Issue 118:2017 08 17:The Korean Crisis (Neil Tidmarsh)

17 August 2017

The Korean Crisis

A world-changer, even without a nuclear apocalypse.

By Neil Tidmarsh

Next week, South Korea and the USA are due to begin their annual joint military exercises.  North Korea regards these defensive manoeuvres as offensive, and its leader Kim Jong-un is threatening to fire missiles towards the Pacific island of Guam, an unincorporated US territory hosting American military bases, if the USA doesn’t stop what it regards as sabre-rattling.  President Trump has replied by saying that the USA is ‘locked and loaded’ and ready to respond with ‘fire and fury’.

The next issue of Shaw Sheet isn’t due to appear until the beginning of September (the team is taking a fortnight’s holiday); but under the present circumstances one wonders if it will appear at all.

A nuclear apocalypse, however, is so unthinkable and so unimaginable that it is (hopefully) unlikely to happen.  Nevertheless, the North Korean crisis does seem to be producing revelations and developments which will have very real consequences not just for south-east Asia but for other regions and for the whole world too.

First is the suggestion that Ukraine has played a crucial part in North Korea’s rocket building programme.  London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies said this week that the engine powering Kim Jong-un’s long-range Hwasong-14 missiles appears to closely resemble the RD-250 engine designed and built by a state-owned company at Dnipro, Ukraine.  The Institute says that the speed with which North Korea moved from a missile of only medium-range capability to an inter-continental ballistic missile can have only one explanation; “North Korea has acquired a high-performance liquid-propellant engine from foreign sources”.  It also points out that two North Koreans were caught stealing from Yuzhnoye, the Ukrainian state-owned rocket designing and building company, five years ago; that the company’s factory is close to the pro-Moscow rebel territories; and that the chaos and confusion of the country’s civil war might encourage and facilitate all kinds of clandestine transactions.

The Kiev government denies any such involvement with North Korea.  But the accusations are bound to affect the country’s already sensitive situation.  Kiev needs the support of the West against Russia, which backs the pro-Moscow Ukrainian separatists and is tightening its grip on the Crimea.  Some voices in Europe and the USA are beginning to suggest that relations with Russia should be re-set by relaxing the sanctions slapped on it for interfering in Ukraine, and by accepting its claim to the Crimea.  Allegations that Ukraine has been instrumental in turning North Korea into a nuclear power threatening the West will give those voices extra volume and resonance, to say the least.

Second, South Korea’s diplomatic attempts at rapprochement with North Korea are straining relations with its neighbour Japan.  In an attempt to lower the temperature on the Korean peninsula, President Moon of South Korea offered this week to open a joint investigation with North Korea into atrocities (such as the forced conscription of millions of labourers and the use of ‘comfort women’ sex slaves) committed during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.  The subject is extremely sensitive, and threatens the goodwill between these two Western-backed democracies which is crucial for the stability and security of the region.  Seoul is saying it might review the agreement it reached with Tokyo two years ago which was supposed to have settled the issue of ‘comfort women’ with recognition and reparations, just as South Korea and Japan need to show a united front against Chinese assertion in the South China Seas.

Third, the USA’s attempts to apply leverage to China to persuade it to bring Kim Jong-un to order are threatening a trade-war between these two super-powers which would have a drastic affect on the global economy.  The US Treasury Department is said to have drafted potential sanctions against Chinese bodies, and drawn up new quotas on imports – the Commerce Department has said that it could put an import tax of 80% on Chinese aluminium foil.  This week President Trump signed an executive order instructing trade representative Robert Lighthizer to examine allegations that China indulges in unfair trade practices such as stealing corporate secrets, counterfeiting and piracy.  The study will take a year to complete and will then decide whether a formal investigation should take place, leading to the possibility of retaliations such as tarrifs and other sanctions.  The White House insists that this move is not related to the Korean crisis – after all, Donald Trump has long promised to impose tarrifs on Chinese imports and complained about the trade deficit with China – but a few days later the President, talking about the crisis, said “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently about trade, a lot differently.”

The world may well survive this current threat of nuclear apocalypse, but it will not emerge from the Korean crisis unchanged. The stresses and tensions of the confrontation will alter allegiances, alignments and economies. The crisis is sure to produce further world-changing revelations and developments over the next week or two – let’s hope that we’ll still be around to write and read about them in a fortnight’s time.

 

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Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Week in Brief: UK

17 August 2017

Week In Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

TRANSITION: Philip Hammond and Liam Fox have published a joint article confirming that Britain will leave the customs union and the single market in 2019 and that, although there may be transitional provisions, they will not be used as a way of remaining in the EU by the back door.  Meanwhile, however, a position paper from the Government proposes a transition period during which the UK would be able to negotiate but not implement trade treaties, followed by either smooth tariff arrangements or none at all.  This suggestion seems unlikely to make much progress at the moment; the EU is still taking the position that there will be no discussion on trade until the divorce bill is settled.

The Government will be issuing a series of papers over the next month or so setting out its proposals on the various Brexit issues.  At that stage serious negotiations will presumably start with the EU but expect plenty of posturing on both sides before progress is made.

GOVERNMENT LIABILITY AFTER BREXIT: You would have thought it was completely obvious. The rule set by the ECJ in the Italian case of Francovich, which enables a member of the public who suffers damage to sue the Government for failing to legislate in accordance with its EU obligations, will disappear following Brexit as, after that (and subject to whatever twists and turns come out of the negotiations) Britain’s obligation to legislate in conformity with the directives will cease.  No need to cover it in the Repeal Bill, then.  The rights going forward will die of their own accord.  Why then do we find at Schedule 1 the words: “There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich”?  They should be unnecessary unless of course the Government is trying to slip out of liability for past breaches.  Now why would it want to do that?

The key is to this is the UK’s failure to comply with European law in the environmental field.  Here the ambulance chasing is beginning to gather momentum and soon your anonymous caller will stop talking about “an accident which was not your fault” and ask if you have “suffered from an illness which might have been avoided if…”.  The ensuing legal circus will suck out of the public sector money which is needed to build hospitals and reduce class sizes.

We have seen something similar before.  When the European Court of Justice found that that the UK’s corporate tax system did not fit the parent-subsidiary directive, huge amounts were claimed by large international companies as professional advisers scoured the rules for mismatches.  The government is anxious to stop this all happening again and you can see why.  The important thing, though, is that the provision should be properly debated.  It is a serious thing to remove rights which have already accrued and Parliament should weigh the matter up carefully before it does so, however sensible the decision may be.

