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Friday, 28 January 2011

Hockey stick and Climate Change Sceptics

The Mail reports startling new findings from scientists engaged in studying Climate Change Scepticism; the rate of change from belief in MMGW to scepticism has recently accelerated dramatically, doubling over just the last four years and appearing if graphed in the shape of a hockey stick. MMGW spokesman George Moonbat said "Unless the world acts together now, by 2015 the Climate Change Sceptics will be in the majority in the UK and our windmills, solar panels and fairy-powered power stations will be a thing of the past".  

The lessons of Prohibition

The Telegraph, it seems, has woken up to the notion of unlawful, unregulated venues at which free people can meet, converse, drink and smoke. Unlicenced, of course, uninspected by the Fire Officer, entry is strictly based on knowing someone, and is entirely contrary to every tenet of the Equalities Act. Drink is openly bought and consumed at all sort of unprescribed hours and cigarettes are smoked in contravention of the Health and Licensing Acts. Talk is also unregulated; not only would Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt become very confused, and not only are Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen mentioned by name, there is frequently heard things that would breach the laws about inciting religious hatred. The Telegraph reports them as 'Speakeasies' and indeed it's not a bad term, though not one I've heard used in the one such place I know personally, which is known simply as the possessive form of the operator's Christian name. 

It's not just the London professional classes that are finding such places, but the usual lively crowd of native London wide-boys (and girls) and chancers, aspiring actresses and, I suspect, the odd copper. In the old days journalists would have been amongst the first to find and establish themselves in these places, but the dreary trade has changed beyond recognition; a journalist these days is a 24 year-old girl carrying a Skinny Latte and an iPad, utterly blind to anything that happens in front of her eyes, reliant wholly on Twitter. 

They seem to have been springing up since last year, and no doubt before long the more obvious and blatant will be raided and closed. For many who are law-abiding, this is their first dangerous taste of illegality - but even the prospect of a police raid doesn't seem too bad; where's the stigma? This is how the old Colony Room must have seemed when it started after the war as an afternoon drinking den, filling the compulsory 2.30 - 5.00 pub shut-down. 

I expect the lawmakers will catch up eventually, as they did with ending the afternoon shut-down. All the Commons business is essentially reactive of public opinion. Until then, let's enjoy them. 

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Why is the Electoral Commission stalling?

I wonder what's the cause of the Electoral Commission's delay in publishing its report on electoral malpractice at the May 2010 elections? The link is there, and the report is flagged for release on 26th January ... but to date, no report. 

Either plod is making arrests or some sort of challenge of the findings is going on. Either way, I think we should know.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

We should have let the banks fall

Every shade of opinion now seems to be coming around to the view often expressed on this blog, that we should have allowed Northern Rock to fall, and after it HBOS and any others. The scramble to bail out these bankrupt shibboleths is just so much wasted opportunity. As Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian today:
If half the money showered on banks over the past 18 months had been showered on the high street, I cannot believe the economy would be in such terrible shape. Indeed, if banks had been left to default on their casinos and public money spent instead on nationalising and guaranteeing their retail activities, there would have been traumas, as in Argentina and Iceland. But I bet the economy would now be recovering faster than it is. At very least the bank bailout policy deserves a Chilcot-style inquiry. The trouble is that this would need bankers to be honest, economists decisive and politicians humble. Forget it.

The insanity of Gordon Brown

I expect there will continue to be a constant trickle of information about Brown's mental illness whilst in office. Never again can we risk putting someone so dangerously mentally unfit into high office. Today's snippet comes from ex-head of the Civil Service Richard Wilson, in the Indie:
It was also revealed yesterday that Gordon Brown had attempted to shake up Britain's secret services by creating an "internal market" for intelligence, in which Government departments would have to buy the secret information agents had uncovered. During testimony, Lord Wilson said he fought hard against the Treasury plan, which was dropped. He said he was alarmed by the attempt to "introduce a customer relationship between the agency and their departments".
Thank God we got rid of him before he had one part of the army buying their bullets from the other, aircraft having to negotiate their landing fee with their ATC before being allowed to land or had judges working on fixed commission from the fees of barristers appearing in their court. The man was as mad as a bucket of eels, utterly lunatic, a carpet chewer, irredeemably insane.  

