Thursday, 25 October 2012

The end of the ash?

Native English ash trees could be facing a similar fate to the elm. Ash dieback (chalara fraxinea), an airborne fungal disease which is fatal to the tree and has caused the death of most ashes in some continental countries, has now been identified for the first time in the wild here. It was found in plant nursery saplings at the beginning of the year but has now been found in native woodland in a Site of Special Scientific Interest in East Anglia owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and another site in Suffolk owned by the Woodland Trust. The only effective remedial action is removing the trees, followed by burning or deep burial. The disease is so classified that the Forestry Commission has the power to issue a Statutory Plant Health Notice requiring the owner of the site to take action but as yet this has not been done, I imagine because effective action is seen as impracticable.

Although the disease was first discovered in nurseries in this country at the beginning of this year, given that it was found in several nurseries widely spread geographically, that the progress, and severe consequences, of it on the continent must have been known about for years (it is thought to have been a problem in Poland for the past twenty years), and the fact that ash tress naturally regenerate prolifically and grow like weeds in England, it is difficult to understand why the import of saplings was not banned long ago. The government is only now consulting on such a measure that could be introduced next month, but it appears almost certain to be too late. The natural regeneration of ash tress and their commonness in woodland and hedgerows makes the spread of the disease more likely, and with the onset of winter it will probably spread unnoticed by its clearest symptom, the withering and death of the leaves.

Yet we are told we have a government of countrymen. Elm, ash, oak ...

The ash is not only a valued and conspicuous (in many parts a dominant) feature of our landscape, it is a valuable timber tree - and the mainstay of green woodworking.

See also the report here.

Death and taxes?

Now, it seems, it's just death, at least for international corporations.

We have to remember that the tax base for a company is always based on the profits it reports. And the reported profit in each and every case is that of each individual company within a group, and not for the group as a whole. There is no such thing (at present) as group tax accounting. Whilst it's not quite true we ignore groups for tax we do start from an assumption that they don't exist and then tweak the system to allow for them. Accounting, on the other hand, fundamentally works the other way round: the group accounts are more important than the individual accounts.

See here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

What shall we spend it on?

Public expenditure as proportion of GDP

Monday, 22 October 2012

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Where next for the banking 'crisis'?

China's shadow banking sector has become a potential source of systemic financial risk over the next few years. Particularly worrisome is the quality and transparency of WMPs. Many assets underlying the products are dependent on some empty real estate property or long-term infrastructure, and are sometimes even linked to high-risk projects, which may find it impossible to generate sufficient cash flow to meet repayment obligations.

Moreover, many WMPs are not even linked to any specific asset, rather, just to a pool of assets, whose cash inflows may often not match the timing of scheduled WMP repayments.

China's shadow banking is contributing to a growing liquidity risk in the financial markets. Most WMPs carry tenures of less than a year, with many being as short as weeks or even days. Thus in some cases short-term financing has been invested in long-term projects, and in such situations there is a possibility of a liquidity crisis being triggered if the markets were to be abruptly squeezed.

In fact, when faced with a liquidity problem, a simple way to avoid the problem could be through using new issuance of WMPs to repay maturing products. To some extent, this is fundamentally a Ponzi scheme. Under certain conditions, the music may stop when investors lose confidence and reduce their buying or withdraw from WMPs. The rollover of a large share of WMPs could weigh heavily on formal banks' reputations, because many investors firmly believe that banks won't close down and they can always get their money back.

The article quoted is written by Mr Gang and appeared in China Daily, a state controlled publication and the country's largest English language paper. The financial activity that concern Mr Gang would of course show up in the statistics as part of China's current economic growth.

I am indebted to Golem XIV for this reference and more comment on the article and the situation in China can be found on his blog.


In our country and others in the west citizens worry that the perpetrators of white collar crime and financial fraud are almost never prosecuted.

In China they do things differently.

China is believed to execute about 4,000 people a year, according to human rights organization Dui Hua. And a number of those executed are white collar criminals.

Everyone from CEO's of mining companies, small business owners, and political figures have been given a death sentence after being found guilty of fraud, corruption, or illegal fund raising.

Recently netizens have protested the death sentence and got a few overturned. China's legal system is widely criticized because those with political clout are said to get off with lighter sentences.

What follows are some of the most notorious cases in which white collar criminals were given a death sentence or were executed. In some cases, the guilty were given a two-year reprieve i.e. if they committed no more crimes for two years and were on their best behavior their sentence would be amended to life in prison.

Note: Figures on the death penalty are a state secret. The number of executions have declined since 2007 because of a reform that required death penalties to be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court (SPC).

Read more:   Quoted from   If one opens the link to individual cases one is struck by how many of the cases concern either private individuals in seemingly relatively low-key positions fraudently raising tens of millions of dollars or regional government officials acting corruptly.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Silicon informality

Larry Page
 Just look at those creases. Not many lights in Africa.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Work in progress

Some readers of this blog might think the design and making of furniture occupies none of my time. Just to set the record straight, I am about to post on New Work some images of my current project for an extending dining table and ten chairs.

