Issue 63: 2016 07 21: Contents

 21 July 2016: Issue 63
trading insults - see Chin Chin

trading insults – see Chin Chin

Week in Brief

UK

International

Financial

Comment

Mrs May’s Strategy by John Watson

Can Johnson’s skills get Britain’s views through to the European public?

The Other Side of the Hill by Neil Tidmarsh

The new Cold War and an old problem with guesswork.

boris

The new Foreign Secretary

Gone For A Constitutional by J R Thomas

The potential complications of fixed-term parliaments.

On peut faire plus et on peut faire mieux? by Richard Pooley

The response to the tragedy in Nice.

Tantric Central Banking by Frank O’Nomics

Dithering over rate moves hides a fundamental impotence.

Features

Sparkling Epithets by Chin Chin

l2Boris will have to do better.

Pedalling To Atlantis by J.R.Thomas

The Dunwich Dynamo.

The Case For Experts by Lynda Goetz

Why we need to listen to those with knowledge.

Crossword

“Turkey”.

Solution to the last crossword “Plain Vanilla 10”.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 59: 23 June 2016

Issue 60: 30 June 2016

Issue 61: 07 July 2016

Issue 62: 14 July 2016

Issue 64: 2016 07 28: University Education (John Watson)

28 July 2016

University Education

The need for reform.

By John Watson

Watson,-John_640c480 head shotIt was inevitable, I suppose, that universities would eventually lift charges to their students to take account of inflation. It was also inevitable that their ability to do so would be linked to the quality of the teaching. After all, if the student pays, teaching is what is being bought and, if the charges are to be at all respectable, the appearance of a bargain must be preserved.

A bargain? Really? Is that it? Are state and student to be regarded as somehow at arm’s-length as if there was no common interest in the education of the young? Perhaps then we should do the same with schools. Don’t go if you don’t want to pay, and if that results in disaffected and uneducated youth communicating with the rest of the community in aggressive grunts – well, I suppose that is what we have a prison system for.

Aha, you may say, there lies the difference. Everyone has to go to school but not everyone has to go to university. Why should taxes from those who sweat to support themselves without degrees subsidise those who have the privilege of three years leisurely studying? To disentangle all this we need a starting point and perhaps the right way to begin is to ask ourselves why people go to university at all. There are a number of different reasons.

In reality most people go to complete their education.  Secondary education ends with A-levels when pupils are seventeen or eighteen years old. At that stage they are relatively immature (forgive me, please, younger readers) and go to university as a general preparation for life. Here university functions as a sort of academic finishing school, neatly filling in the gap between adolescence and adulthood. Of course students will study a subject while they are there and no doubt that will develop their minds, but the fact that courses are so specialised can only reduce the quality of the overall education they receive.

Arts or sciences? English or history? Maths or engineering?  One maths or two?  These choices do not just have to be made when applying for a place at university. Many of them have to be made two years earlier when A-level subjects are being selected. So what are the results of that? Mathematicians and scientists who are not trained to express themselves outside the narrow confines of their subjects. English students, whose grip on figures does not allow them to understand the numbers-driven society which they try to write about. Voters who do not know enough history to understand why it went wrong when we tried it last time.

None of that makes much sense, but it will make still less in a society which moves away from the idea of a lifelong career. If roles are to change over a working life (which seems to be the current fashion in social predictions) flexibility is needed. That means a good general education with a focus on how to learn, not just a focus on isolated disciplines – a system which turns modern youth into Renaissance Man or Renaissance Woman as the case may be.

By these criteria the present system fails badly, leaving students with gaps in their knowledge like missing teeth in the mouth of a prize fighter. The only sensible answer is to replace A-levels with a baccalaureate and to devote at least the first year of the degree course to a far more general education.

Of course extending general education is not all that universities are about. They need to be fountains of scholarly research and to foster intellectual talent in specialist areas. This is a different role and must be filled in a different way.

When I was at university, I studied mathematics. To be honest I was not particularly good at it, my “glass ceiling” being (luckily) just high enough to accommodate the undergraduate degree. I attended lectures by world-class mathematicians but actually I would gladly have swapped a bit of the world classiness for a higher standard of lecturing. Along with other slightly pedestrian students I used to copy down the notes from the blackboard and that was much more exciting than it seemed because of a pulley mechanism under which, once a blackboard was completed, it disappeared behind its successor.

Picture the scene. The lecturer would have got to the bottom of the board and I would be scribbling along a few lines behind him. Suddenly “whoosh” the boards would be reversed so that the lines which I was copying would be hidden from view.  That was bad for me and the slower students as we would have to reconstruct the notes with our friends afterwards. The really good students, however, did not need to copy the notes verbatim in the first place and moved to the next board at the same time as, and with the same enthusiasm as, the lecturer.

At tutorials there was a disparity too. For the really talented, being tutored by some the world’s best minds gave insights which helped them to reach their potential. For the rest of us, although it was an exciting experience, we would probably have done better with less brilliance and a little more teaching technique.

Of course teaching at universities isn’t just about the general education or the grooming of top minds. There are other things besides, career-orientated courses for one. Not everyone who reads medicine or law is planning a career in those professions, but many of them are and to that extent we are probably talking job-training just as much as education.

From the student’s point of view it is impossible to disentangle all this. Who knows, at the age of eighteen, whether he or she will become a top academic or whether university is just a further step in general education? How do you know whether you will ultimately become a lawyer or whether, as you mature, you will find a different walk of life more interesting? The system has to accommodate everyone in a way which will inevitably be a little rough and ready. Nonetheless, there are a few general points worth noting.

The first, which has already been made, is the need to start with a more general education. You can put the case in various ways.  You can say that there is no point in having scientists who cannot express themselves or arts students who cannot think numerically. You can point to the sheer inefficiency of a system which makes it difficult for a student who discovers that when he made his A level choices he misunderstood his true talent. You can point to the lack of the flexibility which people need if they are to be able to switch careers and use their leisure. Put it whichever way you like, there can be little doubt that the first year of university should be a far more general one.

The second point is one of recognition. There is a danger of over-emphasizing sheer teaching ability when assessing the quality of the courses provided. Yes, for most of us, good teaching ability coupled with a reasonable grasp of the subject will suffice. For the really talented, however, it reverses and the mastery of the subject by the teacher becomes all-important. The government is anxious to open the tertiary education to non-University providers. They will inevitably focus on teaching ability rather than on the reputation of their academics. All very nice for the run-of-the-mill student but not too good for those who should fly to the top.

