Friday, 29 April 2016

Message from Syria

The following statement has been released by Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack. He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.

Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.

I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.

Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.

Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.

Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.

The situation today is critical - Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.

Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,

Dr Hatem

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Labours Worst Day

The week started with a row brewing over comments by one MP Naz Shah as they were thought to be Anti-Semitic. She was the PPS of the shadow chancellor John Mcdonnell and her comments mentioned the transportation of Jews. The calls went out for her to have the whip removed but this never happened until yesterday [Wednesday 27-Jun-2016].

This morning on his way into Millbank Ken Livingstone is confronted by John Mann and accused of being a "Nazi apologist" and advised about his history being misinformed. Livingstone then starts a round of interviews starting with the BBC News, the Daily Politics and the World at One repeating the same stance on each one that over 47 years he has never heard a member of the Labour Party make Anti-Semitic remarks and also that Naz Shah was not an Anti-Semitic.

The candidate for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said "Ken Livingstone's comments are appalling and inexcusable. There must be no place for this in our party"

Currently Labour MPs are queuing up to demand Ken Livingstone's removal in full public view and the day isn't even over yet.

Monday, 25 April 2016

What a cheek

So President Barak Obama threatens us with a ten year wait for a trade deal if we leave the EU after the referendum vote. What happened to the special relationship then?

Exactly, it has always been spurious that the UK and the US have had a special relationship.

Now the cloak of mysticism has been dropped and the truth is revealed that the only reason the US wants the UK to stay in the EU is for personal reasons and no other.

The European Court of Justice has repeatedly undermined the ability of Britain and America to share intelligence and President Obama should simply ask why a new EU intelligence agency will help, especially as the special relationship does not exist.

Looking forward to the vote on the 23-Jun-2016 even more now so that we can show him we will not be threatened.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Europe crumbles

Hungary is fighting against forced immigration from Brussels, it was also the first country to build a fence last year.

Other countries may follow suit in opposing these plans and hold their own referendums, taking the power from Brussels and putting it back in the hands of their residents. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both threatened to take legal action against the EU’s orders to take in migrants.

Austria has also begun sealing off its southern border, introducing checks on the vital Brenner Cross motorway and pledging the implementation of €1m worth of border patrols and security improvements and last week, 2,000 soldiers in Switzerland’s tank battalion were told to postpone their summer holidays in order to be ready to rush to the border with Italy to block migrants making their way from Sicily.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both threatened to take legal action against the EU’s orders to take in migrants and the European Commission President has been quoted with “We are no longer respected in our countries when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU.” Damming stuff indeed.

A non imaginary line is now stretching from the West to the East across the top of the Mediterranean to stop migrants heading North, where will they go next?

Friday, 22 April 2016

Annus horribilis

During yesterdays celebrations this expression was mentioned and I looked to see what it was about:-

12 March, Mauritius, the last Commonwealth realm in Africa, abolished its Monarchy.

19 March, it was announced that Prince Andrew, Duke of York would separate from his wife Sarah, Duchess of York.

23 April, Anne, Princess Royal divorced her husband Captain Mark Phillips.

8 June, Diana, Princess of Wales’s tell-all book Diana, Her True Story was published after being serialised in The Sunday Times. Written by Andrew Morton, it revealed for the first time the unhappy truths of the Princess's marriage – particularly, the affair between Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles – starting the "War of the Waleses".

20 August, scandalous pictures of the Duchess of York being kissed on her feet by her friend, John Bryan, were published in Daily Mirror.

24 August, intimate conversations between the Princess of Wales and James Gilbey from a tape recording of their phone calls were published in The Sun, causing "Squidgygate".

13 November, the affair between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles was confirmed by a transcript of a recording of their phone calls published in the Daily Mirror, causing "Camillagate".

20 November, just four days before the Guildhall speech, Windsor Castle – one of the main royal residences – caught fire and was seriously damaged. Huge public outcry was aroused against the prospect that the cost of repairs might be on government expenses.

26 November, after lengthy discussions and under enormous public pressure, it was announced that the Queen would start to pay income tax and capital gains tax in 1993. This became the first time for a British monarch to pay income tax since 1931.