CHAPMAN TWEETS: At last Britain has its answer to Donald Trump.  James Chapman, one time political editor at the Daily Mail and subsequently chief of staff to David Davis, contributed to the Twittersphere with several hundred messages on Tuesday.  Amongst the general vitriol cast in the direction of leavers is the allegation that Mr Davis is lazy and only works three days a week.  This appears to be intended as a criticism whereas you might think that sitting back and reflecting was more important than running around like a lunatic at the moment.  Replying on LBC, Mr Davis said that Mr Chapman had been a good chief of staff and that he did not propose to criticise him.  Maybe Mr Chapman needs to go on holiday, at least to rest his fingers.

Health

EGGS: Initial confidence that only 21,000 of the eggs poisoned with fibronil by criminal poultry farmers in Holland and Belgium reached the UK turns out to be misplaced.  Apparently the number may be closer to 700,000 and the risks include cancer, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, kidney damage, liver damage and thyroid damage.  The eggs are not currently thought to contain horsemeat.

CARE HOMES: Out of 7497 care home companies examined by accountants Moore Stevens, 1210 were in a state of financial distress, a one third increase over last year.  A major contributor to the difficulties is the introduction of the national living wage.

PENSIONERS’ TEETH: A report by the Faculty of Dental Surgery indicates that at least 1.8 million people aged 65 or over may be suffering from an urgent dental conditions and that the figure could rise by 50% over the next 23 years.

MOTORWAY LEARNERS: Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has said that from next year learner drivers will be allowed on motorways.  The change has met with general approval although the safety charity Brake has suggested that the lessons on motorways should occur once drivers have already passed their tests.

Crime

MODERN SLAVERY: Although convictions for modern slavery offences have fallen, the National Crime Agency says that large numbers of slaves are being forced into sex work and also work at car washes and farms.  Apparently perpetrators are often charged with more general offences such as rape, drug offences or money-laundering.

NEWCASTLE SEX TRIAL: Police officers in Northumberland have been accused by ex-chief constable Sue Sim of using a convicted child rapist as a paid informant without her agreement.  The individual, who was paid sub £10,000 for his help, claimed, in an interview with the Sun, that by working underground for the police he had put hundreds of people behind bars.  The current chief constable, Steve Ashman, with whom Ms Sim had an acrimonious dispute, said he took full responsibility for the decision.  Ms Sim claims that her criticism of her old force is unconnected with her dispute with it.

PREVENT: Consideration is being given to making the Prevent scheme, which is currently entirely voluntary, compulsory for certain categories of people thought to be at risk from extremism.  Jihadists returning from IAS territories might be one.  The move is contentious as some regard the scheme as eroding trust between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Education

UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS: The combination of a declining youth population with a drop in EU students leaves many universities trying to drum up applicants following the release of A-level results.  According to The Times, Mike Nicholson of the University of Bath has said that this may mean that offers are made at lower grades than previously.  It would be cynical to suspect that universities in need of applicants will also drop the level required to obtain a good class degree.

UNIVERSITY SALARIES: Lord Adonis, previously Labour education secretary, has criticised the level of pay at universities, suggesting that the amount paid to vice chancellors should be no more than that paid to the Prime Minister.  In his view recent increases in pay are one of the reasons that student fees are so high.

Miscellaneous

NEW NOTES: The Bank has announced that it will not be changing the composition of the new polymer £5 banknotes to eradicate small amounts of tallow as this would cost over £16 million.  Other banknotes will contain a similar quantity.  Tallow is already used in many plastics such as carrier bags, cosmetics and detergent bottles.  It is also used in debit and credit cards, and mobile phones.

FOOD STANDARDS: Michael Gove has announced that slaughterhouses will have to install CCTV so that the treatment of animals can be monitored.  The announcement has been welcomed by animal charities across the board.

BIG BEN: Under plans approved by the House of Commons Commission, the ringing of Big Ben would be restricted to special occasions for four years from monday while work is carried out to the Elizabeth Tower and its clock.  However, silencing the bell, a precaution to protect the hearing of the workmen, is being reconsidered following objections by MPs.

RAIL FARES:  Proposals to increase fares by 3.6% in January have been criticised on the basis that they are based on the Retail Price Index rather than the Consumer Price Index which excludes housing costs and is preferred by the Department of National Statistics.  Apparently many of the costs of rail companies depend on RPI.

 

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Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Craft Villages… (Lynda Goetz)

17 August 2017

Craft Villages; Plant Villages; Flower, Vegetable and Produce Shows

Country life in the 21st century.

By Lynda Goetz 

The manager of our village pub is a Londoner.  His wife is Polish.  The idea of competitive entries for ‘A bucket of potatoes (one plant)’, ‘5 runner beans’, ‘3 matching white onions’, ‘a single rose’, ‘2 stems of mop head hydrangeas’ or ‘3 cheese scones’ etc left them both rather bemused.  I am sure both know about cling film, but not sure either would know why food items needed to be ‘displayed on a doyley’. They nevertheless entered into the spirit of things and not only allowed the pub to be used for the occasion, but closed it for judging at 10.30am and ‘re-opened to all at 2pm for viewing and prize-giving’.

This type of event, along with the village fete, is still viewed as something of a staple of village life around the country.  In many places the two are combined, which would appear to be sensible, although declining entries for the competitions have as here led to the occasions being separated in an attempt to focus attention more fully and boost participation.  Good organisers are needed, but so too are those willing to participate.  This year’s event in our village followed something of a flop last year held in the village hall (more out of the way).  It attracted a fair number of entries and a reasonable attendance, including some young families as well as the inevitable older participants and organisers.  Most came away with a sense of satisfaction at having been involved in a community effort (if perhaps as bemused as the Londoner about the judgements on the relative merits of raffia-tied onions and miniature floral arrangements in ‘your favourite egg cup’).

