has paid off handsomely.
Morrison has delivered for Labor. He has not only lost power. By surrendering all traditional Liberal values, he has cost the Liberal Party its bedrock support base. He was a bulldozer, all right. He bulldozed his party into electoral oblivion.
The Liberal leader became so poisonous to traditional Liberal voters that he dared not show his face in traditional Liberal heartland. He single-handedly turned blue-ribbon Liberal seats teal.
The Liberals have long been a “broad church” of conservatives and liberals, but Morrison was a self-described pragmatist. He didn’t believe in government living within its means, he didn’t believe in free markets and he was not interested in integrity. So he lost the conservatives.
The Coalition gambled on making Morrison the whole campaign - and lost
Chief political correspondent
Updated May 21, 2022 — 9.44pmfirst published at 7.55pm
One of the most revealing features of this election campaign was the way voters were shown the worst of Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese in the relentless effort by each leader to tear the other down.
The personal contest between the prime minister and the Labor leader put questions of character at the heart of the 2022 election in what the government wanted to be a contrast between weakness and strength.
From the casting of ballots to the calling of results - here’s how coverage of the Australian federal election unfolded.
Morrison, whose admission that he was “a bit of a bulldozer” was one of the memorable moments of the campaign, worked every day to paint Albanese as too weak, too inexperienced, too inept for the job.
The government put all its bets on Morrison as the strong leader who could manage the budget and handle the challenge of China and the global insecurity unleashed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a plea to voters to keep Morrison even if they did not like him.
The Liberals’ post-election endgame
For the party, the devastating election result has generated a profound crisis.
Andrew Clark Senior writer
May 22, 2022 – 12.04am
The election result has thrown Robert Menzies’ Liberal Party into an existential crisis.
Just hours into vote-counting, it was clear that the Coalition had not just lost government, but the Liberal Party had been decimated in its own heartland.
Huge swings, ranging from 5 per cent to 13 per cent were recorded in the Liberal Party’s traditional crown jewel seats – Kooyong, which was Menzies’ old electorate, plus Higgins, Goldstein, Wentworth, Mackellar, North Sydney and Curtin.
Nearly 80 years after Menzies formed the Liberal Party, which went on to hold power in the national parliament for 51 of the next 76 years, the Scott Morrison-led Liberal Party has been pole-axed by a tectonic shift in Australian politics. It is one where affluent, professional voters, particularly women, are placing issues such as climate change, integrity in government, and respect for women, above more bread and butter concerns such as the economy.
In an election that took on the appearance of 151 byelections, or at least six separate federal elections broadly covering the six states, there was a dramatic shift towards independents and Green candidates in more affluent seats in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, while the Coalition parties performed better in outer suburbs, regional and rural areas.
Election 2022: Albanese’s got this – now the Liberals need a good think
12:00AM May 21, 2022
Predictions in politics are always fraught with danger. Three years ago Scott Morrison took great delight rubbing my nose in getting it wrong. But I’m happy to have another go, and predict that Labor will form government after Saturday’s results are tallied.
It should be able to form majority government, but at the very least looks set to govern in minority. The Coalition has had wars on too many fronts to pull off another victory coming from behind.
Teal independents are likely to win a few seats off Liberal MPs but, irrespective of whether they exceed those expectations or underwhelm, they have sapped much-needed resources from the Coalition’s contest with Labor.
The aftermath will require the Liberal Party and the Coalition to have a long, hard think about who they represent and their ideological lines in the sand.
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Royal Commissions And The Like.
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National Budget Issues.
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There’s a better way than spending more on world-class healthcare
The age-old fight over cost shifting has a solution that isn’t rocket science: rework the funding agreement to pay for lower-cost services.
Tom Parry Contributor
May 15, 2022 – 1.44pm
My last day of COVID-19 isolation. Thanks to the new antiviral medication taken at home, I’ve not suffered more than moderate cold symptoms.
Who knows if I hadn’t started the drug within the five-day window, whether I would be one of those many still being admitted to hospital for treatment? And, if so, ended up in intensive care with a risk of being one of those sadly still dying from (rather than with) COVID-19?
From the clinical trial results, the antiviral treatment appears to prevent severe illness and hospitalisation in almost 90 per cent of cases. I started feeling better within a few hours of the first dose.
And good timing: the drug was available for prescribing by my GP in a telehealth consultation on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme ($41 a course) from May 1. Before then it would have cost me over $1000 (which is what it cost the Commonwealth).
