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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:56 pm
 Going mumming tonight if all goes well.

We did a few performances in Wimborne last Saturday as part of their 'Save the Children' day. That was different as I had to play two parts - I was both the doctor and father Christmas (as one actor couldn't make it).  Alex V (our mascot jig doll) was the doctor and I voiced him as I'm the only person who has the entire play memoried.

I was fine, except that I kept forgetting lines when I had to speak to myself...

I had it right after a couple of performances, but it really is disconcerting when you're doing both sides of a conversation.

Tonight, we should have a full cast, so I only need to be the doctor - though I'm also the prompter as our Father Christmas is new to the part (Poor man only joined Anonymous three weeks ago!) and is rather nervous.
 
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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:33 pm
Assignments are due 18:00 UTC on December 20th (What time is that for me?)
Countdown!

Pinch hits assigned on or after the December 10th are due 24 hours later.
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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:41 pm

Posted by Julia Kollewe

Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Gillette are among those facing penalties for colluding on price rises between 2003 and 2006

Some of the world’s biggest consumer products companies, including Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser, Procter & Gamble and Gillette, have been fined a combined €951m (£748m) by the French competition watchdog for price fixing in supermarkets.

The regulator said the 13 companies, which also include Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, L’Oréal, Beiersdorf and Johnson & Johnson’s Laboratoires Vendôme, had colluded on price increases between 2003 and 2006. “These two sanctions are among the most significant imposed to date by the competition authority,” it said. The regulator added that the price-fixing had kept prices “artificially high” affecting consumers and “caused harm to the economy”.

Continue reading...






Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:26 pm

Posted by Graeme Wearden (until 1.15pm) and Nick Fletcher (now)

The latest business and finance news, as SNB takes fresh measures to weaken the franc following the Russian rouble crisis

The Federal Reserve’s comments overnight about being patient about interest rises gave markets an early boost, and they did not look back. Even a late fall in the oil price failed to upset investors, while both Russia and Greece seemed slightly more stable situations after recent volatility. Better than expected UK retail sales helped support the UK market, and some mixed economic signals from the US - poor services PMI, positive weekly jobless claims - only served to convince traders that dearer borrowing would not be on the cards for a while. The surprise news that the Swiss Central Bank had introduced negative interest rates also failed to upset the markets. So the final scores showed:

Speaking of oil, it has lost early gains with Brent crude now down 1.8% at around $60 a barrel. Part of this is due to reports that a port strike in Nigeria has ended, allowing crude shipments to be resumed at a time when there is oversupply and falling demand.

The recent oil price slump has claimed another victim, as Venezula gets its debt rating cut:

Fitch downgrades Venezuela to CCC from B, as the oil price collapse erodes the country's main source of income.

In a move that will surely boost the argument that austerity is only counterproductive, the International Federation for Human Rights says no sector in Greek society has been spared from the hugely negative impact of belt-tightening measures. Helena Smith reports from Athens:

Unveiled in Athens this afternoon, the 80-page report presents an excoriating case against austerity.

Cost cutting measures had not only impacted on Greeks’ pockets, they had curbed individuals’ basic human rights and had a hugely negative effect on every sector in society “from healthcare and labour, to freedom of expression and the right to express discontent through peaceful public protest.” Questions had to be asked about those who were responsible for such human rights violations – and whether, ultimately, such bodies/persons could be held accountable. “International financial institutions involved in the negotiation and financing of Greece’s first and second economic assistance programmes, most notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF), must also be subject to scrutiny,” it wrote. “As a subject of international law, the IMF is required to consider whether or not its actions or omissions constitute, or contribute to, violations of customary international rules , including in the field of human rights.”

Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos has been eager to appear optimistic following last night’s less than convincing (for the government) parliamentary vote. The socialist leader announced today that there was still plenty of room for “mature choices to be made” when the last round of the presidential vote is held on December 29. Extending an olive branch he suggested that a cross-party negotiating team be set up to deal with the country’s “troika” of creditors.

More from the Reuters interview with Alexis Tsipras, who said he would indeed cancel austerity programmes agreed by the current government if his Syriza party is elected, but would negotiate debt relief with its lenders. Reuters reports:

Saying he was committed to keeping Greece in the euro, Tsipras told Reuters that Europe should cut or erase a big chunk of Greek debt. He said loans from the IMF must be paid but he would seek an extension to maturities on bonds held by the ECB.

Syriza - which is expected to win if early elections were held now - has long said it would cancel Greece’s EU/IMF bailout and demand debt relief if it came to power but the comments were the first time Tsipras has clearly spelled out the party’s plan for debt renegotiation.

Over in Greece, the Athens stock market has regained some ground after Reuters reported that the leader of opposition party Syriza wanted to keep the country in the euro if he won any forthcoming election.

The government’s decision to bring forward a presidential poll which, if it loses, could cause snap elections raised the prospect of Syriza gaining power. This rattled investors, since its leader Alexis Tsipras stands against the austerity associated with the Greek bailout package and seemed likely to rip up the deal or leave the European Union.

The latest Philadelphia business survey has also disappointed.

The index of current activity dropped sharply from 40.8 in November to 24.5 compared to estimates of a level of 26. But firms were generally optimistic about the future, although there were worries about employment and rising healthcare costs.

And here’s some less good news from the US economy, which ironically eases the pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise rates and therefore will probably be received positively.

The US services sector expanded in December at its slowest rate since February, with the Markit initial purchasing managers index coming in at 53.6, down from 56.2 in November and well below expectations of a rise to 56.9 according to a Reuters poll.

The extent of the slowdown suggests that economic growth in the fourth quarter could come in below 2% which, with the exception of the downturn caused by adverse weather in the first quarter, would be the worst performance for two years.

Is the Fed (and almost everyone else) being too optimistic on US economic growth? http://t.co/b4SBsr51nf pic.twitter.com/vqynBLnGoV

Not a pretty Flash Services PMI pic.twitter.com/wrFSQO6cVK

Markit Service PMI 53.6, Exp. 56.3, "weakest since the weather-related slowdown in February." - buy everything

The US markets have opened and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently up more than 1%, as investors continue to warm to the Federal Reserves desire to be “patient” about raising US interest rates.

With the dollar down and oil steadying, markets are rallying after their recent downward dip. Concerns that an early US rate rise could help derail global growth have eased, helping the overall mood.

On the corporate front Aer Lingus shares have soared on reports that British Airways owner IAG may be interested in bidding.

