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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Olympic Shambles

An excellent piece in Vanity Fair on the Olympic shambles, greed, corruption and manipulation;
Repeatedly, I.O.C. members were found to be accepting bribes from cities wanting to host the Olympic Games. Amsterdam’s bid committee for the 1992 Games allegedly procured prostitutes for two I.O.C. members. The Atlanta 1996 committee doled out invitations to the Oscars, “free” shopping sprees, and lavish vacations by chartered jet for members. The Salt Lake City 2002 committee bought a violin for one member, gave $320,000 to another, and obtained immense amounts of Viagra for two more. Salt Lake City also paid $17,000 worth of tuition bills at the University of Southern Mississippi for the son of a Sudanese general, Zein El Abdin M.A. Abdel Gadir, an I.O.C. member, and sent a $1,000-a-month stipend to a bank account in London for the general’s daughter—who does not exist but whose name appears to be an abbreviation of the general’s own. Just before his expulsion from the I.O.C., General Gadir said, “It never occurred to me that there was the slightest link between this ... and the bidding of Salt Lake.”

Construction woes

I know it should be blindingly obvious, but the size of construction projects is directly related to their lead time. Something like Crossrail takes twenty years before the first 360 hits the ground. Schemes under £5m can generally start fairly rapidly, and £5m - £10m schemes are the bread and butter of the industry, with skills, plant, materials and construction teams ready 'off the shelf'. The classic value release curve for a scheme is remarkably similar to a tidal curve, and it's the fast-spending middle bit that drives the ONS construction output figures.The lag means that Q1 2012 figures reflect decisions made two or three years ago.

Unlike public 'consumption' spending, which is mainly employing new people on permanent contracts, 'capital' can be turned on and off like a tap. If you pick the right schemes, the economic benefit can hit the economy during the term of a single Parliament. And you'd imagine that this would be attractive to politicians - but no. Even when they decide that investment spending - spending that leaves a tangible asset as well as its economic effect - is a good thing, they prefer to pick the massive, prestige, big-dicked schemes that can't possibly deliver any economic benefit during their own time in office. Sure, they provide plenty of work for construction professionals, lawyers and office staff in the early years, but none where it counts - labour, materials, plant, transport, waste - and indirectly in accommodation and services. Services aren't just the bacon sarnie vans that make a mint adjacent to a construction site; the construction phase of the Melbourne Olympics attracted some 10,000 prostitutes to service the workforce. 

As the London Olympics effect tails out of the construction figures in the next quarters, the sector has the potential to pull GDP down even further. Of course I'll declare an interest here - the order book is looking very thin after this year. And yes, I believe absolutely that public sector consumption spending - spending on civil servants, social workers, quango administrators, Town Hall fat cats - needs urgent and substantial reduction. The cuts are good. Recession isn't.  

Friday, 11 May 2012

Cramner and the ASA - 'Fiat! Fiat! Fiat!'

In an almost unbelievable move that defies every rational explanation, Cramner is being 'done' by the Advertising Standards Authority for running an online ad from the Coalition for Marriage. The ad is carried below. 

Let me make my own position very clear, for the benefit of both the ASA and any confused or deluded individuals who may wish to read this blog. A natural marriage is defined by the catechism of the Council of Trent as 'the conjugal union between a man and a woman, both in legal status, establishing a perpetual and indissoluble communion of lives'. This applies to all humanity, Christian or non-Christian, baptised or non-baptised, and any marriage not conforming to this state is an unnatural marriage.

Furthermore, my church requires me to uphold marriage between a baptised man and a baptised woman as a Sacrament. The Council of Trent explained  'The grace that should enhance natural love, consolidate the indissoluble union, and sanctify the spouses was merited by Christ in His Passion, He who is the author and end of the venerable Sacraments'

In fact I am required to maintain the above by Canon Law (canon i, Sess. XXIV) under threat of the most dire penalties - "If any one shall say that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of the Evangelical Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, but was invented in the Church by men, and does not confer grace, let him be anathema."

The declaration of anathema is a great and solemn thing and clearly for the faithful any amount of corporeal pain, punishment, torture and imprisonment is preferable to this casting out; in amice, stole and violet cope the Pontiff declares -
Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive N-- himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment
Whereupon all present declare "Fiat! Fiat! Fiat!"

There are many doctrinal differences between Cramner and Rome, but none of them as divisive as a common belief in marriage is uniting. If His Grace will permit, I will stand four-square with him on this.