Without radical reform, the prognosis for our health system is grim
May 16, 2022 — 5.00am
Yet another nurse just told me that she’s had enough. She’s been in a senior role for years and the health system can ill afford to lose her expertise. But exhausted and undervalued, she’s handed in her resignation letter.
A senior clinician – one of only a few people providing highly specialised healthcare to a very vulnerable community – told me they might give up, too. Their capacity already falls well short of the local need – and yet they spend their days justifying why this service is needed at all.
I called a specialist in training for a regular mentoring catch-up. In the past, others have told me about bullying, harassment, overwork, fatigue, marital issues, even assault. But this doctor told me their most distressing problem was not being able to treat patients – those queued in the corridors of their own emergency department, and those under the care of desperate doctors all over their state seeking a bed, any bed, to transfer a patient to.
They’ll keep slogging on, for now, with assurances that they won’t be held legally responsible for poor outcomes weighing heavily on their conscience.
This is the Australian health system today. It’s a crisis largely ignored in the current election campaign.
Voluntary assisted dying legalised in NSW
May 19, 2022 — 1.01pm
Terminally ill people in NSW will now be able to choose the timing of their death after a historic vote in state parliament legalised voluntary assisted dying.
Twenty years after it was first debated in parliament, NSW on Thursday became the final state in Australia to introduce assisted dying laws.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich introduced the bill to parliament late last year, with Coalition and Labor MPs granted a free vote.
Greenwich told parliament that the “entire diversity” of the parliament were involved in passing the bill, with 28 co-sponsors from across all parties - the highest number of any bill in Australian parliamentary history.
What is monkeypox and should we be worried?
Monkeypox has been recorded in Australia for the first time. What is it?
May 20, 2022
A man has been diagnosed with monkeypox in Victoria and another suspected case is being investigated in New South Wales. It’s the first time the virus has been recorded in Australia – and likely part of a spate of cases that have turned up across Europe and North America in recent days in a surprising outbreak of a disease that rarely appears outside Africa.
Health officials around the world are keeping watch for more cases because, for the first time, the disease appears to be spreading among people who didn’t travel to Africa. But they stress that the risk to the general population is low as the virus most commonly spreads from animals directly.
What is monkeypox?
The monkeypox virus originates in wild animals such as some species of rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and West Africa, where the disease is endemic but, unlike COVID, it does not spread easily between people except through close contact, including via respiratory droplets and lesions, or touching contaminated clothes, linen or towels.
The disease is usually mild, though there are two main strains: the more severe Congo strain, which has a mortality rate of up to 10 per cent of cases, and the West African strain, where the fatality rate is about 1 per cent or less. So far, the UK reports its cases are the West African strain, and further genomic testing is underway around the world.
Cost of genomic revolution may be more ethical than economic
By The Economist
12:00AM May 21, 2022
Imagine for a moment that your unborn child has a rare genetic disorder. Not something at least vaguely familiar, such as sickle-cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis, but rather a condition buried deep within the medical dictionary. Adrenoleukodystrophy, maybe. Or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Would you, when your child is born, want to know about it? If effective treatments were available, you probably would. But if not? If the outcome were fatal, would your interest in knowing about it depend on whether your newborn had five years of life to look forward to, or 10? Or 30?
Today these questions are mostly hypothetical. Precisely because they are rare, such disorders are seldom noticed at birth. They manifest themselves only gradually, and often with unpredictable severity. But that may soon change. Twenty years after the first human genome was mapped, the price of whole-genome sequencing has fallen to a point where it could, in rich countries at least, be offered routinely to newborns. Parents will then have to decide exactly how much they want to know.
Early diagnosis brings with it the possibility of early treatment. Moreover, sequencing the genomes of newborns could offer a lifetime of returns. A patient’s genome may reveal which drugs will work best in his or her particular case for conditions such as ADHD, depression and cancer. Combined with information about someone’s way of life, it could highlight easily discounted health risks such as cancers and cardiovascular disease, leading to better preventive measures. A database of genomes, matched to living people, would be a boon for medical research. The fruits of that research, in turn, would make those genomes more useful to their owners as time goes on.
Little fires everywhere risk a global economic inferno
The war in Ukraine has been a big shock to the global economy but of more concern are a series of smaller fires.
