Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Planet, Earthquakes and Climate.

Could the picture above be London in 2020? The web site Armageddononline Dot Org featured an item a few days ago setting out the areas where a major earthquake might be due which would have serious effects. This follows the tragedy of the Haiti event to say that they happen and more often than we think in our day to day short term world. Within the week of that item the Chile ‘quake struck.

Ever since I went on broadband I have been following the USGS site and others. The experts know where many of the most vulnerable areas are but not all. They know that something will happen, but not exactly where or when. However, politicians and the media want certainty and this is not on the agenda of the geophysicists.

The USGS shows the big ‘quakes, 6+ in red and there are more than people think. The great majority are at sea and deep down, resulting only in faint tremors on any land and a few small waves at sea. Some are closer to land causing problems and then some happen within land masses. As humanity has taken more and more of the land masses to live on with much of this close to the coast and waterways then more and more of us are affected.

What I have learned is that when there are a longer run of days when a 6+ ‘quake does not appear then it is just a question of where and how big. This time it was Chile which was followed quickly by another in Japanese waters. The experts are still unsure as to how far a big one in one vulnerable area can lead to another far away so who can say what comes next. There are plenty of choices.

The physics of planetary uncertainty apply also to climate and some argue to any complex and essentially uncertain activity, for example international finance. There is now a bitter and muddling debate over which way the inevitable climate change will go which has spilled over into politics and international rivalry. Warmer is very possible and figures point that way but for contrarians the Armageddon site had an article "Ice age is overdue - could start in five years, suggests a Croat scientist” on 26 February 2010.


A leading scientist has revealed that Europe could be just five years away from the start of a new Ice Age. While climate change campaigners say global warming is the planet's biggest danger, renowned physicist Vladimir Paar says most of central Europe will soon be covered in ice.
The freeze will be so complete that people will be able to walk from England to Ireland or across the North Sea from Scotland to northern Europe. Professor Paar, from Croatia's Zagreb University, has spent decades analysing previous ice ages in Europe and what caused them.

"Most of Europe will be under ice, including Germany, Poland, France, Austria, Slovakia and a part of Slovenia," said the professor in an interview with the

Is an ice age overdue?

"Previous ice ages lasted about 70,000 years. That's a fact and the new ice age can't be avoided. "The big question is what will happen to the people of the Central European countries which will be under ice?
"They might migrate to the south, or might stay, but with a huge increase in energy use," he warned. "This could happen in five, 10, 50 or 100 years, or even later. We can't predict it precisely, but it will come," he added.
And the professor said that scientists think global warming is simply a natural part of the planet. "What I mean is that global warming is natural. Some 130,000 years ago the earth's temperature was the same as now, the level of CO2 was almost the same and the level of the sea was four metres higher.
"They keep warning people about global warming, but half of America no longer believes it as they keep freezing," he said.


Just as well we kept all our winter woollies, now to check out our savings.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Water Water Everywhere - Plumbers & Politicians

The plumber clicked his teeth. There is work to be done and replacements are necessary. (Obscenities deleted). There is good news and bad news. The good is that he with other local plumbers are not much in demand at present, so the job can be done. The bad is that his regular suppliers, a nationwide group have gone out of business. So have his next choice major suppliers and he will have to make phone calls. When he phones later he has found one who has taken over the book of another and does have the items needed. The job will cost more.

We do not hear much about this kind of experience in the media, nor from the government. Plumbers are not “front line services” and are strictly private sector. It is my theory that when the legions left Britain and took the water engineers with them that was the beginning of the Dark and rather dirtier Ages. On the local news today a Water Company representative was saying that our part of the country is a “water stressed” area and we need to use much less, husband our resources and pay more. The government want another million people living round here pronto, water or no water.

Another choice example of joined up government was provided by Lord Adonis. Put Adonis into Wikipedia and see that he was a mythical cult figure, as in the picture above by Giordano. Our Adonis is all too real. Only weeks ago he was promising a £40 billion high speed railway from Neasden to the North yet today we are told that the Inter City 125 Class of 1976 due for replacement and/or renewal is put on hold for an indefinite period. Currently these train sets serve two very busy main lines, the old Great Western Railway and East Coast Main Line.

But like the Adonis of old, our politicians of today live in a world of myth and fantasy with gods whose works only the few can be privy to. Those who watched the BBC4 programme on The Treasury last night would not be at all surprised. In the series of three; the others were the Home Office and the Foreign Office, it was the last few minutes that were most interesting.

In the earliest stages after 1997 Blair and Brown often had private conversations with nothing on record and no minutes taken of decisions. Strangely they came away from these with entirely different perceptions of what was going to happen. After the relationship went bad, Blair turned to Sofa Government and Brown to being a latter day Oracle of Delphi. Blair tried to do government by media and Brown by financially micro managing each and every government department without either advice from them or any form of real analysis.

When a posse from the Treasury went to talk to the media hoods of the Prime Minister’s office they told them as little as possible because it would be promptly leaked. Blair increasingly tried to make decisions on the hoof using one or other of his cabal. He sent the nation into war on the basis of friendly conversations with Americans.

During Brown’s time at the Treasury its staff was almost completely turned over, rehoused and forced into a different set of thought processes, “can do any which way” as opposed to weighing up the possible and the priorities. Two crucial elements were lost. One was the collective memory which meant that nobody had any experience of a rough ride economically. The other was the capacity for rational analysis in the area of economic complexity.

The job was to deliver what Brown wanted at any price. If Blair’s Defence people needed helicopters to fight wars and Brown wanted PFI deals for new offices, then the offices it would be. One price was that the Treasury first gave away its control over interest rates, handing them over to the Bank of England with financial targets that ensured excessive and uncontrollable credit inflation.

Then largely by informal personal means major areas of funding and debt creation were handed over to the City grandees who took both the Treasury and all the taxpayers for a long long ride on the biggest financial roller coaster in history. When the banks then went bust a few more informal chats on the quiet organised huge bail outs for the benefit of those concerned.

If the plumber tried to run his business on this basis it would be a right mess, in more ways than one. Also he would not last long. If Brown and Blair had the job they would probably couple the toilet to the wash basin and put the header tank where the bath should be and vice versa and then organise a media event to say This Is The Future.