Finally there is the question of money. There is already concern that some sectors of society (young white males for example) are becoming reluctant to go to university because of the costs involved.  That is a tragedy, not just for them but also for society. It is certainly a very unfortunate by product of the problems of student debt.

Student fees do, of course, have some advantages. They make students feel more entitled to protest at bad teaching, leading to improvements in teaching practice at a number of institutions. They also make students more aware of the value of the education they are receiving. Perhaps then there is some merit in charging something, but it hardly justifies a level which creates a substantial burden of debt or puts young talented people off going to university at all.

The country is facing a period of austerity over the next few years. Money will be short in universities as well as everywhere else.  Perhaps, then, fees will have to run at current levels in the near future. That, however, is very far from saying that the current high levels are in any possible way a good thing.  As soon as we can afford it, fees should come down very substantially. The health of the country depends on its young people.  In Darwinian terms it is more important that we look after them than that we preserve the triple lock on pensions for our own retirements.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: Breeding relative poverty (by Frank O’Nomics)

28 July 2016

Breeding relative poverty

Public policy will need to move to favour Millennials.

by Frank O’Nomics

Many of us have suspected it for some time, but last week we got two studies to confirm our fears – the chances are, our children will earn less than us.  Theresa May was thinking along these lines when she talked on the steps of No 10, about a growing divide between a “more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation”.  The current generation of over-60s may be luxuriating in the benefits of having bought cheap housing, had free university education and a defined benefit pension, and it now seems that the next generation of retirees will have also earned more money.

It is reasonable to expect older people to have accumulated more wealth, but the fact that those aged 65-74 hold more wealth than all those under 45, despite the latter group being twice as large is disturbing.  Much of it has to do with the movement in property prices and there is little that can be done about that – but it is the difference in income, rather than wealth, that is the real worry.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies has produced a report which shows that, since the financial crisis, the income of 22 to 30 years olds has fallen some 7% in real terms, while that of the over sixties has risen around 11% – and these numbers do not take account of movements in housing costs, which are more of an issue for the young than the old.  The conclusions of this report are compounded by one from the Resolution Foundation, which showed that so called “Millennials” are set to become the first generation to earn less over their lifetimes than their predecessors.  The studies raise some important questions regarding what has driven this turn in a very long–term historical trend, and more importantly what the implications are likely to be.  One might argue that, if these changes are part of a process that leaves fewer people in poverty, we should not be too concerned.  Sadly, this does not seem to be the case and, as the spending of wealthier generations influences the expectations of the young, this raises the prospect of many of them running ever greater debts in an effort to emulate their elders.

For the purposes of clarity,  it is worth outlining the generational groups that are being assessed.  There has been an outbreak of buzz-word bingo which can be confusing.  What we are looking at  is a comparison of the earnings of the “baby boomers” (born between 1946 and 1966), “Generation X” (born 1966-1980) and the Millennials (born 1980-2000).  Those under 35s will have earned, according to the Resolution Foundation, £8,000 less in their twenties than Generation X, and this could deteriorate if we are to enter a post-Brexit recession.  The situation is made worse by the spending patterns of the young, where rent has become a key expenditure as they cannot raise the deposit for a mortgage (the average for which is now over £33,000 according to the Halifax).  Millennials wll have spent £44,000 more than baby boomers did on rent by the time they reach 30, and £25,000 more than Generation X.  Is this all a product of the financial crisis?  Not really – it seems that the income and expenditure trends were well in place prior to 2008 and have merely accelerated since.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies does give us some clarity over the drivers behind the increasing income gap between the young and the old.  A significant factor for the over-60’s has been a strong growth in benefits.  Since 2010, the state pension has been increasing at the higher of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5% (the so-called “triple lock”).  On top of the old have benefited from winter fuel allowances, free bus passes, free prescriptions and free TV licenses (if over 75).  It would appear that successive governments have made great efforts to woo the grey vote, but have focussed very little on the income disparity created.  The other key factor has been the increase in the number of over-60 year olds who are still working; for now this is of less concern.  If people are fit and healthy enough to carry on working and wish to maintain their levels of spending that is a good thing – at least while we are in an environment of steadily falling unemployment (which has just broken 5% for the first time since 2005).  For now the young may not criticize the old for having jobs that should rightly be theirs, and it seems that many older people are still working so that they can help their children and grandchildren.

If we were just talking about a frustration at having to rent, or at not being able to afford to join the silver surfers on the beach, the debate would be of only passing interest.  However, the data produced by the IFS does raise issues about increasing poverty.  On the positive side, the proportion of children who live in a workless household has now fallen to 1/6 as opposed to ¼ in 1994/5, but 2/3 of children that are classified as poor have a parent in a job.  The IFS describes the “new poor”, where half of the families rent rather than own a property, and middle-income families with a child now get 30% of their income from the state (via tax credits) compared to 20 years ago when this was 20%.  As with the Resolution Foundation, the IFS raises the prospect of this state of affairs deteriorating as Brexit has an impact on living standards.

David Willetts (a former Tory minister) chairs the Resolution Foundation and has launched an “intergenerational commission “ to examine how much young people are likely to miss out. “Fairness between the generations is something that public policy has ignored for too long,” he argues – and it seems that he has a strong point.  Having just come through an experience (the Brexit vote) which risked driving a wedge between the generations, we are now faced with a potential shift in policy that needs to favour the young.  Whether older people are prepared to accept this will depend on just how much they are asked to pay.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: Week in brief (business)

28 July 2016

Week in Brief:BUSINESS AND THE CITY

NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background

REACHING OUT:  Ofcom have finally issued their long delayed report on British Telecom’s infrastructure business, Openreach.  Openreach is the telecoms equivalent of Railtrack in that it owns the wires and fibres and transmission equipment which allows broadband connections – not just for BT, but for all other retail customer service providers.  That has becoming increasingly of concern to independent providers, who feel they get a second rate (and over-priced) service as they try to compete with BT’s broadband services.  Openreach is obliged by statute to offer equal access to all customers but there is concern among many independents that its primary focus is on its owner and main customer, BT.  Most independents would probably like to see BT broken up and Openreach become an independent company; but Ofcom had already ruled this out in a preliminary report earlier this year.

