Sunday, 30 November 2014

Jar Jar Binks and political popularity

2014-11-30_jarjarbinks
People who think they’re entitled to standing—because they are brainy, rich, or famous—almost always lose. They forget you earn your standing, you are not entitled to it. That’s the best thing about democracy, the single reason why we’re not yet entirely governed by wealthy oligarchs.
I may have come into politics with an unacknowledged condescension toward the game and the people who played it, but I left with more respect for politicians than when I went in. The worst of them—the careerists and predators—you find in all professions. The best of them were a credit to democracy. They knew the difference between an adversary and an enemy, knew when to take half a loaf and when to insist on the whole bakery, knew when to trust their own judgment and when to listen to the people.
As I learned while watching wiser colleagues than I in a democratic legislature, it is really something in life to be utterly disabused about human motive, venality, capacity for double-crossing, and yet still come to work every day, trying to get something done.
Liberalism will become an enclave conviction of a shrinking minority unless those who call themselves liberal reconnect their faith in tolerance, equality, opportunity for all with the more difficult faith in the dirty, loud-mouthed, false, lying business of politics itself. This disdain is cynicism, masking as high principle. The ultimate allegiance of a democratic politician is not to party, not even to principle, but to the venal process called politics. So my final advice is this: Politics is not a vulgar means to a goal, it’s a noble life unto itself, and unless you love it, you can’t do it well. I didn’t get there, but I hope you will.

Trade unions really can be a positive for Labor and other lessons from Victoria

A few thoughts in the aftermath of the Victorian state election.
  1. Trade unions don’t have to be a negative for Labor; they really can be a positive. Fire fighters, nurses and teachers all played an important part in Saturday’s victory. Their grass-roots campaigning efforts appear to have had far more influence than the linking of Denial Andrews with the supposedly criminal CFMEU. I salute whoever devised this strategy.
  2. Voters don’t seem to attach much weight to AAA credit ratings. The Coalition thought it was a big plus for them but balancing the budget was well down the list of things Victorians thought important.
  3. Supporting wage rises that are less than the inflation rate is a sure-fire way to lose support.
  4. Unemployment is the important economic indicator even if it is unfair to blame the state government for Victoria’s high figure. Something for the Abbott team to think about as it slashes public service numbers
  5. The influence of distortion of news by newspapers on voting is not as important as newspaper proprietors would like us to believe.
  6. Labor should learn to live with the reality that the Greens are not going away. Follow the Julia Gillard example of having sensible arrangements with them rather than worry about losing an inner city seat or too. Sorry Albo.

Maybe we should spare a thought for the dead cricket umpire

It was in Israel where cricket is not a major sport but still. This sporting death was relegated to page 10.
2014-11-30_umpire

The civilised Swiss – roast Christmas cat with dog sausage

An animal rights group has petitioned the Swiss government to ban a traditional, if rare, practice of eating cats for Christmas dinner and turning dogs into sausages. Tomi Tomek, president of the animal rights group SOS CHATS Noiraigue, said 3 percent of the population still eats cat and dog. “You can’t report it to the police because there’s no law against it,” he said

Friday, 28 November 2014

The barnacles really are dragging the Abbott coalition down

The opinion polls have been showing it for some time and now the markets are catching up. The current Owl's election indicator shows the Coalition's chances of re-election have dropped considerably in recent weeks. The probability of a Coalition victory is now just 53.6%.
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Labor still favoured to win election in Victoria

The Owl’s market based election indicator still has Labor quite a firm favourite to win tomorrow’s Victorian state election but its chances have not improved any over the last week.
2014-11-28_victorianindicator
To me this suggests there are believers in the underdog theory of elections alive and well. One chance in six of a Coalition victory is enough to make election night worth following for at least a few hours.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

