Saturday, 14 August 2010

The strange death of Dr Kelly

Bill Quango usefully tethers the speculative balloon to earth with a well reasoned post on C@W; like Bill, I'm pretty sure that terrorists in hijacked aircraft destroyed the twin towers, that JFK was shot by LHO, that Diana was killed by a drunken driver and that the astronauts really did land on the moon. It's an Occam's razor thing. In all these cases, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the proximate truth. The same, though, isn't as clear in Dr Kelly's case. In fact, the evidence stinks.

Bill's question, why?, is the crux of the thing. If there is an answer, I don't think it lies with Iraq's WMDs. Kelly was one of our most brilliant microbiologists, global class, at 40 heading the bio-warfare division at Porton Down. Long before Iraq, with close working links to Washington and the Middle East, Kelly was one of the few people in the world to know who had and who was developing not only bio weapons of unimaginable evil, but the antidotes and antigens to everyone else's. In his head was information that could destabilise entire regions. If there's a 'why?' I think his bio warfare knowledge was it.

Kelly's ordeal at the hands of a thuggish and brutal Commons select committee, the sneering insults, the bullying and bared fangs of hounds at the kill exhibited by semi-feral Labour MPs certainly tipped him over the edge. In that state, no-one could be sure what he'd reveal - not about Iraq, but about some bio-warfare secrets of far greater impact to sensitive nations. And for that I think he was killed.

As to the 'who?' only the Israelis have the skills and resources to maintain murder squads around the globe of this calibre to murder dissidents. And I'm sure they did it without any knowledge on the part of HM Government whatsoever. Perhaps they used a cannula and bag to drain his life's blood. I don't think we'll ever know for sure. And for their own ends or those of a third party, who knows.

I think the lesson is clear to all of us; the world's a very serious and scary place, with nations playing for very high stakes, stakes against which the value of a single human life is nothing. And that unlike the UK, there are many nations who view selective murder as just an extension of Statecraft.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Yeeeeessss!!

It's Cava tonight at Raedwald Towers ... the Audit Commission is to be abolished from 2012. Many congrats to the Coalition. Oh, so sweet ...

I make no apologies for repeating below the post I made originally on 15th April this year:-

ABOLISH THE AUDIT COMMISSION

The ruthlessly centralist Catholic Church employed the Dominicans, the hounds of God, to enforce obedience and orthodoxy throughout the many orders, provinces, dioceses and parishes that made up the Christian world. The stated justification for the Inquisition's infamous cruelties was "punishment does not take place primarily andper se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit".

The Audit Commission was originally a small body of professional accountants sent on tour around Britain's local councils, schools, hospitals and fire brigades to ensure financial probity and proper stewardship of public funds. They didn't dictate what these democratically elected bodies should do - merely that the books should be straight. Their audit opinion was needed to sign-off public accounts each year, and a negative audit opinion was a powerful tool.

Today the organisation has become a massive, bloated, expensive bureaucracy at the heart of the central State, dictating policy and performance to each of the public bodies its grasp extends to. The fat cats of the Audit Commission feature prominently on the Taxpayers' Alliance's 2009 Public Sector Rich list, with a Chief Executive paid over £245,000 a year and scores of bloated minions. And this is particularly pernicious - because the money the Audit Commission's bosses pay themselves sets the standard for the rest of the overpaid, avaricious, grasping taxstealers at the top of local government and the NHS to do exactly the same.

The Audit Commission has become the equivalent of a Soviet State Economic Planning Directorate; it sets the tractor-production targets of each subsidiary body, with quotas for steel, power and labour. Apparatchiks are rewarded with the equivalent of Orders of Lenin; top billing in the Commission's league tables. The massive disparity in rewards at the top and bottom of the public sector has grown because of the Audit Commission's interference. The organisation is wholly anti-democratic and it is the Audit Commission, and not elected councillors who run your local council.

And more dangerously, it has become, like the Inquisition, the guardian of orthodoxy on the primacy of a powerful central State.