Most likely they would try to screw the S-Bends into each other.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Blog Housekeeping And Items

In response to questions, I did try to put an RSS feed on but either it will not have it or I got lost in the labyrinth of instructions, yet again.

As for twitter at present I am twitching the net curtain to see if I like what I see.

In the past I have put in some links, but a while back it appeared that several blogs/sites that made extensive use of varied sources found their blog suddenly ceasing to be as the host computers did not like something and blanked it.

Whether it was the number, the pattern, or they had been unlucky enough to link with a site that was in some way corrupted those concerned never really found out.

These were persons much more expert than me and as someone with a long memory and a short fuse perhaps another approach was advisable. So now the technique is that I put in an address but not in the form of a link e.g. gcrailway dot co dot uk for those wanting a real story, there is a Tornado on the way.

A bit fiddly and a chore I know for those with other things to do but at least under your control, unlike some links I can recall.

A direct lift from elsewhere normally is shown by “Quote” and “Unquote” with source.

Other material and items such as names or subjects are usually checked on web to ensure that tapping in the word(s) to the usual browsers will give the choices of reference and very often Wikipedia will have useful information on basics. Anything complex will be indicated.

However, there is a lot that is in my own files, most of it arcane information from a variety of sources, often primary. The question is making the connections and knowing the background. I would like to put this material on the web but at minimal and preferably zero cost and it all takes time.

The problem is that if I am not careful and a blog is complicated it could finish up looking like something on Google Scholar.

And that would never do, so there.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Times Past, Present, And Future

Something cropped up which sent me round the web again in search of the past. The locations involved and the period meant that William Cobbett’s “Rural Rides” was worth re-reading. In 1823 when riding in Sussex and Kent he observed a number of oddities. It was that the roads were much improved but the farmers were poorer. Moreover, many of the fields and gardens were not as well tended as he would have expected. It was explained to him that the farmers could not afford to pay the labourers.

Cobbett realized that the local property and other taxes imposed on the farmers to provide Parish Relief for unemployed labourers was the major factor. The men on relief were then obliged to work on the local roads to earn their pittance. This was the infamous “Speenhamland” system of the period the problems of which led to the creation of many workhouses and the Poor Law Act of 1834 extending the workhouse system across the country.

Another matter caught his attention. It was that the plump rosy cheeked young women talking of “getting a house” rather than finding a husband. This was their way out of their parent’s family, which meant unpaid service and avoiding either domestic service elsewhere or low paid employment. But to get a house you had to get a man. It seems from other sources that the conventional means was to get with child by a likely lad from which marriage would often but not always follow.

In 1821/22 the Rev. J. Monkhouse wrote in the Parish Register of Bramshott, “Of 72 marriages in the last 10 years ending 1820, not less than 69 females have been unchaste before marriage. Those who gain husbands are more fortunate than those who bear bastards, but not more virtuous." Even those with bastards might get another man if one was willing and so a house and the parish relief. Bramshott is a little way from the Selborne of Gilbert White where the later Fitt family at the Priory Farm supplied a number of bastards. Also, it is near to the Chawton of Jane Austen.

In 1825 during yet another of the recurrent financial busts of the period, the Duke of Wellington observed that the nation was only days away from barter; that is where the money supply had disappeared from circulation altogether, neither quantity nor velocity were to be found. The essential problem was that with a system depending on the quantity of gold and silver a rate of population increase in excess of the increase in their supply meant inherent deflation; much as a rate of population increase higher than the rate increase of real GDP today engenders low wages and unemployment. This was relieved only by local credit systems and banks issuing their own notes, leveraging their gold holdings.

When too much of this paper fiat currency had been issued a lot of banks went wrong or bad and when that happened everyone wanted gold and there was nowhere near enough to be had. This might happen after a bad harvest which sent corn prices up. Because the money system did not allow too much in the way of rises the effect was then deflation for the prices of other goods, services, and labour. Work was hard to find, food was at higher relative cost, poorer and even middling families crowded into the available buildings and welfare systems all but collapsed.

All this culminated in considerable disorder and political upheaval around 1830 in Britain and Europe. Captain Swing was about the country. Near Bramshott at Headley men from there and Selborne were given free passage to Australia after burning their local workhouse down. King George IV and his fellow Royal Dukes did their best for the economy in an early form of quantatitive easing on the basis of large sums of unfunded debt underwritten by the taxpayer. The Brighton Pavilion and other arts ventures are their heritage, as are the maintenance and repair costs.

Their efforts were little appreciated by the population at large who had begun to develop a healthy contempt for the upper classes and were beginning to demand an end to corruption and rule by a self regarding elite using the system for their own benefit. The lifestyle, greed and lack of moral compass of their rulers offended both those with serious religious convictions and those attempting to keep their farms and businesses functioning.

Some figures from the USA are interesting in this context. During the American Rebellion 1776-1783 it is calculated that around 20% of Americans were Loyalist, that is believing in the Crown and British Government. Recent polls now suggest in the USA that only around 20% of the present population believes that the Federal Government truly represents them and their interests. This means that the future could be interesting.

What is the equivalent figure for the UK? In my view a figure of anything under 30% believing in our system and falling means we are headed for problems. In the last couple of generations we have been persuaded to believe we could have ever improving lifestyles, access to bigger and better consumer goods and housing space, cheap fuel and food and all of us can fly anywhere and everywhere for pure fun.

If few of us now have much confidence in our system what happens when all the lifestyle fuses blow? I can recall a very different world for the mass of the people and that is where we are headed now in real wealth terms. It does not take much scratching round census returns and available information about the pre 1914 generations to tell us that our present Western world would have been incredible to them as it is to most of the world’s population at present.

In some respects we are already close to the world of William Cobbett. In his time neither government nor the economists had any real answer. Things are going to change, but how, why, and to what effect we shall just have to see.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

China - Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

In the BBC programmes on the great offices of state at the very end of the one on the Foreign Office there were brief references to recent developments. It was about the extent of cuts and their impact. In the age of almost instant communication it is understandable that fewer paper chasers would be needed and less people on the ground around the world but just who is being lost?