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Will 4th Qtr GDP go negative?

I'm not going to stick my neck out, but there's always the chance that 4th Qtr GDP when announced in a few hours could have slipped to -0.1%. Just saying. 

Labour's sleazy and corrupt self-interest

Labour are proving their endemic sleaze and corruption didn't end when the country threw Gordon Brown out of 10 Downing Street. Later this week the Electoral Commission will publish its report on the probity of last May's election, and again we will hear a litany of Labour electoral fraud, false registrations, stolen postal votes, intimidation, protection rackets and a local corruption so deeply rooted as to define Labour; the Party still stinks like rotten Mackerel. 

In the Lords the Comrades have finished their twelfth day of obstructing the constituency reform bill; they would rather destroy the Lords than lose the tainted and fraudulent advantage of the Rotten Constituencies, largely Labour seats with so few voters they are the exact equivalent of the Rotten Boroughs we fought so hard to reform at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As Michael Pinto-Duschinsky has said, the UK's standards for electoral quota are so far off the international scale to be almost unmeasurable; Cameron's proposals to bring constituencies back to +/- 5% of the electoral quota is in the widest envelope of international standards. Some nations hold as close to 2%. But this eminent good governance is anathema to Labour's corrupt corpus, and to try to sabotage it they will risk the role of our reforming chamber. 

Quite how that arch-thug Brown had the brass neck to bleat about 'fairness' whilst denying the British people the most fundamental of equal rights - one citizen, one vote - is utterly beyond me. Cameron must press on, and we'll deal with these Labour peers later. 

Monday, 24 January 2011

Where the money goes (Nigerian Edition)

An interesting little extradition appeal has just been heard and dismissed by the High Court; Jeffrey Tesler is being extradited to Texas to face corruption charges there. Tesler's act - which no one seems greatly exercised to dispute - was to be the bagman for an international consortium that paid $132m in bribes to senior Nigerian government officials, notably in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, to win $6bn of LNG facilities construction work. The consortium was headed by Kellog Brown Root, Technip of France, Milan company Snamprogetti (does HE have shares?) and Nippon firm JGC Corporation. 

You can be sure the Nigerians didn't get $6bn of facilities, of course. My guess is they got maybe $4bn worth of construction at 'normal' OH&P level , paid off the bribes fund and divvied up the remainder of the loot. The corrupt Nigerian officials were bought very cheaply, but no doubt Tesler was employed precisely because he was good at beating them down. The US government has also taken its own stake of the graft; KBR and its parent Halliburton happily handed over a wedge of $402m to the US government and a further $177m to the SEC as their share. And said sorry. 

Winners all round, really. Except the Nigerian people, and poor Jeffrey Tesler, who it now appears will spend much of his life in a Texas jail. 

Liddle on Blair

A reasoned critique of Blair's critics by Rod Liddle on his Speccie blog here; he concludes
It is the other issue, a separate issue, upon which Blair is terribly culpable; more terribly culpable than any PM before or since. We know for sure now and had indications at the time that Blair’s reasons for taking our country to war were not those which he deemed to share with the country or with parliament. They were not shared because he was well aware that neither public nor parliamentary opinion would go along with him. And in attempting to convince the public of Saddam’s ownership of WMD he misled parliament, misled the public and pressurised, perverted or twisted every institution which might have acted as a check upon his messianic determination to wage war. This included the select committees, the civil service, the security services, the government scientists and even in the end the BBC. Cabinet was ignored. As John Denham put it at the time, Blair demanded evidence of WMD regardless or not of whether WMD existed. This is incontestable; it is the subtext of all those Blair year diaries produced by the either supine, or in Alastair Campbell’s case, conniving, former members of the administration. I do not think it is stretching it to suggest that this was the closest Britain has come to totalitarianism. Regardless or not of whether we were right to have invaded Iraq, we were lied to, repeatedly and the processes corrupted.
We don't have a Tarpeian Rock in London, but perhaps readers can suggest an alternative point from which murderers, traitors and perjurors can be flung to their death? 

