19 September 2017

Headline of the day

From BuzzFeedNews (here):

It's Four Days Until Theresa May's Big Brexit Speech And It's All Going Really Well

Perhaps a little on the optimistic side?


18 September 2017

Holier than thou?

The Guardian reports on Cyprus' selling EU passports:
The government of Cyprus has raised more than €4bn since 2013 by providing citizenship to the super rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through this scheme last year alone.
Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.
A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes, seen by the Guardian, includes prominent businesspeople and individuals with considerable political influence.
The leak marks the first time a list of the super rich granted Cypriot citizenship has been revealed. A former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire are among the new names.
The list sheds light on the little-known but highly profitable industry and raises questions about the security checks carried out on applicants by Cyprus.
But wait a minute!  Does the UK not do much the same sort of thing?  Again from The Guardian last July (here):
Officially called a “Tier 1 investor” visa in the UK, the scheme gives individuals residency in exchange for investing £2m in UK bonds or shares through a bank, with applicants eligible for indefinite leave to remain, and even full citizenship, after five years. That is, unless they can stump up more cash: those offering £5m can settle after three years, and those with £10m after just two.
Because the original investment is returned to the applicant along with any interest accrued, the state technically makes a loss on each visa. But supporters of the scheme argue that as well as an investment in gilts – effectively a loan to the government – the country attracts people with substantial sums of money to spend on goods, hire workers or pay taxes. 
It's a dirty business all round.

Quote of the day

From The Guardian (here):
“Do you think the foreign secretary’s intervention was helpful?” asked Marr towards the end of his interview with [Amber] Rudd on his Sunday morning BBC1 politics show. Rudd looked stoney faced. Probably because she was doing her best not to laugh. Since when had Boris done anything that might be described as helpful?
“Boris has an irrepressible enthusiasm,” she replied, choosing her words carefully. She must have felt like one of Prince Andrew’s teachers trying to find something nice to say about him in a school report. You could hardly tell the Queen that her favourite son was a bit thick, rude and badly behaved, so irrepressible enthusiasm would have to do as code.
Thus neatly hitting two birds with one stone.
And there is more:
Really, though, there is no mystery to the foreign secretary’s outburst. What defeats most politicians, in common with boxers, is time. For years, Johnson has been described as the Young Turk. Now, aged 53, he is merely part-Turkish.
It has been argued that Johnson’s long essay is low on substance and evades the gritty drudgery of deal-making. But that is the whole point. No senior British politician in living memory has believed so absolutely in the power of brio, charisma and will. He is the love child of Nietzsche and Wodehouse.

A fondness for porkies

There was once a time when a government minister accused of repeatedly telling lies by a reliable, independent and authoritative source would have had to resign.


17 September 2017

Are we making progress?

A great deal of attention has been paid to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but little has been said about the other legislative commitments taken on by the government. Yet these other bills are equally necessary to avoid chaos on Exit Day (a mere 18 months ahead), equally controversial and, in some respects, more complicated than the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Will the government be able to get them through both Houses of Parliament in time?

The commitment was set out in the Queen’s speech:
A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses. This will be complemented by legislation to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, establishing new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries.
My government will seek to maintain a deep and special partnership with European allies and to forge new trading relationships across the globe. New bills on trade and customs will help to implement an independent trade policy, and support will be given to help British businesses export to markets around the world.
On immigration, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, kicked the issue into the long grass by asking the Migration Advisory Committee to carry out a review of the matter and report back by September 2018. Are the six remaining months before Exit Day sufficient to put a bill through parliament and then get the immigration staff and systems in place to cope with whatever arrangements are needed? I rather doubt it.

Or take agriculture. The present support system is set by Brussels through the Common Agricultural Policy. As to what will replace it after Brexit, we have yet to hear a dicky bird from the government. But whatever domestic support systems are put in place, they may not differ one iota in outcomes from the CAP without endangering British agricultural exports to Europe. Does the government have any plans to address this issue? Who knows? The position is further complicated by the fact that whatever system is introduced will have to be administered by the devolved administrations.

We are equally in the dark about fisheries, about nuclear safeguards and about international sanctions. Yet we are promised bills in the next few months on each of these issues.

Perhaps it will all come right on the night. But perhaps not ...

