Saturday, December 13, 2008

"morally bankrupt parasites"

"shameless layabouts and gutless politicians ... the degrading impact of irresponsible handouts to morally bankrupt parasites ..." , go on, Jeff Randall - tell us what you really think about welfare.

Talking of morally bankrupt parasites, isn't there room for Doncaster solicitors Beresfords in that category ?

The men who became two of the highest-paid solicitors in Britain by mishandling the claims of almost 100,000 sick miners will be struck off after being found guilty of misconduct yesterday.

James Beresford and Douglas Smith, partners in the South Yorkshire firm Beresfords, took advantage of vulnerable miners by putting their own commercial goals before those of their clients, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found. The company earned more than £115m under a government scheme for compensating miners with health claims, and Beresford himself made more than £16m in one year.

Eight out of 11 allegations of serious professional misconduct against the pair - including acting in a conflict of interest, failing to give adequate advice and information to clients and creating fee arrangements which were not in their best interests - were proven against them, the tribunal said.

"If ever there was a group of persons who needed the full care and attention from solicitors, it was these miners," said tribunal chairman David Leverton, adding that the miners had been vulnerable because of their "understandable inability to appreciate legal documents".

According to the Guardian, taxpayers have stumped up £6.9 billion to compensate former employees of the National Coal Board for various industrial diseases. More than half of that money has gone to lawyers. Beresfords are just the fattest vultures on the carcass.

When I first heard about this story a few years back, I wondered what the unions were doing. Surely they'd see it as part of their remit to ensure that their ex-members got a good deal - find good lawyers with reasonable fees, then recommend them ?


Beresfords has enjoyed a close working relationship with the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and Vendside, the claims-handling company owned by the union, which chose to pass on several thousand of its cases to be dealt with by the Doncaster solicitors.

And as the three leading individuals at the UDM have flourished financially, so have their friends at Beresfords.

Looks like the union are 'Democratic' as in 'Democratic Republic of Congo'. In some societies, that kind of betrayal - of your own people - would merit a firing squad.

"This has turned out to be a bonanza for solicitors," said Geoffrey Hopkinson, son of miner George Hopkinson, who died of a lung obstruction after years of inhaling coal dust in the mines. Hopkinson, whose claim was handled by Beresfords, said his family received £549.38, which he described as "derisory".
If you've ever seen someone with serious lung disease, only just able to get out of a chair and move around with difficulty, oxygen mask removed for a few wheezy words then straight back on again ... and you think that the people ripped off were miners, as good people as you could ever find in Britain - for once I'm stuck for words with more than four letters.

Don't forget the 'irresponsible handouts' to the said parasites.

The tribunal heard how the scheme, which was agreed after a high court case established British Coal's liability in 1998, allowed legal costs to be claimed from the DTI, leaving the full amount of compensation for the miners themselves.

Yet Beresfords failed to inform miners they were entitled to the full amount, and deducted up to 30% as fees.

Two issues here. Obviously our fee-inflaters are among the lowest of the low, not quite there with child-murderers but somewhere just above - the vicinity of those who mug OAPs, steal charity boxes or tell a class of seven year olds that Santa doesn't exist.

But the government's well-meant announcement that client compo, whatever amount, would be net of legal fees was an inducement to said vultures to make as many claims as possible, sure that whatever the client got, they themselves would be fat. HM Treasury might as well have sent men with pockets full of our cash to walk the streets of South Yorkshire, bearing notices inviting passers-by to rip them off. Of such good intent is the road to hell paved.

UPDATE - Beresfords are apparently planning to bounce back via :

"which will screen cases submitted by users and then share the resulting workload among paying subscriber law firms.

The business will be a direct competitor to both Injury Lawyers4U and, according to literature provided at a conference the firm’s chief executive Mark Farrell spoke at earlier this year.

Beresfords originally sought to launch the venture this autumn, according to the pamphlet, however this has yet to take place.

