Issue 122:2017 09 28: What’s on in October(AGGro)

28 September 2017

What’s on in October …or what you will find in the News!

By AGGro

 

SUN 1ST * National Day of the People’s Republic of China – start of a “Golden Week’ when Chinese companies give 3 days of paid holiday which used as a bridge with surrounding weekends enable 7 continuous days of holiday. This is a period of heightened travel activity and many extra tourists (aka ‘The Great Wallet of China’) should visit the UK.

* Conservative Party Conference 2017, Manchester Central until 04/10.

* Ashura (Islamic festival) a day of fasting & mourning marking Noah’s leaving the ark and Moses was saved by the Egyptians.

* Catalan Independence Referendum – despite being deemed illegal by Madrid Central Government, 700 Catalan mayors have said they will cooperate in the staging of it and police leave has been cancelled.

* Horse Racing: Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2,400 metres) Chantilly, France – flat race for 3 years or older.

* Formula 1 – Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang.

* 60 years ago: ‘Which? Magazine’ published by The Consumers’ Association (UK)

* 3 years ago: Windscreen display paper VED tax discs were abolished

* Theresa May is 61, Jimmy Carter (39th US President) is 93 & Harry Hill is 53

MON 2ND * World Farm Animals Day.

Ÿ Simon Gregory (aka Steve McDonald in Corrie) is 43 today.

TUES 3RD * 75 years ago: WW2-First rocket in space at 84.5km. Nazi Germany launched an A4 -rocket at  Peenemünde, Germany.

WED 4TH * Nottingham Goose Fair – annual travelling funfair in Forest Recreation Ground – until 08/10’

THURS 5TH *1st day of Tabernacles (Jewish).

* Football: World Cup 2018 qualifiers – Northern Ireland v Germany (Group C); England v Slovenia, Scotland v Slovakia (Group F).

* 43 years ago: Guildford pub bombings – Prov IRA kill 5 people.

* Bob Geldof is 66 today.

FRI 6th *Football: World Cup 2018 qualifiers – Georgia v Wales, Republic of Ireland v Moldova (Group D).

* WRC: Spain 53º Rally RACC Cataluña – Costa Daurada Salou, Tarragona – until 08/10.

*New films:  Blade Runner 2049; Kingsman; The Golden Circle; My Little Pony: The Movie.

Ÿ Gerry Adams is 69 today.

SAT 7th * Green Party Autumn Conference, Harrogate International Centre – until 10/10.

*  Rugby League: Super League Grand Final, Old Trafford.

SUN 8th * Football: World Cup 2018 qualifiers: Norway v Northern Ireland (Group C); Lithuania v England, Slovenia v Scotland (Group F).

* Formula 1: Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka.

* 50 years ago: Che Guevara (Guerrilla leader) captured in Bolivia – executed 09/10/1967.

ŸSimon Cowell is 58 & Vladimir Putin is 65 today.

MON 9TH * Football: World Cup 2018 qualifier: Wales v Republic of Ireland (Group D).

* David Cameron is 51 today.

TUES 10TH * World Porridge Day.

WED 11TH * Grand Designs Live Exhibition, NEC Birmingham – until 15/10.

* National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is an annual LGBTQI awareness day – founded in 1988.

* Dawn French (comedian) is 60 today.

THURS 12TH * 33 years ago: Grand Hotel Brighton bombed by the Provisional IRA in an attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher & cabinet – 5 killed & 31 wounded.

FRI 13TH * New films: ‘Friday the 13th’ & The Snowman.

SAT 14TH * Triathlon – World Ironman Championship, Hawaii.

* 75 years ago: WW2- German U-boat sinks the ferry SS Caribou off Newfoundland, killing 137.

* 30 years ago:  Bing Crosby (1903-1987) died (famous singer e.g. White Christmas and many other hits).

* Jon Ashworth (Shadow Secretary of State for Health) is 39 and Sir Cliff Richard is 77 today.

SUN 15TH * Round £1 coin to be withdrawn.

* Austrian Legislative elections – the leader of the strongest party in any formed coalition, if there is any, usually becomes Chancellor.

MON 16TH * Davina McCall (UK Big Brother host) is 50 today.

TUES 17TH * Kenyan Presidential elections to be re-held – following the annulment of the results of the presidential vote. In the  August 2017 general elections, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner with 54% , whilst his main challenger Raila Odinga received 45% of the vote. Odinga appealed to the Supreme Court, who ruled the election had not been “conducted in accordance with the constitution”, cancelling the results and ordering fresh elections to be held within 60 days.

* Motorhome & Caravan Show 2017, NEC Birmingham – until 22/10.

* WRC: Rally Australia, Coffs Harbour, NSW – until 19/10.

* 50 years ago:  The Jungle Book – Walt Disney’s 19th full-length animated feature released.

* Mike Tindall (husband of Zara Phillips & rugby player) is 39 today.

THURS 19TH * Diwali (Sikh & Hindu aka Festival of Light) – Sikhs celebrate Guru Hargobind Singh’s release from prison.

* Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt, Germany until 23/10.

* 30 years ago: Black Monday – stock market levels fell sharply on Wall Street and around the world.

FRI 20TH * New films: Insidious: Chapter 4; – The War With Grandpa.