16 September 2017

The Blacks take the Boks to the cleaners

Game of Thrones

Petty squabbles.  The Times reports:
The Queen’s most senior courtier was forced out in a power struggle between Buckingham Palace and the Prince of Wales, The Times can reveal.
Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary, left his post in July after complaints by the prince and his brother, the Duke of York, sources said. The unprecedented ousting — the first time the Queen has got rid of her private secretary — was the climax of increasing tensions between the two royal households.
It came amid differences over how to manage the transition of power between the Queen, who is 91, and her eldest son. Royal sources said that the prince’s staff were keen to “accelerate” plans to increase his involvement in key royal events by the time he reaches 70 in November next year.
And the glittering prize for this egregious coup d'etat?
The plans are referred to in some circles as “Project 70”. Prince Charles’s team is thought to want him to be more involved in occasions such as the Royal Maundy service, when the monarch distributes alms to pensioners on the day before Good Friday, and in Commonwealth events. It would, one source said, be “to show that he is the king in waiting”.
How trivial can you get?  Off with their heads!


It's an ill wind that blaws naebody any guid.

On the one hand, shares are down:

which, to quote President Trump, is SAD!

On the other hand, the pound sterling is up against the value of the euro:

which is BEAUTIFUL!

But it all rather messes up financial planning.


15 September 2017

Quote of the day

Pontification from an attention-seeker.  The Guardian reports:
Charities have reacted angrily after the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said the rapid increase in food banks showed a “rather uplifting” picture of a compassionate country.
There are at least 2,000 food banks in the UK giving out emergency food parcels to people in hardship, according to a survey published in May. In 2010, just a handful existed.
Challenged by a caller to a radio phone-in about the rapid rise in food banks, Rees-Mogg argued on Thursday that they fulfilled a vital function. “I don’t think the state can do everything,” he said. “It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work.
“And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”
So, it's alright that people live in poverty, as it allows the better-off to demonstrate their charitable compassion?  The man's a plonker.

Anyway, if you wish to demonstrate your compassion you may do so here.  It is not difficult to do and any donation will be put to good use.


13 September 2017

Big deal?

Why would the government expect the public sector unions to accept what amounts to a pay cut in real terms?  The Guardian reports:
Theresa May’s government faces months of strife over public sector pay after a decision to lift the 1% annual cap on increases was met with derision from Labour and renewed threats of strikes by trade unions.
Following months of pressure over the issue, Downing Street simultaneously announced above 1% pay rises for police and prison officers in the last of the 2017-18 deals, and a wider commitment to “flexibility” for all public sector workers from next year.
But Jeremy Corbyn accused the Conservatives of trying to divide and rule workers, while unions representing prison officers and police dismissed their pay rises as insufficient, with the former threatening industrial action.
May’s spokesman said a cabinet meeting on Tuesday had approved a recommendation from the independent pay review body for prison officers that they receive an average 1.7% increase, backdated to April.
After years of austerity and with annual inflation running at 2.9%, the government's pay proposals demand that public sector workers accept a lower standard of living.

Perhaps Theresa might shake that old magic money tree once again; she found enough last time to bribe the DUP to keep her in power.


07 September 2017

Am I smug?

It's a tough old life for UK beer-drinkers.  The Guardian reports:
Surrey has overtaken London as the most expensive place in the UK to buy a pint, according to the latest Good Pub Guide.
Despite the fact that a beer in the capital costs £4.20 on average, drinkers can expect to pay 20p more in the traditionally well-off county, where house prices are twice the UK average.
It is the only time since the guide was first published in 1982 that the average price in London has not been the highest in Britain.
The guide found that the average price of a pint of beer in Britain is £3.60, up 13p (3.7%) in a year, compared with a year-on-year rise of 1p in 2016.
Yesterday, I paid €1.30 (roughly £1.15) for a pint in my local hostelry on the Costa del Sol.

06 September 2017

Compare and contrast

The Times' review of Mother!:

First-world problems and phony psychodrama form the basis of Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, a self-important bum-numbing film masquerading as high-class horror. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem lead a starry, and mostly wasted, cast (including Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris), in a film that’s set in a fabulous country mansion and purports to be about the pain of creation but is really just a moody version of Risky Business or Project X or any one of those movies where the kids throw a huge party that gets wildly out of control.

