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Saturday, 22 August 2009

Just why did the FSA license them in the first place?

Grace Nmadibechi Ada Ukala got off fairly lightly when the FSA revoked her licence and fined her £70,000 for mortgage fraud this week; it would have been £100,000, but she offered to pay the fine in cash and got a discount. She ran a fraudulent mortgage broking business at a time when the banks were falling over themselves to lend, and accepting property valuations and income statements from mortgage brokers such as Ukala rather than independently verifying asset values and earnings themselves.

The Chelsea Building Society has made a provision of £41m for such mortgage fraud, and it is not alone. The fraudulent mortgage brokers licensed by the FSA were a critical link in the chain that allowed the banks to lend so recklessly; the negligence of the FSA in this respect is directly responsible for the billions that bailing the banks out has cost us all. Ukala and hundreds more like her are part of the government's self-inflicted economic injury. And they're not all Nigerians.

Thamesmead in south-east London is an area of new pile-it-high flog-it-cheap housing on a rancid marsh at the side of the Thames opposite Dagenham. It's also the centre of mortgage fraud and over-valuation on an unbelievable scale; stories have been circulating on south London building sites for a couple of years about pastors from the African churches arriving at sales offices with suitcases crammed with banknotes to buy the new homes as they were built. When the bubble burst the collapse in property values was so catastrophic that rumours abound of emergency intervention to stabilise the local market.

Now six more people have appeared in court in connection with Thamesmead mortgage fraud; as FTAdvisor reports;

The fraud came to light last year following reports from banks and building societies when the properties came to be either sold or re-possessed and the true property value was realised by the lender. Eleven arrests were made as part of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police's money laundering team between May and November last year. It is alleged a company bought 84 off-plan new build flats in Thamesmead, south-east London, and resold them at inflated prices.

In most cases, it is alleged the buyers would not otherwise have qualified for a mortgage.

Mohamed Alie Barrie, 38, of Pinewood Close, Dartford, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to money launder and money laundering. Brad Sean Fisher, 42, of Tiptree Crescent, Ilford, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering. Sofiyah Ahmed, 26, of Howard Road, Walthamstow, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud. George Sourou, 42, of The Crescent, Ilford, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and five counts of money laundering. Stuart Joseph, 62, of Furham Field, Pinner, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and false accounting. Dean Aladapo Dairo, 44, of Eastern Avenue, Aveley, Romford, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud and false accounting. Two men have been released without charge, while three men have remained on bail.

Those that remain on bail include a 40-year old man who was arrested in north London on suspicion of laundering the proceeds of crime. He was found in possession of a briefcase containing 152,000 Euros and $2000 US dollars. A 28-year old man who was arrested in north London on suspicion of laundering the proceeds of crime is on bail. He was found in possession of a carrier bag containing £100,000 cash.

Also remaining on bail is a 39-year old man who was arrested on suspicion of money laundering offences.

It wasn't only the bankers who got rich from the recklessness of Fred Goodwin and his kind; it was every minor league fraudster, 419er, scammer and crooked babu in the country. And the extent of mortgage fraud now appears to have been so widespread that a good part of the hit we're taking on our home values is not down to the US Sub-Prime market but the reckless negligence of the FSA in licensing so many fraudsters, crooks and scammers.

If ever there was a better argument for a return to Bank regulation and the consignment of the FSA to the dustbin of history I've yet to hear it. The creation of the FSA was one of Gordon Brown's first acts as Chancellor, and his purblind stupidity and utter unfitness for any financial office is ultimately to blame for this debacle.

How Vail is faring in the recession

For an example of Localism in action, readers may recall I looked across the Atlantic to the small town of Vail in Colorado. With a resident population of about 5,000, it runs all its public services, including a 31-strong police force and free bus service, from its share of just under half of the local 8.4% sales tax (VAT). The other 4.4% goes to Eagle County and Colorado state to pay for shared services such as education.

