Saturday, 31 December 2011
In Open Democracy there has been a long article by Anthony Barnett from July called “After Murdoch” suggesting that the grip that Rupert Murdoch has had on British and related politics may now be on the wane and there is the possibility of some real democratic progress and rebalancing of interests.
This has been countered by Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, in a reality check to the effect that as far as the markets are concerned Newscorp, BSkyB and all the rest are very much still in business and a good bet for the future. Essentially, the whole issue turns on the nature and standing of the UK political class and their capacity for survival in a troubled world.
For those of us with longer memories the 1930’s were a time when the Press Barons also had a firm grip on much of the nation’s thinking with number of politicians and business men at the time colluding with them to steer government policy.
There certainly was a wider and more informed press and a better read public but the history of that time is of a UK that was heading in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons and urged on by the main media.
Today, Murdoch is certainly where the money is and the money is likely to stay with him if he can keep the results up. People are still buying his papers and his TV products and a number of other things. The political class may seem to be at a greater distance but that does not mean they intend to overturn the basis of his media power.
One reason may be that if they do then the only ones to benefit will be the BBC and a few others within the political class and media who are connected. There is no sign at all of a thriving alternative which attracts and inspires majority opinion. The fun and games enjoyed by the demonstrators etc. is not a substitute for a working and effective democracy.
If it is not possible to create a new balance and a constitution that reflects the needs of the population as a whole then something has to give. Given the grotesque incompetence of the Westminster machine in recent years as well as endemic corruption of our own special kind then there is no hope in London.
Europe may have been the option at one stage but that is another entity that is on the point of breaking down or at best going into long term paralysis. Scotland thinks about looking to the North and to recreate the old world of the Baltic Trade and the Hanseatic League. It’s a nice idea but with them all now limited in manufacturing and food production it cannot be enough.
People point to the apparent prosperity in London as though it will revive the economy. Unluckily all those shoppers are buying goods that are largely imported and any profits made will be going offshore. All we have is a lot of low paid labour presiding over flow in and the flows out. The City is now simply a financial entrepot for the movements of capital and cash with little left for the rest of us.
As for the rest of the UK just who owns what? Where are the profits going? Who is taking them? How much stays in the UK economy? When I look through my bills I see a great deal of things going to firms in foreign ownership. Even a good many of our government buildings today are owned offshore.
So what is the reality? We are in the hands of others with not too many choices and even fewer in prospect. It is going to be an interesting year. And I would rather not be living in interesting times, to paraphrase a Chinese saying.
I wonder who will have the last say in the events of 2012 on the future of the UK?
Thursday, 29 December 2011
As we teeter on the brink of a New Year, western style, the emphasis is on looking back at 2011. We might be better off looking forward and taking deep breaths.
What things which are in place next week will no longer be in place at the end of 2012? There are too many potential choices to list in any brief blog.
How many governments will go?
Who will start fighting who and who else will be involved, no bets will be taken on the UK?
How many banks or financial organisations will go?
How many currencies and economies will collapse?
How many geophysical disasters will occur and where?
How many hyped up events or happenings scheduled will fail or be a fiasco?
Which famous people will be found out and doing what?
Who amongst us will depart?
Who will make the most monstrous blunder?
Who will be right and who will be wrong?
Who will be richer and who will be poorer, no prizes for this one?
Where and who will be at the wrong end of the biggest disaster?
Who reading this has started to worry?
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
There is so much going on in the real world and so little in our UK domestic main stream media that scratching around elsewhere is the only option.
One item that did attract my attention was picked up on Some Assembly Required with a link to the article below on Baseline Scenario.
As it involves the history of US railways with a different take on the wonders of the late 19th Century so-called “market economy" together with political corruption, fraud and all the rest I could not resist it.
The writer suggests that if we are going back to the past then this is where we are headed, if we have not already arrived.
Anyone for HST2?
Friday, 23 December 2011
As the last few days have been spent in running round like a scalded cat dealing with this and that, none of which has to do with festivities, cheeriness is far from being the mood of the moment.
So despite all those messages that people have been sending to each other blissfully wishing happiness, prosperity and bright futures for all, I have picked up on a couple of items which fit my current state of mind.
They are both from Zero Hedge, the laugh a minute commentary on the state of world finance. The first explains why central planning, particularly in money matters, is likely to devastate the world economy.
The second is a take on how governments manage to go about this. The fun thing is the lead item which mentions government selling unwanted buildings. In many cases these will be not just the army barracks and offices suggested but also hospitals, schools and care homes, UK style.
May I take this opportunity to hope that I will be completely wrong and it will not be half as bad as many suggest.
As for geophysics, it has been quite a few days since a really big earthquake whilst there have few quite damaging events, notably Christchurch in New Zealand. Let us hope the next big one is deep sea and nowhere near an urban area.
Time to sign off for a few days or so.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
We liked to think of the Empire as a big club of the right sort of chaps all as one in a common cause of mutual trade based on a single currency. To that end were many ways of getting the message across.
The King’s Christmas Pudding was one of them, the recipe from around 1930, give or take five years is above.
How many happy families in Britain were persuaded that this was for them is not known, but there must have been a few who made the attempt, indigestion or IBS regardless.
Our Empire is long gone as are the trading patterns on which it is based. We bought, or rather were sold, into Europe.
This was intended to be a union of the right sort of chaps all as one with trade in common and with a single currency.
So what might be the equivalent Euro pudding of today?
Superannuated frog meat marinaded in retsina tossed with sauerkraut fried in olive oil and laced with bitter Seville oranges?
The US version might be anything you find in a Walmart throwaway bin cooked in The Grapes Of Wrath.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
For a change, here is something completely different from the Irish Times.
Rosita Boland looks at the first edition of “Women’s Weekly” in 1911 and finds much of it strangely familiar. The picture comes from 1911 Census dot co dot uk.
It is unlikely that my Mum saw it at the time or the following editions in the next few years. Grannie had other priorities and little time available. Also, in those days every penny counted.
As the article points out it would not be long before the world became a different and more dangerous place.
Up to a point, Lord Copper.
Monday, 19 December 2011
Was it like this when the dinosaurs disappeared? Was it a gradual collapse of the ecology and environment necessary to their survival and reproduction? Why did all those magnificent creatures, large, dominating, strong with immense powers fail in their struggle to exist?
So what has been the “ecology” and “environment” of the human race over the last fifty years and perhaps a little more. In all the many and various economic and political theories created to explain what we are and do and how the ordinary business of life is transacted we seem to have lost sight of what happens.
It now appears that in a world where markets, economies and money are critical we have built our present systems for survival on false markets, false economic systems and with false money.
So it is all beginning to break down. Unluckily we think we have governments that have authority and powers and are able to deal with matters. In turn many of us are beginning to realise that amongst the falsities is false government in many forms.
The USA, proud of its democracy and independence is now neither democratic nor independent. Europe, once a series of combinations of national governments has become a supra-national entity that cannot even govern its own administrative services.
The constitutional mess that is the UK cannot even govern its politician’s expense accounts. Go round the world and there seem to be very few states that can exert anything like the powers they once did.
Where does sovereignty now lie across the earth? Not much of it is with governments, if any organisations have that quality it seems to be corporate bodies in finance. These have the advantage of not being based anywhere except in places where they store information in their computer systems.
But they are dependent on the way they create false money and the ways that is sent around the various false markets and how far the false economies can be kept going to provide the base for it.
Also they depend on the false governments to co-operate to keep the peasants quiet and paying and able to continue piling up the debt on which the whole financial ecosystem depends.
Santa Claus may not be around next year. He will have maxed out his credit card, failed his criminal records check, be unable to pay off the elves and also barred for not doing the due diligence. Also, no border control will let him in.
