Universal pension for all: Retirees call for tax and income reform

This is a very different proposal from Universal Basic Income.  There is no effect on job readiness because pensioners are already out of the fulltime workforce.  And if the pension is taxable any perversity in the payments would be substantially reduced

The existing system is very unfair to savers and investors as the lockdown knocks their income substantially without compensation.  A universal pension would in part compensate for that

We live in a time of great government activism and economic involvement, much of which is neither wise nor benign so it is merely balance to suggest  that governments should take responsibility for the ill results of their policies and do things to compensate for the burdens they create

Every retiree would get at least a part pension under a plan being considered by seniors' groups amid concerns the coronavirus pandemic's effect on key income streams is leaving many older Australians cash poor and increasing the number living in poverty.

Seniors organisations are pressing the Morrison government to look at a massive overhaul to the pension system that would also take into account possible changes to tax concessions, such as franking credits, as a way to pay for any reforms.

The federal government is reviewing the retirement income system although its reporting date has been pushed back to July 24 due to the pandemic's impact on agencies.

The COVID-19 crisis, and measures to stop its spread, has created havoc with equity and investment markets while also leading to a huge fall in global interest rates. Economic shutdowns have hit jobs and seen a sharp increase in the number of renters - private and commercial - unable to pay rent.

Analysis by JPMorgan suggests the huge scope of the income hit facing those dependent on interest, dividends and rents.

It estimates dividend income will drop by $68 billion in the 12 months to the end of June, property income will slump by $59 billion while interest payments will be $8 billion down.

National Seniors Australia spokesman Ian Henschke said the crisis had highlighted key shortcomings in a retirement income system he said was clumsy and complex.

He said many retirees had suffered a sharp fall in their income yet the value of their assets had barely changed. Under existing pension testing rules, it's the value of those assets that determined any pension income.

Axing the means test system and replacing it with a universal pension, paid for by an overhaul of the tax system, would improve retirement outcomes and incentives for savers, Mr Henschke said.

"It would get rid of the pension assets and income tests, doing away with the need for unfair taper rates, deeming rates and work restrictions, and end the need to engage with Centrelink," he said.

"If everyone of pension age received a pension, retirees could just add this to their other income and pay tax. Means testing is costly to administer and leads to perverse outcomes, which are more apparent in the current crisis.

"Asset taper rates unfairly penalise those who save more for their retirement. Income tests undermine ongoing workforce participation and lead to ongoing anger over deeming rates."

David Knox, actuary and senior partner with consulting firm Mercer, said the system of means testing made it difficult for many people to plan retirement.

He said there was scope to adopt a model used in Denmark where all retirees were paid a part pension that maintained some elements of means testing but also guaranteed income for all.

"The advantage is the universal part pension gives everybody a base to build on while the means-tested pension ensures that no-one lives in poverty," he said.

"Another advantage is that the means testing will cease at a lower level of assets or income than currently, as it would only apply to half the pension.

"This means that many retired Australian households would not be subject to any means testing and there would be a much clearer incentive to make some extra savings for your retirement."




 I have largely discontinued posting here -- for the moment

 The lockdowns have been very distressing to me for personal reasons so I don't have the strength to do my usual thing here

 I hope to be back when the lockdowns end JR

Trump officials reject stricter air quality standards, despite link between air pollution, coronavirus risks

The "link" they refer to is this study ("Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States")

What the study actually found was that number of hospital beds was the chief predictor of Coronavirus deaths: "This suggests that number of hospital beds is a strong confounder".  Getting hospital treatment helps you to survive.  That finding should surprise nobody.

So when the effect of hospital beds is allowed for, the correlation between Coronavirus deaths per million and level of PM2.5 in the air shrinks to negligibility, in line with other studies of PM2.5 effects. 

The existing research on particulate air pollution (PM2.5.)shows effects that range between no effect and effects that are so weak that no confidence can be placed in them. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

Wheeler was right to ignore the study

The Trump administration opted Tuesday not to set stricter national air quality standards, despite a growing body of scientific evidence linking air pollution to lethal outcomes from respiratory diseases such as covid-19.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Tuesday that the agency would maintain the current standards for fine particulate matter, otherwise known as soot, the country’s most widespread deadly pollutant.

The EPA’s staff scientists recommended lowering the annual particulate matter standard to between 8 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter in a draft report last year, citing estimates that reducing the limit to 9 could save roughly 12,200 lives a year. The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) was split on the question, with some members calling for tighter standards and others saying the current one is sufficient.

“The United States has some of the cleanest air in the world, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Wheeler told reporters in a phone call. “We believe the current standard is protective of public health.”

Soot comes from smokestacks, vehicles, industrial operations, incinerators and burning wood. The current standards limit annual concentrations to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air and daily concentrations to 35 per cubic meter. These fine particles enter the lungs and bloodstream, causing inflammation that can lead to asthma, heart attacks and other illnesses.

Poor and minority communities in the United States tend to be exposed to greater air pollution, including soot, because they often live closer to highways or industrial facilities. A 2019 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that on average, communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than white residents.

This long-term exposure has increased the risks Americans of color face when it comes to heart and respiratory illness, including covid-19, which is disproportionately killing African Americans.

The decision regarding particulate matter is the administration’s latest effort to ease industrial regulation. In recent weeks, the White House has rolled back automobile emissions standards, despite projections that it would increase premature deaths. Citing the national emergency sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, the EPA has stopped policing pollution from factories and power plants for an indefinite period. And the agency has weakened emissions limits for coal-burning plants.

But several big business groups in Washington, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute, cheered the administration for retaining the existing standards, with both noting that annual concentrations of fine particulate matter are down by 39 percent since 2000. Most areas of the country have now met the annual standards, with the exception of spots including Southern and Central California and parts of Pennsylvania and Idaho.

“We think this strikes the right balance,” said API’s Frank Macchiarola.

Wheeler cited “uncertainties” in existing studies about the impact of lower particulate matter on human health, and the fact that the EPA’s advisory panel was split, as reasons to retain the current pollution limits.

But some scientists say even a slight shift in pollution levels, either up or down, can impact the health of those most vulnerable to respiratory problems.

One study published this month from researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that even a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution causes a large increase in the risk of dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The study, which examined 3,080 U.S. counties, found that an increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate pollution of just one microgram per cubic meter is associated with a 15 percent greater likelihood of dying of covid-19. This stark difference may be explained by the lung damage such pollution causes over time.

“The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis,” the study’s authors wrote.

“If you’re breathing polluted air and your lungs are inflamed by the disease, you’re going to get very, very sick,” a senior author of the study, Harvard biostatistician Francesca Dominici, told The Washington Post last week.

Wheeler said that while the findings were “interesting,” it was “premature” to draw conclusions. “We look forward to reviewing the Harvard study once it’s completed and peer reviewed,” he said.



Ozone hole three times the size of Greenland opens over the North Pole

What!!??  The evil refrigerant gases -- CFCs  -- that eat up ozone and produce ozone holes have been banned and the result is said to be an increase in ozone and reduced ozone holes.

So where does this new hole come from?  CFCs in the air should affect ozone at both poles.  But now that we have holes at both poles it follows in Greenie logic that CFCs must be more plentiful than ever, not eliminated as Greenies claim. CFCs do appear to have been reduced by the Montreal treaty so could it be that CFCs do not affect ozone at all?

Combining the holes at both poles produces a bigger hole than  ever so ozone must be vanishing at a great rate rather than slowly increasing. Atmospheric ozone would appear to be less  plentiful than ever -- not increasing as Greenies predicted

And the Antarctic hole was at its greatest extent in 2015 -- which is hardly consistent with something that is gradually fading away.  The Greenie story is a crock

Ozone holes open over the South Pole every year. Holes at the North Pole are much, much rarer.

Scientists have detected what may be the largest hole in the ozone layer ever recorded over the North Pole.

The ozone hole covers an area roughly three times the size of Greenland, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement, and could expose people living at far northern latitudes to high levels of ultraviolet radiation if it grows much larger. Fortunately, the hole looks likely to close on its own in the next few weeks, the ESA researchers said.