Vail depends on tourists and visitors for much of its income, so you'd expect in a recession it would be amongst the first places to start hurting. Summer visitors have been down, and winter bookings are down about 7%. The town provides social housing, and the hit on real estate prices has meant a shrinking asset value for the town. The state jobless rate is 7.8%. So just how has Vail reacted?

Well, we'll get Vail's full report at the year end, but it's pretty much the same picture for Colorado as a whole. They haven't borrowed billions in bonds, they haven't raised taxes and they haven't poured more millions into the public sector.

Instead, across Colorado public sector jobs shrunk by 18,000 in July alone as the public sector shed costs. Also in July, 3,000 new construction jobs came on line, as did 2,400 new casino jobs as a law change allowed longer opening hours and bigger prizes.

Now this may mean that Vail has to get by with 25 or 26 police officers instead of 31 for the time being, but with fewer visitors this should have little impact.

It's really not rocket science, is it?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Londoners love the new ciggie packs - smoking UP 26%

In the Autumn of 2008 the State introduced compulsory grisly pictures on the back of all cigarette packets; I am delighted to report that Londoners have taken to these in a huge way, and that spending on cigarettes in London has soared by 26% as they've become a must-have item.

Croydon residents are the champion smokers, increasing their puffing by 95%, whilst the burghers of Bromley managed only a meagre 12%, an analysis published today in the Standard finds.

Beer, ready meals and junk food have all shown similar large increases in sales in London, whilst fresh fruit and veg sales have fallen.

Clearly, whilst Gordon's driving the economy to the bottom of the ocean, Londoners are opting to get blattered with a fag in their hands, relying on the salady bits in the after-pub Doner to provide their five-a-day (yep - lettuce, onion, cabbage, tomato and a picked chilli pepper makes five).

Makes you proud, doesn't it?

Gordon Brown may be a Man

Labour's NEC ordered a barrage of medical tests yesterday to be carried out on Gordon Brown after widespread accusations that he is actually a man. Dr Magnus Spart, Labour's medical spokesperson, said "gender is not as simple as XY chomosomes and genitalia; what sex someone is depends on a whole host of factors, not least what the person believes themselves to be"

Harriet Harman is today reported to be furious that a man might have won Labour's leadership race, and is calling for the result to be annulled if the tests come back positive.

David Miliband, who came sixth, said "She's definitely a man. There's no doubt about it."

The delights of the oddity

David Cameron approaches Localism as something that's a Good Thing and that should be included in his progressive vision, but sometimes he demonstrates that he doesn't quite get it.

It's not about telling local people what their problems are and then telling them that a Conservative government will take measures to solve them, it's about allowing local people to determine for themselves what their problems are and in giving them the necessary powers to do something about them.

The Indie reports
A drive for "responsible drinking" would include government action to raise taxes on alcopops, strong lagers and ciders, banning "loss-leader" alcohol sales by supermarkets and ending late-night sales by take-away shops and food stores. Speaking in Bolton, the Tory leader promised a crusade to improve public health, saying his party's pledge to boost NHS spending each year would not be enough.
Let's imagine something really progressive; let's imagine that licensing decisions are made by local magistrates who have absolute discretion to tailor local licences to local circumstances. Let's also imagine that local councils have control of both local sales tax and business rates. And let's imagine that the NHS is managed at, say, County level and funded by an age-weighted per capita block grant from central government. And that local voters hold the power to elect or dispose of all those who run these things.

Mr Cameron might remember that it was not the central State that took the initiative to build reservoirs and water supplies to combat Cholera, not the central State that commissioned and built local gasworks and power stations, and not the central State that first provided hospitals, schools and libraries. It was not the central State that ordered public baths and de-lousing stations to keep the poor clean and free from vermin, and it was not the central State that built pavements, roads and sewers.

All these things were first done at the initiative of local government, who demonstrated that their high levels of concern over issues including public health were best understood and best implemented at local level.

