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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, March 27, 2017

See what happens when you pee in the pool...!

An optimistic Brexit or something a little more naïve?

Economic watchdog OBR says its forecasts are optimistic.

The head of Britain's economic watchdog has defended its forecasts warning of the cost to Britain of leaving the EU. The Office for Budget Responsibility infuriated pro-Brexit Tories with its prediction that withdrawal would wipe 2.4% off growth over the next five years while adding £60bn to borrowing. Robert Chote said OBR forecasts were "more optimistic" than others. The OBR had to produce forecasts based on stated government policy, he said. He made the comments after Conservative former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith and backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said leaving the EU would lead to a more liberal trade regime delivering a boost to the UK economy. Mr Chote said the OBR's job was not to predict what it thought was the most likely outcome for the future, "but what the most likely outcome is conditional upon the current stated policy of the government", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "Obviously, the outlook for policy as regards Brexit is not as clearly set out," he said. "We don't know what exactly the government is going to be aiming for and what could be delivered in the negotiations on things like the trade regime, migration. We asked them whether they wanted to tell us any more about their policy in all of these areas than is already in the public domain - and they said 'no'. Clearly it would have put us in a very difficult position if they had told us something and said we can't share that with the rest of the world."

Mark Carney plan for Brexit gets cool response from Gove.

Brexit supporters have rejected plans reportedly backed by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney for an extended transition when Britain leaves the EU. He hosted dinners last week with business leaders about keeping single market access for at least two years after Brexit, the Sunday Times claims. But former cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC that such a plan could complicate the Brexit process. A Bank spokesman declined to discuss "private meetings and conversations". Business has become increasingly concerned about a so-called "cliff-edge" change in trading relations with Europe after Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged the unease during a speech at the CBI conference on Monday. And in an interview, also in the Sunday Times, she admitted that the complexities of Brexit was something that kept her awake at night. However, she said she wanted to "get on with the deal" of leaving the EU. The governor's belief that there needs to be an adequate transition period is not new, however, and sources at the bank rejected reports that he had been in "secret talks" and "plots" last week. On 15 November, Mr Carney told the Treasury Committee that it would be in the interests of British companies, especially in the financial sector, to have a transitional deal to cover the period between leaving the EU and the finalising of new trade deals.

UK third quarter GDP growth confirmed at 0.5%.

The UK economy grew by 0.5% in the third quarter, official figures have confirmed, helped by export growth and stronger consumer spending. In its second estimate of the health of the economy, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also says business investment grew by more than expected. That was up 0.9% following the Brexit vote, against the second quarter, although it was down on last year. There will be a third estimate of the figures in December. "Investment by businesses held up well in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, though it's likely most of those investment decisions were taken before polling day," Darren Morgan, an ONS statistician, said. However, it is expected that the effects of the Brexit vote and the fall in sterling will begin to feed through in the coming months. The Office for Budget Responsibility, which provides independent economic forecasts and analysis, said on Wednesday that it expected the economy to grow by 1.4% in 2017, down from the 2.2% it predicted in March. It cut its forecast for growth in 2018 to 1.7%, down from 2.1%. The "near-term strength of the economy after the Brexit vote is unlikely to persist", said Samuel Tombs chief UK economist with Pantheon Macroeconomics. "The outlook for stagnation in real incomes next year, as inflation rockets, points to a sharp slowdown in consumer spending growth ahead," Mr Tombs added.

Brexit: Legal battle over UK's single market membership.

The government is facing a legal battle over whether the UK stays inside the single market after it has left the EU, the BBC has learned. Lawyers say uncertainty over the UK's European Economic Area membership means ministers could be stopped from taking Britain out of the single market. They will argue the UK will not leave the EEA automatically when it leaves the EU and Parliament should decide. But the government said EEA membership ends when the UK leaves the EU. The single market allows the tariff-free movement of goods, services, money and people within the EU. The EEA, set up in the 1990s, extends those benefits to some non-EU members like Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Non-EU members are outside the Common Agricultural Policy and customs union, but get barrier-free trade with the single market in return for paying into some EU budgets and accepting the free movement of workers. If the courts back the legal challenge and give Parliament the final say over EEA membership, then MPs could vote to ensure that Britain stays in the single market until a long-term trading relationship with the EU has been agreed.