That is, if you believe in Santa.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Looking at the EU and Eurozone crisis to day reminds me of the past. Going back to the 1960’s and beyond one of the main causes of problems on the railways and difficulties in operation was trying to keep all the freight moving as well as providing the passenger services that people wanted to have.
What happened in this juggling was that too many compromises had to be made for the whole system to work properly with bottlenecks all over the place and the differing requirements of the various kinds of traffic.
So British Railways came to regard passengers as a necessary nuisance whilst trying to keep hold of its freight traffic against the competition of roads and then motorways. It did not succeed.
At that time a lot of freight was coal when much of the economy and household heating depended on it. This was carried in five ton wagons which did not have air braking; had four wheels, often in poor condition and were prone to derail in the bumping and banging involved in halts or crossing complex points, especially when in a train of “empties”.
So it could take only one small truck at the wrong point in the network to cause chaos because it came off the track in routine working. This problem had been known for nearly a century yet neither the railways companies, the government nor in its first years British Railways been able to sort it out.
Going into the 1960’s British Railways were faced with major conflicting issues and one of the keys to this was dealing with the problem of the five ton coal trucks.
The EU today reminds me vividly of one of those coal trains with a long line of trucks clanging and banging as they start, stop and try to change direction. Such coal trains because of their lack of effective braking could not go at any great speed, indeed 30 mph was high risk over much of the track.
In short the model of the EU and the Eurozone and its place in the network of global finance and politics has become unworkable in the conditions of the second decade of the 21st Century. It may have served up to a point through until the 1990’s but has become increasingly prone to chaos in its routine working.
It cannot go at speed, it takes up far too much time to move from one place to another, it is continually derailed by basic working failures, it is a traditional way of functioning that is hopelessly out of place in modern conditions and it is now in state when it prevents any satisfactory solution to communication or other problems.
I recall working on the platform when a coal train was going through and seeing one of the trucks suddenly jump the track and everything stopped. We had express trains due and worse with major cross country parcels trains following. I said to the foreman “How does this work?” He replied “It never expletive does.”
Looking over the Channel I have exactly the same feeling.
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
So much for Christmas joy and good will; our electricity company, EDF, has done a Scrooge possibly on a good many of its customers.
And guess what, they have stuck us with a bill that bears no relation to our past payments and has come a month after we paid off our last quarterly bill both on time and in full. The bill has to be paid by 27th December, if I am right the day of St. John the Evangelist, a nice choice.
It is lucky we keep an annotated copy of past bills and the rest, the result of a bitter row over their misuse of direct debits several years ago. So any estimate or costing can be disputed on the basis of their own figures.
The essence of the problem, as you may guess, is the introduction of a new online system embodied in an “improved” computer service. This has taken a long while and has caused a lot of grief, notably to all those people with either little time to spare or who lack the obsessive capacity to pursue a disagreement relentlessly.
Sadly, this all new computer system, which has required new customer numbers does not have access to any previous bills or payments. It does have the last meter readings, although the listing of those does not match the actual readings on many of the meters installed.
However, our meters were actually read by a man from EDF who came a couple of weeks ago checking all the local meters. These readings do not appear on their website and apparently it is not the practice to use them for billing.
Are you still with me? So just before Christmas I and many others are being asked to fork out another quarterly bill at a level of about 50% more than the actual use costs around a month after than the last quarterly bill.
These figures are fixed by EDF with apparently no appeal and have the effect of a direct debit even although I have made it clear that this kind of billing system has been a cause of dispute in the past.
Which rules are they trying to get round by forcing this on customers?
Why are they doing this? Well, for one it would mean a huge cash flow free of interest into their accounts and one that would rack up in coming months. We would all be giving EDF a large free loan with no benefit whatsoever.
EDF is a French company, so are us poor Brit’s providing an indirect bail out to French banks in trouble?
I think we should be told.
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
According to research by members of Tel Aviv University on a site of human occupation of around 400,000 years ago, even before my time, they suggest that one of the keys to human development was the elephant in the habitation.
The old Homo erectus they believe existed largely on a diet of elephants. These are animals that are slow moving, very big, easy to spot and bring down, they provided a rich long term store of nutrients at relatively little effort or thought.
Then for various reasons the elephants died out and those humans faced an era of severe austerity for which they were ill equipped. From somewhere another breed of humans emerged, faster, quicker and much cleverer and able to find, kill and feed on a wide range of smaller and more mobile animals.
Homo sapiens then made the world their own and happily chased all sorts of animals for food until a relatively short time ago they decided on a different form of diet, one based on farming. This was thought to have a number of advantages.
One of these was the creation of urban areas which became power blocks to dominate their local areas. These power blocks became bigger and bigger and with the growth in the number of this breed of humans more and more became based in urban areas and their immediate hinterlands.
For many reasons these humans retained a capacity for thought at an advanced level together with a variety of skills of survival, social interaction and substantial physical capability. When we look at what recent generations could do and did it is astonishing in comparison with most of the humans of today.
Now when looking at my fellow humans and their activities they seems to be an increasingly useless and physically incapable lot. They know little, have few skills, have poorer and poorer language capability, more and more limited abilities in complex social interaction and are completely dependent on others.
As I look about me and think back not too many years they seem to be another species in the long chain of human development.
The question is whether homo sapiens is giving way now to homo stupidus?
Monday, 12 December 2011
When Her Majesty succeeded her father in 1952 she was monarch of an Empire in the process of being ended in collapse by her Ministers and a United Kingdom glued together by increasing social spending and promises for the future. It was pinch and scrape for most but there was a hope for better things.
By 1977, at 25 years the glue had begun to fail because much of the spending had been badly handled and too many promises could not be afforded. So her Ministers had opted for a rough and ready merger with Europe, dumped what was left of the vision of Empire, collapsed the nation’s finances and had brought in the IMF to supervise her Silver Jubilee.
In 2002, at the 50 year Golden Jubilee the difficulties in her family and other changes made the celebrations more muted. Especially in that she now had Ministers pathologically resentful about being upstaged by anyone or anything. This lot on the back of cheap oil and cheap money had sold out to financial interests and allowed Europe to collapse our sovereignty.
So in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee, Her Majesty will be presiding over Ministers who have witnessed the collapse of Europe triggered by a collapse in the financial sector with all the prospect of a collapse in any real future for the UK. The question now at the end of 2011 is which Ministers might these be?
There are all the signs to an ancient election watcher that the Prime Minister could be in process of getting his nags to the starting tapes for an early snap election when the runes and the weather forecasts are right. Could it be February?
If he calls the race right we could be looking at a Conservative Government very different in membership from the present Coalition Collection, now going at sale price as the lease runs out.
If he is wrong we will be looking at a Labour Government whose functioning model will probably resemble Fred Karno (see Wikipedia) more than any of the usual political philosophers. These Ministers could finish the job off in the way of collapses.
Either way the Olympics Ceremonies may be amongst the last she undertakes of a UK in any visible shape economically or politically. She will have gone from being the heir to a huge Empire to being the last monarch of the UK. What will History make of this?
By the time of the next Jubilee Her Majesty may find herself in Tamworth as Queen of Mercia, or if she is lucky down at Winchester as Queen of Wessex. If it is worse it will be Edinburgh as Queen of Scotland trying to sort out all the factions. The really bad one would be York or Durham as Queen of Northumbria.
The locomotive above was built for the LMS in 1935 and was named “Silver Jubilee” for King George V.
Happy New Year.
Saturday, 10 December 2011
Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England says the situation is impossible for the UK to control. President Obama on the other hand has implored Cameron to exercise some control to save the Euro in order to save his Presidential election prospects from a Euro bust.
