Given this, there can only be one choice for this week:
29 January 2016
What is the world coming to? The Times reports:
There was a time when no French village would be without its flour-covered baker — an endless source of bread and gossip.
Now this most emblematic of Gallic figures is being replaced by a machine after the invention of the automatic baguette distributor.
Hundreds of the vending machines, which cost about €9,000 each, have appeared on streets across the country, and manufacturers say there is no end in sight to the rise in sales.Mon dieu! Qu'est-ce qui se passe? Où sont les neiges d'antan? Foutu ...
From The Guardian (here):
... for three years, Google’s tax avoidance has bubbled away in the news and calls for any kind of collective action have never got further than a few comment pieces and a bit of noise on social media. Four years ago, one tweeter nailed the obvious reason why. “That’s it. I’m boycotting Google,” he wrote. “Apart from their maps. And their search engine. And the docs. And Gmail. Other than that, we’re over.”You may wish to note that Blogger, which is the cost-free host of this blog, is also part of Google. As is YouTube. Oh, and also the Chrome browser ...
28 January 2016
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter today to blast politicians in the UK and the US for giving Google an easy way out of questions over its tax arrangements.
Google recently reached a £130m deal with HMRC over corporation tax claims covering a 10-year period.
However, Murdoch referred to the payment as a "token amount", handed over for "PR purposes".
In a series of tweets, the News Corp boss accused politicians of being "easily awed" by tech industry figures such as Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and said the tech giant had "planted dozens of their people" in governments around the world.I have a vague recollection of senior figures in the Murdoch empire getting close to the Prime Minister - country suppers, loan of a horse, meetings on yachts, etc ... But perhaps the old monster is merely envious.
27 January 2016
Like Topsy, it just grows and grows. The Guardian reports:
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, will report its 2015 earnings next week and is expected to confirm that offshore cash funds have grown by about $4bn in just 12 months.
Offshore reserves of $43bn, held largely through Bermuda, represent profits from markets outside the US. Of these markets, the UK is the largest, accounting for 17% of non-US sales. But latest published accounts show Google’s UK subsidiary paid just £21m in tax for 2013.
Google’s tax structure means income from many major overseas markets – including £4.56bn from the UK – is booked through Ireland. Much of it is then bounced through the Netherlands and back to Ireland and Bermuda. These strategies are known in tax jargon as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich”.Tax strategies have nicknames?
26 January 2016
Even The Times thinks it is on the dodgy side:
If Google thought it would win brownie points from its tax deal with the UK authorities, it misjudged things badly.
It might not be terribly fair. At least Google is coughing up £130 million more than it might have done otherwise had it dug in its heels. In future, it will pay a bit more than it did in the past. Yet the deal looks terrible, playing into the hands of those who see tax for multinationals as optional and usually cooked up in cosy sweetheart pacts with the Revenue.
The timing of the announcement, 10 o’clock on Friday night, looked suspicious, as did the paucity of hard information in the Google statement. George Osborne’s hailing of it as a “major success” was not a good idea. People are more likely to remember Boris Johnson’s verdict: “Derisory.”So there you go - mud all over the government, the HMRC and Google ...
21 January 2016
20 January 2016
Alex Massie of The Spectator channels his inner Clint Eastwood:
Support for the Union – the British Union, that is – has never been more provisional or contractual. The idea of independence cannot be put away or dismissed as unthinkable. It is plainly thinkable and thoughts, once thunk, cannot be unthunked.
So imagine a situation in which, just for the sake of argument, Scotland voted 65-35 (as the latest poll suggests might happen) to stay In but the UK as a whole voted 51-49 to Leave. That would be a clear, unambiguous, declaration of difference between Scotland and England. (A reminder, too, that though the Scots and the English largely think alike on most subjects, europe is a large and, in fact, ever-heftier exception to that general rule.)
Sure, it would be a decision made by Britain for Britain but it would not be universally perceived as such in Scotland. Here it would be seen by many people as though Scotland – at present much more than a region but not quite a state – was being forced to leave the EU despite manifestly preferring not to.
And that would change things. It would leave people here questioning whether Britain was still home, whether there was still a future here. At the very least, it would open space for a fresh discussion on this question. What kind of country is this? What kind of country would it like to be? If one jig is up, another ship can sail too. Perceptions would shift; impressions would change.
I assure Brexiters that a post-Brexit indyref campaign that argued Scotland cannot afford to be independent or in the EU if England is not is an argument that cannot be won with honour even if it were won at all. It would leave many Scots thinking, Well, maybe that’s true. But we’ll no be told that by the likes of you. We’ll make our own decisions, for ourselves, for better or even for worse....In the end it is simple and it comes down to this: Is there a risk Brexit might lead to the break-up of Britain? People who’ve been wrong about everything in the past tell us there isn’t. Other people, including many people who actually live in Scotland, suggest there is a risk.Perhaps it is only a small risk; it remains, I think, a risk. An entirely avoidable one, too.
So this is what it ends as: I know what you’re thinking Brexiters, ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But [being that this is a powerful set of constitutional problems] you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?