Aer Lingus is up nearly 9% at the moment, valuing the business at around €1bn, following the FT story.

If you are in need of a diversion over the next few days, you could try our bumper business Christmas quiz, which you can find here.

Following last night’s US Federal Reserve meeting which hinted at interest rises next year as the economy recovers, there is some more upbeat data.

The number of Americans filing new unemployment benefit claims fell unexpectedly last week, dropping by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. This was lower than the 295,000 expected by economists, and down from 295,000 the previous week (revised from 294,000).

The surprise Swiss move to introduce negative interest rates could be a sign that the European Central Bank will proceed with some form of quantitative easing next month, says Kathleen Brooks at Forex.com.

There are some fundamental reasons for the move, she said:

Cutting rates is justified to bring Switzerland out of deflation. Its annual rate of inflation is -0.1%, however this could fall further after producer and import prices slid 1.6% year on year last month. The Swiss National Bank’s Jordan gave explicit reasons for the cut in rates: to weaken the Swissie, to overcome deflation [and] to help spur growth, which is expected to be on the weak side in the first quarter.

While the internal factors justify the SNB’s actions, the timing of the move was surprising. The market had expected a move on rates sometime in January; however recent market volatility, and the sell-off in the rouble, threatened the 1.20 peg in euro/franc, which triggered this move.

Other external factors included the ECB and the Fed.

Time for a recap.

Switzerland’s central bank has imposed negative interest rates on bank deposits for the first time since the 1970s, as the Russian currency crisis causes ructions around the globe.

“Rapidly mounting uncertainty on the financial markets has substantially increased demand for safe investments.

The worsening of the crisis in Russia was a major contributory factor in this development.”

UBS said on Thursday that it has no plans to levy negative interest rates on its retail clients

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has offered Greece an olive branch - telling MPs in Berlin that its economy is in better shape then expected.

“Reforms are beginning to bear fruit for the people of Greece. The labour market reforms have made the country more competitive ... This year Greece will have a budget deficit within European Union rules.”

Over in Greece, the political wheels are turning after MPs rejected the government’s nominee for the presidency last night, increasing the chance that the administration could collapse.

“I confirmed my view which is categoric: early elections, required in the case of parliament’s inability to elect a president of the republic, will lead the country into turmoil whose end result will be to find ourselves out of the Eurozone.”

“At this point, the widest possible consent is required. We all have to put the interests of the country above personal or party interest. We owe it to the Greek people from whom we have asked huge sacrifices.”

“He asked me to come to a solution of consent in the name of national policy. We believe that a national solution will be found only after elections.”

Imposing negative interest rates on commercial bank deposits could actually backfire on the Swiss economy and cause an asset bubble.

So warns Angelo Ranaldo, Professor of Finance and Systemic Risk at the University of St Gallen.

“By introducing negative interest rates, the Swiss National Bank is reacting to the European Central Bank’s recent decision and to the renewed pressure on its safe haven currency thanks to the Russian crisis.

But there is a fundamental disconnect between the Swiss economy and the outlook for the Eurozone: the Swiss economy is in better shape and disinflation is not a concern.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs reckon that the Swiss central bank could be forced to intervene in the foreign exchange markets again, once the impact of negative rates wears off:

Goldman saying that the SNB may still rely on FX interventions to protect the floor after shock rate cut earlier. EURCHF currently at 1.2041

Credit rating agency Fitch has warned that risks to Russia’s economy have intensified.

In a statement, Fitch sounded the alarm over the rouble’s extreme volatility this week, and the interest rate hike to 17%.

The inflationary impact of recent falls (inflation is heading towards double digits) will erode real incomes, further damaging private consumption and domestic demand.

If rates have to be kept high or increased to support the currency at a lower oil price, the impact could be greater still. The CBR has estimated that average oil prices of $60/barrel could cause GDP to shrink 4.5%-4.7% in 2015.

Fitch says $66 oil in 2015 would cut #Russia's GDP by 2.8%, and the CRB rate increase will make that worse. To review rating in January.

After a rocky start, Greek bonds are actually rising in value now, pushing down the interest rate (or yield) on the debt.

Greek Bonds actually doing okay this morning - the yield drops to 8.52 (-24bp) on the 10 year.

The feel-good factor from last night’s Federal Reserve meeting continues to push European stock markets higher.

Shares are rising on relief that the US central bank will be patient when deciding when to raise US interest rates.

Equities in Europe are trying hard to take advantage of a dovish, US Federal Reserve-led rally in the States last night. The S&P 500 had its best day of the year, rising a shade over 2% to close back above the 2000 level.

While the ‘considerable time’ statement remains in the minutes despite some reports to the contrary, the fact it changed its language slightly, and highlighted a ‘patient’ stance on when rates will start going up, maintained the dovish theme. The comments by chair, Janet Yellen, that this alteration in language did not actually mean a change in its outlook helped put a rocket under equities for the final part of last night’s session.

Greece’s jobless rate has dipped a little, but remains in at depression-era levels.

Elstat reports that the unemployment rate was 25.5% in the third quarter of 2014, down from 26.6% in April-June, and 27.2% a year earlier.

Swiss central bank chief Thomas Jordan also confirmed that the Russian crisis had prompted today’s decision to charge commercial banks who deposit their francs with the SNB.

Back to Switzerland....and the head of the Swiss National Bank has predicted that the negative interest rates announced today will remain “for the foreseeable future”.

SNB chairman Thomas Jordan told a press conference that further measures could be imposed if it’s necessary to weaken the franc and stimulate inflation again.

“If it becomes necessary, we can take further measures. Possible measures include a further reduction of interest rates or a reduction of the exemption threshold”.

SNB'S Jordan says he doesn't expect negative rates for Retails customers in Switzerland, makes no sense #EURCHF #FX

Record growth in department stores and electrical appliance stores in November 2014. Boosted by 'black Friday'

It seems #BlackFriday gave UK retail sales a massive boost. That's it then. We'll never be rid of it.

Britain appears to have caught the Black Friday bug.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that retail sales jumped by 1.5% month-on-month in November, the biggest rise this year.

“Black Friday’s shopping frenzy provided the sector with a timely boost and retailers will hope that this momentum is maintained throughout the festive period.

“A combination of aggressive discounting and consumer’s determination to secure big ticket bargains ensured that electrical goods and household appliances were the standout categories. Clothing and footwear retailers used the event to reduce stockpiles of winter clothing, albeit to the detriment of their profit margins.