The Taunton Flower Show, first held in 1866 and every year since for two days in early August (apart from during World War II) and apparently claimed by some to be ‘the Chelsea of the West’, is in fact more like a cross between Hampton Court Flower Show and a village event on a grand scale.  There is an arena which, depending on the year, stages displays of falconry, stunt teams, motorcycle shows, band parades and exhibitions of sheep dog trials, dog agility presentations or displays of horsemanship; there are stands selling items from wooden-handled brushes (including ones for cleaning out flowerpots which look like mini loo-brushes) handmade somewhere in the world (not in the West Country anyway) to boots, leisure clothing, food and a Bee and Honey marquee.  There are a handful of designer gardens; a floral marquee with nurserymen selling everything from air plants and arum lilies to the latest zinias and zonartic pelargoniums; a Plant Village with wonderful collections of flowering perennials in every colour imaginable plus a Craft Village (think ‘Country Living’ marquee with slightly less panache) and a Festival Village with yet more crafts as well as more food and live music.  There is also the Competition Marquee where those who want to display their prowess at Victoria sponge making, jam-making or wine-making or exhibit their prize marrows, tomatoes or sweet peas get the chance to do so.  Competition entries this year are apparently the highest ever ‘in modern times’.  Most who attended felt it was ‘an enjoyable day out’ and a ‘well-organised event’.

The bemusement of city-dwellers and foreigners faced with certain aspects of these events is understandable.  After all, growing runner beans or raspberries is not easily done in cities.  Jam-making or wine-making has never really been a town-dweller’s pursuit – you do not get gluts of blackcurrants or elderberries in city gardens or parks.  Watching sheep-dogs round up ducks is probably not fascinating if the only ducks you ever see are the over-fed ones on park ponds and the only dog you are able realistically to keep is a miniature dachshund.  For those used to the top-flight performances available in big cities, the Scout Band playing at a local show may not be riveting, but are these sorts of events simply an anachronism in the 21st century or do they remain an essential part of rural life?

Some 20,000 people visit Vivary Park for what Taunton Horticultural Society claim is the oldest and longest running show of its kind in the UK (although Shrewsbury makes similar claims), but in an era when the bottom line is more important than ever, it looks as if the historic venue will cease to be used after next year because of the charges imposed by the local Council.  In spite of the highest ever entries in modern times, the sub-text here is that in pre-modern times (no definition given) the entries were higher.  Nowadays there are so many possibilities for entertainment and claims on our time that dedicating hours to domestic or horticultural skills is either denigrated or simply not done.  Younger generations appear to have little interest in such activities when they could either be out seeking adrenalin thrills of their own, in the form of, say, wind-surfing or kite-surfing or, failing that, sitting indoors surfing the ‘net or playing bloodthirsty and exciting online games.

Plant-growing, bee-keeping or jam-making require patience and consistency, characteristics frequently not attributable to the young.  Is it really surprising therefore that efforts to bring in young people to participate in events such as village fetes or local flower shows meet with little enthusiasm?  It is usually possible to encourage their involvement until say the age of 10 or 12, but then other interests and activities take over.  However, hasn’t it ever been thus?  Surely the village worthies were rarely those under forty and were always more likely to have been those older citizens with time on their hands?  The former headmistresses with the ability to organise things (as well as other people) did not spring fully formed at eighteen.  Perhaps all those in their twenties who now shudder at the thought of competing in a Swiss Roll competition might in time to come see it as worthwhile practice for their entry to ‘Bake Off’ or crocheting a baby blanket as good practice for ‘The Sewing Bee’.  In any case, once AI has taken over most people’s jobs and robots do all the boring bits of housework, perhaps more people will have time to focus on making preserves as well as watching end-to-end episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”.  The question is will anyone remember what a doyley was?

 

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Issue 118:2017 08 17:Better the devil you know (Frank O’Nomics)

17 August 2017

Better the devil you know?…

Libor may be a dead man walking – but the pace will be very slow.

by Frank O’Nomics

There are many people in financial services who must wish that Libor had never been invented. Obviously those traders who are currently detained in Her Majesty’s prisons will be in that group, but also those bank employees whose bonuses were cut due to the huge fines that were paid for rigging the rate ($9bn and counting); also the regulators and central bankers who were widely discredited for their inability to fulfill their supervisory roles. There should then be widespread celebration following the announcement from the Financial Conduct Authority that Libor as a benchmark will be phased out by the end of 2021.  However, this may be easier said than done, when an estimated $350 trillion worth of interest rate swaps, forward rate agreements, exchange traded futures and options, syndicated loans and floating rate notes have been priced using it. We are then faced with two key questions: What will replace Libor?, and, how quickly can it be fully replaced?  Neither has a simple answer.

First it is important to understand the background to the Libor fiasco.  The London Interbank Offered Rate was created as a benchmark in 1986 to help price the growing number of loans and other financial contracts that depended on a floating rate.  There are 35 different types of Libor, across 5 currencies and 7 maturities ranging from overnight to 12 months.  The rates are calculated from submissions by banks who estimate what it would cost to borrow money from each other.  The problem came when, due to the financial crisis, banks weren’t prepared to lend to each other, meaning that the levels were artificial and subject to manipulation.  Even now, 10 years after the crisis, it is estimated that only one third of the 3 month Libor submissions (the most commonly used measure) are based on real transactions, and one less used measure was found to have had only 15 relevant transactions over a twelve month period.

It seems obvious that a replacement is needed, but what should it be?  There is a difference of view depending on which side of the Atlantic you sit.  In the UK a reformed version of Sonia (Sterling Overnight Interest Average), which has been in use to some extent since 1997, is favoured.  Similarly in Europe there has been a distinct shift from Euribor to Eonia as a benchmark to price transactions. The US on the other hand favours using a repurchase or “repo” rate as a benchmark.  Banks often borrow money in return for lending US Treasury Bonds as security, and the repo rate (which will be termed the BTFR, or Broad Treasury Financing Rate) determines the difference in the price of the bonds between their sale and repurchase.  Both benchmarks have their problems.  The US measure is only measuring the cost of secured borrowing (and over relatively short periods), whereas Libor is an unsecured rate and provides a good indication of the creditworthiness of banks.  Sonia on the other hand, while unsecured, is not widely used for longer maturities and, as with Libor, the problem of there not being sufficient bank-to-bank transactions could remain an issue.

These differences become very important when one considers the vast amount of outstanding transactions that exist.  For example, many pension funds have attempted to match their long-term liabilities by entering into long-term interest rate swaps, many of which run way beyond 30 years, with almost all using Libor as a benchmark.  All of these trades will need to be re-agreed between the two parties, one of whom is currently paying the rate set by reference to Libor and the other receiving it.  This process will take a great deal of time.  Of the $100 trillion of $ swaps outstanding, 65% are tied to Libor, with many having maturities beyond 30 years.  If agreement can’t be reached over the repricing of these swaps using a different benchmark there may be some need for a provision to perpetuate the generation of Libor rates way beyond 2022. This may be easier said than done, with many banks wary of the reputational and financial risks of being accused of misrepresentation in making their submissions.  Without a quorum of banks Libor will cease to exist.