The URL was registered in 2003 by Esther Beresford, believed to be Jim Beresford’s daughter Esta, who is also a lawyer at the Doncaster firm. Her ownership of the domain name will expire in 2010.

I believe ScumbagsR Us, Ambulance Chasers Inc and Fraudulent ClaimCorp are also active in the personal injury marketplace. Not to mention the personal injury solicitors who have their adverts in our local NHS casualty department - something to read while you wait ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hmmm ...

Indie :

Steffen Kampeter, the budget spokesman for Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats, said: "Peer Steinbrück's comments have nothing whatsoever to do with internal German politics as Prime Minister Brown has suggested. In questioning the British Government's approach, Peer Steinbrück is exactly expressing the views of the German Grand Coalition.

"After years of lecturing us on how we need to share in the gains of uncontrolled financial markets, the Labour politicians can't now expect us to share in its losses. The tremendous amount of debt being offered by Britain shows a complete failure of Labour policy."

As a rule I care not what other nations' politicians think of the UK. But Germany on economics is worth listening to, if only because German companies still make things - in Germany - that people want to buy. We sold off most of our companies years ago. Some of them are still UK-based, some aren't. Some of the most successful manufacturers here - like Toyota and Nissan - are greenfield start-ups. I like their general approach to debt as well. We were like that once. I can remember the adverts in the early eighties for something new-fangled called a credit card, which apparently 'took the waiting out of wanting'. In practice it just seems to have put it off for 20 years.

Their near no-risk attitude to money is reflected in their spending habits: the Germans have minimal debt, few credit cards, no sub-prime mortgages and what could almost be described as a national phobia about the stock market. Just over 15 per cent of Germans own shares and some 500,000 of them sold what they had at the first signs of the credit crunch in August 2007.

Less than half of Germany's 80 million citizens have mortgages, and a 30 per cent deposit before buying a home is the norm. Sixty per cent of the population lives in rented accommodation and only 5 per cent use credit cards regularly. Most people pay cash or use direct-debit cards. Experts such as Fabian Christiandl of Cologne's university's economic research institute admit: "The puritanical ethic of the war generation is still very much a part of today's Germany."

Brown's fiscal stimulus and VAT cuts would be all very well if the extra spending was on UK-made goods and services. But what good will it do if it stimulates a few more 42-inch TV sales ? How much of that cash will stay here ? And what good is the collapsing pound if we don't make anything people want to buy ?A couple of the comments on the Biased-BBC blog struck me :

"if weakness in a currency were such a good thing, Zimbabwe would be going through an economic miracle"

"Exports are yet another of Brown's non-existent divisions being moved around the map in the Downing Street bunker whilst his (and our) nemesis closes in."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some icy patches on the curate's path

Christian police and counsellors sacked for their beliefs. Apparently it's OK to mail officers asking them to wear pink ribbons for Gay History Month (I kid you not - somehow I don't think Ernst Rohm will figure prominently), but not OK to object to it. Graham Cogman and Gary McFarlane will not be the last victims of out new religious orthodoxy.

Apparently Hutus and Tutsis just can't get on.

Dalrymple on the changing British character.

Before the English and British became known for self-restraint and an ironic detachment from life, they had a reputation for high emotionalism and an inability to control their passions. The German poet Heinrich Heine, among others, detested them as violent and vulgar. It was only during the reign of William IV—“Silly Billy,” the king before Victoria—that they transformed into something approaching the restrained people whom I encountered as a child and sometimes as a doctor. The main difference between the vulgar people whom Heine detested and the people loathed and feared throughout Europe (and beyond) today is that the earlier Britons often possessed talent and genius, and in some sense stood in the forefront of human endeavor; we cannot say that of the British now.

But the second point is also important. The moralization of the British in the first third of the nineteenth century—their transformation from a people lacking self-control into exemplars of restraint—was the product of intellectual and legislative activity. So, too, was the reverse movement.