Their full report confirms that they are stopping short of calling for a breakup, but suggesting that although BT retain full ownership of Openreach, it should be become effectively an independent company within the BT group, with its own independent board of executives and all staff working for Openreach, not as part of a BT career path.  It should also be in control of its own budget and develop its own brand, clearly different to that of BT.  However BT would still appoint the non-executive directors (in consultation with Ofcom) and it is not clear how Ofcom would see the financial structure of an Openreach operating seperately fro BT.   Ofcom is now consulting the industry and soliciting views on this proposal – which seems unlikely to be popular with BT’s service competitors, or indeed own customers, who would like to see wider competition to BT to encourage price cutting and improved service.

TROUBLES IN KING’S CROSS:   No, not on the railways, but in the smart office block on York Way next to the station; King’s Place, the arts centre whose upper floors are occupied by the Guardian newspaper.  As we have mentioned here before, the Guardian is struggling to make the newspaper pay, with falling print circulation, falling advertising revenue, insufficient revenue from the growing and well regarded on-line version, and rising costs which it is belatedly tackling as it tries to achieve  the difficult balancing act of keeping the newsroom team as intact as it can.  The position of the board was that high quality writing and presentation would win through and certainly the team of journalists is much bigger (and arguably more experienced) than most quality nationals.  Unfortunately though the theory has not proved compelling on the revenue side and earlier this year the board announced 250 voluntary job cuts, a target which was oversubscribed.  As a result the workforce has been cut by 20%, but losses announced earlier this week were still appreciably higher than forecast, at £173m.  This was not just the losses of the newspaper.  There are also losses from the write down by the parent company, Guardian Media Group,  of its major investment in Ascential, a magazine and media group, much of which was floated off from GMG some years ago to raise the pot of cash which is what keeps the Guardian going.  There is still £750m in that pot, and the Ascential stake is worth over £200m even after the right down, but at the rate the Guardian is burning cash, the necessity of returning it to cash flow positive is becoming a burning issue.

The Guardian is far from the only newspaper with such problems – the Daily Mail and General Trust, owners of the Daily Mail and associated newspapers, said last week that print advertising revenues are down 10% although partially offset by 12% growth in on-line advertising – from a much lower base.  Overall that put the newspaper business revenues down about 6%.   And the Financial Times has also said that its advertising revenue is declining and starting to cause concern.

PREMIER CHANGES:   Premier Foods, that is.  The major British food brand specialist – Bisto gravy, Mr Kipling Cakes, and Ambrosia custard are perhaps its best known brands but it owns many other names that you may find in your kitchen pantry – has announced an increase in turnover for its first quarter’s trading for this financial year, though the improvement is mostly in its non-branded products,  (those made for food retailers mostly under their labels rather than as an independent brand) , which saw growth of nearly 10%.  The branded business saw much slower growth, at under 1%.  This comes as a relief to shareholders who rejected a takeover bid in March from the American food giant McCormick (its third attempt at taking over Premier) and then saw the share price plummet, as reported here earlier this year.  However, the faith in the existing management may turn out to be well placed – the deal with Japanese noodle maker Nissin (a 20% shareholder in Premier) is signed, Premier have announced plans to invest heavily in its soup and veggie brand Batchelors, which is showing good growth, and its joint venture with drinks manufacturer Knighton is also going well.  The share price has recovered on all this improved trading and a positive statement from the company’s management, even though Premier says it will not be paying dividends for a while yet, to conserve cash.

MOVING UNDER ITS OWN VEOLIA-TION:   EDF, the French energy giant, may still be struggling with the decision as to whether to proceed at Hinckley Point to build a new nuclear power station, but its much smaller French competitor, Veolia, has no doubts about the opportunities for profitable business in the UK.  Its traditional business was and remains water supply and garbage disposal, but the growth part of its enterprise is increasingly seen as green energy generation.  It is proposing to invest around £750m in green energy power sources, about a third of which will be spent on a waste powered power plant in Hertfordshire, with other initiatives to follow across the country.  The company said that it does want Mrs May to clarify her new government’s policy on green issues, which appears to have been downgraded in her new ministerial appointments, but its waste energy generation plants, although not entirely green (they produce carbon dioxide, though less than most carbon sources) do solve another problem, the disposal of the vast amount of rubbish which we produce.  Veolia has an existing plant at New Cross in south-east London which not only produces (profitably) electricity for nearly 50,000 homes, but heat and hot water for nearly houses and offices.  It burns over 400,000 tons of rubbish a year.

INVASION:  If you live in London, or indeed any other tourist hotspot, you don’t need the Shaw Sheet to tell you this – the fall in the value of the pound, and troubles in Europe, have brought floods of tourists into the UK benefitting from their euro’s and dollars going further.  That is making some places overcrowded, but is great for budget hotels and restaurants, and for fashion shops.  It’s an ill wind….

KEY MARKET INDICES:

(as at 26th July 2016; comments refer to changes on the week; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.5%, unchanged: 3 month 0.53% (falling); 5 year 0.42% (falling).

Euro€: 1 mth -0.50% (falling); 3 mth -0.40% (falling); 5 year -0.27% (rising)

US$: 1 mth 0.51% (rising); 3 mth 0.66% (rising); 5 year 1.12% (rising)

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.19, £ steady

£/$: 1.30, £ falling

Euro/$: 1.10, € steady

Gold, oz: $1,323, falling

Aluminium, tonne: $1,605, falling

Copper, tonne:  $4,919, rising

Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $43.60, falling

Wheat, tonne: £125, steady

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 6,701 (rising).  FTSE Allshare: 3,639 (rising)

Briefly: Although the amount of risers and fallers makes the market look active, the movements are mostly in small ranges, and the reality is a pretty steady market.  Except for wheat – which has powered up another £25 per tonne after a 10% rise the week before.  If you are a home bread maker – buy your flour now!

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: An unconventional convention (J.R.Thomas)

28 July 2016

An Unconventional Convention

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue Male2016 Presidential raceMr Trump’s reputation for slick presentation took a bit of a dive in Cleveland last week.  Given that Donald proclaims one of his great business assets as the value of the Trump name, it seemed a strangely unplanned and badly rehearsed launch for the forthcoming Trump presidential campaign.

There was the unforgiveable – Mrs Trump making a speech of which, no question, parts had been lifted from Mrs Obama’s speech at the Democrat Convention eight years ago.  What on earth was that about?  If you are going to plagiarise somebody’s work, at least make the source an obscure one – not something from a well-remembered recent occasion – so well remembered that several observers began mouthing the words as Mrs Trump delivered them.  There is no question that Mrs T did not do this – indeed, there is no question that Mrs T did not write the speech for one thing.  So who did it?  Some disaffected staffer?  (In which case watch for more departures from the Trump team shortly).  Or was it a draft waiting polishing, which somehow slipping into Mrs Trump’s folder?  Madder things have happened.

