Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Your Tax Money At Work - Catholic Priest Murdered By Syrian Opposition

Our Government's decision to send money and arms to these people is already bearing fruit.

Reports that Father Francois Murad was publicly beheaded are disputed - others say he was shot in his church, although photographs of the decapitated head do look like Fr Murad, poor soul.

"The Vatican news agency confirmed that Father Francois was killed on June 23 but said the "circumstances of the death are not fully understood". Two days after Father Francois was killed in Ghassaniyeh, the Custody of the Holy Land issued a press release saying Islamist groups shot the father dead. The press release said he had been given a funeral and buried.

"Islamists attacked the monastery, ransacking it and destroying everything. When Father Francois tried to resist, defending the nuns, rebels shot him," the release stated.

The resort town of Ghassaniyeh, in Syria's Latakia province, which was visited by the Telegraph, has fallen under the control of the extremist jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra. Father Francois was thought to be one of the last remaining Christian inhabitants. Two months ago four Italian journalists were kidnapped by Jabhat al-Nusra as they filmed inside Father Francois' church, which had recently been desecrated. Susan Dabbous, one of the kidnapped journalists, reported that Jabhat al-Nusra had referred to Father Francois as "a spy". "

Why we're involved in this conflict between the devil we know and the devil we're getting to know pretty quickly, I do not know, but one thing's for sure - it's got nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Syria.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"measures which will make a practical difference to the situation on the ground in Syria"

Thus BBC radio news, toeing the Government line in most uncharacteristic fashion, on the decision to send arms to even up the balance of the Syrian civil war.

I think I get it :

Islamists killing soldiers on British streets - bad.

Islamists killing soldiers on Syrian streets - good.

I liked the quote from the Qatar PM :

"providing arms may be the only means of achieving peace"

In other news :

The late Col Gaddafi takes "measures which will make a practical difference to the situation on the ground in Britain".

Mohamed Sidique Khan takes "measures which will make a practical difference to the situation on the ground in London"

There's no doubt that Assad is a nasty piece of work. I'm just not at all sure that any replacement will be any better. The fate of the Iraqi Christians is ever before me. It seems from here highly likely that Syrian Christians will suffer similarly in a post-Assad Syria.

You'd think that the post-invasion unpleasantness in Iraq, which while not the apocalyptic peoples revolt against imperialism predicted (and hoped for) by the Left, certainly wasn't the flowering of civil society that some people foresaw (my fourth-ever post still seems pretty cautious and prescient, even if I say so myself), might have made minds in Washington and London more cautious about a repeat performance.

If, that is, the welfare of the average Syrian was the priority. Maybe it isn't.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

We Shall Not Look Upon Her Like Again

Ken Livingstone summed her up well, although he had a lot more negative things to say about her :

Ken Livingstone, Labour’s former London Mayor who clashed with Lady Thatcher during his time running the Greater London Council in the 1980s, said her personal “courage and drive” made her “the most admirable prime minister of modern times”.

“She didn’t worry about focus groups, she didn’t read the newspapers,” he said.

“There was real courage.”

However, Mr Livingstone said it had been “a tragedy for Britain” that her policies had been so badly flawed.

The Thatcher years were the start of the world we live in today. Her Premiership saw:

a) The start of the debt-fuelled culture which crashed in 2008 - remember "takes the waiting out of wanting" ?
b) The rise of the UK underclass, bastardy and drug use
c) The rise of the deregulated financial “economy” and decline of manufacturing
d) The rise in house prices
e) a collapse in the birth rate as
f) more women participated in the workforce (so they could afford a house!)
g) a dramatic rise in crime – linked to b)
h) the sell-off of vital infrastructure – power generation and distribution being the most important

While winning her economic wars, she was defeated in the culture wars – I’m not sure she even realised she was fighting one, let alone that she was losing. At any event, the Britain of 1990 was a lot further from Alderman Roberts’ Grantham than the Britain of 1979.

But the thing is – every government since has overseen the continuation and perhaps intensification of all the baleful trends above – with the one glorious exception of the Blessed Michael Howard’s noble reversal of the previous 50 years penal policy.

And, of course, Blair added a few more baleful trends all of his very own - including massive immigration and stopping all nuclear development in 1998.

We see in the Thatcher years yet again the contrast between the post-68 left's total dominance of the social agenda and their defeats on the economic agenda. A former girlfriend was a trainee social worker in 1980 - those girls hated Thatcher, more for her conservative social beliefs and her personal style than her economics. Such a straight !

Thatcher’s small-town conservative social values were almost redundant by the end of her reign, with rocketing rates of crime, bastardy, drug use, STIs.

The 80s were when the 60s went mainstream – I can still remember finding a bunch of lager-drinking ‘lads’ from my local picking magic mushrooms one September – their counterparts of ten or fifteen years before would have avoided such things like the plague.

So why did Mrs Thatcher’s social agenda fail so dismally while her economic agenda – at least as regards crippling union power – succeed?

Because individual capitalists – especially in the financial sector – found that none of that made much difference to their profits. Some things, like the influx of women into the labour market, and a move from manufacturing to services, were a positive boon as far as reducing militancy and strikes were concerned. The destruction of the existing cultural landscape was no problem to people who didn’t particularly identify with it – like Rupert Murdoch.