Brexit notes photograph played down by government.

The government has distanced itself from a Brexit memo caught on camera in Westminster. The handwritten notes, carried by an aide to Conservative MP Mark Field, included "what's the model? Have your cake and eat it" and "unlikely" in reference to the EU single market. They were photographed after Mr Field and his aide left a meeting with the Brexit department at 9 Downing Street. The government said the notes did not reflect its Brexit position. "These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government's position in relation to Brexit negotiations," a spokesman said. Captured on long-lens camera by photographer Steve Back, they refer to difficulties the government faces after it begins the formal two-year process of EU withdrawal next year. "Difficult on article 50 implementation - Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first," they note in an apparent reference to the lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier. "Got to be done in parallel - 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won't provide more detail. We think it's unlikely we'll be offered single market," they also say.

All details above from BBC News website.

[The BIG day is fast approaching – Article 50! Then the 2 Year clock starts ticking in earnest. Oddly though the quickest trade deal ever accomplished by the EU took 4 years and the *average* time is 7 years – with the longest negotiations taking 11 years. I have a feeling that our trade deal with the EU will take somewhat longer than the 2 years we have. In other words we’ll be going HARD and then going home with precisely NOTHING to show for 2 years of uncertainty and upheaval. Well done Brexiteers, you’ve screwed us all!]

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Drug 'reverses' ageing in animal tests.

By James Gallagher for BBC News website

23rd March 2017

A drug that can reverse aspects of ageing has been successfully trialled in animals, say scientists. They have rejuvenated old mice to restore their stamina, coat of fur and even some organ function. The team at Erasmus University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, are planning human trials for what they hope is a treatment for old age. A UK scientist said the findings were "impossible to dismiss", but that unanswered questions remained. The approach works by flushing out retired or "senescent" cells in the body that have stopped dividing. They accumulate naturally with age and have a role in wound healing and stopping tumours. But while they appear to just sit there, senescent cells release chemicals that cause inflammation and have been implicated in ageing. The group of scientists created a drug that selectively killed senescent cells by disrupting the chemical balance within them. "I got very rebellious, people insisted I was crazy for trying and for the first three times they were right," Dr Peter de Keizer told the BBC.

On the fourth attempt he had something that seemed to work. He tested it on mice that were just old (the equivalent of 90 in mouse years), those genetically programmed to age very rapidly and those aged by chemotherapy. The findings, published in the journal Cell, showed liver function was easily restored and the animals doubled the distance they would run in a wheel. Dr de Keizer said: "We weren't planning to look at their hair, but it was too obvious to miss." He also said there were a lot of "grey" results - things that seemed to improve in some mice but not all. The drug was given three times a week and the experiments have been taking place for nearly a year. There are no signs of side-effects but "mice don't talk", Dr de Keizer said. However, it is thought the drug would have little to no effect on normal tissues. When asked if this was a drug for ageing, Dr Keizer told the BBC News website: "I hope so, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating as you say. In terms of mouse work we are pretty much done, we could look at specific age-related diseases eg osteoporosis, but we should now prepare for clinical translation."

Commenting on the results, Dr Dusko Ilic, a stem cell scientist at King's College London, said: "The finding is impossible to dismiss. [But] until more high-quality research is done, it is better to be reserved about these findings. Though, I would not be surprised if manufacturers try to capitalise on this and, in a few years, we could buy this peptide as a supplement over the counter." Prof Ilaria Bellantuono, Professor in Musculoskeletal Ageing, University of Sheffield, called for further tests on "heart, muscle, metabolic, cognitive function" to take place. But added: "The use of this peptide in patients is a long way away. It requires careful consideration about safety, about the appropriate group of patients for whom this peptide can be beneficial in a reasonable period of time so that positive effects can be easily measured at an affordable cost."