Holes form in the ozone layer — which is a sheet of gas in Earth's atmosphere that absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet light emitted by the sun — every year over Antarctica due to seasonal changes in cloud cover. Ozone holes over the Arctic, however, are rarer. The last time an Arctic ozone hole opened was in 2011, and it was significantly smaller than the hole seen now, the researchers said.

"From my point of view, this is the first time you can speak about a real ozone hole in the Arctic," Martin Dameris, an atmospheric scientist at the German Aerospace Center, told Nature.

The Antarctic ozone hole opens every year due to the combination of frigid temperatures and man-made pollution. When temperatures plummet at the start of Antarctica's winter, high-altitude clouds form over the South Pole. Industrial chemical pollutants, including chlorine and bromine, trigger reactions in these clouds that eat away at the surrounding ozone gas.

The Arctic, which has more variable temperatures, doesn't usually see the same ozone-depleting conditions, the researchers said. But this year, powerful winds trapped cold air in a "polar vortex" above the Arctic.  That led to colder temperatures and more high-altitude clouds than normal. Hence, North Pole ozone-depletion began.

Fortunately, with the sun slowly getting higher over the Arctic, atmospheric temperatures are already beginning to increase, which means the conditions causing the ozone hole should soon change, the researchers said. However, if the hole continues to expand south, Arctic residents — like those living in southern Greenland — may need to apply sunscreen to prevent UV damage.

The much larger Antarctic ozone hole will remain a seasonal feature, as it has for roughly four decades, though that hole has begun shrinking in size. A 2018 assessment by the World Meteorological Organization found that the southern ozone hole has been shrinking by about 1% to 3% per decade since the year 2000, with the 2019 hole measuring smaller than it ever has since 1982. The shrinking of the southern ozone hole is thanks largely to a global ban on ozone-depleting chemicals initiated in 1987, though some key nations still do not appear to be participating. According to a 2018 investigation, factories in China still appeared to be pumping large quantities of ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere.



The American Left is as authoritarian as ever

The great slogan of the Nazis and most of the early 20th century German Left was "Alles muss anders sein" (Everything must be different).  That attitude lives on the the current American Left.

How can any politically person be unaware of Obama's endorsement of that idea when he said (in 2008) that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America?

Now in a recent dialog between Sanders and Biden we read that: "Biden concluded by promising that if he beats Donald Trump, he would "transform this nation" as much as Franklin Delano Roosevelt"

And Biden is the presumptive Presidential candidate of the Democratic party.  He speaks for it.

The impertinence of the Leftist program for change is breathtaking.  There's nothing voluntary about it.  They intend to upend many people's lives by sweeping legislation.  The great inert bloc of Congress prevented Obama for doing much but his many regulatory initiatives showed he had no respect for the importance of consent  He had no compunction at all about pushing around large numbers of people.  His policies have their clearest 20th century precursors in the policies of Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator.

What gives the Left this authority to make sweeping changes in our society?  They don't even ask that.  If they want to do it, that is enough.  Might is right is their only authority.  What could make them more authoritarian than that?


Coronavirus triggers Australian self-sufficiency push

Austraia would be greatly impoversished if we had to make everything ourselves.  China will always be way cheaper at making most things. But giving local industries with good prospects a bit of a push to get them going would make some sense.  But that would give the government the job of picking winners -- and they have no expertise at that.

 It is very hard to see any one thing that we should stop importing and start making ourselves.  At the moment there would be some justification for producung more face masks etc but the next emergency might be quite different and generate different shortages. We just don't have the predictive power to make any changes that would be reliably useful

Australia's reliance on imported products will be put under the microscope by the federal government as it pushes the economy to become more self-sufficient in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has started quietly pulling together a policy roundtable from the public and private sectors so agriculture is the industry "best placed" to thrive after COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed as rain soaks into drought-baked paddocks of eastern Australia.

Mr Littleproud said even though agriculture delivered just 2 per cent of GDP, the industry would be crucial in helping the nation rebound after this crisis.

"Growing the industry is going to be so important to helping our nation repair. It's the bedrock of our nation's economy and our nation's security," he said.

He was circumspect about bringing back food manufacturing jobs, but said there were opportunities for “new jobs in innovation and science” to boost livestock and crop yields with new farming techniques and technology.

Richard Heath, executive director of the think tank Australian Farm Institute, said there was potential to look at job creation through food manufacturing, provided the government brought in "very different policies".

"This is where it gets really complicated," Mr Heath said, explaining that post-coronavirus "Australia will still have really high processing, energy and labour cost".

"We'd have to add some sort of economic stimulus, or export and import restrictions, to create a competitive processing sector," he said.

Moves to wind back Australia's free trade policies would meet resistance from the government.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Sunday said that even the current demand for locally made medical equipment "should not be seen as an argument for protectionism" and Australia didn't "need to engage in mass national subsidies of industries".

Mr Frydenberg said there would have to be a "proper assessment" of global supply chains and that while Australia was self-sufficient in terms of agriculture, other areas such as fuel security would need to be closely considered.

Grattan Institute household finances program director Brendan Coates said while there were benefits of having global supply chains and not being overly reliant on domestic supplies, there should be careful consideration about concentrating too much risk in one place.

"The crisis has clearly exposed that Australia did not have adequate domestic supplies or productive capacity for critical health equipment like masks, respirators and some of the reagents for producing tests for COVID-19," Mr Coates said.

"We've maybe relied more heavily on China than we should've," he said, adding that firms had started diversifying outside of China in the past decade into other countries.

EY Asia Pacific supply chain reinvention leader Nathan Roost said there was an opportunity for a rethink of the Australian manufacturing strategy and supply chain at a national level.

"There is an effort by corporate enterprises and government departments to identify additional suppliers in different countries, including Australian sources of supply, to limit future input disruption or shortages," he said.

Former NSW primary industries minister Niall Blair, who retired from politics last year and started a new role as professor of food sustainability at Charles Sturt University, is bullish about the prospect for new jobs in agriculture, particularly exporting food products to the growing Asian middle classes.

"There are enough people, with enough disposable income, for us to be able to make a lot of money out of our higher quality, clean and green, value-added food and fibre products," Mr Blair said.

"I've seen people in China pay $11 for a litre of Australian milk. They just don't trust their own produce in some cases and they've got the income to afford it."

Mr Blair said new food processing systems, where food waste was recycled in biodigesters to produce heat and methane for power, could reduce ongoing operating costs.

"Some of the smarter farming and processing businesses are starting to generate their own electricity, their own heat and their own fertiliser, which can make them a lot more sustainable."

Carolyn Creswell, founder and owner of Australian muesli brand Carman's, said local production had enabled the company to meet a 50 per cent rise in demand during coronavirus restrictions.

"So many times I've had conversations that we could have had packaging printed in China and saved a bit of money. What happened to a lot of companies, they could actually make the product, they just didn't have the packaging," Ms Creswell said.



Why Australia is printing money

It is and that may concern many Australians.  But the UK and te USA have been doing it on a large scale for years with no obvious ill effects.

It goes back to a recommendation by John Maynard Keynes that the government should spend more money than it takes in during a recession or depression.  And that is exactly the situation today.  We are in a situation where a Keysnesian stimulus is appropriate.  When people are not spending because they have lost their jobs, it would normally send lots of businesses broke.  Businesses need people to keep spending. So it makes sense for the government to do their spending for them.

Usually, of course, the government would spend on their own projects but this time governments are actually putting a lot of the new money directly into the pockets of those who have lost their normal income.  But either way the government can and should spend up big on keeping people and businesses afloat.

Unfortunately, governments really like spending money without first taking it in and Keynes has legitimated that.  Keynes said to print money in a recession but government have ignored that restriction and printed some money regularly. So there is usually a small amount of money printing going on.  That is why prices are usually rising.  The extra money leads to extra demand for goods and services and that pushes prices up -- which we refer to as "inflation".

The interesting question, these days is how much you can get away with printing without causing inflation to "roar". Economists always thought that inflation would roughly mirror the amount of new money printed. But in recent years we have seen that you can print a large amount of money and get only a small amount of inflation.  First Obama and now Trump have used that extensively in that they have spent far more than the government has raised in taxes. We have yet to see where that will end up

Hundreds of billions has been spent to help the economy and interest rates have tumbled. But the central bank has also splashed on another plan

The Federal Government has splashed more than $200 billion in support packages to keep the economy ticking over as the coronavirus halts trading for nearly all industries.