Bastardy, crime and the underclass were much more of a problem for working class people than the elite, who didn’t have to live with it or send their kids to school with it. Not much anti-social behaviour in Roy Jenkins’ Oxfordshire village – plenty in the Valleys where he was born.

Sure, taxes were quite high to pay the benefits bill – but they were coming down, and compared to the 1960s they were massively reduced. And North Sea oil paid the bills and enabled us to keep the balance of payments deficit getting too outrageous – while the City tax take climbed ever higher. You can only take one step at a time – IIRC Mrs Thatcher’s share of state spending was around the same when she left as when she arrived – remarkable when you think what the state no longer did – steel, coal, gas, water, power.

It's arguable (I tend to agnosticism) that Mrs Thatcher's curbing of the unions may have been a good thing in a relatively closed society. But when that was combined with immigration on the scale of the Blair years, it was an invitation to capitalists to fill their boots, then grind them in the faces of the poor. The toxic synergy of capitalist economic ideas (up to a point - would Adam Smith have bailed out the banks?) and post-68 left social ideas have between them created the Britain we see today - and it's not a pretty sight.    

Friday, March 29, 2013

Underclass News

Those two sadly-departed organs of the State, the Coppersblog and Inspector Gadget, frequently opined that they spent too much police time on the psychodramas of the local underclass - Shayne would complain that Wayne was harassing her by text or on Facebook just because she'd been with Dwayne, Wayne would counter-complain etc etc. It was very hard to establish who was telling the truth and nine times out of ten would lead to "no further action".

This seems to be spreading to people who actually work for a living. A worrying trend.

It could of course be a sign of the End Times. 

Are We Doomed?

On this most solemn Crucifixion day, let me share some sombre stats with you :

 Let me put that in writing :

Gas up 168% in ten years
Electricity 97%
Property 66%
Water 63%
Council tax / rates 59%
Petrol 59%
Food 39%
Rents 28%
Consumer durables -5%
Average income up 38%
CPI inflation up 27%.

I don't know what it tells you, but it tells me that the ONS measures of inflation, as far as the poor are concerned, are woefully inadequate. There's no doubt that 24" monitors (made in the Far East) are a fraction of their 2001 price - but how many of those do you buy a year, compared with the number of trips to the garage or supermarket you make?

With pensioners' savings bringing near-zero incomes, and benefits being restricted to 1% increases for the next three years, in tandem with more talk of energy price rises, people will freeze to death with costs like these.  

The graph is from Tim Morgan's The Perfect Storm (pdf). He's head of research at the broker Tullett Prebon, and his thesis is that

a) barring a nuclear miracle* (fusion or thorium), the era of cheap energy is over
b) the end of cheap energy = end of growth
c) the West is particularly poorly situated to deal with this because

d) we've outsourced most of our production to the Far East
e) but we've continued our high consumption, which has left us

f) massively indebted, both at the personal and State level - debt which can only be repaid by heroic and unattainable future growth assumptions. In other words, we're doomed.

I'm particularly taken  with Dr Morgan's work because his short term forecasting record is pretty good. In one of this earlier Strategy Reports, Thinking The Unthinkable, he said the government's deficit reduction strategy was doomed to fail :

"We believe that the British economy simply is not capable of growing at anything like the rates which are predicted by the OBR and are critical to the government’s deficit reduction calculus."

His arguments were based on the idea that previous growth had mainly been the result of private borrowing and public spending, both of which had braked sharply, if not gone into reverse. The sectors of the economy which had provided most recent growth were precisely those which the crisis had hit hardest. Another sobering graph :

To be fair, this may well have been the story of 1986-2007, or even from 1979. Doing things - up, producing things (except houses, schools, PFI hospitals and office blocks) - down.

I digress. The point is, he was right in his prediction, and his explanation of why Osborne's targets wouldn't be hit was persuasive. So I was naturally receptive to his gloom and doom.

Trouble is, I'm an Eeyore, a sucker for predictions of Armageddon. Laban was a Green before the word was invented, back in the days of Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb and the Club of Rome's Limits To Growth. (I still believe in their basic theses - though Ehrlich failed to predict the Green Revolution which prevented mass starvation, so his forecasts of hundreds of millions of famine deaths in the 70s and 80s happily failed to materialise - and he looked ridiculous. But .. "the trees do not grow up to the sky".)

So I'm a long term believer in doom and gloom, but we have to live in the present, in the long run we're all dead etc. What's exercising Tim Morgan is not that we'll run out of energy, but that it won't be cheap any more, because of something called EROEI - Energy Returned On Energy Invested.

Eighty years back you could drill in Arabia and for every barrel's worth of energy used to make, transport and power the equipment and the oil produced, you'd get a hundred barrels back - EROEI was 100-1. Forward to the North Sea now, and Dr Morgan believes the ratio may be as low as 5-1 - that the cost of five new barrels of oil is burning an existing one. Lower still for the tar sands of Canada and shale gas (although at that point I have to ask - why is shale gas so cheap in the States? Are the producers losing money on it?).