Financial analyst are digesting Switzerland’s decision to impose negative interest rates on cash deposits at its central bank.

The SNB continued to show its unwavering support for the EURCHF floor by introducing negative interest rates....

We doubt the action will have long term effect and expect to see EURCHF grind back towards the EURCHF 1.2000 minimum exchange rate.”

“Having seen the franc trading at, or very close to, the cap that it set of 1.20 to the euro over the past month, the SNB obviously felt it needed to shore up its defences against a building storm surge of money looking for a safe home.

It is also faced with the potential for Q.E. by the ECB next year, which would likely put further downwards pressure on the euro across the board.

“The timing is suspicious because the fee will be charged starting on January 22nd.”

German firms appear to be shrugging off the Russian crisis, and Europe’s economic problems.

The IFO survey of German morale, just released, has risen to 105.5 up from 104.7 last month. That’s the highest reading since August.

Heads-up; Vladimir Putin’s press conference is about to start in Moscow. We’re running a separate liveblog, as it’s going to last for several hours:

The @guardian is liveblogging Putin press conference. I'm in the hall and my colleague @Haroon_Siddique is in London. http://t.co/3GwlrJF6eH

Announcement on the tannoy at Putin press conference asks journalists not to bring toys and furry animals into the hall.

Over in Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that sanctions against Russia over Ukraine remain unavoidable as long as Moscow does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

“As long as we do not reach this goal ... sanctions remain unavoidable, though I would like to reiterate that they were not and are not an end in themselves.”

The Russian rouble is volatile around this morning, as traders await Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference, from 9am.

It’s currently down 2.2% against the US dollar at 61.5 roubles/$1, having hit a low of 58/$1 in early trading.

Not just @bmw , @GM now also reacting to #Russia. GM Halts car sales due to rouble volatility @business

Greek three-year bonds weakened this morning after MPs rejected the government’s presidential candidate last night, pushing up the yield on the debt.

Greek 3yr yields jump by 17bps as #Greece's PM Samaras still 20 MP's short for 3rd round of Presidential election. pic.twitter.com/getazQQCKs

European stock markets have risen in early trading, taking their lead from Wall Street’s rally last night.

The German DAX and French CAC both surged 1.7%, while the FTSE 100 is up a more modest 0.5% or 30 points at 6366.

Markets had been expecting such a move and, despite signs of some disagreement on the committee as three members dissented, the shift is a signal of confidence in the sustainability of the US recovery.

Fed Chair Yellen reassured that policy continued to depend upon the data, with no move likely within the next “couple of meetings”.

Why has the Swiss central bank announced negative interest rates today?

Because it wants to weaken its currency, the Swiss franc, by penalising banks who hold deposits.

Timing of #SNB is pretty interesting ... just a week after the SNB's last policy meeting - #rouble trouble perhaps?

The Swiss franc has weakened sharply after Switzerland’s central bank surprised the markets by announcing it would impose negative deposit rates of 0.25% on commercial bank deposits.

The franc fell by half a cent, to 1.2095 francs against the euro, a two month low.

The SNB reaffirms its commitment to the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro, and will continue to enforce it with the utmost determination. It remains the key instrument to avoid an undesirable tightening of monetary conditions resulting from a Swiss franc appreciation.

Over the past few days, a number of factors have prompted increased demand for safe investments. The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments, and thereby supports the minimum exchange rate.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the financial markets, the world economy, the eurozone and business.

And #SNB introduces negative interest rates as the great monetary policy experiment continues ...

Continue reading...






Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:20 pm

Posted by Marina Hyde

Kanye and Kim, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow are just some of the names who have made it a thrilling year for star watchers

“Can you imagine telling someone who wants to just Instagram a photo, who’s the No 1 person on Instagram, ‘We need to work on the colour of the flower wall,’ or the idea that it’s a Givenchy dress, and it’s not about the name Givenchy, it’s about the talent that is Riccardo Tisci – and how important Kim is to the internet.” No, I can’t make head nor tail of it either. But according to Kanye West, it’s the reason he and Kim Kardashian were forced to spend four days of their honeymoon becoming “exhausted” by retouching the single wedding picture they eventually uploaded to Instagram. Here’s hoping these two finally catch a break in 2015.

Continue reading...
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:18 pm

Posted by Felicity Lawrence

Trial of Juris Valujevs and Ivars Mezals hears claims of intimidation over debt and poor conditions at East Anglia set-up

Two Latvian men have been found guilty of acting as illegal gangmasters, supplying Latvian and Lithuanian workers from the Wisbech area to pick leeks, cabbages, broccoli and flowers, for supermarket supply chains across East Anglia.

Juris Valujevs, 36, and Ivars Mezals, 28, were convicted at Blackfriars crown court, London, of operating without a gangmaster’s licence after a nine-week trial in which the court heard evidence about exploitation, control by debt-bondage, overcrowded housing, and allegations of sham marriages arranged to facilitate illegal immigration.

Continue reading...
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:11 pm

Posted by Patrick Butler, social policy editor

Government refusal to guarantee funding for schemes will force families to turn to food banks and loan sharks, say critics

Poverty charities and councils have warned that the government’s refusal to guarantee funding for local welfare schemes will force low income families in crisis to turn to food banks and loan sharks.

The government announced in January that it would no longer provide £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes operated by English local authorities after April 2015, triggering a cross-party revolt by Conservative MPs and council leaders, Labour councils and charities.

Continue reading...
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 12:40 pm
Today's Google Doodle celebrates the 165th anniversary of the birth of a famous Canadian woman- Henrietta Edwards.

The Famous Five or The Valiant Five [...] (French: Célèbres cinq) were five Alberta women who asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the question, "Does the word 'Persons' in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?" in the case Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General).
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:42 pm

This was a really difficult post for me. I broke down in tears trying to read it to Gina — though this was a usual part of my final editing process before I submit a column, normally I’m not fighting tears and gasping out the words. Some of you may know the history I’m talking about, most won’t.


Anyway, I’m going to leave it at that. The post is online at Patheos now, so rather than spoiler it further, I’ll just let you read it where it is.


Blue YuleQueer of Swords: Blue Yule


http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/12/queer-of-swords-blue-yule/




Please note: this was cross-posted from my main blog at http://www.mageofmachines.com/main/2014/12/18/new-patheos-post-blue-yule/ -- If you want me to definitely see your replies, please reply there rather than here.

