Gareth Vaughan on the colourful media coverage of Brexit, the Amazon fires, Japanese companies' huge cash pile, a chilling message from Xi Jinping, and the Panama Papers movie

Gareth Vaughan on the colourful media coverage of Brexit, the Amazon fires, Japanese companies' huge cash pile, a chilling message from Xi Jinping, and the Panama Papers movie

This Top 5 comes from's own Gareth Vaughan

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1) The UK's Brexit debacle is a slow moving train wreck that just gives and gives. The drama this week has been right up there, with newly minted prime minister Boris Johnson apparently becoming the first British PM to lose his first three votes in the House of Commons.

Back in the pre-Brexit era when I was a journalism student at City University of London, I enjoyed popping into our reading room in the mornings before class. There was a long table there with all the morning's newspapers spread out for us to peruse. I used to marvel at the vastly different treatment the same story would get in different papers. Sometimes you were left wondering whether journalists from rival papers covering the same story had been at the same event.

Certainly you typically wouldn't die wondering what their respective paper's editorial stance was on a given issue. And this week's Brexit coverage from the British papers shows this is very much still alive and well. Below is a brief selection of some of the more colourful ones.

Typically The Sun didn't hold back, featuring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a chicken.

THE SUN SAYS Corbyn was always an unpleasant dimwit and a liar – turns out he’s chicken too

FOR two years Labour has goaded the Tories into calling an election. Now, incredibly, the wretched, snivelling coward Corbyn runs away from one. Every day he and his arrogant Marxist mob sneered “Bring it on!” Until the moment they were finally offered the chance to stand before the electorate.

The Daily Express was pretty grumpy too.

In the interest of balance, here's The Mirror.

And a Steve Bell cartoon in The Guardian.

2) Fires in the Amazon rainforest have featured prominently in the news recently. Here The Conversation points out this is but the latest chapter in a 500 year exploitation of the forest since Europeans reached it. This includes the Portuguese seeking timber, British rubber plantations, Henry Ford developing "that wonderful and fertile land” to produce rubber for car tyres, valves and gaskets, and beef for McDonalds hamburgers.

These fires have brought global attention to the forests of South America, but the crisis surrounding them has deep roots. To understand what is happening in the Amazon today, it’s necessary to understand how deeply exploitation of the forest, and the Indigenous peoples who live within it, are ingrained in the global economy.


Once cleared of trees, land was turned into plantations to grow labour-hungry cash crops such as sugar, encouraging the enslavement of yet more Indigenous people. When they proved too few in number, vast numbers of people were taken from Africa and forced into slavery alongside them. 

The Atlantic has published a similar article, albeit just from a contemporary perspective. It's by Anna Lappé, author of a book called Diet for a Hot Planet. Lappé poses the question; Who is profiting from the development that led to these fires?

Earlier this year, the U.S-based nonprofit Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with indigenous groups in South America for 20 years, published an analysis showing that “foreign investors have enormous influence over what happens in the Brazilian Amazon … Big banks and large investment companies play a critical role, providing billions of dollars in lending, underwriting, and equity investment.”

These investors have helped stoke the growth of the beef and soy industry in Brazil, irresponsibly and inexorably, regardless of their intention, putting the Amazon in the crosshairs of agribusiness. In recent years, Brazil has emerged as the world’s largest exporter of beef and soy. Brazil accounts for roughly 20 percent of the global beef-export market. Together, Brazil and its nearest rival, the United States, account for 83 percent of the global soy export; its biggest markets are found in the EU and China.

3)  Companies in Japan, another country I've lived in, are sitting on a huge pile of cash. Bloomberg details this.

In banks across Japan sits a pile of money that’s bigger than most countries’ gross domestic product -- the cash reserves of the nation’s companies. For some it’s a testament to their strength, but to many it’s a wasted opportunity.