The Audit Commission's close ties to the 'Big 5' also means that hundreds of millions of public funds are siphoned off each year to private sector consultants. KPMG rely on the taxpayer for more than a third of their income. You can be sure of only one thing in the forthcoming savage public service cuts - that it will be the services you value that will be visibly cut, and not the spending on external consultants, or the budget of the Audit Commission.

And don't forget, it is that same Audit Commission that has presided over an increase in public spending adjusted for inflation of about £200bn a year since 1997 (I made it £185bn a year using the Treasury GDP deflator; Conservativehome makes it £219bn a year).

Some 'watchdog'.

If Cameron is to stand any chance whatever of even taking the first steps along the path to Localism, he must abolish the Audit Commission as one of his first acts of government. We need to get back to that small group of accountants checking the books, and trash this soviet Leviathan.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A Swiss Welfare lesson

Support for those between jobs

It is right that we, through our taxes, support each other at times of personal crisis. This is one of the defining justifications for a collective authority to tax individuals. During our working lives, any one of us could find ourselves between jobs, temporarily bereft of income, at times when we still have a home and family to support. Relying on individuals to insure themselves against this eventuality simply won't give universal and fair cover, or the degree of social equity about which we as a society are in consensus.

A universal, compulsory State insurance scheme paid for by contributions from those in work needs rules and limits. Entitlement should be conditional on the recipient having worked and paid into the fund for a minimum period - so it wouldn't cover school leavers, for instance. The level of benefits should also be related to earnings prior to claim. Most importantly, it should be a short-term benefit, strictly limited to three or six months, as a genuine 'between jobs' cushion.

Such a scheme involves no element of judgement, no means testing, no local knowledge, no geographic weighting and can pay for itself. It can be easily integrated with the tax system, whether at local, regional or national level.

One of Labour's most grievous errors was to lump those temporarily between jobs, people with a lifetime history of work, in with a feckless feral underclass and to manipulate the benefits system to boost the income of the latter cohort at the expense of the former. It simply isn't fair.

Welfare benefits

These are a long-term cost for which the monetary flow is strictly one-way - we always pay out, but the recipients don't pay in. It's vital that we separate welfare benefits from unemployment insurance.

The level and scope of welfare benefits must therefore be dependent on actual cost of living (regional and local weighting), means testing and an element of judgement as to the 'deservingness' of the individual claimant; it must be closely linked to elements of coercion to discourage indolence, idleness and dependence and encourage those of working age and fit for work of some kind to take it. It must never again be a lifestyle choice as it has become under Labour. It must never be an 'entitlement' as unemployment insurance should be, but always a 'grant'. For all these reasons, the best level at which to award and monitor welfare benefits is at the lowest possible local level.

The Swiss system

I am grateful to Edward Spalton for the following comment to a previous post, well worth quoting;
Switzerland operates a system of national insurance which gives quite generous unemployment benefit under strict conditions for a limited period. When that runs out, people are "on the parish" (local commune) and know that the money comes out of their neighbours' pockets. Also the local officials are better able to distinguish between deserving and undeserving cases. Switzerland's unemployment and "economically inactive" rate is vastly better than Britain's.
James Bartholomew in the Speccie also recently commented on the Swiss system;
While Tony Blair was claiming that half of young people must go on to university for economic success, Switzerland was and remains content to have a mere 24 per cent doing so. It has, at the same time, achieved much greater economic prosperity. Education is only compulsory until the age of 15, yet the vast majority keep going voluntarily because the schools, colleges and universities are good.Most of the other three quarters of students progress from school to vocational training. They don’t do airy-fairy theory. The training typically consists of one and a half days a week at college and the other three and a half at a commercial company. This truly prepares people with the skills and attitudes desirable for a successful career. The result? Switzerland has only 4.5 per cent youth unemployment compared to 18 per cent in France where they have the supposedly economy-boosting 50 per cent of students at university. It seems that writing essays on Racine does not make you a shoo-in at a pharmaceutical company. Funny that.
It seems that the Swiss have more than one lesson that we could learn from.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Crapita, Crapco and Crapian over the moon with Dave

Welfare benefits (but not short-term national unemployment insurance claims) should be administered and awarded at neighbourhood level, by local benefit officers who know their claimants better than anyone. A local panel of lay assessors who live in the neighbourhood should confirm all awards, and local officers should have absolute flexibility in making awards and exceptional payments within a fixed annual area budget. The closer, smaller and more transparent the system, the less likely fraud, error and benefits dependency.

