A silly free plug for Winfield. They must be giving thanks at British American Tobacco to Attorney General Nicola Roxon. For the first time in years BAT’s Winfield brand has been appearing on television and it has not cost a cent.

The extensive media exposure has been courtesy of Minister Roxon’s anger at the tobacco company daring to put a kangaroo on packets of its product sold in Europe.

At a time when cigarettes can not even be displayed in Australian shops, this plugging of the Winfield brand name has been a godsend.

Drawing attention to that kangaroo must surely be one one of the silliest ministerial decisions in years.

Jail for weather forecasters. Those pretty faces giving us the weather forecast on television every night can be thankful they are not in South Africa where the government has threatened weather forecasters with prison if they get their predictions wrong.

London’s Daily Telegraph reports that a proposed amendment to South Africa’s Weather Service Bill would mean that anyone wanting to issue a severe weather warning would first need to get written permission from the country’s official national weather service.

If found guilty of breaching the law, first offenders could face up to five years in prison or a five million rand fine. Repeat offenders face a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.

So we’re winning the war in Afghanistan are we… At least the Taliban will not go short of finance for their was efforts in Afghanistan. A new United Nations report puts the value of the country’s opium trade, largely controlled by the Taliban, at US$2.4 billion or around 15 per cent of GDP.

According to the Survey, a joint project between the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MCN) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), poppy cultivation in 2011 has reached 131,000 hectares compared to 123,000 hectares of the previous two years. The amount of opium produced has risen from 3,600 metric tons in 2010 to 5,800 metric tons in 2011.

Based on the 7 per cent upturn in cultivation indicated in the Survey, production levels may be heading in the direction of previous highs seen before 2010. The 2010 Survey pointed to a drastic decline over previous high production levels due to the opium plant disease that laid waste to poppy production.

With high prices and increased production, opium is a profitable business in Afghanistan in 2011. The farm-gate value of opium production alone is US$1.4 billion or 9 per cent of the country’s GDP; the total net value of the opiate economy amounts to US$2.4 billion or around 15 per cent of GDP, an amount that cannot be easily substituted by other economic activities. Opium is therefore a significant part of the Afghan economy and provides considerable funding to the insurgency and fuels corruption.

Good news of a kind. When governments with one hand lend money to banks at an interest rate of 1% it’s probably no surprise that they are prepared to buy bonds where governments with the other hand are prepared to pay them three or four times that. For bankers it is a no brainer.

The results of the largesse of the European Central Bank’s low interest loans to prop up the banks was evident overnight in the yields on Spanish and Italian bonds.

Ponzi schemes are truly a wonderful thing.

Peter Fray

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