The Guardian's review of Mother!:

It’s a powerful enough word at the best of times, but the exclamation mark gives it that edge of delirium and melodrama and despair – just the way Norman Bates yells it at the end of Psycho. Or maybe we’re supposed to hear a second, brutal two-syllable word immediately afterwards. Darren Aronofsky’s toweringly outrageous film leaves no gob unsmacked. It is an event-movie detonation, a phantasmagorical horror and black-comic nightmare that jams the narcosis needle right into your abdomen. Mother! escalates the anxiety and ups the ante of dismay with every scene, every act, every trimester, taking us in short order from WTF to WTAF to SWTAF and beyond.

I guess I'll give it a miss ...


Five areas where the BBC World Service gets it wrong: some serious, some trivial.  But for insomniacs such as I am, who rely on the service to get us through the night, they all matter.

  • Variability of volume and tone.  BBC sound engineers used to be the best in the world, but nowadays they seem unable to ensure a consistent volume to their output, while different speakers range from admirably clear to intolerably muddy.

  • Intrusive music.  It is a mystery to me why programme-makers feel the need to interrupt their programmes with unnecessary bursts of so-called music.  Even more heinous is the playing of background music to accompany speech, thus rendering the latter barely intelligible (at least to those of a certain age whose hearing may not be all it once was).

  • Dollarisation.  Is it really necessary to translate all monetary amounts (including Neymar’s transfer fee) into US dollars?

  • Devotion to the former British Empire.  Perhaps the service should be re-titled the Africa, Middle-East and India Service because, apart from some obvious tokens, Europe and the Americas are sorely neglected.

  • Repetition.  The flagship Newshour programme begins with a statement summarising the programme’s contents; then we get 6 minutes of news; then another statement of the programme’s contents, before the programme proper gets under way.  This is interrupted at a quarter past the hour with a brief statement of the news headlines, until at 25 minutes past the hour we get a trail for some other programme, followed by yet another summary of what is to follow in the next 30 minutes, followed yet again by 3 or 4 minutes of the news, then a further summary of what is yet to come.  And so on, ad infinitum.

05 September 2017

They wiz robbed?

Scotland 2 Malta 0

Aye well, celebrations all round.  But both goals looked dodgy.  Did Berra shove the back of the Maltese defender when leaping to head in the first?  Was Griffiths offside when netting the rebound off the post?

Anyway,, Slovakia up next, then Slovenia.  (Or maybe the other way around ...)


Speak softly and carry a big stick?

Where are you, Teddy Roosevelt, when your nation needs you?

No soft speaking here:
America’s top diplomat has warned that North Korea is “begging for war” and urged the UN security council to impose the toughest sanctions possible on the isolated dictatorship.
The blunt statement by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, came as Donald Trump spoke with South Korean president Moon Jae-in and agreed that the North’s latest nuclear test was an “unprecedented” provocation.
And, although they certainly have a big stick, can they use it without bringing down the world around their ears?


01 September 2017

What are they thinking of?

The surprise is not that cash ISA investments have declined but that anyone is still prepared to make such investments.  The Guardian reports:
Cash Isa savings accounts have collapsed in popularity, with a £20bn fall in the amount invested in the space of 12 months.
A combination of changes to tax rules and continuing low interest rates have been blamed for the 33% decrease in the amounts being invested in cash Isas during the 2016-17 tax year. Revenue & Customs said the total fell to £39.2bn, down from £58.7bn the previous year.
Financial advisers Salisbury House Wealth said savers were “cottoning on to the fact that cash Isas offer very poor value”. Steve Webb, a former pensions minister and now director of policy at insurer Royal London, said the data showed that “the shine has really come off” the accounts.
The figures do not mean people are not putting money away for the future; they are just doing so in different ways. Since April 2016, the first £1,000 of interest that an individual receives from savings is now tax-free if they are a basic-rate taxpayer. For a higher-rate taxpayer the threshold is £500. This is called the personal savings allowance and means most people no longer pay tax on savings interest, a change the banking body UK Finance said recently had reduced the attraction of cash Isas.
You will be exceedingly lucky if you can get more than 0.5% interest on a cash ISA.  On the other hand, if you put the allowance (of up to £20,000) into a stocks and shares ISA, it is possible to secure an annual return of over 6%.  For example, Shell, BP, Scottish and Southern Electricity, and Centrica are each offering annual dividends of over 6%.  And yes, I have ISA investments in all four.