Now Tim Worstall thinks that EROEI is "nonsense", but I must say I don't find his argument as presented in Forbes very persuasive :

"while the math and physics of ERoEI is just fine, indisputable even, it’s just not a very useful conceit except in certain very limited situations. Basically, what is being said is that as oil gets deeper, more difficult to pump up, perhaps with tar sands we’ve got to use more energy to purify the stuff, then at some point we hit a boundary, a system boundary. We’ll be using more energy to get the oil out than we’ll get energy from the oil we get out."

Dr Morgan just says that energy's going to be very expensive, and that world economic growth has almost exactly paralleled increased energy use. Increased EROEIs will, he says mean that an ever greater proportion of world energy use will be devoted to ... energy extraction, with a consequent decrease in the amount devoted to other activities, like driving to Swansea or turning on the electric fire. 

"It takes 1,000 tonnes of water to grow a tonne of wheat. That water must be fresh water. Producing fresh water requires huge amounts of energy. The Sun does this very nicely for us, evaporating it from the oceans and sending it back down as rain again. Now, think of the energy that is required to evaporate 1,000 tonnes of water…..that’s 1 million kilos at 419 kJ per kilo. 419 million kJ. There’s around 3,000 calories in a kg of wheat. So our tonne of wheat provides us with 3 million calories. 3 million kcal (nutritional calories that is) is 12560400 kJ. A little over 12 million kJ. So, in producing that staff of life, those grains which keep the entire world turning, we use 35 times as much energy as an input as we get as an output. And we’re quite happy with this. We don’t think it odd at all. And we most certainly don’t say that it’s unsustainable because it doesn’t pass the ERoEI calculation.

The reason we’re not worried about it is because we’ve got vast amounts of energy coming to us as sunlight. Huge, massive, great big gobs of it. And we’re entirely happy to use it copiously, waste huge amounts of it, because there is so much. We want that energy in a form that can be used by our bodies and we’re just delighted to waste 97% of the energy in order to get a bit in the form we can use.

ERoEI just isn’t a binding constraint on our system, not at any human scale."

Tim's just describing the Agricultural Revolution of 6,000 years or so ago. But we no longer just want "energy in a form that can be used by our bodies" (and even that energy is now dependent on large secondary fossil fuel inputs - via the fertiliser, the tractor, the harvester, the grain dryer, the bakery, the supermarket). We want lumpy, if not liquid, energy - energy we can cart around as fuel for our cars and aircraft, energy to create electricity to power everything from tablet computers to ski lifts, energy to warm our homes - transportable energy. Apart from nuclear and (in some parts of the world) hydro electricity, our main sources are fossil fuels - a finite resource, that once was cheap to extract, but no longer. The low-hanging energy fruit has gone.

* of course the thorium cavalry may gallop over the hill, but we still can't go on increasing energy use indefinitely. How would we get rid of all the extra heat? I guess the fate of the Martian atmosphere is ever in my mind.       

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Plan B - "Reinflate The Housing Bubble !"

George Osborne is the Son Of Brown :
"George Osborne is going into the mortgage business. What could possibly go wrong?

...(the taxpayer) is to underwrite £130bn of mortgage loans. They, or we, will pick up the tab if the borrower defaults. This will give banks the confidence to accept smaller deposits of, say, 5 per cent, meaning the borrower can borrow more. It is not hard to see how this will encourage struggling banks to get a racier appetite for risk. Imagine the discussion between the buyer and the mortgage adviser: "Oh yeah, it's underwritten by the government, borrow a bit more!" This is supposed to be the way out of a private and public debt crisis.

Remind me, how did the country get into its current mess in the first place? In America both political parties connived to loosen the lending criteria until anyone who wanted it could get a dodgy loan to buy a house. In the UK too, a private sector debt bubble was facilitated by a cheap money policy encouraged by the government. Combined with financial engineering by the banks, and the financialisation of the economy, the UK economy was made very vulnerable to an international shock. Once again, a big gamble is to be made based on pumping up the housing market."

There's no doubt that this will do wonders for buy-to-let landlords, who'll be able to buy new places to live in while renting out their existing residence (the loans are ostensibly not for buy-to-let) - and that's just what the British economy needs, after all. One wouldn't want the average house price to be affordable by the average earner, would one? As the BBC said this morning, it'll aid "recovery in the housing market" - and recovery is a good thing, isn't it?

In other news "Recovery in the fuel market", "Recovery in the food market", and "Recovery in the energy market"!

Oh, and along with handing over 20% of the price to housebuyers, the taxpayer will be on the hook for a chunk of any losses on the loans (losses to the lenders, of course - who else?) in the event of a US-style price meltdown. Altogether now :

"Privatise the profits -  socialise the losses !"

Obviously we'll need a bit of extra demand to keep rents up, too - so don't expect immigration to come down any time soon - or any time at all. Oh, and that inflation "target" that they don't take any notice of ? Well, they're going to take even less notice of it in future !

I guess this is all of a piece with previous policy, and will continue to drive the remorseless widening of the gap between the elite and the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The UK Left Are The Lapdogs Of The Capitalist Elite

The entire post-68 British "left" are paper tigers, running dogs of capitalism. No one's profits are threatened by the SWP or the modern Labour Party.