Somewhere to go

Monday, 15 October 2012


Britain may have won the war but the peace was disconcertingly grim. The late 1940s were 'The Age of Austerity', a drab time when a range of wartime controls and restrictions were still in place: for example, bread was newly rationed in 1946 and clothes were a strict utility; the government had incurred enormous liabilities to pay for the war and the country had to 'Export od Die'. By 1947 the spirit of wartime unity had faded away and life was not much fun for anyone. The year began with the worst weather Britain could remember , and coal ran out; by the summer there was a severe balance of payments crisis and emergency measures were taken; and in August the Raj came to an end and a nation that had formerly ruled over an Empire finally had to accept that its decline had begun.

Yet despite the restrictions and crises (the economist Keynes talked about a 'financial Dunkirk') the Labour Government was seeking to build its 'New Jerusalem': in a few short months it had laid the foundations for the Welfare State, set up the National Health Service and brought coal, electricity, gas and railways into public ownership. But the essential background to the stories in Minnie's Room is that it was the middle classes that were enormously and disproportionately hit by the huge burden of Income Tax necessary to accomplish these changes. In 1935 it had been 4s 6d in the pound i.e. 22.5%; during the war it rose to 10s i.e. 50%; but then, in 1945, it was kept at 9s in the pound - far, far higher than ever before in peacetime. The country was dependent on the middle classes paying taxes at almost wartime rates; but as a result they suffered a dramatic change in their standard of living that was widely and deeply resented.

Publisher's introduction to Minnie's Room: the peacetime stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, Persephone Books, 2008

Thursday, 11 October 2012

New deal; old deal

Having over the past few years poured hundreds of billions of pounds into 'the economy' only to find it disappear, mostly, into the unfathomable maw of the glabalised banks, our government has decided that a little more direct stimulus is in order.

Suspending planning regulations so that hosueholders can, in some cases, cover almost the whole of their back gardens with house extensions without seeking permission might not quite get us back to prosperity, and so a little investment in 'infrastructure' is now in order. That's roads of course, and so we dust off the old plans for roads that decades ago we judged socially, economically and above all environmentally undesirable. That's the way to face up to the new international challenges our prime minister has just been telling us about at the Conservative party conference - sink or swim, do or die.

For the Confederation of British Industry this is the brave new world, that has such middle eastern and asian investors in it. They will finance these new old roads so that the cash hoards we have left them with by buying their oil and manufactured products will finance the building of our roads which we will then pay them to use. Another turn of the wheel. According to the CBI our road system is the last unprivatised utility or public service left in the UK. Presumably they think the National Health Service has gone already - the police on its way? Move along there, there's nothing to see.

The CBI's green and pleasant land

Existing cash resources 2

But don't give them the taxes.

The British arm paid its 90 UK-based staff an average of £275,000 each in 2011 while contributing just £195,890 to the Treasury's coffers, according to the firm's latest accounts filed at Companies House.

The website also reported UK revenues of £20.4m, a fraction of the £175m that media analysts estimate the firm made in the UK in 2011.

Furthermore, Facebook UK's latest figures show that the company charged £15.4m to its 2011 accounts – which can be used to reduce future tax bills – as a cost of awarding its UK staff share options. Murphy said: "That appears to be £15.4m to reward £20.4m in sales. That makes no sense. The options must, of course, be based on the value of sales recorded in Ireland but the UK is bearing the cost of the tax relief on paying these options.

Existing cash resources

Monday, 8 October 2012

The real enemy

How could the Turks appreciate the reaction in western Europe to their destruction of the first contingent of philhellenes at the battle of Peta in Epirus (1822), or to the massacre of Chios, immortalised by Delacroix? The names os Byron and Shelley, Goethe, Schiller and Victor Hugo meant nothing to the Sultan, but these were his real enemies. He was left to depend on Metternich and Castlereagh - an unequal match, as history was to show.
C.M. Woodhouse, Modern Greece: A Short History, chapter 5

Delacroix: Scenes from the Massacre at Chios

It is difficult to know where to begin with the contrasts with current times. The idea of a modern figure from 'high' literature or art commanding or even reflecting public opinion in political matters, let alone influencing the fate of nations (or would be nations) can scarcely be contemplated. Where is the modern Goethe or Byron or Delacroix? The idea of such a figure existing at all in our present culture seems remote. It is now almost three-quarters of a century since Picasso painted his picture in response to the bombing of Guernica. 

Maybe I've missed something, but now it seems to be campaigning (and possibly fund raising) by such as Bob Geldof or Bono. Yet their efforts seem more executive or political than imaginative. A few decade after Delacroix's Chios the novels of Charles Dickens anatomised the social, political and economic ills of his day, interweaving them with his imaginative and emotional energy. No-one now writing or painting or whatever seems able to perform the same much needed service for our own times.

