19 January 2018

Where the priorities lie

It's the same the whole world over
It's the poor what gets the blame
It's the rich what gets the pleasure
Ain't it all a bloody shame

The Times reports:
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has prosecuted eight cases of insider trading in the past five years and secured 12 convictions. By comparison, the Department for Work and Pensions prosecuted or penalised more than 10,000 benefit fraudsters last year. Yet large numbers of investors appear to be receiving and benefiting from confidential information from inside FTSE-listed companies.
This newspaper analysed share price movements on the day before every major profit warning and every merger or acquisition announcement over the past two years. On the day before a profit warning, the share price of the company that issued the warning fell in 67 per cent of cases, suggesting that a number of investors were offloading shares in advance of the bad news, potentially saving tens of millions of pounds.
On the day before a takeover announcement, however, the share price increased in 70 per cent of cases, suggesting that investors were buying in advance of good news.
Hardly a surprise, given the Tories' links with those and such as those ...

   

17 January 2018

The dubious benefits of free trade with the US

Image result for pigs

Does anybody (apart from Liam Fox of course) want a free trade deal with the USA?  The Guardian reports:
Chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and bacon produced with additives strong enough to cripple pigs have been listed by British campaigners as three of the top 10 food safety risks posed by a free-trade deal with the US.
American use of the pork additive ractopamine alongside the more publicised practices of washing chicken in chlorine and feeding cattle growth hormones are highlighted in a report by the Soil Association as chief among its concerns about a post-Brexit era.
“Some of the key differences between UK and US production – hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorinated chicken – are becoming increasingly understood by British consumers,” the report says.
But there are “other areas where products imported from the US could be produced under significantly different standards to our own”, it adds.
The report was published to coincide with the second reading of the trade bill, which will provide a framework for post-Brexit trade deals.
Ractopamine, which can add three kilos of extra meat to a pig, is banned by almost every country except the US. The EU has outlawed its use since 1996.
It is fed to an estimated 60-90% of pigs in the US in the weeks before slaughter and has been found to cause disability in animals including trembling, broken bones and an inability to walk, according to the Soil Association.
I would prefer it if the contents of my bacon sandwich adhered to EU standards.

   

12 January 2018

Boys' toys

The Ministry of Defence sets out the stark choices on future military spending.  The Times reports:
Military chiefs have drawn up a plan to cut the armed forces by more than 14,000 and combine elite units of paratroopers and Royal Marines to save money, The Times has learnt.
The three sets of proposed cuts presented to Gavin Williamson when he took over as defence secretary from Sir Michael Fallon can be revealed today.
The proposals — described by a Whitehall source as “ugly, ugly or ugly” — include cutting the army by 11,000 soldiers and losing 2,000 Royal Marines and sailors and 1,250 airmen. The total size of the regular armed forces is about 137,000. The army has a target size of 82,000 but at present it numbers fewer than 78,000. Reducing this to 71,000 or fewer would make it the smallest since before the Napoleonic wars more than 200 years ago.
Nine Royal Navy warships are under threat, including seven Type 23 frigates. More than 100 helicopters were identified as vulnerable including an entire fleet of Wildcat aircraft and a reduction in the size of the Apache force, the gunships flown by Prince Harry in Afghanistan. In a particularly controversial cost-saving move, included in two of the three lists of options, 3 Commando Brigade, which uses Royal Marines, and 16 Air Assault Brigade, which uses the Parachute Regiment, would operate as more of a combined force. Such a merger would trigger an outcry within the military, with sources warning that it would erode their fighting capabilities. It would also reduce the capacity to deploy elite forces on a lengthy operation.
There is of course a simple answer to the problem.  The MOD could save many billions by:

1.  flogging off the two aircraft carriers, for which in any case we cannot afford to fit out with aircraft and which are white elephants (sitting ducks, if you prefer) without adequate naval shipping to protect them (which we also cannot afford); and

2.  abandoning the replacement/renewal of Trident, which we will never use, whose deterrent effect is minimal and which is vulnerable to cyber attack and underwater drone (as well as being immoral).