However, something is changing notably the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation that might deliver a cooler spell in the coming years, hat tip AK Haart, which could have marginal economic effects at a time when the margins are critical.
Amidst all the excitement at what is going on in outer space with planets in far galaxies and super Black Holes, Nicholas Shaxson points out that there is a Black Hole rather nearer home:
As for what was really going on in Brussels, another hole of a different kind, Richard North has his own ideas:
I hope that the first footer for 2012 will be able to find a piece of coal. We might need it.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
With many of the Western economies unable to stand much in the way of oil price increases and many of the Middle Eastern countries unable to cope with much in the way of oil price reductions the basics are not looking good.
At the same time China needs to keep trading to keep its economy on the go and to enable their balance of payments surplus to fund the need for savings and growth. The same Western economies recently run on consumerism, debt and many with balance of payments deficits cannot continue on this basis.
Elsewhere, it is being pointed out that the Euro crisis is not simply about debt. It is about gross distortions and imbalance in the balances of payments as well. To do something about the debt will impact on the balances.
The whole lot has been kept going by free and unlimited flows of capital in a global market and these are dictated not by national interests or indeed rational markets but by the need to rack up the figures and keep things moving.
So some are saying that just as other things will have to change so will the whole notion of free capital flows and unchecked financial operations, much of it tax light or free. But the means to do this are beyond most governments.
Also, some governments see their role is to defend these free capital flows because of their local interests and the influence wielded by those running the companies involved.
Consequently there is little coordination of policies despite all the meetings and the spin as politicians frantically try to put together deals to keep the various shows on the road.
The chaos mongers are taking bets on which is the next big one to go in the world of banks and finance. There are a select group of leading candidates any one of which could cause a major panic and lead to bigger but not better bail outs and the rest.
Enjoy the festive season.
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Today is St. Nicholas’s Day, celebrated around Europe and the Balkans by a number of Christian faiths. The story takes various forms and different aspects but essentially he was a one man benefits agency over the turn of the 3rd and 4th Centuries.
The story has taken another form in some particular Western countries with the Saint being better known as Santa Claus or metamorphosed into Father Christmas. In our way of thinking he comes up with gifts and goodies for the kids until they learn better.
This week we have stories that suggest that not only are saints or the lessons they taught not much taken notice of but that the essence of our society is taking away rather than giving.
One of our leading banks, HSBC (aka Shanghai Lil’s) has been fined and required to compensate by the FSA for £40 million because of gross malpractice. Apparently, after HSBC took over a known and respected financial firm NHFA in 2005 the targets they were set and the methods of operation they were encouraged to use royally screwed vulnerable 80 year olds trying to cover any future care costs.
Also, their has been disquiet in Parliament that because of the lack of financial controls in the companies that own Care Homes and the extractive policies they have adopted there is another major crash impending.
Southern Cross last year failed putting 31,000 very old in care homes at risk. This is a sector in difficulty and now failing to provide for or deal with the most extreme cases of need.
Not only have the aged had a pensions squeeze of one sort or another and the interest rates on savings drastically reduced many have been the losers in one bank fiasco or another.
Sir Fred Goodwin, late of RBS, may have accepted a reduced pension to the pittance of about half a million a year but some of his former customers were reduced to almost zero.
The reductions in local government spending are alleged to mean reduced care cover and less financial support coupled with higher charges with what is called “Care In The Community”. Many of those affected will be getting much less and their home districts now do not offer much in the way of community.
Those living in retirement flat developments also have been on the wrong end of property management services putting financial extraction to meet targets set by speculative investors way ahead of services. A large part of this sector is now in trouble and may end up controlled by some of the most rapacious private equity firms.
Recently, some of the stories emerging from the NHS and the hospitals have been suggesting that absence of care or of any expertise in dealing with the old in the context of a target driven management culture has caused major failures.
Perhaps all we can do is pray to St. Nicholas.
Monday, 5 December 2011
Well, I told you so. Today a brief item slipped into the news mentioned that there is to be a hurried recruitment of 24,000 people to beef up security for the Olympics. Quite who they will be is not clear but added costs of £271 million are flagged.
Also, not clear is how they are to be organised, trained and deployed. This is not looking good. The costs admitted are probably only the calculation of what will be paid out. What will not be admitted is all the other hidden costs. Think half a billion or so and you may get close.
Was it on Tuesday 12 May 2009 when I posted a longish think piece on Olympics Security, never mind other later items referring to this? How come the vast number of civil servants, consultants and those in all the agencies and organisations who were charged with running the show did not realise what would be needed?
It is just another gross example of the gathering collapse of government and administration in the UK. “The Mail” today had an item in its money section that has been picked up on the web. Within the HMRC tax authority there is now a group of whistle blowers called “Dissent” campaigning against what they call the endemic corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement in that department.
So we have a financial crisis in which fiscal policy is a critical area and where the government needs to raise its revenue effectively and fairly. Yet the HMRC staff is up in arms against the failures of their bosses to run the revenue collection either fairly or properly.
Add to this some of the other blunders and barmier passages of events in the last few months, there is a long list of them and it raises the question of can this lot do anything right or trusted with any of our money?
Last night, Robert Peston in the first part of a two part series “The Party’s Over, How The West Went Bust” attempted an explanation of the present troubles. At least he was not being optimistic. One striking aspect of this was when he was talking to people in China about their urge to save.
The message was simply that they needed to have money in hand in the event of illness, to pay their way without credits and for their old age. China may be communist but there is a singular lack of social security or cheap health facilities.
The inference, which was not picked up, was that we can no longer continue to have open access and provision on demand for either social security, pensions or health. In short the implication is that we cannot afford to have a National Health Service of the kind we have had in the past.
So what kind of mess will our government make of the transition from a society which has come to expect so much to one that is going to get so little?
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Managing a currency is not easy, even if a state has considerable control over its affairs and has a high level of self sufficiency. Managing a currency that serves many other countries one way or another, has an international role in trade and banking but is critical to the health of your own economy is exceptionally difficult.
Looking down the centuries of history the lesson is that it is impossible to do without periods of severe stress, endless difficult “no right answer” decisions and the certainty of eventual collapse due to the internal contradictions, war or unforeseen disaster.
In other words, the game is up for the period when we have had three major currency systems operating on this basis. The Euro issues are well enough known in our media as we see what is happening at present.
The Dollar, once under the control of the US Government but which has come to have a life of its own has just been used to save the Euro. The price will have to be paid by additional strains on that currency which is already vulnerable and in trouble.
The UK pound, that once ruled the waves, is in a kind of Mexican Standoff with both the Euro and the Dollar. Were the UK to be remotely independent and in control of its own affairs then it might find its own solution.
But it has handed so many powers to the EU, for so long has been Airstrip One for the USA and has allowed The City to become so embroiled with Wall Street activities that it now in a deep deep hole.
The USA wants us to help to sort out and buttress the Euro. The Euro wants us to give financial support but otherwise stay out of the way because we will only mess up. The City wants us to use the opportunities offered by the Euro’s troubles to bash the Euro. Wall Street also wants to bash the Euro but nobody to know.
At one time London was central to the financial and money systems of the Empire. We know how that ended after we ran out of money in the 1940’s. Then we had thirty years of trying to run an economy that kept the Sterling Area afloat. That ended badly with a wreck of an economy saved by North Sea Oil and Gas.
On that basis we moved on to a “service” economy expansion with financial services being a major feature, tied in to a network of tax havens and global systems. That is now at an end but we cannot accept that it has gone for good.
Also gone is the Euro as it was intended to be and whose future is clouded at least. Then there is the dollar and how long it can continue in its present form. The one certainty is that its past role is finished as well.