[Rather inevitably, as I’m getting older, this sort of thing interests me more and more. I doubt if any ‘wonder drug’ like this will be available in a timescale to extend my life by much but maybe a range of treatments will be around for the next generation or the one after that. What such things will do to our cultures is open to debate but no doubt the rich and shameless will be extending their lifespans long before the rest of us benefit from the technology!]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Good German by Joseph Kanon (FP: 2001)

Berlin, 1945. After a 4 year absence embedded Army reporter Jake Geismar (played by George Clooney in the 2006 movie adaptation) is back looking for a last story before returning state side and also looking for Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) an ex-lover from happier times. But post-war Berlin is a very different city than he remembers. So different in fact that without many of the previous landmarks he gets lost more often than not in areas he used to know his way around blindfolded. With the conference to decide the fate of the future world in full swing Jake stumbles upon a dead GI carrying a large amount of Russian issued money. But the place and circumstances of the death aren’t what interests Jake – it’s the fact than no one wants to know what happened and before Jake can start digging the body is recovered from the Russian sector and flown home to the US. Not one to be told what to investigate Jake starts to use his knowledge of the city and his natural command of the language to ask questions and to become a serious pain in the Army’s ass. The more Jake digs the worse the story gets – from the ever present Black Market, to widespread prostitution, asset stripping on an industrial scale, whitewashing of severely tarnished reputations, recollections of Holocaust survivors and the growing appreciation that some Germans, the ‘Good’ ones, are worth almost any price and any fudging of the past, if they are willing to help defend the US in a future war with the Soviets. Jake has other ideas and is willing to put everything on the line – even his own life – to expose the cynical manoeuvring of politicians and businessmen who want to forget about the past and a crime so big that no one is responsible for it.

I was impressed by this author before I read this book but this really knocked it out of the park for me. Gripping from the outset this is an often harrowing story of what people will do and what they will turn a blind eye to in order to survive in extreme times. Overflowing with great characters, not least of which is Jake himself who is amazing, this delves into what must have been a truly horrible period in German history as the country was pounded into rubble, invaded and occupied and then picked over by the victors. I doubt if anyone could come out of that period smelling of roses and no one smelt anything like that – even the good Germans often mentioned throughout the novel – much to Jakes amazement and disgust: Police investigators who continued to work for the regime even after their Jewish wife was sent to a concentration camp, Jews hiding from the Gestapo who offered to find others to keep themselves or family members out of trouble and scientists, aiming at the stars whilst designing weapons assembled by slave labour. There are no clean hands here, there are victims and the victims of victims all struggling to live with what they have done and what they have witnessed.

This is most definitely not a book for the faint of heart. There’s some violence and the odd bit of swearing and some sex but it’s the underlying themes – especially those around the Holocaust – that really get under your skin and eat their way deep into your consciousness. Some of the stories – most probably true though, I suspect rather toned down, are disturbing enough to be borderline stomach turning. This is not puerile ‘shock’ tactics though, not faux horror to titillate the comfortable. This is the disturbing thought that, in these circumstances we, with all of our fine morality, could have done these things too. The dialogue here is some of the best I’ve read in years, crisp, powerful, realistic and riveting. I learnt so much from this book and had so many more questions at the end of it that I’m just going to have to research this element of European history much more. I’m sure that the reality will be even more fascinating than even this most excellent novel. Most highly recommended.            

Monday, March 20, 2017

The new Olympic Sport proves to be quite a novelty.......

Shock’s a plenty it seems……..

Nigel Farage warns of 'seismic shock' if Brexit not delivered.