China To Cap Coal Use By 2020

  • China To Cap Coal Use By 2020 To Meet Game-Changing Climate, Air Pollution Targets – “The Chinese government announced Wednesday it would cap coal use by 2020. The Chinese State Council, or cabinet, said the peak would be 4.2 billion tonnes, a one-sixth increase over current consumption. This is a staggering reversal of Chinese energy policy, which for two decades has been centered around building a coal plant or more a week. Now they’ll be building the equivalent in carbon-free power every week for decades, while the construction rate of new coal plants decelerates like a crash-test dummy.”
  • octobernoaaClick to enlarge
  • State of the Climate: Global Analysis – The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2014 was the highest on record for October, at 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). The global land surface temperature was 1.05°C (1.89°F) above the 20th century average of 9.3°C (48.7°F)—the fifth highest for October on record. For the ocean, the October global sea surface temperature was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.6°F) and the highest for October on record. The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–October period (year-to-date) was 0.68°C (1.22°F) above the 20th century average of 14.1°C (57.4°F). The first ten months of 2014 were the warmest such period on record.
  • Study shows the media has a clear bias — in favor of dogs
  • The writer who foresaw the rise of the totalitarian state – “The 19th Century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote about characters who justified murder in the name of their ideological beliefs. For this reason, John Gray argues, he’s remained relevant ever since, through the rise of the totalitarian states of the 20th Century, to the ‘war against terror’.”
  • Poverty is a hard sell for newspapers flogging braised endives – “Leftwing papers have to strike an uneasy balance between the lure of aspirational advertising and their mission to report.”

Saturday, 22 November 2014

And even the banking regulators were in on the act

The Bank of England has opened a formal investigation into whether its officials knew of – and even facilitated – the possible manipulation of auctions designed to inject money into the credit markets to alleviate the financial crisis.
The probe, which started in the summer, has been revealed just a week after the UK central bank published a report that criticised its own response to the foreign exchange rigging scandal.
Lord Grabiner QC, a senior British advocate who led the separate forex inquiry, has been asked by the BoE to head the new investigation. He is to probe whether a series of money-market auctions held by the central bank in late 2007 and early 2008 were rigged, and whether officials were party to any manipulation, according to people familiar with the issue.

Abbott’s own team are getting uneasy about him as leader

The supporters are getting restless. Tony Abbott is disappointing them.
The number one cheer leader this morning:
Abbott doomed
These extracts give the flavour:
It’s a simple lesson that Mr Abbott has failed to grasp: talking points and three-word slogans can never suffice. “Australia is open for business” does not constitute a narrative or provide inspiration. “Team Australia” has hokey appeal, but it, too, does not work as an explanation for complex national security issues.
Limply, the Prime Minister is losing the battle to define core issues and to explain to voters what he is doing and why. At stake is his political credibility, no less. Mr Abbott risks becoming a “oncer” if he allows his opponents to constantly control the agenda.
… Other than in some formal set pieces, he has lost his authoritative voice. Of course, it is no use blaming ill-equipped, tyro advisers. The Prime Minister’s Office is too dominated by Peta Credlin, his chief of staff, including on media strategy.
… Where is the intelligent Rhodes scholar who has an easy rapport with Australians in any setting?
This communications malady is endemic. The Coalition’s failing media strategy is damaging its electoral standing and making it difficult to bed down policy responses to problems it was elected to address. The economy is where this ineptitude is most marked; the selling of the Abbott government’s fiscal repair job has been a debacle.
… In opposition, the Coalition had overegged the crisis alarmism. In truth, the debt overhang is a medium-term issue …
Certainly, Mr Abbott was right to recognise that the electorate had lost patience with the extravagant verbiage of the RuddGillard era. But there is a sweet spot between overblown rhetoric and the dot-point banalities pumped out by the PMO and the Coalition’s advisers.
… Without a clear narrative, the task will be beyond him; his communications strategy is in disarray. The Coalition needs skilful media personnel and new roles for its best ministerial performers; it must communicate like a team that knows what it is doing. Short-term tactical wins may offer a mood hit in the executive wing, but they are not the key to sustained governing. Mr Abbott must regroup, trust himself and speak with purpose. Right now, his insipid default setting is losing the people.
Interesting that the criticism is all about the poor salesmanship. There’s still a long way to go before the disappointed ones start realising that it is the product not the sales pitch that people increasingly don’t like.

