Connecting the dots

Unfalsifiable hypotheses are always a bit silly, and this blog generally tries to steer clear of falling for that trap but, hey, it’s Friday and salacious gossip is fun.

Sometime ago, we brought you the Canberra insider news that has never made it into the mainstream; Julie Bishop enjoys/has enjoyed a full and busy private life and sent a fairly unsubtle shot across the bows of the free press to not go prying into MPs’ private lives.

This week, we learn that China a foreign power power has hacked into the parliamentary computer systems (by which they probably mean the email server).

And now Julie Bishop has announced an end to what was a promising political career that, by any objective view, probably still had greater heights to reach.

Curious.

Ok, let’s suspend our usual reliance on logic, reason and requirement for evidence and just have a complete punt at what’s going on….

There’s plenty of embarrassing personal information on everyone’s email history, none of us would appreciate it being opened up to the public, that’s why we don’t share our passwords.

A prominent politician is no different, particularly if they’ve been a little indiscreet in the past.

If you had evidence that your email was one of the hacked ones and you had something to hide, or at least feel a little regretful about, a simple solution might be to drop out of the public eye. It doesn’t completely prevent the leaked information making it into the news but yours wouldn’t be the most pressing for the media to report on at that point.

Bill’s Opinion

China seems a little less-enamoured with Australia these days. The best we can hope for is a Wikileaks type data drop of all the naughty little secrets about politicians’ petty personal lives.

Unfortunately, blackmail and coercion is more likely.

If you wanted Bill Shorten’s recipe for Pavlova, you could have just asked

Apparently, China or Russia “a sophisticated state actor” hacked into the Australian Parliament IT servers last week.

Shocking stuff. We are truly fighting a new Cold War, thank goodness George Lazenby is still alive.

We are also told that it is too early to know the motivation or what information was accessed.

However….. here at William of Ockham, we have a handy little blade that can slice away all that is irrelevant to reveal the most likely explanation.

Let’s quickly dismiss the possibility that a foreign power was hunting for an important secret of state; if there is anyone reading this who believes Australia has any secrets China, Russia, Indonesia or even bloody Swaziland don’t already know, I have a harbour bridge I’d like to sell you. And anyway, there are better IT systems to hack to gain Australia’s secrets.

In addition to Australia’s defence secrets not being worth the candle, how many of them are likely to be divulged to MPs, or even the Defence Minister and Prime Minister? Given that that last role is only ever a casual appointment, it’s doubtful the security services go through the bother of setting up a userid and password for each new appointee.

So what information could possibly be of interest on the parliamentary servers?

The more I think about this question the more certain I become that they will have learned about just one topic: who’s shagging with/has shagged whom?

Bill’s Opinion

There’s a Federal election this year (there’s a 33% chance of that statement being correct at any random time though), which means Australian politics might finally become interesting.

Imagine the fun we may be about to have with Wikileaks drip-feeding prurient tittle tattle about the sordid details of the sex lives of, say, Julie Bishop, Sarah Hanson-Young, Barnaby Joyce or Richard Di Natale?

Maybe chuck in some scandals involving expenses being used to fund lavish lifestyles or questionable morality and perhaps some unparliamentary language on emails referring to voters as sheep or worse.

Finally, an election we might actually enjoy!

Write down the NBN? Write the whole thing off

We’ve spoken before on the utter disaster that is Australia’s National Broadband Network and how it was unlikely to ever achieve its stated goal and also cost significantly more than budgeted.

Well, things just got a whole lot worse for the beleaguered Australian taxpayer as it would seem reality is starting to rudely impose itself on the business model, such that it is: The NBN will need to write off a huge chunk of value, if that’s even possible now.

Crikey (in the vernacular), who ever could have predicted that?

Oh yes, everyone.

From the article:

It is self-evident that you can’t write $20 billion off a $10 billion (or less) equity base.

Ya reckon?

Rue made the point that when people called for a write-down, what they were actually calling for was a dramatic reduction in wholesale prices. It’s a mechanism, not the objective.

There are alternatives to a write-down that could lower wholesale prices, although they would involve heavy costs for government.

Hold on one second, sunshine…. heavy costs for whom?

