Saturday, 16 July 2011

Scandal of unpaid overseas NHS charges

Anne Milton, the Health Minister, has let the cat out of the bag in a Parliamentary written answer on the amount of money collected by the NHS from foreign nationals for treatment, and the value of debt written off in 2009/2010. Against £17m collected, £7m has been written-off. Now those of you who have run businesses will recognise this disguises an even more horrendous situation; as long as you treat a debt as 'live' it remains an asset, but sooner or later you're going to have to bite the bullet and write it off. What the parliamentary answer doesn't show is the age of the debts written off - they could well be two, three or even more years old. Some hospitals seem never to write off bad debts. But I'd guess that if you're writing off more than 10% of your sales figure each year you're in deep trouble; writing off over 40% is criminal incompetence. What we need to get a true picture is the value of uncollected debt over 60 days held as 'live' by each hospital - and I'll bet this will expose a can of worms.  


Our NHS staff are a compassionate lot, ever ready to spend our money in a humanitarian cause. You'll bet they won't be keen on demanding payment in advance from a heavily pregnant Nigerian village girl. Or advise her to return to Lagos to have her baby. But you can bet the figures reveal only a fraction of the value of 'free' treatment enjoyed by foreign nationals not covered by reciprocal arrangements; if the NHS can't manage it themselves, we need to appoint some hard-nosed Almoners to our hospitals who will turn away anyone who can't pay (unless they have a disease that poses a risk to us - multi drug resistant TB, for example). If Parliament has decided that a whole class of people shouldn't be treated at public expense, it's simply wrong of local NHS administrators to ignore or subvert this. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

Institutionalised Corruption in the Met

Andrew Hayman, Met Assistant Commissioner, enjoyed a good troughing with tame journalists and media executives. These no doubt loud and vulgar boys days out, involving numerous bottles of expensive wine and the faux golf-club chic and fake stripey ties that signal a plod that's 'made it' are still viewed as a perquisite of the senior ranks in the Met. They don't even take time off - this theft of the public's time can be put down to 'media relations' and anyway no-one's going to pull them for it - even the Commissioner's at it. But on these pissed-up jollies at the taxpayer's expense, no doubt secrets are let slip and bonds of mutual protection formed.


And indeed the Commissioner himself is at it, as the Telegraph describes today. The better restaurants around Victoria must be heaving with more (out of uniform) silver braid on the lash with dodgy chums each lunchtime than you can shake a stick at. Of course, they'll tell you it's completely different to an ordinary beat copper accepting a beer from a local drug dealer. Completely different. Why, these man are senior officers and mature enough to dine with criminal suspects, to befriend them and even to employ them at public expense without anything being at all wrong. Because they're senior and it's different. It just is. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

DK and EU Referendum have the truth of it

Devil's Kitchen and EU referendum are both spot-on about the poor sense in forcing a premature referendum on EU membership; we should work to resist this with all our collective might. Europe is amassing a press and PR budget of tens of millions to be deployed wherever there is such a risk; Cameron's government will also throw the whole weight of the government advertising and PR structures and budgets behind it, and that seeming 'Out' lead in the polls will melt like ice cream in the Sun. 


The best course of action is to stand back and watch the EU destroy itself. The success of a bid by Brussels to impose a direct additional VAT levy of 2% or 3%, to introduce direct taxation from the Berlaymont, long a dream cherished by EUphiles, will do more to set the mood of the British public than anything. And even MPs are gradually waking to the PR dangers of billions more in bail-out funds going to the IMF for Europe when ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet. 


The last government's ID card campaign shows how even the slickest and most expensive PR blitz can be worthless when people have discussed and rejected the issues in advance. We're not yet at that stage over the EU. But we're getting there. 