The constant admonitions to reduce our booze intake appear to be having little effect. The Guardian reports:
Disgraceful. Mine's another G&T, Jeeves ...
Soaring sales of sparkling wine, beer and gin at bargain prices helped supermarkets to a much happier than expected Christmas, figures show.
Total sales of beer, wine and spirits rose 2.2% across the grocery market in the three months to 3 January, according to analysts at Kantar Worldpanel, boosted by an 11% increase in sales of sparkling wines.
Sales were driven by bargain prices, with 16 out of the top 20 spirits cheaper than a year earlier, according to Nielsen. The market research group said the grocers had used discounts to pull in shoppers.
Sales of gin in the major supermarkets rose by more than £14m to £121m, making it the fastest growing spirit, followed by cream liqueurs, including Bailey’s Original, which was on offer at Asda and Morrisons, Nielsen said. But the researchers also marked out sparkling wine as the standout category, with nearly 16% more bottles sold as prices fell.
Disgraceful. Mine's another G&T, Jeeves ...
17 January 2016
From my old acquaintance, Will Hutton, in The Observer (here):
The Chinese economy is a giant Ponzi scheme. Tens of trillions of dollars are owed to essentially bankrupt banks – and worse, bankrupt near-banks that operate in the murky shadowlands of a deeply dysfunctional mix of Leninism and rapacious capitalism. The Chinese Communist party has bought itself temporary legitimacy by its shameless willingness to direct state-owned banks to lend to consumers and businesses with little attention to their creditworthiness. Thus it has lifted growth and created millions of jobs.
It is an edifice waiting to implode. Chinese business habitually bribes Communist officials to put pressure on their bankers to forgive loans or commute interest; most loans only receive interest payments haphazardly or not at all. If the losses were crystallised, the banking system would be bust overnight. On top, huge loans have been made to China’s vast oil, gas and chemical industries on the basis of oil being above $60 a barrel, so more losses are in prospect.
Hard to disagree. But what to do about it? Aye, there's the rub ....
16 January 2016
From The Independent (here):
Are your feet icy cold despite you wearing thick socks and slippers? Is your boiler revealing itself to be on its last legs? Did you go to work in dank darkness and return in the very same dank darkness? Are you fatter than you were in October and have no one to blame but yourself and a tub of Lindt milk-chocolate reindeers? Has a curious despondency over the point of human existence enveloped your soul? Well, this is what January in Great Britain feels like. The sooner you accept it the better.Being back in Edinburgh is not actually as depressing as the above might imply. But "dank darkness" rings a bell. Meanwhile my chums in Spain are still sipping their beers on the terrace in the sunshine. As the taxi driver from the airport said "why did you come back?".
But needs must. And there is a perverse calvinistic pleasure in tholing the worst that the weather throws at us. Besides, it is difficult to find a decent mutton pie in Andalucia ...
15 January 2016
Not my idea of a party. CityAM reports:
If you want to celebrate the Queen's birthday with her in what will be one of the biggest street parties the country has ever seen, you will need to fork out £150.
Tickets to the Queen's 90th birthday party in The Mall, Westminster, are to be sold for the Patron's Lunch on 12 June, her grandson announced.
While most of the 10,000 guests will be from organisations associated with the monarch, 1,000 tickets will be released in a public ballot in February, Peter Phillips said. The winners will be able to buy the tickets from the event's website.
13 January 2016
I see that the Royal Bank of Scotland has been doom-mongering:
... RBS advice, which warned that investors face a “cataclysmic year” where stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could slump to $16 a barrel.
In a note to its clients the bank said: “Sell everything except high-quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.” It said the current situation was reminiscent of 2008, when the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank led to the global financial crisis. This time China could be the crisis point, RBS said.A bit late in the day, I would have thought, as the FTSE-100 has fallen from over 7000 last April to substantially below 6000 today. And, anyway, if you liquidate all of your investments, what are you going to do with the cash? Stick it in a bank account where it will earn less than peanuts in interest? Even buying additional property is subject to increased attention from the taxman.
But you can still find shares at relatively cheap prices offering reasonable dividend prospects, especially in the utilities, telecomms and retail sectors. Probably best avoid oil companies and miners for now.
12 January 2016
The teflon civil servant. The Times reports:
Lin Homer, the chief executive of Revenue and Customs, has announced that she is quitting her job only two weeks after being made a dame.
She will leave in April after a barrage of criticism from MPs over her performance at HMRC and at the UK Borders Agency before that.Wikipedia has the mud attaching to her stellar career:
In 2005, she was criticised by the Election Commissioner for failings in her role as returning officer during a postal vote-rigging scandal involving Labour candidates the previous year, described by the Commissioner as one that "would disgrace a banana republic", and involving hundreds of votes failing to be counted.
The Home Office was re-organised in 2008, with the formation of the Border and Immigration Agency, later renamed the UK Border Agency, of which Homer became the first chief executive. In 2013, Homer's tenure at UKBA was criticised for its "catastrophic leadership failure" by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which said it had been repeatedly misled by the Agency. Committee chairman Keith Vaz said her performance was "more like the scene of a Whitehall farce than a government agency operating in the 21st century".