It appears that the FO is being “hollowed out” of former key staff to allow more managers, political and media fixers. Few of them know much about those foreigners and even less about what they do and why they do it. So when the MI6 people want to deliver intelligence, because of the major reduction in the number of expert research analysts they are now less able to seek informed reviews or the added context necessary to understanding the implications of that intelligence.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? In the last few days China has reprimanded President Obama for talking to the Dalai Lama and the major Corus steelworks has been closed by its owners in India. So it is pertinent to ask just how much these days does our government know, understand, and can relate to the functioning and interests of these two Great Powers of The East? I suspect the answer is not much.

Our media have precious little about either in them outside sporting and celebrity activities and politically we concentrate on our own trivialities, Europe, sometimes Russia because of fuel supplies, and where the last disaster occurred. We learned a little about China in 2008 because they held an Olympic games there but it was plain that there was little idea or understanding of what was going on politically, economically, or in military terms.

In China this is The Year Of The Tiger. 2008 was the The Year Of The Rat, which might explain why do much of the world economy collapsed when all the rats tried to flee their sinking ships at the same time. Now that China is such a major player, one of the key holders of USA debt, the UK’s major supplier of goods, and is attracting more and more financial services as its real power and authority increases. Unlike the Celtic Tiger, a scrawny scavenger feeding on the scraps of Wall Street and The City of London, the Chinese Tiger has big healthy teeth, large muscles, and a huge appetite for acquisition. It has been actively buying interests in Africa, moving on from where Zheng He left off in the 15th Century.

In the USA there are a good many people trying to work out what China is, where it is going, what its politicians really intend, how it is run, and what the implications are for the West. There is a real debate and search for information. In the UK and Europe on the other hand, despite or perhaps in spite of, the long history of our own contacts, there does not seem to be the grasp or the will to come to terms with what may be happening in the immediate future.

Whilst our media is full of the idiocies and posturing of the election campaigns and the media scratch around for personal interest tales of horror and shock to liven them up out there in the mysterious East something very big and very important will be about to happen. Our government and media will be caught out, we could be in all sorts of trouble, and will know little or nothing about it. It will be no good asking the Foreign Office because the relevant staff is no longer there to inform them.

What are we to China? A bad memory for which they have little to thank us? An unreliable set of islands which for the time being allows them a favourable balance of payments because we have exported so much of our manufacturing to them as well as our pollution? If the figures no longer look good it will be a quick goodbye, we need them a lot more than they need us. Some of our finance houses are being installed there but if they think they can get away with the nonsense they did in the West they should think again. They could be about to be the next meal for The Tiger. William Blake 1757-1827 says it all in his poem The Tiger.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan the opium trade is not going to plan, so we can forget trying business as usual as in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Cronygarchy - The End Of Democracy

Cronygarchy? You may well ask. Having already suggested that we dump all our 17th to 20th notions of this “ism” that “ocracy” or other “archies” in the light of a very changed world it is time to come up with something else. Like the scientists who discovered that were something called an atom or those who found that the atom was made up of particles I am trying out a new thesis.

You may have gathered, between the awards ceremonies, private lives of famous people, missing pets, Winter Olympics and rows over expenses that there is a General Election in the UK soon and your votes are being sought. This is for people to be elected to the House of Commons and if one party secures more than half the seats they will assume power in Whitehall. If none do, then there will be some deals struck to which the electorate will not be party to decide who does what.

There is also a House of Lords, but the electorate will not be troubled. This will soon be packed with the friends and neighbours of the winners in the House of Commons to out number those put in by the previous administration.

The people who are elected to the House of Commons you might assume will represent a large part of the electorate in all its diversity. This might sometimes have been the case in the past but not any more. From both Houses of Parliament the Captains and Kings have gone, along with those who rose from the ranks of ordinary trades and local business.

What we have had under New Labour is a form of Cronygarchy that having been given a long time in office by the vagaries of the electoral system has put so many of its cronies into the House of Lords and the agencies non-government organisations it has created (NGO’s) that we have lost sight of who rules, how, or why. It has allied itself closely to other cronygarchies in Europe, Russian, and elsewhere and could be argued to be simply a sub-set of what amounts to a global financial cronygarchy.

This is because what is one of the defining features of any cronygarchy is acquisition. Normally this requires power; military or political or ideological preferably all of them, but at least two, the ability to maintain enough other people in support roles and critically through these to reduce the majority to servility in one form or another. Simple forms are slavery and serfdom, complex forms include consumerism (bread and circuses) and imperialism. Complex forms usually subsume one or other simple forms in some form, not always obvious.

In the past sub-sets and varieties of cronygarchy include all forms of dictatorship, most religions, all the “ocracies” etc because each will either be formed or entail a type of cronygarchy. Like particle physics it can all be quite difficult to analyse and work out but if the essential principle is understood then things begin to fall into place.

The rise and fall of cronygarchies is another difficult field because each contains the elements of its own destruction. This arises because necessarily all the cronies and their respective supporters are in the business of acquisition. However, in order to create the conditions to allow such acquisition whilst the existing form might be overturned by a simple takeover or coup, too often an extensive breakdown is needed to accomplish the task.

In the 20th Century major world wars did the job in some cases, in the 19th the attempts to create what were called “democracies” and/or “representative government”, a high risk tactic as the old British upper classes discovered. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries the surge into globalisation has created another breakdown.

In the middle of all this in the UK we are now invited to see if we want to chuck out one lot and replace them by another. Unluckily, we have a problem, alas not one but several. There was an old film, perhaps Three Stooges, maybe Marx Brothers or The Crazy Gang, where the group who have created a shambles are ordered out of the hotel through the revolving door, only to reappear having changed their jackets and hats. If you look at the background, interests and the lobby and commercial entities that most of the Tory prospectives haves signed up to it is much the same as those of New Labour.

In other words the Tories that come in will be simply another and related sub set of a sub set of the prevailing UK cronygarchy that I have called The London Mediocracy. As I said “ocracies” are a form of cronygarchy. Their problem will be the “Scorched Earth” breakdown that I suggested that the present government were embarked on many months ago in order to create the political conditions to allow Labour back in power next time around. Unluckily neither Labour nor Tories, nor any other party in the UK are remotely in control in what is going on and what is going to happen.

The House of Commons was once the major legislative body, the check on the Executive and responsible for the redress of grievance. Now, it does virtually none of those things and is almost defunct in practical terms. The EU is the major legislator, sundry government departments’ media advisers and NGO’s do a good deal as well, and the Human Rights Industry, a nationalised company directly under EU cronygarchy control has taken over the third. The UK libel laws ensure that anyone who tries to complain cannot, like the academics who wish to debate the mathematics of hedge fund dealing which supports so much of our cronygarch’s finances or the nastier activities of the property men involved with nationalised banks and funding the personal activities of politicians.

