The country waits as coup rumours grow

Prime Minister Julia Gillard insisted on Tuesday that she continued to enjoy the support of the majority of her governing Labor Party, as she sought to silence growing speculation that her foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, was planning to challenge her as Australia’s leader.

The move to dispel the swirling rumors comes as the deeply unpopular Ms. Gillard, who seized the leadership from Mr. Rudd in an internal party coup in 2010, has had to face a steady stream of reports that lawmakers loyal to the former prime minister were maneuvering behind the scenes to restore him to power.

“I’m getting on with the job with the strong support of my caucus colleagues,” Ms. Gillard told reporters in the capital, Canberra. “I’m getting on with my job. Kevin Rudd’s getting on with his.”

Mr. Rudd, who was in Mexico attending a gathering of the Group of 20 foreign ministers, also dismissed the issue when questioned about the subject by reporters on Monday.

But, as he frequently has when rumors of his political ambitions have arisen over the past two years, he kept his answers conspicuously in the present tense.

A challenge “is not in prospect because we have a prime minister and I am the foreign minister,” he said.

Neither statement seems likely to silence the cacophony of coup-related reporting dominating the country’s news media.

The Tuesday edition of The Australian devoted nearly six pages to the affair, including a front-page story and a scathing editorial that accused both Ms. Gillard and Mr. Rudd of failing to exhibit leadership qualities.

The left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald, meanwhile, reported that pro-Rudd members of Parliament had been circulating a petition calling for a Labor Party leadership ballot as early as next week, when Mr. Rudd is scheduled to return from his overseas trip.

At least 35 of the 103 Labor lawmakers in Parliament would have to sign on to the petition to force a leadership vote.

It remains unclear how much support Mr. Rudd actually has within the party, however, which is one possible reason his supporters have not yet pushed for a ballot.

Mr. Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat who led his party back into power in 2007, is widely derided within the Labor leadership for what has often been described as an autocratic leadership style.

But his stunning removal as prime minister in 2010 angered many, and the Australian public continues to display a deep ambivalence toward Ms. Gillard, despite significant legislative successes and strong economic growth under her stewardship.

Fears within the party that she is now simply too unpopular to return Labor to power in elections scheduled for August of next year seem to be playing a strong role in the current dispute.

The latest data released by the Nielsen polling agency earlier this month indicated that 57 percent of voters would prefer Mr. Rudd as Labor leader, while 35 percent would choose Ms. Gillard.

That comes as Labor has fallen behind the main opposition coalition by 53 percent to 47 percent.

The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, whose poll numbers have also labored in the doldrums despite the growing popularity of his coalition, has been an unrelenting critic of Ms. Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister.

He chimed in on the unfolding political drama on Tuesday, calling it “a poisonous soap opera.”

“What I want to see are better policies in Canberra, more stable government in Canberra and I doubt this hopelessly divided and dysfunctional government can provide that,” he was quoted as saying in The Australian. “I think it’s beyond repair.”

Deadly fire hits Bangkok shopping complex

At least two people died and 17 others were injured, some after jumping from the eighth floor, when the fire broke out at the CentralWorld shopping complex on the evening of April 10, 2019.

The CentralWorld management originally stated on its Facebook page that the fire started at about 5:40 p.m. in a smoke ventilation duct on the eighth floor of the shopping center.

Witnesses saw two people jumping from the eighth floor. Thick black smoke was seen billowing out, and explosions were heard.

Both the hotel and the shopping center were evacuated. Initial reports said many people were trapped in the building. The CentralWorld page said its fire fighters put out the blaze at 6:10 p.m., about half an hour after it started.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwangmuang later said the fire started in a document room on the eighth floor. The whole 16-story building was ordered closed, pending investigation into the cause of the fire and the effectiveness of its fire suppression system.

The deceased were reportedly staff at the shopping complex. The 17 injured people were admitted at Police General Hospital and Ratchavithi Hospital for smoke inhalation.

The blaze caused heavy traffic snarl-ups in the vicinity, especially on Rama I and Ratchadamri roads, as it occurred in the evening rush hour.

Middle classes losing out to ultra-rich

Middle-class families are seeing their incomes stagnating as they are squeezed by the ultra-rich taking a bigger slice, says an international report from the OECD economics think tank.

The report says the middle classes are being “hollowed out”, with declining chances of rising prosperity and growing fears of job insecurity.

The OECD says there will be political consequences for Western countries.

It says middle classes have often been the “bedrock of democracy”.

Against a background of political populism and concerns about rising extremism, the report says that traditionally moderate middle-class families are feeling “left behind” and are increasingly likely to support “anti-establishment” movements.

‘Dismal growth’

It warns of a destabilising impact if this section of society – defined as earning between 75% and 200% of the average income – continues to feel that prosperity is slipping away.

In the UK, almost 60% of people live in households classified as being in this middle-income group.

Gilets jaune
Image captionThe report warns of anti-establishment “discontent” driven by a widening income gap: France has faced months of “yellow jacket” protests

From an international perspective, the OECD shows a changing economic model, in which high earners have accelerated upwards, while those in the middle have seen “dismal income growth” or a falling back.

  • Across OECD countries, which include most of the big economies in Western Europe and North America, the 10% of highest earners have increased their income by a third more than middle earners
  • In the UK, more than a third of middle-income households “report having difficulty making ends meet”, says the OECD
  • In the United States over the past three decades, the top 1% of earners have increased their slice of total annual income from 11% to 20%

“Middle incomes are barely higher today than they were 10 years ago,” says the analysis.

Loss of trust

The report warns of social consequences if the middle classes lose trust in the system, beyond their own economic self-interest.