The government? Nope, don’t think so. The government only has money for one of the following reasons:

1. Taxes paid by citizens (yes, that includes corporation tax – who do you think buys their goods and services?)

2. Borrowing on behalf of the public….which will be repaid by, yep, taxes

Read this with that in mind:

If the federal government were to cash out the $7.4 billion of subscriber payments and buy out the lease agreement, it would effectively inject more than $20 billion of value into NBN Co by carving those payments from its cost base and boosting its cash flows.

The substantial change in its economics would enable NBN Co to pass through the savings to retailers without damaging its ability to generate a positive IRR.

Or, in English; if the government spent more money it would make the NBN company seem like it was less of a turd.

Bill’s Opinion

The lesson every generation of voters always has to learn the hard way is, if you really want to fuck something up, and I mean really fuck something up and stay fucked up for a bloody long time, get the government to do it.

Australia discovers the internet

There’s an Australian government body, the ACCC, that regulates commercial competition, ostensibly new behalf of the consumer but, as we will discover, perhaps not.

Firstly though, let’s crack that old joke, “why is there only one anti-monopoly agency?”.

The ACCC has recently discovered that people aren’t getting so many newspapers delivered to their houses these days.

No, really.

The ironically-named “competition tsar”, Rod Sims says;

“I was getting the response of people saying ‘isn’t this just creative destruction? You know, classic Schumpeter, the way the world works?” he said in an interview ahead of the speech. “Well… it isn’t. This isn’t just like the car taking over from the horse and buggy, or more recently, Uber taking over from the taxi”.

What is it then?

The internet has been accessible to the majority of Australians since the mid 1990s. Therefore the value destruction of print media and journalists’ careers has been one of the most signalled disruptive industry changes in several generations, yet somehow the media organisations failed to adapt.

The ACCC estimates that the number of journalists employed in the print sector fell by 20 per cent in the three years to 2017; while between 2006 and 2016 the number of journalists employed by traditional publishers fell 26 per cent.

Let’s remind ourselves what those employed in news media are supposed to do every day they come to work…

The harsh reality is their real job description was, “produce interesting content that captures an audience for advertising”.

Perhaps the journalists would prefer something more worthy like, “identify and investigate important changes in the status quo and inform their customers”.

Either way, they’ve failed spectacularly.

Bill’s Opinion

From the mid 1990s, traditional news media failed to spot the impact the internet, cheap mobile phone data and smart/camera phones would have on their profession.

Which is a bit of a problem if your job is called “the news“.

Please don’t make us pay to keep this rubbish alive any longer than it needs to be.

Special pleaders gonna plead specially

For those not following the Australian economy (and judging by the readership statistics of this blog, that’s most of you), there’s some huge fun to be had in observing the logical knots people are currently tying for themselves.

 

The problem is that the Reserve Bank of Australia has again, not lowered interest rates. The last time the RBA moved rates was in August 2016, down from 1.75 to 1.5%.

 

I have a real job, i.e. I’m not an economist, so whether or not the RBA is taking the correct course of action is not really something I’m qualified to comment on. However, I am able to spot blatant special pleading when I see it:

 

The “Kouk is lining himself up for a job as an advisor in the next Federal government, assuming the current incumbents lose the election. This is likely to be a nice final job before his retirement. An ongoing house price crash in the two biggest cities of Australia will make this semi-retirement gig far more stressful than he’d appreciate.

 

 

The “Doc” was recently the “Chief Economist” (whatever that means; how many do they have to employ to need a chief?) at Domain, the only profitable arm of Fairfax…. until it was sold off. He was fired last year and is now pitching himself as “Chief Economist” of a company called My Property Market. The website of this esteemed company is still under construction, but I’m sure it’ll be finished soon. After all, they’ve got at least one employee now….. 

 

One imagines the Doc is personally very heavily invested in property.

One of the unusual quirks of the Australian property market is that there is a tax incentive to run your investment properties at a slight revenue loss.

There are, of course, two minor problems with this; firstly, you’re accepting an operating loss today in the hope of a capital gain tomorrow, and secondly, the tax benefit only works while you’re drawing a salary or other income at a level that attracts the higher marginal tax rates to offset the negative gearing. Amateur property investors who get fired from their regular job are clobbered with a double whammy, in other words. Ouch.