SAT 21ST * Trafalgar Day – commemorating Nelson’s naval victory in 1805.

* Horseracing: Ascot – British Champions Day, including Champion Stakes and QE2 Stakes.

SUN 22ND * Slovenia Presidential election – a potential run-off will be held at latest 21 days after the first round.

* Formula 1 – United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas.

* 73 years ago: WW2 – Battle of Leyte Gulf – US Navy won a decisive battle over Japanese in the Philippine Islands. Kamikazee suicide bombers used for the first time.

* Arsene Wenger (Arsenal manager) is 68 today

MON 23rd * London Schools Half Term until 27/10 (Term ends Wed 20/12)

* New London T-Charge (toxicity) effective. £10 extra to the Congestion Charge on cars with pre-Euro 4 engines (built before Jan 2006) thus is in addition to existing £11.50 Congestion charge, non-compliant vehicles must now pay total of £21.50 to drive in Central London, Mon – Fri 7:00-18:00. TfL cameras can identify vehicles liable to the T-Charge.

* Tennis – WTA Finals, Singapore until 29/10.

* 30 years ago: Champion English jockey Lester Piggott is jailed for three years after being convicted of tax evasion.

TUES 24TH * United Nations Day 2017.

* Cycling: Six Day London, VeloPark – Lee Valley.

*  100 years ago: WW1- Battle of Caporetto (aka Battle of Karfreit)  Austro-Hungarians & German armies inflicted a major defeat on the Italian Army – until 19/11/1917.

* 75 years ago: WW2-The Second Battle of El Alamein (until 11/11/1942). Following the sacking of Auchinleck and the death of  replacement, Gott, in a plane crash; Montgomery took command of the British Eighth Army. From a well prepared position he met Rommel’s Axis Army attack and his victory turned the tide in the North African Campaign thus ending the Axis threat to Egypt, the Suez Canal and oil fields. Churchill celebrated the victory in the UK extensively to revive Allied morale. NB The First Battle of El Alamein took place 1st-23rd Aug 1942 and prevented the Axis from advancing further into Egypt.

* 75 years ago: WW2- Battle for Henderson Field, Guadalcanal ,Solomon Islands. US Forces gained control of critical airfield from  Japanese army as well as sinking cruiser and killing 2000 Japanese troops.

* Jeremy Wright PC QC (Attorney General for England and Wales & Advocate General for Northern Ireland) is 45 today.

WED 25TH Ÿ John Peel Day DJ (1939-2004) is remembered.

* 100 years ago:October Revolution’, Russia (aka Bolshevik Revolution) when Vladimir Lenin led a group of Bosheviks in an armed insurrection in Petrograd later  instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917.

NB This event may be dated 07/11 BECAUSE Until February 1918, Russia used the Julian calendar –used by  the Russian Orthodox Church, while the Western world used the Gregorian calendar. During the twentieth century, the Julian calendar fell 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. Generally, historians writing about pre-revolutionary Russia today cite dates according to the calendar of the time. Dates prior to 1st Feb 1918 use the Julian calendar; dates after that point follow the Gregorian calendar.

* 50 years ago: Abortion Act 1967 passed by the British Parliament.

THURS 26th * Battle of Santa Cruz. The Japanese lost many aircraft and suffer severe damage to two aircraft carriers while the USS Hornet (Doolittle Raid) is sunk and the USS Enterprise is damaged.

FRI 27TH * Vaper Expo – The Return Exhibition 2017, NEC Birmingham until 29/10.

* Rugby League: World Cup – Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, until 02/10.

* WRC: Wales Rally GB, Deeside, Flintshire – until 30/17.

* New films: Saw: Legacy; God Particle.

* 50 years ago: President Charles de Gaulle (France) again vetoed British entry into the European Economic Community .

* John Cleese is 78 and Kelly Osbourne & Karen Bardsley (England Woman Footballers) are 33 today.

SAT 28TH * Icelandic Parliamentary elections.

* Bill Gates is 62 and Julia Roberts (American actress) is 50 today

SUN 29TH * BRITISH SUMMERTIME (BST) ENDS – Clocks go back an hour and we enjoy an extra hour in bed

* Internet Daycelebrating first e-mail sent in 1969

* Formula 1 – Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City

* 6 years ago: Death of Jimmy Savile (1926-2011)

* Wayne Rooney (Everton footballer) is 32

MON 30TH * 200 years ago: The independent government of Venezuela is established by Simón Bolívar.

TUES 31ST Ÿ HALLOWEEN ‘Trick or Treat’ makes this now the UK’s 3rd biggest shopping event after Christmas and Easter!

 

 

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Issue 122: 2017 09 28: Contents

28 September 2017: Issue 122

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

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

Comment

Kicking The Can Down The Street by John Watson

What are the two years for?

Anti-Semitism And ‘Hate Speak’: Labour’s Toxic Underbelly by R D Shackleton

 Extremists overshadow Corbyn’s conference triumph.

Kurdish Independence by Neil Tidmarsh

Celebration and anxiety.

Silly Season Diary Of A Corbynista by Don Urquhart

All roads lead to Brighton.

Crisis? What Crisis? by Frank O’Nomics

Heavyweight commentators offer portents of gloom.

