Month: June 2019

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Australia, China hail ‘strong’ relationship ahead of free trade talks

Australia is hosting Foreign Minister Wang Yi for the second annual Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue, which comes ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in November for the G20 summit in Brisbane.

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“The Australia-China relationship is strong, it is mature, it is growing,” Bishop said at a media conference with Wang.

“China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner. We are on track to sign a free-trade agreement with China later this year which will further strengthen this relationship.”

The trade talks began in 2005, but stalled last year over agriculture and China’s insistence on removing investment limits for state-owned enterprises.

Over the past year Australia has sealed free trade deals with Japan and South Korea.

The bilateral talks follow Australia’s push to forge closer ties with Japan, China’s regional rival. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a historic visit to Canberra and Perth in July.

Wang acknowledged that China “may not be Australia’s closest friend at the moment, but we can surely become your most sincere friend”.

He added that Australia was a “key cooperation power” for China in the Asian region.

“China welcomes and supports Australia to further understand Asia and to integrate into Asia,” Wang said through a translator.

“And of course, we would also like Australia to play an active role as a bridge and as a link between the East and the West.”

Bishop said the bilateral talks came at a time of “great global challenge” and were an opportunity to discuss the movement of citizens from the two countries to Iraq and Syria to fight for violent jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.

“The conflict in Syria and Iraq affects both our nations, for foreign fighters are leaving our shores to take part in the brutal and bloody conflict in the Middle East,” she said.

“Our meeting together affords us an opportunity to discuss ways that we together can combat terrorism and extremism such as we’ve seen with the emergence of ISIL,” she said, using one of the acronyms by which the Islamic State is known.


26/06/2019 0

Evildoers benefit from the world’s short attention span

But even a casual observer might not have the head space for more than two or three major events; after all, there’s work, family and everything else, as well.

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That’s where things get interesting.

Once upon a time, economists modeled human decisions as perfectly rational, on the assumption that people used all the information available to make optimal choices at all times. Later, however, economists — with a little help from psychologists – realised that there were limits to how much people could think about each decision.

Today these limits, called “bounded rationality,” are more relevant than ever. We have virtually infinite options for things like investments, clothing, music, books and games, all available through the Internet. But we don’t weigh every single option before we buy; we take shortcuts. This means we don’t always make the best choice, but we make choices that we consider good enough.

… it would be impossible to follow every single event happening around the world. Even the best news organisations can’t, because they have finite resources.

How is this relevant to the news? Well, it would be impossible to follow every single event happening around the world. Even the best news organisations can’t, because they have finite resources. But the rest of us can’t, either, because we have other things to do besides sitting in front of our various screens. Instead, we delegate to the media the decision of what will draw our attention.

There are only a few global media organisations, and they tend to prioritise a few stories each day. Stories that gain more viewers and readers get more time because they bring in advertising dollars. When the audience loses interest, the stories disappear in favour of something more popular – or at least something with the potential to be more popular.

This means no single story is likely to occupy the news for very long, no matter how important it might be.

Deaths in Syria’s civil war long ago passed the 100,000 mark, with hundreds more every day, but there is almost no coverage today of the day-to-day fighting and plight of civilians there. The novelty has worn off, and new stories have grabbed the attention of the media and public. As a result, Syrian leader Bashar Assad, his cronies and his opponents have the license to keep on killing without much fear of global outcry or intervention. The moment for that appears to have passed.\

A look back at this year shows just how fickle the public’s attention can be.

A look back at this year shows just how fickle the public’s attention can be. Several stories have peaked in the news, but no two have commanded the same peaks of attention at the same time. Google Trends tracks how often people search for keywords – including those related to major events – all over the world. Back in March, the conflict in Ukraine grabbed the world’s attention, but it was largely forgotten when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. It wasn’t that the action in Ukraine or its global importance diminished, as we would see later in the year; audiences and news organizations simply switched head space and resources to the other story. Two stories could not claim the same peak of attention at the same time.

Then, in July, the fighting in Gaza ramped up along with its audience. But just as it was heading for a Google Trends peak as high as those of Ukraine and MH370, something else happened: the shootdown of another Malaysia Airlines jet in Ukraine. With two big stories developing simultaneously – the plane was shot down on the same day Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza – neither managed the heights of attention of Ukraine and MH370 earlier in the year.

Within weeks, however, attention shifted again. An outbreak of ebola in West Africa wiped almost everything else off the map. In August, there was another change. Ebola dropped well off its peak, as the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, began to capture eyes from around the world. Then, as the Islamic State has advanced farther across Syria and Iraq and has committed horrific crimes, it has pulled readers and viewers away from ebola and other stories. Of course, none of this has any impact on whether the deaths from ebola are mounting (they are) or concern from public health officials is growing (it is).