And don't forget that the Murdoch stable in the UK has been uniformly Eurosceptic; the Sun on Sunday can be expected to continue the Screws' editorial line. If Murdoch sells, a new proprietor may not be quite so helpful. Brown's petulant whingeing in the Commmons yesterday was not just the 'painful gratitude of slavery' - his resentment at his own dependence on the News Corp press - but part of a move by the EUphile establishment to neuter a loud and powerful voice against Europe.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Catharsis

Financial commentators are running out of cliches to describe the coming catharsis; 'The Gathering Storm', 'On the Edge of the Precipice' 'The End Game' 'On the Brink of Disaster' and variations thereof. And as CityUnslicker has pointed out, this year 'Sell in May and Go Away' is distinctly out of fashion. The position today is summed up pretty well by Buttonwood in the Economist;
THE sense of crisis in the euro area is building. Toby Nangle of Baring Asset Management pointed out that the 60 basis point widening in spreads between Italian and German bonds yesterday was a phenomenal move for the world's third largest bond market. After a very shaky start today, some stability has appeared on talk that the European Central Bank (or the bank of Italy acting as its proxy) has been in the market to buy Italian bonds.
But this is exactly where the European authorities didn't want to be. The rescues of Greece, Ireland and Portugal were all designed to buy time and prevent contagion spreading to Italy and Spain. That strategy has clearly failed.
As Italy has faltered, so the risk-off trade has taken hold. At noon today, the Stoxx 50 index was off 1.7%; the euro had dropped to below $1.40; oil was down 1.6%. There is a sense that the markets are moving faster than the authorities can keep up; one can find parallels with the ERM crisis of 1992, the first wave of the credit crunch in 2007 or the post-Lehman shockwaves of autumn 2008. Things may get worse after Friday, when the stress data on European banks is released and the market can identify the weakest zebras in the pack.

An end to the wartime economy - but only in the UK

Whitehall got the taste for petty power sometime after 1915. Under the guise of wartime exigency, the central State regulated for the first time a raft of matters that had hitherto been decided locally, or had not been decided at all. Alcohol Control Orders were originally made for just the areas around the Royal Ordnance Factories - to prevent well-paid munitions workers from drinking themselves silly. Some rural areas remained unlicensed until the days of peace, when Whitehall decided that it was a jolly good idea that should be rolled out across the nation. Our ardent spirits were diluted by law down to the strength they remain at to this day. It's been a long time since our Rum was ardent. You see, once the ratchet of wartime powers is applied, it rarely goes backwards. 


The Second War saw central State powers extended to an unimaginable degree - necessary to win the war, perhaps, but when war segued seamlessly into a Socialist State at peace, the wartime central command and control structures became institutionalised. The civil service is based not on the principles of Northcote-Trevelyan as it sometimes fondly imagined, but on those of Das Kapital. In wartime it's necessary to restrict rich people's access to food, fuel and clothing, to regulate the portion sizes and fat content of restaurant meals, to ration petrol, to impose swingeing taxes, to grant extraordinary powers to the police and to regulate human behaviour with a carrot-and-stick combination of penal measures and State rewards. But once the regulators - Whitehall - have got a taste of it, they're always keen to extend it. The wartime State reached its apotheosis under the last Labour government; the 'enemy' that justified the continued control over the minutae of our lives was not just 'terrorism' but cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health imperatives, inequality-of-outcome for its own sake and the wholly artificial construct of 'relative poverty'. State spending went up to 46% of national output. 


Well, all this must come tumbling down. State spending must fall to 30% or less if we are to be free of the debts run up to save the foolish and greedy bankers. Whitehall must give up its wartime powers. And so must the EU - and here hangs another tale. You see, the Hun administrators were just getting into their swing when Germany carelessly lost the war. In the last days of April 1945 they were still issuing Directives such as the one that allowed the substitution of 25g of barley-sugar sweets for 25g of chocolate as part of the special daily ration for balloon-observers, but only if they has ascended over 100m for at least an hour. At a time when the Reich had not a single observation balloon surviving. After a decent period of obscurity, they resumed the insanity under the badge of the EU. 


The boldest commentators today are predicting either the death of the Euro or the formation of a United States of Europe (without the UK as a member) by the end of the year if not by the end of the Summer. The former would liberate Europe, whilst the latter would create a permanent wartime bureaucratic super-nation on our doorstep. The choice seems clear to us - but don't underestimate the capacity of the rest of Europe to seek solace in the biggest Big State solution the world has ever seen.     