If they were really a threat to capitalism, they'd be harassed by the State, find it hard to get bank accounts, have vexatious legal actions against them. Laws would be changed to make it harder for them to operate.

Their public sector members would be dismissed. Wealthy individuals would fund groups solely devoted to giving them a hard time - up to and including physical assault.

Members on their way to demonstrations would be 'preventatively' arrested, held until the demo was over, then released.

Now does left-wing politics attract that kind of reaction? Why not, if it's such a threat? In the past left activists were imprisoned, transported, harassed and worse.

To be fair, you do get the occasional building worker who's blacklisted for the hideous offence of putting his fellow-worker's safety before the target date or budget. But you don't find many building workers posting at Dave Osler's or Crooked Timber. The "left" isn't building workers these days - it's college lecturers and students - or even finance types like Chris Dillow or Daniel Davies.

 "It shrouded oft our martyred dead". Not many martyrs these days, to put it mildly.

Instead, the UK left is so cosy in the elite's warm embrace that the majority of their activists come from the public sector, and a disproportionate number from the higher education sector. If they're so dangerous to our rulers, why aren't they all worried about being fired? I don't think Professor Callinicos loses too much sleep on that account.

"The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class"

 The post-68 Left social agenda has almost completely triumphed in the UK - witness Cameron joining Hope Not Hate and campaigning for gay marriage.

At the same time the Left economic agenda has been so utterly defeated that terms and conditions for the average worker are being driven down remorselessly - even as total remuneration for the top few percent accelerates into the distance.

Haven't any of these educated lefties wondered why this might be? So much success in one sphere, so little in another?

Why, it's almost as if there's an inverse relationship between the two!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

"Haven't we all done things we regret when we were young?"

I don't know. For years the Peter Tatchell's of this world have been saying “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it”.

It appears that if someone takes them at their word, trying it, then knocking it, that’s a bad thing.

Shouldn’t we all profit from experience?

Cardinal O’Brien was the most high-profile and outspoken opponent of gay marriage in Britain, condemning it as a “grotesque subversion”.He warned that the plans, supported by the governments in Westminster and Holyrood, would open the way to “further aberrations” and said society “would be degenerating even further than it already has into immorality.”

 He can see into David Cameron's mind ! The good Cardinal seems to be pretty much on the case.

His comments earned him the title “Bigot of the Year” from the gay rights group Stonewall.
So what else is new ?

But last night Evan Davis, the BBC presenter, who is gay, posted a message on Twitter suggesting that the Cardinal’s fierce rhetoric might have been a way of suppressing his own “torment”.
* spits on floor *

The bad news is that our sin is ever before us. But there's good news too...

If only he'd just murdered someone forty-odd years ago !

Then the Indie and Guardian would have been asking why he's being hounded by vindictive hangers and floggers, and saying 'haven't we all done things we regret when we were young?'.


My offences truly I know them;
My sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
What is evil in your sight I have done.

(FWIW, I do think that priestly chastity, honoured more in the breach than the observance for at least the first thousand years of the Church, has been highly dysgenic (as well as perhaps unscriptural - wasn't St Peter married?). Look at the number of great Britons post-Reformation who grew up in a vicarage - Hooke and Wren, Ben Johnson, Hobbes, Nelson, Austen, Coleridge, the Brontes for starters.

Similarly in medieval Europe we see that prominent rabbis and Talmudic scholars had more children than the average.

But for the Catholic nations (and pre-Reformation northern Europe), priests, a traditionally high status occupation, had few acknowledged children - certainly much fewer than average, tending towards zero in the last few centuries.

If some of the brightest and best don't breed, it's not good for any population.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Obama said he would strengthen the middle class and introduce immigration reform"

Thus BBC Radio Four on the State of the Union address. 

Given that "immigration reform" is Newspeak for "legalise the illegals and invite their friends and family", it seems unlikely the middle class will be strengthened.

The wealthy class, very probably.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Start To Get It ...

Well, it only took between 400 and 1,200 deaths at a single hospital, but it's starting to get through :

"When I asked people who worked, or had worked, in the NHS what they thought had caused the biggest changes in nursing care, nearly all of them mentioned something called Project 2000. This was a new system introduced in the early 1990s, which moved the training of nurses out of hospitals and into universities."

I blogged the remarkable change to nursing training in 2003, having seen the results first-hand when the caring nurses on my dying mother's ward made it plain that they didn't want to have to take her to the toilet, and having seen the set texts when my wife took a 'back to nursing' university course after a career break.

"... until relatively recently many nurses believed that nursing is best carried out when based on instinct, intuition and empathy, elements that make up 'the calling' ... such an approach ...has since come in for considerable criticism."

Thus 'Nursing Models and Nursing Practice' by Peter Aggleton and Helen Chalmers, recommended by university lecturers throughout the land . You can't say that criticism's not been taken to heart.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

"This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe"

Former life assurance salesman turned Tory A-lister Ivan Massow on the Tory Taliban (© Alan Duncan):

“Those same shire people didn’t agree that a man and a man should live together. They are always one step behind the curve unfortunately. But there aren’t many more reforms for them to tolerate. There’s just nothing left after this. When we can get this last thing through the gate I can’t see anything else, any other slights on their lifestyle or their beliefs that they have to tolerate.” 