So what are we left with?
Friday, 2 December 2011
Number One Hyde Park has been well publicised in the media as the ultimate London property development. The prices are said to be from £3 million plus for a shoebox one bedroom flat to £36 million for a posh penthouse.
In its way it is a microcosm of the insanities of the UK property market as well as an extreme example of how wrong our money system is going. The latest information is that a large number of the flats are not paying in council tax to the local authority.
This is Westminster Council, the home of our seat of government where you might expect a greater attention and drive to get in the revenues. But it seems there are obstacles. The first is that the developers and sellers of the flats claim that they do not “know” who owns them.
That the Candy brothers are less able to identify their customers than the chap who sells garden sheds down the road from us is a source of wonder to me given the extent and nature of administrative and legal services available to them, but there you go. Even the biggest beasts can be totally incompetent.
Or perhaps it might raise some interesting questions about the sales tactics. One matter is how the prices were originally “benchmarked”. There is the smell of the “huckster’s plant” about this. Have someone put up a big bid early and all else will follow.
Candy brothers are well connected with other London property players so they would not have too much trouble finding a helpful friend. Especially, as amongst their closer contacts there were some who really needed to protect whatever wealth they could rescue from the demands of anxious creditors and others.
Legally, of course it is all shipshape and trim and not a speck to be seen. The owners of the flats are all business people with complex financial structures. These are the kind that disappear wealth from beyond these shores through a chain of secrecy jurisdictions to a place that nobody can find.
Least of all the tax gatherers of Westminster City Council. What is really odd about the whole business is the annual Council Tax payable is reported to be £1375 a flat. This figure may surprise most readers and it is likely that very many people would be delighted to have any flat or home, Knightsbridge or wherever where the total Council tax payable was as low as this.
How did they manage it? If it is correct it must be legal. Yet there are the most elaborate arrangements in place to avoid it on behalf of some of the richest people on the planet. Or would they rather not be identified for reasons we can only speculate about?
The problems relating to this kind of thing in the property world are well known. Apparently, the covering up of ownership information enables avoidance of stamp duty and a range of other taxable charges and expenses.
Quite how much in total a wealthy property investor can avoid or evade is astonishing. The national estimates for this are staggering in the context of our present fiscal situation.
From what is known about some of the flats from the back of my personal random memory between the ears came a little voice saying “’Ullo, ‘ullo, ‘ullo.” Names emerged from the mist of Scotch there. These are well known to many people in and around the London elite and their connections.
That the owners are truly anonymous is highly unlikely. If I am right not only do many know who they are but they are also major donors to the Conservative Party with a direct line to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
And nobody dare breathe a word.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
The Woolf Report on the questions arising from the Libyan connections at LSE and the award of a Ph.D. degree to Saif Al Gaddafi has been published. There has been a good deal said about this in the past and the damage done to the reputation and standing of the School. The full report is here:
It is lucky perhaps that the report has emerged in a week when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has presented the Autumn Statement, the strike of public sector workers over pensions has dominated the media, notably the BBC, and the Euro and world financial situation had reached crisis point.
Additionally, in the last couple of weeks in the UK media there has been a lot of attention paid to the nature of investigative journalism. It is striking that so much of this is directed at personal interest stories and there is almost a complete absence of attention to major political and financial matters, such as who is buying whom?
From my reading of the report and the questions that arise in my mind in my purely personal opinion it is time for Peter Sutherland, Chairman of the Council and Court of Governors of the LSE to resign forthwith. It is also my view that Cherie Blair, unmentioned in the report, should consider her position as Governor.
The picture above is a bridge school in the Student Common Room possibly at about the time when Lord Woolf was studying there. Would he have been going to win the rubber or just engaging in a defensive ploy?
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
The Autumn Statement was invented to allow The Treasury to set out its plans and ideas for the coming financial year for the financing of government and for the consequential direction of economic policy.
It was intended to overcome the months of speculation, leaks, misleading claims and general nonsense that had come to be part of the March Budget statement capers down the years.
In other words it was happily assumed that the government could more or less determine what would be going on from four or five months ahead and in the following year. In the past, there had been interim or crisis budgets but these were asserted to be “special” as a result of unforeseen circumstances.
Increasingly the Autumn Statements have become less exercises in reliable planning and forecasting and more abstract Futurology sessions as the pace of events has quickened and the uncertainties increased.
Much of the data they depend on is already months old. A great deal of data now is becoming more and more suspect and unreliable with the radical change in the way the Civil Service operates and the figures are manipulated. It is less an attempt to set out real information, it is far more advocacy on perjured and corrupt evidence.
By the time the data is analysed and further sanitised it has become remote from what has actually happened. As the months pass over the winter and the markets move and change as well as many other things then by April it is has become far removed from the realities of a changed situation.
If a government and Parliament do not and cannot know what is the now there is precious little hope of this group of anchorites ever being able to cope with the future yet we spend enormous amounts of time and effort over the pretence that there is some sort of sense to it.
For the UK and all its parts what may or may not happen or how and when or to what effect is no more in our own hands than in what might happen geologically in the Ring Of Fire in the Pacific and it may be the East which will have the real influence.
As for any prediction or Statement that might be made why is my Ouija Board rocking so much?
Monday, 28 November 2011
Today, the Nassau Guardian of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas has an editorial titled “Reality Check” about their current economic situation.
It is a short plain totally jargon free item in old fashioned English that says what it has to in terms impossible to misunderstand.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if amongst the hordes of those in London who are there to inform and advise us there were any who could be as clear as this?
Sunday, 27 November 2011
Today is the First Day of Advent, once a major date in the Christian calendar now the start point for the Great Shopping on which so much of the economy and the credit card industry depends to meet not just its quarterly but its annual targets.
Unluckily, there is a cloud over it all this year caused by the problems in Europe, the risks entailed and other international uncertainties, for example how much will President Obama give Ben Bernanke and Goldman Sachs for Christmas? They will be hoping for a lot more that one extra live turkey.
I have known worse. On the same occasion in 1945 the situation was grim beyond despair also across Europe. Three days later in Paris the French Government nationalized five banks in an attempt to contain a gathering financial and employment crisis. A month later there were riots in Paris and Rouen because of severe shortages of bread.
Also just after this date an Anglo-US Loan Agreement was signed in Washington, Britain having is own serious problems. In the US there was more interest in the later news that General Patton had hit a truck in his car and was soon to die.
When this happened his troops in Bavaria were routinely searching women employed as manual labour in many US Army facilities. There were few German males around at the time. The ladies had hidden pockets all over their clothing to contain scraps or food items taken were they could. Butter they smeared over their arms, other items were tucked in different parts of the anatomy etc. etc.
Across Europe many starved that winter, many froze and many died because their bodies could not cope with routine ailments, even colds never mind flu’. There were no antibiotics save for Allied servicemen and virtually no other drugs.
In many areas the problem was the absence of a viable local currency, huge parts of the economy operated by barter or quasi-money commodities, notably cigarettes. Crime was rife and punishment harsh and not necessarily within the legal framework.
In this context there is a triple bill of serious items for today. Automatic Earth sees that the only way this can go is for a massive deleveraging of the European Banking system. This would be big nasty and everyone would get badly hurt.
One web contributor, The Slog, who has put in a huge amount of determined work now asserts that the European answer is to put us all in hock to the banks, let them off the hook and by doing so “forgive” a lot of debt. We will pay for it, we will have no option and we will suffer the consequences. The Euro and banking elite will not.
Zero Hedge contributors have been relentlessly critical of the political shambles over the Euro and the handling of the relevant problems. Their story is that even in the depths of the Foreign Office someone is beginning to worry.