Mohamed El-Erian Contributor
May 15, 2022 – 2.43pm
Big shocks to the global economy, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, understandably capture the most attention. But a new worldwide pattern of “little fires everywhere” might be equally consequential for longer-term economic well-being. Over time, these small fires can coalesce into one that is just as threatening as the initial large fire that acted as the catalyst.
In addition to causing widespread death and destruction, and displacing millions of people, the Ukraine war continues to stoke strong stagflationary winds throughout the global economy. The resulting damage – whether in the form of higher food and energy prices or new supply-chain disruptions – cannot be easily or rapidly countered by domestic policy adjustments.
For most countries, the war’s immediate economic consequences include higher inflation (which erodes purchasing power), lower growth, increased inequality, and greater financial instability. The multilateral system, meanwhile, now faces greater obstacles to the type of cross-border policy coordination needed to deal with pressing global problems such as climate change, pandemics, and life-threatening migration.
It is in advanced economies’ interest to help poorer countries reduce the mounting risk of little economic fires everywhere.
Nordic nations poised to make history with NATO accession
John Hudson, Loveday Morris, Victoria Bisset and Miriam Berger
May 16, 2022 – 9.30am
Berlin | Sweden’s ruling party dropped the country’s historic military non-alignment on Sunday (Monday AEST) and agreed to join NATO, shortly after Finland’s leaders officially announced they would do the same.
The moves were major steps in ending decades of military neutrality for the two Nordic nations, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued to shift security considerations dramatically in Europe.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said their accession would be a “turning point for security” in Europe. “Their membership in NATO would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open, and that aggression does not pay.”
“We’re now facing a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said. “And when we navigate in this new environment, the fundamental question for us is: how do we best protect Sweden? And the Kremlin has shown that they are prepared to use violence to achieve their political objectives, and that they don’t hesitate to take enormous risks.”
Russia has lost ‘a third of ground forces’ in Ukraine attack
By Tom Balmforth and Jonathan Landay
Updated May 15, 2022 — 7.08pmfirst published at 3.42am
London/Kyiv: Russia has probably lost around a third of the ground forces it deployed to Ukraine and its offensive in the Donbas region “has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule”, British military intelligence said.
“Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition,” the British defence ministry said on Twitter.
The United States has called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, during the first talks between US and Russian defence chiefs since the war began.
“Russia has now likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February.”
Goldman’s Blankfein warns of ‘very, very high risk of recession’
May 16, 2022 – 9.08am
New York | Goldman Sachs senior chairman Lloyd Blankfein urged companies and consumers to prepare for a US recession, saying it’s a “very, very high risk”.
“If I were running a big company, I would be very prepared for it,” Mr Blankfein said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday (Monday AEST). “If I was a consumer, I’d be prepared for it.”
A recession was “not baked in the cake” and there was a “narrow path” to avoid it, he said. The Federal Reserve had “very powerful tools” to tamp down inflation and had been “responding well”, the former Goldman chief executive said.
With high fuel prices and a shortage of baby formula tangible measures of Americans’ unease, US consumer sentiment declined in early May to its lowest level since 2011. US consumer prices rose 8.3 per cent in April from a year ago, slowing slightly from March but still among the fastest rate in decades.
Russia learns a hard lesson about the folly of war
Russia is likely to emerge from the war in Ukraine poorer, weaker and greatly diminished. Vladimir Putin’s war is not just a crime. It is also a mistake.
Gideon Rachman Columnist
May 17, 2022 – 8.03am
Vladimir Putin was not the only one who got it wrong. The Russian leader’s assumption that his armies would vanquish Ukraine within days was widely shared.
The same Western intelligence agencies that correctly predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine also believed that Putin would probably win a swift victory.
But almost three months into the war, Moscow’s military is bogged down and has taken heavy losses. Russia’s international isolation is getting worse, with the confirmation that Finland and Sweden are planning to join NATO.
There is now much talk about the incompetence of the Russian military. But perhaps no special explanation is required for its problems. In modern times, when major powers invade smaller countries they usually end up losing.
Russia’s supply lines wide open as Ukrainians reach border
Joe Barnes, Dominic Nicholls and Nataliya Vasilyeva
May 17, 2022 – 10.43am
Ukrainian forces reached the border with Russia in a move military experts said would allow them to strike at Moscow’s supply lines.
In a social media post, Ukraine’s ministry of defence said the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade had successfully repelled Moscow’s troops out of Kharkiv and reached the frontier.