9 December, John Major, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

EU Referendum

Two months to go and the subject could not be hotter.

Last night Nick Robinson reminded us what had happened before in 1974 and the years following. He gave us an idea why we voted the way we did, and what the main topics of the day were at that time. He reminded me why I voted to join the EEC, why I thought it was a good idea and the information that I had been given allowing me to make my decision.

Do I now feel betrayed or misled? No. But I do see how a lot was done without public knowledge and how it is the politicians that make the mess concerning the European Union and how the people have very little to say.

So what did I learn last night and has it changed my mind to vote leave this time?

It started with the 1951 European Steel and Coal Community of West Germany and France, ECSC, later joined by Benelux and Italy. March 1957 brought the Treaty of Rome, and the European Economic Community, with the original six nations. January 1963, at a press conference in Paris, de Gaulle clearly said "Non" to his erstwhile close colleague Harold Macmillan.

Labour held a referendum in 1975 under Harold Wilson which now turns out to be a way to hold the fractious Labour party together rather than a vote on Europe. In 1992 the Conservatives had Maastricht and the treaty led to the creation of the Euro. Then there was the Lisbon Treaty and this was pushed through the back door of Westminster quicker than I can say Nick Robins...

Today, we can say that the Lisbon Treaty is the most important document in the European Union [EU]. It is the newest treaty, the most up to date, and it dictates how European institutions work.

Is today’s EU Referendum going to be much of the same? Possibly if the politicians have their way, they keep saying it is the people's choice, however, if they do not like the answer they will just ask a different question.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Oil still dominates

Oil prices have been persistently low for well over a year and a half now, but as the April 2016 World Economic Outlook will document, the widely anticipated “shot in the arm” for the global economy has yet to materialise. We argue that, paradoxically, global benefits from low prices will likely appear only after prices have recovered somewhat, and advanced economies have made more progress surmounting the current low interest rate environment.

Since June 2014 oil prices have dropped about 65% as growth has progressively slowed across a broad range of countries. This outcome has puzzled many observers who had believed that oil-price declines would be a net plus for the world economy, obviously hurting exporters but delivering more-than-offsetting gains to importers. The key assumption behind that belief is a specific difference in saving behaviour between oil importers and oil exporters [consumers in oil importing regions such as Europe have a higher marginal propensity to consume out of income than those in exporters such as Saudi Arabia].

World equity markets have clearly not subscribed to this theory. Over the past six months or more, equity markets have tended to fall when oil prices fall, not what we would expect if lower oil prices help the world economy on balance. Indeed, since August 2015 the simple correlation between equity and oil prices has not only been positive, it has doubled in comparison to an earlier period starting in August 2014.

One obvious problem in predicting the effects of oil-price movements is that a fall in the world price can result either from an increase in global supply or a decrease in global demand. But in the latter case, we would expect to see exactly the same pattern as in recent quarters, falling prices accompanied by slowing global growth, with lower oil prices cushioning, but likely not reversing, the growth slowdown.

Of course, it would be wrong to conclude that central banks can enhance the benefits of current low oil prices by raising their policy interest rates. On the contrary, all else equal, that action would harm growth by raising real interest rates, and the BoE [Bank of England] has absolutely no intention of raising interest rates.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Leveson Two

The government has been quietly sideling Leveson 2 for months but after reported that main stream news papers had spiked a story about the culture secretary and a call girl, it is top news once again.

John Whittingdale last night issued a statement to Newsnight in which he confirmed that he’d had a relationship with a woman who was also a dominatrix. The six-month fling ended before he became Culture Secretary. John Whittingdale said "This is an old story which was a bit embarrassing at the time. The events occurred long before I took up my present position and it has never had any influence on the decisions I have made as culture secretary,”.

Newspapers like the Sun, Mail on Sunday, People and Independent all looked at the story years ago and decided not to run it. But it appears they each decided there was little public interest in doing so. Papers have yet to explain what the public interest is in revealing the celebrity threesome case though.

However, it now appears that John Whittingdale did not tell No10 about his previous relationship when he was offered the Cabinet post. Downing Street say that as a single man this is a private affair, but the potential for future blackmail may worry some in Whitehall.