And if you are looking for a few extra savings, you might sack a few admirals, as the Navy has more of them than it does ships.

 

11 January 2018

It's not urgent, then?

How much damage will be done in the next 25 years?  Still, in a way, it's progress, even if desperately slow.  The BBC reports:
Theresa May will pledge to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.
The commitment is part of a 25-year plan to improve the natural environment being launched on Thursday.
In her speech to launch the plan the prime minister will say: "I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly."
But green groups are angry the proposals will have no legal force.
They say the plans could simply be shelved if they become inconvenient and the promise to stop "avoidable" plastic waste is too vague.
Basically, pathetic.

   

10 January 2018

Quote of the day


From The Guardian (here):
As the Four Pot Plants continued to wait anxiously by the phone to see if they were going to be offered a ministerial job in the reshuffle, Boris Johnson got ready for his first departmental questions of the new year. Having already established the previous day that whoever else may be in charge of the government it isn’t the prime minister, the foreign secretary was in an unusually expansive and relaxed mood. He’d told Theresa May that he would kick up rough if she tried to move him and Theresa had listened. All was well with the world.
...
Just as the foreign secretary was winding things up with an unconvincing defence of the importance of Donald Trump’s state visit – there are limits even to Boris’s insincerity, the junior minister Rory Stewart excused himself from the front bench and left the chamber. He had just got a message from Number 10 saying he was being reshuffled sideways from a job in which he had shown great judgment and expertise to one for which he had no qualifications whatsoever. The Four Pot Plants clutched their leaves in despair.


 


09 January 2018

The reshuffle re-visited


All shall have prizes.  The Times records the Main Event:
Larry the Cat refused to budge. Theresa May had wanted to move the Downing Street old-timer from his perch on the radiator beside the front door. His kill rate is below target and most of the day he just wants to sleep. It was time to bring in some fresh fur, perhaps Jacob Rees-Mogg, if only for the name. But Larry would not shift. In the battle of PM and puss, there would be only one winner.
So Larry clung on, but lest anyone think that Mrs May had spent an hour fruitlessly trying to sack a grumpy feline, she gave him a new title: minister for social mousing. Larry spent the rest of the day ordering new business cards; the Downing Street mice threw a party.
 
   

Successful reshuffle?

Apparently not:

i paper front pageGuardian front page

The Times front pageTelegraph front page

 

08 January 2018

Looking at the problem from the wrong end?

Holiday flights are horrid enough, but there are plans to make them more horrid.  The I-news reports:

The Home Office is planning to close a loophole that allows airports to sidestep alcohol licensing laws and open 24 hours a day.
The move comes after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported a 50 percent rise in in the numbers of passengers forcibly detained for bad behaviour.
A review by the House of Lords has recommended an end to 24-hour drinking in airports, according to The Times.
The Home Office is planning to extend the Licensing Act 2003 to cover alcohol being sold to passengers just before they board flights.
It would give councils the power to license and inspect bars, pubs and restaurants inside airports.
If the problem is drunkenness on aeroplanes, why do the airlines continue to sell alcohol on board?  As far as I am aware, there is no law which requires them to do so.

Besides, a stiff g&t before departure makes the whole process of flying marginally more tolerable.

 


07 January 2018

Irony-free

I guess that The Donald is not someone given to self-analysis.  The Independent reports:
President Donald Trump has hit out at “very weak” libel laws in the US as he branded an explosive new book detailing the inner workings of the White House as “fiction”.
Suggesting he would like to see tougher laws on speech, Mr Trump said that if libel laws “were strong... you wouldn’t have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes into your head” – referring to Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
Trump's tweets are of course a prime example of him saying whatever comes into his head, regardless of consequences, legal or political.

 

06 January 2018

Genius?