Wherever you look in government and administration you see staggering greed, incompetence and waste characteristic of a cronygarchy which has elevated acquisition to its most damaging level. It is rampant in the NGO’s, public utilities, and even local government (don’t tell the peasants how much we are getting, they may not like it and hurt our feelings). In the UK there are some parallels with that of the 18th Century. The huge increase in what is defined as crime, the pauperisation of the ordinary people, the displacement of population from the rural areas and their replacement by those with money made from money.

What kind of breakdown and on what scale is necessary to rid ourselves of these people and what do we need to create to take their place? We do not know and there is nothing on offer. Something is going to happen because cronygarchy’s do not last they always end in ruin.

So what are you giving up for Lent? I think I might give up voting.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Are We Greeks Or Romans?

The matter of Greece, its deficits, and the many problems arising has been creating debate. It is not simply the size, impact, implications for the Euro, the EU, and what will happen to government spending that is under scrutiny. One issue is that the Greek tax base has become severely eroded by the almost virtual absence of the top thirty per cent of its earners from the tax system, leaving the debt and its long term liabilities as a burden to the lower paid and future generations.

What has compounded the misery are the revelations that Goldman Sachs (where have we heard of them before?) has assisted the Greek Government to disguise and hide large amounts of their debt by market manipulation through Wall Street and related entities. In short, the EU and the ECB is facing a much bigger problem than they anticipated and one seemingly almost impossible to resolve without the hurt being distributed.

This is nothing new it appears. Zero Hedge dot com in a post on 13 February 2010 by Tyler Burden print an article on Scribd titled “”Exclusive: The Bank of England engaged in flagrant gold manipulation in the Inter War period via the New York Fed; Does history repeat itself?” At first sight this might seem arcane and historical with little relevance to the present. It is certainly a challenging read. The upshot though is that between 1925 and 1931 the Bank of England engaged in manipulating the gold, capital, and currency markets and data and the falsification of information with the criminal complicity of the New York Fed.

In the past many have been critical of Churchill’s record as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this period and the overall handling of the economy by the successive governments. It now seems the governments were being lied to and did not realise what they were actually doing. The effect was that whilst appearances were being maintained to promote confidence in sterling and UK reserves in effect the Bank had created an essentially deflationary situation before the 1929 Crash with the help of the New York Fed. So our politicians fell into a bear pit.

There is another implication to all this. Keynes published his “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” in 1936. He would have been ignorant of this falsification when he was doing his analysis of what happened and why. Galbraith too would not have known when he examined the Great Crash, and nor would others. In short, through no fault of their own and allowing for the integrity of their work and of the value of many of their insights a good many economists relied on falsehoods.

How long this went on after 1931 and in what form we do not know but it seems that it is possible that the UK in the 1930’s went on with its Imperial mission and into a World War on the basis that it was materially and financially stronger that it really was. Whether Keynes came to realise by the mid 1940’s that the world was going to be a very different place afterwards and what economics might then be needed we do not know because he was not able to publish any revised thinking.

Where are we now in 2010 in the UK? It is not just the Greeks that may have been economical with the truth it is others. Also it is not just being economical it is being recklessly spendthrift. Some of our masters would not know a truth even if it punched them on the nose. In our machinery of government now we have three times more people manipulating figures and information and spinning than we have troops in action in a bitter war in Afghanistan.

Many of the official figures are a travesty of statistics. The City and the banks are covering their tracks on liabilities as comprehensively as possible. The Bank of England slushes money around and does not tell us exactly what it is about, even if it knows. Perhaps they should all have a holiday in Greece and study the remains of ancient Empires. If Keynes was misled where are we now with the promotion of policies that are allegedly “Keynsian”, although he would not recognise some of the things being done in his name.

The situation is no better in the USA or for that matter China. The gulf between the centre and what is happening out there widens by the day. Few people really know much and fewer can give rational explanations. But now we can be comforted with the thought that none of this is new, it has all happened before. In the UK we did it to keep the Empire going, to keep up the value of the pound, to keep up prestige, and to keep up the status of London in the world in the 1930’s.

Does anyone in government, I wonder, remember what happened next?

Friday, 12 February 2010

A Man Of Property

Imagine a community where this happens. There is a notice board for the usual things. You have paid for it, as have your neighbours. The job of the building manager, whose salary, national insurance, sick leave etc. and accommodation you pay for, is to maintain it. You wish to put up a notice about an organisation that is legal, dedicated to matters important to you and your neighbours and properly run.

You are ordered to take it down by the manager on the instructions of The Company who you pay and employ to undertake duties in respect of the building. If you argue about it will be hinted that it is a bad idea to upset The Company. The organisation in question is critical of the certain aspects of The Company.

You wish to have a meeting with speakers from that organisation invited to advise you about the general problems you have having with The Company. The room in which the meeting is to be held is one you have paid for and pay to maintain, clean and furnish. The Company forbids any such meetings and it is suggested that you could face unspecified difficulties. Also The Company will not allow representatives of the organisation to attend its meetings as guests of the people who are paying the wages and bonuses of The Company.

You are worried about your buildings insurance. It is costly and you are uncertain as to what cover is supplied. The Company has its own in house buildings insurance company and forces you and your neighbours to pay for it. There is no question of competition or tendering for best price or cover. Incidentally, features common in domestic buildings insurance such as third party liability, evacuation, or such could be no longer on offer. They are very coy about the details.

The Company determines the policy price, the revenue, has indirectly reinsured itself, does not publish accounts to policy holders and has the sole right of determining whether or not it pays out on any claim. If it does this is a rare event. It is alleged that The Company has its insurance company income stream securitised to assist leverage for the financial operations of the relevant holding companies.

From time to time your building will require repairs and maintenance. The Company determines who will tender and who will be employed. Those who tender must pay a fee to The Company if they succeed in winning the tender. The Company charges a 10% administration fee to you additional to the cost of the work which may or may not bear much relationship to the estimates.

You are already required to have a sinking fund for such works, the level of which is determined by The Company. It may pay a notional rate of interest but this is far less than the money might earn in alternative funds.