Gorch Fock off to home port

The German navy's sail training ship, the Gorch Foch, is on her way home under a replacement captain and crew following a 'mutiny' by naval cadets in Argentina. The mutiny came after a 25 year old officer cadet fell to her death from the rigging only two days after joining the ship. 

We had HMS Ganges down the road when I was a young chap, an institution that gave its young matelots a superlative training, including how to climb rigging. The school had its own 155' mast, and the order to 'Man the Mast!' could come at any time. There was no safety harness in those days,of course, but there was a sort of primitive safety net, visible in the photo below. Still, safety net or not, I'd rather have red hot needles pushed in my eyeballs than have been the 'button boy' - the young lad who stood at the peak of the topmast with only a lightning conductor grasped between his knees to prevent him being blown off. I wonder if this unfortunate young German woman received any such training before being sent up the Gorch Foch's rigging?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

No requirement to split banks unless they fail

You have to read John Vickers words very carefully to hear the message he is sending above the bluster and outrage of the financial sector's noise telling us what they want him to say. Vickers is making absolutely no suggestion that banks should be split up now, no suggestion that banks' buccaneer and retail arms operate under separate management and governance arrangements, let alone under separate badging, no suggestion that ownership and shareholdings be split. But you wouldn't know that from the pompous and windy threats coming from the financial sector. What Vickers actually said was;
"Credible resolution would seem to require at least some form of separability, and arguably there is a case for some form of ex ante separation so that bank operations whose continuous provision is truly critical to the functioning of the economy can clearly be easily and rapidly carved out in the event of calamity".
For those in the banking sector whose English isn't up to scratch, allow me to explain that separability doesn't mean the same as separation. What Vickers is saying is that banks will need to be utterly transparent in advance about the assets and liabilities, the capital provision, that belongs to the retail arm and that which belongs to the buccaneer arm, so that in the event of the failure of the latter the banks are prevented from using retail capital provision underwritten by the taxpayer to bail out a failing buccaneer venture, and the risky business can be allowed to fall whilst preserving the critical retail arm. That's all. It would also prevent international banks from transferring retail assets to other jurisdictions in the event of collapse - but wouldn't of course prevent them from transferring capital provision into the UK to prop up their casino business here. 

Now that Vickers has told us what he's minded to do so far in advance of his final report, it intelligently allows other States to consider similar measures, to close-off the banks' options of fleeing abroad with the loot, as they're threatening. It also allows for the no doubt complex legal and legislative provisions to be designed, and gives fair warning to shareholders that the days of profit at Joe Public's expense may be drawing to a close.  

Maghreb yearns for dignity, not jihad

Following the success of reformers in Tunisia, the protesters are out in Algeria. Egypt has seen its first self-immolation, as security guards at the entrances to government offices have swapped their AK47s for fire extinguishers, so sensitive are governments to this extreme form of protest. Soon the ripples will reach Morocco, and even Libya, host to the region's migrant workers, will not be immune. The Maghreb and Egypt, Europe's closest second-world neighbours, are starting to undergo a period of profound change, but one based not on Islamic militancy and Jihad against the West, but on a hunger for equity and dignity and an end to political corruption. And even Saudi, the heart of terrorism and extreme Islamism in the region, but with a migrant slave population that dwarfs the wealthy native arabs, must be fearful for the future. 

There are several layers of force at work; there is an aspirational middle class, with access to the internet, satellite TV and higher education, hungry for reward and recognition. There is a large squeezed bottom end, intensely vulnerable to economic shocks. There is a secularism that admits both of women's roles, and in many cases of alcohol. There are those of the privileged international Caliph class, ready to recruit popular discontent and harness it to their own power plays. There is also an Islamism closer to Turkey's secular regime than to Saudi Wahhabism. And of course there are China and India, also with an educated nascent middle class and cheap factory labour, that have been more attractive in securing the car plants and plastic components factories that could have been the Maghreb's economic future. 

Although both France and Turkey have opportunities here to play key roles, the US and Israel have nothing to look forward to; a free and democratic Maghreb will be hostile to both. As for the UK, we're best staying completely neutral on this, but with a couple of warships on standby in Gibraltar Bay. We might even learn something.