Features

Freshers’ Week by Chin Chin

Horticulture can breed distress.

It’s Still September, For Heaven’s Sake! by Lynda Goetz

Christmas is three months away.

Hypothetically by J R Thomas

A suggestion to Mr Hammond.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Up In The Air”.

Solution to the last crossword “Mellow Fruitfulness”.

What’s on in October 2017 by AGGro.

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

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

Issue 118: 17 August 2017

Issue 119: 07 September 2017

Issue 120: 14 September 2017

Issue 121: 21 September 2017

 

Issue 122:2017 09 28;Kicking the can down the street (John Watson)

28 September 2017

Kicking The Can Down The Street

What are the two years for?

By John Watson

Two years more? Just what will it achieve? That is the question which Mrs May will be asked about her proposal in Florence that there should be a two-year transitional period after Brexit in which nothing much changes.  On the face of it, it sounds a good idea.  Everyone has been saying that they cannot get the job done in time, so a little more time will not come amiss.  The question is, of course, whether it will be spent driving forward a practical solution or whether it will simply result in a corresponding delay before the parties begin to negotiate in earnest.  It is a commonplace that real negotiations do not start until the pressure to agree is inescapable; so, if the additional two-year transitional period relaxes that pressure, it might do little more than extend the period for uncertainty and bickering.  Two years more of chaos and self harm.

That would be the argument if this was a normal commercial negotiation.  Nature abhors a vacuum so if you create extra time you can expect it to be filled with extra sitting about and posturing.  But this isn’t a normal negotiation.  Moving the effective deal date by two years means that the parties themselves will have changed their nature.  Neither the UK nor the EU will be the same entities in 2021 as they will be in 2019.  We are aware of the potential changes at the UK end of course – a press anxious to fill the column inches has seen to that.  Before 2021 there may be a general election.  That could produce any number of different outcomes.  Quite apart from the result itself, who knows what the various parties will look like by then.  Labour has not yet settled on its approach to Brexit so there are a number of possibilities there.  They could be a Remainer party headed by Sadiq Khan or Keir Starmer, focussed on participation in the market.  They could follow Corbyn’s inclinations, averse to any participation in the market, concerned lest the state aid rules block their nationalisation program.  The Lib Dems will probably still be all for rerunning the referendum but the trouble with that is that unless the public mood has changed they will get the same answer again.  Perhaps a change of mood to remain will both win the election for Vince Cable and allow him to push forward with a remain agenda.  There is no evidence of it at the moment but the chance of it happening before 2021 must be higher than the chance of it happening before 2019.  The future attitude of the Tories is also hard to predict.  Who will be leading them?  Still Mrs May?  Boris supported by Liam Fox?  Putting back the date for leaving the market gives all these possible changes the opportunity to play out.

Still, this just focuses on the UK.  Three and  half years may be a long time in domestic politics but it is even longer in terms of what is happening in Europe.  There 26 nations are being squeezed into a one size fits all straitjacket and, as it gets tighter, the strains are beginning to show.  Mr Macron’s vision of much closer integration is already being undermined by German domestic politics as the Free Democrats, sceptical of his proposals for a Eurozone budget, become likely coalition partners of the Christian Democrats.  Then there is the worrying increase in nationalism, with 13% of Germans voting for a far right party and the possibility of Spain losing Catalonia, its most prosperous province.  Further east the divisions darken with Hungry rejecting the EU approach to migration.  These are all huge pressures and although the EU may survive them it is unlikely to do so unchanged.  Mr Macron, in setting out his vision, suggested that one day the UK might wish to rejoin.  If that was where we had got to by 2021 it could change the negotiations fundamentally.  On the other hand a strengthening of right-wing movements in Europe and a corresponding disgust in the UK could change the negotiating positions in quite a different way.

That puts the transitional period into its context.  Do we want to wait an extra two years before a decision is actually made?  Of course that has the advantage that by then we will have seen how some of these uncertainties will turn out; but, then again, other uncertainties will inevitably have taken their place.  In the end the position will always be volatile and at some stage we will need to hold our fingers to the wind and commit ourselves.  Perhaps then we should just get on with it, leaving the deadline where it is, accepting that there will be some rough edges and chaos as the civil servants struggle to get the systems in place, and using the increasing time pressure to drive the parties to reach an agreement.

 

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Issue 122: 2017 09 28: Week in Brief: UK

28 September 2017

Week in Brief: UK

Union Jack flapping in wind from the right

Brexit

MAY IN FLORENCE: In a speech on Friday, the Prime Minister proposed a two-year transition period which would, in effect, put off much of Brexit until 2021.  During that period Britain would no longer have any representation at EU level but would continue to participate in the single market as now, subject to EU rules.  Free movement of people would also continue subject to a requirement for registration, presumably necessary for an ultimate decision on who was here before any cut-off date.

Mrs May also said that Britain would meet its contribution to the current seven-year budget so that no other countries would be disadvantaged, and that Britain was committed to the security of Europe.  The latter factor would not be used as a bargaining chip.