#QueerofSwords, #TransgenderActivism
Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:15 pm

Posted by Graeme Wearden (until 1.15pm) and Nick Fletcher (now)

The latest business and finance news, as SNB takes fresh measures to weaken the franc following the Russian rouble crisis

Speaking of oil, it has lost early gains with Brent crude now down 1.8% at around $60 a barrel. Part of this is due to reports that a port strike in Nigeria has ended, allowing crude shipments to be resumed at a time when there is oversupply and falling demand.

The recent oil price slump has claimed another victim, as Venezula gets its debt rating cut:

Fitch downgrades Venezuela to CCC from B, as the oil price collapse erodes the country's main source of income.

In a move that will surely boost the argument that austerity is only counterproductive, the International Federation for Human Rights says no sector in Greek society has been spared from the hugely negative impact of belt-tightening measures. Helena Smith reports from Athens:

Unveiled in Athens this afternoon, the 80-page report presents an excoriating case against austerity.

Cost cutting measures had not only impacted on Greeks’ pockets, they had curbed individuals’ basic human rights and had a hugely negative effect on every sector in society “from healthcare and labour, to freedom of expression and the right to express discontent through peaceful public protest.” Questions had to be asked about those who were responsible for such human rights violations – and whether, ultimately, such bodies/persons could be held accountable. “International financial institutions involved in the negotiation and financing of Greece’s first and second economic assistance programmes, most notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF), must also be subject to scrutiny,” it wrote. “As a subject of international law, the IMF is required to consider whether or not its actions or omissions constitute, or contribute to, violations of customary international rules , including in the field of human rights.”

Meanwhile, deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos has been eager to appear optimistic following last night’s less than convincing (for the government) parliamentary vote. The socialist leader announced today that there was still plenty of room for “mature choices to be made” when the last round of the presidential vote is held on December 29. Extending an olive branch he suggested that a cross-party negotiating team be set up to deal with the country’s “troika” of creditors.

More from the Reuters interview with Alexis Tsipras, who said he would indeed cancel austerity programmes agreed by the current government if his Syriza party is elected, but would negotiate debt relief with its lenders. Reuters reports:

Saying he was committed to keeping Greece in the euro, Tsipras told Reuters that Europe should cut or erase a big chunk of Greek debt. He said loans from the IMF must be paid but he would seek an extension to maturities on bonds held by the ECB.

Syriza - which is expected to win if early elections were held now - has long said it would cancel Greece’s EU/IMF bailout and demand debt relief if it came to power but the comments were the first time Tsipras has clearly spelled out the party’s plan for debt renegotiation.

Over in Greece, the Athens stock market has regained some ground after Reuters reported that the leader of opposition party Syriza wanted to keep the country in the euro if he won any forthcoming election.

The government’s decision to bring forward a presidential poll which, if it loses, could cause snap elections raised the prospect of Syriza gaining power. This rattled investors, since its leader Alexis Tsipras stands against the austerity associated with the Greek bailout package and seemed likely to rip up the deal or leave the European Union.

The latest Philadelphia business survey has also disappointed.

The index of current activity dropped sharply from 40.8 in November to 24.5 compared to estimates of a level of 26. But firms were generally optimistic about the future, although there were worries about employment and rising healthcare costs.

And here’s some less good news from the US economy, which ironically eases the pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise rates and therefore will probably be received positively.

The US services sector expanded in December at its slowest rate since February, with the Markit initial purchasing managers index coming in at 53.6, down from 56.2 in November and well below expectations of a rise to 56.9 according to a Reuters poll.

The extent of the slowdown suggests that economic growth in the fourth quarter could come in below 2% which, with the exception of the downturn caused by adverse weather in the first quarter, would be the worst performance for two years.

Is the Fed (and almost everyone else) being too optimistic on US economic growth? http://t.co/b4SBsr51nf pic.twitter.com/vqynBLnGoV

Not a pretty Flash Services PMI pic.twitter.com/wrFSQO6cVK

Markit Service PMI 53.6, Exp. 56.3, "weakest since the weather-related slowdown in February." - buy everything

The US markets have opened and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently up more than 1%, as investors continue to warm to the Federal Reserves desire to be “patient” about raising US interest rates.

With the dollar down and oil steadying, markets are rallying after their recent downward dip. Concerns that an early US rate rise could help derail global growth have eased, helping the overall mood.

On the corporate front Aer Lingus shares have soared on reports that British Airways owner IAG may be interested in bidding.

Aer Lingus is up nearly 9% at the moment, valuing the business at around €1bn, following the FT story.

If you are in need of a diversion over the next few days, you could try our bumper business Christmas quiz, which you can find here.

Following last night’s US Federal Reserve meeting which hinted at interest rises next year as the economy recovers, there is some more upbeat data.

The number of Americans filing new unemployment benefit claims fell unexpectedly last week, dropping by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000. This was lower than the 295,000 expected by economists, and down from 295,000 the previous week (revised from 294,000).

The surprise Swiss move to introduce negative interest rates could be a sign that the European Central Bank will proceed with some form of quantitative easing next month, says Kathleen Brooks at Forex.com.

There are some fundamental reasons for the move, she said:

Cutting rates is justified to bring Switzerland out of deflation. Its annual rate of inflation is -0.1%, however this could fall further after producer and import prices slid 1.6% year on year last month. The Swiss National Bank’s Jordan gave explicit reasons for the cut in rates: to weaken the Swissie, to overcome deflation [and] to help spur growth, which is expected to be on the weak side in the first quarter.

While the internal factors justify the SNB’s actions, the timing of the move was surprising. The market had expected a move on rates sometime in January; however recent market volatility, and the sell-off in the rouble, threatened the 1.20 peg in euro/franc, which triggered this move.

Other external factors included the ECB and the Fed.

Time for a recap.

Switzerland’s central bank has imposed negative interest rates on bank deposits for the first time since the 1970s, as the Russian currency crisis causes ructions around the globe.

“Rapidly mounting uncertainty on the financial markets has substantially increased demand for safe investments.

The worsening of the crisis in Russia was a major contributory factor in this development.”

UBS said on Thursday that it has no plans to levy negative interest rates on its retail clients

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, has offered Greece an olive branch - telling MPs in Berlin that its economy is in better shape then expected.

“Reforms are beginning to bear fruit for the people of Greece. The labour market reforms have made the country more competitive ... This year Greece will have a budget deficit within European Union rules.”

Over in Greece, the political wheels are turning after MPs rejected the government’s nominee for the presidency last night, increasing the chance that the administration could collapse.