Friday, 21 November 2014

How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul

In Victoria is the election all over bar the voting? Maybe, but the Greens are providing plenty of interest

Two opinion polls today on the Victorian state election with one showing Labor on course for a comfortable win and the other suggesting a crushing defeat is in store for the Coalition government.
This morning Galaxy:
Untitled imageThis afternoon Roy Morgan:
roy morgan
Both pollsters are showing the Greens doing well – Galaxy has them with a primary vote of 13% while Morgan puts their support at a staggeringly high 19.5%.
Gary Morgan comments:
Gary Morgan says:
“Opposition Leader Dan Andrews has grabbed a significant lead with a week to go before the Victorian Election with the ALP (55%) well ahead of the L-NP (45%) on a two-party preferred basis. A victory for the Labor Party will mean the Liberal Government of Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine will be the first one-term Government in Victoria since John Cain Snr. in 1952-1955.
“Although the two major parties are almost level on primary vote: ALP (35.5%) cf. L-NP (35%), the high expected Greens vote (19.5%) would ensure a strong flow of preferences to the ALP. If the high expected Greens vote is maintained over the final week of the campaign a strong Greens vote gives the Greens a good chance of winning their first lower house seat at a Victorian Election in one of the Inner Melbourne seats of Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote or Richmond.
“The Liberal Party’s negative advertising against Labor Leader Dan Andrews has provided Andrews with ‘free’ publicity and not given electors any positive reasons to vote for the Coalition.”

Cartoonist captures Tony Abbott's election losing mistake

Tony Abbott transformed into Julia Gillard the liar. This morning's cartoon in the Melbourne Herald Sun says it all .
2014-11-21_cartoonAnd my guess is that the result will be the same.
Ms Gillard did not recover from breaking breaking her no carbon tax in a government I lead promise. The same fate awaits Tony Abbott over the spending cuts for the ABC and SBS.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

When they put on a banker’s hat otherwise honest people become dishonest

Readers of my Ticket Clippers postings will not be surprised by this latest piece of academic research. A new study by Alain Cohn, Ernst Fehr, and Michel Maréchal from the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich shows that bank employees are in principle not more dishonest than their colleagues in other industries. The findings indicate, however, that the business culture in the banking sector implicitly favors dishonest behavior.
The scientists recruited approximately 200 bank employees, 128 from a large international bank and 80 from other banks. Each person was then randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions. In the experimental group, the participants were reminded of their occupational role and the associated behavioral norms with appropriate questions. In contrast, the subjects in the control group were reminded of their non-occupational role in their leisure time and the associated norms. Subsequently, all participants completed a task that would allow them to increase their income by up to two hundred US dollars if they behaved dishonestly. The result was that bank employees in the experimental group, where their occupational role in the banking sector was made salient, behaved significantly more dishonestly.
A very similar study was then conducted with employees from various other industries. In this case as well, either the employees’ occupational roles or those associated with leisure time were activated. Unlike the bankers, however, the employees in these other industries were not more dishonest when reminded of their occupational role. “Our results suggest that the social norms in the banking sector tend to be more lenient towards dishonest behavior and thus contribute to the reputational loss in the industry,” says Michel Maréchal, Professor for Experimental Economic Research at the University of Zurich.
Social norms that are implicitly more lenient towards dishonesty are problematic, because the people’s trust in bank employees’ behavior is of great importance for the long-term stability of the financial services industry. Alain Cohn, who recently joined the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago as a postdoctoral scholar, suggests concrete measures that could counteract the problem: “The banks could encourage honest behavior by changing the industry’s implicit social norms. Several experts and supervisory authorities suggest, for example, that bank employees should take a professional oath, similar to the Hippocratic Oath for physicians.” If an oath like this were supported with a corresponding training program in ethics and appropriate financial incentives, this could lead bank employees to focus more strongly on the long-term, social effects of their behavior instead of concentrating on their own, short-term gains.
The full article Business culture and dishonesty in the banking industry is published in the journal Nature behind a paywall but here is the abstract:
Trust in others’ honesty is a key component of the long-term performance of firms, industries, and even whole countries1. However, in recent years, numerous scandals involving fraud have undermined confidence in the financial industry. Contemporary commentators have attributed these scandals to the financial sector’s business culture but no scientific evidence supports this claim. Here we show that employees of a large, international bank behave, on average, honestly in a control condition. However, when their professional identity as bank employees is rendered salient, a significant proportion of them become dishonest. This effect is specific to bank employees because control experiments with employees from other industries and with students show that they do not become more dishonest when their professional identity or bank-related items are rendered salient. Our results thus suggest that the prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines the honesty norm, implying that measures to re-establish an honest culture are very important.