"Another big seismic shock" could hit British politics at the next election, Nigel Farage has warned Theresa May if Brexit is not delivered by 2020. The interim UKIP leader said he suspected the Conservative Government "is not fit for the legacy of Brexit". He made the remarks at a reception in London's Ritz Hotel to celebrate his contribution to the Brexit victory. In a nod to Donald Trump's call for him to be UK ambassador to the US, he handed out Ferrero Rocher chocolates. The sweet treats were famously offered in an advert set at an "ambassador's reception" and included the oft-quoted line: "You are really spoiling us." Downing Street has already rejected Mr Trump's claim that Mr Farage would do a "great job" as ambassador by saying "there is no vacancy". And Chancellor Philip Hammond said Mr Farage should not "hold his breath" if he expected a call for him to help with UK-US relations.

Autumn Statement: Hammond defends post-Brexit economy forecasts.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has called economic forecasts in the Autumn Statement one of a "range of outcomes" after some pro-Brexit MPs criticised them for being too pessimistic. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast more government borrowing and reductions in economic growth after the referendum. Ex-minister Iain Duncan Smith accused the OBR of "utter doom and gloom". But Mr Chancellor Hammond said it was good to prepare for a "rainy day". He added that the government was investing to boost infrastructure and economic productivity and there was a "downward path in borrowing". BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed said the chancellor "hopes that the forecasts do prove very gloomy" and he was "setting a bottom line from which he hopes the government can clamber upwards". Asked about the OBR's predictions, the former Work and Pensions Secretary and Leave campaigner Mr Duncan Smith told the Daily Telegraph it was "another utter doom and gloom scenario" from the organisation. The Economists for Brexit group predicted more "humiliating U-turns" from the OBR, saying it had "assumed a pessimistic outlook for the UK economy outside the EU, based on bad economic policy-making".

EU leaders 'not bluffing' over Brexit terms, warns Malta's PM.

EU leaders are not "bluffing" when they say the UK will be left without access to the single market when it leaves the bloc if there is no free movement of people, Malta's prime minister says. Joseph Muscat, whose country assumes the EU's presidency in January, told the BBC: "This is really and truly our position and I don't see it changing". Theresa May says the UK will begin the legal process to leave the EU by March. Mr Muscat said talks on the details of a "new relationship" could be delayed. A Downing Street spokesman insisted negotiations were being approached in the "spirit of goodwill". "This is a negotiation that will take place next year and the government will set out its negotiating strategy in the fullness of time," he said. "The aim of that negotiation is to get the best possible deal for Britain, for British companies to access and work with and within the single market and for European businesses to have the same access here." Much political debate has focused on the possibility of a "soft" Brexit - the UK retaining some form of membership of the single market in exchange for conceding some control over immigration - and "hard Brexit" - leaving the single market but having fuller control over migration. But Mr Muscat said the UK and EU needed to first reach agreement on a range of other details once Mrs May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. He said these included the bill the UK must pay before leaving, establishing what will happen to the UK-Republic of Ireland border and working out interim arrangements on issues like security.

Iain Duncan Smith accuses Sir John Major over new Brexit vote bid.

Ex-Prime Minister Sir John Major has been accused of "an absolute dismissal" of democracy after he suggested there should be a second Brexit vote. Iain Duncan Smith, Leave campaigner and another ex-Conservative leader, said: "You can't claim democracy when you want it and reject it when you don't." He spoke out after Sir John also warned against Brexit being dictated by the "tyranny of the majority". Mr Duncan Smith said: "We had a vote, that vote now has to be acted on." The dispute came after Sir John, Conservative prime minister between 1990 and 1997, called for the 48% of people who voted against Brexit in June's referendum to have their views considered. "The tyranny of the majority has never applied in a democracy - and it should not apply in this particular democracy," he said. He argued that Parliament would have to ratify whatever deal is finally reached by the Brexit negotiators and there could be a case for a second referendum, depending on the deal on offer. Mr Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 5 live's Emma Barnett: "The idea we delay everything just simply because they disagree with the original result does seem to me an absolute dismissal of democracy. And that's what I thought John Major's comments were today. The tyranny of the majority? What's the tyranny?"