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Brown's snout deep in the trough

The electors of Kirkaldy are a tribal lot, and will probably not question why their MP is being paid full salary but never shows his face in the Commons. The latest issue of the Register of Members Financial Interests might explain why; he's too busy giving speeches to Nigerians (poor buggers - they probably thought Independence meant the end of being talked at by lunatic Scotsmen). Brown's latest returns show he's been a busy boy:-


Payments as Distinguished Global Leader in Residence at New York University: Campuses in 
New York, Abu Dhabi and Florence. 
Address: 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012: 
Payment of £102,568.55, which includes transport and accommodation costs for me 
and a member of my staff to travel to the New York University Campuses.  Hours: 
ongoing commitment.   


Payment of £62,181.32 from ThisDay for speech.  Address:  35 Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos, 
Nigeria.  Hours: 4 hrs. Flights also paid for an earlier cancelled event: £1,714.98 (Registered 
24 November 2010; updated 20 January 2011)


Payment of £37.047.01 for speech to HT Media Limited.  Address:  Hindustan Times House, 
18-20 K G Marg, New Delhi, 111001, India. Hours: 2.5 hrs.  Flights also paid for me and a 
member of my staff:  £13,544.  (Registered 24 November; updated 20 January 2011)


Payment of £49,052.69 for speech to King Saud University.  Address:  P.O. Box 2454 Riyadh, 
Saudi Arabia 11451. Hours: 3.5 hrs.  Flights and accommodation also paid; value £6,832.27.  
(Registered 25 January 2011)  


Signature and delivery advance of £78,289.61 from Sterling Lord Literistic for book published 
on 7 December 2010.  Address: 65 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012.  


Payment of £7,050 from The Guardian, for extracts from book.  Address: Kings Place, 90 
York Way, London N1 9GU. (Registered 5 April 2011)


Payment of £48,166 for speech  to Visa International.  Address: 30 Raffles Place #10-00 
Chevron House, Singapore 0486622.  Hours: 2.5 hrs.  Flights and accommodation also paid 
for me and a member of my staff; value £16,627.55. (Registered 5 April 2011)



Payment of £36,639.66 for speech to Credit Suisse in Miami, Florida.  Address:  11 Madison 
Avenue, New York, NY 10010.  Hours: 2.5 hrs.  Flights and accommodation to Miami also 
paid; value £10,743.94. (Registered 5 April 2011)


Payment of £36,018.18 for speech to Comtec Med in Geneva, Switzerland.  Address of 
Comtec:  53 Rothschild Boulevard, PO Box 68 Tel Aviv, 61000 Israel.  Hours: 3 hrs.  Flights 
and accommodation to Geneva also paid for me and a member of my staff; value £2,949.13
(Registered 19 April 2011)


Payment of £35,873.94 for speech to World 50,  Inc in New York.  Address of World 50:  
3525 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30305 USA.  Hours: 2.5 hrs.  Flights and accommodation 
to New York also paid for me and a member of my staff; value £11,255.07.  (Registered 31 
May 2011)


Payment of £36,174.63 for speech to Pacific Investment Mortgage Company (PIMCO) in 
Newport Beach, California.  Address of PIMCO: 1345 Avenue of the Americas, New York, 
NY 10105, USA.  Hours: 4 hrs.  Flights and accommodation in California also paid for me 
and a member of my staff; value £12,484.87. (Registered 7 June 2011)


Payment of £36,174.63 for speech to Economic  Club of Southwestern Michigan in Benton 
Harbor, Michigan.  Address of Economic Club:  2887 Villa Lane, Benton harbor, MI 49022, 
USA.  Hours: 3.5 hrs.  Flights and accommodation in Michigan also paid; value £2,346.67
(Registered 7 June 2011)