Firms listed in Japan held 506.4 trillion yen ($4.8 trillion) in cash as of their latest filings, the highest level on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s more than tripled since March 2013, months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power vowing to stamp out cash-hoarding.

Bloomberg suggests Japanese executives’ "penny-pinching ways" date from the adoption of a conservative attitude after asset price collapses in the early 1990s, which led to economic stagnation and failing financial institutions who were no longer able to lend to businesses.

Three decades later, company executives still want to be independent of debt financing. 

“The strategy is to have a lot of cash because that gives you strategic flexibility for acquisitions or a cushion for a rainy day because who knows when the economy might go bad,” [Zuhair] Khan of Jefferies [Japan Ltd] said.

4) Just as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces she will formally withdraw the extradition bill that sparked months of protesting, The South China Morning Post carries a chilling warning for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has singled out Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as major risks and challenges that Communist Party members must "struggle against."

In a speech to officials on Tuesday, Xi listed a number of challenges facing the country, even putting this specific category ahead of “foreign affairs” despite the global economic and strategic challenges China faces, including the trade war with the United States.


Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator, said the emphasis on Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in the president’s latest speech highlighted the delicate situation in the three territories from Beijing’s perspective.

“The representation is not new but it reflects that Beijing sees the strategic importance and the far-reaching influence of the three regions,” Zhang said.

“Beijing sees a greater threat of subversion [to its power] from these three regions if [the problems] are not handled well.”

At the time of writing it appeared the Hong Kong protests would continue with pro-democracy protestors saying withdrawal of the Bill meets only one of their five demands.

5) Remember the Panama Papers? Now there's a movie about them. The Laundromat starring Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman and David Schwimmer, premiered on Sunday at the Venice International Film Festival.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which led the 2016 investigation, the film explores the world of tax havens and complex offshore financial structures through the eyes of Panamanian lawyers Jürgen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca, played by Oldman and Banderas.

The Laundromat, directed by Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns for Netflix films, draws on a book by reporter Jake Bernstein, Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite.

Speaking at a press conference at the film’s premiere, Streep, who plays justice-seeking protagonist Ellen Martin, paid tribute to the journalists who worked on the Panama Papers and praised the bravery of reporters like Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in Malta during an investigation based on the leak.

“The reason this, the Panama Papers, was exported to the world was because of the work of over 300 investigative journalists who got the word of John Doe, the whistleblower … out into the world,” Streep said. “Some people died for it … And people die still to get the word out. This movie is fun, it’s funny, but it’s really, really, really important.”

To jog your memories and fill in any blanks, here's Will Fitzgibbon of the ICIJ with a Panama Papers explainer. Fitzgibbon appeared in this Double Shot interview earlier this year.

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re Brexit - how long before we get the headline: Last Night at the Poms?

Great Postings.
#1. Nothing new in the fake news department, we have had it for centuries. I read a lot of middle eastern news on the Syria war. Can't recognise any connection between that that the same topic in the western press.
#3. Bad Japanese for having stacks of cash ? A common theme, but nobody demonstrates to me the average Japanese person is doing badly. Maybe we should stack cash too.
#4. "The Laundromat" movie. Panama papers. Going to be a must watch on Netflix.

I'd be interested in the middle east news.

I do follow, and know what you mean.

Even Trump owned up to the fake news, though he hasn't been saying too much of that lately. Maybe he's been requested to pull his head in to, if that's possible.

Yes "The Laundromat"looks awesome, also on Netflix with a similar risky money laundering theme but a more dramatic story line is "Ozark", Season 3 is due for release later this year.

Panama Papers? Was that not what precipitated “we are not a tax haven” by Mr Key the then PM. Which then lead to the simple and still unanswered question as to why, if that was the case, and when that particular government was subsequently forced to do some tightening up, all those Cayman like Trusts suddenly had reason to leave town in a big hurry!?

Ozark season 3 could be interesting given how dark season 2 got...

