Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Wealth Inequality in Australia – something to think about

In 2015-16 there were an est. 326,000 to 337,000 households out of 8.9 million households which could be classified as the richest Australian households based on income and/or wealth, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Wealth in this cohort starts at $10 million and rises, with average weekly incomes starting at a little over $5,000.

The Guardian, 18 March 2018:

The richest 20% of Australians hold about 40% of the national income but nearly 65% of the national wealth, and a majority of the wealth is held by those over 55. And our tax system is designed to help them not only keep it, but to garner more and then give it to their children (who then garner more and then give it to their children, who then ...)

Our retirement system is based around tax-free holdings of wealth – through the family home, which is exempt from capital gains tax, and tax-free income from superannuation.

With those exemptions comes revenue forgone, and the cost of paying for our ageing population is an issue that is hitting us square between the eyes.

The prime earning age for workers is between 25 and 54. Between those ages, you are no longer studying, and not really thinking about retirement. These workers not only power much of our production, but also our tax revenue.

And right now the cohort is shrinking.

Currently just 41% of the population is aged between 25 and 54. The last time it was that low was in 1987, when the first baby boomers were entering their 40s.

Back then, it wasn’t a problem because only 10.5% of the population was aged over 65. But now those 40-year-old baby boomers are retiring and those over 65 account for 15.5% of our population.

That jump is the equivalent of about 1.2 million extra people aged over 65 – people who mostly don’t work (and nor should they be expected to), or pay income tax, but whose pensions and services need to be paid for by the revenue derived from those prime-aged workers.

So what is to be done?

You could – as is the government’s current policy – increase the retirement age to 70 (this policy is still on the Department of Human Services website). That might be fine for someone like me typing away at a desk but not for many others.

You could “crack down on welfare cheats”. The problem is, despite protestations from the government and conservative media, there aren’t many of those.

On Friday, the government announced that it had saved $43.4m – $17.8m in this financial year – from “more than 1,000 wealthy welfare cheats”. That’s from a $46.1bn annual budget for Newstart, DSP and Family Tax Benefit (and the aged pension is another $45.4bn).

Or you could, as the ALP is doing, seek to find extra revenue by cutting out rorts that were designed as electoral sweeteners and favours to the Howard-Costello key demographic.

When this imputation cash rebate was introduced, not many were affected but like any good tax rort, accountants soon caught wind. Add in the 2006 decision to make income from superannuation tax free for those over 60, and suddenly you had a lot of people with a high actual income but very low or zero taxable income taking advantage of it.

Further add in this weird belief that the retirement nest egg must not be touched, and you get a lot of idiotic reporting – such as in the Herald Sun, which had the case study of a woman with an income of $160,000, who we should feel sad for because she will lose her $12,775 rebate. She could, of course, sell some of her shares, but that would actually be using superannuation for its purpose and not as a tax-free inheritance fund.

So it is a smart and needed policy, but also a dangerous one because it affects an area shrouded in confusion and thus very much susceptible to fear-mongering……

The large-scale personal data release Facebook Inc didn't tell the world about

“Christopher Wylie, who worked for data firm Cambridge Analytica, reveals how personal information was taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters in order to target them with personalised political advertisements. At the time the company was owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Donald Trump’s key adviser, Steve Bannon. Its CEO is Alexander Nix”  [The Guardian,18 March 2018]

Alexander James Ashburner Nix is listed by Companies House UK as the sole director and CEO of Cambridge Analytica (UK) Limited (formerly SCL USA Limited incorporated 6 January 2015). The majority of shares in the company are controlled by SCL Elections Limited (incorprated 17 October 2012) whose sole director and shareholder appears to be Alexander Nix. Mr. Nix in his own name is also a shareholder in Cambridge Analytica (UK) Limited.

Companies House lists ten companies with which Mr. Nix is associated.

NOTE: In July 2014 an Alastair Carmichael Macwillson incorporated Cambridge Analytica Limited, a company which is still active. Macwilliam stles himself as a management consultant and cyber security professional.

Nix's Cambridge Analytica was reportedly indirectly financed by leading Republican donor Robert Mercer during the 2015 primaries and 2016 US presidential campaign.