Also in today's Telegraph :

"The idea that mothers rather than fathers should take charge of raising children needs to be "shattered", a minister said today."

It'll end in tears before bedtime, mark my words. But it all makes a kind of sense from one perspective. It all depends on whether you think that being a Master Of The Universe, high above a shattered, atomised and poverty-stricken mass of competing and variegated cultures, is better than being a more-than-comfortable member of a civil, ordered, prosperous and relatively homogenous society. You and I may go for the latter option. But that's not necessarily what an elite will want*.

(In other news, "a widow has died after being left to starve for nine days as her care agency was closed and the council forgot about her.")

* Laban - "It's true that in a rational economic world, a high-earning working class might be considered a good thing for a nation - and that therefore it's not in our rulers' interest to take us back a hundred years - but that would also have applied for the several hundred years prior to, say, 1860-1960. The post-1945 settlement is not the natural order of things. Before that it was the plebs and the rest - and the will to power, even constrained by Christianity, was strong. Unconstrained, what limits are there?"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

May Contain Traces Of Horse (And Pig)

Fair play to the Irish. The UK state supports a vast array of bodies and busybodies designed to monitor and nag about food standards, inspectors for this and that. Someone doing farmhouse teas on weekends will have the kitchens checked ("a dog ? In a kitchen ? Quite impossible.") - yet when it comes to the mass sale of food, only the Irish apparently run a few checks to see if the label accurately describes the contents.

And if I read the story aright, only ONE out of 27 burgers tested contained neither horse nor pig, but beef only. Step forward good old M&S.

Marks & Spencer 'Simply M&S beefburgers' were the only brand found by the FSAI to contain neither pork nor horse and were 100 per cent beef.

Now it's pretty obvious that the supermarkets selling these products should be prosecuted under the Trades Descriptions Act, if nothing else. I can't really think that a small corner shop has much option but to believe the supplier. Not so for the big beasts. They spend enough time beating people down on price, but don't seem to worry about quality.

And prosecutions should then move up the chain.

An investigation into the production of beef burgers containing horse meat is focusing on imported ingredients, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said last night.

Those naughty foreigners, eh ?

Hang on ... what's this at Lingfield this afternoon ?

7 Run
Blue Square Bet Maiden Fillies' Stakes
Class 5, £4000.00 added, 3yo plus, £2727.00 penalty

Form Horse Trainer Age Wgt Jockey
1(4) 90 Elusive Miss A Stokell 7 9 13 Ann Stokell (5)
Lily Edge J J Bridger 4 9 13 K T O'Neill
3(5) 33-2 Lady Lunchalot (USA) J S Moore 3 8 7 L Morris
4(3) 8- Maxi Dress (IRE) J H M Gosden 3 8 7 R Havlin
5(7) 4- Mistral Wind (IRE) E A L Dunlop 3 8 7 C Catlin
6(2) 03-Star Sequence H Palmer38 7Martin Dwyer
7(6) 5- Tesco Value Burger (IRE) R Broadbent 3 8 7 Philip Clarke

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Death Of A Salesman

Colour me cynical, but could this story :

Shopkeepers and stallholders said yesterday that they believed the two victims were homeless. One line of enquiry is that one of the men might have been stabbed to death following a row over selling The Big Issue without a licence. One of the men was found outside the Sainsbury's store in Martineau Place while the second was found slumped yards away near Boots in Union Street.

"We've heard that they owed money to someone."

Have any relation to this story ?

The Mail on Sunday last week spoke to Big Issue sellers in several British cities. In Glasgow, five of the seven vendors we found were Romanian. The sole British seller claimed that luxury cars arrived at the city’s distribution depot at 6am each Monday to pick up copies.

The man, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Large, flash cars, like Mercedes and BMWs, pull up and load up in bulk with the magazines before driving off to have them distributed. What are people driving cars like that doing buying loads of copies of The Big Issue to sell on? There are too many copies for one or two people to sell, so they must have a gang working for them. And they’re doing it because there’s lots of money in it for them. It’s organised crime. People who are clearly wealthy enough to drive cars like that have no business getting involved in selling The Big Issue. There are hardly any Brits now and that’s because we are being muscled out. The intimidation can be terrible sometimes but you just have to stand up to them. I know of one guy who got beaten up. It’s a scandal.’

I know you have to be licensed to sell the Big Issue, but I didn't think the magazine enforced it that strictly. No, the reason my cynometer flickered was that there have been one or two incidents in the last few years of homeless people being ruthlessly exploited for financial gain helped out with a work offer by public-spirited people. On the other hand, I know from first-hand experience that the British press never likes to spoil a good story for the want of a few facts, and homeless people are generally in need of money - so the above story MAY be a tad embellished.

We shall see. A man with no name has been charged. If he turns out to be called Dave Bloggs or John Smith, I shall have to admit that I may be too cynical.

UPDATE - "John Ward, of no fixed address, was remanded in custody until Wednesday after making a two-minute appearance before a district judge at Birmingham magistrates court."

So I am too cynical. I was starting to believe that wasn't possible.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What's wrong with the left blogs ?

