Trump got an icy reception at G20 summit

By Joe Montero

As so many predicted, Donald Trump and the message he took to the Group of 20 summit at Hamburg received an icy reception.

On every major issue, the United States was left isolated.

Despite two days of photo shoot back slapping and smiles, the ambition to recruit support for the American position on North Korea failed. China and Russia took hold of the initiative, with their peace based on mutual disarmament and easing of sanctions position.

The differences became most marked on trade, migration and global warming. This is important because the G20 represents the world’s leading economies and therefore carries as great deal of global political influence.

American isolation marks the departure from an era, where American supremacy has been the rule since the end of World War Two, as the superpower succumbs to growing economic weakness, reaction against its increasing reliance of force as its assertiveness is also a major factor behind the differences.Europe, under the leadership of  Germany, ans secondly France, does not want to play second fiddle to American interests and is increasingly positioning itself as a major competitor.

The best illustration of this now, are the differences between Germany’s chancellor Angle Merkel and Donald Trump that has become evident over recent months. It was Merkel that took the lead in Hamburg. At a news conference as well as openly saying she “deplores,” the American decision to walk away, she said “We as Europeans have to take our fate into our own hands”. While she was specifically referring to climate warming, it really covered the tone over gulf that has opened over all the key issues.

Representing France, the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron, lined up with Merkel. “The world has never been so divided,” he said. If this is not drawing a line in the sand, what is?

Trump is now due in Paris and is likely to find it a bit of a challenge.

Even with the  post summit language of consensus over the final resolution, it remains that the Trump demand to punish nations for what he sees as unfair trade practices, did not get up. This is not surprising, given that the targets are China and Europe.

Washington has been trying to impose open access for American business interests, while at the same time, denying challengers entry into the American economy.

Many nations are genuinely worried that Washington may launch harmful trade wars.

Referring to this last Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “We will respond with countermeasures if need be, hoping that this is not actually necessary”.

In this context, a resolution expressing support for open markets and opposition to protectionism is hardly a victory for the American position. It is vague, commits to nothing, yet opens to, shall we say, infinite flexibility in its application. This is a non-statement, geared to save face, rather than offer anything.

On migration and refugees, the hard line of the United states in the Trump era, won support from only the United Kingdom and Italy. Everyone else called for a more humane policy.

But it is on the matter of global warming where the differences were most evident.

An agreement was made to move forward without the participation of the United States, which has abandoned a pledge made last year at the Paris Climate Agreement, to bring greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The other 19 members of the group broke explicitly with the American position in their embrace of the Paris deal and some of them have moved further than the limited protocols achieved in Paris.

It remains that the United States has made the greatest contribution to the threat of carbon emissions and its failure to act is a setback. Chances are that this will lead to ongoing diplomatic repercussions, further political isolation and the potential for economic sanctions against the United States. Global warming is emerging as a source of political tension that may eventuate to add to political instability.

while the leaders were closeted behind closed walls,huge protests took place outside. They were met with a show of force that has reached a new level against up to 100,000 local citizens and others who were there to express their collective opinion on the summit, Donald Trump, neoliberalism and other issues. Blaming a between one and two thousand anarchists of causing trouble, was used as a cover to turn water cannons, teargas and capsicum spray onto everyone.

Turning Hamburg into something resembling a city under military occupation,did not go unnoticed. There was the “ring of steel” around the summit, extending to roadblocks and high security zones. More than 20,000 police were involved, many of them heavily armed. Street patrols were frequent and many backed by drones and the latest surveillance technology. Helicopters permanently “parked” in the clouds, become a background sound.

Much more was going on here than dealing with a few anarchists.

Germany is experiencing a groundswell of opinion that wants a change in economic and political direction. Merkel and her government are out of touch with this and are now seen to be trying to impose control through its own heavy handed means. It has not gone down too well, not only in Germany, but across Europe.


German police running to their target









Caricatures of G20 leader







Using water cannon against non-violent protesters










Police using capsicum spray and teargas to disperse demonstrators

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Unions call on super funds and government to act on affordable housing

From New South Wales

Unions covering teachers, police and other emergency and those working in other emergency services, have taken on the issue of housing affordability.

They find that many of their members are struggling to put a roof over one’s head provide for family.