The Returners

The Brits are coming. Thousands of them. They're spooked - selling their Spanish retirement homes at panic prices, packing up the straw donkeys and the Sun robes and trekking home. Their expat copies of the Daily Mail will have prepared them for an Islamist Hell paradoxically populated by puking drunk ladettes and chavs, with stalled property prices and a fascination with Pippa Middleton's arse. You can pretty much pick up a Spanish home on your credit card these days - if you've still got one. THIS delightful village house is estimated for auction at €9,000 but will actually sell for about €15,000, about half the bank valuation, in common with nearly all Spanish property.

And what are they going to do when they get here? £10k isn't enough to start a small wine bar in Slough, and their income is hardly likely to afford them the relaxed coffee and aguardiente culture back here. They may have to re-enter the job market; will the aisles of B&Q then be filled with elderly permatanned sun-shade experts? Will they live with their children, or perhaps, having blown the kids' inheritance on the Costa, will their kids have them?

And if the thousands of returners are harbingers of even worse to come in Spain, if coming back to Luton or Kettering broke and with pride shattered is preferable to staying on, how bad is it going to get there?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Banks Again

The London Review of Books is a rare Ruby of great worth, and once you've sharpened up the cerebrum sufficiently to inbibe the erudition, a thoroughly enjoyable read, amongst the finest of our online resources. In the current edition is a review by Benjamin Kunkel that rivals at least one of the books concerned for length, but bear with it. With impeccable logic he charts his way to the following:
The most striking aspect of the current era is that it emerges as the rare period of virtual money that has so far failed to set up strong protections for debtors, whether in the form of bans on predatory lending or periodic jubilees: ‘Insofar as overarching grand cosmic institutions have been created that might be considered in any way parallel to the divine kings of the ancient Middle East or the religious authorities of the Middle Ages, they have not been created to protect debtors, but to enforce the rights of creditors.’ The IMF is Graeber’s main example, to which the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve could be added. The response of Western officials to the economic crisis, with its proximate cause in unsustainable consumer debt, has been to ensure that banks suffer as few losses as possible, while relying on the same indebted consumers – in their role as taxpayers – to keep the bankers whole. The Fed and now the ECB have loaned banks money at virtually no cost, encouraging those same banks to purchase government bonds paying much higher rates of interest: a direct subsidy of finance by the public, while millions sink into unemployment and bankruptcy. A far simpler and more effective monetary policy would have been for the government to print a new batch of money, distribute an equal amount to everyone, then sit back and watch as stagnant economies were stirred to life by the spending and debts were paid down and eroded by temporarily higher inflation. The inconceivability of such a policy is a mark not of any impracticability, but of the capture of governments by a financial oligarchy.
Quite. This is exactly the point being made by Simon Jenkins, and which evokes such vehement denial by those in the financial sector. BASEL II is just so much bollocks once you actually decide that it's the financial oligarchy and not the taxpayer that can go to the dogs. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Utter Failure of Government

The closeness of the relationship between Westminster, Whitehall and the big oligopolies was perfectly illustrated by HMRC's relationship with Vodafone. "Don't bother filling in a tax return" said HMRC "Just let us know what you're comfortable with paying." and of course the same relationship subsists with all the other mega-nationals. Likewise QE; "Look, just take the cash - we won't ask you to account for it" said the Bank, and the results were utterly predictable, as Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian this morning;
In Britain the only growth the Treasury has recognised so far has been to turn to the banks. It is like asking the mafia to promote honesty in local government. Ministers pleaded with bankers to lend more to real people, and even printed the money for them to lend. The banks simply carted the loot from the mint and used it to pay off their gambling debts. There is no evidence that one penny of the hundreds of billions of pounds made available "leaked" into the productive economy.
Some 'Growth Strategy'. 

Fiddling with the Lords, abolishing the County regiments altogether, running the Town Hall from Whitehall, a National Police Service, IDS's nightmare Soviet Welfare System and Planning changes that will further destroy the High Street are all at the heart of the Government's anti-Localist agenda. They're set on destroying the last strongholds of Burke's 'little platoons' - the local and intermediate institutions that glue neighbourhoods and communities together. In their place, hand in glove with the political class, the homogenous, suffocating hand of Oligopoly. In place of the Suffolk Regiment we will have the 4056th G4S Infantry Battalion. Where once the stone castles of feudal lords rose above our town and cities now the steel and glass towers of  KPMG, PwC and Ernst and Young dominate, and to the same effect. 