Looks like Met officers have done the PC stats course.

Around one in 15 of all rapes in London are gang rapes involving three or more attackers, according to latest Metropolitan Police statistics.

There were 126 in 2006, 91 in 2007 and 85 so far this year. But the force says 'these offences may be under-reported'. In other words, the phenomenon might be far more widespread.

The majority of victims - 60 per cent - were white, while 28 per cent were black.

Scotland Yard identified certain characteristics among attackers. Around 40 per cent of suspects were described as Afro-Caribbean. A further 13 per cent were of Indian or Pakistani appearance.

Officers insist that this is not a race issue, simply a reflection that most gang rapes take place in the most deprived boroughs, which have disproportionately high ethnic populations.

Socialists against mass immigration ? Socialists who think it benefits big business but not ordinary people ? It'll never catch on. What do you mean, it has ?

Fear and loathing in the markets. A lot of other people seem to be asking the questions I asked the other day.

The rush for the safety of US Treasury debt is playing havoc with America's $7 trillion "repo" market used to manage liquidity. Fund managers are hoovering up any safe asset they can find because they do not know what the world will look like in January when normal business picks up again. Three-month bills fell to minus 0.01pc on Tuesday, implying that funds are paying the US government for protection.

"You know the US Treasury will give you your money back, but your bank might not be there," said Paul Ashworth, US economist for Capital Economics.

The gold markets have also been in turmoil. Traders say it has become extremely hard to buy the physical metal in the form of bars or coins. The market has moved into "backwardation" for the first time, meaning that futures contracts are now priced more cheaply than actual bullion prices.

Good to see that Germany, contrary to my earlier fears, are not yet committed to Gordonomics. Read the whole thing.

"Our British friends are now cutting their value-added tax. We have no idea how much of that stores will pass on to customers. Are you really going to buy a DVD player because it now costs £39.10 instead of £39.90? All this will do is raise Britain's debt to a level that will take a whole generation to work off. The same people who would never touch deficit spending are now tossing around billions. The switch from decades of supply-side politics all the way to a crass Keynesianism is breathtaking. When I ask about the origins of the crisis, economists I respect tell me it is the credit-financed growth of recent years and decades. Isn't this the same mistake everyone is suddenly making again, under all the public pressure?"
Sounds about right. The crisis was caused by too much credit and not enough saving, Gordo's response is to hammer savers and use the taxpayer (and the printing press) as a source of more credit. The BBC spin the story thus :

"sources close to the government said Berlin was "out of step" with most nations on how to handle the crisis."
They're certainly out of step with the UK. They make things in Germany that people want to buy. And they're made by German companies.

Greece Isn't The Way We Are Feeling

I didn't know what to make of the riots in Greece. For the last 30-odd years, riots by "youths" in Western European cities have meant riots by immigrant "youths" - as in France last year and the year before. I can't remember large scale riots by natives since - when ? Paris 1968 ?

Yet in the French riots it was easy to translate and see who the rioters were. I didn't get the impression that it was an immigrant underclass rioting in Greece. Everyone seems cheesed off over there. Yet, as I blogged in October, there is a perceived problem with immigration and crime in Greece. What's going on now ?

Time to do some Googling.

A quick look at Greek demographics. Pretty much par for the European course - ageing population, not enough children. Not tremendously high numbers of immigrants compared to say the UK - but they've probably arrived over a shorter period of time. I must say, if you were running one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, do you think another half-million Albanians would improve things ?

Majority Rights (apologies in advance for the commenters) reckon it started with trouble involving asylum seekers, and a leftist demo in support thereof, during which the youth got shot.

Seems eminently possible as a trigger, and a blackout on the asylum angle likewise - but why are the riots going on and on, with seeming widespread anti-Government feeling ? Greece has had an anti-Western far left for 30 years or more - where's all the support coming from now ?