Lord Advocate calls for Holyrood consent over Brexit.

Scotland's Lord Advocate will argue at the Supreme Court that Holyrood's consent should be sought over legislation invoking Article 50. James Wolffe QC is to intervene on behalf of the Scottish government in the appeal case over triggering Brexit. His written submissions says Brexit will impact on devolved areas and thus engage legislative consent conventions. Theresa May has pledged to begin the formal process of taking the UK out of the EU by the end of March 2017. The High Court ruled that MPs must be given a vote on whether the UK can start this process, which Mrs May wants to do using existing ministerial powers - the royal prerogative. The UK government has appealed against this decision, and the Scottish and Welsh governments along with several other groups have won leave to intervene in the Supreme Court hearing. Mr Wolffe argues that Brexit will change the legislative competency of Holyrood and the executive competence of the Scottish government, with changes to laws cutting across many devolved areas. He said that under the Scotland Act, these changes "may not be affected by an act of the executive alone", adding that "it is a matter of constitutional principle that laws cannot be amended or repealed by an exercise of the royal prerogative alone". Mr Wolffe is to argue in court that not only should MPs be given a vote - describing triggering Article 50 with the royal prerogative alone as "unlawful" - Holyrood's legislative consent should also be sought.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Well, it looks like the date for the great divorce has been set – March 29th 2017. Note that in your diaries. Keep a copy of those front pages – so you can tell your children the exact moment when it all started going to rat shit. But you know what the most amazing thing is about the whole sorry deal – that we’re doing it to ourselves, on purpose.]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Japanese Defence Forces forge ahead with their upgrade program in face of continuing North Korean provocation......
Small drone 'shot with Patriot missile'

By Chris Baraniuk Technology reporter for BBC News

15th March 2017

A Patriot missile - usually priced at about $3m (£2.5m) - was used to shoot down a small quadcopter drone, according to a US general. The strike was made by a US ally, Gen David Perkins told a military symposium. "That quadcopter that cost 200 bucks from Amazon.com did not stand a chance against a Patriot," he said. Patriots are radar-targeted weapons more commonly used to shoot down enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles. "Now, that worked, they got it, OK, and we love Patriot missiles," the general said. Recently, there have been reports that some groups, for example in Iraq, have taken to attaching weapons to small, commercial drones and using them against security forces.

However, Gen Perkins suggested deploying large surface-to-air missiles as a defence was probably not economically wise. "I'm not sure that's a good economic exchange ratio," he told an audience at the Association of the United States Army's Global Force symposium in Alabama. "In fact, if I'm the enemy, I'm thinking, 'Hey, I'm just gonna get on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters as I can and expend all the Patriot missiles out there'."

No further details of the encounter - such as where or how recently it took place - were given, but Gen Perkins did describe the party that launched the missile as "a very close ally". "It is clearly enormous overkill," said Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute. "It certainly exposes in very stark terms the challenge which militaries face in attempting to deal with the adaptation of cheap and readily available civilian technology with extremely expensive, high-end hardware designed for state-on-state warfare." Mr Bronk also told the BBC that Patriot radar systems, while sophisticated, might struggle to target a small quadcopter effectively. Patriot missiles were first produced in 1980 and are operated by 12 countries including the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The missiles themselves travel at five times the speed of sound, whereas a quadcopter drone typically has a top speed of 50mph (80km/h).

[A classic case of ‘overkill’ but also a herald from the future. We’re going to see a lot more of this sort of thing until it becomes so commonplace that it’s no longer even reported. Drones where the ‘killer ap’ until the technology spread into more and more nations and organisations. Enemies of the West are already using drones as primitive weapons and criminals are using them to facilitate new and existing crimes. Now, more than ever, it’s a case of watching the skies!]