“I confirmed my view which is categoric: early elections, required in the case of parliament’s inability to elect a president of the republic, will lead the country into turmoil whose end result will be to find ourselves out of the Eurozone.”

“At this point, the widest possible consent is required. We all have to put the interests of the country above personal or party interest. We owe it to the Greek people from whom we have asked huge sacrifices.”

“He asked me to come to a solution of consent in the name of national policy. We believe that a national solution will be found only after elections.”

Imposing negative interest rates on commercial bank deposits could actually backfire on the Swiss economy and cause an asset bubble.

So warns Angelo Ranaldo, Professor of Finance and Systemic Risk at the University of St Gallen.

“By introducing negative interest rates, the Swiss National Bank is reacting to the European Central Bank’s recent decision and to the renewed pressure on its safe haven currency thanks to the Russian crisis.

But there is a fundamental disconnect between the Swiss economy and the outlook for the Eurozone: the Swiss economy is in better shape and disinflation is not a concern.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs reckon that the Swiss central bank could be forced to intervene in the foreign exchange markets again, once the impact of negative rates wears off:

Goldman saying that the SNB may still rely on FX interventions to protect the floor after shock rate cut earlier. EURCHF currently at 1.2041

Credit rating agency Fitch has warned that risks to Russia’s economy have intensified.

In a statement, Fitch sounded the alarm over the rouble’s extreme volatility this week, and the interest rate hike to 17%.

The inflationary impact of recent falls (inflation is heading towards double digits) will erode real incomes, further damaging private consumption and domestic demand.

If rates have to be kept high or increased to support the currency at a lower oil price, the impact could be greater still. The CBR has estimated that average oil prices of $60/barrel could cause GDP to shrink 4.5%-4.7% in 2015.

Fitch says $66 oil in 2015 would cut #Russia's GDP by 2.8%, and the CRB rate increase will make that worse. To review rating in January.

After a rocky start, Greek bonds are actually rising in value now, pushing down the interest rate (or yield) on the debt.

Greek Bonds actually doing okay this morning - the yield drops to 8.52 (-24bp) on the 10 year.

The feel-good factor from last night’s Federal Reserve meeting continues to push European stock markets higher.

Shares are rising on relief that the US central bank will be patient when deciding when to raise US interest rates.

Equities in Europe are trying hard to take advantage of a dovish, US Federal Reserve-led rally in the States last night. The S&P 500 had its best day of the year, rising a shade over 2% to close back above the 2000 level.

While the ‘considerable time’ statement remains in the minutes despite some reports to the contrary, the fact it changed its language slightly, and highlighted a ‘patient’ stance on when rates will start going up, maintained the dovish theme. The comments by chair, Janet Yellen, that this alteration in language did not actually mean a change in its outlook helped put a rocket under equities for the final part of last night’s session.

Greece’s jobless rate has dipped a little, but remains in at depression-era levels.

Elstat reports that the unemployment rate was 25.5% in the third quarter of 2014, down from 26.6% in April-June, and 27.2% a year earlier.

Swiss central bank chief Thomas Jordan also confirmed that the Russian crisis had prompted today’s decision to charge commercial banks who deposit their francs with the SNB.

Back to Switzerland....and the head of the Swiss National Bank has predicted that the negative interest rates announced today will remain “for the foreseeable future”.

SNB chairman Thomas Jordan told a press conference that further measures could be imposed if it’s necessary to weaken the franc and stimulate inflation again.

“If it becomes necessary, we can take further measures. Possible measures include a further reduction of interest rates or a reduction of the exemption threshold”.

SNB'S Jordan says he doesn't expect negative rates for Retails customers in Switzerland, makes no sense #EURCHF #FX

Record growth in department stores and electrical appliance stores in November 2014. Boosted by 'black Friday'

It seems #BlackFriday gave UK retail sales a massive boost. That's it then. We'll never be rid of it.

Britain appears to have caught the Black Friday bug.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that retail sales jumped by 1.5% month-on-month in November, the biggest rise this year.

“Black Friday’s shopping frenzy provided the sector with a timely boost and retailers will hope that this momentum is maintained throughout the festive period.

“A combination of aggressive discounting and consumer’s determination to secure big ticket bargains ensured that electrical goods and household appliances were the standout categories. Clothing and footwear retailers used the event to reduce stockpiles of winter clothing, albeit to the detriment of their profit margins.

Financial analyst are digesting Switzerland’s decision to impose negative interest rates on cash deposits at its central bank.

The SNB continued to show its unwavering support for the EURCHF floor by introducing negative interest rates....

We doubt the action will have long term effect and expect to see EURCHF grind back towards the EURCHF 1.2000 minimum exchange rate.”

“Having seen the franc trading at, or very close to, the cap that it set of 1.20 to the euro over the past month, the SNB obviously felt it needed to shore up its defences against a building storm surge of money looking for a safe home.

It is also faced with the potential for Q.E. by the ECB next year, which would likely put further downwards pressure on the euro across the board.

“The timing is suspicious because the fee will be charged starting on January 22nd.”

German firms appear to be shrugging off the Russian crisis, and Europe’s economic problems.

The IFO survey of German morale, just released, has risen to 105.5 up from 104.7 last month. That’s the highest reading since August.

Heads-up; Vladimir Putin’s press conference is about to start in Moscow. We’re running a separate liveblog, as it’s going to last for several hours:

The @guardian is liveblogging Putin press conference. I'm in the hall and my colleague @Haroon_Siddique is in London. http://t.co/3GwlrJF6eH

Announcement on the tannoy at Putin press conference asks journalists not to bring toys and furry animals into the hall.

Over in Berlin, German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that sanctions against Russia over Ukraine remain unavoidable as long as Moscow does not respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

“As long as we do not reach this goal ... sanctions remain unavoidable, though I would like to reiterate that they were not and are not an end in themselves.”

The Russian rouble is volatile around this morning, as traders await Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference, from 9am.

It’s currently down 2.2% against the US dollar at 61.5 roubles/$1, having hit a low of 58/$1 in early trading.

Not just @bmw , @GM now also reacting to #Russia. GM Halts car sales due to rouble volatility @business

Greek three-year bonds weakened this morning after MPs rejected the government’s presidential candidate last night, pushing up the yield on the debt.

Greek 3yr yields jump by 17bps as #Greece's PM Samaras still 20 MP's short for 3rd round of Presidential election. pic.twitter.com/getazQQCKs

European stock markets have risen in early trading, taking their lead from Wall Street’s rally last night.