It was later in December 1945 that the IMF and the World Bank were established. In June 1946 the Inaugural Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations met in London to be welcomed by King George VI.
But in February 1946 IBM had revealed a machine for electronic calculations, ENIAC. It needed 18,000 valves to work. It was widely regarded as a curiosity with limited potential functions.
So perhaps in 2012 HM The Queen could see the whole international edifice created then collapse in part due to human mishandling of electronic means of calculation and communication.
But others will be hungry again and going round offering family heirlooms or prized possessions for food or fuel.
Friday, 25 November 2011
“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then The Gentleman” was the title of a sermon given by the rebellious priest, John Ball, 1338-1381. It led eventually to his head being stuck on a pike at London Bridge to the relief of King Richard II, the Bishops, the Nobility and the Burghers of The City.
Within 25 years of this event, the King has died in Pontefract Castle in February 1400 and Bolingbroke had grasped the throne as King Henry IV. If it was February in Pontefract it was probably pneumonia, the freezing fog there clings close to damp valleys around it.
More prosaically, a blunter view is “You can paint a pair of sausages blue and green. But they are still a pair of sausages.” This is owed to the composer Anton Bruckner, a simple and very devout man whose music is anything but simple and of another world. He liked sausages so he knew his sources.
Within 25 years of his death, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, qua Holy Roman Empire that was the centre of his world has disintegrated and few composers shared either his beliefs or ideas. After that things became a lot rougher.
We are now in a world where truth is a difficult commodity to find, facts are never what they seem to be and regiments of highly paid leading graduates of major universities issue material which can never be taken at face value and need a great deal of knowledge and expertise to unravel.
On “techie” matters here is a choice one about selling new gizmos:
The Coalition (or is it Collision?) after a start that did not begin to fly has retreated into the familiar Westminster pattern of government by stunt and spin. There have been two in the last couple of days.
The first is the venture into sub-prime mortgages to keep the building industry and money men happy. This is taxpayer money aimed at a small minority. I wonder how many marginal constituencies are involved or those with interesting choices should the revamp of the electoral arrangements take place? Simon Jenkins of the Guardian is critical on this:
He does not mention the wholesale shambles that is developing across all sectors of the property market resulting from the gross distortions created in the last decade or more or the other factors that bear on the several margins. The emphasis is on the problems of the young but there is an even bigger one developing in the housing of the very old, especially those unable to care for themselves or to buy it.
Another “initiative” is to throw a billion at training unemployed young people. There has been a lot of comment on the web about the real issue that too many are unemployable but I will assume that there are still very many who want to work and make some progress.
Given the numbers involved and growing a billion does not go near it and only touches on the real problem finding the regular and reliable work opportunities to go to. As young labour was priced out of its market in the recent past and many sent off to meet the education targets elsewhere the net effect was to create a situation were many recruiters did not bother to look for them.
Also, according to all the employment agency material I see, it is very difficult to see just where a young person can fit into the kind of employment market that has developed. Things are just not like that anymore. So the “jobs” created are false jobs and another stunt to massage the figures.
Meanwhile we have the Great Pensions Strike of 30 November when anxious Trade Union Leaders, Headteachers, Doctors, Senior Nursing Staff and Managers almost all on six figure salaries with protected inflation proofed pension entitlements of many tens of thousands will lead processions of lower paid public sector workers in protest against changes to contributions and conditions.
The difficulty here is that the simplistic media coverage relentlessly suggests that somehow or other “private pensions” and “public sector pensions” are two monolithic and separate systems. This is nonsense.
As I have pointed out the public sector arrangements have a wide degree of variation with many significant differences. Very many are in serious financial disarray because of the gross government failure of the last two decades to begin to contain and prepare for the impending problems. In fact the situation was worsened rather than improved.
For the private sector the present is very different from the past. One of Gordon Browns first targets was to raid private sector schemes to help balance his books. The consequence of fiddling the figures has closed a great many, reduced more and put most others into serious difficulty. Together with recent policy of hitting the savers to help the borrowers this has worsened the situation further.
But it is the private sector that provides most of the effective tax base for state revenue. If the public sector workers are demanding now that state spending should include funding the very substantial deficits on all forms of public sector pensions then this will simply not be sustainable.
To suggest that it might be is what might be called a Greek Myth. Just like so much of the other spin we are getting. For those who know their Greek Myths a great many end very badly indeed and that is the direction we are going in.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
This is a Triple A plus stinker and slow to downgrade.
So not much is going on here. And it is time to sack out again for a while.
If I was finding everything confusing before at the moment nothing is making sense.
So perhaps I am on the mend?
Monday, 21 November 2011
Meanwhile in the USA we have entered a period of twelve months hiatus. This is something that happens quite often, notably when an incumbent President has been having difficulties and it going to have to campaign hard and come up with a lot of popular measures to ensure his (or her) return to Office.
It is a very muddled situation there. The Republican Party has had already a number of persons put forward as potential candidates but none of them seems to convince either their own party or most of the voters. The voters want somebody to cut the cackle and do the business but are getting too much cackle and too little sense.
President Obama is in trouble because the USA was in deep trouble when he took over. It has not got any better and the signs are that it is not going to. The debt is still rocketing, large areas of the economy are badly stressed and he has not had either the ability or the chance of picking the kind of team he needed. But there are no Democrats in sight able to challenge him.
And things keep happening, as they do. In most countries this may matter less but in a country where religion is a major deciding force then the wrath of whatever god is in a bad temper is to be feared. Geophysicists, who are wise enough to keep their heads down may worry but prefer to explain after the event then to warn before.
As the USA is very big and straddles a continent between the Atlantic and the Pacific the chances of something changing that will be inconvenient to humans in the area is higher than in most places. It could be anything, but the hot money (sic) is that in the mid West there could be a long drought impending.
The USA also has a failed state to the south, Mexico, which is exporting its troubles to a number of States in the south west of the USA. In the Caribbean a number of small places could suddenly demand a lot of expensive attention.
With all this and the increased dependence on Chinese money and other Asian inputs the USA has now turned West (again) to its Pacific neighbours and is looking to keep some sort of lead and initiative.
This will not be easy. In my experience creditors do not take kindly to debtors who lecture them. They will not the pushover that so many European states have been in the past.
This had led the USA not so much to withdraw from Europe but to regard it as a kind of maiden Aunt who is suddenly in need of care. All its eccentricities have now become intolerable and something to stay away from and they can’t be trusted with the money any more.
Which is unlucky as Wall Street is embroiled with the City of London and parts of Europe to the same extent as it ever was and to the same effect. President Obama may want to politically steer clear of European troubles but Wall Street will not let him. This could become very complicated if the Eurozone crisis worsens.
Also Wall Street is involved in the same network of tax havens and the same shifting of money and capital as are the The City, the Swiss and others notably amongst the big international magnates who call the shots. Enter the Russians, the wild cards in this great game of the 21 Century.
We should remember that the backyards of Russia and the USA overlook each other and there are signs that like housewives of old they have begun to chat over the garden wall away from prying eyes and ears.
So when we look at our own media and see the stories that are being covered the one thing we should really know is that we are being neither informed or advised about the USA and its problems and therefore very little of the reality of our own.
Anything can happen and will.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Now and again the vibes begin to twitch and the urge to predict something strikes. The trouble is being certain that it is the vibes and not just wanting to express an opinion about this or that.
Sometimes, it is not the vibes but the simple application of thought processes that others seem to have missed or not want to think about. The latter is more common. If the way life is and is going and it does not look good then it is easy to avoid thinking and coming to conclusions that you do not like.