(The Sultan might be held to have got his own back - eventually. A copy of the Delacroix was hung in the Byzantine museum in Chios in 2002 but was removed late in that year as gesture of raprochement towards the Turks. The Greek press protested. Guernica's location of course followed a different course.)


The road to Pecos

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus

Last week the UK government launched a consultation that ends on 26 October and could lead to an interim import ban by November. But what the environment minister announced as "timely" action might in fact be far too late.

In February, the fungus was found in a batch of trees sent from a Dutch nursery to Buckinghamshire. Between June and September it was confirmed in nurseries in Yorkshire, Surrey and Cambridgeshire, at a Forestry Commission Scotland woodland near Kilmacolm, and in ash trees planted in a Leicester car park. Conservationists hope it has not reached the 80 million ash trees in the wider British countryside, outside of new plantings.

In Denmark they have lost 90% of their ash, their third most common tree species after oak and beech and a crucial export for the timber industry, and expect that to rise.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The great Grasp

'You are to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,' observed Mr. Kenge, using his silver trowel, persuasively and smoothingly, 'that this has been a great cause, that this has been a protracted cause, that this has been a complex cause. Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been termed, not inaptly, a Monument of Chancery practice.'

'And Patience has sat upon it a long time,' said Allan.

'Very well indeed, sir,' returned Mr. Kenge, with a certain condescending laugh he had. 'Very well! You are further to reflect, Mr. Woodcourt,' becoming dignified almost to severity, 'that on the numerous difficuties, contingencies, masterly fictions, and forms of procedure in this great cause, there has been expended study, ability, eloquence, knowledge, intellect, Mr. Woodcourt, high intellect. For many years, the--a--I would say the flower of the Bar, and the--a--I would presume to add, the matured autumnal fruits of the Woolsack--have been lavished upon Jarndyce and Jarndyce. If the public have the benefit, and if the country have the adornment of this great Grasp, it must be paid for in money or money's worth, sir.'

'Mr. Kenge,' said Allan, appearing enlightened all in a moment. 'Excuse me, our time presses. Do I understand that the whole estate is found to have been absorbed in costs?'

'Hem! I believe so,' returned Mr. Kenge. 'Mr. Vholes, what do you say?'

'I believe so,' said Mr. Vholes.

'And that the suit lapses and melts away?'

'Probably,' returned Mr. Kenge. 'Mr. Vholes?'

'Probably,' said Mr. Vholes.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House, chapter lxv

The tales of Granny Smith

Google Apple

Apple's $179 billion cash pile (growing by $15 billion or so a quarter and more than the US Treasury can lay its hands on) is managed by a wholly owned entity quaintly named Braeburn Capital Inc. - sweet, crisp and juicy: eater friendly.

Braeburn is incorporated in the state of Nevada, an internal US tax haven which, with Texas, has the distinction of being one of the only two states of the Union that has no information sharing agreement with the US Internal Revenue Service. Apple's tax liability for Braeburn could be no more than $200, but we cannot know.

See Zero Hedge, but best avoid the comments.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Possession is nine points of the law

The UK Director of Public Prosecutions has declined to prosecute two terror suspects, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, who, along with the more celebrated 'radical Muslim cleric', Abu Hamza, are shortly expected to be extradited to the United States.

The offences of which they are accused, in most normal senses of the phrase, 'took place' in the United Kingdom but they are connected with a website which was hosted in the United States. Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial in this country since 2004 and the refusal of the authorities to prosecute Abu Hamza in this country has for many years puzzled people from the Queen downwards.

The DPP has now stated 'I have refused to give my consent to Mr [Karl] Watkin to bring a private prosecution against Mr Ahmad and Mr Ahsan for offences under the Terrorism Act 2000. The underlying evidence in support of these alleged offences is in the possession of the USA. The material provided to me in support of the proposed private prosecution has been carefully considered by a specialist lawyer in the CPS special crime and counter-terrorism division.'

Evidence seized by the Metropolitan Police in 2003 was passed, for no clear reason, by them to the United States Authorities, but now, it seems, possession of persons is more easily transferred between states (as we have seen in other contexts since the beginning of the War on Terror, or the 'Long War' as others like to call it) than is possession of evidence, and the United Kingdom authorities would like to see persons removed to the United States. The fastidious UK is these days often keen to see unsavoury characters shipped off to other jurisdictions, even some equally unsavoury, to meet their legal or illegal fates.

Mr Karl Watkin (Member of the British Empire), who holds to the Quixotic belief that British people charged with offences conducted in British jurisdiction should be prosecuted in British courts, is separately seeking permission from magistrates to bring a private prosecution that does not require the DPP's consent. Meanwhile, the most senior British judge recently expressed his anger that cases such as this should have dragged on for so many years. How things have changed since Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Why do not accused people realise that it is 'in nobody's interests' for them to pursue every last avenue avail able to them under the law? Clearly the law should change and doubtless it soon will.

Kept in sight

As used by Merseyside police and Google