None of this negates the arguments for disposing of an obsolete benchmark, and there are a number of positives about starting the process. The very act of doing so will focus banks on helping to make the new benchmark work and, while it may be difficult to reprice existing deals, a by-product may be a widespread termination of interest swap deals, helping to tidy up many bank balance sheets. Nevertheless, the FCA and other regulators should be careful what they wish for.  Instead of having one, albeit highly flawed (especially in times of financial crisis) universal standard benchmark, we face a new system of benchmarks that vary according to currency and which either have no greater prospect of reliability in terms of gauging the temperature of the banking system, or struggle to be adapted for longer maturities.  The sheer size and length of maturity of the products that use Libor means that it will probably be a feature of financial markets for much longer than the next five years and maybe that is not a bad thing.  As the other great Sonia (the 1990’s Liverpudlian singing sensation) once trilled in the Eurovision Song Contest “better the devil you know”.

 

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Issue 117: 2017 08 10: Contents

10 August 2017: Issue 117

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption

Comment

Charlie Gard by John Watson

A reminder of the other issues.

The Virginia Strategy by J R Thomas

Yes, the Democrats are still there.

Consorting With Power by Neil Tidmarsh

Prince Philip and others.

That Shrinking Feeling by Frank O’Nomics

The subterfuge around trying to increase profits.

Universities In The News by Lynda Goetz

Economics and education.

The Silly Season Diary Of A Corbynista by Don Urquhart

Ruminations from the allotment.

Features

The Holiday Competition by Chin Chin

A change in conversation.

A Better Plas by J R Thomas

The legacy of Clough Williams-Ellis.

Reviews

The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler (published by Pan Macmillan)

reviewed by Adam McCormack 

Letters

Re – Normal Culture For Norfolk (Shaw Sheet issue 116) from Peter Wilson

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Au Bord De La Mer”.

Solution to the last crossword “Plain Vanilla 23”.

What’s on in August 2017 by AGGro.

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

Issue 112: 06 July 2017

Issue 113: 13 July 2017

Issue 114: 20 July 2017

Issue 115: 27 July 2017

Issue 116: 03 August 2017

 

Issue 118:2017 08 17:What A Gas (J.R.Thomas)

17 August 2017

What A Gas!

A little light on the price rises

by J.R. Thomas

Never hold a naked flame near an unregulated supply of gas.  Somewhat amazingly, that’s exactly what British Gas plc did two weeks ago.

Luckily, the only casualty turned out to be the corporate image of British Gas. The naked flame was BG’s announcement that it was about to increase electricity prices by 12.5%.  (For confused readers we should explain that British Gas is a major supplier of electricity to both retail and corporate customers; it does also supply gas, in case you are wondering.)  The unregulated supply of gas was not the stuff which BG supplies but the media/social media/web hot air which is ever eager for a cause for an exciting explosion.

British Gas is the successor to the former state monopoly of that name, now owned by the giant publicly quoted company Centrica, which owns a number of energy generation and supply businesses.  It may be good at running an energy business – it is well regarded amongst its peers for being an old fashioned business that just gets on with the job – but it certainly lacks some PR skills.  It made its announcement, out of the blue on 31st July, at a time when the media is hungry for some good headline news, and headlines BG certainly got.  The London Evening Standard (editor, one G Osborne recently of the Exchequer) lambasted the company for corporate greed and for grinding the faces of the poor, something into which the editor has particular insights.  Next morning nearly all the press led with the greed of BG and its outrageous behaviour; and in the strange world of the web the issue was spreading faster than…er…a gas explosion.  Thousands of bloggers and Twitterers, most of whom would be hard put to define the difference between electricity and gas, denounced BG’s behaviour, most calling for the government to do something, preferably to Centrica’s extreme disadvantage and pain.

The government’s position on doing something in any shape or form has, like most other government positions, been messed up by the election.  Mrs May, you might recall, had said during her truly remarkable campaign that the government would introduce caps and controls on energy prices to domestic users.  Like much else that she might have intended with her sweeping majority, that is now parked in a pending tray at the back of a cupboard in No 10.  But the on and offline media community has not forgotten Mrs May’s rash remarks and urged the government to deliver.

Meanwhile, at Centrica’s headquarters in Windsor…  Well, we don’t know what was happening, other than that the press department pointed out what had been said in the original announcement, that the main reason for the rise was huge increases in costs of the government green levies to pay for Britain’s switch to entirely sustainable sources of electricity.  Needless to say, that explanation went almost entirely disregarded, certainly by the government, the Guardian quoting that “Ministers expressed concern about the rise, which they said should not be blamed on government policy…” and further saying that “ issues of fairness for customers” were being looked at.  Which ministers these were and how fairness might be achieved was not set out.

Now, the Shaw Sheet is not here to defend capitalism, especially when capitalists seem incapable of defending themselves.  But if there is a competition in business schools for how to mishandle communications, this must be up for winner of the year.  Firstly, British Gas had not increased its prices since November 2013, almost four years ago.  Since then, its energy costs – creating the power, getting it to customers, generally running its business – have gone up 16%, a figure pretty constant across the industry.  So what has actually happened is that the cost to the consumer has gone down 3.5%, compared with the costs of the product.  That’s a result to be proud of indeed. Not that you would know it from the company whose chief executive, the slightly unfortunately named Iain Conn, said “We haven’t taken the decision lightly, we know it affects 3.1 million customers”.  Secondly, nobody needs to pay British Gas for their electricity (or indeed their gas) for long.  There are six major suppliers in the market and a number of small ones, and whilst their tariffs are a little complicated, they are all much more simple than, say,  trying to operate your Sky TV.  And all those competitors will help you change your supplier. So, if you don’t like BG, move elsewhere.

But thirdly, and crucially for the long term future of private power supplies, the reason that BG needs to put its prices up is beyond its control and can be laid firmly at another door.  That door is in Whitehall; No 1 Victoria Street, SW1, to be precise.  That is where the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy hangs its hat, folds its scarf, lays down its mittens, shrugs off its lined overcoat, and removes its galoshes.  It was the Ministry of Energy and Climate Change until last month when, significantly or not, it dropped the latter and added all the other bits.  Whatever it wishes to be called, the Ministry is the reason that the electricity industry has seen its costs go up so quickly and enormously.