You are already paying a significant sum to The Company for doing its job so all the above are added items to beef up The Company revenues.

There is a building security and “care contact” service for you and your neighbours. The one you and your neighbours are required to use is owned by The Company. There is no tendering for competitors. How, if and when it works is entirely up to The Company. You have no say at all. There are neighbours who are disabled, over 90, and some with highly dangerous terminal conditions.

In one building where more of life’s awkward squad were assembled when the paramedics, ambulances or police turned up out of office hours they were refused admission. The Company’s holding company has taken out major loans as leverage on the income streams and one condition relates to the anticipated rate of mortality of you and your neighbours in that additional income is derived by the holding company of The Company when a flat is sold. If someone lets in the medic’s or police they can be threatened with legal action.

The holding company own many other companies including those who now own the freeholds of yours and similar buildings. In the years before the present ownership and company structure was put in place in 2005 equitable arrangements had been in place for a number of matters concerning some features. Now the freeholders have begun to rack up charges and make demands some of which seem to have little or no legal basis.

There is a problem. If one of the buildings secures a decision from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal it does not apply anywhere else. So if a building does stand the legal costs of such a submission and even if they succeed then they are still penalised by those costs.

If other buildings wish to take advantage of the ruling they all have to fight individual cases with all the relevant legal costs. These could be very expensive because the freehold company on the instructions of the holding company will fight a long delaying and highly technical case to push up costs to six or seven figures. Remember we are talking here not of high powered big money business on both sides. We are talking about the old, the ill, and the dying, many with limited savings trying to take on big business.

In the years before the present situation came to be it was the rule for the accounts of the buildings to be presented and discussed in a sensible and balanced way. It is no longer the case. The Company’s accounts are all too often open to question on a number of grounds and any debate is stifled by aggressive hard ball confrontation and threats. The costs to you and neighbours in the last five years have been going up at six to eight times the annual rate of inflation. Try that compound and see the figure you get to.

The holding company of The Company has been spotlighted in all this. It’s top man on Radio 4 indicated his feelings and ideas about the customers who pay his wages and benefits in the phrase “Dribbling geriatrics.” Indeed some do, notably the WW2 veteran whose injuries have finally caught up with him. Also the lady who devoted her life to nursing and later to caring for her parents who has been felled by a major stroke. The great majority do not; they still have some wits and limbs in working order.

It has come as a major shock to The Company that their customers do not like how they are being treated and how their incomes and savings are being stripped from them by aggression, greed, and questionable financial operations, never mind their last days being ruined by worry, hunger, and cold. It seems to have come as a greater surprise that their families do not like it either and want action.

Where is New Labour? It is nowhere in sight despite Brown proclaiming his caring credentials. Lib Dem’s and Tories there may be on the side of the exploited but not a hint or a breath of the socialists. There are two reasons for this. One is that the Leasehold Act they did pass was a gift to the big players in property and the lawyers. The second is the Labour party that passed it and have presided over what has happened are in the pockets of the property kings. They owe their fortunes to them. Ask the Blairs. Ask the Prescotts. Ask a few others. So is much of the media.

Where does all this lead back to? The eventual ownership is wholly in the hands of one man who sees life in terms of deals, earnings ratio’s, financial targets, asset sweating, leverage, turnover and the rest and who likes to relate to people who matter. He tells his hoods the figures he wants to see and the orders come down to their block runners. He featured in a Daily Mail article on 31 January 2010 relating to his sister’s divorce. It was written by Elizabeth Sanderson entitled “I want £200m from The Man From Del Monte in Britain's biggest divorce (but he isn't saying Yes)”.

He is a multi-billionaire with yachts (yes, plural) at Monaco, celebrity lifestyle, and the rest. Lately he has disappeared from the UK list of company directors to found a personal Trust based offshore into which his holdings are being transferred. He is featured in the article. Find him, then Google the name and see. Also look at carlex dot org dot uk and the Age Concern message boards relating to McCarthy and Stone.

It is possible that there is a super injunction floating about somewhere. This may account for the reticence of the media and mine. Even a brief news item on the subject by Channel 4 had the lawyers crawling over it for weeks. The Office for Fair Trading and the Financial Services Authority have been invited to enquire but seem to have a singular reluctance to pry too far. Perhaps they do not wish to hurt somebody’s inner feelings, or wallet.

The Trust mentioned will have charitable interests as well as being active in “social entrepreneurship”. I have no doubt it will. On the other hand it is a good way of protecting what you have left from enquiring creditors. One charity is the John Clare Trust with its Labour sponsors. One of the Labour prominente had them to lunch on one occasion at the Palace of Westminster but then he is a very hospitable chap with a long list of friends and a lot of lunches to give.

Social entrepreneurship is supposed to be non-profit. It seems to be very popular in the Labour heartlands and benefits greatly from local and regional grants as well as various quango’s. Of course there are costs. There are administration, management and consultants charges, debt charges secured largely by public sector support and fees for this and that. It is a very nice little earner, one way or another and a useful source of employment for friends and families. All the usual people are there, the Blairites, the Brownites, the influential back benchers, most of the government past, present, and future hopefuls.

This is Brown’s Britain, all catheters and wind as they say in the Urology Ward. Greed, grab, garble, extract, exploit, expropriate, shaft, strip, stuff, thuggish, threats and thriftless.

Ask yourself; are these the people you really want to see holding your granny’s life, property, savings and living in their hands?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Climate, Weather, Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry.

The present is a tunnel between the past and the future. It might be more or less lit and we think we know our immediate direction and route. Otherwise what is going on outside is beyond our most frantic efforts. Moreover, the carriage is full of people who think they know and are shouting their opinions as loudly as they can. The great majority will turn out to be hopelessly wrong.

The future is something we do not know. Unluckily very many of those shouting the loudest think they do. They base their thinking on perhaps vague opinions, gossip of either higher or lower order, information from more or less reliable expert sources, ideas and ideologies they subscribe to, organisations they are members of or are employed by, even worse what they would like the future to be, worse still to exercise authority in science, learning, or what, and worst of all politicians in association with commercial entities looking to improve their poll ratings and earnings ratios and to increase their powers.