Of course, there is risk attached in that the value of share investments may go down and that the level of dividends may vary from year to year, but even so ...   And the value of cash ISA holdings will inevitably decline as long as inflation continues to exceed the interest rate.


31 August 2017

What else can she say?

The BBC reports:
Asked whether she wanted to lead her party into another general election, whenever that takes place, the prime minister told the BBC's Ben Wright in Kyoto that that was her intention.
"Yes, I'm here for the long term. What me and my government are about is not just delivering on Brexit but delivering a brighter future for the UK.
"It is my intention to deliver not just a good Brexit deal for the UK but to ensure 'global Britain' can take its place in the world, trading around the world and we deal with those injustices domestically that we need to do to ensure that strong, more global but also fairer Britain for the future."
If she states anything other than determination to remain in office for the foreseeable future, then the story becomes when will she go and who will replace her.  Ever since Blair promised to step down and dithered, prime ministers have to maintain the fiction that they intend to go on forever.

25 August 2017

Sport or business?

In the good old days, football clubs were owned by a local entrepreneur - a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker.  No longer.  Nowadays, it is global business.  The Guardian reports:
Manchester City’s parent company, the City Football Group, has made Girona the sixth club of its widening portfolio, after confirming a deal to purchase a major stake in the newly promoted Spanish side.
The terms give City a 44.3% share and an identical holding to Girona Football Group, the agency owned by the City manager Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere. The remaining stake is owned by a Girona fans’ association.
Girona are playing in La Liga for the first time in their 87-year history after promotion last season, having reached the play-offs in three of the previous four campaigns. The clubs said negotiations began last year and that Girona’s “on- and off-field potential, together with a positive academy track record” played a significant part in bringing the deal to fruition.
Since Sheikh Mansour bought City in September 2008 his Abu Dhabi-based CFG has acquired the start-up MLS franchise New York City FC, the Australian A-League side Melbourne City, Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos, Club Atl├ętico Torque in Uruguay, and now Girona.
It means CFG is represented in the Premier League and La Liga, Europe’s richest, as well as on four other continents: Oceania, Asia, North America and South America. City are also two years into a five-year agreement with NAC Breda that involves their players being loaned to the Dutch club.

Is this a good thing?  I doubt it.


24 August 2017

Quote of the day

From Hillary Clinton (here):

“This is not OK, I thought,” Ms Clinton says. “It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me.”

The debate took place two days after an audiotape emerged in which Mr Trump was heard bragging about groping women.
“We were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled,” Ms Clinton says in her book.

“It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching: ‘Well, what would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women but you can't intimidate me.’”

Ms Clinton says she chose the first option.
“I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off,” she says.
But Ms Clinton wonders whether she should have chosen the second option.
“It certainly would have been better TV,” she says. “Maybe I have over-learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”

Did those who voted for Brexit consider the effect it would have on the cost of their holidays?

The pound hits a new low against the euro:

It is now trading at 1.0836 euros to the £, but if you are buying currency for your holidays you will get even less.

My life in Spain becomes daily more expensive.


23 August 2017

Whither Afghanistan?

Is the military really in control?  The Independent  appears to think so:
Trump has been subject to a military coup behind the scenes – this is the beginning of the end for his presidency

He is now so enfeebled that the Generals and Admirals are not just emboldened to ignore his orders with contempt (not a blind bit of notice was taken of his ban on transgender people in the military). They are dictating foreign policy even when it directly undermines the support of Trump’s base.
On the other hand:
In narrowly military terms, the detail he announced on Monday seems irrelevant gesturing. He gave no firm detail at all, in fact, though it is believed that the current US deployment of some 8,000 troops has been boosted to 12,000. Afghanistan was an anarchic hellhole with 100,000 US soldiers on its soil. An extra 4,000 in a country as large and chaotic is purely symbolic.  
If the generals were truly in charge, we might have expected something more than a symbolic gesture ...


17 August 2017

It's a stoater!