After seemingly lying prone in the electronic gutter whilst every Twitterer gave the BG body a good kick, Centrica finally got up on Thursday last and went round to see the Financial Times.  The Financial Times may be the newspaper of business and finance, but it is noted for a rigorous approach to facts.  And it finally said what BG should have saying, not just last week but months, if not years, ago.  Britain has the 11th cheapest electricity prices in Europe, so consumers are in a very good place.  That is although costs of transmission and meterage have gone up 10% in three years.  The costs of production have gone down 21% in that time (falling costs of carbon based fuel mainly). And guess what; the costs of government “mandates and policy” has doubled; up from £81 per customer in 2014 to £165 in the current year – a sixth of an average household bill.  BG’s profit margin is 7%, hardly riches unlimited.  Whoever those ministers were that thought the 16% price rise was not to be blamed on government policy need to be sent on a basic accountancy course; maybe an honesty course too.

For green, or sustainable, energy has to be paid for.  It is expensive and with falling prices for carbon based energy, it is comparatively getting more expensive. (It is not that green either – the carbon costs of all that cement and steel, all that digging and transportation, the miles of wires from the wild windy places leaking energy every mile up to the consumers door, all are very non-sustainable.)    That all has to be paid for.  We all use energy, green or otherwise, some of us more than others, and we, consumers, must pay for it.  It could be financed out of general taxation as Mr Conn suggested in his interview with the Financial Times, but that just means low energy old ladies (energy using, we mean, old ladies can generate remarkable amounts of energy) would be paying for the high energy using families with every electronic gadget running at full blast, along with the heating.

The government wants those who use it to pay for it; but they want to pretend it was not politicians who made it more expensive. But it was and is; the energy companies should be saying so, very clearly, every time a consumer gets a bill.  That way we could see what a good job they are doing – and when we look at a massive wind turbine spoiling a view, a fleet of them sailing just offshore, buildings covered in glistening black solar panels, dams in the Welsh mountains – then we will know it is us who are paying for that, and know the true cost of what we are doing.

 

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Issue 118:2017 08 17:A Beefy Game (J.R.Thomas)

17 August 2017

A Beefy Game

The battle over shooting

by J.R. Thomas

It is that time of year again, when the Shaw Sheet puts on its best tweeds, tightens its plus fours, pulls on the old deer stalker, and goes for a walk on the wild side to hear the sound of gunfire.  Not for the Glorious Twelfth, you understand, but for opening salvoes of the annual match between grouse shooters and the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).  This year each side has nominated a champion to do the fighting; so in the tweedy corner is Ian (“Beefy”) Botham, practised all-rounder of this parish, and for the orange anoraks, Chris Packham, a BBC journalist.

It would be a fair comment to say that these two gentlemen are not keen on each other.  Sir Ian, having had a distinguished if noisy career in cricket, has settled down to be a rosy cheeked country gent, and a spokesman, largely self-appointed, for the country sports lobby.  Mr Packham, who is lead presenter on the BBC’s popular show “Country File”; has also appointed himself a spokesman concerning country sports; to an extent where he must be pushing BBC rules on impartiality.

Regular readers will appreciate that when we say “country sports” we don’t mean fell-running or knockabout village footer, or even country house cricket.  We mean the pursuit of country animals and birds with an intended outcome relating to a cooking pot (or not, in the case of foxes).  We should also say that a lot of the respective backers of these two fine gentlemen don’t actually live in the country, or even earn their living there.  They tend to live in nice streets in smart suburbs but drive out to the country to pursue their interests.  The true country resident is probably more likely to be a Botham supporter than a Packham one, but he is even more likely to be out snaring a rabbit or poaching a pheasant, or in the Dog And Whistle, just having one more.

Mr Packham is very opposed to the pursuit of country creatures (maybe making an exception for rats and wasps as many animal lovers do), but he would like to see recreational shooting and hunting ended, at the least.  In particular he would like the early introduction of strict controls, to say nothing of a ban, on grouse shooting.  Grouse shooting and fox hunting cause particular angst amongst the anti-country sports lobby, which their opponents strongly suspect relates to class matters as much as the outcome of the tweedy chase, the end usually being the same whether the pursuit involves firearms, fishing rods, or horses and pink jackets.  But the perception is that as hunting and grouse shooting are expensive they tend to be more exclusively the interests of the better heeled, or better saddled.

Last year at about this time we introduced readers to the hen harrier.  This rare bird lives on moors in the north of England and in Scotland.  It is a handsome raptor and a very rare one, strictly legally protected, and adopted by many bird supporting groups (as opposed to game bird groups) as a symbol of what the moors are all about.  It has one unfortunate habit, which is, like many gentlemen with traditional tastes in dining, that it likes to eat grouse.  The gents like them fully grown and hung in a larder for a few days; the hen harrier prefers grouse chicks seized from the nest for immediate consumption.  (The gents tend to add roast potatoes, cabbage, and gravy, but the hen harrier has not listened to the nutritionists and eats its grouse sans accompaniments.) You will see the scope for particularly bitter conflict between mature grouse eaters and supporters of hen harriers.

The RSPB says that in England there are only three pairs of breeding hen harriers left (there are more in Scotland, maybe 350 pairs, but there too numbers have generally declined).   It blames the grouse business for this, saying that moorland keepers are eradicating hen harriers on their moors to make sure there are plenty of grouse to shoot each autumn.  So we have a perhaps slightly confusing conflict between a group determined to protect a bird whose apparent sole interest in life is to kill and eat other birds, and a group who would like rid of the hen harrier to enable them to cut out the intermediary in killing and eating other birds.  (Nobody says that conservation or country sports are logical.)  But getting back to the fisticuffs stuff, certainly gamekeepers have been convicted of killing hen harriers and other predator birds, though it is a rare offence.  Indeed, with hen harriers being so carefully monitored, it would be a very rash gamekeeper that would shoot one, though the preferred agent of death, says the RSPB, is poison, and that is very difficult to pin on any particular person.

This year that conflict has become even more bitter than usual.  Sir Ian lost the First Test of the season and had his barrels bent during an interview by BBC Radio 5.  He stumbled over questions on whether shot birds, especially pheasants, had been buried because there is no market for their meat, in contrast to the shooting lobby’s line that all meat goes into the food chain and is fine lean natural meat at that.  The Botham temper is always a treat and Five Live listeners certainly got some entertainment that day.