Bill’s Opinion

 

In the words of Upton Sinclair,

 

 It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

 

Baby Hubris

Let’s hope this young journo doesn’t look back on this piece with regret.

Throughout 2018, I literally had recurring dreams where I would find out I was pregnant. Part of me blames Kylie – I often watch her content before going to sleep. Stormi is ridiculously cute. Part of me also blames my 26-year-old uterus’ own increasingly vocal biological agenda.

Having a baby right now doesn’t square with my career ambitions or financial reality. And, yet, Kylie has somehow hacked my brain into thinking having my own little Stormi right now is exactly what I want.

So far so biology or another woman’s fault. But wait, surely we can blame men for something?

Oh yes:

Patriarchal societies have a vested interest in making motherhood look like the ultimate utopic end goal women should prioritise above all else. This keeps women feeling “bad” if they can’t have or don’t want kids and naturalises their role as “caregivers” in society, thus helping to keep them from accruing the same influence as men in other domains like business, law, politics and culture.

Wait, what?

You’ve just admitted that your uterus is shouting at you to have a baby but somehow that’s duh patriarchy?

Men keep you feeling “bad” for not having a baby? Do women have any agency in this decision?

Bueller? Anyone?

Bill’s Opinion

Listen, Natasha Gillezeau, if your career was so important to you that you’d put your instinctive desires to give birth on hold, one would hope that it would have paid off by now.

As it is, you’re being paid a pretty crappy salary (you are on the books, right, and not just a freelancer?) working for a company that is very much in decline even for an industry that is in decline in general.

Mr Scientist puts it more eloquently:

No Natasha, if you want a baby and you’ve found the right person to have one with, chuck the contraception away and get on with it.

Finally, the financial reason you mention, which I assume will be something along the lines of, “we’re only renting a small apartment“, is just an excuse. Kids don’t give a stuff whether you’ve got a mortgage or a rental contract.

Westpac’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer writes…

…about banking and house prices. One wonders how that got past the Corporate Affairs twinkies.

Obviously we’re being facetious, Brian isn’t really the Head of LGBTQI123& non-TERF Advocacy (not that you’d know it to look at what he seems to spend most of his time focusing on).

No, he’s the CEO of Westpac

Which means, on balance, the article is even more worrying.

Why?

Ask yourself a question; when the CEO of the 2nd biggest bank decides to write a blog post explaining that the property market isn’t crashing, that the bank is sound and they are still open for business, does that make you feel great comfort and security?

Or, do you think to yourself, “why is he telling me this, why wouldn’t everything be fine, what does he know that I don’t?

Bill’s Opinion

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

It’s highly unlikely any of the major Australian banks are going to be in trouble any time soon. However, the prime candidate if one does hit hard times would be the one with the largest exposure to interest only investment loans and a top of the market (2007) acquisition of a competitor that they never got round to integrating and realising economies of scale….

Australian banks’ dichotomy

This is not a trick question, but what is the primary purpose of a retail (AKA commercial) bank?

 

Assuming it’s not been nationalised, like RBS and other 2008 basket cases, presumably the main function of a bank is to make money for its owners, i.e. the shareholders. Sure, the corporate mission statement might waffle on about helping customers through the key milestones on their life journey, blah, blah, blah, but if they don’t increase the shareholder’s value, they’re dead.

 

Australian retail banks have performed this task very well over the years. CBA’s share price and dividend history is shown below as an example, the other 3 major banks are not dissimilar;

 

 

That the dividends barely missed a beat following the minor difficulties in the banking world in 2008 is amazing. Of course, this masks a slightly inconvenient fact that they were supported by an implicit government guarantee of a bail out should one be required, allowing investors to remain calm and not rush for the exit like in other jurisdictions.

 

Gifts rarely come without an expectation of a quid pro quo, however. In the Australian case, the banks are expected to “do the right thing” by the public, by which we mean, “help the government”.

 

On the way up, when values are increasing and there’s a wealth effect to the public, or at least those exposed to the upside of property ownership, these two purposes (shareholder value and public service) are reasonably well-aligned.

On the way down, as property values decrease and regular members of the public start to experience financial pressure, the two purposes diverge. If the government of the day would like the bank CEOs to show some forbearance to those in distress or even take a haircut on the margin between borrowing and lending costs, the bank shareholders are going to suffer.