“Kharkiv suppressed the Russians and went out to the area of the state border,” it said.
It came as Western intelligence reports suggested that Ukrainian counteroffensives had pushed Russian troops 16 to 30 kilometres north, east and south out of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
The greenback’s rapid rise increases risks for global economy
The risks are particularly acute for those developing countries already facing the clear and present dangers of crises over the economy, energy, food and debt.
Mohamed El-Erian Contributor
May 18, 2022 – 7.52am
With so much going on in the global economy and financial markets, the dollar’s strong recent appreciation has attracted less attention than what would have been expected given the historical experience.
On paper, the appreciation of the currency of the world’s most resilient economic performer should help adjustments in the global economy. It helps boost the exports of weaker countries while alleviating inflationary pressures in the US by lowering the cost of imports.
But in current conditions, there are hazards in a rapid rise in the dollar for both the wellbeing of an already wobbly global economy and for unsettled financial markets.
Since the start of the year, the dollar has appreciated by some 10 per cent as measured by DXY, a widely-followed index of the currency’s global value. In what has been a notably broad move encompassing the currencies of the vast majority of economies, the total 12-month appreciation of 16 per cent has taken the index to levels not seen for 20 years.
Rupert Murdoch urged to end Fox’s ‘great replacement’ rhetoric
Steven T. Dennis and Ella Ceron
May 18, 2022 – 3.48am
Washington | US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer accused Fox News of promoting white nationalist “great replacement” rhetoric and urged Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch to end it.
Mr Schumer, in a letter to Mr Murdoch and other Fox executives, cited the racially motivated mass shooting in a black neighbourhood of Buffalo by an accused gunman, who referred to the idea of so-called ethnic replacement, as well as other mass shootings targeting minorities in recent years.
“I implore you to immediately cease all dissemination of false white nationalist, far-right conspiracy theories on your network,” Mr Schumer, of New York, wrote.
“Proponents of this white nationalist, far-right conspiracy theory believe that a complicit or co-operative class of elites are advancing a plot designed to undermine the political power and culture of white Americans.”
Russian military expert tells TV news program: ‘The whole world is against us’
By Nataliya Vasilyeva
May 18, 2022 — 8.15am
Istanbul: The Ukrainian invasion has put Russia at risk of “full international isolation”, a retired colonel has said in a rare broadcast of dissent on state television.
Criticism of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine is rare in Kremlin-controlled Russian media, which has routinely praised Russian troops for “liberating” Ukraine from ultra-nationalists.
However, Mikhail Khodaryonok, a retired colonel and military commentator, has broken ranks telling the state’s flagship news show on Monday that there was no good outcome for Russia in the war.
“We need to view one million well-armed Ukrainian soldiers as a reality for the coming months. We need to take it into account that the situation for us will frankly get worse.”
While the other talking heads on Rossiya 1’s 60 Minute discussion show toed the Kremlin line about the invasion being a “necessity” to ward off a potential Ukrainian attack, Khodaryonok suggested Ukrainians are “defending their homeland” even if some people in Russia disagreed with that idea.
The ingenious strategy that could win the war for Ukraine
Military leader and strategist
May 17, 2022 — 11.38am
Throughout their Ukrainian campaign, the Russian military has been continually forced to reassess its strategic objectives. Plan A was to seize Kyiv, Kharkiv and other key points, capture government leaders and force a political accommodation from Ukraine. The battlefield performance of the Ukrainians, and strategic leadership of President Zelensky, quickly revealed the folly of this plan.
Plan B for the Russians saw their multi-axis attacks in the south, east, northeast, north and in the skies above Ukraine placed on a slower timetable. This strategy also failed. They then shifted to a focus on the Donbas and the creation of a “land bridge” from Russia to Crimea. Since the invasion began in February, the Russians have constantly downgraded their political goals for Ukraine, and the strategy for achieving them.
This is not unusual in warfare. While political objectives shape how war is conducted and what battles are fought, so too do battles reshape political objectives. As American strategist Eliot Cohen recently wrote, “retaining a sense of direction in war is a constant struggle for political and military leaders at the top, and so the staff officers (and the commentary journalists) are doomed to frustration.”
The Ukrainians have not suffered from a similar level of shifting objectives. Perhaps, as the defender, their goals are simple – defend their sovereignty, their people, and their land. But more recently, the notion of victory over Russia has crept into the strategic discourse.