Dunwich beach at dawn during the Dunwich Dynamo cycle event – no place for a romantically inclined stone curlew

But the RSPB was badly wrong footed last week when a new report was published which considered the quantum and diversity of bird life on shooting estates and moors.  Far from being deserts, on which only grouse thrive, the report says that managed estates show many more birds and many more varieties of bird life, than estates where there is no shooting or keepering.  They quote for instance 24 times as many lapwing, 6 times as many curlew, and so on.  Many more rare birds indeed than on, for example, the extensive upland and estuary lands owned by the RSPB, which have notably low diversity.  Red faces round at the bird lovers HQ and glee amongst the tweedy set.  The RSPB grumbled that this was far from an independent report, as it had been commissioned and paid for by a number of estate owners.  This did not go down well with the universities of Newcastle and Durham, who conducted the research and said that their results were free of any pressure or polishing.  They indeed pointed out that their results do not apply to all birds – some, such as pipits, prefer unmanaged land which suits their feeding and nesting habits better.  (They also found no hen harriers at all, they added.)  But generally, they said, managed land has less predators – the keepers keep off the foxes and rabbits and stoats and weasels and badgers (do insert your favourite Wind in the Willows character).

So Second Test to Sir Ian and the shooting lobby.  The Third Test was run earlier this week, with the RSPB trumpeting that a very rare stone curlew had bred on the beach at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk, the claims that keepers were needed to keep pests down thus being disproved.  Unfortunately that seems to have become a sort of LBW (Leg Before Wicket for the non-cricket-lovers) for the RSPB when it was revealed that it had put an electric fence round half an acre of beach to keep all those predators off.  Not really practical for all the British Isles, crowed the shooting lobby.

That will not be the end of it for this season.  Like the Archers, this everyday story of country folk has plenty of life (or death) in it yet.

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Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Tyranny (John Watson)

17 August 2017

Tyranny

The reason to hang on.

By John Watson

With Mugabe at 93, Jacob Zuma at 75, and the constitution of Rwanda being altered so that President Kagame can remain in power until 2034, it is worth reflecting on why it is that people cling to power long after their main political contribution has been made.  It isn’t of course unique to Africa.  General Franco ruled Spain until his death in his 80s and, indeed, in rather different circumstances, our own Sir Winston Churchill passed his 80th anniversary as Prime Minister too.

Circumstances differ, but in the case of states which do not function as open democracies it has become the fashion to refer to the risk of prosecution for old crimes (in the rougher parts of the world it would be hard to hang on to power for long without one or two of these), the desire for continued kleptocracy and the wish to continue to enjoy the benefits and status which append to a head of state.  Well, maybe.  Sometimes these things are factors: sometimes they are not.  What is absolutely clear, however, is that many leaders believe that their retention of power is essential to the public interest, so, if we want to understand why they stay, it is necessary to have a look at the basis for that belief.

Let us suppose that you are the ruler of a state.  It may or may not purport to be a democracy but there is a long history of struggle between warring factions.  Perhaps the issue is a tribal one.  Perhaps it is religious – most European countries went through extensive religious wars in the 16th century, and the Middle East is rife with them now.  Anyway, you have been blessed with an iron hand and are tough enough to bring the conflict under control, stop the fighting and boost your citizens’ standard of living.  The poor are fed, the children go to school.

That doesn’t mean that the issues have gone away.  They simmer beneath the surface, but as long as you stay in charge, violence will be kept at bay.  The trouble is that you are getting older and, perhaps as a result of your dominance, there is no one around who is equipped to keep the lid on the national pot.  A decent lot, the younger generation, but, to be honest, a tad ineffective.  If your hand comes off the tiller, the result will be a disaster for the citizens at large and your work will be undone.  It is a grim prospect but not an unusual one.  Marshall Tito must have faced it when he worried about the future of Yugoslavia.  President Kagame will probably have to face it in due course.  Will the attempts by the Hutu to wipe out his own tribe the Tutsis be revived when his personal authority (and supporting military expertise) leave the stage?

The problem is obvious enough but not alas the solution.  What on earth do you do?  In a perfect world you would have trained up a successor but that is not easy.  Successful seconds in command normally have skills which complement rather than imitate those of the leader, so they will not normally have the qualifications required for the top job.  Maybe there is someone else, but if so you are very lucky.  Another approach is to try to put structures in place which, by creating checks and balances, will perpetuate your solutions.  Well, you can certainly try but you only have to look at the way in which Turkey is dismantling Ataturk’s reforms to see how structures collapse when they are faced with real political pressure.  Institutions will do so much but no more.  In many cases there is no obvious way forward.

In practice it primarily comes to timing.  Which to do?  Go early and hope that you will be able to influence what follows, or hang on to the end and give your way of government the longest possible time to put down roots?  You never know.  Something may turn up.  From a personal point of view the second approach has an obvious advantage.  If it all goes wrong you will not be there to be sucked into the maelstrom.  It is one thing to say “apres moi the deluge”; it is another to reflect that you will be out there without an umbrella.  There are only so many things they can do to a corpse.  One can certainly see the temptation to hang on.

The second reason for hanging on is that it is what people do instinctively.  It is only human to think that you are more important than you are and that those around you will make a mess of it.  If you don’t believe that, speak to those who are wondering whether to pass their businesses on to the next generation.

“Good people, of course.  In fact I myself selected them.  Still, they are used to my guiding hand and I’m not sure that they are quite ready to take over full responsibility yet.  Why not a couple of years more so that I can be sure they are ready?”  And then what?  After a couple of years it still looks much the same so maybe another little interval is needed.  That is just human nature, but imagine how it is reinforced by the pressures of autocratic politics when you are surrounded by sycophants telling you how essential you are.

From the point of view of policymakers, the judgements are even harder.  Sometimes the dictator’s concerns turn out to be justified.  The removal of Colonel Gaddafi and, before that, of Saddam Hussein, unleashed pressures of a hugely destructive nature.  Had the results been forseen, the decisions made at the time might have been very different.

So before we talk patronisingly about the efforts of dictators to extend their rule, before we try to reduce it to issues of kleptocracy and guilt, we need to reflect on each case.  Just what is being suppressed?  How quickly would it emerge if the suppressant was removed?  If we do so we will find that the issue is not always one of how to prise the incumbent out of office but that often we and they have a shared concern as to what will follow.