Big Business and Big Government are symbiotic. Neither act in the interests of the nation, both are focused on increasing their own power and strength. Both are anti-democratic. And as they stand together, so must they fall together.   

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The United Nations defeat the Axis

Today marks the day sixty seven years ago when the forces of the United Nations, after six gruelling, hard and bloody years of struggle, marked victory over the Axis in Europe. From 1941 The United Kingdom, Poland, the Dominions of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the USA, the Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, China,  Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Greece, India, the Netherlands, Norway and others stood together, twenty-six nations in all, under the alliance of the UN. From 1942 onwards various other nations joined, including France in 1944. The Declaration by United Nations was made in January 1942, and is in fact the establishing document behind the United Nations we know today. 

Not that you would know any of the above from the UN website. The modern UN prefers to forget where it came from. "The UN was founded in 1945 after World War II to replace the League of Nations, to stop wars between countries, and to provide a platform for dialogue. It contains multiple subsidiary organizations to carry out its missions." says the modern organisation's mendacious bollocks.   

They can't quite explain the reasons why the UK, the USA, Russia and China - oh, and latecomer France - have permanent seats on the Security Council and so avoid the topic completely. They can't bring themselves to declare that our nations, our forebears, bled and sweated and toiled to secure the freedom they all now enjoy. 

The modern UN is celebrating nothing at all today. What scant thanks.    

The centre cannot hold

The Euro is a political tool, intended to secure fiscal and political union. The economic answer to the Eurozone's woes is clear; allow Greece (at least) to leave the Euro, devalue, default and spring back to growth and relative prosperity. All the while this move is resisted the pressure will pile on the Euro, threatening the Federasts' political objectives. Allowing Greece to leave will also open the possibility of others following, threatening the Federasts' political objectives. It's win-win for those of us who loathe the EU project vehemently, notwithstanding the fallout here in the UK. 

Meanwhile European-wide disillusionment with the political and big-business classes and a hunger for reform bubbles away. Many of our own dear politicians are 'in denial' as our cousins say, blaming 'voter apathy'. If they were aware of the strength with which they are loathed by many of the non-voters they would be hesitant to term this dangerous passion 'apathy'.

And Austerity has hardly even started yet.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kermits opt for dignity and ruin

The kermits have a pretty clear idea of what their President should be like. Above all, he must have dignity; an odd sort of egalitarian hauteur that avoids regality but achieves the separation of un homme consacré from the vulgar, a quality that can carry the weight of the Gloire de France abroad. A real French President would have put Cameron in his place with a false twink of a smile and a superior deprecating pat at the EU summit rather than turning away. A real French President wouldn't need lifts in his shoes or little platforms to stand on. And the wife of a real French President should be dowdy as a peahen, maritorious, and above all silent. In François Hollande they may just have got what they wanted - but if they expect economic salvation, they may be disappointed.

Perhaps the least realistic of Hollande's pledges is that to reduce the retirement age to 60 from a current modest 62. The affordability of the cost of aging is a factor that clearly separates the UK from France; despite our pension black holes, we are comparatively better off. The GAP Index reform strategy guide recommends the following courses of action;

France Germany Italy UK
Reduce public pension benefits *** *** *** *
Reduce health-care cost growth *** ** ** **
Extend work lives *** ** *** **
Increase funded pension savings *** ** ** *
Strengthen poverty floors 0 0 * *
Increase fertility rates * *** *** *
Increase immigration * *** ** 0

Which suggests they are willing to face future ruin for the sake of jam today, and that is what separates us from the heart of the Eurozone. Unless we distance ourselves further, isolate our liability, we could well be working until 70 to pay Pierre's generous pension in 2020.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

"Dad's Army" UKIP screw London vote

"You said it was our party description, Mr Farage, so I wrote it on the forms. 'Fresh choice for London'. Just like you said."

"You stupid boy. Do you realise that as a result five million ballot papers went out without our party's name on them? That you cost us two seats in the Assembly?"

It was a typical own-goal. Actually, this morning I commend Peter Hitchens' Mail comment piece to you for not pulling any punches;
If you must vote at the next Election (I shan’t), vote for the absurd Dad’s Army of UKIP if you want to. At least it does no harm. But the real business of constructing a new pro-British party to speak for all the abandoned, honest, patriotic, gentle people of this Disunited Kingdom can begin only when we have chucked the Tories into a suitably stout wheelie bin and slammed the lid down on top of them.