Finland feels Russian missile heat
5:44PM May 17, 2022
Vladimir Putin has re-positioned deadly Iskander missiles close to Finland’s border just hours after Helsinki announced it would apply to join NATO, as Russia scored a rare victory in taking control of Mariupol.
In a rapid response to Finland and then Sweden abandoning long-held neutral status in order to secure the protection of NATO membership, Moscow deployed seven Iskanders, which can be fitted with various warheads including the devastating thermobaric bombs, cluster munitions, or electro magnetic charges, as well as nuclear weapons.
The Iskanders, which have a range of up to 500km, were filmed from a passing car on a highway reportedly on its way to Vyborg, a western Russian town close to the Finnish border on the Gulf of Finland.
“As soon as the President of Finland said they were joining NATO, a whole division of Iskanders, seven of them … is moving towards Vyborg,” a person inside the car said.
Ignorant Putin is leading Russia to destruction, writes ex-Yeltsin defence aide ALEXANDER TEMERKO
Published: 07:57 AEST, 18 May 2022 | Updated: 07:57 AEST, 18 May 2022
A vast superpower with a proud Communist history launches a brutal war on its far smaller neighbour, sending thousands of troops over the border.
The objective is the utter humiliation of that country — its demilitarisation, as well as regime change and a complete overhaul of its political structure so that it becomes a client state.
But the parallels between the two wars are uncanny and, as I shall explain, they hold a vital lesson for president Putin. One that he is steadfastly — and very foolishly — ignoring.
Vladimir Putin, family man: why nothing is secret any more
As Western nations place sanctions on family members and people close to the Russian leader, they are lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding his private life.
May 19, 2022 – 8.00am
Vladimir Putin did not like the prying.
It was 2008, and the Russian president, then 56 and eight years into his tightening grip on power, stood for a news conference in Sardinia’s lavish Villa Certosa. At his side was his closest ally in western Europe, Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and Italian prime minister of hedonist appetites with whom he shared a taste for raunchy jokes, over-the-top furnishings and vast wealth.
During the summers, Putin’s two teenage daughters had the run of the sprawling villa, going on secret luxury shopping and boating excursions under strict orders that their identities remain concealed and their faces hidden from cameras, says a person with knowledge of the arrangement.
That strategy of strictly shielding his family worked well for Putin over the years, until Russia attacked Ukraine in February. Now, as nations impose sanctions on those closest to him – including those approved last Friday by Britain on the woman long considered to be his mistress, Alina Kabaeva, and his former wife, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya – the facade is beginning to crumble, shedding new light on the Russian leader’s private life.
Yellen warns of global ‘stagflationary’ risk from petrol, food prices
May 19, 2022 – 2.49am
Bonn, Germany | US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that Americans should not expect immediate relief from high petrol prices, but maintained that increased global supply would eventually be likely to provide long-term relief for drivers.
Ms Yellen also warned of the potential for slower growth to combine with inflation worldwide. “Higher food and energy prices are having stagflationary effects, namely depressing output and spending and raising inflation all around the world,” she told reporters.
“We’re doing what we can to avoid further increases in energy prices … but we also want to make sure Europe weans itself off dependence on reliance on Russian oil and gas,” Ms Yellen said. “These pressures are not likely to abate in the very near future.”
Ms Yellen stressed that she did not expect the US economy to go into recession. She said it was well-positioned for economic risks and pointed to fast growth coming out of the COVID-19 recession. But she said Europe was probably more “vulnerable,” citing its greater dependence on Russian energy than the United States.
Britain’s inflation surges to a 40-year high of 9pc
Andrew Atkinson and Philip Aldrick
May 18, 2022 – 5.08pm
London | UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.
Consumer prices surged 9 per cent in the year through April, the fastest rate since March 1982, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday in a report that marked a bleak moment for living standards. Economists had expected a reading of 9.1 per cent.
Almost 2 per cent of the increase came from a rise in energy prices, reflecting a surge in wholesale markets that drove a 54 per cent increase in consumer bills in April. Fuel prices also contributed, reflecting higher oil prices after the war in Ukraine. Both petrol and diesel prices in April rose to a record.
The increase is more than double the pace of basic wage growth, squeezing consumer spending power at the sharpest pace on record. The pain is set to intensify, with the Bank of England predicting double-digit inflation by October, when energy bills are almost certain to jump again.