Well, maybe.  But he may be alone in his estimation of his intellectual capabilities.  The Independent reports:
Donald Trump has claimed his two greatest assets are his mental stability and “being, like, really smart”.
In a series of early-morning tweets, the President hit back at questions about his capacity for office after revelations in Michael Wolff’s explosive new book renewed scrutiny of his mental health.
“The Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence,” Mr Trump wrote.
He added: “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.
“Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top TV Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that!”
He's a modest little flower ...

     

05 January 2018

Daft as a brush?

Now look, just because a man wants to eat a cheeseburger in bed at 6.30 pm while watching three televisions, does not make him a bad person. A trifle eccentric, perhaps.  (I wonder, however, about how to keep the sheets free from crumbs.)  The Guardian reports on more revelations of life in the Trumpian White House:
Trump also reportedly harangued domestic staff who would try to clear his floor of laundry, yelling: “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” He would also strip his own bed, according to Wolff, when he decided his sheets needed a change.
Then Trump imposed a set of new rules, Wolff writes: “Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush.”
Trump is a self-described germophobe: by Wolff’s account he has also long been afraid of being poisoned. This, Wolff writes, is “one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s – nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely pre-made”.
Wolff also writes that Trump requested two television sets be added to his bedroom, which already had one in place. Most days, Wolff writes, Trump preferred to be in bed by 6.30pm, watching his three televisions, eating a cheeseburger and making telephone calls to friends and confidants.
Not totally surprising that Melania had a separate bedroom.

 



04 January 2018

Quote of the day



From Fire and Fury the new book on Trump by Michael Wolff (here):
The US first daughter poked fun at her father's alleged "scalp-reduction surgery", according to the book.
"She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others. She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate - a contained island after scalp-reduction -surgery - surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men - the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump's orange-blond hair color."

03 January 2018

Mine is bigger than yours


Trump reduces geo-politics to the level of the school playground.  The Independent reports:
Donald Trump has threatened North Korea with a nuclear strike, boasting of America’s superior capabilities. 
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
Unnecessary and childish.

 

02 January 2018

It's a new year

Scottish Labour looks on the optimistic side.  The Guardian reports:
Young people now see Labour as the radicals in Scotland, according to the party’s new leader, Richard Leonard.
...
Scottish Labour activists reported a significant change on the doorstep during their general election campaigning, in particular among younger voters who they might formerly have expected to be supporting the SNP. “Over the past few months we’ve started to win back lost Labour voters, people who voted SNP, Green in recent elections, there’s a definite shift taking place. There’s a buzz amongst young people. They are seeing the Labour party as the radical party.”
It would be nice to think so.  But I fear that it will not be so easy to dispel its reputation for promoting jumped-up, hidebound, municipal time-servers with an extremely limited capacity for radical thought.  But we can always hope ...

 

21 December 2017

Christmas wishes


Bullying? Intimidation?



Is Trump behaving like a Mafia boss?   Here is his caporegime at the United Nations, berating the General Assembly about his decision on Jerusalem:
In the letter sent by Ms Haley, she said: “The US is simply asking that you acknowledge the historical friendship, partnership, and support we have extended and respect our decision about our own embassy.”
She added: “The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue.”
On Twitter, she had written: “At the UN we're always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticising our choice. The US will be taking names.”
And, thus, development aid comes with hidden strings attached.  Not so different from the protection offered by Don Vito Corleone.

 

19 December 2017

Just an afterthought

Says it all really.  The Guardian reports:
A few hours after the crash, Donald Trump cited it as a reason to support his infrastructure plan, tweeting: “The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”
Ten minutes later, he tweeted: “Thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved.”
The man is a boor.