The central bank has chipped in, too, recently slashing interest rates to a record level of 0.25 per cent at an emergency meeting.

It has also injected a huge amount of cash into the economy by purchasing $36 billion worth of government bonds since March 19 “to do what is necessary” to help ease the burden on the suddenly surging jobless Australians.

“The Bank has injected substantial liquidity into the financial system through its daily open market operations to support credit and maintain low funding costs in the economy,” the Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said in his statement this week.

“It will continue to ensure that the financial system has sufficient liquidity.”

The central bank will continue to buy government bonds but this will be pulled back and done on a smaller scale in the near term.

But what does this all mean?

Also known as quantitative easing, an avenue to inject money into the economy is by creating extra cash and using that to buy government bonds or other financial assets, AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said.

“They could buy mortgages or corporate debt, which is what the Federal Reserve does in the US, or they could buy shares, which is what the Bank of Japan sometimes does,” he told news.com.au.

The process of buying and selling bonds is part of the RBA’s standard monetary operations to maintain liquidity in the financial system, though this is isn’t usually done through printing money.

SO THE RBA IS PRINTING MONEY?  Essentially, yes, says Dr Oliver.

“For all intents and purposes, they physically print it because they engage in a transaction with a bond holder — which could be a bank, it could be a fund manager, or it could be a foreign organisation,” he said.

“They're going into what you call secondary market for Australian government bonds, when a bond has already been issued by the government and someone has already bought it.

“That bond holder can then sell it on or trade it. So the reserve bank goes into these secondary markets, buys those bonds and in the process transfers money into the account of the person selling the bond. “And to do that, they obviously have the cash backing that.”

The money used to purchase the bonds is electronic but the central bank would have needed to back that up by creating more cash. “Money doesn't just get created in thin air, the Reserve Bank would use printed money to buy that,” Dr Oliver said.

“The RBA is actually increasing the size of its balance sheet and the asset it gets is a government bond. But the liability is, in principle, cash.”


The process has become a popular economic policy move across the globe in the recent months as the coronavirus cripples supply chains and halts business. The United Kingdom and the US have embarked on similar schemes.

“The problem facing Australia right now is a supply shock with people stuck at home and can't work in some cases,” Dr Oliver said.

“But there's also a demand shock so anything the Reserve Bank can do to make it easier for the government to borrow money to finance things like wage subsidies, higher unemployment benefits and payments to companies to help them through this period is a good thing.”


Like any of the stimulus packages being hurled at the frontline of the economic crisis caused by the deadly pandemic, it is increasing the nation’s debt.

“It will come at a cost but providing it's managed well and the Reserve Bank, when the time comes, puts an end to money printing before inflation becomes an issue, then I don't think it's a major problem,” the leading economist said.

“It’s similar to federal government borrowing money to pay wage subsidy and other supportive measures through this period in that it will come at a cost down the track if it’s not withdrawn. “The trick is that once the need is over, then it’s brought to an end.”



Arts funding in decline

And the pips are squeaking. Arts personalities are not only reliably Leftist themselves but they also abuse conservtives.  And they expect a conservative government to keep giving them money?

The basic point at issue is WHY should the government fund the arts?  They are enjoyed by only a small minority of the population.  The average Joe follows sport, not the Arts.  But as an elite pursuit, the political elite, particularly on the Left, are sympathetic to the Arts and cheerfully divert the taxes of the average Joe into the pockets of people who have nothing but contempt for the average Joe.

There is always some pretence that the Arts are "uplifting" in some way but I have never seen any solid evidence to that effect. Hitler was devoted to the Arts.  Was he uplifted by them?

Hitler at Bayreuth

 And the arts were well supported by the brutal Soviet system.  So reducing  subsidies to the recreations and entertainments of the elite is a proper activity of a democratic government

As any performer or comedian will tell you, timing is everything.

The cliché was never more painful than last Friday, when the Australia Council for the Arts handed down the results of its four year funding round for smaller cultural organisations.

The results were heartbreaking. Some of Australia’s most important and innovative arts organisations have lost their federal funding: the lifeline that they had counted on to try and ride out these extraordinary times. The list of organisations being “transitioned out” of Australia Council funding includes the Sydney Writers’ festival; many of the nation’s literary magazines, including Australian Book Review, Overland and the Sydney Review of Books, and a long string of theatre and dance companies, such as Sydney’s Australian Theatre for Young People, Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre, Perth’s Blue Room and Melbourne’s famous small theatre La Mama.

For perennially hard-pressed cultural organisations, funding cuts would be difficult in any climate. Unfortunately for Australia’s small cultural organisations, this is the very worst time of all.

The coronavirus outbreak has heralded wrenching changes to all sectors of our economy. But with the possible exception of aviation, no sector has fared worse than culture.

This is not a “recession” or a “downturn” by any normal definition. In response to coronavirus, whole sectors of the cultural industries have completely ceased operating.

By government fiat, every single performing arts company in the land has shut down in recent weeks. Every festival. Every theatre, opera house and music hall. Every public address or panel of speakers. The majority of art galleries and museums.

The arts minister, Paul Fletcher, argues that arts organisations affected by the restrictions can apply for the government’s jobkeeper package – indeed, he wrote in a media release that the stimulus could total billions of dollars across the cultural sector when finally totted up. “Most organisations in the arts sector are expected to meet the eligibility requirement of revenue having fallen by 30% or more, given that performances have been suspended and venues closed,” Fletcher’s statement notes.

This is scant consolation for the organisations that lost their funding late last week. The jobkeeper package is not even legislated yet, and there are many questions as to how it might apply.

The answers are depressingly familiar. The current funding round is the tortuous outcome of years of creeping austerity levelled on the Australia Council by successive Coalition governments. The pain began in Joe Hockey’s first budget of 2014, and was followed by the notorious “Excellence Fund” raid sortied by George Brandis, in which $105 million was ripped out of the Australia Council to pay for a parallel funding program dreamed up by the former arts minister in a flight of vainglory.

Some of the excellence funding was eventually returned, but in real terms Australia Council funding has declined by nearly 20% since Labor left office in 2013.

To compound matters, most of the Australia Council’s funding is quarantined for a group of larger performing arts companies co-funded with the states and territories, known as the Major Performing Arts organisations. These big companies, such as Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, and the various state orchestras and theatre companies, soak up three-fifths of the Australia Council’s total budget. There simply isn’t much funding left to go round.

The dilemma is made even more painful by the fact the smaller companies (often known as the “small-to-medium” sector) have double the audiences of the majors, and produce around four times as much work each year. However, they get about a quarter of the funding.

 There is enough money to fund Australian culture properly, of course. It’s simply a matter of political will

As a result, the Australia Council has been left in an invidious situation. As a matter of policy, it is not allowed to take money from the major companies. But it doesn’t have the money to fund the small-to-medium sector properly.

The inevitable result was Friday’s bloodbath.

For a lover of culture, going over the list of who missed out is shocking. Companies of the calibre of La Mama, Australian Theatre for Young People, Polyglot, Liquid Architecture, Australian Book Review, Overland, Information and Cultural Exchange, the Sydney Writers festival, St Martins, Restless Dance Theatre, The Blue Room Theatre, Barking Gekko, the Sydney Review of Books and Ensemble Offspring are some of the most significant cultural organisations in the country. There can be no pretence that they have failed to win funding because they lack merit. They aren’t getting funding because there isn’t enough money.

There is enough money to fund Australian culture properly, of course. It’s simply a matter of political will. While the Australia Council’s annual budget is less than $200 million, the government has announced economic stimulus measures worth nearly $200 billion in recent weeks. Yes, some cultural organisations will benefit from the stimulus measures. But we are now throwing nationally significant arts companies to the wolves.

Aren’t there bigger priorities than arts funding in a pandemic, you might ask? Yes, of course there are. Everyone in Australian culture agrees that social distancing is necessary and that the festivals and theatres must shut. No one argues that arts funding should take priority over hospitals. But surely we can now agree that culture matters too.