Boris Johnson and BoE engulfed in crisis as UK inflation soars
May 19, 2022 – 12.44am
London | Britain’s worst bout of inflation in 40 years is quickly becoming a crisis both for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government and the Bank of England.
The central bank is in the eye of the storm after consumer prices surged 9 per cent in the year through April. Cabinet ministers, economists and even a former BOE boss are complaining that Governor Andrew Bailey was too slow to act and is failing in his job to keep inflation to 2 per cent.
That finger-pointing may be meant to distract from rising pressure on Johnson’s administration to protect voters from the biggest squeeze on living standards in memory.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to date has targeted relief at those in work, while the Labour opposition says help should be extended to pensioners and those on benefits.
Colour me scared: racist ‘replacement’ theory has to be quashed
May 19, 2022
Sometimes when someone tells you why they’ve done something terrible – like a mass shooting, for example – the safest thing to do is to take them at their word.
Last Saturday an 18-year-old white boy went heavily armed into a shopping centre in Buffalo, New York, and shot dead ten people he’d never met before. He posted on an online chat app that he’d chosen the killing place because it had the highest percentage of black people living and working in it in close enough proximity to where he lived. In a 180-page screed written to accompany his massacre he alluded to his belief that something called “The Great Replacement” was taking place, in which American whites were being supplanted by people of other colours and ethnicities. This, he believed, had to be resisted.
I won’t name him and in any case he was just the latest in a bloody line of white men who, in various countries over the past decade, have murdered the innocent in the name of stopping this non-existent threat to the white race. There was the Pittsburgh synagogue killer in 2018, the El Paso and Christchurch mass-murderers of 2019, the boy who killed the worshippers in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015. As I write this, in some suburban bedroom somewhere a young white man is planning his own death spree in the name of preventing white genocide.
As is now the fashion with half-baked or absurd propositions, this notion of “replacement” has been dignified with being a theory, and even attributed to a theorist. As I wrote here recently the French author of the 2011 book The Great Replacement, Renaud Camus, is “a gay former leftist who underwent a negative epiphany when he saw women in hijabs beside a Gothic church in a thousand-year-old French village”.
Just because something is written in French by a gay man doesn’t make it intellectual. Camus’s argument – that foreigners and especially Muslims were being deliberately imported into Europe by a deracinated global elite to replace the indigenous white, Christian populations – when boiled down has all the subtlety of a half-brick across the back of the head.
Britain is heading for economic oblivion
The prime minister and his unimpressive cabinet have no idea how to navigate the cost-of-living crisis facing the country.
May 19, 2022 – 3.00pm
The last time UK inflation was at these levels, British troops fought a war 12,875 kilometres away in the Falklands, Prince William was born and Steven Spielberg’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial became the highest grossing film of all time.
Inflation is now at a 40-year high after the consumer prices index rose to 9 per cent in April, according to the latest ONS figures. That’s the sharpest jump since 1982, which, as Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation pointed out, means much of the country has never experienced an inflationary shock of this ferocity “in their working lives”.
Unfortunately, that also applies to much of the current cabinet, some of whom were barely in short trousers the last time price spikes this severe tore through the economy – except the chancellor of the exchequer, who would have been in nappies.
Many ministers simply won’t even remember the huge economic turmoil of that period, including the deep recession of 1981 as Margaret Thatcher’s government desperately tried to tame an inflationary spiral that had started during the 1970s.
The cry from investors: Are we there yet?
Karen Maley Columnist
May 19, 2022 – 5.52pm
After the drubbing that global share markets have suffered this year, investors now grapple with one key question: How much more pain lies ahead?
Some investors believe the market bottom must be getting close. They put the market’s sharp slide down to fears the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates so aggressively that the US economy will tip into recession.
And, it has to be said, these fears are not groundless, given that the Fed doesn’t have a great track record in terms of managing a soft landing for the economy.
Since 1950, the US central bank has embarked on 14 tightening cycles, and in 11 cases, the US economy has ended up in recession, and the US share market has fallen by 20 per cent or more, entering a bear phase.
What are Sweden and Finland thinking?
Abandoning a long and successful policy of neutrality is a big step, but Vladimir Putin’s decision to go to war left the countries’ leaders with little choice.
