The Overflow for August 14th

International News

Open Border

Thousands of Venezuelans were welcomed to Colombia by a military band early on Saturday morning as the two countries' borders were officially reopened after being closed by Venezuela a year ago. Some people had travelled across Venezuela to queue overnight hoping to cross to buy food and other basics that are in short supply in Venezuela, which is embroiled in an economic crisis.

Venezuela's stores lack the most basic foods and medicines. Queues of hundreds and even thousands of people are common, and riots and looting are a daily occurrence.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro abruptly closed the border last August hoping, he said, to protect his country from smugglers and paramilitaries. Critics saw the action as a stunt to shift attention from worsening domestic problems.

Maduro announced the reopening on Thursday, alongside his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos. "We're interested in a new beginning in economic and commercial relations with all of Colombia's productive sectors," Maduro said on Thursday. Santos said it would be a "gradual" reopening.

Five border crossings will be open to pedestrians during the day from 6am to 9pm local time.

Colombia's Foreign Ministry said more than 28,000 people - many of them Venezuelans - had crossed the border in the first few hours after it was reopened yesterday.

 

13,000 Ghosts

Mali has identified 13,000 fictitious workers on the state payroll who had cost a total of 30 billion CFA francs (£40 million), according to the information minister. The finance ministry said on Saturday these were mostly workers who had either died or left to go and work for international organisations. Prosecutions could follow, but for the moment the priority was to get stolen money repaid.

The landlocked desert nation and important gold exporter, Mali has suffered from endemic corruption and instability, and more recently from multiple insurrections by Islamist groups in the north, as well as infighting between armed factions.

Information Minister Mountaga Tall made the comments about bogus state employees on state TV and radio late on Friday. "The Foreign Minister conducted a physical control combined with paying in cash ... (and) detected about 13,000 staff that were either fictitious or irregular," he said. "The savings that can be made if all measures are taken ... will be around 30 billion CFA francs," Tall added. He did not give a breakdown of the figure. The source at the finance ministry also could not provide such details.

 

Manbij is Free

Thousands of displaced residents streamed back into the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Saturday after US-backed fighters ousted the last Islamic State militants from their former stronghold. The Syria Democratic Forces announced they had seized full control of the city near the Turkish border after the departure of the last of the militants, who had been using civilians as human shields.

Hundreds of cars and vehicles carrying families and their belongings flocked into the city from makeshift camps and villages in the countryside, where many of the city's residents took shelter during the two-month campaign, according to an SDF official and relatives who were in contact with residents. "Thousands are coming back and shops are opening. Today is the first day life is returning to normal," said Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council told reporters, adding they were working to restore basic services.


UK News

A Late Brexit

Britain could leave the European Union toward the end of 2019, instead of early that year as expected by some politicians, according to the Sunday Times, who have been briefed by ministers that Brexit departments were not ready.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not invoke "Article 50", the two-year formal process for divorcing the bloc, this year as the country needs time to prepare for negotiations. Britain's international trade minister, Liam Fox, said in July that early next year could be the best time for Britain to trigger the divorce talks.

But Article 50 could be invoked later than that, with any delays a result of new government departments set up to handle Brexit and international trade not yet being fully staffed.

Elections in France in May, and Germany in September, could also push back the timing of Britain triggering Article 50. Any delay to the Brexit process is likely to draw criticism from the pro-leave side of May's Conservative party, with senior members such as John Redwood calling for a quick departure from the bloc.

 

Funding Promises

Britain will fill a gap of as much as £4.5 billion in funding for agriculture, universities and regional funding that will open up when Britain leaves the European Union, Chancellor Philip Hammond said. Scientists, farmers and others who got EU funding were facing uncertainty after Britain voted to quit the EU. Hammond reassured them on Saturday that the British government would pick up the tab. The new guarantee over funding comes as Britain faces the looming prospect of a recession following the Brexit vote. Companies are expected to put off investment and consumers to cut their spending as Britain and the EU work out their new relationship.

Hammond told reporters that Britain needs about £4.5 billion a year to fill the gap left by the end of EU funding, although Britain's actual exit date may be some way off. Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not start the two-year process of leaving this year. "We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive," Hammond said in a statement.

According to Full Fact, an independent fact-checking agency, the British government paid about £13 billion to the EU last year, after its automatic rebate, and got back £4.5 billion in funding. "Clearly if we stopped making contributions to the European Union there will be money available to be invested in our own economy," Hammond said when reporters asked about Britain's funding arrangements after Britain's departure from the EU.

Britain's opposition Labour Party said Hammond had made the right move in giving the guarantees but added that it was important for the government to also ensure that Britain remained a member of the European Investment Bank.

Hammond said projects signed before Britain's Autumn Statement financial update will continue to be funded by Britain after it formally leaves the EU and the UK would match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020.


Olympics Recap

Britain's Mo Farah won gold in the 10,000 metres final on Saturday, recovering from an early fall to retain his title with a blistering final lap. Elsewhere, Jeff Henderson of the United States won gold in the Olympic men's long jump on Saturday, leaping 8.38 meters to snatch the title in the last round. And Monica Puig clinched the women's tennis singles gold medal for Puerto Rico, defeating Germany's Angelique Kerber. With the victory, the US territory won its first ever Olympic gold medal, and its ninth medal in history.


Long Read

The simplest explanation is often the best, but not always. Ockham's Razor is often presented as a way to determine the correct solution, but is the simple solution always a "better" one? As Philip Ball explains this is rarely how science works.

It is futile to do with more what can be done with fewer.
— William of Ockham