As Benjamin Law pointed out in a perceptive article last week, what are the locked-down citizens of Australia doing in their time of crisis? They are reading, watching Netflix, listening to podcasts, singing and dancing at home. They are making culture.

Covid-19 is an opportunity to ask ourselves as a nation why we take our artists and cultural organisations for granted. Why, even in an emergency, can’t we find the money to fund a couple of hundred of the most important arts organisations in the country properly?

The answers are both complex, and simple. Historical precedent, conservative antipathy to arts funding, and enduring beliefs that artists are not really deserving and that culture is not a real industry all play a part.

But the simpler explanation is a failure of imagination.



Britain’s fast fashion poses a grave risk to the environment. The clothes industry produces more than 92 million tonnes of waste a year and consumes 1.5 trillion tonnes of water, scientists have warned

The idea that the bright young things of Britain will refrain from buying clothes is a laugh.

And all modern industrial activities generate pollution of one sort or another so it makes no sense to pick on just one.  Why not pick on woodfires instead?  Because it is "natural", Greenies favour wood fires for domestic heating.  But such fires are now so widely used that air pollution in London is now nearly as bad as it was in the bad old days.  That would seem a clear type of harm rather than the  highly inferential harm caused by  dressing fashionably

And what about synthetics?  Should we use only synthetic fibres instead of cotton?  You can be sure that Greenies would have a kneejerk opposition to that.  Lets all go naked!  You could do that where I live but it might get a bit chilly in a British winter

Britain’s indulgence in fast fashion poses a grave risk to the environment, a new study has found.

The clothes industry produces more than 92 million tonnes of waste a year and consumes 1.5 trillion tonnes of water, scientists have warned, as Britain is singled out as one of fast fashion’s worst offenders.

In the UK more clothes are bought per person per year than anywhere else in Europe, amounting to 59lbs worth in weight, double the global average of 29 lbs.

By comparison Italians buy 32lbs, while Germany came in second with an average of 37lbs.

The analysis published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment identified the environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry and revealed that Britons are spending an estimated £2.7 billion on items that are worn once....


Carbon dioxide levels are on track to reach the same catastrophic level as 200 million years ago when volcanic eruptions drove HALF of all life on Earth to extinction, study finds

This is brain dead.  Far from CO2 doing harm it is all the other effects of volcanoes that did harm, not just CO2 and not just average temperature  -- sulphur dioxide, for instnce

Humanity is at risk of replicating a devastating mass extinction event that wiped out half of all life on Earth 200 million years ago. 

The so-called End-Triassic Event saw huge carbon dioxide levels driven by volcanic eruptions which led to eventual environmental meltdown.

Scientists studying ancient rock formations found these levels are similar to modern projections for CO2 concentrations by the end of the century. 

Geoscientist Manfredo Capriolo and colleagues found evidence of the ancient volcanic eruptions in basaltic rocks stretching from the US to North Africa.

Global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification followed the eruptions, the researchers say. 

Mr Capriolo said: 'It is likely [the eruptions] emitted a total volume of CO2 equivalent to that projected from manmade activities during the 21st century, in the 2⁰C warming scenario.'

This is the minimum target above pre-industrial levels set by the Paris Agreement.

Carbon dioxide was found in patches of preserved 'bubbles' caused by the gas during a chemical process known as exsolution.

The samples came from the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) - Earth's biggest igneous province spanning around seven million square miles.

More than 200 pieces of CAMP basaltic lava were scanned from the US, Canada, Morocco and Europe.

Mr Capriolo, a PhD student at the University of Padova, Italy, said: 'The analysed bubble-bearing melt includions strongly suggest the CAMP magmatic system was rich in CO2.'

They were produced by a series of huge eruptions known to have started around 201 million years ago when the world was ocean and one large continent. 

Mr Capriolo said: 'The end-Triassic climatic and environmental changes, driven by the large volume volcanic CO2 emissions, may have been similar to those predicted for the near future under manmade warming.'

There have been five mass extinctions and the End-Triassic was one of the largest.

The latest findings published in Nature Communications add to increasing evidence the sixth has already started - the Anthropocene or 'Manmade' Extinction.

Explosive human population growth, industrial activity and exploitation of natural resources are rapidly pushing many species off the map.

Burning of fossil fuels in particular has had an effect, raising the air's CO2 level more than 40 per cent in just 200 years - a pace possibly as fast, or faster, than that of the End Triassic.


Greening Our Way to Infection

The Covid-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the Covid-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store.

Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the Covid-19 virus.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the New York State Senate, has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials.

The Covid-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus.

After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

An earlier study of supermarkets in Arizona and California found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the reusable bags—and no contamination in any of the new single-use plastic bags. When a bag with meat juice on the interior was stored in the trunk of a car, within two hours the number of bacteria multiplied tenfold.

The researchers also found that the vast majority of shoppers never followed the advice to wash their bags. One of the researchers, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, said that the findings “suggest a serious threat to public health,” particularly from fecal coliform bacteria, which was found in half the bags. These bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred from raw meat in the bag and also from other sources. An outbreak of viral gastroenteritis among a girls’ soccer team in Oregon was traced to a resuable grocery bag that had sat on the floor of a hotel bathroom.

In a 2012 study, researchers analyzed the effects of San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags by comparing emergency-room admissions in the city against those of nearby counties without the bag ban. The researchers, Jonathan Klick of the University of Pennsylvania and Joshua Wright of George Mason University, reported a 25 percent increase in bacteria-related illnesses and deaths in San Francisco relative to the other counties. The city’s Department of Public Health disputed the findings and methodology but acknowledged that “the idea that widespread use of reusable bags may cause gastrointenstinal infections if they are not regularly cleaned is plausible.”

New York’s state officials were told of this risk before they passed the law banning plastic bags. In fact, as the Kings County Politics website reported, a Brooklyn activist, Allen Moses, warned that shoppers in New York City could be particularly vulnerable because they often rest their bags on the floors of subway cars containing  potentially deadly bacteria from rats—and then set the bag on the supermarket checkout counter. Yet public officials remain committed to reusable bags.

A headline on the website of the New York Department of Health calls reusable grocery bags a “Smart Choice”—bizarre advice, considering all the elaborate cautions underneath that headline. The department advises grocery shoppers to segregate different foods in different bags; to package meat and fish and poultry in small disposable plastic bags inside their tote bags; to wash and dry their tote bags carefully; to store the tote bags in a cool, dry place; and never to reuse the grocery tote bags for anything but food.

How could that possibly be a “smart choice” for public health? Anyone who has studied consumer behavior knows that it’s hopelessly unrealistic to expect people to follow all those steps. If the Department of Health actually prioritized public health, it would acknowledge what food manufacturers and grocers have known for decades: disposable plastic is the cheapest, simplest, and safest way to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Instead, leaders in New York and other states are ordering shoppers to make a more expensive, inconvenient, and risky choice—all to serve a green agenda that’s actually harmful to the environment. The ban on plastic bags will mean more trash in landfills (because paper bags take up so much more space than the thin disposable bags) and more greenhouse emissions (because of the larger carbon footprints of the replacement bags). And now, probably, it will also mean more people coming down with Covid-19 and other illnesses.


A Crack in the Ice of Climate Censorship

The Chronicle of Philanthropy just published a rare critique of climate alarmism.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has published an an exchange on climate science and energy economics between the heads of the William and Flora Hewlett and the William E. Simon Foundations.

In the January 2020 issue Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer had called on other foundations to join him in focusing their funding ending CO2 emissions, because otherwise they would end destroy everything else that foundations support. In the April issue, Simon Foundation president James Piereson responded with data documenting the absence of dangerous trends in climate variables and the importance of fossil fuels in maintaining human health and progress.  (see http://co2coalition.org/2020/04/07/climate-change-is-important-but-calls-for-philanthropy-to-do-lots-more-ring-hollow/ link to letter)

CO2 Coalition executive director Caleb Rossiter commented: "This is the first rational debate on the facts I have seen in a number of years in a publication that is not considered 'conservative.' The climate alarmist movement has carried out a systematic and successful campaign to censor opposing views in liberal media and professional journals, as well as on social media like Facebook. This is a real breakthrough that provides hope for policies that protect the environment while meeting the human need for electricity, heating, and economic growth.