May 19, 2022 – 12.27pm
One of the virtues of a good theory is that it makes sense of events that might otherwise seem surprising or at least somewhat puzzling. A case in point is the Swedish and Finnish decision to abandon long traditions of neutrality and apply for membership in NATO.
At first glance, the explanation for this decision seems blindingly obvious. Russia started the most destructive war in Europe since World War II and has waged that war with considerable brutality. As the war in Ukraine drags on and threatens to become a destructive stalemate, Sweden and Finland have concluded that their security environment is deteriorating and have opted for the greater protection that they believe NATO membership will provide. If you studied international relations in college, you might see this as a classic example of balance-of-power theory at work.
Still, that explanation leaves a couple of questions unanswered. Abandoning a long and successful policy of neutrality is a big step, and it could involve significant costs and risks down the road. This point is especially pertinent in the case of Sweden, which has co-operated closely with NATO for years and was already getting many of the benefits of membership with few of the burdens. So, why change course now?
More importantly, one might have thought that Russia’s abysmal military performance in Ukraine would have left Sweden and Finland feeling more, rather than less, secure. The war has shown that Russia’s armed forces are simply not very good at conquering other nations, and the combination of Western sanctions, the costs of the war itself, and the continuing brain drain of talented young Russians even as the overall population declines and ages is going to reduce the country’s power potential for years to come.
‘Cancer-riddled’ Putin is surrounded by doctors and takes breaks during meetings for treatment, claims ex-British spy
A former British spy claims ‘cancer-riddled’ Vladimir Putin is surrounded by doctors and takes breaks during meetings for treatment.
Adrian Zorzut and The Sun
May 20, 2022 - 10:08AM
A “cancer-riddled” Vladimir Putin is surrounded by doctors and takes breaks during meetings for treatment, a British ex-spy has claimed.
Christopher Steele, who previously worked the Russia desk at MI6 and published intelligence on Donald Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign, said the “exact details” of the ailing autocrat’s illness were still not known, The Sun reported.
The ex-intelligence officer said Putin was “constantly” being followed around with doctors and isn’t able to pull through meetings without having a break for medical treatment.
“He’s constantly accompanied around the place by a team of doctors,” Steele told British radio station LBC.
Can Ukraine win war with Russia? Five scenarios for the next phase
May 20, 2022
Nobody knows how or when the war will end in Ukraine, but it’s clear that right now Russia isn’t winning. According to Western governments and private analysts, Moscow failed to achieve its initial goal of a lightning strike into Kyiv to take down the government. And success for its Plan B, a scaled-down offensive to push Ukrainian forces back in the east and southeast of the country, looks increasingly difficult.
Some things that seemed highly probable at the start of the war, such as the collapse of the Ukrainian state, now are seen as unlikely. Ukraine is in an existential fight, said the chief of the British defence staff, Adm. Tony Radakin in a speech in London on Monday, “and it is going to survive.” In this latest phase of the war, tank battles are being supplanted by artillery-dominated exchanges. The Russians are undertaking offensives in some places, including in the eastern region of Luhansk. They finally overcame the last remaining Ukrainian holdouts in the southern port city of Mariupol. Elsewhere, the Ukrainians are counterattacking, most notably in the north beyond Kharkiv.
“The war is entering a protracted phase,” Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov told European Union defence ministers on Tuesday. He said there were “many indications of Russia preparing for a long-term military operation,” including engineering and fortification works in the Kherson and Zaporizhya areas.
Even so, sooner or later, the war will end in a ceasefire or armistice. Given the new realities on the ground, here are five possible scenarios on where the conflict could go, some of which could follow from another.
The coming food catastrophe: fixing it is everyone’s business
9:08AM May 20, 2022
By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will destroy the lives of people far from the battlefield — and on a scale even he may regret. The war is battering a global food system weakened by Covid-19, climate change and an energy shock. Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened. Together, the two countries supply 12 per cent of traded calories. Wheat prices, up 53 per cent since the start of the year, jumped a further 6 six per cent on May 16th, after India said it would suspend exports because of an alarming heatwave.
The widely accepted idea of a cost-of-living crisis does not begin to capture the gravity of what may lie ahead. António Guterres, the UN secretary general, warned on May 18th that the coming months threaten “the spectre of a global food shortage” that could last for years. The high cost of staple foods has already raised the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn. Nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. If, as is likely, the war drags on and supplies from Russia and Ukraine are limited, hundreds of millions more people could fall into poverty. Political unrest will spread, children will be stunted and people will starve.