Thursday, March 16, 2017

GM food takes a huge leap forward....

Just Finished Reading: The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes (FP: 1954)

Glenn Griffin (played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1955 movie adaptation) is out of prison and out for revenge against the cop that put him there and broke his jaw in the process. Along with his kid brother and the psychotic convict Robish they’re on their way to Indianapolis to lay low somewhere while they wait for money and the opportunity to strike back at the police. But where to hide in a city that knows Griffin all too well, where the FBI know all of his contacts and many of his hideouts. Where would be the very last place for them to look? Where – the suburbs, the very centre of respectability where they would never suspect them to blend in or pass unnoticed. Unless of course they hid almost in plain sight. In a respectable home surrounded by a respectable family and respectable neighbours not too close but not too far away. A respectable home like that of Dan Hilliard (played by Fredric March), his wife, teenage daughter and young son. A family too afraid of what might happen to the others if any of them tried to raise the alarm or fight back. It would all be over in 48 hours, the money would arrive, pay offs would be made and a permanent escape planned. But 48 hours can feel like an eternity when the wrong move, the wrong word or the wrong look can provoke a violent response from any of the three desperate men who have taken up residence in your home…. And when they leave, who will they take with them and who will live to tell the police what happened?

This is yet another book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years. I had a vague recollection of the original movie – since been remade in the 1990’s – so wasn’t 100% sure what the book would be like. You’ll know that I have a ‘thing’ for Noir movies and the books that inspired them so I fully expected to be on firm ground and I was. The story certainly deserves the label of classic promptly displayed on the cover of my version. The plot was a simple but very effective one – essentially a ‘home invasion’ to provide a temporary hideout for felons on the run – and the tension throughout the novel is very ably handled ebbing and flowing with each test of the boundaries and inevitable misunderstandings and power shifts both within the Hilliard family and within the gang itself. In some ways I guess that it’s a little naïve given how used we’ve become to random violence and sudden death but fact that it was written in a much simpler age gives the story an added nostalgic poignancy which was quite sweet (without being sentimental). It was interesting to ‘see’ the inner workings of the father’s mind as he worked out the odds of various actions and even more interesting – given the time – that almost everyone involved with the exception of the bad guys was ex-military with the war only ending 9 years before of course! Nicely tense without being too claustrophobic and a breeze to read. Recommended.        

Monday, March 13, 2017

I think the word you're looking for is 'Creepy'.

What could possibly go wrong, really….?

UK economy 'resilient' despite £122bn hit to finances.

The UK economy is "resilient" despite forecasts that government finances will be £122bn worse off than previously expected by 2020, the chancellor said. In his Autumn Statement Philip Hammond said growth predictions had been cut as a result of the Brexit vote. As widely expected, he unveiled a fuel duty freeze and more cash for housing, transport and digital infrastructure. Labour said the government was "unprepared and ill-equipped" for Brexit and had "no vision". Mr Hammond told MPs the UK's deficit would no longer be cleared by 2020 - with the target instead "as early as possible" afterwards. Mr Hammond said the statement - his first major Commons event as chancellor - came exactly five months after a Brexit vote which "will change the course of Britain's history", making it "more urgent than ever" to tackle long-term economic weaknesses. Presenting the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecasts, he said borrowing would hit £68.2bn this year and £59bn next year, compared with the March forecast of £55.5bn and £38.8bn. The OBR said the referendum result meant potential growth in the current Parliament would be 2.4 percentage points lower than forecast in March. Government finances are forecast to be £122bn worse off than in the spring.

Autumn Statement: Big increase in borrowing predicted.