The German DAX and French CAC both surged 1.7%, while the FTSE 100 is up a more modest 0.5% or 30 points at 6366.

Markets had been expecting such a move and, despite signs of some disagreement on the committee as three members dissented, the shift is a signal of confidence in the sustainability of the US recovery.

Fed Chair Yellen reassured that policy continued to depend upon the data, with no move likely within the next “couple of meetings”.

Why has the Swiss central bank announced negative interest rates today?

Because it wants to weaken its currency, the Swiss franc, by penalising banks who hold deposits.

Timing of #SNB is pretty interesting ... just a week after the SNB's last policy meeting - #rouble trouble perhaps?

The Swiss franc has weakened sharply after Switzerland’s central bank surprised the markets by announcing it would impose negative deposit rates of 0.25% on commercial bank deposits.

The franc fell by half a cent, to 1.2095 francs against the euro, a two month low.

The SNB reaffirms its commitment to the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro, and will continue to enforce it with the utmost determination. It remains the key instrument to avoid an undesirable tightening of monetary conditions resulting from a Swiss franc appreciation.

Over the past few days, a number of factors have prompted increased demand for safe investments. The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments, and thereby supports the minimum exchange rate.

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the financial markets, the world economy, the eurozone and business.

And #SNB introduces negative interest rates as the great monetary policy experiment continues ...

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:14 pm

Posted by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

Decision at EU’s court of justice in Luxembourg establishes precedent that could affect employment rights across Europe

Employers will have to change the way they treat overweight staff following a European Union court ruling that obesity can, in severe cases, constitute a disability.

The landmark decision by the European Court of Justice – in the case of a Danish childminder who lost his job – establishes a precedent that could affect employment rights across the continent. It stops short, however, of declaring obesity to be a protected characteristic against which all discrimination is prohibited.

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:06 pm

Posted by Gwyn Topham, transport correspondent

Irish carrier’s board rebuffs IAG’s initial approach but news boosts share price by 20%

British Airways’ parent company IAG has confirmed it has made an approach to take over Aer Lingus.

Chief executive Willie Walsh has until now denied rumours that he was looking to add the Irish carrier to the group. Industry observers had identified it as a possible target for IAG’s continued consolidation of European airlines, particularly as Walsh is a former CEO of Aer Lingus.

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 05:00 pm

Posted by Ian Sample, science editor

Infrasound may have alerted warblers to the massive storm, prompting them to fly more than a thousand kilometres to avoid it

A group of songbirds may have avoided a devastating storm by fleeing their US breeding grounds after detecting telltale infrasound waves.

Researchers noticed the behaviour after analysing trackers attached to the birds to study their migration patterns. They believe it is the first documented case of birds making detours to avoid destructive weather systems on the basis of infrasound.

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 04:52 pm

Posted by Grady Smith

Beyond boorish bro-country there were plenty of rich, emotional records that stretched the definitions of the genre while remaining true to its roots

So much great country music came out in 2014. There was music that felt raw and real and far removed from the banal stuff you’re likely to hear on country radio, where fiddle and pedal steel have been reduced to mere flourishes layered on top of pop tracks. There was music that didn’t objectify women, that didn’t repeat the same tailgate party narratives ad nauseum, that didn’t honor rampant idiocy and self-centered machismo. There was music that brimmed with life and story and sadness and hope, and it helped remind the world of country’s thematic roots, even while stretching the genre sonically. Yes, there was country music genuinely worth listening to. Lots of it, in fact.

But it’s the job of a critic to pare things down, so without further ado, here are my 10 favorite country albums of 2014, in no particular order.

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 04:51 pm

Posted by Andrew Sparrow

Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments, including Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in

Ministers have been criticised by the National Audit Office, among others, for having little understanding of the impact on frontline services of their decisions and they are failing to devolve power so that public money is most effectively spent.

Instead of a fairer settlement the government has hit the communities with the most need the hardest, and instead of giving councils the long-term budgets and freedoms they need to make real long-term sustainable savings, the libraries that enrich our children’s education, the social care for our elderly to keep them healthy and out of hospital and the everyday council services like bin collections and street cleaning are bearing the brunt.

David Cameron promised to get the cost of politics down but under him the number of special advisers spirals ever upwards - the public are now picking up a bill of over 8 million to pay for his appointees.

This also shows how you can’t trust a word Nick Clegg says. The Lib Dems used to say that special advisers shouldn’t be paid for by the public but as soon as he got his feet under the cabinet table, he broke his word.

The Treasury has announced that it has recovered £1.36bn from Landsbanki, the Icelandic internet bank that went bust in the financial crisis.

It is owed the money because it paid £4.5bn in compensation to British savers when the bank failed. It has now recovered £3.82bn of the money it is owed.

The failure of the Icelandic banks cost taxpayers billions of pounds, with no certainty of ever getting the money back. We remain committed to recovering the full outstanding amount of the British taxpayer’s claim from the Landsbanki estate, and will continue to work hard to make this happen as soon as possible.

On the written ministerial statement front, my colleague Frances Perraudin had a look at what Defra is saying about bovine TB.

On the same day that official figures seem to show that the slaughtering of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset did very little to reduce bovine TB, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has released details of further plans to combat the spread of the disease which include more culling.

The Biosecurity Action Plan sets out measures to help farmers reduce the risk of disease on their farms, with plans for bespoke veterinary advice on TB management and the launch of a web-based map showing locations of the disease.

In another announcement flagged up in a written ministerial statements, the government has decided not to change the law to allow humanist marriages - or “marriages by non-religious belief organisations”, as they put it.

Even though a majority of people who responded to the consultation were in favour, the government has shelved the idea. This news release explains why.

The consultation raised a number of complex issues which have wider implications for the law concerning marriage ceremonies. In particular, the majority of couples with religious or non-religious beliefs are restricted in where they can marry, and so implementing this change for non-religious belief organisations would create a further difference of treatment in marriage law. There also needs to be further consideration of how to prevent inappropriate groups from registering to conduct ceremonies and guard against any risk in relation to forced and sham marriages and the commercialisation of marriage solemnisation.

Marriage is one of our most important and valued institutions and we need to make sure any changes to the law are conducted with care. In order to consider the legal and technical requirements and the range of relevant issues including those raised by the consultation, the government will ask the Law Commission if it will carry out a broader review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies.

More from the written ministerial statements. My colleague Frances Perraudin has looked at the one about the independent library report (pdf).