There was the ugly – as when, in the first day or so of the convention, the diehard party members shouted “Never Trump” they were menaced, shouted and whistled down, their banners ripped in scenes which did not look good on TV, or in the convention hall.  Understandable maybe  if some activists had done this spontaneously, but this was urged on by the leadership in the hall.  Much much better to shrug shoulders and think of a few good jokes to make the protestors look like sore losers.  Not Donald’s style though.

There was the sloppy – allowing Ted Cruz to make a speech which lambasted Trump for the nature of his campaign and his personal attacks on Ted’s family.  Perhaps not unexpected, but sloppy to give your opponent a platform, and double sloppy in that Ted had submitted a copy of his speech for prior approval.  If he had then delivered something other than what he had submitted, one would have sympathy for Mr Trump’s team.  But Ted was speaking to exactly the submitted text.  So had anybody read it?  Had the Donald been shown it?  Is there somebody in the Trump tent who is facing inward when he is supposed to be facing outward?  Or did Mr Trump think the derision and booing heaped on Ted would do him more harm than the speech would do to Donald?  If so, that was a serious miscalculation; Mr Cruz emerged rather as brave and principled, an angry man defending his family.

Then there was the slightly chilling – Mr Trump’s suggestion that he would not allow American troops to participate in NATO actions if attacked by Russia unless that clearly accords with American interests undermines the whole principle of NATO, which regards an attack on any member as an attack on all.  It certainly went down very badly in those countries which have Mr Putin as a neighbour.  Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General,  spoke out to express concern at this, though perhaps he should have kept quiet at this time, taking note of what effect his counterpart in the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had on the Brexit referendum with his interventions.

The obvious failure to swing the party behind him, which many commentators pointed up  – no Bush representation, no John Kasich or Mitt Romney; Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House delivering a speech which was subtly an attack on Trumpian values and so weakly endorsed Donald that it only mentioned his name twice – was maybe more excusable, at least from the Donald’s point of view.  The last thing he wants is a bunch of people who he sees as responsible for the mess the USA is in giving him enthusiastic endorsements.  Nevertheless, Mr Trump needs to get the vote out in November, and to do that he needs many people in the party, who may not be Trump supporters but are loyal Republicans, to work very hard on his behalf.  Some of those must be thinking that if the Bush family won’t turn out, if half the Republican establishment is not at the convention, then maybe they should use the autumn to watch all those TV box sets they have never got round to viewing.

In spite of all the recent attacks on Donald’s business practices, he is, this column would argue, a reasonably successful entrepreneur, at least in the real estate field.  He has built and lost and then rebuilt a very large business, and even if he exaggerates his wealth and success, he has done well commercially.  But the skills that made him successful in real estate are not really those that a politician needs.  It is one thing to have a feel for what the voters might be feeling in their hearts, which Mr Trump has, and it is another to articulate that feeling and turn it into votes, as Donald has done.  But what Mr Trump seems unable to do is to take that further step that turns the ability to capture a nomination into a sure-fire ability to win an election.  Political parties in the USA are great coalitions of interests.  That does not mean that the leader of a party should compromise his beliefs, but it does mean that he should persuade others that their long-term best interests would be best served by going along with the mood of the times and his, perhaps controversial, game plan.  But if you just keep upsetting people, metaphorically standing on their toes, making the fringe of your supporters feel that at least for the time being they would feel more comfortable with the opposition in power, you will really struggle to win an election.  If the Donald was not facing Mrs Clinton as his opponent, one might cynically say, he would have no chance.  But as it is the lady, and if he can put on a kinder face, and engender more competent administration behind the scenes, then he might yet be a serious contender in November.  Maybe this rumbustious convention will be a wake-up call as to where he goes next.

Which brings us very briefly to the lady herself.  She too has her problems – she and Donald share the remarkable record of being the most disliked candidates ever to run for the Presidency.  And Hillary has a lot of history which will never quite go away; and an opponent in Bernie Sanders who is an adept operator and very popular in the party and still on her case.  Mrs Clinton has picked as her Vice Presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, Senator for Virginia, a Spanish speaking mainstreamer from a blue collar background, a classic safe pair of hands.  But he is very akin to Hillary in his views and style and his appointment is not doing much to pull in Sanders supporters, who wanted somebody more left wing.

It was expected that the Democratic convention this week would be the well managed glorious uniting coronation that these things have become (alas for the days when the nomination was fought on the floors of the convention).  But it has got off to a bad start.  Somebody has hacked into the email system of the Democratic National Committee and supplied thousands of emails to WikiLeaks.  Who have done what WikiLeaks does (the clue is in the name).   Twenty thousand are already released and a lot more are supposedly on their way.  And very entertaining they are, with all sorts of rude remarks about Mrs Clinton’s opponents and suggestions as to how Mrs C might win better.  All well and good you might think.  But the DNC is supposed to be unaligned to any candidate, merely monitoring and providing guidance and resource to all. It is pretty clear already that in fact it has been mostly a support system for the Clinton candidacy.  It is doubtful this will do any harm to the lady, though noises from the DNC suggest there may be much more juicy stuff to come.  Do you remember when Bernie Sanders said that the system was turned against him, and Donald Trump said the Democrat selection process was rigged? They both turn out to be right.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: Nicknames (Don Urquhart)

28 July 2016

Nicknames

by Don Urquhart

Shawsheet 63 included a Boris-inspired essay on insults.  This appeared to conclude that many people long to be insulted by the great and good and, ideally, by a professional.    I was reminded of my schooldays when it was mandatory to have nicknames and they were rarely complimentary.  For some reason the lads “Bogey”, “Turk” and “Sex” stick in my mind.  At this remove I can only guess at how these sobriquets were earned.  Sometimes a person’s nickname was just too good.  One such was an old school contemporary I met again at a reunion and a very pleasant chap he had turned out to be.  Later my pal Colin and I dissected events and it transpired that we had both run up against this same chap.  Something in Colin’s expression told me that we had had a similar experience.  “What was his name Colin?”  “Don’t know, I always knew him as Weed.”  I still can’t recall his name.  Nice bloke though.