"I congratulate the Chronicle of Philanthropy for daring to present Jim Piereson's robust analysis of climate science and energy economics. Let's see if ground zero for censorship, like the New York Times, National Public Radio, and the networks, have the courage to follow the Chronicle's lead."

Via email: info@co2coalition.org


For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here



Great Barrier Reef: Same old same old scares

Every couple of years we get the whines we read below:  The reef is being destroyed by global warming and farming.  But the reef is still there.  The prophecies of doom don't eventuate. 

One should in fact gravely doubt the findings below.  Peter Ridd has shown that the JCU people routinely exaggerate reef damage.  There are always bare spots on the reef and these are attributed to global warming.

But that is not so. It is the Crown of Thorns starfish that is responsible for most reef damage.  But from an aircraft you can't see starfish so the damage is all put down to global warming.  What you read below is therefore a travesty of science.  No effort was made to exclude competing explanations -- which is utterly basic in science.  They are propagandists, not scientists.

In another sad blow for the Australian environment, it has now been confirmed that once again climate change has taken its toll on one of its greatest natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, home to some 600 species of coral.

But a recent aerial study has confirmed scientists' worst fears, concluding that the reef is experiencing its third large-scale bleaching event in five years.

Coral bleaching is the direct result of warming sea temperatures, which causes corals to become stressed. In this situation, coral expels the symbiotic algae which lives within its tissues, which is responsible for its bright colour.

Usually bright and colourful jewels among the reef, bleaching leaves a stripped-bare skeleton of the coral behind.

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, led a team of researchers to assess the extent of coral bleaching across the reef.

Professor Hughes said: “We surveyed 1,036 reefs from the air during the last two weeks in March, to measure the extent and severity of coral bleaching throughout the Barrier Reef region.

“For the first time, severe bleaching has struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef – the northern, central and now large parts of the southern sectors."

Aerial surveys concluded that while some areas of the reef have remained unscathed, large swathes in other regions have been severely bleached, casting ominous doubt over the reef's future.

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has described the phenomenon as a “matter of huge concern”.

So in order to preserve and protect the Great Barrier Reef for years to come, what is the solution?

How can the Great Barrier Reef recover?

Dr Mark Eakin, Coordinator of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program, said while people “continue to spew carbon dioxide” the current phenomenon will become a much more common occurrence.

He said: “This is the third widespread, severe coral bleaching in less than five years.

“As long as we continue to spew carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, corals will continue to bleach and die.

“Local efforts to reduce pollution on the reef and to restore reefs piecemeal help keep corals alive.

“If we want to save the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world, we have to move off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.”

According to Dr Richard K.F. Unsworth, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology at Swansea University, farming practices needs a significant overhaul in order for the reef to survive.

He said: “Although climate change is the primary cause of bleaching, the capacity of the reef to recover after bleaching events is improved when the water quality is high.

“This means low levels of nutrients, sediments and contaminants such as herbicides.

“The water quality in many areas of the inshore Great Barrier reef remains poor principally because of poor farming practices, reducing the capacity of the reef to recover after bleaching.”

Dr Unsworth added: “For the reef to have any chance of survival in the long-term, the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef region needs to improve through better farming practices, and global carbon dioxide emissions need to reduce rapidly.

Phil North at Dive Worldwide said some divers fear it “is not what it once was”, but all is not lost for the reef yet.

He added: “This having been said, the reef is vast. It is the largest living structure on earth that can be viewed from space.

“Not all of it is destroyed and there are some parts that are still quite beautiful.”

While the current bleaching event is undoubtedly a setback for the reef, Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden said the reef is a “resilient ecosystem” which can still recover.

She added: “We know that on mildly or moderately bleached reefs, there is a good chance most bleached corals will recover and survive.

“It’s heartening to hear that some of the key tourism reefs in the north and central areas are amongst those likely to bounce back from lesser levels of bleaching.”



UK: Leading educationalist ANTHONY SELDON has a stark warning about the uncharted waters of home-schooling

This is a rather strange article. Homeschooling in Britain is far from uncharted.  It goes back to the 19th century.  So what is the problem Seldon sees with it?  Let me mention what he is really on about.

It is black children.  They get some discipline while in school but out of school they tend to run riot.  And an extended riot of black criminal behavior is what Seldon reasonably fears

I met Seldon in 1977 and had some interesting chats with him.  So I know him as a realistic man.  So I am confident that I am not getting it wrong in saying what he cannot say

There are many drastic changes being made to our lives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But what few people appreciate is that Britain has embarked on one of the greatest educational and social experiments in our history.

In any normal year, schools would reconvene in two weeks' time after the Easter holidays for the summer term. Not this year.

Millions of children of school age, with the exception of those who are considered vulnerable or whose parents are in key jobs, will have to adjust to working from home for as long as six months.

It is an eventuality for which we have had next to no time to prepare, the risks are beyond the imagination, and of all the toxic legacies bequeathed by this coronavirus crisis this one may prove to be the most devastating.

It is true that some 50,000 young people are already home-schooled, but their parents long ago worked out how to do it. In educational terms, the vast majority of young people have been abandoned in unknown territory.

Let me make this very clear. When it comes to home-schooling en masse, we have no collective memory of best practice, no historical evidence of the most effective techniques, and no bank of psychological research.

In short, we are embarking on a road without maps.

I write not as a psychologist nor a scientist, but as someone who was a school teacher for 30 years, 20 years of them as a head.

And for the past five years I have been running a university, which makes me the only person in Britain to have run both schools and a university — and I am worried.

In the worst-case scenario, too many of the most vulnerable children who are no longer in school under the watchful eye of teachers will, I fear, fall through the cracks. They are at risk of becoming victims and perpetrators of crime.

They will be easy prey for the equivalent of the spivs and criminals who were spawned by the upheaval of British life during World War II — only their contemporary successors are far more sinister.

Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, has already voiced her fear that criminal gangs will exploit school closures to recruit children as drug mules and street fighters.

She describes the drug-selling networks known as county lines as 'sophisticated enterprises that have well-established hierarchies and use intense violence as part of their business model'.

We know already that these gangs are practised at targeting susceptible children and woo them initially by offering friendship, then money, then drugs. Many such children — and there is an estimated one million of them — live in households affected by violence and addiction.

'For those kids, school is the place where they get their safety, stability and structure in their lives,' says Longfield. Without this support, the Children's Society believes that more and more young people 'will put their lives at risk, rob rival gangs for [drug] supplies'.

Let's face it, schools find it hard enough to keep the disengaged in school and to secure their attention under normal conditions.

Imagine how much more difficult it will be to keep young people studying — and safe — without a structure that combines registration, routine and the threat of sanctions. The fear is that many of them will run amok.

After all, what is to stop young people leaving their homes, congregating out of sight, out of mind, and falling into all kinds of danger?

We have only a limited number of police, they are already overstretched and their new powers to exercise control during this crisis are even now being questioned by judges.

Mental health problems will also proliferate. The past ten years have seen a steady rise in depression among the young, as well as an increase in suicide attempts.

And, only this week, the mental health charity MIND reported seeing a rise in concerns from those with existing conditions.

Even children lucky enough to live in secure and loving families often find that schools are unique in adding meaning and structure to their often anxious lives, as they negotiate the transition from childhood to adolescence.

The reassuring rhythm of the school year, the challenges it provides, and the aspiration it breeds all go towards engendering a sense of community and belonging. All that will be stripped away.

As for those who have worked for years to prepare for GCSE and A-level exams, suddenly hearing that those exams are to be scrapped has proved deeply traumatic.

And children are not the only vulnerable groups. Parents and guardians will be increasingly at risk of mental health problems, too, as they struggle to deliver home-schooling and to keep their children occupied and safe.

Tensions at home will become unbearable for some, leading to sky-rocketing rates of separation and divorce, and the pressures of living in lockdown could even spark an epidemic of domestic violence.

Meanwhile, social inequality will only be enhanced because not all children have parents equally willing and capable of overseeing lessons at home.

The tools they have at their disposal will vary, too, depending upon the resources they have at their disposal.