Many union members do not qualify for public housing or other forms on non-privately owned properties, which go under the banner of social housing. The result is that a growing body of working Australians are being pushed into the urban fringes, where they miss out on many important services and must often commute long distances to work. This impacts on quality of life issues.

The big problem is the lack of affordable housing stock, in a market characterised by a bubble that has sent both mortgage repayments and rents through the roof.

Some unions have consequently began to look at ways in which they can help their members.

Early talks have begun in New South Wales, between the Australian Teachers Union in this state (NSW Teachers Federation) and First State Super and Teachers Mutual Bank, aimed at accessing suitable housing in the areas where teachers work. It was announced at the union’s 4 July conference by state general secretary General Secretary John Dixon.

The initiative has encouraged other unions to look at doing something similar.

However, pursuing affordable housing is not supported by the New South Wales Industrial Commission, not by the Australian Fair Work Commission, which have imposed a narrow band of matters on which unions and business can agree. Unions face the need pursue creative means by which to move ahead.

Taking on affordable housing is an important step, especially if it catches on and becomes a national campaign involving all public sector unions and expanding to  other unions and sections of the workforce.

Means of financing is there, in the form of superannuation funds. After all, the money going into them comes from the wages of workers. Even the employer contribution does, because it is the outcome of direct wages trade-offs. There is no reason why this money should not be put to work for those to whom the the money belong.

Up to now, the money in these superannuation funds has been at the disposal of major employers, to be used as a source of back up capital loans or as means to acquire shares in other companies.



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Australian households are not becoming better off

by Jim Hayes

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) information shows that total household wealth stood at a record $9.6 trillion at the end of March, which is 2.4 percent higher in one quarter.

This is somewhat misleading however. It does not mean that the wealth of the average Australian household is rising.

Household wealth is based on total of assets, including business assets and liabilities in the economy and then divided by the number of households. This very different from measuring income, which is a much better indication of standard of living.

Secondly, the liability of one is an asset of another, which means that there is a measure of double counting.

Nor does the household wealth measure consider the distribution of this wealth. Rather than the average household becoming wealthier, it could be that some do and others become poorer.

If an increase has been reported at the same time as the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has experienced negligible growth, it must be that much of it represents the shift of wealth from some households to others and that the measure is inaccurate. After all, new wealth must come from somewhere.

This is exactly what has happened. GDP for the quarter grew by just 0.3 percent. Match this with the  reported 2.4 percent rise in average household income and it just doesn’t add up.

Another truth is that nominal household income has been sewed upwards by the real estate bubble. It is questionable whether this is real wealth when it comes to the household’s residential address, given that the cost of a transfer from one dwelling to another would cancel out the gain on the average.

Household wealth should be based on real, rather than nominal wealth and this means discounting inflationary growth.

The biggest growth has been in shares. These are now worth a record $826 billion, due to a rise by just over $36 billion for the quarter. Superannuation funds growth account for $29.9 billion of this. Although these numbers are used to add up assets it represents a transfer of assets, from one form to another and are not the creation of any new wealth. It is about distribution not accumulation.

Welfare groups have said that the ABS information highlights the growing disparity between rich and poor across Australia. They are right.

There is a transfer away from disposable income to shares.

Consumption expenditure almost kept constant, rising only by 0.1 percent. Savings decreased by 0.4 percent, suggesting that  expenditure other than for consumption was funded at the cost of savings.

It no longer looks like average households are improving their position.

Chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said that nearly 3 million people still living below the poverty line.

“The reality is that people in the bottom 50 per cent of the community own just 6 per cent of the overall nation’s wealth,” she said.

“This is a story about, well, how are we making sure that the benefits of the overall wealth in the country are being shared more fairly.”

The inescapable conclusion is that one should not take official statistics at face value. There is usually more to the story than we are often told. Most people have not acquired the skills to properly interprete statistics and can therefore easily be misled by false conclusions.

In this case, a misinterpretation of what is really going on at the average household level, hides the truth and therefore detracts from what needs to be done to overcome the real problems faced by many. This needs to be corrected.




London’s tower fire has raised questions over inadequate safety standards

Contributed by `Ben Wilson

The terrible fire that engulfed a 24-story block of flats in central London (Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) and known as Grenfell Tower, was a terrible tragedy that took at least 12 lives and injured a much larger number injured. Some seriously. Continue reading London’s tower fire has raised questions over inadequate safety standards

Australia’s billionaires and their connection to government

By Joe Montero

An article written by Peter Martin, economics editor of the Age (28 May 2017) is an eye opener for anyone not familiar with the connection between government and Australia’s billionaires in Australia. The practice is so rampant that Australia ranks as one of the worst in the world.