Naturally, novelty gives stories an advantage in both media coverage and head space. Even the most gruesome crimes, like the massacres of civilians in Syria, soon drop off the radar. A practical evildoer can try to weather the initial storm of attention and then go on killing relatively undisturbed, or simply wait until an even bigger event distracts the world.

Assad may even be wise to this game. 

Assad may even be wise to this game. The bloodiest period of the Syrian civil war came in the busiest months of the 2012 presidential campaign in the United States, stretching from the convention season to the election itself. Immediately after the election, deaths dropped for several weeks. It could have been pure coincidence, or something more sinister.

From then on, the conflict in Syria was barely a blip for the media. It was another spin on political theorist Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase describing the crimes and criminals of the Holocaust, “the banality of evil.” As far as the news media and its consumers were concerned, continuous and repeated evil really was just banal. It wasn’t news anymore if it wasn’t new.

The spotlight did return to Syria in the summer of 2013 with the use of chemical weapons on civilians, which was probably the result of a failure in the chain of command. But that spike — from a spectacular and well-documented crime against humanity — didn’t last long, either. Perhaps there were too many other tragedies competing for attention. Or maybe everyone was playing Grand Theft Auto V.

Either way, even something as terrible as the deaths of children from chemicals could not hold the public’s attention for more than a few days.

And who could blame them? The Internet has shortened people’s attention spans so much that they are like hummingbirds darting from flower to flower in search of titillation. In the meantime, the globalization of the media through information technology has bombarded people with ever more stories from around the world. There simply isn’t enough time to take everything in, let alone focus on one or two issues above all the others.

This situation used to be unique to people like the president of the United States, who receives daily briefings on hot spots around the world. Now, however, all of us are hooked up to this combination of a gushing fire hose and an ever-changing kaleidoscope. Is it any wonder that, like him, we can’t focus long enough on any one thing to do something about it?

Altman teaches economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and is chief economist of Big Think.

(c) 2014, Foreign Policy


26/06/2019 0

‘Jude was perfect,’ says Rozelle dad

Bianka O’Brien and her baby boy Jude along with neighbour Chris Noble were killed in the early hours of Thursday morning when an explosion ripped through a convenience store in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Rozelle.

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Ms O’Brien’s husband, John, on Sunday said his wife was preparing to enter the next phase of her life by caring full-time for Jude, who had just learned to walk.

“Bianka and I were together for eight years, married for two, and to say she was the love of my life is an understatement,” he said in a statement.

“I can’t believe how quickly those eight years have flown by but they have definitely been the best years of my life.

“Bianka was an inspiration to all who knew her – she was loyal, caring and absolutely loved life.”

Jude was just discovering the world around him, Mr O’Brien said.

“He was a perfect baby and never stopped smiling,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Everything was exciting to him and he was just a joy to be around. He made everyone smile.”

Mr O’Brien and Bianka’s father Bill also thanked the community, police and emergency service for their ongoing support, and extended their sympathy to the family of Chris Noble.

At a public meeting in neighbouring Balmain on Sunday, police told residents there was little risk of airborne asbestos exposure from the wreckage following days of wet weather in Sydney.

The exclusion zone has been reduced along the busy commercial and residential street between Victoria road and Merton St.

A frantic two-day search for survivors ended on Friday when the bodies of Bianka and Jude were carried out together from the charred wreckage of the convenience store and apartments.

The devastated site of the blast is now a crime scene.

Investigators are reviewing CCTV footage with Strike Force Baracchi launched to investigate the fire.

Police have still to speak with the convenience store owner, who is in a serious condition in hospital after emergency services had to dig him out of the debris by hand.

Reports of a car fleeing the area after the explosion are being investigated.

Full Statement from John O’Brien 

On Thursday morning I lost my beloved wife, Bianka, and our baby Jude.

Bianka was an inspiration to all who knew her – she was loyal, caring and absolutely loved life. People gravitated towards her because of her beautiful and warm personality.

Bianka and I were together for eight years, married for two, and to say she was the love of my life is an understatement.

I can’t believe how quickly those eight years have flown by but they have definitely been the best years of my life.

I know I was truly loved by her and the feeling was entirely mutual.

She was an exceptional person, a wonderful wife and an even better mother. This week Bianka was due to finish up her part-time work so she could move into the next phase of her life and fulfil her dream of caring for our boy full time.

Being a mother made her happy and she was a natural at it.