 

What might this mean in the short to medium term?

 

There’s a few factors at play currently which may provide us with an indication of how the next year or two might play out.

 

  1. The Royal Commission in to the financial sector has unearthed some unpleasantness by most major institutions. There will be ramifications for the sector in terms of increased oversight and regulation.
  2. Macroprudential restrictions on lending has resulted in a cooling of the housing market with prices down around 10% from the 2017 peak and perhaps, conservatively, 1 in 10 owner occupier mortgages being in negative equity (more, according to some sources).
  3. A likely change of government in May and the possibility of the removal of some tax breaks for new owners of investment properties.
  4. Costs of borrowing from overseas sources (currently about 60% of mortgage funding) has increased and looks likely to continue to do so, albeit mildly, during 2019.
  5. A halving of the number of foreign (by which we mean Chinese) property investors buying in Australia since the peak in 2014.

 

Predictions are notoriously difficult, especially about the future, but this combination of factors suggest that the decline in values is unlikely to halt during the next 12 months.

Whichever flavour of government is in power, and let’s face it, there’s little difference between the two parties other than one group is more competent at being corrupt than the other, won’t really matter; neither of the major parties are going to enjoy governing during a -15% or perhaps -20% property crash.

The calls to “do something, do anything” are going to become deafening.

The professional economic troll, Stephen Koukoulas, and the “Chief Economist” of My Property Market (i.e. the only employee), Dr. Andrew Wilson, are already flooding social media with pathetic begging of the Reserve Bank to cut rates.

God only knows how many more vested interests will come out of the woodwork over the coming months. 

 

Bill’s Opinion

 

Obviously, the government is going to call in the favours owed. At the very least, banks are going to have to take a hit on margins. The banking regulator, APRA, may find itself under political pressure to ease the responsible lending restrictions that have been put in place and then banks will be “encouraged” to open the spigots again. Friendly State Governments may be under pressure to reverse restrictions on overseas ownership.

 

None, some or all of this might “work”. 

 

Regardless though, shareholders of the banks are going to take one in the chops.

 

“All we are saying, is give pills a chance”

The infamous Sydney pirate, Peter Fitzsimons, jumps the shark today with this classic long bow to draw:

Not testing illegal drugs at music festivals is like the Vietnam War.

It’s not a parody. He starts by quoting John Kerry’s famous 1971 appearance before the Senate;

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

And then makes the comparison with young people taking illegal drugs whilst dancing to music;

How do we ask another festival-goer to die for want of instituting the very policy advocated by most of those on the front-line – the police, doctors, and emergency workers?

Of course, this is written in a left wing newspaper so the claim that most professionals back drug testing doesn’t need to be qualified or supported with data.

We’ve written about this previously and the false dichotomy being presented for political purposes.

Do your own research to discover quite how effective drug testing at festivals has been in other countries and, indeed, whether the news that the pill one has just purchased is going to be bad for you has much effect on people’s intention to consume it.

The nearest he gets to a nuanced argument is that, although drug testing isn’t that accurate currently, it will be one day so we should do it now so that we’re ready. Ok, Pete.

Meanwhile, let’s just have a minute’s silence for the 58,220 dead American men who probably would have much preferred to have gone to a music festival instead.

Bill’s Opinion

The great value Peter Fitzsimons brings to society is that, for any issue other than sports-induced head injuries, if you can’t be bothered to spend the time to work out what the best position is to take, take the opposite of Peter’s.

Have we hit “peak” Sydney Morning Herald?

Quite possibly.

In the past few years, the world has finally started to wake up to the socially constructed ways in which some people are given an easier ride through life than others.

Here we go, which people?

Male privilege acknowledges how being a man means earning a higher wage than women, not being discriminated against because of their gender, and being far less likely to be sexually assaulted. And white privilege recognises the ongoing discriminations faced by people of colour in job opportunities, safety and every other part of life.

Ah, men. White men being the worst.

Those white men who do all the jobs with the high fatality and injury rates?

Yes, those but especially the ones who don’t binge eat;

But what about being thin? Is there an advantage, nay a privilege, associated with being slim in our society? It seems that yes, there is.

Well, we can agree on that. Hence why many of us eat sensibly and exercise.