It says the middle classes have been important supporters of sectors such as education, health and housing and “good quality public services”.

Parent
Image captionYounger generations face an uphill challenge to buy their home

But worsening income inequality could threaten “their trust in others and in democratic institutions”.

The study says that this perception of declining opportunities is causing “growing discontent”.

The “stagnation of middle-class living standards” has been accompanied by the emergence of “new forms of nationalism, isolationism, populism and protectionism”.

Instead of upwards social mobility and growing prosperity, the report says the middle classes are more worried about slipping downwards.

Housing costs

The report, Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class, says that totems of middle class family life, such as access to housing and higher education, have become increasingly expensive.

Chart on middle income gap

The rising cost of property, in particular, has outstripped the growth in income, with parents worrying about the housing prospects for their children.

Another traditional middle-class advantage has been job security, but this has also been eroded.

“Today, the middle class looks increasingly like a boat in rocky waters,” says the OECD’s secretary general, Angel Gurría

The OECD highlights a generational divide – with a shrinking number of younger people in this middle-class group.

Generational change

The widening gap of incomes has pushed more people to the extremes of rich and poor, so that millennials in their 20s are less likely to be in middle-income households than baby boomers in their 50s and 60s.

“A strong and prosperous middle class is important for the economy and society as a whole,” says the study.

But it says middle-class households feel a sense of “unfairness” and are “increasingly anxious about their economic situation”.

New duck species found in Philippines

Question: If you woke up one morning and saw this handsome bird flying overhead, what sort of habitat would you be standing in? Would you need to wear a coat or would you instead need to wear bug spray? Where in the world would you be? Would you be excited to see this bird? If so, why? Can you identify this mystery bird’s taxonomic family and species?

Response: This is an adult Philippine duck, Anas luzonica, a distinctively-marked duck that is endemic to the Philippines. The Philippine duck is placed into one of the most recognisable taxonomic families for birds, Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese and swans.

However, the genus, Anas, is a different story. It is a maddening tangle of poorly understood and often fuzzy relationships. This confusion stems from the rapid and recent radiation of Anas species, which renders most molecular markers ineffective at resolving taxonomic relationships. Further, as anyone who watches birds knows, Anas species readily hybridise with their congeners as well as other family members, usually producing fertile offspring. Thus, introgression “muddies the genetic waters”, rendering mitochondrial DNA mostly useless for resolving phylogenetic relationships whilst nuclear DNA evolves too slowly to reveal anything of value.

The Philippine duck is lumped into the Pacific clade of Anas, along with the Hawaiian duck, A. wyvilliana, Laysan duck, A. laysanensis, Pacific black duck, A. superciliosa and the extinct Mariana mallard, Anas (platyrhynchos) oustaleti.

The Philippine duck is distinctively marked, with a cinnamon head, with a black crown and nape, a bold black stripe through the eye, bluish-grey bill with a black nail, brownish-grey body, and greyish-brown legs. The upperwing coverts (known as the speculum in ducks) is an iridescent blue-green with black borders and a narrow white edge, and the underwing is white. The sexes are look the same, and juveniles are slightly paler than adults.

This large dabbling duck is found a variety of wetland habitats, in both freshwater and saltwater, including watercourses inside forest, mangroves, and even open sea. They feed on fish, shrimps, insects, rice and young vegetation. This species is sedentary.

Question: If you woke up one morning and saw this handsome bird flying overhead, what sort of habitat would you be standing in? Would you need to wear a coat or would you instead need to wear bug spray? Where in the world would you be? Would you be excited to see this bird? If so, why? Can you identify this mystery bird’s taxonomic family and species?

Response: This is an adult Philippine duck, Anas luzonica, a distinctively-marked duck that is endemic to the Philippines. The Philippine duck is placed into one of the most recognisable taxonomic families for birds, Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese and swans.

However, the genus, Anas, is a different story. It is a maddening tangle of poorly understood and often fuzzy relationships. This confusion stems from the rapid and recent radiation of Anas species, which renders most molecular markers ineffective at resolving taxonomic relationships. Further, as anyone who watches birds knows, Anas species readily hybridise with their congeners as well as other family members, usually producing fertile offspring. Thus, introgression “muddies the genetic waters”, rendering mitochondrial DNA mostly useless for resolving phylogenetic relationships whilst nuclear DNA evolves too slowly to reveal anything of value.

The Philippine duck is lumped into the Pacific clade of Anas, along with the Hawaiian duck, A. wyvilliana, Laysan duck, A. laysanensis, Pacific black duck, A. superciliosa and the extinct Mariana mallard, Anas (platyrhynchos) oustaleti.

The Philippine duck is distinctively marked, with a cinnamon head, with a black crown and nape, a bold black stripe through the eye, bluish-grey bill with a black nail, brownish-grey body, and greyish-brown legs. The upperwing coverts (known as the speculum in ducks) is an iridescent blue-green with black borders and a narrow white edge, and the underwing is white. The sexes are look the same, and juveniles are slightly paler than adults.

This large dabbling duck is found a variety of wetland habitats, in both freshwater and saltwater, including watercourses inside forest, mangroves, and even open sea. They feed on fish, shrimps, insects, rice and young vegetation. This species is sedentary.

Unfortunately, due to high levels of hunting and trapping, clearing of mangroves for shrimp farms, development of wetlands for aquaculture and fishponds, and escalating levels of pesticide use on rice paddies, this species is in rapid decline — dare I say that their numbers are plummeting at a dizzying rate? In 1993, the Philippine duck’s population was estimated at 10,000-100,000, but fewer than 10,000 birds were thought to remain by 2002. There are 5,000 or fewer Philippine ducks alive today. If we aren’t careful, this species could disappear in the blink of an eye.