 

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Issue118:2017 08 17:Week in Brief Financial

17 August 2017

Week in Brief: BUSINESS AND THE CITY

NEWS, the word in pink on a grey background

THEY’RE OFF:  It may be a quiet time of year for business, but this season also seems to be a bad one for closing already announced deals.  JOHN MENZIES said last March that it was in detailed discussions regarding the sale of its logistics and distribution business to DX, which is also a distributer and is listed on AIM.  John Menzies’ distribution business is focused on time sensitive print deliveries, historically especially newspapers, though that end of the business has considerably declined.  In its attempts to diversify into parcels and services to retail customers it has found the going tough and wants to concentrate on what it now sees as its core business, and one with long term growth potential, aircraft refuelling and servicing.  But it seems DX is also struggling and is now reorganising after a year in which performance was flat.  The Menzies deal would have meant Menzies ended up owning 65% of DX, a proposal not viewed with joy by DX’s largest shareholder Gatemore Capital Management, who own 21% currently.  The reorganisation caused Menzies to look at the deal again, and decided that it did not want to do it after all.  It had already adjusted the terms in June, but now says it is off altogether; so back to the warehouse for both parties.

Meanwhile, J SAINSBURY also seem to be walking away from a transaction that looked as though it was a done deal.  This is the acquisition of Nisa Retail, which is essentially a cooperative chain of local grocers – 1,400 of them – who own shares in Nisa and trade under their banner, also using their central buying strength.  Nisa’s trading has been struggling a bit but the sale to Sainsbury was not popular with many members, who however had limited powers to block it due to the complex control structure of Nisa.  But now Sainsbury have said that they are unlikely to proceed on the original timetable (Sainsbury’s exclusivity expired last week) because of the impending review of competition issues in the retail food business – initially triggered by Tesco’s proposed acquisition of Booker Group.  That means that Coop Group, who were keen to see if they could buy Nisa but could not then meet the Sainsbury price, are back talking, at a price said to be about £140m, slightly more than the Sainsbury offer.  The Nisa members are thought to greatly prefer a Coop purchase, which they see as much closer to their own ethos.

Yet another party walking away, albeit rather too late, this time from Air Berlin.  ETIHAD, the major Gulf airline which also had a strategy of investing in other airlines to bring business to its hub in Abu Dhabi has been the main backer and largest single shareholder (29%) in the discount airline.  Air Berlin rose rapidly to build a cross European network of shorthaul destinations and became popular with customers for its simple but friendly (and cheap) approach.  But it has been caught by the intense competition in the budget end of the shorthaul business –  and also suffered from delays and cancellations due to airtraffic control issues in Europe and capacity crunches in some European airports – that meant passenger  numbers dropped nearly a quarter last year, and revenue more so.  Etihad has continued to support the airline, putting €250m into the business this past spring.  But last week it said that it had been asked for more cash and had decided it could not justify that, so Air Berlin is now in administration.  For Etihad this is double bad news – it was a major investor in Air Italia which also went into administration earlier this year.  Although the German government have promised temporary funding, that seems to be to allow a controlled wind-down of the Air Berlin business, and possible sale of some parts.

NOT ALL FALLING OUT OF BED: One deal that does seem to be slowly proceeding is Wood Group’s takeover of Amec.  That transaction has been bedevilled by competition concerns.  The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”), which had to be consulted because of the significant exposures of both parties to North Sea oil and gas servicing, said that they would raise no objection if Amec disposed of its North Sea related business. That is under way; Amec says there is a good list of buyers available and it expects to agree a sale by the end of September.  That may not get the CMA totally on side.  It says it will hold a public consultation before making a final decision in the autumn and that could still lead to a full enquiry into the deal, but both Wood and Amec think that the service unit sale will get them over the approval line to close the deal by Christmas.  Amec needs to make that sort of timetable – it is short of capital and was about to hold a £500m rights issue before Wood made its offer.   It published its first half results last week, and although it has returned to a profit of £77m (loss of £446m in the comparable quarter last year) overall revenues fell by nearly 20% – most of that being due to reduced business in the North Sea unit.  Debt was down by £111m and the group said cost cutting was going according to plan

SITTING UNCOMFORTABLY:  First half sales were also down at DFS, the major UK furniture retailer, most of whose outlets are on out of town retail parks. The company blamed the fall of 4% on increasing competition combined with consumer’s reluctance to buy large priced items at a time of economic and political uncertainty.  This was the second profit warning given by the group and the share price responded accordingly, falling 6%.

POWER SURGE SOUTH WEST:  We flagged here a few months ago the intentions of a new business called Cornish Lithium, the bright idea of investment banker Jeremy Wrathall, to mine for lithium in Cornwall.  Mr Wrathall had procured licenses and support to drill on various sites on the south side of Cornwall, mainly old tin mines but also on the Tregothnan Estate, the extensive lands of the Boscawen family.  It is known that lithium, a vital but hard to find component of long life batteries, is present in Cornwall, which has the ideal conditions of granite and brine, but the question is whether it is in quantities large enough to make mining economic.  Mr Wrathall will soon know the answer to that question.  He has raised from three investors – all private individuals with backgrounds in metals and mining -the initial £1m required to drill trial mines and analyse whatever he may find.  Future episodes of “Poldark” may take a very unexpected turn.

KEY MARKET INDICES:

(as at 15th August 2017; comments refer to changes on last 7 days; $ is US$)

Interest Rates:

UK£ Base rate: 0.25%, (unchanged): 3 month 0.28% (unchanged); 5 yr 0.72% (fall).

Euro€: 1 mth -0.37% (steady); 3 mth -0.33% (steady); 5 year 0.10% (fall)

US$: 1 mth 1.23% (steady); 3 mth 1.32% (rise); 5 year 1.84% (slight fall) 

Currency Exchanges:

£/Euro: 1.10, £ sready

£/$: 1.29, £ weakening

Euro/$: 1.17 € weakening

Commodities:

Gold, oz: $1,270, slight fall

Aluminium, tonne: $2,029 rise

Copper, tonne:  $6,350, slight fall

Iron Ore, tonne:   $72.74, rise

Oil, Brent Crude barrel: $50.17 fall

Wheat, tonne: £147, steady

London Stock Exchange: FTSE 100: 7,382 (fall).  FTSE Allshare: 4,047 (fall)

Briefly:

Oil seems to be responding downwards to persistent chatter in the market that supplies are rising.  Rumours also on aluminium which continues to edge up – those are about China restricting supply.  And copper seems settled in a new range above $6,000. The interest rate and currency markets remain quiet.