In making the speech the Prime Minister sought to tread a narrow path.  On the one hand she hoped that the concession on the current round of the EU expenditure would be sufficient to allow the Commission to move to the next step and open discussions on trade.  On the other she needs to retain the support of Brexiteers,

On the first, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk has said that not enough progress has yet been made.  On the second, Boris Johnson immediately tried to claw back momentum by seeking to establish red lines, in particular as to whether the UK will be bound by any new EU laws made during the transition period.  In principle this is a fair question as we will have no representation when the rules are made.  In practice, though, it is hardly a major point and to start referring to it as a red line smells a little of desperation.  More importantly perhaps the Foreign Office has set up a hard Brexit think tank.  Apart from this being a sensible thing to do, it will strengthen our negotiating position by making it clear that a hard exit is a possible outcome.

UN

MAY’S UN SPEECH: Mrs May used a 15 minute address to the UN in New York to lay about herself a bit.  She criticised Russia over its use of vetoes on the Security Council to protect President Assad and the US for pulling out of the Paris climate deal.  In addition she criticised the efficiency of the UN itself, where the Department for International Development has described UNESCO as failing in its effectiveness.  She threatened to withdraw one third of Britain’s £90 million annual commitment unless thing improve, although that would not affect the U.K.’s £2 billion contribution to peacekeeping.  Britain is the sixth biggest contributor to the UN.

Government

GOVERNMENT BORROWING: According to the Office for Budget Responsibility an unexpectedly high tax take, combined with a drop in government expenditure, has reduced the August deficit to below expected levels.  That follows encouraging figures for July which actually showed a surplus.  The figure for a whole year could be between £10 billion and £13 billion beneath the expected level of £58 million.  It will be remembered, of course, that we are talking about the rate of increase in the national debt (which stands at £1.77 trillion) not the debt itself.

Still, the results may give Mr Hammond room to relax austerity slightly in his budget on 22 November. Before we crack open the champagne, however, it is worth wondering how sustainable the improvement is.  With inflation creeping up, households may begin to reduce expenditure and that, in turn, would take down those crucial VAT receipts.

ACTIVE LORDS: The Electoral Reform Society says that one in seven peers did not make any contribution to debates in the six months to April 2017.  Nonetheless they claimed an average of £11,091. A spokesman for the House of Lord’s pointed out that no account is taken of other activities such as committee work.  The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has suggested that the Lord’s could be reduced to about half its size.

Labour

LEADERSHIP: The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has reduced the number of MPs required to endorse a leadership candidate from 15% of the Parliamentary party to 10%.  The change in the rules should make it easier for left-wing candidates disliked by the Parliamentary party to become leader.

BREXIT: The Labour Party conference has decided not to hold a debate on the party’s approach to Brexit.  There seem to be considerable divisions; Sir Kier Starmer puts emphasis on membership of the single market and the customs union, whereas Jeremy Corbyn is concerned that remaining part of the European economic institutions with their ban on state aid could derail his nationalisation agenda.

NATIONALISATION: The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has promised to nationalise assets built and maintained under the Private Finance initiative, as well as the Royal Mail, water, energy and rail companies.  The pledge may play well at the Labour Party conference but would be difficult to implement because of the large upfront cost.  In any case a blanket approach makes little sense.  The Royal Mail, for example, is a company wrestling with the changes in the behaviour of its customer base and it is hard to imagine that the flexibility needed to do this is best provided in the public sector.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that the private sector does profit from PFI so the question of whether the public sector gets value for that profit is a fair one, at least in the case of future projects.  The Party have admitted gaming the run on sterling which would follow its election.

Health

UNSAFE SURGERIES: The Care Quality Commission has completed its inspection of GPs’ practices, finding that one in seven doctors’ surgeries still have safety issues although only 2% were rated inadequate.  Professor Field, the chief inspector, suggested that patients should move to better performing surgeries.  That, however, is easier said than done with many surgeries already oversubscribed.

ALZHEIMER’S DRUG: It is understood that algorithms, developed in Italy and expected to be used by the NHS within ten years, should enable Alzheimer’s disease to be predicted well before any symptoms emerge.  The algorithms are used in analysing brain scans and are said to be 86% accurate.

FRESHERS’ WEEK: Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, has suggested that universities should discourage excessive drinking and drugs, particularly during freshers’ week, in order to safeguard the mental health of their students.  His report, which suggests mentoring and the availability of tranquil spaces and welfare dogs, also said that schools should also do more to prepare students for university, including teaching them about managing their finances and proper balances of food and exercise.

Crime

ANTI-TERRORISM LEGISLATION: Max Hill QC, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has suggested that terrorists should be dealt with under normal criminal laws rather than special legislation. In many cases, that of murder for example, existing laws are sufficient to deal with the matter.  Using special terrorist laws can be seen by minority communities as targeting them.

MURDERED TEACHER: Emily Kelty, a former head teacher from Taunton, who was murdered in Brazil last week after being robbed, had expressed concern that she might be killed.  A number of people, including the local civil police chief, have been murdered in the area which is particularly dangerous.

Transport

RAIL STRIKES: The dispute about giving drivers the power to open and close doors on trains rumbles on with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union planning strikes on Southern Region, Merseyrail, Northern and Greater Anglia Networks on October 3 and October 5.