While many middle-class households will be able to draw upon a wide range of tech devices to enable access to digital technology at home, others on low incomes will find it hard to give their children the equipment they need.

In the same way, children whose families live in cramped high-rise flats may struggle to find quiet spaces in which to study.

Thanks to factors such as these, it may take years to make up the social disadvantages embedded by the loss of the long summer term's study at school.



I visit the Australian Antarctic Division, a sprawling space station-like complex on Hobart’s southern fringe, for a briefing from its director, Kim Ellis

Most of the article excerpt reproduced below is devoted to prophecy of disaster from Antarctic melting.  The melting is seen as an ongoing process that will eventually "tip" into disaster

When we get to the actual facts however, it is a different story. Note in the last two paragraphs reproduced below that the senior antarctic scientist stresses how random are the actual changes in the Antarctic.  They are so far from a steady progression towards disaster that he prefers "term “climate strange” to “climate change”.

Clearly, what is actually going on is nothing more than the random walk that we would expect from natural changes in the weather.  Global warming is not only completely superfluous as an explanation, it does not fit the facts at all.

Though the effects of climate change are less visible across the Australian Antarctic Territory on the east of the continent, which Ellis administers, than on the western Antarctic Peninsula, where I’m headed, he has no doubt that warming on the continent is a concrete and not a spectral thing. The Antarctic is estimated to have lost three trillion tonnes of ice over the past 25 years and Ellis holds grave fears of an approaching tipping point.

“As ocean salinity changes due to the melting ice sheet and freshwater run-off, so do ocean currents,” says the 64-year-old former army officer in a bright bureaucratic tone that conceals the gravity of this grim scenario.

“The currents around the Antarctic are a major cooling factor. The Antarctic is the Earth’s airconditioner.”

If and when it tips – a moment unlikely to be discernible until it’s already past – Antarctica will become an aggressive driver of climate change. A warming, melting Antarctic would likely propel global sea levels one to two metres higher by 2100, washing an erstwhile frozen continent to the doorstep of many coastal communities.

Experts believe it would also stimulate a change in the direction and strength of the world’s big currents, and deplete oceanic oxygen levels and nutrition to the point where the Earth’s surface water would resemble a “marine desert”.

In the same facility I meet the Australian Antarctic Division’s acting chief scientist, Dirk Welsford, who is dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt bearing a cartoon of a rather wan-looking penguin. He’s a marine ecologist and like his boss, bearded.

Ellis sports a trimmed, almost Elizabethan beard; Welsford’s whiskers are more bearish. He stresses the dramatic temperature fluctuations on the continent between years, seasons and regions, preferring the term “climate strange” to “climate change”.

“The key thing we’re seeing is that everything is less predictable than it used to be,” he explains. “The ice might break out earlier than normal, or later than normal. That’s the big message for us from climate change – it’s not a steady upward swing. It’s pulsing in unpredictable ways.” The new normal, for Welsford, is the abnormal.



Air quality improving: Will it help with global warming?

The Greenies want huge economic shutdowns to halt global warming.  Courtesy of the response to the coronavirus we now have such shutdowns.  So what difference is that making to the climate?  None, apparently. Global carbon dioxide levels are not budging.

It's logical that a short period would not do much to a level built up over many years but the fact that we are seeing no response at all despite the huge changes in human activities does suggest that the CO2 reduction that Greenies want may be far greater than could ever be achieved in reality

In terms of the article below, all that Greenie policies could achieve would be "noise": too small to detect above natural variability

Seattle-area air quality is a bit better as the novel coronavirus shuts down economic activity and travel.

Levels of nitrous oxide (NOX), a pollutant produced by tailpipe emissions and other sources, are being detected at generally lower values in local air-monitoring devices. And a satellite that detects emissions in the atmosphere linked to cars and trucks shows declines in pollution over the Seattle area in March 2020 compared with March 2019.

But efforts to “flatten the curve” – the rate of spread of the coronavirus — have not even dented a different curve also of great importance to humanity around the world: The Keeling Curve.

The Keeling Curve is a record of global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration maintained by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. Over the past 62 years since measurements began, the curve has gone, except for seasonal variation, in only one direction: relentlessly upward. Right through the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Through the global economic turndown of 2008. To record levels, without stopping. And so it continues, even now as public life grinds to a near standstill.

Ralph Keeling – his late father, Charles, invented the measurement — said even greater declines in fossil fuel use than we are presently seeing would need to be sustained for at least a year to show up clearly in global carbon dioxide levels.

But in the short term, it’s not enough to make a difference in global warming.

“A lot of people are saying this is good for the climate problem. No, not really,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division. To bend the Keeling Curve, emissions from fossil-fuel burning would need to be cut by half, and then continue to decrease, Tans said. Even a 25 percent reduction would result in only a few tenths of one part per million decrease.

“It would be hard to see it in the record, to pick it out of the noise of natural variability. Maybe if we have a long downturn, maybe we begin to see something above the noise.”



Does warm weather inhibit the Coronavirus?

A study suggests the coronavirus outbreak could be stifled by warm English weather in May. Researchers from University College London found infections from three common coronaviruses followed a seasonal pattern in England, with large numbers in winter at the same time as influenza. 

The academic study below is a one of a number that suggest that coronaviruses may be destroyed by heat.  And if the mild heat of an English summer destroys them, how much greater must be the effects of a warmer climate?

Heat is in fact the only good explanation of the extraordinarily low coronavirus death toll in Australia.  Australia is an advanced Western society very similar to Britain and the USA but differs in that it is located in the Southern hemisphere.  For that reason, Australia is only now coming out of a very hot summer. And in any case Australia has a hot climate, with around a third of it being in the tropics

So for just about the whole period of the coronavirus outbreak, Australia has been distinctly hot.  And there is no obvious other way in which Australia differs from other advanced countries

It may be noted that Singapore is also an advanced economy in the tropics -- and so far, its infection and death rates have been lower than most other countries, despite schools and universities remaining open.

Seasonality and immunity to laboratory-confirmed seasonal coronaviruses (HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, and HCoV-229E): results from the Flu Watch cohort study

Robert W. Aldridge et al


Background: There is currently a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The intensity and duration of this first wave in the UK may be dependent on whether SARS-CoV-2 transmits more effectively in the winter than the summer and the UK Government response is partially built upon the assumption that those infected will develop immunity to reinfection in the short term. In this paper we examine evidence for seasonality and immunity to laboratory-confirmed seasonal coronavirus (HCoV) from a prospective cohort study in England.

Methods: In this analysis of the Flu Watch cohort, we examine seasonal trends for PCR-confirmed coronavirus infections (HCoV-NL63, HCoV-OC43, and HCoV-229E) in all participants during winter seasons (2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009) and during the first wave of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic (May-Sep 2009). We also included data from the pandemic and ‘post-pandemic’ winter seasons (2009-2010 and 2010-2011) to identify individuals with two confirmed HCoV infections and examine evidence for immunity against homologous reinfection.

Results: We tested 1,104 swabs taken during respiratory illness and detected HCoV in 199 during the first four seasons. The rate of confirmed HCoV infection across all seasons was 390 (95% CI 338-448) per 100,000 person-weeks; highest in the Nov-Mar 2008/9 season at 674 (95%CI 537-835). The highest rate was in February at 759 (95% CI 580-975). Data collected during May-Sep 2009 showed there was small amounts of ongoing transmission, with four cases detected during this period. Eight participants had two confirmed infections, of which none had the same strain twice.

Conclusion: Our results provide evidence that HCoV infection in England is most intense in winter, but that there is a small amount of ongoing transmission during summer periods. We found some evidence of immunity against homologous reinfection.



The Swedish alternative to ferocious shutdowns

Note that the death toll below becomes comparable with other countries only if we take Sweden's small population into account -- 10 million. So the 105 deaths reported below amount to less than 1 per capita, which is less than almost anywhere except Australia

There have been recent prophecies that Sweden will have to crack down soon.  But so far they are just that: Prophecies.  The basis of the claim is that deaths in Sweden have risen a bit recently.  They are however still very low by world standards

In the bright spring sun, flaxen-haired families held barbecues on the beach. Crowds in this provincial Swedish town shopped in ­designer boutiques and in supermarkets laden with toilet paper and pasta.