If someone gives you a nickname, however rude, at least it shows they are thinking about you. A German friend called Konny proclaimed that, as a youngster her favourite character in literature was Old Shatterhand, a Wild West hero in novels by Karl May.  I was surprised to hear that German adolescent girls favoured Wild West heroes over say Heidi; started looking at Konny and indeed German womanhood in a new light, and resolved to read some Karl May.  The other day I finally got my hands on Winnetou.  Its hero is mocked as the Greenhorn until he takes exception to some manhandling by a large roustabout and gives him a smack that lays him out cold.  “Shatterhand! Old Shatterhand!  Ganz ähnlich wie Old Firehand, der auch ein Westmann ist, stark wie ein Bär.” So now I can discuss with Konny the moment her hero received his nickname.

As far as professional vilification is concerned I recall a family holiday spent in Vancouver some years ago.  One of the things you had to do in that City was to visit Elbow Room, a modestly appointed café where the waiters abused you.  As the ladies entered they were addressed as whores and sluts, the gentlemen as onanists engaged in fornication and similar.  It wasn’t clever or well-honed but the punters were eager to be singled out regardless of context and mode of address.  It’s still there.  I checked it out on Tripadvisor and can recommend a perusal of the reviews if your mood needs lifting.

Being called names in Vancouver will be something my family will laugh about for a long time to come.   Sharing the enthusiasm of my friend for an exotically named hero will strengthen our ties.  Colin passed away a couple of years ago.  It’s nice to look back at the times we laughed together.  Thanks Weed!

 

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Issue64:2016 07 28:Electric Hero (J.R.Thomas)

28 July 2016

Electric Hero 

Is Musk the new Victorian?

by J.R.Thomas

Rogue MaleThe streets and squares of central London show that our Victorian forbears were pretty careful in their choice of heroes.  Statues abound, many of great size and of majestic proportions, and most of military, naval, and scientific figures.  A few politicians and royals, of course, but very few businessmen: – James Henry Greathead (though located by Bank tube station he was a really a tunnel engineer); Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Sir Nigel Gresley at Paddington and Kings Cross respectively (also primarily engineers -indeed Brunel was no example of a successful businessman); Rowland Hill (inventor of the Penny Black stamp. Him we might just allow).

Now though we seem to raise businesspersons to iconic status, especially if they are cool and non-conformist.  That tends in reality to mean that they should not wear ties, or indeed suits, and should pop up at Glastonbury or be seen para-gliding.  Richard Branson is the great exponent of this approach; Sir Cool himself, with his long hair and relaxed style, and that essential accessory, a beard.  It helps that he has built his empire with wit (“Virgin”) and in fields where the public has directly benefitted from his obsessive young trendy customer focussed approach – holidays, music, films, airlines.  James Dyson, another Sir Cool, has much the same style, albeit more reserved, giving us all those useful and stylish, if expensive, household goods.  Steve Jobs we will add to our list, the epitome of laidbackness and informality, producing expensive things to add grace and beauty to our desks.

Philip Green, currently sailing the Med on his new super-yacht, though presumably mainly on the phone to his lawyers, could have been added to our pantheon of those adored yet staggeringly rich.  He has the open necked shirt, designer stubble, friendship with Kate Moss, a common touch, and supplies us with stylish clothing (if your tastes run to cheap and cheerful).  But Sir Philip has really rather blown it, and, unless he suddenly reverses his public standing by writing out a half billion quid cheque, (we are assured that this would not cause him any great difficulty) we cannot see that any statues are likely to be raised to him in the near future.

So where will we find our next business super-hero?  California may supply the answer to that question; California, land of mega innovation, the world centre of coolness and the hotplate of green issues and solutions thereto.  One of the greatest innovators in this is Elon Musk, born in 1971 in South Africa, of a complex ancestry encompassing Britain, Canada, the USA and the Netherlands.  Young Elon showed great aptitude for science and physics and achieved academic distinction in both areas, but at the age of 24 decided that his future was in entrepreneurship.

He turned out to be right, working with his brother to build up a web software company providing software services to the newspaper industry.  He sold that within four years and found himself US$22m better off.  There was no stopping him.  He restarted in software, building up a new business in on-line payment services which merged with something promising called PayPal.  Musk became chief executive.  One defining characteristic we can see in his career is that he is not a committee man.  After a number of disagreements he was ousted from his executive role in 2000, and sold out of the business in 2002 – compensated by the fact that the $10m he had invested had in seven yearsbecome  $165m.

But Mr Musk’s aspirations were far higher than just moving money around, even his own.  He invested his profits from PayPal into two industries that do deserve the label “cutting edge”, space travel and electric cars.  In both, Musk believes he can harness his knowledge of computer technology to businesses which have a natural growth trajectory.

SpaceX is the one boldly going where no man has gone before.  Unlike the Branson business – extending Virgin Airlines to outer space – SpaceX is both hip, naming space vehicles after popular icons from space movies such as the Millennium Falcon and Puff the Magic Dragon -stretching the point but humour the guy, and based on sensible commerciality.  SpaceX will take your satellite or space transmitter and get it up above us just where you want it.  Musk has approached this as a business, looking at costs and efficiencies to make it profitable to run these services.  It seems to be working. He has a contract from NASA to carry cargo to the International Space Station; he builds remarkably efficient rocket motors; and he is now working on maximising reuse, trying to get all those bits back to earth to recycle rather than leaving them in space or falling into the ocean.  He says SpaceX is on target to land a commercial cargo vessel on Mars in 2018, with manned flights out there within ten years.  If capitalism can achieve viable space flights to Mars, when even the American government balked at the cost, that justifies at least one statue for Mr Musk.

He may get one sooner than that if he can get his Tesla Car business operating properly.  Tesla builds electric cars, in three models, which are now in mainstream production in a new plant near San Francisco.  They are said to be much more efficient than other maker’s electric vehicles, and they are certainly more beautiful than any of the blancmange mould-like offerings so far from mainstream manufacturers – Musk, like Steve Jobs and James Dyson, knows the value of great design in adding premium at the point of sale.  Alas, so far the cars have been plagued by delays (their only consistency in relation to delivery targets in that they fail to achieve them), unreliability (a major recall was enforced on Tesla after it had already shipped its first phase launch programme), and a fatal accident with its driverless range.  In spite of this the company is said to be working on electric vans and trucks for launch within a couple of years.  Tesla is also working with great vigour on the development of more efficient engine systems, combined with building, or procuring, a network of supercharger stations right across the USA.  There is no point speeding along in your beautiful TeslaX, your Macbook on the passenger seat, if it runs out of power after ten miles, or if outside metropolitan LA there is nowhere to charge it.