Imagine if the 2006 Health Act allowed local licensing magistrates to impose conditions in respect of non-smoking in pubs, bars and cafes, even on a premises-by-premises basis. Localists such as I contend that this would immeasurably improve the quality of decision making when compared with central State blanket diktat. Statists cry 'postcode lottery!' and protest that local discretion will result in a great diversity of provision. True. And why not?

Those who have known the delights of the oddity will know what I mean. The two pubs in Smithfield that used to open at 6am when the rest of the capital's pubs were closed until 11am. The half-hour difference in last orders between one licensing district and an adjacent one. The licensing district that routinely refused on-premises licences to fresh seafood cafes, leading a clutch of such places to encourage customers to bring their own Pouilly-Fumé to drink with a dozen fat natives or a freshly seared crab for a 50p cork-and-chill charge. All of these are anathema to a central Statist bureaucracy, and a delight to the rest of us.

C'mon, Mr Cameron. Let's see you be truly progressive; let's see you be Localist.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Brogan's litany of Labour troughers who scorn the poor

I commend Benedict Brogan's piece in the Telegraph this morning on how Labour have betrayed the poor. This is the most squalid and reprehensible failure in a foul spectrum of political self-interest, incompetence, sleaze, lunacy and sheer idiocy that has characterised Labour's term in office.

Brogan necessarily curtails his list of all those who have 'done very well' under Labour whilst the poor have been progressively more disadvantaged; Tony Blair and other ex-ministers roll in their new millions, Quangocrats and all Blair's gold-plated political placeholders and the bankers who see 2009 as another very decent bonus year have all done very nicely.

I would add those scores of venal and corrupt civil servants who have segued seamlessly from procurement and administrative incompetence in their ministries to fatly-remunerated board positions, picking up an 'honour' along the way; the Chief Executives and top tiers of managers of every public sector body who have increased their own salaries many times beyond the average pay increases of those bodies since 1997 in an example of undisguised naked self-interest; all those growing fat running Labour's fake charities that are funded covertly by the taxpayer; the big accountancy firms such as PwC, Deloitte and the rest that have been so substantially funded by Labour that their glass and steel towers now rise above our provincial cities like Feudal castles; the shareholders of all the overseas manufacturing companies that have stepped in to claim the profitable vacant markets from Labour's failure to support British manufacturing, and a million or so migrants from the US, India and the Old Commonwealth who earning a decent wedge (and paying decent taxes) because Labour can't even manage to produce school leavers who can read and write.

Yes, all of these have done very well under Labour; Mandelson must be 'intensely relaxed' to be amongst so many wealthy and successful people.

But as Brogan so witheringly describes, Labour's new wealthy can afford to comfortably insulate themselves from Labour's failures - the poor;
Thousands of teenagers leave school barely able to read. Grinding child poverty is on the increase. Hospitals weighed down by bureaucracy struggle to make us healthier. Six million now rely on out of work benefits. One in six young people is neither in work nor in education. Entire neighbourhoods are blighted by feral children from households that bear no resemblance to what the rest of us understand as families.
What a damning indictment of utter failure.

DNA retention to be an election issue for police chiefs

I am delighted that Mr Damian Green MP has at last had his DNA sample and DNA record destroyed and deleted respectively. The lunacy of the justification by Vernon Coaker on 'Today' back in May that Mr Green might 'offend again' (despite never having been charged or convicted of anything), and that therefore the permanent retention of his DNA was essential, sounded hollow and shambolic even then.

If Cameron is truly in favour of elected police chiefs or watch committees (and I prefer watch committees) then the issue at the hustings of who will comply with the ECHR ruling and destroy the DNA samples of the innocent and who will follow the unlawful 'advice' of the malign and sinister ACPO to retain will loom large in voters' minds. Let the people decide.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Labour's utterly bankrupt grasp of power

There is, it seems, someone even more desperate amongst Labour defence ministers than Bob Jobsworth himself; a nonentity of such complete mediocrity that more people could name a sixth century Pope than name him as a defence minister; Kevan Jones. Even his name is so excruciatingly dull that his poor parents replaced a yod with an aleph to add some interest to the man.