As much of the world hunkered down at home to hide from the coronavirus, life in Sweden was — for many — carrying on almost as normal last week.

Swedish public health experts argue that the virus can be stopped solely by vaccination or by herd immunity.

Since a vaccine for widespread use is still at least a year away, they say, the only possible way to stop the epidemic is by isolating vulnerable people while allowing the virus to spread as slowly as possible through the healthy population as they build resistance.

Scientists at Sweden’s public health agency say this will also prevent a harsh resurgence in ­infections. “It’s important to think how long can you keep these measures going,” said state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.

“What we’re doing now we think we can do for a long time. Of course it slows down many things in society but we can make it work. We all know that this is going to go on for months. You can’t keep schools closed for months.”

There were 3447 infections in Sweden and 105 deaths by Sunday. Some restrictions have been imposed to slow the spread of the virus and protect the vulnerable.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and colleges and universities are closed. Those over 70, or with pre-existing health problems, have been asked to stay at home except for a daily walk. But restaurants and bars are open and children are going to school.

The authorities say Swedes can be trusted to follow recommendations to socially distance and do not need draconian laws to slow the spread of the virus.

“If the public health agency goes out and says stay home, ­people do stay home,” Dr Tegnell said. “My feeling is that the actual impact of having a law in another country and a recommendation in Sweden isn’t that different.”

Last week The Netherlands, which has been aiming for herd immunity, announced a ban on ­almost all gatherings amid public fears over a large projected number of deaths.

In Sweden, scientists at the public health agency are shaping the national response to the virus together with the government, but — by law — politicians cannot ­intervene in the details of its ­implementation.

“The agencies have the technical and scientific expertise. The government has the expertise in policies and politics,” Dr Tegnell said. “Most experts in the world agree that there’s no way of stopping this any more. It hits almost every country in the world. We can’t get rid of it, that never happened in history — only with smallpox after decades of vaccination.”

Anders Bjorkman, a leading ­epidemiologist who spent years at the forefront of malaria research, challenges the model used by ­researchers at Imperial College London, which estimated that about 1 per cent of those who contracted the virus would die. He ­argues that the estimate is misleading as it does not include those with the virus who exhibit no symptoms.

“They say there’s 1 per cent mortality. That’s not true. They completely discard the asymp­tomatics,” he said. “In all these groups there are some who don’t have symptoms and aren’t reported. In Sweden the average age of all reported corona cases is 56 years roughly. The average age of the population is 40 … and I believe that all age groups have been more or less equally exposed. Among the younger population, those under 40, there are so many non-symptomatics.”

The death rate in Sweden, he said, was likely to be closer to 0.1 per cent than 1 per cent. Hundreds, rather than tens of thousands, would die before herd immunity was achieved.

The public health agency said that in tests of about 5000 people who had returned to Sweden from visits to Italy, the few hundred that were positive all exhibited mild symptoms — implying that there could be a large number of people in Sweden who are asymptomatic — with mild or no symptoms — who have not sought medical treatment.



Study: The Ozone Layer Is Repairing Itself, Affecting Wind Flows

This is a curious study.  Changes in the ozone layer may indeed be affecting wind flows but are those changes traceable to the Montreal protocol? The protocol entered into force on 1st January 1989.

The fact that the hole was at its largest extent in 2015 would indicate that the protocol had done nothing even by that stage. A quarter of a century is a long time to have an effect

I add the journal abstract to the article below.  Note that they attribute the ozone change to the year 2000.  So by even their reckoning that Montreal agreement is pretty laggard in having any effect

While most people’s focus remains directed at the coronavirus pandemic, some good news has emerged: a hole in our ozone layer is now in recovery.

The hole—located above Antarctica—is continuing to recover and bringing changes in atmospheric circulation as a result, according to New Scientist.

Many dangerous changes are being brought to a halt in the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere due to the ongoing recovery.

Ozone depletion began to bring air currents in the Southern Hemisphere further south in the 1980s. This caused a change in ocean currents and rainfall patterns.

Global News reported that the new changes suggest that a ban on producing ozone-depleting substances, called the 1987 Montreal Protocol, is now having a positive effect on the world.

On Wednesday, a research paper released in Science Daily showed that the ozone layer has started recovery due to changing wind patterns.

Antara Banerjee and her colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder did the research and noted that the ozone layer in the Northern Hemisphere is on track to fully recover to its 1980s levels sometime in the 2030s.

They added that in the Southern Hemisphere should return to that state by the 2050s. The Antarctic hole is expected to take longer and is estimated to recover by the 2060s.


A pause in Southern Hemisphere circulation trends due to the Montreal Protocol

Antara Banerjee et al.


Observations show robust near-surface trends in Southern Hemisphere tropospheric circulation towards the end of the twentieth century, including a poleward shift in the mid-latitude jet1,2, a positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode1,3–6 and an expansion of the Hadley cell7,8. It has been established that these trends were driven by ozone depletion in the Antarctic stratosphere due to emissions of ozone-depleting substances9–11.

Here we show that these widely reported circulation trends paused, or slightly reversed, around the year 2000. Using a pattern-based detection and attribution analysis of atmospheric zonal wind, we show that the pause in circulation trends is forced by human activities, and has not occurred owing only to internal or natural variability of the climate system.

Furthermore, we demonstrate that stratospheric ozone recovery, resulting from the Montreal Protocol, is the key driver of the pause. Because pre-2000 circulation trends have affected precipitation, and potentially ocean circulation and salinity, we anticipate that a pause in these trends will have wider impacts on the Earth system. Signatures of the effects of the Montreal Protocol and the associated stratospheric ozone recovery might therefore manifest, or have already manifested, in other aspects of the Earth system



Coronavirus: Why per capita deaths in Italy so vastly exceed deaths in America

A Reader writes

I was looking for a chart listing all the states in the US rated by the number of cases and number of deaths PER CAPITA. I could not find one so I made my own, using info from the excellent New York Times COVID-19 data by state and county, updated every hour. I have attached it here. Since testing is sporadic and not standardized, I don't put much value on the Cases/Million. But Deaths/Million is a very real thing. So I sorted the table by Cases/Million, in descending order.

American States are hugely safe compared with Italy. As of 29 March, 11,000 have died in Italy, or 183 per capita. Why was Italy so badly hit?  A number of reasons came together:

1).The chief cause is that they have a large elderly population.  The average age at death from Coronavirus in Italy was 80. We are talking about elderly Italians who were in frail health to start with

2). Italians tend to be keen smokers.  Heavy smokers at any age are a high risk group.  Coronavirus is mainly a lung disease and smoking damages lung capacity.

3). Italians are notorious scofflaws.  They tend to treat laws as just suggestions.  So you can imagine the low compliance with laws aimed to get them to stay at home.  "Promenading" is a common leisure activity among Italian men


Coronavirus: Why per capita deaths in Italy so vastly exceed deaths in America

A Reader writes

I was looking for a chart listing all the states in the US rated by the number of cases and number of deaths PER CAPITA. I could not find one so I made my own, using info from the excellent New York Times COVID-19 data by state and county, updated every hour. I have attached it here. Since testing is sporadic and not standardized, I don't put much value on the Cases/Million. But Deaths/Million is a very real thing. So I sorted the table by Cases/Million, in descending order.

American States are hugely safe compared with Italy. As of 29 March, 11,000 have died in Italy, or 183 per capita. Why was Italy so badly hit?  A number of reasons came together:

1).The chief cause is that they have a large elderly population.  The average age at death from Coronavirus in Italy was 80. We are talking about elderly Italians who were in frail health to start with

2). Italians tend to be keen smokers.  Heavy smokers at any age are a high risk group.  Coronavirus is mainly a lung disease and smoking damages lung capacity.