This is where we are at in the current debate on the future of the climate of our planet. The planet, however, may have its own ideas and will not communicate them but its working will give signals to those capable of interpreting them. There are few able to do so because the planet is a highly complex system many of whose secrets and ways of reacting are still either little understood or even unknown. It is only very recently that humans have probed the deepest waters and begun to learn what is there and what its potentialities are. We are still mystified by the implications of much of what goes on in geophysics.

This is why there is a great deal of effort devoted to examining the recent and the distant past. In the last half century many branches of science have had leaps of understanding due to new scientific and analytical techniques. There are too many to list. Working my way through the web and looking at even the most banal documentaries on TV tells me that the past I was taught and how the past is seen now has changed radically and is undergoing continuing reassessment. As so much of the climate debate turns on what is thought to be experience of the past, if the past itself is under scrutiny and perceptions alter, even that needs great care in interpretation and even greater in use for attempting forecasts.

We do know that in the Atlantic Isles there was a time when it was tropical and the flora and fauna very different. One of these times was when the deposits were laid down that became the coal we have plundered so much of to build our current vision of humanity in association with oils also relics of a past era of the planet. Along with the debate on climate we are now debating if and when “peak oil” is reached. Another debate is over the whole nature of the primary extractive industries. Is it simply a question of how much there is of it and where or is the critical issue the marginal cost of extraction? Did the Romans fail to take advantage of coal because it cost just too much in terms of their economic structure to extract and transport?

There have been changes even more recently. There are Bronze Iron Age remains below the waters of The Solent. The Atlantic Isles were once part of the mainland of Europe before the Dogger Bank was flooded and the Channel breached since the recent Ice Age. What shifts occurred before our recorded history? Why did the green Sahara become a desert? Did radical earth events in the Mediterranean have wider effects? Then there were the 6th Century events. There was the Medieval Warm Age, the Little Ice Age more recently and comings and goings in the general weather. At present there seems to have been a shift in the Jet Stream and the North Atlantic Oscillation has merged with the West Newfoundland Current as well as the effects of an El Nino. What comes next year is open to debate.

We have the horde heading in the direction of Global Warming and there does appear to be a lot of evidence in its favour. There are dissenters, candidates for the academic and political stake, claiming that Global Cooling is an equal or better prospect and they have a lot of cogent evidence as well. Much of it is the same if you believe that a period of warming is necessary to create conditions for a catastrophic cooling. If we have difficulty working out how to deal with hurricanes, a common and relatively predictable phenomenon, then we have problems. As with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, photo above, courtesy of one of the family who was there.

There are those in between who have an innate distrust of experts and propagandists trying to work out their own ideas. Then there are the majority who do not know and care only if it impacts on their own convenience or on the lifestyle and consumption patterns they have been instructed to obey according to their defined market segment. Meanwhile I am looking out of the window at a bright sun looking down at the snow left by a fall of a few minutes ago and about to check out the forecasts for Saturday to see if the trains will be running.

That is the only certainty in life, if the weather becomes quite hot, quite cold or quite wet, the trains will stop.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Finance - Carry On Worrying

If you are wondering about the value of the pound this year and how it might affect your budget, savings, future pension, and investments read the item below taken from zerohedge dot com, copy and past in a mail to your MP or bank manager and ask them for an urgent explanation and appraisal as soon as possible. In respect of the last paragraph, the UK, I fear could be about to be “shaken out”. The article is titled “The Aussie/Euro Cross is the Carry Trade in its purest form”.


If you want to participate in the global carry trade in its purest form, take a look at the Australian dollar/Euro cross. This trade capitalizes on the harsh reality that there couldn’t be two more different economies in the world today. The Australian economy is virtually drowning in riches. Japanese and Chinese private and state owned enterprises are lining up to buy iron ore, gold, oil, aluminum, meat, copper, wool, wheat and a cornucopia of other bulk commodities.

Last year, the home of the kangaroo and the wallaby shipped a staggering AUS$150 billion of coal. Poke a hole in the Northwest Shelf and out spews enough natural gas to light the Middle Kingdom for a year. That explains why the Reserve Bank of Australia was the first and the fastest to raise interest rates coming out of the financial crisis. They’re actually worried about inflation down under.

Conditions couldn’t be more different in Europe. The dire straits of the EC’s weakest members are certain to prolong the European Central Bank’s zero interest rate regime. The gasoline on this bonfire is debt levels that make America look like a paragon of fiscal integrity. Some analysts are predicting that the Euro itself might not even survive the crisis.

How long can a sober, conservative German grandfather be expected to indulge the disgraceful habits of its party animal, thrill seeking, drug addicted grandchildren? I fear not long. That will give the market the juice to take the greenback through to the $1.30’s initially, and eventually to the $1.20’s. Your long goes up and your short drop like a stone, and everything works like it is supposed to. It is a trade that long in the tooth macro players, like George Soros and Paul Tudor Jones, glory in.

A first cousin of this play is the the now notorious “PIIGS” trade. To the uninitiated, this is where you go long the debt of German government agencies, a country that has passed a constitutional amendment to balance the budget by 2016. (Hellooooooo! Is anyone in Washington listening?). You then short in equal value amounts the debt of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain.

This trade delivered a home run in a matter of weeks for the big hedge funds that strapped this on at last year, and could have more to go. That was the message the markets screamed at us last week, when yields on the sovereign debt issued by the home of Plato and Socrates rocketed by a gut-wrenching 400 basis points against German bunds. Beware of Greeks bearing bonds.

The Aussie/Euro cross touched 62.50 last week. For a start, the cross gives you a nice yield pickup of an annualized 3.64%. Leverage up ten times, and that balloons to 36.4%. That’s what you make if this cross goes nowhere. If more investors pile into this trade after you, or if Australia keeps aggressively pushing up interest rates and the yield spread widens, then you can count on a substantial capital gain on top of this. Now you know why so many traders make a living doing this.

The easiest way to put this cross on is through the futures market, by balancing long Australian dollar and short Euro June contracts in equal value. If you are a giant hedge fund or a commercial bank, you can achieve the same through the interbank FX market. Retail investors can even position themselves through ETF’s and options.

Of course, this trade has been running for some time now, and there are hundreds of billions of dollars ahead of you from the big hedge funds. So there is a risk you could get shaken out, especially if you use leverage. But if you want to know how the big boys are coining it, this is the way.