Payment of £36,146.29 for speech to Skybridge Capital in Las Vegas.  Address of Skybridge 
Capital:  527 Madison Avenue, 6th floor, New York, NY 10022, USA.  Hours: 3 hrs.  Flights 
and accommodation in Las Vegas also paid; value £2,008.58. (Registered 7 June 2011)


Payment of £36,292.84 for speech to Citi Latin America in New York.  Address of Cit Latin 
America:  201 S.Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 700, Miami, FL 33131, USA.  Hours: 3 hrs. 
Flights and accommodation in New York also paid; value £2,008.58. (Registered 7 June 2011)


Payment for staff and research of £42,158.38 as Chairman of the World Economic Forum 
Policy Coordination Group.  Address of donor:  Route de la Capite 91-93, 1223 
Cologny/Geneva.  Hours: ongoing commitment. (Registered 7 June 2011)
Airfare and accommodation in Geneva also paid, £1,657.64.  (Registered 30 June 
2011)


Payment of £36,224.88 for speech to Pershing LLC in Miami.  Address of Pershing:  Pershing 
LLC, One Pershing Plaza, 4th Floor, Jersey City, NJ 07399, USA.  Hours: 3 hrs.  Flights and 
accommodation to Miami also paid for me and a  member of my staff; value £16,545.25.  
(Registered 21 June 2011)


Name of donor: Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs 
Address of donor: 71 Nanchizi Street, Beijing 100006, China 
Amount of donation (or estimate of the probable value): flight and accommodation in Beijing 
paid, £11,202 


Not in Blair's league, obv. And each entry contains the meretricious little clause "I am not receiving any money from this engagement personally. It is being held by the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown for the employment of staff to support my ongoing involvement in public life." Just in case any Calvinist souls in Kirkaldy question Mr Brown's ability to pass through the eye of a needle. 


And if only someone would submit an FOI request to the Met Commissioner to disclose the cost to the London taxpayer of the police protection provided for Brown's globetrotting self-aggrandisement, perhaps we could send the troughing bastard a bill? Not to benefit personally, of course, but to support the provision of a police service for the people of London. 

Public Services White Paper another Crock

There's a pattern to this government's White Papers. They start with wonderfully inspiring rhetoric, buzz phrases, self-evident truths, declarations of commitment and brave words. Then when you look for the meat in the detail, you find there is very little actual change at all; Whitehall have succeeded yet again in blocking any meaningful reform away from the centralised wartime State structure they have so carefully built. And the latest Public Services White Paper is no different. It's a crock.


Two things are required for the devolution of power from Whitehall; the devolution of tax raising and collecting powers, and the restructuring of local governance entities to give legal authority to new local bodies. Neither is even remotely on the horizon of this government. The wartime command and control  structure, with Whitehall dictating and it's local agents, the single-tier councils, implementing, remains wholly intact. This White Paper is one of the most mendacious pieces of spin and puff I've ever seen emerge from Whitehall. It's so pathetically piss-poor it's not even worth dissecting.


Those who say that Whitehall will never willingly give up a microgram of power are proved right yet again. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Banking is still the real scandal - and Italy is next

It must be time for my monthly reminder that the world's banks created some $500 trillion of worthless derivatives out of pure greed and avarice, a sum that dwarfs the entire globe's GDP. And also to add the caveat that in truth they're not entirely worthless; when the trades are collapsed back, like Russian dolls, the best estimate is that UK banks are holding a net total of 'just' $10 trillion in worthless derivatives. Hence the squaking over Greece's potential default; ah yes, the bankers said, our direct exposure may only be $3 billion, but $600 billion of our worthless derivatives are linked to Greece. 


This month I'm not alone in remembrancing this scandal; John Redwood blogged about it on Friday, making the telling point that the book value of derivatives had changed not one iota since 2008. And now we must delve into the arcane world of shorting, Credit Default Swaps, naked Credit Default Swaps, Exchange Traded Funds and Synthetic Exchange Traded Funds. Suffice to say, they're all ways for bankers to get rich quick, are all founded on sand and all demonstrate that those gilded Onanists have learned exactly nothing since 2008. You can't do better than listen to R4's 'File On Four' to get a full flavour of the threat these tossers are continuing to create. 


