August 23, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

The Vision Thing

British voters’ decision to leave the European Union in June didn’t technically trigger the formal process to leave the world’s biggest commercial bloc – London must first invoke the now-infamous Article 50.

But signs of economic damage wrought by the move are already becoming clear.

Banking giant Lloyds is cutting 3,000 employees in anticipation of a slowdown. American automaker Ford predicted $200 million in losses this year alone due to the weaker pound, while French advertising company JCDecaux intends to trim its spending, Reuters reported.

And British insurer Prudential’s M&G investment manager is planning on shifting funds to Ireland and Luxembourg in order to keep them in the EU, according to the Guardian.

A recent Bank of England report on capital spending and hiring was also bleak, Bloomberg said. “Employment and investment intentions had weakened in absolute terms,” the bankers wrote.

Hoping to staunch the hemorrhaging, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on the British government to wait until late 2017 before formally triggering the exit process that could last as long as two years.

Most EU countries, however, don’t want such a delay. Yet it is hard to know exactly what they do want: On Monday at an informal summit in Italy, the leaders of Germany, Italy and France met to hammer out what a new bloc sans the UK might look like. But with trouble at home, and no real plan, the EU continues to “struggle with the vision thing,” says the Guardian.

One thing is clear: French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear inclined to punish Britain for opting to leave.

So the UK hopes that since France and Germany face elections next year, a delay would potentially allow London to negotiate with new faces, possibly more amenable to Britain’s goal of securing access to EU markets while gaining the power to curtail the movement of Europeans to Britain, Khan told the Independent newspaper.

“If we serve notice too quick to quit there’s no guarantee jobs won’t leave,” said Khan, who runs a city whose financial sector flourished like no other on the continent under the aegis of Europe. “I know for a fact there are people from Paris, Berlin, Dublin courting business leaders as we speak.”

But Khan might be just whistling Dixie.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a British think tank, said the UK could do little to compensate for the trade barriers that are going to go up sooner or later across the English Channel.

“Even small proportionate losses in trade (or lost growth in trade) with the EU would require quite dramatic – and probably implausible – increases in trade with such countries,” the Institute noted in a recent paper.

After all, it’s absurd to think Britain could snub Brussels and then receive the best deal possible from leaders whose countries are likely to benefit from the exodus of business from Britain that appears in the offing. Clearly, Britain’s new trade deals with the EU won’t ever be as good as the one the country enjoys now as a member, pointed out Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland.

“Once this process begins in earnest, once the horse-trading and haggling gets under way, we’ll begin to see what the best possible deal would look like,” wrote Freedland. “What arrangement will it be? Why, the one we had in our hands, right up until 23 June 2016.”

WANT TO KNOW

The Diversion

The US and South Korea began annual joint military exercises Monday amid threats of a pre-emptive nuclear strike from North Korea.

The joint US-South Korean war games, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, will run until Sept. 2 and involve about 25,000 US troops.

While a US-led UN military armistice commission said it notified North Korea that these exercises were “non-provocative,” North Korea called the war games “preparations for invasion” and said its forces would be ready to respond at the slightest sign of aggression.

The war games come as tensions are already running high on the Korean peninsula: North Korea has become increasingly isolated over the past few months as it continues to violate UN sanctions in response to the country’s ongoing ballistic missile launches to support its nuclear program.

At the same time, North Korea suffered a high-profile diplomatic embarrassment last week when its deputy ambassador in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected to South Korea in a move observers say is proof of cracks within the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

To cover for those cracks, the Dear Leader is offering a distraction: Last week, North Korea’s state broadcaster introduced “Manbang,” a TV box that will allow citizens to enjoy an endless stream of documentary films about all the country’s Dear Leaders.

Destroying History

A Malian jihadist linked to al Qaeda pleaded guilty at the International Criminal Court for leading a “morality brigade” that deliberately destroyed centuries-old Muslim shrines in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi now faces up to 30 years in prison for the destruction of nine mausoleums of Muslim saints and the door of a mosque during a 10-month siege on Timbuktu by the Islamist terror group.

Al Mahdi and the militants desecrated the shrines – most of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites – with drills and shovels for being idolatrous. He is the first person to face trial over the destruction of historic monuments, considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

A Murky Horizon

Israeli authorities are allowing the expansion of an Israeli settlement to be used as a military base in the troubled West Bank city of Hebron, officials confirmed Monday.

About 1,000 Jewish settlers live in Hebron, in heavily fortified enclaves surrounded by tens of thousands of Palestinians. The city has been a focal point of violence in the West Bank: Since September, 34 Israelis have died and 206 Palestinians have been killed in the violence.

The settlements are built on land Palestinians want for a future state.

Meanwhile, a poll released Monday found that just over half of Palestinians and Israelis – 51 percent and 59 percent respectively – still support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It showed there is still some basis for optimism with the right leadership,” Tamar Hermann, an Israeli political scientist who conducted the survey, told the Los Angeles Times.

Unfortunately, she, like many Israelis and Palestinians, doesn’t see that on the horizon.

DISCOVERIES

Manuscript of Madness

Even for avid collectors of arcane texts, the Voynich Manuscript would be a prize.

Described by Yale University as a scientific or magical text circa 1401 to 1599, the Voynich is 240 pages of sketches and script, including drawings of unknown plant species and oddly shaped nude women, written in a language no living person can understand: a cipher based on Roman letters, according to Yale scholars.

But that didn’t prevent Siloe, a small Spanish publishing house, from obtaining the rights to the legendary manuscript – named after Polish dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who purchased the book from Jesuits in Rome in 1912.

Siloe plans to print 898 exact replicas of the Voynich, including details like tears to the original parchment, and sell them for roughly $8,000 each.

Digitized pages of the manuscript are available online thanks to Yale but proponents of the Voynich say its inscrutable charms cannot be replicated digitally.

“Touching the Voynich is an experience,” said Juan Jose Garcia, the director of Siloe.

“It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time… it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe.”

A word of warning, however: The Voynich is said to have driven some of its admirers mad.

“I think we need a little disclaimer form you need to sign before you look at the manuscript that says, ‘Do not blame us if you go crazy,'” Folger Shakespeare Library exhibit curator Bill Sherman told the Washington Post in 2014.