An independent report into the state of the public library service in England has come to some damming conclusions, warning of large-scale closures if services aren’t improved.

The report was written by William Sieghart, a philanthropist, entrepreneur and publisher, and recommended that more emphasis be put on the digital services that libraries provide, rolling WiFi out to every one in the country. Sieghart recommends that library services be provided in a “retail-standard environment”, with coffee and sofas provided – a detail that has been the main focus of most media coverage of the report.

This is what David Hodge, the Conservative leader of Surrey County Council, told the World at One about the council cuts.

The reality for Surrey is we are facing significant demands on school places and on adult social care and children’s services. When we have taken 40% out of our budget, it is extremely difficult to continue to do that. There is a limit. You can only cut local government so far.

In my own county I am now faced with a situation where I have made a statement that I am not prepared to put the county council into debt for £200 million to provide school places, which I believe is a duty of government to ensure that the Surrey residents have school places.

I think we’ve reached the tipping point ... where we can’t just eat away at our back office services any more. We are going to have to do things in terms of home-to-school transport, cutbacks in a whole range of areas that people are going to really start noticing now.

We are going to have to make cuts of another £46m in the next three years, and those cuts are going to be felt by people.

Ed Balls has passed his grade 4 piano.

Thanks for all good wishes on my Grade 4 piano exam - just heard I passed - and 17/18 on sight-reading! On to Grade 5...

In the Commons Kris Hopkins confirmed that the government had cut the funding for the local welfare assistance fund. Centrepoint, the homelessness charity, has condemned the decision. This is from Paul Noblet, its head of public affairs.

In failing to ring-fence funding to protect those in crisis the government has made a young person’s journey from homelessness to independence even harder.

Applications for local assistance schemes were already oversubscribed, but councils, some of whom have worked hard to plug the gaps in funding, will struggle to maintain this much needed safety net.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, says that the cuts required as a result of today’s funding settlement will be “the most difficult yet”. It says councils will have to cut £2.6bn from their budgets in 2015/16, and that, as a result, the total reduction in core government funding since 2010 amounts to 40%.

This is from David Sparks, a Labour councillor and the LGA chair.

Councils have spent the past four years finding billions of pounds worth of savings, while working hard to protect the services upon which people rely.

But those same efficiency savings cannot be made again. The savings of more than £2.5 billion councils need to find before April will be the most difficult yet. We cannot pretend that this will not have an impact on local government’s ability to improve people’s quality of life and support local businesses.

The government has today published a chart with salary figures for special advisers (pdf).

According to Labour, the cost of special advisers has risen 17% over the last year. This is from the Press Association.

The pay bill for ministers’ special advisers has risen to more than £8m, according to official figures.

Labour said the rise - to a total of 8.4 million for 103 “Spads” in 2013-14 - represented a 17% increase on the previous year.

The government has announced that it would like to stop police cells being used to hold under-18s with mental health conditions. Publishing the findings of a review into this issue, Theresa May, the home secretary, said:

I am determined to put an end to children who are suffering a mental illness being detained in police cells. There is no place for this in our society.

Too frequently it is a police officer who responds to a person in crisis. Vulnerable children and adults should be treated by police with respect and compassion, but I am very clear that it is the job of health professionals to provide the healthcare and support required.

Although there is no space remaining in this parliament to make these changes, I believe there is a general consensus that these issues must be addressed. Therefore I hope that in the next parliament the momentum that has been generated will be maintained.

Thanks to everyone who has offered Christmas wishes BTL. Happy Christmas to you too. And Happy Christmas to everyone.

The Unite union has said that council funding settlements are “not sustainable”. This is from its national officer, Fiona Famer.

Local councils are already at breaking point with services being cut to the bone or stopped completely. Many are staring into the financial abyss of bankruptcy because of this latest round of cuts which will eat into key services we all rely on.

Local government needs a fair funding settlement. It is simply not sustainable to expect councils serving some of the poorest communities in the country to bear the brunt of the Tory-led government’s addiction to austerity.

And this is what Tony Travers, the local government expert, was saying.

Professor Tony Travers says "local government has continued to have surprisingly good satisfaction measures" #wato

But that has led to a confidence in the Treasury of being able to cut further - Tony Travers on #wato

On the World at One council leaders have been talking about the impact of the cuts.

Surrey Council leader: "When we've taken 40% out of our budgets, it's extremely difficult to continue, continue to do that." #wato

"I think we've reached the tipping point.. people are really going to start noticing now" - leader of Buckinghamshire County Council #wato

Bucks Council Leader: "We're going to have to make cuts of about another £46m in the next 3 yrs & those cuts are going to be felt by people"

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn asks Hopkins if he realises what the impact of these cuts will be. His council (he’s MP for Islington North) will face cumulative cuts worth 50%, he says.

Hopkins says Corbyn should remember what state Labour left the economy in.

Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, has been tweeting about the council funding settlement.

Once again, it is the poorest communities that are being hardest hit in the local government settlement.

Now clear that Eric Pickles lost his battle with George Osborne to save funding for the local welfare assistance fund.

Labour’s Jack Dromey says Birmingham is losing £338m over the next two years. It is losing more than Surrey.

Here’s the full text of Kris Hopkins’ statement.

The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) has said that today’s cuts will push some councils “to breaking point”. This is from its director, Graeme McDonald.

This settlement reminds us that the financial challenge facing local government is immense. Cuts of up to 6.4% will push some authorities to breaking point.

Government is beginning to recognise that councils have led the way on deficit reduction, but with cuts and demand increasing, fragility is beginning to show. The financial future of local services is unsustainable without a more ambitious plan for public service reform.

Here’s the start of the Press Association story about the cuts.

Councils in England are to face an overall cut of 1.8% in their total spending power in 2015/16.

Announcing the settlement in the House of Commons, local government minister Kris Hopkins said that the reduction would leave councils with “considerable total spending power”.

Hopkins is replying to Benn.

He says he is disappointed by the tone of Benn’s statement. Benn did not recognise Labour’s role in the financial crisis.

Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, says council resent the suggestion that the cuts are modest.

Councils serving the most deprived areas have been hit the hardest, he says.

Hopkins says over the last year councils have increased their reserves by £2.2bn. They now have reserves of £21.4bn.

He says the government will make funds available to allow councils to freeze council tax.

Councils (+ police) can raise council tax (+ precept) by up to 2% without referendum...victory for Theresa May over Eric Pickles

Hopkins is delivering this statement very badly. He keeps stumbling over his words. ITV’s Simon Mares says Eric Pickles, who is sitting beside him, is not helping.