Is it just me, or are the Left blogs terribly stale these days ? You'd think that the Coalition would energise them no end - it's certainly energised me. You'd expect it to be the hideous Righties who are a tad muted, but my favourites there are still banging away at the same targets - they seem much more aware than the Left bloggers that there's not a huge amount to choose between this Administration and the last one.

I guess on the Left the Norms and the Harry's of this world are still banging away* at the same targets, too. Call me a parochial old Hector, but at a time when the UK is deep in the doo-doo (pdf), only likely to get deeper, and my kids will be leaving college to compete with half the globe for that £7 an hour call-centre job, the latest from Iran or Syria just doesn't engage me as it may once have.

"The knee is nearer than the shin" as the Greeks put it.

The far left - the Andy Newmans and the Lenins - seem - especially in Lenin's case ('my suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations') - so detached from working people's everyday experience as to be operating in a different universe - the universe of the political class, a place where ordinary people don't go. To a great extent that can be said to apply to the Decents, the Oslers and the Shiraz Socialists, too. What happened to some T&G activist 40 years ago isn't a lesson for anyone now, because "all is changed, utterly".

Are there in fact a lot of good new Left blogs out there, and I'm just out of touch ? Or is the Left pretty damn moribund ?

Just take a look at this "left" blog's "about us" page. FFS !  What a horny-handed bunch of toilers we've got here ! Up The Workers !

(On an unrelated note, Praise The Lord ! More rejoicing in heaven etc etc). 
One other thing. Harry's Place and Lenin's Gulag don't have a lot in common - but they both now use that appalling "Disqus" comment software, as seen at the Telegraph. Can anyone tell me why any blogger should want to use that stuff? What's its appeal?

* I must be fair. Banging isn't really Norm's style. Calm is more his thing.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Beginning Of The End (Of The Journey)

Well, tomorrow sees the end of Child Benefit for those bloated plutocrats with a household income of £50,000 and a stay at home mother .

Thank heavens it's been preserved for those struggling families on £98,000 a year and a working mother, not to mention the 37,900 children living in Poland who receive it. The Tories are the party of the Polish family, after all.

I call on the commenters - is this the first removal of a universal benefit since the NHS introduced prescription charges, and a young minister, a left-wing firebrand called Harold Wilson, resigned in protest in 1951 ? Wilson, as Prime Minister, removed the charges in 1965, a rare example of political consistency, then reintroduced them in 1968. They've been there ever since.

The point of universal benefits, like a universal postal system, is social cohesion. They showed that the Welfare State was for everyone, that we were indeed all in it together. The more benefits are means-tested (an expensive and bureaucratic procedure), the more the welfare state is purely for "the poor" and not for "everyone", the less support it'll have from what Churchill called "the broad masses of the well-to-do" and the more uncertain its future.

 For some in or around the Tory party, for the millionaire venture capitalists advising on employment legislation while themselves paying only 10% tax, or the billionaire retailers advising the government on efficiency, while ensuring their company dividends go offshore, that may be considered a feature rather than a bug. 

 On Tuesday there's the vote on the 1% benefits freeze - for 3 years, at a time when the new BoE Governor, Mark Carney, has already suggested that his predecessor Mervyn "Money Printing" King is a tad hawkish on inflation targets, and that some loosening may be required in the fiscal straitjacket that has seen inflation continually above the 2% target.

I have no problem with someone putting forward the argument that benefits are too high, that they afford more than a minimum standard - but no one in the Tory party is doing that. Instead, it's proposed that they should be cut because of 'fairness'. Yet they're meant to afford people a minimum standard of living. When food and electricity prices rise by 10%, and benefits by 1%, what's going to happen to those people ? And that's just one year.            

I must say, the next few years are going to be interesting, in the Chinese sense.

The suicide rate fell dramatically at the start of both World Wars, as those otherwise tired of life decided that, like Vince and Muskie, they just wanted to stay around just to see what happens next.

I feel the same. The next few years are going to be awful but fascinating.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Benefits Rise By 1%, Food Prices Rise By 5% ?

Laban, last week at CiF:

"It was a bad wheat harvest in the West (although I'm told East Anglia did better then usual - they reckon they don't normally get enough rain there) but it'll be worse in 2013. None of the fields have been sown round my way - can't get tractors on the fields. Usually by now wheat would be sprouting.

Dairy and beef farmers have had to keep their beasts indoors since October and it's costing them a fortune in feed.

Food's going to be more expensive."

Telegraph, yesterday :

"The price of basic food items could rise by as much as five per cent this year because of miserable weather last autumn, the managing director of Waitrose has warned. Mark Price said food price inflation is already hovering at three to three and a half per cent, but this is just "the tip of the iceberg" and prices could increase even more dramatically over the coming months.

Produce such as bread and vegetables will become up to five per cent more expensive because of poor crop yields leading to a shortage of supply, he warned.

Many farmers are reporting that they still have not planted crops for 2013 because of the torrential rainfall which caused flooding across parts of Britain late last year. "

"Open borders make the eventual abolition of the welfare state imaginable"

Thanks to blogger BenSix in the comments for this, from libertarian economist Bryan Caplan.

(Graphs from Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote's "Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?")