   

12 December 2017

Theresa May's problem with Brexit clarity

It's a bit of a muddle but The Guardian tries manfully to elucidate:
The problem is that clarity is the one thing May dare not provide, because the minute anything is illuminated then it’s a target for someone. Her best hope is generating a sort of permanently confused twilight in which nobody (including her own cabinet, which still hadn’t formally agreed the precise form Brexit should take even as the EU agreed we had made significant progress towards it) is entirely sure what’s going on, and therefore can’t be certain yet that they hate it.
So nothing is agreed until everyone finds out exactly what it is that they’re supposed to be agreeing, at which point it is still perfectly possible that nobody will agree to any of it. But the aim is to push the inevitable moment of truth – the point where both leavers and remainers realise exactly what’s going to happen, and someone goes ballistic – as far down the road as possible.
Probsbly not the best way to run a railway ...

   

Joke of the day

From The Independent (here):
David Davis breezily announced on the radio that “I don’t have to be very clever to do my job, I don’t have to know very much.” 
Just as well.

Or it would be, if he was even half competent.

As The Guardian points out:
Suddenly the whole point of David Davis became clear. After first fantasising he read impact assessments that never existed and then managing to contradict himself within 24 hours on whether the interim deal was legally binding, the Brexit secretary has created the perfect framework for all future negotiations. Thanks to his hopelessness and incompetence, there really is no longer any way of telling what is true and what is not. We have entered a post-modern political world where suspension of both belief and disbelief are one and the same.
   

11 December 2017

Weird


The diet coke addict.  The Times reports:
The most talked-about man in the world rises at about 5.30am and sometimes sends his first tweet of the morning while watching television propped up on the pillows of the White House master bedroom.
Television news coverage will continue to shape President Trump’s mood until he goes to sleep some 18 hours later, according to a survey of many of those closest to him.
He will by then have typically spent between four and eight of those hours in front of a television screen, sometimes with the volume muted, stewing over or relishing the portrayal of his actions and those of his administration on channels that he perceives to be either friendly or hostile.
He tends to share his thoughts on the news with anyone in the room, including the household staff who bring him lunch or one of the dozen Diet Cokes that he drinks most days.


A vision of the future


The machines are taking over.  The Guardian reports:
... in San Francisco, delivery robots have quietly taken to the sidewalks of over the past year. Companies including Marble and Starship are developing “robots as a service” business models, whereby food delivery apps contract with the robot companies to perform their deliveries.
At scale, the robots could significantly cut down on delivery vehicles (and labor costs), but they also take up space on sidewalks, where bicycles, Segways, and sitting or lying humans are already banned. Since taking on the issue, Yee said that his office had become something of a repository for photographs taken by angry residents of the robots clogging the sidewalks amid baby strollers, bus stops, street vendors, and pedestrians.
A coalition of residents, pedestrian advocates, and activists for seniors and people with disabilities lambasted the robots as “aggressively entrepreneurial wet dreams” and “the future Ubers of the sidewalk”.
It will end in tears.

   

10 December 2017

In praise of millennials

I happened to be in Princes Street last night about 7.30 pm and saw the vast crowds, predominantly young adults, queueing to attend the Sleep in the Park event.

It kinda restores your faith in human nature.  And it was a bitterly cold night.

So well done to all the participants.


 

09 December 2017

Music of the week

Quote of the day

The Guardian channels Juncker's thoughts at the presser:
Theresa pressed on. Britain would be meeting its financial obligations. Juncker checked his spreadsheet. Correct. He’d always budgeted for a €40bn payout. Tick. EU citizens rights had been agreed. Well, sort of. Up to a point, at least. It was still desperately unclear just what role the European court of justice would play. Or for how long. But that could wait for another day. As things stood, it could turn out that every woman rushes off to give birth in Northern Ireland just to secure an EU passport for their baby.
As for Ireland, all anyone had agreed was to kick the problem a bit further down the road. Juncker shrugged. If that was the way it had to be be for now to keep everyone happy, then so be it. The Brits could call it regulatory alignment if they liked, but for the life of him he couldn’t work out how the prime minister could guarantee there would be no hard border unless Britain to all intents and purposes remained in the single market and the customs union. To him, it seemed like madness. Hand over €40bn and relinquish all rights to influence the regulations just to end up roughly back where you were when you started. It was a curious way of taking back control. But not his problem.