On 15 December 2017 The Wall Street Journal reported that:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign, turn over documents as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Concerns about Cambridge Analytica and its relationship with Facebook Inc. resurfaced this month.

The Guardian, 18 March 2018:

The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box….

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

Recode, 17 March 2018:

Facebook is in another awkward situation. The company claims that it wasn’t breached, and that while it has suspended Cambridge Analytica from its service, the social giant is not at fault. Facebook contends that its technology worked exactly how Facebook built it to work, but that bad actors, like Cambridge Analytica, violated the company’s terms of service.

On the other hand, Facebook has since changed those terms of service to cut down on information third parties can collect, essentially admitting that its prior terms weren’t very good.

So how did Cambridge Analytica get Facebook data on some 50 million people?
Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, Alex Stamos, tweeted a lengthy defense of the company, which also included a helpful explanation for how this came about…..

Facebook offers a number of technology tools for software developers, and one of the most popular is Facebook Login, which lets people simply log in to a website or app using their Facebook account instead of creating new credentials. People use it because it’s easy — usually one or two taps — and eliminates the need for people to remember a bunch of unique username and password combinations.

When people use Facebook Login, though, they grant the app’s developer a range of information from their Facebook profile — things like their name, location, email or friends list. This is what happened in 2015, when a Cambridge University professor named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that utilized Facebook’s login feature. Some 270,000 people used Facebook Login to create accounts, and thus opted in to share personal profile data with Kogan.

Back in 2015, though, Facebook also allowed developers to collect some information on the friend networks of people who used Facebook Login. That means that while a single user may have agreed to hand over their data, developers could also access some data about their friends. This was not a secret — Facebook says it was documented in their terms of service — but it has since been updated so that this is no longer possible, at least not at the same level of detail.

Through those 270,000 people who opted in, Kogan was able to get access to data from some 50 million Facebook users, according to the Times. That data trove could have included information about people’s locations and interests, and more granular stuff like photos, status updates and check-ins.

The Times found that Cambridge Analytica’s data for “roughly 30 million [people] contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles.”

This all happened just as Facebook intended for it to happen. All of this data collection followed the company’s rules and guidelines.

Things became problematic when Kogan shared this data with Cambridge Analytica. Facebook contends this is against the company’s terms of service. According to those rules, developers are not allowed to “transfer any data that you receive from us (including anonymous, aggregate, or derived data) to any ad network, data broker or other advertising or monetization-related service.”

As Stamos tweeted out Saturday (before later deleting the tweet): “Kogan did not break into any systems, bypass any technical controls, our use a flaw in our software to gather more data than allowed. He did, however, misuse that data after he gathered it, but that does not retroactively make it a ‘breach.’”….

The problem here is that Facebook gives a lot of trust to the developers who use its software features. The company’s terms of service are an agreement in the same way any user agrees to use Facebook: The rules represent a contract that Facebook can use to punish someone, but not until after that someone has already broken the rules.

CNN tech, 19 March 2018:

Kogan's company provided data on millions of Americans to Cambridge Analytica beginning in 2014. The data was gathered through a personality test Facebook application built by Kogan. When Facebook users took the test they gave Kogan access to their data, including demographic information about them like names, locations, ages and genders, as well as their page "likes," and some of their Facebook friends' data.

There is some evidence that Cambridge Analytica is a bad actor according to a report by 4News on 19 March 2018:

Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.

In an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News, the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix said the British firm secretly campaigns in elections across the world. This includes operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors.

In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.

The admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Mr Nix told our reporter: “…we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”

Along with Mr Nix, the meetings also included Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global, and the company’s chief data officer, Dr Alex Tayler.

Mr Turnbull described how, having obtained damaging material on opponents, Cambridge Analytica can discreetly push it onto social media and the internet.

He said: “… we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’.”

It should be noted that Cambridge Analytica has set up shop in Australia and the person named in the filing documents as the only shareholder was Allan Lorraine. Cambridge Analyitica is said to have met with representatives of the Federal Liberal Party in March 2017.