Hobart Mercury urges independence on Jacqui Lambie

Quite an endorsement this morning for Senator Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania’s leading daily The Mercury.
2014-11-20_lambieIt is advice she would be wise to follow. Tasmanians have a liking for maverick independents but don’t much like mainland big-noters like Clive Palmer.

Are terrorists winning the war on terror?

Terrorists
  • Global Terrorism Index Report – “17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.
    . 82% of all deaths from terrorist attacks occur in just 5 countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
    . Last year terrorism was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida.
    . More than 90% of all terrorist attacks occur in countries that have gross human rights violations.
    . 40 times more people are killed by homicides than terrorist attacks.
  • Once Tolerated, Westerners Are Now Targeted By Radical Islamists – “For more than a decade now, extremist groups scattered across the Muslim world have been targeting Westerners to such an extent that large swaths of territory are no-go zones, including many parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.”
  • With Cash And Cachet, The Islamic State Expands Its Empire - “Islamist militant groups from the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt to the coast of eastern Libya are pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. The Sunni extremist group primarily operates in the chaos of Iraq and Syria but is using chameleon-like branding and the draw of cash to get militants who focused on local issues to join their brutal empire.”
  • Indonesia: ‘Virginity Tests’ for Female Police – ‘Testing’ Applicants Is Discriminatory, Cruel, Degrading
  • Bob Marley family launches “first world cannabis brand”
  • White House Putting Up ‘Fierce’ Fight to Conceal Torture Report – “The White House is fiercely resisting the release of a 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, Senate aides tellForeign Policy, raising fears that the public will never receive a full accounting of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices. At issue is the report’s identification of individual CIA officers by pseudonyms. The CIA and the White House want the pseudonyms and references to other agency activities completely stricken to further protect the identities of CIA spies. Senate aides say many of those redactions are unnecessary and render the report unreadable. Now even after Senate Democrats agreed to remove some pseudonyms at the White House’s request, the Oval Office is still haggling for more redactions.”
  • Fat places $2tn burden on world economy, says McKinsey report
  • High heels may enhance a man’s instinct to be helpful – French study is the first to investigate the effect of a woman’s shoe heels on men’s behavior

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Owl's election indicator, based on market prices, now gives Labor an 82.9 % chance of winning.

The odds about a Labor victory in Victoria keep increasing. The Owl’s election indicator, based on market prices, now gives Labor an 82.9 % chance of winning.
victorian indicator