Guido has revealed that it is Jones who is trying to smear General Sir Richard Dannatt.

The ludicrous spectacle of this absurd little oik in his shiny and ill-fitting polyester suit snidely filling in an FOI request on the expenses of a member of the general staff like some toilet-sniffing low-rent chiseller would be funnier if he didn't hold office as a Minister of the Crown.

If anything demonstrates beyond any doubt Labour's utterly bankrupt grasp on power, this is it.

'Black Swan' Taleb says hyperinflation still a risk

In a piece in the Mail on Cameron's debt default warning at an event also attended by Nassim Taleb, it is reported
Mr Taleb also disagreed with Mr Cameron's green agenda when he said he did not believe global warming was caused by mankind's increasing use of carbon.

'I'm a hyper-conservative ecologically,' he said. 'I don't want to mess with Mother Nature. I don't believe that carbon thing is necessarily anthropogenic.'

The ecomonist and author also said there was a real danger of 'hyperinflation' across the world caused by government responses to the recession.

Now I like Taleb's approach - There's a good profile by Bryan Appleyard here, published in June last year before the bust - and his 'black swan' theory of an unexpected event that could come out of nowhere.

How to act if you think hyperinflation might happen? Well, pretty much as I have been, I suppose; hold gold, not savings, minimise borrowing, create an income budget surplus to cushion shocks, keep your food cupboards full and Tilley lamps in working order. What are the costs? Minimal. And at the first sign of an interest rate rise, I'll move hell to swap to a fixed rate mortgage.

I don't believe it's over yet, either.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Nye Bevan defends Russian gulags

An abandoned gulag. Stalin sent 12m - 15m Russians to these hells.

As debates in the Commons demonstrate, Nye Bevan was perfectly well aware that the Russian timber trade he was defending was based on the slave labour of the gulags; there is no possible excuse of ignorance here. The Anti Slavery Committee and other international enquiries had established beyond doubt the scale of Stalin's terror. Member after member of the Commons repeated the damning evidence in the chamber.

Anyone who can not only tolerate but actively praise and support a regime that operated gulags, summary execution, imprisonment without trial, torture and the foulest degradation of men at any stage in their lives is forever beyond redemption. If any man has it in him to support such things at any time he is damned. It's like saying 'I used to support paedophilia, but lately I've had a change of mind'. You can't do it. You are betrayed by the fact that you once supported something utterly foul. And so Bevan stands condemned still.

In the post below, Bevan defended the horrors of Stalin's Russia and defended the desirability of dictatorships until 'class enemies' were destroyed. In the quote below from Hansard, he does so again.

One quote may be out of context; two constitute evidence, and three or more make a convincing case.
BEVAN: I am prepared to accept the Noble Lady's admission that prison labour is not sweated labour, and that people outside prison have to sweat more than those who are in prison. But we are getting rather tired—I think the whole House is—of these diatribes about the awful labour conditions in Russia. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I dare say it is agreeable to Tory ears continually to hear these horrible stories about a country against whose commercial success they are now going to legislate. We used to be told in former years that the Bolshevists would never succeed, and that all we had to do was to sit down and wait till they collapsed. Now the House of Commons is proceeding to arm the Government with a most formidable power of discrimination against the exports of that country.... The goods are cheap because the Russians have thrown off the parasites who were on their backs.
So Conservatives are 'vermin' and the millions of innocents slaughtered by Stalin are 'parasites'. You can tell a lot about a man by his use of language.

Nye Bevan praised Russia as millions died under Stalin

Bevan remains the star turn in Labour's hagiography, yet this distasteful man who said that Conservatives were 'lower than vermin' was also willing to turn a blind eye to Stalin's genocides, gulags, torture regime and murderous and repressive tyranny for the sake of his twisted and totalitarian ideology. The Russian famine of 1932/33 killed somewhere between six and eight million people - many of them Ukrainians, in a policy measure depriving them of assistance to further Stalin's goal of the extermination of an entire people.