Despite denials to the contrary, It is possible that Cambridge Analytica has been consulted by state and federal Liberals since mid-2015 and, along with i360, was consulted by South Australian Liberals concerning targeted campaigning in relation to their 2018 election strategy.

Once the possibility of Australian connection became known, the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner made preliminary inquiries. 20 March 2018:

Facebook could be fined if Australians' personal information was given to controversial researchers Cambridge Analytica, the privacy watchdog says.

Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim says he is aware profile information was taken and used without authorisation.

"My office is making inquiries with Facebook to ascertain whether any personal information of Australians was involved," Mr Pilgrim said on Tuesday.

"I will consider Facebook's response and whether any further regulatory action is required.".

Cambridge Analytica is facing claims it used data from 50 million Facebook users to develop controversial political campaigns for Donald Trump and others.

The Privacy Act allows the commissioner to apply to the courts for a civil penalty order if it finds serious breaches of the law......

UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is also investigating the breach, promising it will be "far reaching" and any criminal or civil enforcement actions arising from it would be "pursued vigorously".

The 'new' business model in politics

"It's no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it's all about emotion."

Proof that a business model of election campaigning has come off the pages of a Hollywood screenplay and out onto the streets of everyday Australia (video at 5:54).

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Is This The Clarence River Estuary Future If Berejiklian Government Has Its Way? "As the cruise season continues, smoke particles emitted from cruise ship funnels have left people living and working near the port increasingly alarmed"

Well the NSW Minister for Roads Maritime and Freight & Nationals MP for Oxley Melinda Pavey ended the fourth quarter of 2017 in much the same manner as she progressed through the three preceding quarters - she meet with representatives of international cruise lines.

I still didn't see any listed meeting with Yaegl native title representatives or with Clarence Valley Council in her published ministerial diary.

She certainly hasn't met with the communities of Yamba and Iluka which will be most affected by the 24/7 noise and fumes emanating from those cruise ships she is so eager to see make Port of Yamba-Clarence River a regular destination.

This is what happened in Hobart when it opened its doors to such cruise ships........ 

The Mercury, 15 March 2018:

HOBART residents are continuing to suffer the effects of air pollution from visiting cruise ships, says Acting Lord Mayor Ron Christie.

As the cruise season continues, smoke particles emitted from cruise ship funnels have left people living and working near the port increasingly alarmed, Ald Christie said.

“This is a real public health concern,’’ he said.

“I have been taking calls recently, elderly residents… traders… they say they can smell it. One gentleman, says he gets asthma.” Ald Christie said with 59 ships scheduled to visit Hobart by the end of this season, and with greater numbers expected next season, the smoke issue needed to be brought to a head.

The council in September called on the Federal Government to force cruise ships to burn cleaner fuel while in Hobart, which was already a requirement for Sydney Harbour.

Some cruise ships can burn a cheaper low-grade fuel called bunker fuel, which emits sulphur dioxide, while in port.

A ban on fuel containing high levels of sulphur is due to begin in 2020. The State Government’s Environment Protection Authority has been monitoring air quality from an installation at CSIRO since last June.

An EPA statement said an interim report on the cruise ship season’s results would be published by the end of July.

“Monitoring at Hobart Port over this cruise ship season has seen ambient levels of sulphur dioxide well within national and international air quality standards.” the statement said.
A State Government spokesman said imposing fuel regulations on cruise ships before the 2020 ban could cause cruise ships to bypass Tasmania, …..
Alderman Christie said his previous strong support for the promotion of cruise ship visits, was now tempered by pollution concerns…..

Australia Post-Port Arthur Massacre

Twenty years after the Port Arthur Massacre when a lone gunman killed 35 people and wounded 23 more…….

The Conversation, 27 April 2016:

The 1996 firearm laws were immediately followed by a buying spree, as banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns were replaced with freshly imported single-shot firearms.
By 1999, civilian gun imports had dropped to a record low. And most gun dealers closed their doors.

In the years that followed, gun-buying climbed steadily to new heights. By 2015, the arms trade had broken all previous records. Last financial year Australia imported 104,000 firearms.

The million guns destroyed after Port Arthur have been replaced with 1,026,000 new ones. And the surge only shows upward momentum.