ABC boss explains the Murdoch method

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So where was ABC managing director Mark Scott referring us? To “The pervasive power of Rupert Murdoch: an extract from Hack Attack by Nick Davies” where you will find:
… they say that his primary interest in politicians is not political; it’s commercial. He may be a highly political animal, they say – obsessed with the details of life in the corridors of power and personally possessed of some extremely right-wing opinions – but what he most wants from politicians is favours for his business. He’ll betray his own principles, he’ll embrace politicians for whom he has very little respect, just as long as they have the power to help the company get bigger.
… The man’s character, in turn, is at the heart of his approach to business. Rupert Murdoch is a man who will crush an opponent like a beetle beneath his boot, and he will do it for one simple reason – for News Corp. One of the guests who is closest to him says: “Rupert does not discriminate – he does not care about anybody more than he cares about the business. That includes himself, his kids, his political allies. The business comes first. His plan is “kill or be killed”. Every single corporate battle that he’s fought over the last 50 years, he’s gone head-to-head to win. You have to win. You don’t acknowledge that politics is a higher power. You don’t yield to the law of the land. You don’t submit to any higher code than your own.”
And does it work? Nick Davies gives some interesting examples and I am amused by the current campaign of the Sydney Daily Telegraph to get the state government of New South Wales to continue the system that has newspaper sales by newsagents subsidised by a government imposed monopoly on selling lottery tickets. If you missed it have a read of the Owl’s piece yesterday When free market principle and self interest collide – which will the Murdoch team back?
2014-11-19_tattsnotendofit
And this morning’s headline is one you can believe in. There will certainly be more of the same until Premier Mike Baird joins the Labor Opposition Leader John Robertson in running up the white flag with words similar to Robertson’s as the Tele story recorded:
He said the government needed to “ensure they act to protect the thousands of newsagencies across the state who currently rely on acting as lottery agents to maintain a viable business”.

Stories about dishonest banks just keep on coming

Authorities in Brussels have charged HSBC’s private banking arm, which is based in Switzerland, with helping wealthy Belgians to avoid taxes.Prosecutors allege that hundreds of clients – including diamond dealers in Antwerp – moved money to offshore tax havens with the help of the bank. …Prosecutor Michel Claise accused HSBC of “fraud, money laundering, criminal association and illegal exercise of the profession of financial intermediary”.

Lobbyists spending billions to help earn trillions and other news and views for the day

  • Top Spenders On Capitol Hill Pay Billions, Receive Trillions – ‘How much power should corporations wield in Washington? It’s an enduring question — and now the Sunlight Foundation has devised a new way to gauge that power. The foundation took the 200 corporations most active in Washington, analyzed the years 2007-2012 and applied several metrics: what the companies got in federal contracts and other federal support, what they spent on lobbying, how much their executives and political action committees gave in campaign contributions. Bill Allison, the Sunlight Foundation’s editorial director, says there aren’t permanent majorities governing in Congress and the executive branch — “but there really are permanent interests in Washington,” he says. With some companies, a policy of giving big to political campaigns might seem pretty obvious; at other companies, it’s less obvious. “But federal spending is a big part of their business model,” Allison says. He says the top 200 corporations accounted for nearly $6 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same corporations benefited from more than $4 trillion in federal contracts and assistance.’
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  • A Reserve So Deep, You Could Drown – Hugh Jackman Stars in ‘The River’ on Broadway – “In Jez Butterworth’s “The River,” the poetic tease of a drama that opened Sunday night at the Circle in the Square Theater, Mr. Jackman conveys an impression of mightily self-contained silence, even when he’s talking like Wordsworth on a bender. And in banking his fires so compellingly, he ascends with assurance to a new level as a stage actor.”
  • Japan Through the Looking Glass – Paul Krugman writes: “Long ago I argued that what Japan needed was a credible promise to be irresponsible. And deficits that must be monetized are one way to make that happen … As I and other people like Paul McCulley have tried to explain many times, the liquidity trap puts you on the other side of the looking glass; virtue is vice, prudence is folly, central bank independence is a bad thing and the threat of monetized deficits is to be welcomed, not feared.”
  • Why Keynes is important today – “The current debate on the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus mirrors the resistance Keynes met with when initially advocating his theory.”
  • The Netherlands Is Set To Open The World’s First Solar Bike Lane
  • Why are the Conservatives so incompetent at running the economy? – “If that question seems odd to you, you are one of the majority in the UK who think the Conservatives are better at managing the economy than Labour. Why do people think this? My guess is that it is very simple. The financial crisis happened while Labour was in power. This led to the largest recession since the Great Depression. But surely everyone knows that the financial crisis was a global phenomenon that started in the US? Surely everyone knows that if the Conservatives had been in power there would have been just as little financial regulation, so the impact of the crisis on UK banks would have been much the same? The problem is that most people do not know this.
  • The career prospects of overeducated Americans