John Whittingdale once hinted that Leveson 2 should go ahead, but has since changed his mind. Conflict of interest?

Back in December 2015 Leveson 2 was quietly shelved as the conclusion of Operation Weeting left the way open for part two of the Leveson Inquiry to finally commence, but it never happened.

The first inquiry examined the culture, practices and ethics of the British press and published a 2,000-page report in November 2012.

The second part, looking at specific claims about phone-hacking at the News of the World and what went wrong with the original police investigation, was delayed pending the conclusion of criminal prosecutions.

Can the current situation revitalise Leveson 2 or maybe kick start a Leveson 3?


Monday, 11 April 2016

Tax Returns

I have been conflicted over the past week because I have been following the PM on his crusade [I do not think it is a term too strong] against tax dodgers, whether they be large corporates or small time crooks. As recent as 8-Mar-2016 the European Commission made a press release of the following "Tax transparency: Commission welcomes agreement reached by Member States for the automatic exchange of information on country-by-country reports (CbCR) of multinational companies, subject to UK scrutiny".

However, over the past week it has appeared as I get most of my news from the media that the PM is in the gang, this was disappointing to say the least. I realise that politicians can be two faced but this seemed to be more than just a casual stroll through efficient financing. The PM has now published his tax return and it appears a lot of other politicians will follow suit, some will not and the shadow over them will remain.

It has now become clear and thanks to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that David Cameron has not been dodging [a phrase used by the media this week] his taxes or delving into the murky world of off-shore accounts. I am a saver and I have an ISA and as Jacob Rees-Mogg explained this morning I am an avoider not an evader, which settles my mind considerably.

As far as the EU referendum is concerned mine and the PM's view will continue to differ as I read the  leaflet setting out the governments position that has just popped through the letter box.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chinese bond market

Chinese companies cancelled more than double the amount of bond offerings in March compared with a year earlier, as mounting defaults increased financing costs.

At least 62 Chinese firms postponed or scrapped 44.8 billion yuan [$7 billion] of planned note sales last month, compared with 23 companies with 15.7 billion yuan a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China Eastern Airlines Corp. cancelled issuance of 3 billion yuan of short-term bills on April 1 because of market volatility, according to a statement on Shanghai Clearing House website Tuesday.

The surge in scrapped offerings reflects investors’ growing concern about default risks amid the worst slowdown in a quarter century. At least 12 companies have missed payments on bonds in the past two years even as the central bank loosened monetary policy to help support the economy. The yield premium of AAA rated corporate securities due in five years over similar-maturity government notes rose 10 basis points last month, the most since November, to 78 basis points.

Fujian Electronics & Information Group Co. cancelled a 300 million yuan planned bond offering on March 31, according to a statement posted on the Chinamoney website, citing market fluctuations. Huafang Ltd. scrapped plans for 150 million yuan issuance of debentures on the same day, it said in a statement on Chinamoney.

It is obvious that it has become more expensive for companies to sell bonds as defaults rise, they want to wait until borrowing costs come down, but is that possible? China is experiencing the free market and it is starting to worry some of the big wigs at the top.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

China's reaction

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned on Tuesday, becoming the first casualty of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm which have shone a spotlight on the offshore wealth of politicians and public figures worldwide.

Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the leaders of China, Britain and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine.

In China, the Beijing government dismissed as "groundless" reports that the families of President Xi Jinping and other current and former Chinese leaders were linked to offshore accounts. In the last 48 hours some extraordinary steps have been taken in the East to protect those that might have been affected by the Panama Papers leak from Mossack Fonseca. It will probably be very difficult to get news out of China in the coming days as the doors close.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, when asked if the government would investigate tax affairs of those mentioned in the documents, told reporters the ministry would not comment on "these groundless accusations". Beijing also moved to limit local access to coverage of the matter. State media denounced Western reporting on it as biased against non-Western leaders.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Panama Papers

Last night Panorama explored some of the eleven million papers that have been obtained by the media concerning tax havens and one particular legal firm called Mossack Fonseca. They showed how over a forty year period the company had aided the rich & powerful to hide money using secret financial instruments.