Twenty-one years after……, 12 October 2017:

THERE is a major “loophole” in Australia’s gun laws which allows for private arsenals with hundreds of guns and owners to “buy their first ... or 310th gun”.

Tighter restrictions on gun ownership — including a compulsory requirement to show “genuine reason” for owning each firearm — were introduced in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre.

But the number of weapons that can be owned by an individual have since been weakened in various states and are not exclusively capped.

NSW Greens spokesman David Shoebridge said “a loophole in NSW’s gun laws allows private individuals to use the same reason to buy their 1st, 10th or 310th gun” and that Australia faces another mass shooting if the national approach to gun control isn’t tightened.

“A 20-year review of gun laws enacted after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996 did not even look at capping the number of guns that can be owned by one individual,” he said.

“We are seeing private arsenals being built up in our major capital cities ...(and) suburbia.”

NSW Police figures for private firearm ownership obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show there are 31 private arsenals across Sydney with 73 to 305 guns each.

“Of the top 100 private arsenals with the most guns, 31 are in Sydney,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“These gun owners are not collectors or arms dealers but private individuals who have been allowed to amass private arsenals.

“It is inevitable that some of these private arsenals with end up in the hands of criminals.

“This really isn’t a question of mere politics it is a question of life and death.”

Almost 22 years later……

ABC News, 1 March 2018:

Thousands of automatic rifles, handguns and a rocket launcher are among the weapons handed in during last year's National Firearms Amnesty.

The final results, released today, show 57,324 firearms were handed in between July and September across Australia to be registered or destroyed.

Authorities received around 2,500 fully-automatic or semi-automatic guns that were previously unaccounted for, and 2,900 handguns.

The rocket launcher was handed in to a licensed firearms dealer in Queensland, who believes it was once recovered at a local tip.

New South Wales received the highest number of firearms at 24,831, followed by Queensland on 16,375. Victorians handed in 9,175 guns.

Almost a third of the weapons were destroyed, with the rest either registered and handed back, or passed on to a licensed dealer for resale.

Federal Minister for Law Enforcement Angus Taylor said the weapons were no longer on the "grey market", which refers to guns that are not registered and not in the hands of criminals.

"It's critical to get them off this grey market … so they don't end up in the black market," he said.

Despite the evidence before his eyes Home Affairs tsar Peter Dutton is apparently considering expanding the political power of the Australian gun lobby – à la U.S. National Rifle Association……

The Guardian, 15 March 2018:

The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, is considering establishing a committee to allow gun importers to review proposed changes to firearm regulations for “appropriateness and intent”.

Following a meeting with a pro-gun lobbyist in February, Dutton is weighing up whether to establish a so-called “firearms advisory council”, which the gun lobby says would give it “a seat at the table” to advise the government on firearms policy.

Last month Dutton met with officials from Nioa, one of Australia’s largest gun dealers, and members of the shooting lobby to discuss the council.

Nioa is run by Robert Nioa, a major political donor to his father-in-law, the federal MP Bob Katter. He is also a director of the firearms industry lobbying group Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia, or Sifa.

Sifa’s other directors include the general manager of Winchester Australia, Clive Pugh and the managing director of Beretta Australia, Luca Scribani Rossi.

The group donated to Liberal and National MPs in the lead-up to the 2016 federal election and pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that helped minor rightwing parties gain votes in last year’s Queensland state election.

Held at Nioa’s company headquarters in Brisbane, the meeting was attended by Laura Patterson, Sifa’s communications and research officer, and Nioa official David Briggs. Robert Nioa was not at the meeting.

In a video posted by Sifa on social media, Patterson said the meeting was aimed at “formalising” the establishment of a “firearms advisory council”.

In the video, which included an image of the department’s logo, Patterson said the council would “establish a mechanism for expert government to industry consultation” and would allow Sifa to “review proposed regulatory changes for efficiency, appropriateness and intent”.


Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017:

Rates of firearm-related injuries for both hospitalised cases and deaths fell between 1999–00 and 2005–06 from a starting rate of 2 cases per 100,000 population to 1.5 per 100,000 for hospitalised cases and 1 per 100,000 for deaths in 2013–14 (Figure 6).