Moving closer to El Niño and a record high world temperature for 2014

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has upgraded its assessment of the likelihood of an El Niño to 70% and warmer than normal temperatures are increasingly likely to make this current calendar year the warmest in recent history.
In its ENSO Wrap-Up of the Current state of the Pacific and Indian Oceans released on Wednesday the BOM said the Pacific Ocean has shown some renewed signs of El Niño development in recent weeks.
Above-average temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have warmed further in the past fortnight, while the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) has generally been in excess of El Niño thresholds for the past three months. Climate models suggest current conditions will either persist or strengthen. These factors mean the Bureau’s ENSO Tracker Status has been upgraded from WATCH to ALERT level, indicating at least a 70% chance of El Niño occurring.
Not all indicators have shifted towards El Niño. Tropical cloudiness near the Date Line and trade wind strength are close to average, suggesting the atmosphere is still not firmly linked with the warmer ocean below. However, trade winds have weakened several times over the past few months and SOI values have remained generally negative, suggesting at least some atmospheric response to the underlying ocean conditions.
2014-11-18_averageoutlook
International climate models expect the warm tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures to persist, with most models predicting values will remain near or beyond El Niño thresholds for the next two to three months. Regardless of whether or not El Niño fully develops, warmer-than-average tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures, combined with cooler waters currently to the north of Australia increase the chance of some El Niño-like impacts. For many parts of Australia, this suggests below average rainfall and above average temperatures in the months ahead (as shown by the November–January Climate Outlook).
That 2014 as a whole will be an extremely warm year is shown by the latest  GLOBAL Land-Ocean Temperature figures from NASA. For the 10 months ended October the average temperature is only just behind that recorded in 2010.
2014-11-18_averageanomaly 
Unless the forecasters are very wrong about the influence on world temperatures of a warm Pacific, then 2014 should surpass the record highs of 2005 and 2010.
2014-11-18_tempindex

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

When free market principle and self interest collide – which will the Murdoch team back?

“We’re for Sydney” the page one banner declares. To which, if today’s Daily Telegraph is any guide, we could add “But self interest comes first.”
Hence the Tele’s big issue of the day. Newsagents might lose their monopoly right to sell lottery tickets, it told us on page one.
2014-11-18_lose
And what a terrible thing that would be for these brave and battling small business people.
NEWSAGENTS in NSW have warned they face annihilation if lottery ticket sales are opened up to big players such as Coles and Woolworths.
As a condition of privatising NSW Lotteries in 2010, the then Labor government agreed to a five-year moratorium with new owners Tatts that prevented supermarkets and other big retailers from selling lotto tickets and scratchies. But the arrangement is due to end on March 31 — the week after the state election. …
Lottery sales provide between 25 and 90 per cent of newsagent income and the Newsagents Association of NSW and ACT (NANA) said allowing big retailers into the market would devastate hundreds of retailers.
To make matters worse, Tatts wants outlets to shell out up to $25,000 on mandatory shop refits and fresh branding once the moratorium ends.
They will also demand payments from lottery agents twice a week, rather than the existing weekly arrangement, which NANA says will put fragile cashflows at risk.
2014-11-18_ruin
Not a mention there of what the closure of newsagents might mean to newspaper sales. But plenty of room on the opinion page for the newsagents’ lobbyist to make his special pleading for “all sides of politics to enshrine in legislation the current network of small businesses.”
2014-11-18_tatts
And so to the editorial verdict from this stout media defender of competition and the merits of more and more deregulation. It started off being true to these fine principles: “The sought-after outcome in any deregulated economic sphere is an increased number of participants.” But by the end? Well, what do you know.
… some 1500 newsagents now face the possibility of losing lotto sales revenue to the two largest supermarket operators. That loss would be considerable. Such sales provide between 25 and 90 per cent of newsagents’ income. You can see why a dramatic decrease could very likely see them be forced to close.
There is a reasonable argument for the maintenance of current limitation of lottery products to newsagents.
2014-11-18_lottery
And still not even a mention of the impact of all this on newspaper proprietors.