Instead of devolving welfare, instead of implementing the 'smaller State' he kept promising, Dave has fallen into the arms of Crapita, Crapco and Crapian, those corporate and oh-so incompetent Statist dags.

Let's be clear. In two years when it emerges that the government have paid £20 to Crapian for every £1 in benefits saved, when Crapco's benefits bounty hunters are found to have targeted not the feral underclass but the confused middle-class elderly, and when Crapita are shown to have violated the privacy of millions of innocent citizens it will be too late.

It didn't last long, did it? The honeymoon? Now scorning the voters, with every single suggestion recently invited from the public ignored by government, Cameron can jump into bed with the true love of his life - big Statist corporations. They must be creaming their strides in PWC towers.

Big Business and Big State equally socialist

Being a capitalist doesn't mean I like big business, including the big banks, any more than I like the big State. Both are equally socialist, and both equally materialist at the expense of a focus on the human person, of human flourishing and the common good. The butcher and the brewer act out of self-interest, not selfishness; the same is not true of the multinational meat manufacturer or drinks conglomerate. Business and free enterprise characterise a free society in which man can flourish, but this liable to be corrupted at a large scale, with big State and big business both working together against the interests of man.

Phillip Booth's lecture, printed by the IEA, on Catholicism and Capitalism captures many of these themes and makes some excellent points;
Furthermore, the free economy has been made to look more like a crude process of materialistic getting and spending as the state has taken primary responsibility for less conspicuous and more wholesome goods and services such as health, education, arts and culture, social insurance, pensions and the regulation of financial markets – all of which were mainly provided, a couple of generations ago, by a mixture of profit‐seeking companies, mutual associations, foundations, charities, professions and community associations. The free economy can be a richer and deeper institution than it is currently, and the opportunities for mutuality and solidarity could be much more profound, enriching and effective.

Exploring this further, there are several potential areas where I believe that a renewal of understanding of Catholic social teaching, and its intrinsic compatibility with an economic and social order in which families are at the centre of decision making can make a valuable contribution to political debate. This contribution is based, unsurprisingly on the application of the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Well worth a read.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Charming, attractive and intelligent?

Following Paul Waugh's 'Nerd, Dweeb, Geek or Dork?' blogposted Venn diagram mapping the overlaps of intelligence, social ineptitude and obsession, I've been stymied by a slightly more meaningful challenge to the English vocabulary; how would you term these overlaps? Are there words?


£0.5m fraud the tip of an iceberg

The folly of the State in trusting in Leviathan national computer systems rather than local staff in collecting tax is exemplified in the case of Ukrainian fraudster Dmytro Shepel. Using a fake NI number and a fake Lithuanian passport and ID document, he did as many non-EU Eastern Europeans do and got himself a job here. All went well it seems until he sampled HMRC's online self-assessment computer system and realised just how easy it was to fool the computer into disgorging a tax repayment.

Keeping his claims small, around £3k, at around a level we presume at which the computer could dispense money without human intervention, he made a total of 218 claims for fictitious people, the proceeds of which were paid into 74 different bank accounts. He netted £559,497.42 before he was caught.

Since I've heard of this fraud from a few other sources, I'll bet it's widespread. Not to the extent of 218 false people, but maybe one or two, each netting a couple of grand or so. The less greedy the fraudsters, the longer they can get away with it.

For both taxes and benefits, the lesson to be learned is that the more local they are, the less likely they are to be subject to error or fraud.