You'd think any decent politician would have condemned Russia to the rafters from the floor of the house - but not Bevan. Hansard from 1933 reports a debate on measures to restrict trade with Russia following an incident in which two British engineers had been arrested by Stalin's OGPU; the many Russians who had met them were all summarily shot. Bevan replied;
I believe that the main architect of the troubles which will come in the future will be the Foreign Secretary and his chauvinistic and jingoistic followers in the House of Commons who for years have sought an opportunity of declaring war against the one nation, which, despite all the difficulties, is still showing that it is possible to have a world order in which people can live with more security than we have here. The dictatorship which has existed would have been relaxed had it not been for opposition from without. When you have a classless society you can abolish dictatorships, because it will not then be necessary to rest privilege upon the shoulders of an oppressed people.
The 'one nation, which, despite all the difficulties, is still showing that it is possible to have a world order in which people can live with more security than we have here' was of course Stalin's Russia.

There is a rich vein of material here; more to come.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A question too shameful to ask

For some months now a rather shameful question has kept surfacing in my mind. I hesitate even now to name it, such are the implications, the ripples, that may spread from even voicing in public such a question.

It surfaced again prompted by the previous post. My friend's father was in Africa in the 1960s - a time when the delights of the Safari and the magnificence of African wildlife was popular at the cinema and on television. I recall clearly seeing 'Born Free' and watching Armand and Michaela Dennis attend to orphan gorillas and suchlike creatures. And you must understand that part of the fascination of such things at that age was that many of the Africans who featured as friends, helpers or employees, or as rescuers of the orphan creatures, were naked. Ahem. Nowadays of course all Africans wear the same clothes, the same Chinese made shorts and tee shirts, the same clone 'Crocs' as you see on any British High Street. And a question that's been rising like a small Evian bubble (but not the question - that's still to come) every so often is, well, this; were they naturally naked? When did these Africans start wearing clothes?

Now you see what I mean about asking this sort of question. The answer, of course, must be different for every nation, every tribe, every village even; some have always covered their bodies, some will always have been naked. But I'm talking about those Safari sort of places; Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia and the like.

With synchronistic timing, I've just continued reading Alan Moorehead's superlative account of the Desert War, those early victories and battles that helped turn the tide of fascism is Europe. Moorehead gives us a big clue to the answer;
At Juba .. nothing, it seemed, could prevent the native from wearing clothes now. Clothes were a distinction, and it didn't matter much if they did bring disease and ugliness. In parts of the Sudan, Officials were trying to confine the men to a loincloth and the women to a neckscarf. But it was an uphill fight trying to persuade the native to be native.

In Kenya the authorities had accepted the inevitable and had managed to get a sort of uniform accepted. This for men was shorts and a shirt, and for women a simple one-piece cotton frock. Only in the outer villages did the native still walk about in his native savage grace, and even he did not regard this condition very highly, for he was off to an Indian clothing store as soon as he had the money. Glamour was being pushed out of Africa by a mass of cheap printed cotton. Even the grass huts were getting galvanised Iron roofs.
Well, that was in 1940/41. So by the sixties, then, when all those Safari-type things were being filmed, clothing must have been pretty well universal.

And the really shameful question is this; did my childhood heroes, all those gallant and selfless naturalists, actually encourage the poor bloody Africans to disrobe for the camera, to add 'glamour' to their films? Well, did they?

Note to Boris: restrict the CD plates

The new American Ambassador to the Court of St James has annoyed Boris by not coughing up an estimated £3.5m in unpaid congestion charges.

When I was a lad a school friend's dad had an elderly and unfashionable Humber that he had brought home from a Foreign Office posting in Africa. It was slow, it was noisy, the suspension was shot so that one slid from one side of the leather bench seats to the other on corners, but it had one superlative advantage; it retained its CD plates. Those little enamelled ovals that announced the car as belonging to a member of the Corps Diplomatique were worth a lakh of rubies. No parking fines, and respectful plods waving you through road restrictions were the least of it.