Mr Putin must not use food as a weapon. Shortages are not the inevitable outcome of war. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.
Russia and Ukraine supply 28 per cent of globally traded wheat, 29 per cent of the barley, 15 per cent of the maize and 75 per cent of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.
Fox and its white supremacists in suits give succour to mass killers
May 21, 2022 — 5.00am
White supremacy in the United States was once typified by men in white hoods brandishing burning crosses. They were concentrated in the former confederacy southern states and were unequivocally aligned with the Democratic Party.
Today’s white supremacists tend to wear expensive suits and to work out of corporate or political offices. You will find more than a few at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, which is the headquarters of News Corp and its subsidiary Fox Corp, and in the big white building that sits atop of Capitol Hill in Washington DC. All these men and women, without exception, are firmly within the Republican Party.
Between the end of the Civil War (1865) and 1950 more than 6400 black men, women and children were lynched in the 12 Southern states, the victims of extrajudicial acts of hatred and revenge whose “black bodies swinging in the southern breeze” made for “a strange and bitter crop”, as Billie Holiday expressed it in her iconic 1939 song Strange Fruit.
On March 22 this year, after more than 100 previous failed legislative attempts, President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The law is named for 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for apparently flirting with a 21-year-old white woman in her family’s grocery store.
S&P 500 pares losses after touching bear-market territory
By Okane Atani and Anna Hirtenstein
9:20AM May 21, 2022
A weeks-long stock sell-off took on new intensity Friday, nearly ending the bull market that began after the start of the pandemic.
Stocks rose at the open, then reversed course, falling throughout most of the turbulent session. At one point, the S&P 500 slid so far it was on track to close at least 20% below its January peak — what would have been considered a bear market. A comeback in the final hour of the trading day pushed the index higher, with the S&P 500 ending up 0.57 point, or less than 0.1%, at 3901.36; at its intraday low, it was down 2.3%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 8.77 points, also less than 0.1%, to 31261.90. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite fell 33.88 points, or 0.3%, to 11354.62.
It has been decades since stocks have fallen for such a prolonged period. The Dow industrials notched their eighth straight weekly loss, their longest such streak since 1932, near the height of the Great Depression. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their seventh straight weekly loss, their longest such streak since 2001, after the dot-com bubble burst. All three indexes finished the week down at least 2.9%.
How the West is strangling Putin’s economy
By Paul Krugman
May 20, 2022 — 1.51pm
Russia’s military failure in Ukraine has defied almost everyone’s predictions. First came abject defeat at the gates of Kyiv. Then came the incredible shrinking blitzkrieg, as attempts to encircle Ukrainian forces in the supposedly more favourable terrain in the east have devolved into a slow-motion battle of attrition.
What’s important about this second Russian setback is that it interacts with another big surprise: the remarkable — and, in some ways, puzzling — effectiveness, at least so far, of Western economic sanctions against the Putin regime, sanctions that are working in an unexpected way.
As soon as the war began, there was a great deal of talk about bringing economic pressure to bear against the invading nation. Most of this focused on ways to cut off Russia’s exports, especially its sales of oil and natural gas. Unfortunately, however, there has been shamefully little meaningful movement on that front. The Biden administration has banned imports of Russian oil, but this will have little effect unless other nations follow our lead. And Europe, in particular, still hasn’t placed an embargo on Russian oil, let alone done anything substantive to wean itself from dependence on Russian gas.
As a result, Russian exports have held up, and the country appears to be headed for a record trade surplus. So is Vladimir Putin winning the economic war?
Military chiefs made scapegoats for Russia’s battlefield failures
By Larisa Brown
5:49PM May 20, 2022
Russia has sacked senior commanders for their “poor performance” during the invasion of Ukraine amid a toxic environment of “cover-ups and scapegoating”, according to British intelligence.
Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, who commanded the elite 1st Guards Tank Army of the western military district, had been suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, the Ministry of Defence in London said.
Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, had also “likely” been suspended after the sinking of the cruiser Moskva last month, officials confirmed.
While General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, appeared to remain in his post – he phoned his US counterpart General Mark Milley overnight on Thursday – it was unclear whether he “retains the confidence of President Putin”, the ministry said. A Western military source said this week that General Gerasimov and Vladimir Putin were believed to be making low-level tactical decisions of the sort normally decided by a colonel or brigadier.
I look forward to comments on all this!