In March 2013, HMRC was criticised by the House of Commons Public Accounts Select Committee for its "unambitious and woefully inadequate" response to a report from the UK National Audit Officein December 2012 concerning poor customer service by HMRC. Homer has said that the agency has "turned a corner" in dealing with the 79 million calls and 25 million pieces of post received by HMRC each year, having injected £34 million to tackle the problem with that aim of reaching a 90 per cent success rate.
Happy retirement to Dame Lin. No doubt a lucrative post in the financial sector awaits ...
11 January 2016
According to The Times, accountants are having fun. Yes, I know it goes totally against the grain, but there you are:
There has never been a more fun time to be an accountant. Yes, really. This week, after the small matter of 20 years chatting about it, the international accounting standards board finally will abolish the last bastion of off-balance sheet financing with new rules on operating leases.
All companies lease something or other, but it is big-ticket leasers, such as airlines or retailers with multiple rented aircraft or properties, that will be affected most.
The new rules mean the value of that, say, five-year lease on a plane or shop will have to be recognised as an asset on the balance sheet. And its total cost over that time will have to be registered as an upfront liability.
This plainly is going to wreak financial reporting havoc, with higher interest and amortisation costs in the profit and loss account while debt numbers get appreciably larger. There will not be a banking covenant in the land that will be left unlooked at. Key performance indicators such as return on capital employed will have to be recalibrated.Gee whiz - how terrifically exciting.
09 January 2016
From Jeremy Corbyn's diary - according to The Times (here):
I’m locked in the opposition offices in the House of Commons, beginning work on my new year reshuffle. Shouldn’t take long.
“It’s a shame George Galloway lost his seat,” says John McDonnell. “Because he’d have made an excellent shadow defence secretary.”
I tell him I’m actually thinking of Diane Abbott, but Diane says she’s quite happy in her current role.
“Although I cannot at this precise moment remember,” she adds, “what it actually is.”
Then Seumas, my press guy, says the Blarites are all spreading rumours about a purge.
“We can’t have that,” says Diane. “You need to purge them.”
“Or kneecap them,” says John.
“Stop it,” I say. “That’s the old politics. This is the new politics. People need to be free to disagree with me.”
Diane says she’s not sure she agrees with that.
“Kneecap her,” says John.
08 January 2016
From The Guardian (here):
Yeah but, no but, yeah but, no but, yeah but. Only a few weeks ago George Osborne was telling the country that we’d never had it so good, Britain had the strongest economy on the planet and he was the man to fix the roof when the sun was shining. Since then it’s been raining rather heavily and the chancellor used an awayday to Cardiff to explain that, though everything was still absolutely fine, the roof repairs would have to be put on hold indefinitely as the economy was in danger of going tits up within the year thanks to a Sino-Corbynista global conspiracy. Or something like that.
07 January 2016
The Independent reports:
Fried breakfast lovers faced are rejoicing as black pudding has reportedly joined the ranks of kale, blueberries and pomegranate as a superfood.
The blood sausage, traditionally eaten with a full English breakfast, is being celebrated as a great source of iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Both the MailOnline and the Evening Standardare among publications to report that black puddings, which generally contain pork blood and oatmeal, are going to be an it-food of 2016.But the king of black puddings is Stornoway Black Pudding. You can buy by mail order here.
06 January 2016
David Cameron on the EU referendum:
“My intention is that at the conclusion of the renegotiation, the government should reach a clear recommendation and then the referendum will be held. It is the nature of a referendum that it is the people, not the politicians, who decide.
“And, as indicated before Christmas, there will be a clear government position, but it will be open to individual ministers to take a different personal position while remaining part of the government.”Not entirely clear how there can be "a clear government position" if some ministers take one position while others take a different stance. But then, words mean what Cameron says they mean ... it's black and white, innit?
04 January 2016
From The Times (here):
The difference between craft beer and real ale is easy to spot. Craft beer is sipped by young men with beards and six-packs for stomachs. Real ale is supped by older men with beards and party sevens for waistlines.
And that’s about it. Oh, and craft beer is stupidly expensive.Alright, I have a beard and the waistline is not what it once was, but that's no reason to dwell on the matter ...
02 January 2016
Asking for trouble? The Times reports:
Texans are now allowed to carry handguns in holsters on their hip for the first time since the days of the Wild West — the latest relaxation of firearms laws in a country suffering a seemingly endless spate of mass shootings.
The Lone Star state may be synonymous with pistol-toting cowboys, but for more than a century its residents were banned from openly carrying handguns. That changed yesterday; a move that symbolises a nationwide drift towards more gun-friendly laws.
The Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a mentally ill man, provoked national outrage and calls for stricter firearms controls — but Congress rejected a bill the following year that would have expanded background checks to all gun sales, including those at gun shows and over the internet, which are exempt.
From The Times (here):
For anyone surprised that a Carry On star with a colourful past is now a dame, the tweeter @NickMotown argued: “Many believe Barbara Windsor should’ve had a damehood years ago for services to innuendo. Nice to see someone’s finally given her one.”Ho, ho, ho ...