If you are in politics and depending on the opinion of others it is much harder to face up to problems. You are expected to deliver the goodies whatever happens.
The vibes are there again but I do not know why. A lot is going on out there. Nobody seems safe and anything can happen not just in politics and money but many other things. I do not like the look of the run of earthquakes off Tokyo but the big one that is due may not happen for decades.
Up in Siberia apparently the Russians are flaring off huge amounts of natural gas because it would be too costly to deal with and to transport to the markets for it. What other forms of massive waste occur around the world? There could be a very long list for this.
In terms of money, banks, debt and the rest around the web there are a lot of grim looking graphs. Things rocketing up should not be going up. What are going down is all our incomes, pensions and future prospects.
Sooner or later, those states in hock to vulture funds because their debt has been sold on by the people they borrowed from will stop paying. Also soon peoples who have been massively ripped off by their rulers will revolt and also decide that enough has been enough.
Meanwhile, we have Europe and what is left of it. Just what are Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy doing? I have thought long and hard about this and have come up one possible way of describing their current joint approach to all the problems. It is here:
As at present this is the best I can do. As for the vibes, they may not be reliable. As I am on heavy doses of ginger, lemon and honey to shift the congestion it may be doing things between the ears that alter the neurone paths.
But it could still be right.
Saturday, 19 November 2011
A couple of weeks or maybe more ago, tucked away in a late schedule was a programme from BBC Wales about the 1971 British and Irish Lions Tour of New Zealand introduced by Eddie Butler. Martin Johnson was still in his nappies and Rob Andrew an eight year old still wondering why a ball should be that shape.
It was from the 1971 Tour that the Lions returned having defeated New Zealand’s All Blacks twice and drawn once in a series of four games after playing some wonderful rugby. The archive film was glorious to watch, old rugby at its best and a game that differs greatly from that of the present. For one thing the players were all shapes and sizes and not identikit lumps turned out of gymnasia.
In this year’s World Cup the New Zealander’s were looking good, at home and up for it. It was always going to be difficult to stop them. France, unexpected finalists, made them work hard for the title but the All Blacks ground them down. Amongst the other teams in contention there were three or four who might or might not and did not. England was one of them.
To call this a “disaster” is really very stupid. Yes, they failed, but so did all the others except the All Blacks and it was in a game against France which was one of those where it did not work as it should have done. Been there, done that, games which might and should have been won but were not.
Unluckily, the defeat was compounded by players who were not alive to the nature and immediacy of modern communications and media coverage when they thought they were allowed to let their hair and other things down. But we have been here before.
In 1960, Peter Wilson of the Daily Mirror, their leading sports journalist and “The Man They Can’t Gag” made a rare excursion into Rugby Football to express his anger in an article entitled “This Hooliganism Must Stop”. It was to do with conduct by some players after the match that was rather livelier than the present England side in that just about all were former servicemen.
They made the error of assuming that there would be no press coverage to worry about. But that is another story. It might be simply coincidence but this bunch of daft blighters who were well past their teens were all from Johnson’s home patch in Leicester. Indeed he may have come across one or two in his early years.
However, the press conference given by Johnson and Andrew this week had its delights. The media did not much change from them and it was very refreshing to see all too evidently that they did not care much for the press and did not have a high opinion of them.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of Johnson’s going it was good to hear a plain Midlands accent laying it out simply and directly and an old pack leader getting his head down to take the pressure. He did not give much away, but he never did on the field. It was not so much assurance as dignity and sensibility.
The real delight was Andrew, a former fly half fleet of foot and accurate of boot who gave a display of good hard hand offs. “That is a hypothetical question. I am not answering hypothetical questions.” When asked what he was going to do, “We are going to work hard to find out how things can be done better.” Asked when he replied “As soon as I can get out of here.”
When a leading question suggested that the single defeat raised issues about the whole structure of the RFU he replied to that the problem was that the media seemed to know little or nothing about structures notably those with complex responsibilities and varied tasks.
He pointed out that the England Squad were just a smaller part of a larger whole and distinct in terms of its “elite status”. This more or less suggested that the media knew San Fairy Ann about most of the work of the RFU and were only interested in a single immediate aspect.
Andrew was at St. John’s College, Cambridge, founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort one of the most formidable and talented women in recorded English history (see 25 October 2011 on Shakespeare). She must have been grinning up there.
Johnson, as a youngster began his rugby with Wigston, a minor local club in Leicester. Later this merged with a more senior one, Westleigh and the new club took the name Leicester Lions, which I thought a bit naff, but there you go. After a couple of good seasons in League 2 North, the Lions are not doing so well.
So if Martin has some spare time, could he nip down to Blaby and apply some of his skills there?
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Digital money comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Anything can happen in between. We do not know how much of it there is or where it is or why.
This is intended to be a short post so explaining all the past theories of money and connected theories of economics in the meantime will have to be skipped. All that needs to be said is sometimes they connect better than others and too often they do not connect at all.
What the economists have said about how things work and how the money men have actually operated and the issue of who is using what kinds of money to what purpose is difficult at all times. It is more difficult during periods of rapid social, political and technological change.
Which is what we have just had in the last couple of decades only this time round it has been speeded up. Moore’s Law (Wikipedia) has come to apply not just to computing but a great many other things arising from their impact.
The notion of “creation of credit” has been around for a while. Simply it was the ability of banks and finance houses to enable credits to be given to borrowers to a greater extent than the assets held by the banks etc. At one time this applied to holdings of “hard money”, physical precious metals or stones, but later became “fiat” money and the figures in ledgers.
When it was largely “hard money” that was acceptable the only way to get it was to dig it up, engage in trade or conquer territories where it could be dug up. This put a number of limitations and constraints on governments in that in the last analysis there had to be physical or trading controls of varying types.
As governments developed and grew in power the shortages of “hard” money arising from their ambitions, growing populations and extending trade meant the use of “fiat” money.
As this began to supplant “hard” money and as “fiat” money came to be under the control of governments we had a phase when politicians could chirp happily on about economic planning and controlling the economy and everything in it and being able to throw money at those things which conferred political advantage.
Having achieved a high degree of control and looking for still more ways to find money to please their clients many came to “loosen up” the regulation and control to let the money men indulge in much more “credit creation”. Governments still thought that their control over the issue of the “fiat” money and some rates of interest would do the trick of keeping matters in hand.
One of the features of governments as a whole in the last three decades has been the astonishing lack of understanding of what computers are and can do; their remarkable incompetence in dealing with their own systems and inability to find out what is really happening out there in all those main frames.
It has not been helped by a matching inability of the top levels of management in very many of the banks and financial companies to understand what goes on. The one thing they did understand was that the geeks together with Professors of Mathematics and hard nosed traders delivered what appeared to be huge increases in both total activity and related profits.
To do this they created beyond the control either of governments or their own top management unlimited amounts of digital money. This came as what appeared to be ordinary money and credits but added to that a huge array of highly complex forms of quasi-money and financial instruments representing an end value of money.
They were able to do this anywhere they wanted, move it about anywhere and at any time they liked and increase it at any rate they chose so long as the figures looked good and convinced the wondering ignoramuses in the Treasuries, the Central Banks, the Boards of Directors and most of all in the governing cabals of the world.
Governments have lost control over the world’s supplies of money and credit. Because of that they are losing control over their economies. As this happens they will begin to lose control over their populations and other people. Quite where this will end is not certain. What is certain is that there are a number of states that have failed and others that are about to fail.
All the old theories or certainties about money, economics and politics are gone.
Those who do create the digital money demand governments pay for their errors and continue to support them. The money men have no interest in either control or the effects of their decisions on ordinary people other than that they have the ability to extract money from them at the bidding of the money men.