The Irish border is more than a three-pipe problem.  The Independent explains:
The reason why the Irish border issue hasn’t been sorted out more than a year after the Brexit referendum is that it cannot logically be the same as it is now – frictionless and seamless. When the UK leaves the EU customs union, with or without transition arrangements, some mechanism will be necessary to certify origins, to ensure that goods imported into the UK cannot travel into the European Union, ie Ireland, without some notification of their origin and whether they conform to EU rules and have paid EU duties, and vice versa. Otherwise the EU’s common tariff barrier and [with] the rest of the world cannot work. Modern technology and licences granted to trusted companies can help assist this, but the fact remains that some fresh bureaucracy, even if mostly digital in form, will be required, and human beings will be needed to police it.
Even if the customs union problem could be settled with countless ANPRs (automatic number plate recognition cameras) and CCTV posts, that still leaves the even more fraught issue of the free movement of people. There is nothing today to stop, say, a Lithuanian flying to Dublin, taking a train to Belfast and entering the UK.
In other words, David Davis, Michel Barnier, the Irish cabinet and all the other clever people around the capitals of Europe have failed in their quest to make two plus two equal five. It is as if a team of mathematicians had promised to make two plus two equal five because that is what everyone agrees it should be – there is lots of goodwill behind the idea, it would make life a lot easier, and it would be much worse for peace in Ireland if two and two actually made four. Of course they could be locked in a room until the end of time and still not find a way to make two plus two equal five, because it can’t, and no amount of wrangling will make it happen.
The only solution (and it is essentially a non-solution) is for everyone to ignore the problem.  Maintain the status quo on the border and simply accept that there may be leakage of goods into and out of the EU Customs Union and of a modest amount of uncontrolled emigration from the EU into Northern Ireland (and thence into the UK)..  Would that be so bad?

15 August 2017


Ryanair are being public-spirited?  The Guardain reports:
Ryanair has called for a crackdown on alcohol sales at British airports after claiming that airlines are saddled with the consequences of passengers getting drunk before flights.
Europe’s biggest short-haul airline has proposed a ban on early morning sales of alcohol in bars and restaurants, and limiting the number of drinks sold per boarding pass.
The call comes after figures showed a spike in alcohol-related arrests at airports or in the air, while a major survey of cabin crew found most had witnessed drunken and disruptive behaviour on board.
I have never noticed Ryanair being reluctant to sell booze in-flight, at any time of the day or night.  But, of course they charge a fiver for a miniature of spirits and, presumably, make a handsome profit in doing so.


Wishing and hoping

The government's new proposals for a temporary customs union do not take us much further.  The Guardian reports:
Ministers hope to strike a temporary deal with the European Union to retain the key benefits of the customs union for an interim period after Brexit, to avoid cross-border commerce grinding to a halt.
The government will use a position paper published on Tuesday to reveal that, for a brief period, it will seek a deal allowing the transit of goods across borders to continue as now – perhaps by striking a “temporary customs union”.
Ministers hope this will avoid economic disruption by giving businesses and officials time to gear up for a new customs regime; while sidestepping the constraint that full members of the customs union are not allowed to strike independent trade deals with non-EU countries.
The government will say it wants to create “the freest and most frictionless possible trade in goods between the UK and the EU”.
Yeah, and I want to be a billionaire married to Scarlett Johansson.

Why would the EU allow the UK access to a customs union if the latter is simultaneously permitted to negotiate external trade deals?  And how much would the EU expect the UK to pay for the privilege?  And would the ECJ not have to adjudicate disputes?  And, thus, we are back to the same old, same old ...


12 August 2017

General confusion

When General "Mad-Dog" Mattis, US Defence Secretary met General Kelly, Trump's new Chief of Staff:
John F Kelly is the new chief of staff. He also used to be a general. No special nickname. Today he tells me that Kim’s escalating rhetorical war with POTUS is worrying him enormously.
“The guy is a maniac!” he says. “He’s unpredictable! He could drag the world into war without even meaning to!”
“He’s unstable!” I agree. “His inferiority complex and fragile ego are a danger to us all!”
Then we both suddenly look at each other, and blush.
“Out of interest,” says Kelly, carefully, “who were you actually talking about?”
“You first,” I say.
Something to  do with the hairstyles, probably ...

11 August 2017

Quote of the day

Trump again (here):
"I will tell you this, if North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us they can be very, very nervous.
"I'll tell you why… because things will happen to them like they never thought possible."
 "I will tell you this, North Korea better get their act together or they're gonna be in trouble like few nations have ever been."
He sounds increasingly like some local  mafia enforcer.trying to put the squeeze on the local shopkeepers.  I will tell you this, he is sorely in  need of a better scriptwriter.


09 August 2017

Quote of the day

President Trump would not appear to be calming matters:
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," he told reporters, referring to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. "He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Hyperbolic bombast.