The State Play Directorate

A letter to Nick Clegg from a body called 'London Play' has just come to my attention. London Play is one of those fake charities funded by London Councils (i.e. me) and the Lottery, and its trustees patrons include Chris Smith, Polly Toynbee, Jon Snow and Simon Hughes. Nuff said.

Labour devised something called the 'National Play Strategy' incredible as it seems; even conkers and hopscotch were not immune from Labour's regulatory lust. At the heart of this was the anodyne claim that 'Children have a right to play' which swiftly translated itself in Statist minds to 'The State has a duty to provide play'. Which of course is nonsense.

For millennia children have created play environments from the environment around them; a threshing floor became a gladiatorial arena for Roman kids, a timber fence a tournay field for mediaeval youngsters and a coal bunker a battle tank for me, my commander's seat a milk-crate. For girls it was easier; any flat surface was a kitchen, and pretend fare was served plentifully and with great imagination. For exploring we had the bronze-age tumuli and woods nearby, decaying barns and farm buildings, weekend building sites and fascinating derelict places.

Today it seems such things must be designed and staffed by the State. First they create the scare - of kiddy-fiddlers, of gangs armed with flashing knives, of packs of child-eating dogs - that discourage parents from letting their children out to play. Then they point out that kids are becoming fat and indolent. Then they implement State Play; gender-neutral, unchallenging, bland and very, very safe. Staffed by Play Workers all with enhanced CRB checks. All at enormous public expense.

So these Statists are now accusing the government of causing 'play deprivation' because the State isn't funding any more Wobbly Chicken Supervisors. Around £100m in capital provision has also been cut this year - but Toynbee, Smith, Snow et al don't seem to have picked up on the implications of this.

You see, the people the government are hitting hardest are not children at all, not even the State play sector. It's actually the private manufacturing and construction sector that bears the brunt of the cuts - the firms who make and install the new playgrounds. The speed of the programme cancellations has left them with unsaleable stocks and workforces geared up to roll out a second year of 'Playbuilders' across the country. They're now offering playgrounds to private developers at rock-bottom prices. Every cloud, as they say, has a lead-coloured lining.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The folly of the well-meaning bungler

Janet Daley, writing in the Telegraph this morning, opines
Where new-build estates are needed they should be small and they should be run and managed, to as great an extent as possible, by their own residents as quasi-independent co-operatives.
No doubt she sees neat flower-packed gardens, painted picket fences and neighbours chatting amiably about charities' tax status as they polish their cars, a little model community where members come together in the evenings to debate letting the communal sewage contract.

Janet, dear, wake up. Citizens with any of those abilities long ago fled the welfare housing sector. Those now being allocated to welfare housing are largely savvy immigrants, an underclass that can't be socialised and girls with their bastards. Within weeks of getting their tenancies, many will have sub-let. Some will be petty drug dealers, some will own pit bulls that bark into the night as the babies wail and some will have been burgled by others. It's been well-meaning bunglers like Daley that have given us all the problem estates we have now - taking a massively disproportionate tax cost in police and criminal justice, social work, health, education and the whole panoply of 'social protection'.

Welfare housing of the future needs to be integrated with private housing to an extent that allows the ethos of the private tenure to regulate the behaviour of the welfare tenants, and this means not more than about one dwelling in six. What's more, it needs to be managed not by a remote housing department, but by those who live in the private tenure sector around it; welfare tenants need to know that both letting and eviction decisions are made by the people who live around them. Many will thus have the chance of becoming valued members of the neighbourhood, and progressing from welfare housing to private rental or ownership, freeing up the welfare dwelling for another.

If it's our taxes that pay for the houses, they must conform to our standards and mores. No pitbulls. No noisy drunken disturbances. No sub-letting. No gardens filled with putrescent waste. No immigrants' dormitories or skunk factories. Let's flatten the rookeries of welfare estates and give our people a real chance of social salvation - alongside us.