UBER: 700,000 people have signed a petition objecting to the refusal by Transport for London to renew Uber’s London licence when it expires at the end of this month.  The decision is to be appealed to the Westminster Magistrates Court who will hear it de novo.  That is to say that they look at the evidence without regard to TfL’s decision rather than merely reviewing whether that decision was irrational.  Uber have brought in a top legal team and no doubt TfL will do the same.  We can look forward, then, to a full analysis of whether Uber complied with its licence, for example by carrying out proper criminal checks on drivers.  TfL will say “no” but the company will point to a series of clean compliance inspections as evidence to the contrary.

Uber will be allowed to continue operating until the appeal is heard, but what will happen if the original decision is upheld?  Uber’s supporters draw a picture of drivers left without income and women unable to get home in safety.  That has to be nonsense.  Already other operators are vying to take over and, when they have done so, the same drivers will presumably take the same ladies home but with a different company supervising and taking the profit.  The other interesting angle is a political one.  TfL is chaired by mayor Sadiq Khan, a rising figure in the Labour movement and seen by some as a possible future Prime Minister.  Vigorous action in favour of the consumer may not play badly with the public and favouring the unionised cabbies against an aggressive American corporation could go down well within the party.  Just why wouldn’t you do it if you were Mr Khan?

Miscellaneous

CHOPPER OSBORNE: Mr Osborne has been criticised by colleagues for saying that he would not rest until Mrs May was “chopped up in bags in my freezer”.  Unfortunately for him, the comment was reported in Esquire magazine.  Although he has not actually apologised he has admitted that intemperate language is out of place.  Mrs May said that if there was an apology she would accept it but that she had not actually read it.

FAWCETT STATUE: Planning permission has been given for a statue of Millicent Fawcett to be erected in Parliament Square.  Fawcett was a prominent feminist campaigner whose approach was rejected by the more militant Emmeline Pankhurst.  Pankhurst’s statue is expected to be erected down by the Thames in due course.

WOMEN’S FOOTBALL: Mark Sampson, the head coach of the England women’s football team, has been fired following allegations of inappropriate behaviour.  It is understood that there have been concerns for some time but that none of the behaviour complained about was illegal.

 

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Issue 122:2017 09 28:Kurdish Independence(Neil Tidmarsh)

28 September 2017

Kurdish Independence

Celebration and anxiety.

By Neil Tidmarsh

So the inhabitants of Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR) have voted for independence from Baghdad.  Who (outside the Middle East) wouldn’t give three cheers for this new country?  Who wouldn’t wish the Kurds and their new state well?  After all, it’s been over a century since they were left out in the cold by those who redrew the political map following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, abandoning them as the largest nation in the world without a state.  And in that time, they’ve done and suffered much to justify that vote.  In 1988, 5000 Kurds were killed by Sadam Hussein’s gas attack on Halabja.  In recent years, the Peshmerga has proved itself to be the most effective force in the fight against Isis (and, in spite of that, was excluded from the Syrian peace-talks).

Nevertheless, the USA and the UK tried to dissuade Masoud Barzani (the president of the KAR and the leader of its governing KDP party) from going ahead with the vote, and they were sensible to do so.  They suggested delaying it for two years so that negotiations with Baghdad could take place first, and in return they would give Kurdish independence their full support.  The KAR’s second biggest party, the PUK, agreed to this compromise, suspecting that the vote was a tactic by the KDP to consolidate political power (Mr Barzani’s presidential term was due to end two years ago, but he insisted on an extension because of the war against Isis).  The USA and the UK, however, had proposed the compromise for quite another reason – the stability of the region.

The independence of the KAR does indeed threaten further instability in a region which must have been hoping for quite the opposite with the demise of Isis.

The vote is intended to lead to negotiations with Baghdad rather than to an immediate unilateral declaration of independence, but the Baghdad government says that it will not negotiate.  It would probably be prepared to recognise Kurdish independence within the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan; but Mr Barzani wants to incorporate areas outside those boundaries into his autonomous region, areas which were under Isis control but which are now under Kurdish control.  They include the oil-rich city and district of Kirkuk; Sinjar in the north, which links up with Kurdish territory across the border in neighbouring Syria; Khanaqin in the south; and Makhmur near Mosul.  Before the advent of Isis, these ‘disputed territories’ had been under central government control since 1991, and it’s unlikely that the government would agree to cede them to an independent Kurdish state.  Quite apart from their strategic and economic importance, they are populated not just by Kurds but also by Arabs, Turkmen and Yazidis, and none of them are enthusiastic about Kurdish rule.  Iraq’s Shia militias have said they are prepared to fight the Kurdish peshmerga in Kirkuk, and a face-off between the two is already taking shape there.  The Baghdad government is sending troops there, too.  Iraq is also expressing its disapproval of the vote by taking part in joint military exercises with Turkey along the border with the KAR.

Turkey has been the most vociferous opponent of Kurdish independence.  It has a huge Kurdish population itself (14.5 million), and for years has been fighting a fierce Kurdish separatist insurrection by the PKK (which it calls a terrorist group and is recognised as such by the USA, the UK and the EU).  An independent Kurdish state on its border is one of Turkey’s biggest fears; it suspects that such a state would try to incorporate Turkish Kurdistan into its own territory.  President Erdogan has sent tanks to the border, has begun bombing PKK posts inside the KAR and has threatened to suffocate the nascent state economically by cutting off its oil pipeline, which passes through Turkey on its way to the rest of the world.