I am sure that there will be a plethora of news about this and all I wanted to say was the ending statement by Richard Brooks "there is no longer a place for tax havens today" is something that the PM David Cameron started last year and I hope he finishes the job.

Monday, 4 April 2016


Social networking forum Reddit on Thursday removed a section from its site used to tacitly inform users it had never received a certain type of U.S. government surveillance request, suggesting the platform is now being asked to hand over customer data under a secretive law enforcement authority.

Reddit deleted a paragraph found in its transparency report known as a “warrant canary” to signal to users that it had not been subject to so-called national security letters, which are used by the FBI to conduct electronic surveillance without the need for court approval.

The scrubbing of the "canary", which stated Reddit had never received a national security letter "or any other classified request for user information," comes as several tech companies are pushing the Obama administration to allow for fuller disclosures of the kind and amount of government requests for user information they receive.

This is ominous.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Steel Wars

Steel has been in the news for a week, that alone is remarkable, but what is the story.

On the one hand people are calling for the steel industry to be bailed out like the banks, unfortunately this situation is not like the banking crisis and the government does not consider the steel industry a crisis concern. When it [the government] says 'we will do all we can', if they were then asked 'so you are going to save it', they would just repeat 'we will do all we can' which is a synonym for nothing.

A private concern called Liberty House are buying some of Tata's concerns in the UK but are unlikely to buy all as they only want to invest is specific parts of the organisation. The Labour party have called for Nationalisation which naturally the government are not considering.

There are other ways the government might support the steel business if no buyer comes forward soon. One option being considered by ministers is to "mothball" the blast furnace at Port Talbot. It is thought this would cost between £10m-£20m a month and would also involve laying off most of the workforce.

Another option, thought to have been part of a package put to the Tata board earlier this week, involves a buy-out by managers and staff at Port Talbot. While Tata called the plan "unaffordable" it might work with the help of government loans or loan guarantees, similar to the ones being considered in the sale of Scunthorpe to Greybull. Again the EU rules restrict what the government can do to help.

Does this situation bolster the Brexit campaign?

The industry blames cheap Chinese imports for a collapse in steel prices. It is certainly true that China's dramatic economic growth since liberalisation started in 1979 has been one of the key drivers in the global steel market. It is now the world's biggest steel producer. The UK, which produces almost 12 million tonnes a year, is a minor player in terms of absolute output, but has sought to specialise in high-quality, high-value steel products.

With China's market slowing, their producers have been looking for export markets, such as the EU.  This has led to accusations of unfair competition, that Chinese producers are "dumping" steel products on overseas markets - that is not just selling them cheaply, taking advantage of their lower production costs, but actually selling them at a loss.

The towards the end of this week China has risked raising tensions over its role in the UK steel crisis by imposing a 46% import duty on a type of high-tech steel made by Tata in Wales. The Chinese government said it had slapped the tariff on “grain-oriented electrical steel” imported from the European Union, South Korea and Japan. It justified the move by saying imports from abroad were causing substantial damage to its domestic steel industry.

News of the tariff emerged as David Cameron confronted the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of a summit dinner in Washington on Thursday [31-Mar-2016] night, urging him to use Beijing’s presidency of the G20 group of leading countries to tackle the problem. This has yet to be responded to but one thing is certain, Steel is going to continue to be top of the news.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Minimum Wage

Today the minimum wage has been re-branded to the living wage and increased approximately 10%.

It was started back in 1999 at £3.30 per hour and is now being upped from £6.60 to £7.20 per hour eventually culminating at £9.00 per hour in 2020.

Back in 1999 there were a lot of scare stories about businesses folding under the strain of paying people a decent rate, it never happened, once again this spectre is raising it's head and the likely hood is that business will just pass the costs on. One sector that might find that difficult is social care which is paid for by the government.

One thing that should be taken into account is that most people on the living wage do not work a 40 or even a 35 hour week, it is usually about 20 hours a week and that equates to £144 or £7488 per year which is not the sort of salary that can afford to rent or buy in this country today.

The government will ask the Low Pay Commission, which currently recommends the level of the minimum wage, to suggest a figure for the National Living Wage in April 2017. It is expected that that the National Living Wage should continue to increase to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020, subject to sustained economic growth.

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