Yes indeed :) Would also recommend "StartUp" on Amazon Prime and Crackle. It's in a similar vein to Ozark but focuses more on tech companies and ethical dilemmas they can cause, with facilitating money laundering etc, through cryptocurrencies and how it can evolve in to something that no one has control over, even darker than Ozark. Could become a stark reality if Governments fail to take appropriate steps to reduce this type of risk with new cryptocurrencies coming on to the market in the near future. Worth watching. YouTubeTrailer:

Having a strong and stable China is the most blessed thing that could ever happen to the world and entire human race.


Add 'humane and moral and acting for the best for all people both Han and non-Han Chinese' and I might agree.

Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are all proof of the failure of the communist party of China to be as competant as democratic govts. To be fair to the Chinese Communist party if we ignore its human rights abuses it has been more economically successful than most communist govts (Russia, Roumania, N.Korea) and some democratic govts (India).

Lets hope that NZ keeps friendly relationships with the successful ethnic Chinese govts of this world: Taiwan and Singapore.


Nothing is strong and stable that depends on the ruthless obliteration of freedom to assemble, believe, question, publish or learn. History pretty clearly demonstrates the truth of this, but history is, of course, a rigorously prescribed subject in China.

Yes they haven't had a civil war for nearly 70 years now.

That you, Xi Jinping?


4'th of June , 1989 ... Tiananmen Square ...

.. it was 30 years ago ... but we all remember the methods employed by the Chinese government to maintain stability and subservience ...

You want a head-count of Middle-Eastern civilians who have died so the West can get at their oil?

Many times more. Neither are morally correct, but morals are a tad hard to hold with 7 time too many global citizens

... piffle ! ... the problem is that the world needs more people... there's 21 000 sq meters of land area per person on the planet .... and some of the little blighters live out on the sea .... Not enough global citizens ... stop watching rugby , start breeding ya shirkers ...

Recall one of those on stage live radio shows set in the sixties or so. The host asked the participant how many children she had. Seven she said. Wow he said, what ages? 12, 11,10, 8,7,6,5. she answered. Hey, what happened to 9? Oh, that was the year we got TV.

Ha haaaa ... so , it only took them one year to get fed up with TV , and to resume their breeding programme. ..

Do you know anything about New Zealand Green Investment Finance? They were launched with fanfare several months ago, and they have a website, but no phone numbers. Their website says they are co-located in Wellington with the Government Superannuation Fund, but I just called them and wasted 20 minutes of my life. This seems odd. Is this another example of government dysfunction?
I have a 'green' investment proposal which I want to discuss with them.
If you or anyone else could point me in the right direction, it would be appreciated!!!!

No sorry I don't.

Thanks anyway. It's quite weird don't you think? $100 million of taxpayers funding is going into this.
Maybe it's a story worth considering.

It seems to be a Treasury initiative ... and is in the process of being cut loose from them , to operate independently ... It only came into existence in 2018 , so its early days ..

I believe it is still being fully stood up so likely is not fully operational yet. Have you tried emailing them

Thanks Matua.
I have tried that email address twice in the past 2 weeks and no response.
Maybe I just need to be patient.

I'd try sending them a letter by courier post.

"Dear sirs, two emails and no response. Attempts to phone you failed. Please call me on xxx xxxx xxxx."

Should only cost about $6/.


Re Brexit; Well if it does come to a General Election in the UK soon, and if you do have British or Irish citizenship, you can still register as an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the UK.

Great Top 5 - it highlights how many serious tensions these days are internal or civil war/conflicts. Once the PRC anniversary has passed, I really fear for the collapse of the one country-two system states.