Ethnic Kurdish territory occupies parts of Iran and Syria as well as Iraq and Turkey (30 million Kurds live outside the KAR).  Iran is just as hostile as Turkey to Kurdish statehood, for the same reasons.  Iran is fighting its own Kurdish separatists, and has closed its borders and airspace to traffic from the KAR.

In the extensive territories of Syrian Kurdistan, the YPG (an affiliate of Turkey’s PKK which has effectively established independence there) is to hold its first elections this week.  The Syrian Kurds have largely co-operated with Syria’s Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran since the start of the civil war.  They have fought alongside rebels only in the struggle against Isis, not in the struggle against Assad.  But their success in taking territory off Isis (with the help of the US and other Western powers) now seems to be worrying the regime; the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have come under fire from Assad regime forces in recent months.

And so the KAR, or the new state of Kurdistan as it will no doubt soon be known, finds itself completely surrounded by hostile neighbours who threaten and feel threatened by its very existence.

The White House must be experiencing an eerie but familiar sense of deja-vu about Iraq and US involvement there.  It might have expected its overthrow of Saddam Hussein to lead to stability – it led to anarchy.  It might have expected its establishment of a new government in Baghdad to lead to stability – it led to Sunni/Shia conflict, an effective civil war.  It might have expected its successful efforts to end the civil war to lead to stability – it led to the rise of Isis.  It might have expected the demise of Isis, which it has done so much to bring about, to lead to stability – it has instead led to this crisis, with the KAR ignoring US pleas in spite of all that the US has done to help the Kurds.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Catalan regional authority’s referendum on independence from Madrid approaches, with similar ominous rumblings…

 

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Issue 121: 2017 09 21: Contents

21 September 2017: Issue 121

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

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

Comment

The Accursed by John Watson

Child pornography addiction.

Crossing The Floor by J R Thomas

 A new Mr Trump?

Boris Like Marmite by Lynda Goetz

A shambles, a clever tactic, or an unacceptable, disloyal attempt at a power grab?

Terror And The Internet by Neil Tidmarsh

A political challenge, not a technological one.

Boris Rising by J R Thomas

Following what we said last week…

Money Is Not Wealth by Frank O’Nomics

Do asset managers pursue profit above social responsibility?

Features

Getting Fit From Your Armchair by Chin Chin

Science marches on.

I-Spy by J R Thomas

New work from Herron and le Carré.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Mellow Fruitfulness”.

Solution to the last crossword “Plain Vanilla 24”.

What’s on in September 2017 by AGGro.

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

Issue 116: 03 August 2017

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

Issue 118: 17 August 2017

Issue 119: 07 September 2017

Issue 120: 14 September 2017

Issue 122: 2017 09 28: Freshers’ Week (Chin Chin)

28 September 2017

Freshers’ Week

Horticulture can breed distress.

By Chin Chin

I do not know whether Jacob Rees-Mogg objects to being known as the hon member for the 18th century, but I certainly resent it when changes which took place in my lifetime are described as ancient history. There was a bad example of it in The Times this week.  The education correspondent, Nicola Woolcock, described the origins of freshers’ week as “lost in the midst of time”.  Her piece dealt with a report by Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University, which criticises excessive drinking and drug-taking by freshers as endangering their mental health.  Well, that is as may be, but the modern approach of treating the first week is an opportunity to drink and drug yourself  insensible is something which emerged in its current form after the early 70s, when I was myself a fresher.

We did it slightly differently then.  That isn’t to say that the period before lectures began was entirely devoted to prayer and contemplation.  We had to get to know each other and bars and pubs were good places for that.  Also we had to decide which clubs and societies we were going to join.

Most of the clubs and societies were anxious to recruit freshers to bulk out their memberships.  The captain of boats was looking for tall fit people to power the eights.  The rugby and football clubs were looking for the same sort of people to boost their chances of success.  Then there were the political societies, the debating societies, drama, minor sports and even a tiddlywinks club.  All gave drinks parties in an attempt to seduce the new blood into join them and – free drink being free drink – the parties were well attended.

The difficulty was of course that it requires a certain amount of bluntness to explain to the head of a society why you are not going to join when you still have the third of its free drinks in your hand.  How much easier to temporise and to say that you will give it a go.  That is how I became a member of all the major political parties and a number of different religious societies, all of which began putting propaganda and tracts through my door.  Had I taken up all the sports to which I committed myself they would have had to extend the decathlon.

Obviously once you had had the free drinks you completely ignored the commitments you had made, but that could make it difficult when you met those who had recruited you around the University.  One problem was that it was impossible to remember who was who, a difficulty aggravated when there was some special greeting involved.  “Death to the capitalist oppressor” was fine if addressed to a member of the Communist league but not so good when the recipient was the secretary of the banking society.

Anyway, we did not drink as much as they do nowadays – perhaps we were saving more capacity for the next three years – and I certainly don’t think that people risked their mental health.  According to Sir Anthony, however, inappropriately heavy drinking is now the norm and he feels that this should be balanced by “providing alternatives for students”.  Sir Anthony’s ideas for positive alternatives are not restricted to fresher’s week but would run for the whole of the first year.  He is in favour of mentoring, of quiet rooms for meditation, and of campuses with plenty of trees and water.  He also suggest that opportunities for growing vegetables and plants be made available.  That is an area in which I have some experience.