There will be substantial increases in government borrowing in each of the next five years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed he would abandon the government target to spend less than it earned by 2019-20. The OBR predicts it will now borrow £21.9bn that year, compared with the £10bn surplus previously forecast. Overall, the government will borrow an extra £122bn by 2020-21, half of which the OBR attributes to the Brexit vote. There has also been a big change in its prediction for the total amount of government debt amassed by 2020-21. The new total is £1.95 trillion, an increase of £210bn from the £1.74 trillion the OBR predicted in March. Those figures include the amount of money the Bank of England is borrowing to support the economy via its asset purchase facility (APF). That money counts as part of national debt, but not as part of the net borrowing figure.

Supermarket prices 'to rise by 5%'.

Prices in the UK's supermarkets will rise by at least 5% over the next six months, according to the former boss of Sainsbury's. Justin King thinks that, after years of the cost of the weekly shop barely moving, we should expect to see inflation return. Mr King told Newsnight that the fall in the value of the pound would cause "a profound change" for supermarkets. He ran Sainsbury's for a decade until stepping down in 2014. In that time, the company's revenue grew almost constantly, but prices rose much more slowly. In recent years, food prices have even had spells of deflation. Mr King, now vice-chairman of the investment firm Terra Firma, says some supermarkets will be "squeezed in the jaws" of resisting price rises while also dealing with increased costs, and says some companies may not survive the squeeze. The value of sterling has fallen notably since the decision to leave the European Union. That's meant that ingredients and packaging imported from abroad have become more expensive, sparking some high-profile pricing rows over products such as Marmite. Mr King, who backed the Remain campaign in the referendum, says that "all things being equal", a return to inflation is inevitable. "Around 40% to 50% of what we buy is sourced abroad in a currency other than the pound, so with the current rates of exchange we could expect those things to be about 10% more expensive. And if that's about half of what we buy, then that means something of the order of 5% inflation." His claim has been backed up by the trade body that represents many suppliers. Ian Wright, director-general of the Food and Drink Federation, told Newsnight that he expected prices to rise next year by "somewhere between 5 and 8%".

Autumn Statement: Workers' pay growth prospects dreadful, says IFS.

The outlook for wages is "dreadful" with the squeeze on pay lasting for more than 10 years, independent economists have said. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said workers would earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008. Other analysis shows the biggest losers between now and 2020 will be lower income families, with the poorest third likely to see incomes drop. Chancellor Philip Hammond said millions of new jobs had been created. Defending his Autumn Statement plans, the chancellor told Radio 4's Today programme that the government had brought job growth. It was investing for the future, preparing for a "rainy day", and government borrowing was on a "downward path", he added. In its analysis of the Autumn Statement, the independent think tank, the IFS, said workers would earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008. "This has, for sure, been the worst decade for living standards certainly since the last war and probably since the 1920s," said Paul Johnson, director of the IFS. We have seen no increase in average incomes so far and it does not look like we are going to get much of an increase over the next four or five years either." The "outlook for living standards and for the public finances has deteriorated pretty sharply over the last nine months", he added.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Well, after today’s vote in Parliament rejecting both of the amendments proposed by the House of Lords it looks like Article 50 might be enacted as soon as the weekend. I don’t think that it can be argued that there will definitely be ‘interesting times’ ahead. Of course the Brexiteers will be celebrating at this point. Needless to say I won’t be. Thankfully I don’t have any children to explain why we sold their future away on the promise to ‘take back control’ that we never had in the first place and still won’t have after we leave the EU in 2 years’ time. If this was another country committing economic suicide in an inexplicable fit of pique it might be interesting to watch from a distance. It’s rather less interesting when you’re actually inside the madhouse wondering what the fuck went wrong and why no one else can see what the likely consequences of their actions are. I guess we’ll see and I’ll be here to report it to you. Stay tuned!]

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Technology behind 'all serious crime'

From The BBC

10th March 2017

Technology is now at the "root" of all serious criminality, says Europe's police agency. The returns generated by document fraud, money laundering and online trade in illegal goods helps to pay for other damaging crimes, said Europol. The wider use of technology by criminal gangs poses the "greatest challenge" to police forces, it said in a study. It revealed that Europol is currently tracking 5,000 separate international organised crime groups.