EU Referendum

"What marks this out is the comment from Stathis Anestis, spokesman for a federation of private sector unions. He says: "Participation in the strike is total, the country has come to a standstill." Banks, schools and public transport are shut and hundreds of flights in and out of the country have been cancelled as air traffic controllers also went on strike.

The level of unrest here, and the huge support for direct action, is clearly more than a rump of disaffected youths running amok. The whole country is crying out, and there is clearly something seriously and fundamentally wrong."
An English Teacher in Thessalonika describes what appear to be Left-Right battles :

In Greece's second city anarchists occupying caused extensive damage to the Law and Theology department in the university campus.

In Patra and Larissa angry citizens attacked protesters in the cities universities. In addition riot police allowed groups of youths to throw rocks back at anarchist protesters in the university of Thessaloniki (see video here).

Greek prime minister, Kosas Karamanlis last night went on TV to make a call for national unity after pleas by the government for claim over the death of 15 year old Alexandros Gigoropoulos went unheeded.

But it's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph who reckons he's nailed it. The Greeks apparently fiddled the stats to gain Euro entry :

Greece's euro membership has now led to a warped economy. The current account deficit is 15pc of GDP, the eurozone's highest by far. Indeed, the deficit ($53bn) is the sixth biggest in the world in absolute terms -- quite a feat for a country of 11m people.

Year after year of high inflation has eroded the competitive base of the economy. This is an insidious and slow effect, and very hard to reverse. Tourists are slipping away to Turkey, or Croatia. It will take a long time to lure them back.

The underlying rot was disguised by the global credit bubble, and by the Greek property boom. It is now being laid bare.

Plenty of underlying rot in the UK, too. I guess it takes a lot to get the stolid English going, unlike the excitable sons of the Med.

While the violence was triggered by the death of a 15-year old boy, the underlying motives of the protest obviously run deeper. The hard left can mobilize demos because the youth unemployment is endemic and because the goverment is being forced by economic constraints to adopt a hair-shirt policy at a very bad moment. At some stage a major political party - perhaps PASOK - will start to reflect whether it can carry out its spending and economic revival plans under the constraints of a chronically over-valued currency (for Greek needs). Then there will be a problem.

I am a little surpised that the riot phase of this long politico-economic drama known as EMU has kicked off so soon, and that it has done so first in Greece where the post-bubble hangover has barely begun.

The crisis is much further advanced in Spain, which is a year or two ahead of Greece in the crisis cycle.

I've been wondering about Spain, too. Catastrophic demographics much worse than the UKs, an idiot left government that makes Tony Blair look like Franco (did you know that some human rights legislation was extended to "our evolutionary comrades", apes and gorillas, this summer ?), mass immigration and a property collapse worse than the UKs, the highest unemployment in the EU - it doesn't look good at all.

My old job as Europe correspondent based in Brussels led me to spend a lot of time in cities that struck me as powder kegs - and indeed became powder kegs in the case of Rotterdam following the murder of Pim Fortyn, and Antwerp following the Muslim street riots (both of which I covered as a journalist). Lille, Strasbourg, Marseilles, Amsterdam, Brussels, all seemed inherently unstable, and I do not get the impression that the big cities of Spain and Italy are taking kindly to new immigrants.

The picture is going to get very ugly as Europe slides deeper into recession next year. The IMF expects Spain's unemployment to reach 15pc. Immigrants are already being paid to leave the country. There will be riots in Spain too (there have been street skirmishes in Barcelona).

Hedge funds, bond vigilantes, and FX traders will be watching closely. In the end, a currency union is no stronger than the political will of the constituent states.

No doubt events will be ugly in Britain as well.

Mr Evans Pritchard is a hell-in-a-handcart merchant who even I think may be a tad too pessimistic (he also thinks that the recent Chinese devaluation may trigger 1930s style protectionist wars - with all their concomitant unpleasantness) - and I'm not at all sure what the link is between immigration to Greece and the wrong valuation of the drachma at Euro entry, or immigration to Spain and the Spanish housing boom. But our government seem to share his fears, if the recent police harassment of political opponents and attempts to extend powers of detention without trial are any guide.