Rates for hospitalised cases were relatively steady from 2005–06 onwards, while rates for deaths continued to fall:

* The fall in rates for hospitalised cases in the early part of the period was mainly attributable to a decline in unintentional cases, from 221 to 105, between 1999–00 and 2005–06.

* The fall in rates for deaths over the entire period was mainly attributable to a decline in intentional self-harm (suicide) cases, from 236 to 166, between 1999–00 and 2012–13.

The rate of firearm suicide by males was about 6 to 7 per 100,000 population annually for about 30 years, to the late 1980s.

The rate then declined to less than 1 per 100,000 by 2011 (Figure 7). A similar pattern was seen for females, although rates were much lower.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Trump brings out the knives in his effort to derail the FBI-Mueller investigation into Russian involvment in his presidential campaign

What occurred.....

Andrew McCabe became acting head of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the sudden firing of James B. Comey on 9 May 2017 and, as acting head gave evidence before a US Senate committee in which he contradicted the WhiteHouse’s assertion that James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director fired by PresidentTrump...had lost the support of rank-and-file F.B.I. agents.

US President Donald Trump's reaction was hostile across multiple tweets over the following months and he implied that McCabe might be fired before he could retire.  

On 15 March 2018 The New York Times reported:

WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization in recent weeks to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding records directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

Following hard on the heels of the Comey firing Mueller had been appointed to conduct an investigation into Russian links to Trump's 2015- 2016 presidential campaign.

The following day, 16 March, U.S. ABC News reported:

Former FBI deputy director Andy McCabe was fired Friday from the federal government, just two days before he was set to retire, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a statement late Friday night.

Nearly 24 hours earlier, McCabe was inside the Justice Department making the case to keep his job until Sunday when he officially qualifies for retirement benefits. His firing means his full pension — built after nearly 22 years in government — is in jeopardy.

After formal announcement of the McCabe sacking Trump tweeted this:

That Trump's move against McCabe is a step on the road to firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be inferred from the Dowd quote below. 

According to The Daily Beast  on 17 March 2018:

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd then wrote.
He told The Daily Beast he was speaking on behalf of the president, in his capacity as the president’s attorney.

McCabe's response.....

Statement released by Andrew McCabe's lawyer - sourced from Twitter

A year ago the Turnbull Cabinet decided to elevate "a fascist like Peter Dutton"

This is Peter Craig Dutton, Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, millionaire property speculator, alleged closet racist and former Queensland police officer.

Twelve months ago government and national intelligence circles were unhappy about his elevation to powerful Tsar

Dutton's portfolios are now under audit and review as they merge and grow.

BuzzFeed, 12 March 2018:

The new super agency created by home affairs minister Peter Dutton is facing unprecedented government scrutiny, amid a series of audits and reviews into visa arrangements and anti-corruption measures.

The federal government merged a large number of Australian government agencies into one super agency headed by Dutton earlier this year.

In an unprecedented government initiative, Dutton is overseeing more than 13,000 staff across the immigration department, Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission, Austrac and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

The agency is absorbing a range of functions from the attorney-general's department, the department of infrastructure and the prime minister's department, and will have a total budget of more than $2 billion.

The arrangement was particularly controversial because there was no recommendation to actually create the agency; its establishment rests on the contested assumption that centralising these government agencies will ensure greater efficiency across immigration, law enforcement and other government areas.

But the new agency is now facing unprecedented scrutiny as home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo grapples with how to bring disparate government entities under the umbrella of a single agency.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is currently undertaking three separate audits into the integration of the immigration department and customs, the efficiency of visa processing and personnel security risks.

It is currently considering an additional six audits into staff integrity measures, payment standards, cape class patron vessel support, intelligence operations, collection of visa revenue and the tourist refund scheme.

Previous ANAO reports have scrutinised the immigration department's detention contracting arrangements and found them to have serious flaws. One review into contracting on Nauru and Manus found it spent more than $1 billion without proper approvals, and another found it failed to oversee healthcare arrangements in onshore detention centres.

Watch this space.

* Photograph found at The Guardian.