Musk is also into linear propulsion for public transport, artificial intelligence, and  solar power systems.  Even the economically averse will notice these are all things which require vast amounts of capital over probably very uncertain payback periods.  Musk’s most impressive feature is not his vision of how to monetising the future – it is his ability to persuade others to put their cash at his disposal to enable him do so.  Tesla has consistently failed to meet financial targets, and, although there are now perhaps some doubters among commentators and investors, the stock continues to trade at  remarkable multiples – not of profits (there are none) but of projected forward turnover – 50 times this year’s operating cash flow.

Which probably summons up Musk, a visionary rather than an entrepreneur, with a remarkable ability to anticipate trends and an even more remarkable ability to convince others that he is right.  There is always an urge to be cynical about visionaries and when they are ultra-hip, mega-cool, tieless apostles of a free electric world from California, who donate generously to both the Democrats and the Republicans, it is doubly enticing.  But there is enough commercial nous underpinning Mr Musk’s electric dreams to suggest that he may not only be onto something, he may just be able to deliver it.  If he does, he will truly be one of those people who change the world- and a statue (lit by solar power) will be the least we can provide to mark his passing through our times.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: Terror Attacks in Europe (Lynda Goetz)

28 July 2016

Terror Attacks in Europe 

The differences and similarities between France and Germany.

by Lynda Goetz

Lynda Goetz head shotFrance has the largest Muslim population in Europe. With 5 million Muslims in a current population of nearly 66 million, this represents over 7.5% of the population. Germany, with a population of 80 million, had a Muslim population of just over 4 million (4,119,000) in 2010, although this was of course before the massive influx of refugees encouraged by Angela Merkel last year.  As a percentage of the population that translates to between 5% and 5.5%. In the UK, the roughly 3 million Muslims account for 4.8% of the population. According to the Pew Foundation (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/19/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/) Muslim populations in Europe over the next 25 years are likely to increase from an overall 6% of the regions inhabitants in 2010 to 8% in 2030.

So much for cold statistics; but given the recent spate of atrocities in France and Germany, what could this mean for these countries and for Europe as a whole?  Perhaps the first point to consider is that 3 million of the foreign-born Muslims in France are from the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (the Maghreb), whereas in Germany 3 million of those who are Muslims are of Turkish origin, many originally encouraged into the country as gastarbeiter in the post war boom of the 1960s to supply a source of cheap labour for factories. A study by the Gatestone Institute (https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/8321/germany-turks-integration) throws up some interesting but somewhat terrifying statistics which give the lie to the fact, as Germany claims, that the Turks are well integrated into German society. France too would like to claim that their Muslim citizens are assimilated, but is that view supported by the facts and by recent events? Even small percentages of those populations with extremist views could provide hundreds of thousands of jihadist attacks.

According to the Pew Foundation research referred to above,  a survey carried out only this year showed that although there were quite negative views of Muslims in Eastern Europe (where one does have to consider a different history), in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands the majority gave Muslims a favourable rating. As we are all by now aware, there is a difference in views between those who would consider themselves right-wing and those who call themselves left-wing, with the left-wingers and younger generations responding more favourably and tolerantly.

The fact that many of France’s Muslims are from their former colonies does add a different dimension to the problem not present in other European countries.  The alienation caused by the Algerian War in the 1950s and the heavy-handed disdain evinced by the French colonialists for local customs is not readily forgotten by older generations of immigrants.  There is also a population of around 800,000 harkis and their descendants.  These were the Algerian Muslim auxiliaries who fought for the French during the 1954 to 1962 Algerian War of Independence, many of whom were effectively abandoned by De Gaulle to the appalling retributions of the Algerian nationalists.  Their role was not recognised by the French government until this century. France ruled Morocco from 1912 until 1956 and Tunisia from 1881 to 1956. Many Muslim Moroccans and Tunisians as well as the pied-noirs (a slightly pejorative generic term of unknown origin for all those Christian and Jewish French settlers who came back to France after the independence of the North African countries ruled by France) flooded into France in the 60s, 70s and beyond, lured by the more promising economic conditions.

In Germany the history is different.  West (although not East) Germany invited ‘guest’ workers into its country in the 1950s and 60s, following the loss of Eastern bloc labour when the Iron Curtain came down.  The idea originally was that these often low-skilled workers would stay for two years and then return home to be replaced by new workers.  According to an EU report in 2009, as many as 14 million workers came into the country under the system.  Not all wanted to leave.  Nor did many employers wish to retrain new staff.  As a result, many stayed and their families were permitted to join them.  However, the systems under which this happened were not really thought through, and continue to cause resentment on both sides to this day. Although some of the workers came from Italy and Portugal, most came from Germany’s former ally in World War I, Turkey. One of the resentments is caused by the fact that, unless of EU or Swiss nationality, it is not possible for a citizen to have dual nationality beyond the age of 23. Many would like to retain their dual nationality – a view the Germans often take as yet another indication of the Turks’ disinclination to become assimilated.

Another factor contributing to problems in Germany is the different attitudes in what was the former East Germany. In this part of the country there were no guest workers and much less contact with foreigners.  Does this in part explain the rise of more xenophobic attitudes here? PEGIDA, a right wing organisation founded in 2014 (the name is an acronym for the German meaning Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) was founded in Dresden, a city which some observers believe has an even longer history of xenophobia. Although the younger generations in the city stage counter demonstrations and have even offered to share their homes with immigrants, the rise of far-right organisations of this sort is disturbing and is mirrored in France by Marine Le Pen’s Front National.

Tuesday’s killing of an elderly priest inside a church in the small Normandy village of Saint-Etienne-de-Rouvray has, I think for most of us, crossed yet another line in a crisis where it seemed most lines had already been crossed.  Whatever the differences historically between the Muslims in France and those in Germany, it seems that the rise of actions by the lone terrorist or at least of alienated individuals who have become radicalised and supported by small cells, is endemic and extremely hard (if not almost impossible) for the security forces to anticipate. These individuals are using Daesh, or Isil as we more often refer to it, as a raison d’être for their simmering resentments, their grievances against perceived injustices and their own inadequacies. However one looks at it, though, there is no getting away from the fact that the future political stability of Europe could be threatened by an organisation that has, as a central tenet, the idea of setting up a worldwide caliphate based on extremist Muslim principles. Con Coughlin in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ points out that with elections due in both France and Germany next year, the prospect of Right-wing nationalists ‘exercising real political power… is one that even the most ardent Brexiteer will view with dismay’. This unappealing prospect does become a possibility if a public, increasingly disillusioned with its political elite, sees its way of life constantly under attack.