I arrived at my first boarding school aged eight, and although at that age we were every bit as mature as the modern fresher, it was a stressful change; and the school, early pioneers of Sir Anthony’s methods, made allotments available to those boys who wanted them.  Mine was about 10’ x 6’ but it came with a surprising bonus.  The previous user had planted sweet williams across one end and they produced a blaze of colour in my first year.  All year I laboured in the vineyard growing radishes, carrots and other vegetables which are dear to small boys.  I was careful, however, never to disturb the bed of sweet william which lifted the plot from a mere vegetable patch into a garden.  In March I began to look out for new shoots.  There were none.  Never mind, it was still early spring.  I looked again in April.  Still none.  Well, perhaps this was a late year.  By the time that May gave way to June the dreadful truth dawned. The sweet williams had gone.  Nothing would bring them back.  It only remained for me to dig up the bed and contemplate vengeance on those who had destroyed them.

Who could it be?  There were a number of candidates.  I had the normal share of enemies and had boasted a great deal about my flowers.  Anyone could have sneaked down at dead of night with weed killer in their hand and herbicide in their heart.  Perhaps though the plants had been stolen.  I went round surreptitiously looking at the other allotments.  No sweet williams.  Then I started to ask oblique questions of the type asked in detective stories.  “Do you happen to know anybody with some sweet williams for sale?”

Gradually I became paranoid, listening for clues among my fellows, sharp eyed around the locker room, and then suddenly the mystery was solved in a most unexpected way.  The radio was playing a gardening programme, and they referred to sweet williams as ‘biannuals’.  “What is a biannual?” I asked a teacher.  Ah, yes, I see.

I wish Sir Anthony all the best introducing his undergraduates to gardening, but if it is to improve their mental health he will need to see that they know a bit about plants before they start.  Maybe another of those “lifeskill” subjects that so many are keen to add to the school curriculum.

 

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Issue 122: 2017 09 28: It’s still September for heavens sake! (Lynda Goetz)

28 September 2017

It’s Still September, For Heaven’s Sake!

Christmas is three months away.

By Lynda Goetz 

Last Monday was 25th September, the birthday of one of my nieces, and also three months before 25th December, Christmas Day.  A few days earlier I was shopping and thought I should get a card and some wrapping paper for the small gift I had purchased.  I was horrified to discover that I probably had more choice of Christmas wrapping paper on offer than birthday paper.  It is September.  The leaves are still on the trees and have barely started to change colour; there are still flowers in bloom in the garden; I for one have not yet even bought my autumn bulbs, let alone planted them; we are over a month away from Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night.  Why on earth are the supermarkets and garden centres already full of Christmas stuff?

I know this is not a new thing.  Every year as soon as summer holidays are over and children are back at school the shops start bringing out the Christmas cards, the baubles and the boxes of biscuits.  But why?   Do people really start squirreling away tins of Christmas sweets and rolls of wrapping paper the minute the buckets and spades and swimsuits have been consigned to the back of cupboards?  Do one’s thoughts really turn to Christmas before the apples are off the trees, and while the grass still needs cutting and the sea is warmer than it was in May?  What on earth has happened to our sense of the seasons?  Christmas and Boxing Day are two days of the year.  Two days out of 365.  There is still 25% of the year to go before we reach this major festival in our calendar.  Surely we really don’t want to spend the next three months planning for those two days of consumerist madness and major gluttony?

Well, perhaps we do, since presumably the retailers would not take up floor space if there was no profit in it for them.  Perhaps making us think about it this early causes us to overbuy, to overspend, to end up buying too many things.  Perhaps it is simply part of the whole system on which our modern economy depends.  Maybe I should stop being so curmudgeonly and accept that Christmas effectively starts in September.  Personally, I will continue to refuse to countenance any Christmas purchases until late November at the earliest.  I will continue to ignore all blandishments to buy gift boxes of hand cream, shower gel and body moisturiser or candles, scent diffusers and pot pourri.  That I am able to do so is possibly because I bought all my wrapping paper, cards and even some of those gift boxes (if not biscuits and chocolates) back in January during the sales.  After all, who on earth wants Christmas stuff in January?  It’s all over by then – at least until the following December.  Now, shall I just throw a pack of Hot Cross Buns into the trolley whilst I am here?

 

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Issue 122:2017 09 28:Hypothetically( J.R.Thomas)

28 September 2017

Hypothetically

A suggestion to Mr Hammond.

By J.R. Thomas

We live in a world which our not so distant ancestors would have found very surprising.  Not the invention of the motor car, or the mobile telephone, or women being allowed to work in offices alongside men, or even free education for all. No, what would have amazed them is the way we all accept that we pay taxation so regularly and willingly and in such large amounts.

In the 1640’s Englishman fought Englishman for six years in a vicious and ruinous war that had many causes, but the immediate trigger of which was the King’s insistence on raising money for his navy by the imposition of a tax popularly, or unpopularly, known as Ship Money.  Like many taxes, Ship Money began as a narrow tax payable only in seaports for fighting ships but the clever men of Whitehall (Palace, at that time) soon loosened things up so that it covered many areas of military expenditure and was widely levied, all without the consent of Parliament.  As we know, that attempt to raise tax did not end well for the executive, but it did create the circumstances which led to both our modern democracy and to our modern political parties.