3). Italians are notorious scofflaws.  They tend to treat laws as just suggestions.  So you can imagine the low compliance with laws aimed to get them to stay at home.  "Promenading" is a common leisure activity among Italian men


Shutdown is killing the economy — and is also no good for our health

President Trump has announced that he is aiming toward Easter Sunday to start getting the economy up and running again. This has triggered heavy opposition. There is a serious debate about how much destruction to the economy we are willing to tolerate to save lives from the coronavirus. How many millions of businesses are we willing to allow to file for bankruptcy? How many millions of workers are we willing to become unemployed? This calculation is difficult to make because we do not know how many people the coronavirus will kill. It seems cold hearted, even cruel, to assess the costs versus the risks of policy actions when lives are at stake.

But guess what? Government officials have to make these decisions all the time. Most regulations are approved based on economic costs versus lives saved. If the only goal of government is to minimize deaths, then the first step would be to prohibit people from driving cars and abolish swimming pools, amusement parks, and bacon. We do not do these things because we have decided as a society that benefits for 320 million Americans of having reliable transportation outweigh deaths on the highway.

This is also why President Trump, along with governors and mayors across the country, need to acknowledge that the lockdown of the economy also carries health risks and unintended consequences. You cannot crush the economy without having a significant degree of human misery and even deaths, not counting the loss in dollars of wealth and income.

In an academic article two years ago, Taiwanese researchers showed a direct link between unemployment and suicide, a link that can linger for up to three years after unemployment has already retreated. Even a brief recession has lasting consequences. In rough terms, each 1 percent rise in unemployment leads to one additional suicide for each 100,000 people. If unemployment increases by 5 percent in the current economic shutdown, that could mean some 16,500 additional suicides. A 10 percent spike in unemployment could mean some 30,000 additional suicides.

A study by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health found the rate of drug addiction could be as much double for those who are unemployed as for those who are employed full time. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis concluded that with large increases in unemployment, the number of drug users can also rise dramatically. Yet another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate could mean a 3 percent rise in opioid overdose deaths and more than a 6 percent rise in emergency room visits.

Among Americans between the ages of 50 and 75, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found the unemployed are 35 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack. Robert Zoellick, the former World Bank president and the former United States trade representative, and others have noted that supply chain disruptions jeopardize the health and lives of patients facing health risks other than the coronavirus. In other words, the human toll will be very real from job losses, business bankruptcy, and so on.

There are some 20 million Americans with cancer or survived it, another 30 million with heart disease, 34 million with diabetes, and 35 million with chronic lung disease. All together, nearly one in five Americans are being treated for these ailments. What happens if they cannot get medications and treatments thanks to the economic lockdown? If just one in 1,000 of these people dies because they cannot get their medications, or because hospitals cannot take them in, that is another 75,000 deaths.

An economic shutdown is a supply chain shutdown like never before. The two of us both know people who have died from the coronavirus and the heartbreak associated with it. Americans are right to be worried. Donald Trump has likened himself to a “wartime president” fighting this invisible enemy. Being smart and reasonable about the costs and benefits of every strategy decision is critical to winning wars against all enemies.



Don't Miss the Silver Linings

As the nation awaits the flattening of the Chinese coronavirus curve, it'd be easy to come up with a laundry list of all that's going wrong. And while we're weeks or months away from knowing how this will all play out, it might help to focus on the good that's coming out of the experience.

One of the important changes brought about by our nation's response to CV19 is the deregulation in various industries, from healthcare to food distribution. Initiated by President Donald Trump and the nation's governors, these steps have unleashed innovation and made the production and delivery of a wide range of products more efficient. In fact, companies are hiring tens of thousands of workers in order to keep up with the demand for essential services.

For example, Texas not only waived size and weight restrictions of commercial vehicles but now also permits trucks that typically deliver alcohol to transport food products to grocery stores. Other states now permit restaurants to offer carryout meals without first going through a bureaucratic approval process.

"The ability to suspend these laws without fear of endangering the public opens the door to questioning their purpose," writes Charles Blain at the Foundation for Economic Education. "Many of these regulations appear to serve as no more than impediments to free exchange. If these measures exist simply to generate additional government revenue, the public should ask themselves, once the crisis has abated: should they exist at all?"

It's a great question. And the answer seems to be a resounding "No."

Another area of American life that's transforming right before our eyes is education. College students (and their parents) are beginning to realize they don't need to take on crushing debt for room and board when classes can be effectively delivered online.

For the parents of younger children, homeschooling may now be a more viable option. It allows parents to take their kids out of unsafe or underperforming government schools and provides them with more say over what and how their children learn. While this undoubtedly presents a challenge for some parents, there are unexpected rewards.

"Families are struggling to adjust to a new reality," Martha Ross writes at The Mercury News. "Parents have to play the role of teacher, a job they have no training for. They're also trying to manage their own anxiety, while their kids, generally pretty social creatures, are cut off from friends." But, Ross adds, "Parents interviewed said their families are enjoying time together."

Think about it: How many of us saw a myriad of daily activities canceled and are now sitting down to a family dinner that was once all but impossible?

And married or committed couples are also enjoying more quality time together, leading to speculation about a 2021 "baby boom."

Who would've guessed that social distancing would actually bring American families closer together?

We're also realizing that millions of office jobs can now be performed just as well from a home office. Allowing employees to telecommute reduces traffic, allows families to settle in affordable neighborhoods away from cities, and gives workers more time with their families. Sure, there are some downsides to working from home, but the option is now there for millions of Americans.

Kyle Sammin of The Federalist reminds us, "Others' jobs cannot be done from home, including many people who are still working right now: doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and more. In between those two groups, however, are millions of office workers whose jobs can take place anywhere there is an internet connection."

Eventually, we'll get over the coronavirus curve and return to work and school, but these two institutions may never look the same. And that's a good thing for many Americans.



Little of Pelosi’s Wish List Made It Into COVID-19 Relief Bill. That’s a Relief in Itself

Among other things, Pelosi would have:

Mandated “diversity” on corporate boards and in banks.
Required airlines to disclose and reduce emissions.
Mandated that states allow voting by mail.
Increased union bargaining power.
Expanded tax credits for wind and solar power.
Prohibited universities from disclosing the citizenship status of their students.
Provided a bailout for some private pensions.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pelosi was not going to be accused of letting a crisis go to waste.

In what is becoming a familiar theme (think of her failed attempt to control how the Senate conducted its impeachment trial), Pelosi backed down shortly after making her demands.

With the legislation now through Congress, how much of Pelosi’s wish list made it into the bill?

None of the wish-list items listed above made the cut, but there remains a lot of unnecessary and unwise spending in it.

Diversity requirements for banks and corporate boards are out, as is Pelosi’s demand for a Securities and Exchange Commission advisory group to promote corporate “diversity.”

Also out is her demand that companies taking relief funds establish and staff a minimum five-year “diversity and inclusion” program. Indeed, the words “diversity” and “inclusion” don’t appear in the legislation passed by the Senate.

The package also does not include any new carbon emissions restrictions or disclosure requirements for airlines or other industries.

Similarly missing are any of her proposals for a federal takeover of state elections.

Her attempt to give unions a handout failed, too, as did her attempt to give a handout to wind and solar power providers.

The bill does not prevent colleges and universities from disclosing their students who are illegal aliens, or provide any other shroud for illegal status.

Likewise, the private pension bailouts she demanded are nowhere to be found in the Senate bill.




Narrative buster: U.S. was more prepared for pandemic than any other country, Johns Hopkins study found (Fox News)

"We don't have evidence of that": Dr. Deborah Birx says coronavirus data doesn't match the doomsday media predictions (RealClearPolitics)

"Cognizant" of coronavirus constraints, EPA eases up on enforcement of pollution rules (Washington Examiner)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus, is experiencing "mild symptoms" (CNBC)

China supplied faulty coronavirus test kits to Spain, Czech Republic (National Review)

Iranian officials stole more than $1 billion in humanitarian funds (The Washington Free Beacon)

Twenty people are charged over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, including two aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Daily Mail)

Venezuela President Maduro wanted by DOJ for drug trafficking, AG William Barr announces (Fox News)

"All they want is the money": Hospitality union demands dues from members left unemployed (The Washington Free Beacon)

Bending the curve: Dow exits bear market on optimism of $2 trillion relief package (Fox Business)

Tone deaf: Planned Parenthood sues Texas after governor declares abortion nonessential (The Daily Wire)

Policy: COVID-19 is killing the case for socialized medicine (Issues & Insights)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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