France may have kept Church and State apart for a long time (indeed its secular nature has prompted the law, so resented by the Muslim community, against veils being worn in public) but it is still a predominantly Catholic country and it might not take much for the tinder box of ‘tit for tat’ retribution to be lit. Likewise in Germany, and indeed here, people see ‘foreigners’ (and a particular type of ‘foreigner’) as responsible for atrocities unacceptable in the 21st century. This is nevertheless not a time for any sort of Crusade, but for vigilance from all of us to preserve a European way of life, a way of life which allows for tolerance and equality. That vigilance might need to include watchfulness against our own vigilantes who, pushed beyond endurance, might tip over and set off the descent into chaos towards which Daesh appears to be working.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: A Bad Time For Organised Crime (Neil Tidmarsh)

28 July 2016

A Bad Time For Organised Crime

Believe it or not, the forces of law and order are winning some battles.

by Neil Tidmarsh

party 2Good news? Yes, please. Right, ok, let’s see… hmmm… not easy, but here goes…

Law and order and public safety have indeed taken a battering in the last week or two.  The deluded and the deranged have shed innocent blood in random and unpredictable attacks of shocking violence in Nice, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Munich, Reutlingen, Ansbach and Sagamihara.  And no doubt the danger is still with us. Next week, Shaw Sheet may well be reporting on fresh atrocities of this kind.

At the same time, however, there have been a number of victories for law and order which may actually have made our streets safer.  These victories have attracted little notice and less comment, but the fact remains – it has been a terrible few weeks for organised crime.

First there was the arrest of mafia boss Ernesto Fazzalari in a remote Calabrian village. Mr Fazzalari, the 46 year old head of the ‘Ndrangheta, was the second most wanted man in Italy, after the Sicilian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.  He had been on the run for twenty years, and sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for numerous crimes including belonging to the mafia, murder, drug dealing and the illegal possession of weapons.

The ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria (toe of Italy) are as rich, ruthless and powerful as the Cosa Nostra of Sicily and the Camorra of Naples, if not more so; though secretive, it is thought that they control the importation and trade of Latin American cocaine in Europe.  Fazzalari went underground in 1996, after clan warfare broke out within the organisation.  The Fazzalari clan won the internal feud; it’s said that they cut off the head of the boss of the rival Grimaldi clan and played football with it and used it as target practice for their firearms.

His arrest has been welcomed as a breakthrough in the fight against organised crime.  The investigation – involving former gangsters turning states evidence, and businessmen brave enough to give evidence – ran for some years, but managed to remain secret, and the police operation which captured him took him completely by surprise.  Carabinieri commandos raided his cottage and found him asleep with his 41 year old girlfriend, who was also arrested.  Not a shot was fired, even though there were fire-arms in the cottage.  The cottage was in a remote hamlet in the middle of the wild Aspromonte mountains; but it was near his hometown of Taurianova, the centre of the ‘Ndrangheta operations, which might explain why he was without bodyguards.

“This shows that you cannot run from justice – it is the kind of victory that encourages and supports us in the difficult but winnable fight against organised crime,” said interior minister Angelo Alfano.

Then there was the death of Bernardo Provenzano, the head of the Corleone crime family. He died two weeks ago in a hospital in Milan, aged 83. As a young man he earned the nickname “The Tractor” for his ruthlessness in cutting down the opposition. As an older man he earned the nickname “The Accountant” for his quiet efficiency in running the organisation’s business. He initially ran the Cosa Nostra with his friend Salvatore Riina, though their approaches to the forces of law and order differed; he preferred bribery and co-operation to violent confrontation. He was in sole control of the Sicilian mafia after Riina’s arrest in 1993 (did Provenzano have something to do with that?).

In 1992 he was convicted of the murders of anti-mafia prosecutors and of organising bomb attacks, but he wasn’t arrested until 2006; the police had been after him for 43 years.  Coincidentally, he too was captured in a farmhouse not far from his birthplace.  He suffered serious head injuries four years ago, apparently from a fall in his prison cell, but some believe that it was caused by a beating related to the Cosa Nostra’s strict code of silence.  He died of a lung infection.  The Senate president Pietro Grasso, himself a former anti-mafia prosecutor, said “He carried with him many mysteries…”

Then, last week, there was the arrest of Zakhary Kalashov, also known as Shakro the Young, probably Russia’s most notorious gangster.  He is believed to be one of the ‘thieves-in-law’, old-school mobsters with a strict code of behaviour who are considered an elite among Russian criminals.  He was arrested at his luxury home in the up-market district of Rublevka in Moscow; two people were killed and eight injured in a gunfight with the forces of law and order.  He was charged in court with “extortion of a very large sum”, thought to refer to an eight million rouble debt and the Elements restaurant and its owner Zhanna Kim.  He was remanded in custody until the middle of next month, although this week there were claims that he almost escaped after the court hearing; the Federal Security Services have arrested three high-ranking officials at the Investigative Committee for allegedly conspiring with him to that end.

There have been other victories against organised crime recently.  Police in Italy, Colombia and the US have arrested 33 gang members, seized 11 tonnes of cocaine worth €3 billion and shut down seven cocaine refineries, to destroy an ‘Ndrangheta-related ring “running one of the most important cocaine routes into Europe” according to an Italian official.  This week, the European Court of Justice imposed important measures to take licences for Italian beach establishments out of the hands of the mafia.  Also this week, the two nephews of the wife of President Maduro of Venzuela who are in jail in New York awaiting trial accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US, having been arrested in Haiti last November, have admitted their guilt, according to the evidence of an undercover agent.

Good news?  Yes, indeed.  Unless, of course, you’re a member of an organised crime outfit yourself.  But you’re a Shaw Sheet reader, so of course you aren’t.

 

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Issue 64: 2016 07 28: News in Brief International

28 July 2016

Week in Brief: International

800px-flag_of_the_united_nations_svg

Europe

FRANCE: Two knife-wielding jihadists murdered an 85 year old priest, Father Jacques Hamel, at the altar of a church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, where he had just begun morning mass.  Two other people were injured.  The two jihadists were shot dead by police as they left the church using three hostages as shields.  One of the jihadists had twice attempted to join Isis in Syria; he had been released from prison four months ago and was under house arrest.