Stumbling delivery by minister Kris Hopkins as he details council cuts to MPs - not helped by a running commentary by his boss Eric Pickles.

Hopkins says the best authorities are transforming the way they do services.

He says they need to prioritise the way they do business.

Hopkins says it is not just about the amount of money the government gives to councils.

The government has given them the tools to help themselves. Now they can keep business rates revenue. Hopkins says 91% of them expect to increase their business rates revenue.

Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, is speaking now.

He says local government has made a significant contribution to putting the public finances back on track.

Councils to lose spending power of 1.8% says govt in #localgov finance settlement @lgcplus

No council will lose more than 6.4% in spending power, says Kris Hopkins in #localgov finance settlement @lgcplus

Actually, it is Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, making the statement, I’ve been told.

He is due to speak any minute now.

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, is due to make his statement about council spending in the Commons shortly.

He will present the funding grants for 2015-16. Last year the government signalled that councils would face a cut of 1.8%.

Here are the key points from Nick Clegg’s Call Clegg phone-in.

Apparently, according to Kerry Smith, he was on sedatives. Of all the excuses for this kind of bile and racist, homophoboic vitriol, was “I was on a sedative”. Most people on a sedative don’t become Alf Garnett on stilts, do they. Most people on sedatives go to sleep. But apparently in Ukip, if you are on a sedative, you just become even unpleasant.

What we are seeing in Ukip is what I always predicted would happen, which is that the more they try and become like a political party, rather than just a movement of angry blokes - it’s almost always angry blokes in suits just saying they are against everything - and the more they are being pressed on what they would do, the more the problems emerge.

If that’s what they do on sedatives, just imagine what they would do on Red Bull.

They’ve got it wrong. It’s a comedy, for heaven’s sake. It’s just extraordinary that in a free society we are allowing these online thugs from this police state to intimidate people having a bit of fun ... There’s a big issue of principle here. We can’t have police states, through hacking and online intimidation, stopping free societies like ours having films shown on the cinemas that we want to see.

Do I enjoy sitting there watching Ed Miliband and David Cameron, week in, week out, tear strips off each, and I can’t get up and say my piece - it’s not my favourite place to be ...

David Cameron, to be blunt, is not speaking as prime minister of a coalition government, increasingly, at prime minister’s questions. He’s basically using it as a platform to advertise Conservative party policy. Now, it’s not really my job to sit there, on my hands, politely helping him along ...

Q: Were Sony right to pull the comedy about North Korea?

No, says Clegg. They were wrong. They should not back down in the face of threats from “online thugs from a police state”.

Q: At our school, where people are supposed to get free school meals, they are just getting packed lunches, including frozen sandwiches and donughts.

Clegg asks for the name of the school. The caller says she does not want to give it on air. Clegg says what she is describing is “completely wrong”. He will get the details of the school and look into it.

Q: Do you think Kerry Smith, the Ukip candidate who resigned over offensive remarks, shows the true state of Ukip?

Clegg says Ukip said Smith made those comments because he was on sedatives. Sedatives are supposed to calm you down, he jokes. Imagine what he would be saying without sedatives.

Q: Do you support the EU’s decision to take Hamas off its list of terrorist organisations?

Clegg says the EU decision is a bit more complicated than that. It was to do with definitions affecting financial sanctions.

Q: Why don’t you just not turn up at PMQs?

From time to time, I don’t, says Clegg.

Q: Why do my partner and I no longer get child benefit, when child benefit is being paid to children living abroad?

Clegg says the caller is right. That system is wrong.

Q: At PMQs yesterday you looked very grumpy?

Clegg says it is not his favourite time of the week. He has to listen to David Cameron and Ed Miliband and cannot say anything.

On Call Clegg Nick Ferrari asks about a story that has just broken about a European Court of Justice ruling.

Here is the Press Association snap about it.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that British-Irish citizen Sean McCarthy should be allowed to bring his Colombian wife to the UK from their home in Spain without her having to apply for a travel visa, potentially opening UK borders to large numbers of non-European Union nationals.

Back to the Myners report about the sale of the Royal Mail. Lord Myners was on the Today programme earlier talking about it. He said on balance it was a “well-executed” exercise.

Actually it was on balance a well-executed, complex exercise. The government managed to achieve its objective; privatising the Royal Mail, exposing it to market discipline and importantly access to private capital should it require further capital in the future. So, this was something which governments over the last twenty years or so had tried to do but had failed. And the government was successful in the privatisation …

The important thing is that the panel of experts concluded that it’s possible that the Royal Mail could have been sold for 20p or 30p more a share, but that would have taken considerable risk into the transaction.

Q: What are you going to do about the epidemic of child abuse? [The caller says she is an abuse survivor.]

Clegg says the government has set up a child abuse inquiry.

Q: There is a report today about the shortfall when the Royal Mail was sold. Shouldn’t those responsible have to pay?

Clegg says Lord Myners says the sale of the Royal Mail was done professionally, very well. People said the sale was undervalued by £1bn or so. The Royal Mail was sold for £2bn. Myners says the government could have got £180m more. But it says that could not have happened without the government taking a risk, and that the government was entitled not to take a risk.

The Commons is sitting today for the last time in 2014. This may also be my last live blog of the year (I’m working some days next week, but probably won’t be doing a daily blog, unless a big story breaks) and it’s going to be a bit patchy, because I’ve got to disappear after 10am until lunchtime for a meeting.

That means I won’t be doing minute by minute coverage of the Eric Pickles statement on council spending cuts, which is due at about 11.15am, but there will be coverage at theguardian.com/politics and I will pick up reaction later.

1. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: UK Anti-Corruption Plan

2. Chancellor of the Exchequer: Annual European Union Finances Statement

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 04:16 pm

Posted by Ali Younes, Shiv Malik, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili

Exclusive: Talks with leadership of Isis to secure release of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig ran for several weeks with knowledge of FBI
• Long read: the full story behind the race to save Peter Kassig
• Revealed: the secret talks US hostage – video

US counter-terrorism officials backed a high-stakes negotiation involving two of the world’s most prominent jihadi clerics as well as former Guantánamo detainees in an attempt to save the life of an American hostage held by Islamic State, the Guardian can reveal.

Emails seen by the Guardian show how tentative talks with the spiritual leadership of Isis to secure the release of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks, with the knowledge of the FBI.

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