 

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Issue 118:2017 08 17:Week in Brief International

17 August 2017

Week in Brief: International

UN Flag to denote International news Week In Brief International

Europe

FRANCE: A car was driven into a patrol of 16 soldiers in a Paris suburb, injuring six of them. Police arrested an Algerian suspect after a car-chase which ended near Calais.  The suspect was shot and wounded.

ROMANIA: A sharp rise in illegal immigrants suggests that people traffickers are opening a new route into Europe by crossing the Black Sea from Turkey to Romania.

RUSSIA: Theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov has had his passport seized by the authorities.  He is a critic of President Putin and a campaigner for LGBT rights.  He and his Seventh Studio theatre group are facing fraud allegations, and last month the Bolshoi Theatre mysteriously postponed the premiere of his ballet about Rudolf Nureyev.  Cultural figures and opposition politicians claim that he is a victim of political persecution.

The authorities are prosecuting an activist for putting up a small plaque on a building in Arkhangelsk to commemorate a former resident who was executed by Stalin in 1937 for counter-revolutionary crimes but found innocent posthumously in 1957.  The activist had permission from the residents of the building, which is semi-derelict and due to be demolished, and was taking part in the Last Address project, which has put up hundreds of such plaques across Russia to commemorate the millions of victims of Stalin’s purges.  He is accused of ‘damaging a cultural heritage site’ and could be fined 200,000 roubles.

SPAIN: The government of the Balearic Islands is to impose a cap on the number of tourist beds and introduce tough new rules for Airbnb lets, in order to combat the disruption and inflation which tourism causes for residents.

A Swedish/Turkish writer has been arrested at Barcelona airport on an international arrest warrant. He has been accused by Turkey of plotting terrorism.  Spain has 40 days in which to decide whether the journalist and critic of President Erdogan’s regime should be sent to Sweden or to Turkey. If sent to Turkey, he would join 200 journalists awaiting trial.  Interpol arrest warrants are not intended to be used against political critics of regimes.

A sharp rise in illegal immigrants crossing the sea from Morocco suggests that people traffickers are opening a new route into Europe from Africa to Spain.

Middle East and Africa

AFGHANISTAN: More than 50 civilians from the Hazara, a Shia minority, were murdered by insurgents in Sayad district.  The Shia minority are being attacked by both Isis and the Taliban.

BURKINA FASO: Suspected Islamist terrorists armed with guns and mounted on motorbikes attacked diners in a restaurant in Ouagadougou, killing 18 of them and wounding several others.  Two of the gunmen were killed by security forces.

IRAN: Parliament passed a bill relaxing the death penalty for drug-trafficking. The measure now needs the approval of the guardian council.

KENYA: Raila Odinga, the opposition leader defeated by Uhuru Kenyatta in last week’s elections, claimed that votes were rigged and the election’s computer system hacked, and called for a general strike. Violent clashes between rival supporters have left 24 people dead.  International monitors, including those from the USA and the EU, have found no sign of tampering with the election or its results.

LIBYA: The Libyan coastguard, intercepting people traffickers and returning migrants to Libya, plans to extend a search-and-rescue zone beyond the 12 nautical miles of Libyan waters to an area 79 nautical miles out to sea, and has told charity rescue ships not to operate in the zone.  The plan is backed by the Italian government.

NIGERIA: Three suicide bomb attacks, including a female bomber who blew herself up in a market place, killed 27 people and wounded another 83 near Maiduguri.  It is thought that Boko Haram was responsible.

SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia is reopening its border with Iraq, which it closed in 1991 during the Gulf War.  The two countries also announced a joint trade commission.

SIERRA LEONE: More than 300 people were killed when heavy rain caused a hillside to collapse and sent a mudslide sweeping through homes near Freetown.  Another 600 are missing and feared dead. 3000 people have been left homeless.

SOUTH AFRICA: A young woman has accused Grace, the wife of President Mugabe, of assaulting her in a Johannesburg hotel room where the Mugabe’s two sons are staying.

SYRIA: The rebel group Jaish Usud al-Sharqiya claimed to have shot down a Syrian airforce jet and captured the pilot.

Far East, Asia and Pacific

AUSTRALIA: The deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is under pressure to resign following the revelation that he has joint Australian and New Zealand citizenship.  The constitution does not allow Australian MPs to have dual nationality.  His resignation could bring down the government, as it has a majority of one.  Allegations that a New Zealand MP played a part in the revelation are threatening the good relations between the two countries.

HONG KONG: Pro-democrasy activist Howard Lam claimed he was kidnapped and tortured by Chinese agents.

INDIA: More than 60 children died when oxygen supplies to a hospital in Gorakhpur was cut off because of an unpaid bill.

Two soldiers and three Kashmiri separatists were killed in a clash between security forces and armed militants in a village near Srinagar.

KOREA, NORTH: Kim Jong-un has threatened to bomb the Pacific island of Guam, an unincorporated US territory.

NEPAL: Heavy rain caused flash floods and landslides. 50,000 homes have been inundated.

THAILAND: A student has been jailed for two and a half years for sharing a BBC article about King Vajiralongkorn on Facebook.

America

CANADA: Up to 200 Haitian migrants a day are crossing into Canada from the US.

USA: A state of emergency was declared in Charlottesville when right-wing extremists (rallying to protest against the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee) and counter-demonstrators clashed violently.  One woman was killed and 19 people injured when a car was driven into a crowd of counter-demonstrators.  President Trump issued a statement condemning violence on both sides, but was criticised for not specifically condemning extreme right-wing violence for the death until two days later.

The FBI raided the home of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, and confiscated documents and other material, as part of special council Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the presidential election campaign.

Trump ramped up rhetoric warning North Korea to behave.

A state of emergency was declared in New Orleans as heavy rain caused floods and knocked out power supplies.

President Trump is considering replacing US troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries.

President Trump signed an executive order instructing trade representatives to investigate allegations that China indulges in unfair trade practices such as stealing corporate secrets.  It is feared that this might result in a trade war between the two countries.

VENEZUELA: President Maduro’s government is to establish a “truth commission”, a court which the president declared “can try anyone”, to be led by the president of the new constituent assembly.

 

Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and nine other Latin American countries signed a joint declaration refusing to recognise legislation passed by the new assembly and declaring that Venezuela is no longer a democracy.

As the new assembly begins to prosecute officials, two mayors have gone into hiding, five judges have taken refuge in the Chilean embassy and two in the Panamanian mission; five more have fled to Colombia and at least one to the USA.

 

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