The “thin” in “thin privilege” is not about being supermodel-skinny but being at a weight that means you are not subjected to judgment and harassment from strangers. It means that you can go into almost any clothes shop and find something that will fit. You can eat a hamburger in public without people clearly judging your decision. You can wear something figure-hugging without people sniggering at you.

You’ve just described the effects, not the cause of being a reasonable weight for your height.

Melbourne academic and body positivity advocate Jenny Lee says that women are especially vulnerable to this type of rhetoric because “women are still valued for their beauty first and are socialised accordingly”.

Ok, “Melbourne academic and body positivity advocate” Jenny Lee and the author of this article, Alana Schetzer, are early contenders for the Steve Sailer First Law of Female Journalisn Award, 2019.

“When I speak about thin privilege, I am talking about the advantages that thin people in Western culture experience, such as being assumed healthy and having a wide array of clothes available, as well as a body that aligns with dominant ideas of what is attractive,” says Dr Lee, who teaches gender and literary studies at Victoria University.

Ok, I admit it, Jenny Lee doesn’t in any way align with my personal idea of what is attractive. Where do I report to be sent to my re-education camp and will I also have to be subjected to gender and literary studies lectures?

“It’s time to acknowledge thin privilege the way the Left has acknowledged white privilege, class privilege or straight privilege. As a white middle-class person, albeit with working-class roots, it is worth noting here that I can’t speak for all fat women, and I have barely been able to touch on the prejudice that fat people of colour experience.”

Ah, that’s a helpful clue about where the morbidly obese sit in the Victim Olympics medal table;

Gold – dark skinned working class fatties

Silver – white working class fatties

Bronze – to be determined, they’re still panting their way around the track.

The conversation around thin privilege got a kick-start when US blogger Cora Harrington wrote a series of tweets explaining what it is and how people can benefit from it, even if they don’t think of themselves as thin.

“No one groans or rolls their eyes when they have to sit next to me on a plane or a bus,” she tweeted in July. “ In fact, no one comments on my body at all. The ability to move through life without people insisting you need to be a smaller size … if you don’t have to think about that, it’s privilege.”

No, it’s just the default position for anyone who has learned to control their calorific intake. That doesn’t make them a Nazi, just a functioning human adult.

Society has long determined that overweight people are not only flawed but also fully responsible for their weight gain. That being “fat” is simply deemed to be a failure caused by nothing but greed and gluttony, a byword for laziness, being undisciplined, greedy and unintelligent.

Let me correct that for you;

Society Nature has long determined that overweight people are not only flawed….

If you were too heavy to chase dinner on the plains, the rest of the tribe would view you as a liability. There is a very simple evolutionary reason for “society’s” judgement on obesity and it probably pre-dates language.

Another take on the label is that it’s not so much that thin privilege exists but that “fat inconvenience” does – a sort of social tax that bigger bodies have to pay, whether it’s the lack of choice in shops to buy clothes, or nasty stares and under-the-breath comments from airplane neighbours for taking up too much space.

Let’s remind ourselves the author is writing for a media outlet with a default position that any problem can be solved by the government taxing it. It would seem you can’t have it both ways (yes, I was going to write “cake and eat it” but just caught myself); either the “fat tax” of society’s disapproval and inconvenience works or it doesn’t.

Whatever you want to call it, there is undoubtedly a series of hardships that bigger people face, most of which are socially constructed as a way to control and belittle them. If we can create it, then we can unmake it.

Are far higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems and early mortality also “socially constructed”?

Bill’s Opinion

Obviously it’s our fault that Alana has an eating disorder.

How do I know she has an eating disorder?

Well, according to her Twitter feed, she’s a single female who owns a cat. You rarely get those two without the third.

Oh, here’s her blog at The Huffington Post.

Over the past year, I knew I had put on weight. Dresses and pants that used to fit comfortably now squished against my growing belly and left nasty red lines against my skin.

Whenever I was upset, I would skip dinner and instead plunge into a family-sized bag of Doritos, and the only exercise I was getting was waddling to the fridge and back to the lounge room, where I would read.

And here’s the explanation behind most of her journalistic output;

Sailer’s Law of Female Journalism;

The most heartfelt articles by female journalists tend to be demands that social values be overturned in order that, Come the Revolution, the journalist herself will be considered hotter-looking.