There was a referendum outcome that determined democratically, that the UK was to leave the EU. The establishment ie London, with the associated journalists, determined that should not be allowed to happen and the whole lot of sequences and dilemmas seen over the last three years have been nothing short of sabotage. The aim is to force another referendum which will be structured so as to produce a stay result and bolstered by enlisting those who did not think to vote last time and/or are heartily sick of the whole damn thing. But you see the referendum was in fact a vote against the establishment and London and hugely so, immigration. The North, ie anywhere not south of Watford is good, and the other like regions, will simply not accept what will be a betrayal of democracy and neither will Mr Farage. All hell will break loose.

I voted Remain and was utterly gutted, especially for my children with the outcome of the referendum. However, unless there is some kind of massive political swing to Remain (which there isn't) then I feel that the UK should Brexit ASAP, just not without a deal. They aren't prepared for a no-deal, it could be a blood bath and just not worth the risk. Especially with the global economy already in such a dodgy position.

They should take May's deal ASAP, and then set all the legal experts to work, progressing the withdrawal further. The May deal isn't carved in stone, and they should ask for further clauses within it that agree renegotiations on the backstop and other woolly aspects of the Withdrawal Bill, but they need to stop pushing for the No-Deal because it will just go round and round and round. They all need to grow up, accept the deal they have, quit with the fantasies that the EU will offer anything substantially different and move on as quickly as possible. The May Deal is far from perfect, but it's a whole lot better than the shit show currently enduring. And the May Deal can be progressed. While HMRC are busy ripping each other to shreds like this, nothing will progress.

Where in Japan did you live in Gareth? I lived in Nagoya for 2 years 1995-97, did the JET programme.

Fukuoka. I also had a couple of years on the JET Programme. Good times...

Indeed! Former 'Jetsters' unite!
I've never been to Fukuoka, I hear it's a nice city. And quite economically vibrant.

Vibrant. Now there's a fudge-word if ever there was. Every time I hear it, I cringe.

Get a life mate

It's used when they have no concrete factual evidence of anything, and when they don't want to be challenged.

Bit like 'growth', really. :)

... Fukuoka could serve well as a template for what Orc Land ought to be . . a modern dynamic city , frequently in " most liveable city " lists ... amazing architecture , festivals... and a long & rich history ...

Yes, democracy on the line in the UK, for sure. We could be watching the end of it which would please Putin & Xi no end. What they couldn't do we've done to ourselves. (Sigh). It was good while it lasted.

The US populace is equally as divided. Interesting question to ponder is whether an attempted secession is more likely in the US or the UK.

I reckon my old country has 4 choices:
1. Stay in and be enthusiastic
2. Stay in and be destructive
3. Semi-leave as per May's negotiation and then progressively move away step by step
4. No deal leave and eventually when the dust settles numerous mutually favourable deals bringing UK and EU ever closer.
Maybe the EU should worry most about (2) - other countries stretch the EU rulebook - deliberate disobedience would be hard to control - the EU can impose fines but how would they enforce them? German troops in Westminster??

I disagree that 3 is a semi-leave. It's only the withdrawal bill, some of it only meant to be sustained in the short term etc.

They can take option 3. Semi leave and then progress that, instead of wafting about in purgatory achieving nothing but exhausting the boundaries of Constitutional Law.

If Leave had any plan and had prepared for a No-deal then maybe that would be an option, but I think the aftermath of a no-deal might well lead to more civil disobedience than anything else.

Intrigued by that question Kate. Aware there were some mumbling in California but hadn’t taken it very seriously. Can you give me a little bit more to go on.

Yes, the early mumblings came from California and Oregon (i.e., the "Not My President" movement), if I recall correctly. More recently we've got the anti-abortion issue;

If it gets to the Supreme Court and Roe v Wade is overturned - I suspect that will be a game changer with respect to keeping the union together.

Tks Kate, If I recall my history correctly I think the constitution did make provision for a state to leave the Union? And in that case Lincoln & Co acted against that, more or less. Guess Nth Carolina & Fort Sumter was a sufficient detonator though. Interesting times indeed. But did the constitution remain unaltered?

ps. answered. 1869, that fits!