And now to Italy. You may be wondering if only $0.6tn of our banks' worthless derivatives are linked to Greece where the other $9.4tn is linked to. Well, the answer for another big chunk of it is Italy. You also need to know the way CDSwaps work; it's in the interests of investors for the loan to fail, like it's in the interests of life insurance beneficiaries for the insured to die. Insuring other people's lives has been illegal since 1774 in the UK, but insuring the failure of others' loans apparently isn't. So these Ruperts are now turning on Italy, undermining in whatever way they can the country's financial stability so they can make a quick buck. You think I'm in tinfoil hat territory here? Assuredly not. This is one comment from John Redwood's blog entry;
I looked after Credit Default Swaps at HSBC during the crash. I cant say anything about their positions – but can say they didn’t harm them. They didn’t take on mortgage backed bonds and only got hit for a few years buying the US mortgage brokers Household – whose staff acted like double glazing salesmen. HSBC were a well run bank in the centervwith a good banking ethic. The other banks seemed to be put profit above risk. I still think naked short a CDSwaps are illegal under the 1774 Life Assurance Act – the Act is clear and short and still in effect.
You’re absolutely right that some derivatives are the problem. I still believe Italian banks will bring the Euro down. In the CDSwaps market a huge number of CDSwaps have been taken out insuring against Italian banks – more than any other banking sector. I’m not sure if that is published. Derivatives have hidden our debts and risks from all of us, including politicians. But risks are like water you cannot hide them.
You can financially engineer situations so that risks become highly geared – so huge losses come quickly and without fanfare. Of course the warning signs are all there but derivatives hush them up and politicians only oil the squeaky wheels. I think that is what is key about derivatives – they change the profile of the products. They allow debts to go off balance sheet, to be deferred, to swap short term small potential losses for large ones in the long term via risk transfer.
So Italy's in their sights this morning. And as the Telegraph reports, the EU stumbles into its next financial crisis. And though our enemies in the Berlaymont who are fighting like rats for the Euro would dearly like to see London's financial pirates strung up on the lamp columns of the Rue de la Loi I find on this occasion I really can't disagree with them. Investment bankers and EUphiles are down there in the dirt next to eachother.  

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The most hated woman in Britain

The pictures, snatched flash-lit shots through the tinted windows of a limo, showed the strain on Rebekah Wade's face; the predator had become the prey. There is a fitting parallel with the same shots of newly-convicted paedos or terrorists snatched through the tinted windows of the prison van, the staple diet of the Murdoch press. Wade wears exactly the same expression for the unexpected camera as have a score of child-murderers or unexploded Jihadists. There's one difference. This time it's not a Murdoch title that has made Rebekah Wade the Most Hated Woman in Britain; it's, erm, largely the Guardian. 


Greater love hath no proprietor than he lays down the life of a successful title for the love of his Chief Executive. And this will backfire. Next Sunday, when the stacks of papers in the newsagents are one short, when the substitutes the People and the Mirror are flung across three million sofas in disgust and disappointment, is a day when Ms Wade would be best advised to be at least 3,000 miles from Britain. Scores of pusillanimous MPs have discovered they actually have a backbone, and are writhing about in mock indignation like eels in a bucket; they will align themselves (of course) with the mob on this one. Last week they would have cringed, fawned and drunk their own warm urine for two favourable column inches in the Screws. 


And you can forget all the high-sounding platitudes you will read today; 'this is a victory for truth and justice' or 'today there is no place for wrongdoing in British journalism'. Piffle. Today is a victory for the inchoate fury of the mob. The Guardian won't sell a single extra paper. The MSM will continue the trend set by Ms Wade to turn the Murdoch papers into D-list showbiz comics and the others will follow. If 'today is a victory' for anything at all it's hypocrisy, self-serving and spinelessness. The Screws was a British institution, as familiar and comfortable as a K6 phone box or a Routemaster bus. And that bloody woman ruined it.