UPDATE - I'm still not sure that the above totally explains things. If anyone has any decent links, please drop them in the comments - remembering that blogger comments can't deal with links longer than 40 or 50 characters. Chop them up or use tinyurl to shorten them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Imagine ...

... it's December 2000, and that Texas Republicans stand accused of auctioning off newly elected President George Bush's recently-vacated governorship to the highest bidder. I can't help thinking that would be the number one BBC news story for days if not weeks. There's no way it would be squeezed out of the headlines by more euthanasia plugs or the government's latest series of welfare reforms.

Of course, during the campaign, BBC correspondents would have shone a spotlight on the institutionalised corruption of the Republican heartland, with its long and dishonourable history. How exactly, they would ask, did George W Bush rise to the top of the most corrupt political machine in the United States ?

Wouldn't they ?

(cross-posted at B-BBC)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"In The Lands of The North ..."

"... where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale ..."

He may have been an upper-class leftie pacifist, from a long line of upper-class leftie pacifists (dad was Raymond, socialist journalist and Good Foodie, auntie was Fabian Margaret Cole, one granddad missed out on the Cambridge Latin Professorship to A.E. Housman, another was the Labour Party leader who 'carted his conscience from conference to conference' and lost the leadership for his pacifism), but Oliver Postgate could tell a story. With Peter Firmin's artwork the result was magical.

The children are mourning too, having had the stories of Nogbad and Graculus read to them in their infancy.

He would have been Old rather than New Labour. Kept up the politics to the end, as his website testifies. Hs views on the BBC are of interest.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I must be going soft ...

.. I can't find it in me to join in the chorus of abuse directed at that hideous Haringey harridan wot's been sacked because her social workers are clueless cretins. In fact she seems to have been treated somewhat unfairly, and I can "take comfort" from the fact that she'll almost certainly get a quarter of a million from the inevitable industrial tribunal.

Don't get me wrong. As a matter of general principle, I approve of sacking social workers with immediate effect and no compensation. But what's one among so many ? Why her in particular ?

We all know. A baby is dead, the firestorm swirleth, goats must be scaped. What really seems to have nailed her is social services inspectorate Ofsted's backside-covering. You may or may not recall that they gave Haringey social services top marks just before the murder - which is somewhat embarassing for Ofsted. One might be tempted to ask, as does hübsche Haringey hottie Lynne Featherstone MP, what the point of their inspections are.

But thinking on her feet, Ofsted supremo Christine Gilbert had the answer - Haringey social services deceived us.

Tactics used by the council included claims that managers had assessed children promptly when the files revealed that those assessments were in fact incomplete. The same files showed that such assessments of children were routinely and wrongly made with their parent or guardian in the room, when they could have been the ones harming them.

It wasn't until inspectors in this week's review began pulling children's files from the office shelves in the town hall that they realised the extent of the deceit.

One might ask what kind of inspection regime never opens a file and takes the inspectees word as gospel. If the Inland Revenue took that approach, a happy world it would be, and one with a lot less money for social workers and Ofsted inspectors. Methinks Ms Gilbert is either too hopelessly naive for her role, or she's neatly and cleverly diverted the pack onto the wounded wildebeeste yclepte Sharon Shoesmith.

Sporadic Blogging Alert ...

The room which serves me as office/computer room is being stripped, painted and having new flooring - currently my main blogging PC sits forlornly sans monitor, sans mouse, sans everything.

We relocated the homework PCs to the kitchen using 'through-the-mains' Homeplug networking - not sure where my box will end up. Inshallah it'll be set up elsewhere - somewhere - soon, but meanwhile blogging will be will be a bit like the FT100 - up (today) and down, but with more down than up.

Publicans 1, Chavs 0

"I say, Giles ! Let's get down to Stansted and ruin a few holidays !"