Police have arrested five people accused of helping the Tunisian lorry driver to plan and execute last week’s attack on the Bastille Day crowds in Nice which killed 84 people.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, is to go on trial charged with negligence for allowing a fraud claim against a state-owned bank to be decided by arbitration rather than by more usual court procedures, when she was French finance minister.

GERMANY: A German-Iranian teenager shot nine people dead and wounded thirty others in a shopping centre in Munich. He killed himself when challenged by the police.  He had a history of psychiatric problems.

A Syrian refugee armed with a machete killed a woman and injured two other people in Reutlingen.  A man has been arrested.

A Syrian refugee who had been refused asylum killed himself with a bomb after he was turned away from a music festival in Ansbach, Bavaria.  He had a history of petty crime and mental problems and had pledged himself to Isis.

GREECE: The eight Turkish officers who fled to Greece in a helicopter following the failed Turkish coup have been sentenced to two months in jail for entering the country illegally.

ITALY: 22 people died in an inflatable dingy packed with more than 100 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe.

RUSSIA: The International Olympic Committee turned down the World Anti-Doping Agency’s recommendation, in its report on state-sponsored cheating, to ban all Russians from participating in next month’s Olympic games.  The IOC said it would leave the decision to the bodies governing individual sports.

SPAIN: A baby was born in Barcelona with microcephaly caused by zika, the first in Europe.  The mother contracted zika in Latin America.

UKRAINE: A journalist, Pavel Sheremet, was killed by a bomb exploding in his car in Kiev.  Mr Sheremet was a Russian citizen from Belarus who worked at the independent Ukrainian news website Ukrainskaya Pravda.

Middle East and Africa

ABU DHABI: The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 landed after a two day flight from Cairo, to complete a record-breaking first ever solar-powered flight around the world.  During 500 hours in the air, it flew 24,000 miles over 16 months in a number of stages, piloted alternately by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, each sleeping for 20 minutes every couple of hours.

AFHANISTAN: 80 people were killed by an Isis suicide bomber in Kabul.  Three bombers attacked a mainly Shia protest march, but only one bomb went off.

IRAN: Revolutionary Guards are investigating corruption allegations against associates of the moderate president Hassan Rouhani.  Ali Rastegar, managing director of Bank Mellat, was arrested last week; and there are claims that the president’s brother Hossein Fereydoun, a diplomat and former intelligence vice-minister, is seeking to leave the country.

LIBYA: Three French soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed near Benghazi.  An extremist militia coalition, the Benghazi Defence Brigade, claims to have shot the helicopter down.

REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: The opposition leader Paulin Makaya has been sentenced to two years in prison for protesting last year against the referendum which changed the constitution to allow the president a third term.

SOMALIA: At least 13 people were killed when al-Shabaab suicide bombers attacked an African Union military base in Mogadishu.

SOUTH SUDAN: President Kiir has removed Riek Machar as his vice-president.  Mr Machar’s appointment earlier this year brought an end to two years of civil war between followers of the two men.

SYRIA: The Syrian rebel group the Nusra Front, or factions within it, is ready to cut ties with al-Qaeda, according to reports.  The USA and Russia are said to be close to an agreement for joint action against Isis and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria.

Four hospitals were hit during a 24 hour air attack by Russian and Assad-regime forces on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

TURKEY: President Erdogan declared a three month state of emergency in the wake of last week’s failed military coup.  The purge of the army, judiciary, civil service, police and universities continues, with 60,000 arrested or dismissed.  The government announced that the leaders of the coup would be denied religious burials.  Mr Erdogan has urged his supporters to continue their rallies on the streets.

ZIMBABWE: The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, once among President Mugabe’s staunchest supporters, are demanding his resignation as the country’s economy deteriorates.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

CAMBODIA: Kem Ley, pro-democrasy activist and critic of the government, was murdered by a gunman in Phnom Penh. Thousands of people joined his funeral procession.

CHINA: 164 people have died and 125 are missing as floods hit north east province of Hebei.

INDIA: At least seven people have died and over a million have been forced from their homes by heavy rains and floods in Assam.

JAPAN: A man armed with a knife killed nineteen people and wounded at least forty in an attack on the residents of a care home in Sagamihara.  A man claiming to be a former worker at the care home and to be responsible for the attack handed himself in to the police.

MALAYSIA: The US justice department has begun action to seize assets in the US which it claims were acquired as part of a huge money-laundering operation originating in Malaysia.  They allege that the money belonged to the Malaysian state but was appropriated by high-ranking officials including the prime minister Najib Razak.

NEPAL: Prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli resigned – his government lost its majority when the Maoist party pulled out of the coalition.

PHILIPPINES: President Duterte announced a ceasefire in the 47 year old fight against Communist insurgents.

America

ARGENTINA: Four nuns and Jose Lopez, who was former president Cristina Kirchner’s secretary of public works, are under investigation following allegations that Mr Lopez used the Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima convent to hide plastic bags filled with £7 million in foreign currency.

BRAZIL: Police arrested ten men allegedly attempting to buy arms and planning an Isis-inspired terror attack during the Olympics.

USA: An Afghan man held for 14 years in the Guantanamo Bay centre is to be released, following the conclusion that his detention was the result of mistaken identity.  76 prisoners remain in the centre; 31 are due to be released.

Police shot a therapist who was working with an autistic patient on a street in Miami.  The therapist, a man of colour, lay on the ground and put his hands in the air when he was surrounded by the police, and one officer then shot him in the leg.

Ted Cruz, in a speech at the Republican Party congress in Cleveland, refused to endorse Donald Trump as the leader.

The chairwoman of the Democrat Party has stepped down after leaked emails suggested that she was not neutral in the primaries but used her position to encourage party officials to favour Hilary Clinton and undermine Sanders. Democrat officials have claimed that the emails were stolen by Russian hackers and leaked to destabilise the elections.

Hilary Clinton chose the Virgina senator Tim Kaine, a conservative democrat, as her vice-presidential running-mate.  At the Democrat party convention in Philadelphia, she officially secured her party’s nomination as their candidate for the presidency, but there were divisive protests by Sander’s supporters, who even booed Sanders when he urged them to support Hilary Clinton.  Sanders said he would return to the Senate as an Independent, not a Democrat.

Two teenagers were shot dead and 18 people injured at a party in a nightclub in Fort Myers, Florida.

 

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