For more iconoclastic and out of consensus analysis, you can always visit me at Mad Hedge Fund Trader, where the conventional wisdom is mercilessly flailed and tortured daily. You can also download past interviews with industry heavyweights on Hedge Fund Radio.


Now go to the bathroom, close the door, sit down and try to think.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

England Football - A Marxist Analysis

John “Groucho” Terry has decided to spend more time with his media agents after a long session of therapy with Fabio “Chico” Capello who did not want his England stars to be troubled were John to be substituted at any time during the coming games. He has been replaced as England Capitaine by Rio “Harpo” Ferdinand of Manchester and the Moss Side Charm School.

Rio will be throwing a big party in celebration for the England squad, all their WAG’s and as many unattached females as can be fitted into the bedrooms of the 750 room hotel booked for the occasion. It will be a “Fur Coat And No Knickers” party to raise funds for the reduction of the mink population causing so much environmental damage to the waterways in England’s green and pleasant land.

Harriet “Minnie Marx” Harman, the team’s astrologer, has laid a curse on the team until exactly half of the eleven England players on the pitch are female. She will be attending the party but only as a hired consultant on inter-personal relations. Peter “Gummo” Mandelson has been booked as a greeter and fixer and is available also for bookings of stag and hen parties, rugby club dinners, and meetings on the Cote D’Azur for the right kind of donation to his personal Trusts in Monaco.

“Zeppo” Brown has given his full support to England in their World Cup bid. Coral are quoting now England’s odds as 100,000 to 1 against.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

More Football Crazy - A Blast From The Past

There has been some fuss over footballers and managers and their personal interests in the media, giving us all a little light relief from politics and related insanities. One aspect of this has been the usual contrasts with footballers of old and how those of today are far removed from the sturdy reliable low paid plebeians of the past who played simply for honour and the respect of their community. One of these heroes is Sir Stanley Matthews upheld as a shining beacon to the allegedly less worthy men of today.

However, there is a story in the “Independent” about how in 1945 Stanley Matthews, then of Stoke City, and Stan Mortensen of Blackpool serving in the Royal Air Force fell foul of authority in trading rationed and scarce goods illegally on a visit to Belgium. The played in a friendly match where England international players met a Belgian team as part of the hearts and minds approach to the newly liberated countries. The story has a gloss in that it seems to be a couple of footballers trying to add a bit to their incomes by engaging in deals in matters of little importance.

For those of us who were around at the time and learned nothing of this either then or later all sorts of bells start ringing. The pair were both Corporals in the RAF based in the UK and managed to play a great deal of football during the hostilities. They were questioned by the Special Investigation Branch, the SIB, given a severe reprimand and returned to their units. The legend was that they had made only £16 on the deal and that had been spent on their wives. The wife of Matthews, Betty, ran a hotel bought possibly in the late 1930’s, in Blackpool.

This was March 1945, days after Dresden had been bombed and Iwo Jima taken by the Americans. It was after a dreadful winter and the aftermath of the Battle of The Bulge in The Ardennes. Later in March the major crossings of the Rhine were made at Remagen by the Americans and by the British Commandos near to Cologne and Wesel. So what was the contribution made these two? They were turning out in a demonstration match and flogging commodities that were scarce and very valuable at that time in a jewellers shop on the basis of their celebrity.

The coffee and soap is likely to have been misappropriated from American military stores in the first place and the likely value substantially more than that stated. I recall that I did not see real coffee until the 1950’s and for most people the soap available was very basic. Commodities like this were almost in the nylons class.

This kind of dealing then was a serious criminal matter. An ordinary serviceman caught red handed could expect a spell in a military prison which would have been one of life’s least happy experiences. A guilty civilian could expect months or years in prison depending on the severity of the offence and the attitude of the Bench. The outfit I was with later had a number of interesting people so I spent many hours talking to the SIB about various matters. It was certainly a learning experience. Matthews and Mortensen seem to have been given a very easy time. Their “punishment” was the least possible; they both retained their rank and were not packed off to an active front line unit to do some real service.

Matthews is said to have been a “shrewd businessman”. Compared to many players of the period it is certain he did remarkably well. Much of this is attributable to his personal discipline, rigorous fitness regime, and frugal spending. As to other earnings then some context is needed. Amongst ordinary people and families until consumerism began to take hold in the 1950’s there were long established means of exchange, barter, handing on and handing down outside the monetary system and especially in the agricultural areas and working class districts of towns.

Beyond that a good deal of pilfering was common in many areas of labour as well as “knocking off” items, notably in the 1940’s cigarette lighters and even basic cutlery in engineering works once the piecework targets had been met. During a period of high personal taxation, major restrictions on spending and rationing very many people would search for ways round the system. Consequently between the high ticket illegal and gang activity and the ordinary established non-money trading there was a substantial “grey” area and none of this appeared in the statistics. It only surfaced in occasional government propaganda and the limited number of arrests.

So Matthews and Mortensen were not much different from many other people, save that they seem to have been able to work a few higher ticket deals on a small time basis. This is not surprising; Blackpool was a haven for people like this with its turnover of population and unusual sub-culture. Between the hotels, the jewellery shops and the many pubs there was ample opportunity for moving money. For this kind of business it was one of the places to be. In the late 1940’s it was possible for people who had been factory workers not very long before the war to be walking around in fur coats, wearing good clothes, have pieces of jewellery and have personal transport if they made the move at the right time.

So for footballers of the present in comparison with the past, what changes?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Brown's Britain - Anything Goes

In my last post, a fantasy item, the idea that moneyed people would be buying up large enclaves in order to establish personal territories, more or less their own lordships, I thought might be way over the top. Later looking around the web I came across a piece by Nick Cohen in “Comment Is Free” in the “Observer” of Sunday 31 January entitled “It's all aboard the gravy train for Network Rail bosses. While European train users get exemplary service, British rail bosses splash out on Highland estates”. In the past I have ranted on about Fantasy Island Economics but never thought to see them confirmed so absolutely.

Iain Coucher, the chief of Network Rail has just purchased a large estate in Argyll fit for any ancient Highland Laird, or more recently the rich and powerful business men who followed them in the 19th and 20th Centuries. As Cohen points out, Coucher, the new Laird of Keills, is none of these, he is to all intents and purposes a civil servant who heads a second rate railway board. Moreover he doesn’t exactly run the trains. His organisation takes care of the signalling, the stations, the tracks and the bridges.