Now there are ten accredited members of the US mission to London by my reckoning; the Ambassador, the Chief of Mission, the Defence Attaché and seven Minister Counselors. In fairness, the US Embassy should therefore be allowed ten cars with CD plates that are exempt from all charges, including the Congestion Charge. However, other cars driven by the hundreds of other Embassy staff - the clerks, the Marine guard, the boiler maintenance man - should have no such exemption. Fair's fair.

C'mon. We need the money.

Shoplifters have consumer choice, too

TJ Morris is a sort of domestic Aldi or Lidl, and like those stores no doubt saves operating costs by having only a skeletal staff presence in its stores. As a result, shoplifting levels are high. Whilst Aldi or Lidl no doubt accept this trade-off, Tom Morris doesn't. So he's posting photographs of people he describes as 'shoplifters' on his website with a £500 reward on offer if they are identified and successfully prosecuted. No doubt he's pretty certain that they are, and that they won't sue him under Human Rights laws.

Many years ago I made the decision never to enter any premises that had bouncers on the door; there can be no clearer indicator that it's not my sort of place. So young people's clubs and many of the rougher pubs or bars that attract violence are off my radar. My social experiences have been immeasurably improved over the years as a result.

Similarly, I don't shoplift, and never have done, but Mr Morris' shops are now no-go zones for me, should one open in South London at any time. Any retailer who behaves as Mr Morris does is clearly not my kind of retailer. Anyone who imagines he has a right to publish his customers' photographs under any circumstances is to be avoided.

I have an old-fashioned view of the behaviour that should be exhibited by shopkeepers and licenced victuallers towards their customers, and bouncers and web photographs ain't it.

Shoplifters and thugs can make their own choices, of course. As can I. And though I wouldn't want to stop Tom Morris from his activity, any more than I'd want to ban bouncers, in the end honest consumers will make their own choices, too. That's freedom.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Heffer and the tomato glut

Simon Heffer thinks we will look back on a golden age of food choice in today's Telegraph, and usefully evokes his parents' store cupboard. Our mother, too, was a great storer, and it was at this time of year that the shelves of tomato chutney were laid down.

The past few weeks have seen the excitement of the first toms blushing red into maturity, and the first delicious taste of sun-warm and utterly fresh tomatoes from the vine. Every night since has seen a tomato salad on the table, with balsamic vinegar and a little crushed sea salt. But now I'm sated with fresh tomatoes. There is a kilo sitting in the kitchen already, and today I must pick another four or five kilos from the vines.

So today I'm off to get some vinegar and some Muscovado sugar and will get the big stainless boiling pan out, wash and oven-bake the stack of jars I've been saving all year and get chutney making. I'll let you know the results in six weeks or so.

Eventually, they'll all catch up

For the past two years this blog has added its voice to those of other online commentators, notably EU Referendum and Capitalists@Work, on two issues of national importance - energy security and food security. Defra's own pie chart showing we import 51% of the food we eat makes an appearance here every six months or so, and warnings that the lights will be going out all over Britain within a few years are old news to Raedwald readers.

Richard North is perhaps a little annoyed that bloggers haven't been credited with having been on top of this issue for some while (and even the Economist thread that provoked the reaction was first featured here on 7th August); Nick Drew over at C@W is probably better informed on UK energy markets than anyone else blogging today and anyone interested is recommended to mine the rich seams of data and warnings there.

Christopher Booker succinctly sums up the abject failure of government to address food security in today's Telegraph, and it's a damning indictment of Labour's failure. Not perhaps an issue to excite metropolitan Conservatives so long as the weekly Farmer's Market functions, I suppose, but bloggers with families rooted in farming cannot fail to be aware of these issues. One hopes.

Unlike Richard, I'm not at all bothered that the MSB (Main Stream Blogs) are lagging in picking these issues up, just so long as they appear on the national agenda. Cameron must be aware of the poisonous chalice he's being handed, and the greater the pressure on him to formulate policies to reverse Labour's disastrous neglect of food and energy issues the better. I'm sure we're all less concerned with party point-scoring than in securing the future for the people of this nation.