That brings me to my son, Jude, who I love with all my heart. By far the proudest moment of my life was becoming a father. He was a perfect baby and never stopped smiling.

Jude had just started to walk and was only just discovering the world around him. Everything was exciting to him and he was just a joy to be around.

He made everyone smile.

On behalf of Bianka’s father, Bill, and myself I would like to thank the community for the many well-wishes, flowers and phone calls we have received.

The events of the past few days have been devastating, but we have been overwhelmed by the response and support from the community.

I would also like to thank the police and other emergency services who have been by our side and continue to support us.

Finally, I would like to extend my sympathy to the family of Chris Noble and everyone else who has been affected by this.

We now ask that the media and public continue to respect our privacy during this time.


26/06/2019 0

UK offers Scots new powers after poll

The British government scrambled to pledge greater autonomy for Scotland, after a poll put the pro-independence camp ahead just 11 days before the referendum on separation.

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Finance Minister George Osborne said greater tax and spending powers would be announced in the coming days and would be implemented if Scotland votes on September 18 to remain in the 300-year-old union with England.

The government’s offer came after a YouGov poll published in The Sunday Times newspaper gave the “Yes” camp 51 per cent support compared to the “No” camp’s 49 per cent, excluding undecided voters. Six per cent said they had not made up their minds.

Although the two-point lead is within the margin of error, the findings dramatically up the stakes ahead of the vote.

“Scotland faces a very big choice,” Osborne told BBC.

“If people were in any doubt that they can stay at home, that they don’t need to go out to the polls and vote ‘No’ to avoid separation, they won’t be in that doubt today.

“They should also be in no doubt about the consequences of this decision,” the chancellor of the exchequer added.

“No ifs, no buts: we will not share the pound if Scotland separates from the rest of the UK.”

He said sharing the currency after independence would be equivalent to a couple divorcing but keeping a joint bank account.

Salmond says he would refuse to take on Scotland’s share of the United Kingdom’s debt post-independence if he does not get his way on a euro-style cross-border currency union.

Osborne said it was “clear” that Scots wanted greater autonomy and the three main United Kingdom-wide parties – the Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat junior partners in government and the Labour opposition – had agreed to “deliver” on that.

“You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland. More tax powers, more spending powers, more plans for powers over the welfare state,” he said.

“Then Scotland will have the best of both worlds.

Any vote for Scotland to leave the UK would raise questions about Britain’s standing in the international community and could put pressure on British Prime Minister David Cameron to stand down.

Scotland represents one-third of Britain’s landmass and is home to Britain’s submarine-based Trident nuclear deterrent, which the SNP says must be out of an independent Scotland by 2020.

The Better Together campaign, which backs Scotland staying in Britain, has been ahead in opinion polls for months but its lead has narrowed in recent days.


26/06/2019 0

FIFA asks arrested finance watchdog member for explanation

Canover Watson, one of eight members of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee and a vice-president of the Caribbean Football Union, has denied the charges and been released on bail in the British overseas territory.

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Domenico Scala, head of the committee, said he had asked Watson for details.

“In agreement with the Ethics Committee we have asked Canover Watson whether he can share with the Audit and Compliance Committee any additional information,” said Scala in a statement issued by FIFA. “Once we have more information we will consider appropriate measures.”

The FIFA committee is charged with ensuring the “completeness and reliability of the financial accounting” of world football’s governing body.

Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Commissioner David Baines, in a statement to local media, said that Watson was suspected of “breach of trust contrary to section 13 of the Cayman Islands Anti-Corruption Law, as well as abuse of public office… and conflict of interest”.

Those allegations refer to Watson’s time at the head of Cayman’s Health Service Authority and follow a police investigation into the introduction of a swipe card system.

Baines also cited “suspicion of money-laundering contrary to section 133 of the Proceeds of Crime Law” in the Watson case.

Watson denied the allegations in a statement to the Cayman Compass newspaper. The newspaper said no charges had yet been filed against Watson who under his bail terms is due to report back to police on Sept. 29.

CONCACAF, the confederation which governs football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, said it was waiting for further details.

“…CONCACAF is awaiting the complete review of the ongoing proceedings,” the confederation said in a statement.

“At CONCACAF, we take great pride of the highest standards of integrity, governance and transparency that lead the organisation.”

The Cayman Islands has become a power centre within the CONCACAF region.

The CONCACAF president is FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb, who is also president of the Cayman Islands Football Association which lists Watson as its treasurer.

Webb took over as CONCACAF president after the resignation of Trinidadian Jack Warner, who was at the centre of numerous corruption allegations.

(Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)


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