It is 28 June 1914; the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is visiting Sarajevo with his loved wife Sophie. They are not using the old fashioned horse and carriage form of transport. They are in vehicles of the new automobile form of personal transport, said to be faster, more efficient and a more effective way of moving about.
There is confusion in the seating arrangements, one of the cars is damaged and then there is an error in the giving of directions. When the driver tries to reverse the car it stalls, and the political assassin Gavrilo Princip shoots.
The world began to change.
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
There has been a flurry of comment in some of the media about the impending takeover over Europe by Germany. Here we go again is the response of many especially those with long memories. So what is the source for this?
For those interested it was likely to be an article picked up from the German web site The Local, Germany’s news in English, which relayed Herfreid Munkler’s article on “The Need for a Centralization of Power”.
This suggested that democratization of decisions at national level was a potential for disaster and Europe’s elite should get their act together fast and do the necessary to save Europe for Germany and at least to save Germany.
What was it that Martha Stewart said before she was arrested in 2004 for dodgy tax dealings? “Only the little people pay tax.”? In parallel with this call to the great and good, or may be not so good it is being argued that the German approach to dealing with tax avoidance and evasion in relation to Switzerland is not quite what it seems to be.
In the UK similarly things are not quite what they seem to be and it is amazing how the information only turns up by accident. But with most of government policy at the moment seeming to be the products of accidents this is not a surprise. One choice gem is that those flying in on private jets recently have not had to bother with border controls at all.
Quite unlike the little people nervously wondering whether the passport sold to them in a bar in Bucharest will pass the officials. It seems only right, therefore, that the officials dealing with the hoi polloi should stop checking any passports in the name of social equality.
However, the little person still could find himself not welcome, but if you have millions there is no problem, come on in, we need you. More to the point if you can persuade a bank, maybe Barclays, to lend you the money on the basis of assets claimed to exist in a tax haven this will be OK as well.
That the fortune claimed may be the result of either pushing money round accounts or the gentle art of money laundering would be an invasion of privacy to ask about. This may be why the UK is said to be the biggest criminal money laundry in the world.
Our politicians of both left and right have told us that these are just the chaps we need to keep our finances afloat, and keep our sporting and certain entertainment facilities amongst the most desirable in the world. Where would we be without them?
What worries me is the closeness of these people to the elite group that are supposed to be taking charge of Europe and all our taxes and spending. In fact they are so close as to be almost indistinguishable.
It might explain why some of the property investments lately discovered to be bought with their expenses by people in Parliament seem to be located in “red light” districts.
Knock, knock, who’s there?
Monday, 14 November 2011
Amongst the many stories this morning confirming the view that chaos is with us and is not going away was one about Olympic Security. This has coincided with a story about how Suffolk Churches are being encouraged to raid their Poor Boxes to put on a light display bathing the Houses of God in the Olympic Colours next summer.
Given the fortunes being made by some of those running the show as well as all the profit and marketing opportunities arising from both government and local spending drawn from the taxpayers it can be said that emptying the Parish Churches of their cash is almost surreal.
That the row over security provision has emerged only nine months before it all happens should make a lot of people worried. As for the USA sending in the FBI, well they usually do, but this is only indicative of the wider problems. This blog has been here before.
On Tuesday, 12th May 2009, yes 2009, an item “Olympic Security Costs” was posted in this blog setting out the essential issues, the dangers and the likely costs of providing for adequate security arrangements. It was not extreme, nor was it alarmist; it simply tried to spell out what was what in terms of the present and the experience of past Olympics.
One question was how far the Armed Services would be able to help out, as in 1948, in terms of numbers and cover for critical areas. We can be fairly sure that because of continuing commitments and other problems there will be little to be had.
There has been the control and monitoring of people coming in during this period. From the stories and information on the crisis in the Borders Agency coupled with a huge influx of illegal and other barely checked migrants it is clear that we have lost the plot.
Also the failure to both deport and identify many high risk criminals, terrorists and extremists already staying here which presents an unknown quantity to working out who, what, where and how.
What we have had is a load of media happy hype with whipped in “ambassadors” and “volunteers” who are little trained cheerleaders and gofers almost all of whom are clueless about security and the rest.
In the last few weeks we have had some nasty riots and also a great many demonstrations and other activities which have clearly stretched the existing capability of police forces.
Personally, I hope against hope that there will not be trouble in London. This is for the purely selfish reason that quite often we go there and we do not want to find ourselves in the midst of a security shutdown or disaster.
Nor do we want to suffer the unending inconvenience of encountering high security activity everywhere we go.
Life is too short for that, especially if we are paying for it.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Shuffling my way back in after the first interval with a lot of others there was this big bloke by my side. It was worrying; if he trod on one of my best trainers he could get an earful that might spoil his family occasion. My trainers are expensive footwear. Because of my feet I need to have those designed for athletes and such.
Then I realised who he was. So now I may claim to be a source close to George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer and indeed might have had his ear. For a fleeting moment the thought came to say something. It would on the lines of the Soothsayer in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. “Beware the endogenous growth theory!”
Then I remembered it is probably written in the blood of a Special Adviser on the walls of his office at The Treasury, left from the time of the last Chancellor, Alastair Darling. Perhaps it had been written by his predecessor, Gordon Brown, as a change from throwing hardware about and left by Darling as a dreadful reminder of hubris.
That might have spoiled the occasion even more. George was escaping from the fantasy world of Europe of the last few days and all the strange and improbable stories he had been told by other ministers and experts there. It would have been good to be away from all the posturing and demands for attention and approval and craving for an audience.
We too found it refreshing to be at a performance which mingled expert attention to detail with comparatively social realism and an appreciation of the true moral imperatives that should underlie human conduct. Where the Good might be paramount and the squalid selfishness and greed of others denied.
It was The Royal Ballet “Sleeping Beauty” at Covent Garden. It was clear that they had been doing a bit of quantitative easing of their own in that the costumes were new, more highly coloured and with subtle changes. The last time the costumes for this signature production were renewed was when the Royal Ballet went to the Kennedy Arts Centre at Washington DC and did a gala for President Clinton.
Famously, back stage when being introduced to the Principal who had danced the Lilac Fairy, the character who sorts it all out and puts both things and people right, he said that “We need a Lilac Fairy at the White House.” Unluckily, the US Media being short on humour and ballet plots and long on speculation came to some very strange conclusions over the meaning of this. It went down badly in Texas.
But the meanings of it all, what were the signs and portents? Red Riding Hood’s coat was much redder. Does this mean more EU regulation and control of credit such as those of the mid 20th Century? The wolf was clearly of a more Russian, even Siberian type and not one of the previous Yellowstone breeds. Is Europe going to be forsaken by the US and needing to turn to Russia?
The Lilac of the Fairy I am expertly advised had a costume that was magenta rather than Lilac. Whereas the colour lilac was associated with Empress Eugenie of France who popularised silks made with the new synthetic chemical dyes, magenta was the prime colour of the banner of the old Holy Roman Empire that finally ended with World War 1 after its major decline in the 19th Century.
So republican France may be forced to give way to the German inheritors of the old authoritarian imperial tradition? There was worse. The four suitors for the hand of the Princess Aurora in the Rose Adagio showed those of the East being more stylish and strikingly attired than the overdressed and out of date clothing for the period of those of the West.
However, Princess Florine and the Bluebird were much the same. Was this to assure the Chancellor that the Royal Ballet is on his side? There are other mysteries difficult to unfold. At least the happy ending was the same. But George will go away with much to discuss and to consider in his dealings with Europe.
Let us hope that he doesn’t get caught in a “Nutcracker”.
Friday, 11 November 2011
Money and finance have become divorced from the real economy.