It also made direct taxation generally an unpopular subject among the citizens of these United Kingdoms, and a great deal of thought went into how otherwise to raise the money which governments needed.  General income tax was frowned upon, although seen as a necessity in time of war when the well-heeled accepted that if the poor must do the fighting, the rich would pay for it.  As every school child used to know, the first real instrument of general taxation was the window tax, a sort of poll tax which fell principally on the rich (and led to the first avoidance scheme – bricking up windows). It was the main source of tax revenue throughout most of the eighteenth century; until Mr Pitt in 1798 introduced the income tax levied at 10% top rate and 2d in the pound on more middle class incomes.  In its way that was a hypothecated tax; it was specifically to pay for the costs of the war against France and Napoleon, and such was the uproar and hullabaloo that Pitt promised it would be temporary.  It was abolished for a year in 1803; and again from 1816 to 1842, but was brought back by that otherwise conservative Conservative Robert Peel who again promised it would be temporary. Perhaps one day it may turn out to be so.  But the truth is that it is too useful in its ability to meet governmental costs without alerting the public too much as to what they are actually paying for ever to be done away with.

In more recent times hypothecation of taxation has been avoided if at all possible; mainly to try to avoid the arguments of those who would, for instance, not wish to contribute to military expenditure or to the police or education (“but we have no children”).  After the First World War the rapid growth in ownership of motor vehicles led to the introduction of the road fund license, the income from which was dedicated to improving roads and building new ones.  We still have that, now made more sophisticated by linking it to the size of car engines (and thus, roughly, to the price of cars).  We also have fuel tax, a remarkable tax in that the tax, like that on cigarettes, is several times the base price of the product.  If all that were dedicated to road maintenance and building we would have the finest road system, and the best maintained, in the world.  As it is. somehow we have ended up with about the worst public roads in Europe, and most motoring taxes go to other causes – such as subsidising our public transport systems, though mysteriously, they too suffer from underinvestment and skimped maintenance, and yet are among the most expensive in the world.

There are in fact still some quasi hypothecated taxes in the road system – more commonly in Europe where many countries have toll roads.  But even in Britain we have toll bridges, a few ancient and long since having been paid for, some modern (and in the case of the Humber Bridge, from nowhere to nowhere by way of some marginal Parliamentary seats, never to be paid for).  And there is one great dedicated tax which we all seem to accept quite happily, the National Insurance Fund, which is a flat rate tax, almost impossible for an individual to avoid, set at a rate of around 11% on employees depending on exact circumstances, with further hefty contributions by employers, and different rates for the self-employed. This pays state pensions and some other lesser benefits. It is immensely profitable; perhaps not quite the right expression; but it certainly makes a sizable annual surplus which is then on-lent to the Treasury, mainly to help meet the costs of UK health services.

Which brings us to this week’s helpful suggestion to Mr Hammond, busy chewing his biro in the Treasury as he adds and subtracts for the forthcoming November budget.  Here, Philip, is the opportunity to be remembered as a great reforming Chancellor, not quite a second Gladstone perhaps, but certainly as bold and intelligent, the solver of a major conundrum.  It is simple: why not create a National Health Fund, into which those who make National Insurance contributions pay a flat rate to fund the nation’s health care.  But, you will immediately protest – I can hear you protesting from here – that imposes a further burden on the low earners and benefits the rich.  But there is no need why that should be so; the income tax rates can readily be adjusted so that the heavily burdened and indeed the struggling middle will pay significantly less income tax, and furthermore the rate of National Insurance could be significantly cut as there would be no need for cross subsidisation by those strange “loans”, which have even less chance of being repaid than the average student loan.

Best of all though, we could all at last see what the NHS is costing us.  We might think we are in receipt of the best bargain of all time; or we might think it seems damnably expensive and start to take a much greater interest in how it is run and how it might operate better and how it might do things differently, or not at all.  The socialists amongst you will say that this is an insurance scheme and so it is.  But no more than the present set-up, which is simply an insurance scheme where the premium payers have no idea what premiums they pay.  The free-marketeers might say that the next stage is to have competing schemes, where citizens can contribute to different funds with differing levels of benefits and comfort and cover.  As long as there is a compulsory minimum, why not?  It seems to work well enough for car insurance. But that would be for a future Government to consider.

It also works well enough for National Insurance, and you might argue, would work better still if there were competing pension schemes with better returns than the government has awarded in recent years.

For Mr Hammond, who may still have ambition and certainly must want to be kindly remembered, an outcome granted to few Chancellors, he can achieve greatness in reducing the income tax and National Insurance, and putting the NHS on a firmer and less politicised footing.  He need do nothing to tinker with entitlement or universality and no cuts in funding would take place (though they might take on a measure of support if the cost of the health service was winkled out in this way). He would wrong-foot that woman next door, and that blond chap down the road, and become the people’s Phil.  And make the Tory Party look as though it has thoughtful and original ideas of its own, not borrowed from the bearded chap on the opposite bench.

 

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