Caplan thinks that the end of the journey is not only possible, but desirable. Key paragraphs :

"Diversity undermines solidarity. People don't mind paying high taxes to support people "like them." But free money for "the other" leads to resentment and political pushback.

That's exactly what we're seeing in the UK, and why Osborne and Shapps may get away politically with a real-terms benefits cut. They noted the outrage among working people in 2011 when benefits rose by 5% at a time of static wages.

If you're a social democrat, this implies a tragic trade-off between social justice for natives and social justice for potential immigrants. But if you're a libertarian, the opposite is true. The welfare state doesn't make open borders impossible. It's open borders that makes the eventual abolition of the welfare state imaginable."

Caveat - the first graph is based on 1990-1998 figures, the second on 1998 figures. Ireland and the UK, for example, are considerably more diverse than they were then. And the US is a lot more Hispanic than it was in 1998.

UPDATE - another academic blogger takes issue with Prof. Caplan  - no comfort here, I fear:

" In particular, let me stress once again that even if open borders makes the majority population more anti-government, after a while their preferences will not matter, since they will inevitably become a minority of voters. "
 But at some stage the money runs out, no matter what the voters want.

Prof Caplan responds - no comfort again :

"The claim isn't that open borders will "destroy" solidarity or the welfare state, but merely that open borders will undermine both.  And while free-marketers may well agree that some degree of solidarity is good, it's also hard for free-marketers to deny that current levels of solidarity are excessive.  Solidarity stands in the way of free-market reforms in pensions, education, health care, taxation, agricultural policy, and much more."
 Can't say we've not been warned.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

More On Universal Credit - Stable Door Edition

When I wrote about the Universal Credit rules for the self-employed, which will do such damage to the self-employed handyman or the single mum selling her crafts at local fairs, I forgot about another target - the Big Issue Benefits Loophole :

"A Big Issue seller is claiming victory in a landmark case to have her work classed as a proper job and thus be eligible for extra benefits.

Romanian Firuta Vasile was refused housing benefit because a local authority judged that her job selling the magazine "didn't count".

But she has successfully argued that because she bought the Big Issues and sold them at her own profit or loss she was self-employed.

Speaking through an interpreter, Vasile, 27, said she came to the UK in 2007 to look for a job, but could only find work selling the Big Issue."

Romanians and Bulgarians aren't allowed to work here unless they're self-employed. And you'll have noticed the terrible shortage of Big Issue sellers which is crippling British industry. But it sounds as if the Big Issue is their flexible friend :

"The Big Issue exists to offer homeless people and those at risk of homelessness the opportunity to work and earn an income. This is offered irrespective of a person’s background or origin. Earning their own money reduces dependency on hand-outs from the state, charities and the public.. "
Even when the entire raison-d'etre of "earning their own money" is to get "hand-outs from the state" ? It's not surprising that Roma Big Issue sellers are an increasingly common sight.

The good news is that, come October, all this will stop and our self-employed sellers will be assumed to have an income of around £250 pw - whether they have or not.

The bad news is that, come December, the entire populations of Romania and Bulgaria will be free to move to the UK, self-employed or not.  

I do wonder if the aim of our rulers is actually to push immigration to the levels where the Brits will, of their own volition, call for the end of the Welfare State. Maybe that Grant Shapps isn't as stupid as he sounds, only as unpleasant as he sounds.

"I do think that it’s right for the taxpayer at large, who after going out, working hard, paying their taxes, should feel that they’re not having to pay for people who are in receipt of benefits to get a higher effective pay rise than the people actually working. So I think this is an argument about fairness."
As I've said before, benefits are meant to afford a minimum standard of living. Raising them by 1% a year for three years, when inflation on necessities is probably over 5%, will drop them a long way below that standard. Now maybe that standard was set too high. But that's not what he's arguing. He's arguing that it's "fair" that a minimum standard set by Parliament should be reduced because other, better-off people are tightening their belts.

I said he's not stupid. People working and still struggling to pay the electric bill aren't going to be overly sympathetic, to put it mildly. Good politics if lousy humanity.     

Monday, December 24, 2012

Shepherds Arise

A carol from Sussex, collected from the Copper family and sung here by Oak.

Sorry about the pagan  video, but the guy's got taste in music.

A Happy Christmas to one and all from the Laban household ! And don't forget to pray for the Christians of Syria, Nigeria and Egypt.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

"What's Wrong With The Left?" Part 296

Andy Newman at Socialist Unity is worried :

"I think there is another underlying problem, in writing about what the left is doing,  because the left really isn’t doing much at the moment which engages with the political mainstream. I will write a longer and more considered article on this, but I am interested in what our readers think. Has the left lost its way?"
Well there's a surprise. What could the matter be, I wonder ? In a week when the statutory consultation period for large-scale redundancy has been reduced from 90 days to 45, and the Agricultural Wages Board ('which permits the fixing of minimum wage rates and terms and conditions for agricultural workers') has been abolished, all with hardly a ripple of opposition, what could a left-winger in the UK possibly find to worry about except US gun control and gay marriage ?