Cohen goes on to say: “It isn't a private company whose managers are accountable to shareholders and independent directors. On the contrary, it receives £4bn a year of public money, and its entire £28bn, five-year investment programme in track, stations and signalling will come from the taxpayers. However, when he created it after the collapse of the privatised Railtrack, Gordon Brown was determined that it would not be a publicly owned either.

As slippery as ever, Brown wanted to engage in Enron accounting and keep the railways' debts off the government accounts. As important as his desire to play games with the national debt was his fear of right-wing newspapers accusing him of being an old Labour socialist. Instead of restoring the former nationalised British Rail, Brown set up Network Rail. As his adviser, Baroness Vadera, explained at the time in an email to ministers, the organisation would be so complex the tabloids wouldn't understand it.”

Others are bound to wonder what exactly it is when it does not fit in to any of the regular and regulated forms of public and business organisation. To invent a new word perhaps one way of describing it is a “Cronygarchy”. It certainly seems to be free of ordinary laws and regulations if some of the reports on the behaviour of senior management are to be believed. It is claimed that 155 payouts with gagging clauses amount to £950,000 have been made. The nature of interwoven payments around Network Rail and connected financial and consultancy firms in which senior people have interests add to the confusion of direction and policy.

When the media take an interest in this, as did The Mail On Sunday, then Network Rail called in legal strike force of Schillings, one of the most expensive firms of libel lawyers in the world. Politicians, naively believing that £4 billion p.a. of taxpayer money might make Network Rail accountable to either Ministers or to Parliament have been told, more or less, to shut up and go away.

Also £5 billion of taxpayer money goes to the private companies, who have their own particular advantages and arrangements. One is to relieve them of the old style ways of dealing with accidents to passengers. It is possible now for potentially fatal accidents to occur and to avoid any investigation or inquiry. The Rail Accident Investigation Board do look at a range of operational matters and cannot avoid dealing with bad smashes which entail deaths and injuries or the more spectacular events at level crossings, but many other accidents are brushed aside.

There has been publicity given already given to the £500+ million support to firms experiencing difficulty and the suggestion that 96% has gone to companies in Labour held constituencies. Less obvious is where the rail money can go. It was striking that in the recent introduction of High Speed Trains on South Eastern all the improvements involved services going from or via Labour held districts. Those that only went through constituencies held by other parties lost 30% of their services causing serious problems for many commuters, many of whom are low paid, never mind all the poorer or disabled travellers who depended on the services.

As we used to say in the parcels office when yet another ancient decrepit coal truck derailed and disrupted services, “What a way to run a railway”.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Economics - GDP For The Masses

It was busy time when the phone rang, on the Disused Stations web site finding how to get from Walton On The Hill to Knitsley with the minimum number of changes using the July 1922 Bradshaw. The voice was muffled and hoarse, Ed Balls didn’t want me to know. “GDP, margin of error and seasonal adjustments.” Then he was gone probably putting it on his confidential Twitter that was cracked months ago.

Minutes later there was another call, Vince Cable this time talking falsetto. “0.1 is negative if you factor in underlying inflation and PFI, think off balance and shifting liabilities.” I just said “Yeah, yeah” and put the phone, I don’t do dirty, not least because MI5 have had me tapped since 1956. When the weathers bad they even order the groceries delivered without me asking.

Later it was the organic shelf in M&S that really had me worried. A big woman took the last cabbage before I could get to it. OK she needs the fibre, I thought, but the head butt was not necessary. Then I realised, she was no lady and nobody’s wife. It was Supermac, a blast from the past. He had been in the front row of the London Scottish pack in the good days fifty years or so ago. He did not look pretty in a wide flowered skirt, frilly blouse, and long black wig. Also he had not shaved for a few days and had put on a lot of weight.

“You got Ed and Vince?” “Yup” I replied. “Gordon?” “Nope, the last time he said he was going to cut off my annualised returns I reminded him about that business with Greenock Gertie, he hasn’t rung since” “Lucky you,” said Mac “But GDP, “I groaned, “Listen,” he insisted, “QE.” “What or which?” I replied. “Look, Mr. Awkward, if you really want to know about GDP, CPI, RPI, Balance of Trade, Fiscals, and all that you know what to do.” “Tell me,” I asked, keeping an eye on the four hoods at the end of the aisle trying to look like shelf stackers.

“Follow the money,” he said. I shook my head, “You’ve been watching too many old movies, you ain’t Robert Redford, nor Dustin Hoffman, more like Dougal from Magic Roundabout without the philosophy input.” “Just listen,” I did, recalling the time he had gone fifty yards with the London Welsh pack hanging on to his every limb. “Where has the money gone, who have they given it too, on what terms, and how is being used to shore up who and where does the eventual take go?”

“Nice,” I said, “I’ll look it up on Roubini, Panzner and Some Assembly Required when I’ve finished my thesis on rail journeys that nobody ever made, I got a Department of Transport grant for it and they want results.” “Just do it dumbo,” he said, “Just do it, someone has to, just as all that toxic debt is going to going to evaporate all the quantatitive easing does is to money the money figures round and round to make them all look good.” “And then?” “Someone gets left with the body bag when all the others have gone.”

Then Mac was gone, moving as fast as ever as he trampled over the hoods ignoring their screams. I left through the service entrance. Mac had form, he had been in secondary banking and property ramping into the early 1970’s when it all went bad. A local authority treasurer in a Labour council after reorganisation he was sacked when they lost control in 1978 after losing control over rising costs and finished up lecturing on management and finance in an expanding polytechnic now a University with deep budget issues.

He should have stayed but went big on the internet in the late 1990’s emigrating when the bust happened to a Caribbean island setting up trusts for the rich and famous. Then he made friends with Madoff and Stanford as well as consulting for Lehmann. Now he was back in the UK and going strong in Social Entrepreneur outfits in Labour Councils. He had told me that as innovative rackets went it was small time but what else could you expect from people with small minds?

He would make enough to buy a few thousand acres, hire security from Russia and go self sufficient when it all went bad again. He had this deal to bring over Germans and Swedes in long ships to settle on neighbouring lands and take them over under his supervision.

Mac said that this was the way to go so next I try boatyards on Google. The trains will be subject to delays because of line and staff problems.