It is as simple as that. They have been able to develop a life of their own increasing removed from the realities of getting and spending. “Investment” now is no longer what we understood it was. It is now shuffling digital “money” around, largely figures plucked from the fevered imaginations of the financial sector.
Some of it may find its way into the real economy, much as alimony is paid to former spouses. But in this field it is not a judge that decides the figures it is the guilty party in the divorce.
The trouble is that the money created which leaks out of the system increasingly goes to bought governments and agencies and large commercial firms which pursue policies and actions that allow further extraction of figures which help to churn the money through the computer systems, i.e. the economics of extraction.
Many of the more damaging credit crashes of history, going a long way back, feature this kind divorce in differing ways. The ledger based money, the tallies of merchants or the paper money created goes out of any synchronisation with a real economy and the result is one disaster or another.
In the late 20th Century we got our hands on computers and both speeded up the process and by thoroughly globalising it created digital money that could be whirled through space and time zones in an ever increasing frenzy.
To keep the party going debt was turned from a danger to the lowest earners into a necessity to survive and huge credits urged on people who had little ability either to pay or to manage them. Amongst the wealthy we had casino capitalism with the high rollers going ever higher.
Inevitably, politicians, dictators, civil servants and the rest bought into the wonders of it all both for prestige and personal profit. So most, if not all, of the world’s governing systems are locked into it without any real exit.
In the past empires have collapsed, mass migrations occur, wars and hunger litter the history books and perhaps whole past civilisations began their decay or disasters.
So what are the markets telling us today?
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Apparently, I learned from Fraser Nelson, the G20 caper was held at the Frankfurt Opera House. The original Alte Oper was reduced to a shell in 1944 by some of our American friends who were then just down the road, how we cheered them at the local Victory Parade in 1945, and not rebuilt for some time.
Now there is a big new Opera house, winning awards for its productions. The Alte Oper has been restored as a concert hall and the standards are very high. The G20 were given a treat in the shape of a concert conducted by Claudio Abbado. He is one of the best and we have seen him in action and on Sky Arts 2 a good many times.
Born in Milan, he has La Scala, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra on his CV.
He was just the person to be on the podium with Italy under the cosh and its Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi heading for the exits.
The trouble with the G20 is that too many of those involved are not only compromised or seriously affected by their recent track records in past dealing with the collapse of systems but they are up for election shortly, or under threat or up against entrenched vested interests.
For the USA, the President has already begun his election campaign that will last a wearying twelve months, Sarkozy is due to face the people, Merkel has trouble and Cameron’s coalition is looking shakier by the week. Italy and Greece we know about but there are others frantically making personal financial arrangements for their impending retirements.
Our UK Parliament being filled with student politicians, former PR people and lobbyists, lawyers and media people largely unable to fill in an accurate expenses return is not a reliable body from which to draw any government, not just a polity going in serious decline.
The US Congress on the other hand whilst being more broadly based is almost all on the payroll of one lobby, financial interest or other interest group. As they are all going to face an angry electorate in the next few years they are doing their best to put the blame onto others, any others.
The G20 is always going to be weeks, if not months behind events and the way things are going. Even if they were competent, reliable and well informed the immensity of the task might be too much. They are none of these things. The key player is Merkel and the big aria is yet to come.
It was in 1937 that the Frankfurt Opera premiered Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” (lots of it on Youtube and Wikipedia) that begins and ends with the chorus “O Fortuna” and includes ditties such as “They who here go dancing round”, “I lament the wounds that fortune deals” and “If the whole world were but mine”.
The G20 audience, however were given some Mozart and the rest. Perhaps “Carmina Burana” may have touched too many nerves.
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
The row of the week over the excess of comings over goings that have embroiled the Home Secretary, the former head of the Border Agency and others ought to be instructive for a number of reasons because it features so many of weaknesses and insanities of our present ways of government.
The special weakness is because of the media need for simplicity and to have issues put into slots and the equal need for politicians to deal with only one thing at a time because that is all they are able to do results in separation of related issues.
In fact it is all much more complex and is interwoven with a number of current other questions that are demanding attention. They may seem to be separate but they are not. The consequence is that what should be a seminar turns into something more like a student riot.
If you look at the question of airport capacity, hubs etc., the need for airlines to stay in business, the tourist industry, the higher education industry, employment policy, the benefits system and Europe, they all affect migration matters. We do not plough much money into real research, only into retailing recent history together with ideas and assumptions from the past.
For airlines to function, stay solvent and even grow they need passengers and airports. The more people they can put into aircraft and the more that can be moved cheaply through facilities designed for mass transport the happier they are.
As this is associated with top business people, but also families, ordinary working needs, with persuading large numbers that a holiday must entail flights and that the beaches furthest away are the most desirable it creates a large market. Moreover, all these people on landing in the UK want to be on their way as soon as possible.
This creates major political imperatives to subsidise airports and flying and in particular ensure easy mass transit at public expense on the ground and other communications. So the numbers become very large. When I walk along the road to town the vapour trails tell me that in the few minutes it takes there are thousands of people up there above me.
In the era of cheap oil and with the growth of mass air transport the idea that the tourist industry is a good thing has been an easy get out for trying to plan economic activity for many places. Clearly, those that are sandbars in the ocean unable to either grow or make anything will not be able to support more people without money coming in and being spent if the population can increase.
Most people in the UK have bought into the notion that tourism is essential to the economy and not simply an add on for quaint places and less populated areas. Because so many of us go to places which exist only by tourism it is easy to assume that it might be a good thing for us.
Similarly, the belief that any higher education is good so long as it is post 18 and attracts students has created a large sector for that purpose. This has gone beyond the point where the taxpayer can stand the racket, which leads to awkward choices. One is that the UK students might pay more another is to market UK provision to overseas students as desirable.
Clearly if large numbers of people are being invited in because we want or have come to need their money and some decide to stay it is not only inevitable but somehow seems unkind to insist on throwing them out once they have put in a lot of cash to keep us going.
Many foreign students are from nations with surplus males and their piece of paper will buy them at home only middling clerical work at best at local incomes. They will often have a single life in a corner in a crowded home somewhere where white collar jobs are short in supply. Little wonder that they like to stay in the UK, draw benefits when needed and can live free from the restraints of the home cultures.
Around a decade ago when at a meeting discussing the world environment the speaker talked about the “footprints” of major urban areas to indicate how much of the world’s resources were required to keep this city conglomeration or that alive. The subtext was that the uncontrolled growth of many areas was not sustainable.
There was one man who popped up to comment, one of the Prime Minister’s close advisers to declare that UK immigration should be unlimited and there should be no restrictions for all sorts of worthy reasons. That the UK has a large number of urban areas did not worry him, it would all take care of itself.
Later we had major reorganisations of government departments and a lot of work was devolved from the civil service to agencies of all descriptions. Many of these seem to be exercising power without responsibility so if the Borders Agency is doing the same it would be nothing new.
As the heads of so many of these bodies at present were appointed by the previous government then this will not help to try to brings things back together again.
Then there is Europe and the power we have handed to it and the added difficulties of trying to manage to deal with their policies and decisions. These have brought additional large numbers into the UK in recent years, substantially in the lower income levels.
Apparently, there has been a flood of Greek money into London in the past few months taking advantage of our arrangements for the better off to rescue their finances from the disaster to come. It is likely that we may have numbers of Greeks coming in to join those already here to follow the money.
Quite the worst event if international finances deteriorate will be the mass migration that the UK government and especially the opposition do not want to see. It is all those older UK citizens who went away to sunnier climates in the last couple of decades returning spent up, homeless and angry.
Will we welcome them in the same way that we do the tourists, the students and the financiers?