What is left out is the connection that this has with the rise of the finance industry over the last 30 years.

Martin quotes from the work of professor Paul Frijters and economist Gigi Foster, who examined the Rich 200 List for the Australian Economic Review in 2015 and recorded then  in a book coauthored by Frijters and Cameron Murray called Game of Mates.

“over 80 per cent of the wealthiest Australians have made their fortunes in property, mining, banking, superannuation and finance generally – all heavily regulated industries in which fortunes can be made by getting favourable property rezonings, planning law exemptions, mining concessions, labour law exemptions, money creation powers and mandated markets of many stripes”.

The book suggests that seeking “favours, be they planning approvals or the right to build casinos or toll roads, is what makes Australia go round. Certainly, it makes Australia’s job market go round. Local council planners move into positions with developers, state and Commonwealth government ministers take up positions with companies they used to regulate and former Treasury officials sit on the boards of private banks”.

Martin describes this as a particularly Australian way to make money. Unlike people like Larry Page and Sergey Brin did with Google, Steve Jobs did with Apple, and Bill Gates did with Microsoft, who did bring something new to the world, these people do no such thing.

They made their money by doing things that anybody could have done and they were able to do so, he says, because they had the right connections.  Government provides the opportunities.

Peter Martin labels this as “a particularly Australian way to make money”, and “where Australia has more in common with Columbia than with the United states”.

A study by two United states economists Sutirtha Bagchi and Jan Svejnar used the international Forbes Rich List and an extensive search of newspaper reports to estimate the proportion of

Based on the data, they pointed out that four countries stood out and they were Colombia with 85 percent of billionaires being politically connected, followed by India with 66 percent, Australia with 65 percent and Indonesia with 64 percent.

Martin quite rightly points out that this arrangement makes it likely that there is little threat of billionaires being taxed more in Australia, any time soon.

There is another part to this story.  Australia’s billionaires are in partnership with much bigger entities. Those involved in the development game need to raise considerable capital. They do not finance out of their own pocket, but raise the funds from other sources from the banks. This applies even more in the mining industry.

All roads point to the banks. They are where the collective store of investment funds is held and  released for a percentage. The point is that they create debt and this debt gives them enormous power. For instance, you could be a Gina Rinehart raising the capital to start up a new mine. The bank supplying it has the leverage to impose conditions. It can recall the money and this can make life difficult for the borrower. Although the billionaires might be in a better position than the average punter, they remain dependent.

This means  the banks must be implicated, in whatever level of corruption there is. More so, when government itself depends on raising funds from the same banks.

According to a 2012 report by the International Monetary fund, major banks are highly interconnected. Credit Card Compare reported that they not only transfer funds between them, but shared the same four major shareholders. They are nominee companies controlled by the American banks (Citibank and JP Morgan) and a major British bank (HSBC). There is Also National Nominees that acts on behalf of less clearly defined clients, most of which are registered in tax free havens.

The same banks own large parts of most companies registered on the Australian Stock Exchange. This gives a small group much more power than most would ever suspect. A power that has a global dimension. This is critical. Because it is not likely that a connection with government for favourable treatment would exist without their involvement.

Australia is at the top of the charts in something else and that is the most deregulated financial sector of any comparable economy. The assertion being made here is that there is a connection between the giving out of government favours and the deregulation of finance. If you want to get rid of one, you have to get rid of the other.

Among other changes, deregulation meant that government had less capacity to regulate the monetary side of the economy and to use its control to divert funds for its own needs.It has been a major pusher to privatise government concerns to secure funds to balance the books and creating a major potential for generating close business contacts between government and the business sector

Banking became riskier with the loosening of controls over reserve and liquidity ratios, the rise of new financial institutions and greater exposure to the global financial system, which meant a more unstable exchange rate and subjection to the whim of major global investors and institutions.

Reduction of government control meant that credit could no longer be targeted towards priority areas. It quickly became a free for all. Government could no longer issue directives that would compel the banks to behave in a given way.

Deregulation has created a recipe for corruption.

Official site of the May Day Committee (Malbourne)

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