But if Andy doesn't understand what's going on, his commenters can fill him in :

Alan Gibbons : 

"The Tories have been relatively successful at slicing away at public services. There has been no ‘big bang’ provoking a generalised fightback... anti-welfare rhetoric has struck a nerve with some sections of the population. The second national anti-cuts march, while substantial, was smaller than the first...what worries me more, from the perspective of somebody involved as an independent activist in the fight against the cuts and particularly the campaign to save the public library service, is that the Left looks much older, greyer, divided and less confident ..."

You're telling me ... I think this post needs a link.

"The time of salami-slicing in public services seems to be coming to a close and whole areas of public spending may be axed, as shown by Newcastle’s withdrawal from the Arts. The assault on redundancy, the privatisation of the NHS, the proposed onslaught on the teaching unions and accelerating attacks on benefits show a weak government with a fragile mandate going ahead regardless with an offensive strategy."

A slight diversion here - I think some areas of public spending OUGHT to be axed. The dynamic of the last sixty years in local government is

a) central government puts statutory obligation on local government
b) gives them some money to fund it.

Until a local authority gets far more of its money from central government than from local taxation, and this is cancerous to local democracy, because you don't really get what you vote for. As a school governor, for example, I saw our Conservative local authority zealously implementing Labour's hideous "Every Child Matters" agenda, and wondered what the point of a Tory vote was. If central government want something done, they should do it themselves.

So anyway, I wouldn't mind if some of the legislative nagombi (how many diversity consultants) was dropped. Alas, this isn't going to happen any time soon. What's more likely is that the local authority (LA) staff will end up being outsourced to whichever company promises the LA that they can do the same stuff as the council did, with the staff having the same terms and conditions (except pensions - a not inconsiderable point, as LA pensions are index-linked final salary i.e. what you don't see in the private sector any more) - and all at 10-15% less cost ! I invite the reader to imagine at whose expense these savings will come.

I digress.

Nadia Chem - fine old English name, but she talks sense (though should that be "overestimated"?) :

"What has been missed is the reality that the working class might not have the confidence to resist such an offensive. The atrophy of working class organization at workplace and community level cannot be underestimated... the locus of the offensive has been as much in a general attack on living standards as in cuts. This has generated an enormous well of bitterness but little active resistance... the fact that this attack on living standards started under the Labour government from 2006 weakens Labour’s ability to grasp the bitterness."

Mr Newman himself :

"My experience of knocking doors for Labour, is that people are open to a traditional Labour message, but not with any real conviction that labour would be even different, let alone better."       

Trust the people, Andy.

"I fear that much of the left – including the so-called revolutionaries – have actually given up on social change"

I wouldn't say that. We've seen unprecedented social change, and will see more.

BrokenWindow :

"the Left is as atomised as the workers collectively are atrophied. Underpinning this is an absence or failure to theoretically engage in wider debates about globalisation and nation states... most of all it must re-engage with the people it hates the most,the young working class white men and women who have gone to the right."

So there are plenty of people who can see that there's a problem. But in 175-odd comments, no one seems to really know why they're up the Swanee.

"the best thing we could do for the cause is to recruit more people to unions/help install a sense of discipline/participate in community campaigns and start working where people are rather than where we want them to be." 

Of course ! Like good old  Boxer in Animal Farm, "I must work harder" ! If only we were better socialists...

Laban dropped into the comments a quote from the anthropologist Peter Frost (of 'Fair Women, Dark Men') :

"In late capitalism, the elites are no longer restrained by ties of national identity and are thus freer to enrich themselves at the expense of their host society. This clash of interests lies at the heart of the globalist project: on the one hand, jobs are outsourced to low-wage countries; on the other, low-wage labor is insourced for jobs that cannot be relocated, such as in the construction and service industries.

This two-way movement redistributes wealth from owners of labor to owners of capital. Business people benefit from access to lower-paid workers and weaker labor and environmental standards. Working people are meanwhile thrown into competition with these other workers. As a result, the top 10% of society is pulling farther and farther ahead of everyone else, and this trend is taking place throughout the developed world. The rich are getting richer … not by making a better product but by making the same product with cheaper and less troublesome inputs of labor."

I think Mr Frost describes it pretty well. The UK business elite in 1940, as noted in Harold Nicolson's diaries, were prepared to go down in flames rather than see Hitler triumph. But now ... even "conservatives" like Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine* "are no longer restrained by ties of national identity", let alone businessmen who've seen their incomes soar, both absolutely and relatively. This is why the end of the journey will soon be in sight.
Anyway, Andy (or his gofer, I know not) deleted the post in about minutes one. They don't want to know, and that's why they'll continue to get shafted - along with the rest of us.

Andy is at this moment involved in  an industrial dispute between Carillion, an outsourcer, and their many Asian employees - mostly Goan Catholics and I'm sure good people (the details of the dispute make depressing reading - looks like third-world petty corruption is already here).

But you do have to wonder why people from half way round the world are needed to clean Swindon's hospital - especially as Swindon is a place where there are 30 applications for every vacancy in Next.

The answer to Andy's questions are literally staring him in the face - but there's none so blind as those who will not see.


* Heseltine gave a famous Spectator interview where, asked if he was worried about Britain being merged into a Greater Europe, replied "who now remembers the Heptarchy (the seven kingdoms of Saxon England)?"