The "comprehensive" study of organised crime in Europe found a wide range of crime groups ranging from loose networks of individual criminals up to large trans-national bodies that generate profits which rival those of legitimate multi-national corporations. Common among all groups was their affection for technology, said the report. The ease with which cybercrime campaigns can be set up and run as well as the proliferation of online crime services had driven this adoption. Many groups now use cybercrime campaigns, including ransomware, to generate cash that is then used to bankroll people and drug trafficking operations. "These cross-cutting criminal threats enable and facilitate most, if not all, other types of serious and organised crime," said the report.

In addition, said Europol, many gangs were turning to technology to help make well-established crimes more lucrative. For instance, said the report, drones were now being used to transport drugs and many burglars now track social media posts to work out when people are away from their home. The steady increase in the number of reported burglaries across Europe was a "particular concern" for many nations, it said.

[Criminals have always been early adopters of technology in all its forms so it should come as a huge surprise that technology enables crime as much as it enables everything else today. That being the case we all need to be much more tech savvy to protect ourselves from often very avoidable technical issues. I know that sense is increasingly less common but maybe we need to Think more and Tweet less. Just a thought……….]

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Strangers on a Bridge – The Case of Colonel Abel by James B Donovan (FP: 1964)

New York, 1957. Approaching the height of the Cold War and with Soviet paranoia rife at all levels of American society a spy is uncovered and swiftly brought to justice. But to show that America is really the land of the free with enforced rights for all – no matter who they are – a lawyer of quality is sought to defend him. That particular poison chalice is accepted by the author of this book played quite superbly by Tom Hanks in the 2015 Masterpiece ‘Bridge of Spies’. As you might imagine though the reality of the case and Hollywood’s portrayal of it are at times quite different. Not surprisingly the book, written after all by a practicing lawyer concentrates on the case against his client, Colonel Abel (again played superbly by Mark Rylance), the evidence against him and the varying strategies to minimise the prosecution’s case. If you’re a lawyer (or a legal nerd), especially an American lawyer, no doubt you’ll love this bit. Although I found it interesting enough I did struggle a bit and honestly found it a bit of a slog. I wasn’t too fazed by the Constitutional aspects brought out as I’ve seen enough US crime and courtroom drama’s to get the gist of this sort of thing without completely losing the plot.

What I did find far more interesting was what happened later – both with the infamous Gary Powers U2 Incident and with the author travelling to East Germany to negotiate his release (in exchange for Abel) along with two other American’s held by the Soviet’s on spying charges. The second civilian was dropped from the movie but that didn’t detract from the overall drama of the negotiation process which was both simplified and complicated in the movie version. Oddly in both the book and the movie the main Soviet negotiator (played yet again superbly by Michael Gorevoy in the screen adaptation) came across very well. You knew exactly where he was coming from – despite hiding his true identity as a very high level KGB operative – and he definitely came across in both media as a man you could do business with just so long as you kept reminding yourself exactly who and what he was.

I can definitely see what this story was made into a film. It’s a very human story surrounded by some very historic events. However, despite rating the movie as one of the best in that year (if not THE best film of the year IMHO) I was disappointed to learn that at least one very dramatic incident in the movie never happened. The shooting through the window of Tom Hank’s residence is not mentioned at all in the narrative. I doubt very much if the author would’ve skipped over that bit considering that he covered much more hat did make it into the movie. I understand the need to make the story dramatic but this level of invention sticks in my craw more than a little. OK, turn things up a few notches for effect but not to this level. That said, if you’ve seen the movie and enjoyed it anywhere as much as I did then this will be a nice addition to that enjoyment and it does fill in many of the questions raised by the movie. It is dry on occasion but if you have an interest in American jurisprudence that’ll help quite a bit. Not exactly riveting but still recommended.      

Tuesday, March 07, 2017