Sunday 29 November 2009

Lord Mandelson - A Shooting Party

A sighting of Lord Mandelson has been reported from Waddesdon Manor in Bucks. A National Trust House, it still has the Rothchilds’ family around to keep an eye on all the treasures, and with access to the estate. The occasion of the visit was not a coach party on a Saga Holiday, but a traditional Shooting Party hosted by the resident Rothschild.

My Lord was not one of the guns, nor indeed even a beater; Cabinet Ministers going round using weaponry on our native fluffy things is bad media these days. As Business Minister, he might have been there to price our treasures for the coming national fire sale, however there was another guest. This one shoots the birdies for pleasure and is very good.

It was Gadaafi Junior, son of the Colonel of Libya, no eyebrows were raised, they may have been shot at. Junior had publicity recently when he accompanied Mr. Al Megrahi, the alleged bomber of Lockerbie, home from Scotland and gaol, to wild approval of the thousands herded up from around Tripoli to be there or else. The transfer was an arrangement caused a great deal of trouble, so much so that the puzzle of why it happened began to centre on business deals in Libya that had suddenly become of key importance to the government.

So what gives this time round? Were they just keeping up to date? Was it a private pre pre agenda meeting about discussions to be had at some date involving major deals? We shall never really know because the respective parties did not care to say anything, it was just a fun weekend for the boys.

The problem is that My Lord has a lot of these fun weekends with one magnate or oligarch or another, and that means that either big trouble or something substantial to our disadvantage financially is on the cards. Being Libya, almost certainly this means oil and gas.

Quite what might be guessed at in terms of the future is very uncertain. There is too much going on, too much confusion in the debate and too little reliability in any of the estimates even in the short term. One possibility is that My Lord is very anxious to secure a deal in a hurry, to commit the UK before the coming election to a course that is profitable and useful to the favoured few of the Labour Tyranny. If this is the case this is bad news for the UK taxpayer, that diminishing band of serfs who still can be forced to pay.

The 1985 film “The Shooting Party”, concerned the declining Edwardian Landed Elite trying to come to terms with a changing world in which their power was lost, and control handed over to populist politicians contending with the financial elite of the period. It ends with one of the beaters, a true honest man of the people, being gunned down in a fiasco, whose last words are something like “God save the British Empire”. He was killed by an over ambitious shooter going for a quick sighting.

I believe that it was Meyer Amchel Rothschild, 1743-1812 who said “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes its laws.” Perhaps My Lord should swot up on the family, with particular reference to the period post 1815 when they tried to corner the gold market.

Friday 27 November 2009

Dubai - Tales Of The Unexpected

When Mick, a school mate who lived a few streets away, drew the RAF for his National Service, he was very happy. His mum thought it was higher class than the other services, and as he was hoping to qualify as an accountant by part time study, the chances were that he would spend his time moving figures on paper. A lot of people in the RAF did that. Also a Tory believer in Empire, he would be doing his bit.

It was three years later when I saw him again in a pub in town. He looked a lot older and slimmer. I asked him how he was getting on, he was close to qualifying. Then I asked him where he had been. It was Habbaniyah Air Base, near Baghdad, Iraq. That must have been interesting, I burbled, and inferred it had been a “cushy number”. It hadn’t, the RAF had enough paper merchants, he had spent his time in a very hot hangar wielding spanners and spraying oil. So what did you think of Iraq, I asked hoping for a happier response. He told me that they should give it back to the something camels. It was then I knew The Empire was lost.

In the meantime, I had worked with an officer who was coming to the end of a staff post and destined for a period with his Regiment, then based in one of the bleaker parts of Northern England. Instead he volunteered for secondment to the Trucial States, now called the Gulf States, where the UK maintained a small military presence and provided officers for their internal forces. I knew little or nothing about them until a few years later when I had dealings with a number of Sheikhs, charming and courteous chaps who knew how to spend money.

So when Dubai began to be newsworthy and TV programmes waxed lyrical about its delights and wonderful opportunities for investment, and all the very clever and talented people who were pouring money into property there, my instinct was that it was possible, certainly, but could it be as good as that? It was all that shifting earth about and building high and handsome. My first thought was that if you are extracting liquids from below, oil and groundwater, and piling up stuff on top this could be a problem in the long term. Another was that the work was done mostly by passing expatriates using huge numbers of migrant labour, earning little, and housed in grim hot barracks. This might not have happy consequences if things went awry.

Then there was the geology and climate of the area. It is in a fault zone, and close to a major one that regularly delivers hefty shocks in southern Iran. Movement occurs to the south of the Gulf as well. One major earth shift up or down and everything goes. Another is the climate, which means that to try to survive in ultra hot conditions, sometimes with either vicious weather storms or dust storms; the energy demands are very high. Living in concrete boxes at 40 plus needs air conditioning and the locals in past ages have taken to their tents wherever shade can be found.

So my money has been on either a bad earth shock or a prolonged period of adverse weather conditions causing severe problems. It has happened in the past. I did not reckon that with the oil wealth that they would manage to have such a spectacular financial bust. I should have remembered that they are good at spending money. Amongst other places where the loot has gone is the English Racing Industry, which has become critically dependent on money from The Gulf. A sharp contraction here could cause very severe problems.

Would this mean that the Epsom Derby might become a classic camel race? I will have to find Mick on the web and see if he has a good tip or two.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Votes - Equal or Unequal?

When my bleary eyes lit upon the combination of words “Hung” and “Parliament”, for a brief moment I was cheered by the thought that there had been a coup and whoever had grabbed power intended to hang the lot. Alas, it was all about the dry stuff of what happens after a general election when in the House of Commons no one party has a working majority and some kind of alliance has to be made to allow the work to be done, and critically Supply to be maintained, that is budgeting, taxing, and spending.

There has been some heavy trawling of the past to find examples to guide us. Fat chance; even the 1970’s are too long ago, and too remote for much real comparison. What the play might be in a modern parliament is anybody’s guess, and barely any will guess correctly. At least the rooms will not be smoke filled, and that is as far as I will go. The People’s Charter of 1838, which formed the basis of the proto-revolutionary movement of the 1840’s and after, had six basic principles.

A vote for every man over 21, now we would include women; a ballot, that is a secret vote, we did have this but the fiddling with the system of postal votes etc. has changed all that; no property qualification for MP’s, in recent years many have used their expenses to restore that in effect; payment of members, again our recent MP’s and Lords have fouled up that one; equal constituencies, that is to prevent small ones overcoming bigger ones, a form of gerrymandering in the wrong hands; and annual parliaments to check bribery and intimidation, a fine ideal, but a general election every year would be too much for most people, and likely to hand power to the civil service, and other cohorts.

To pick out the principle of “equal constituencies”, this is the potential blight over the result of the next election. Experts suggest that the Conservatives will need to win by a very substantial proportion of the votes cast in order to overcome the Labour bias in the way the present constituencies are based. We are supposed to have a Boundary Commission to sort this out and to ensure a reasonable comparative basis between them. Why has this not happened? Why is there such a disparity between so many constituencies? Just what has this Commission been doing?

What is even stranger is that organisations that might pride themselves on being the heirs of the revolutionaries of the past are almost frantic and shrill in their protests of change. The GMB trade union for example, nowadays best known for caring for its sex worker members, but with an original membership based on Municipal Workers, and Boilermakers, the latter with a history going back to The People’s Charter. It has swept up a number of other groups in recent years. Its recent newsletter to members is essentially an election campaign document in which it attacks the Conservative Party.

One policy it fastens on is that of change in the House of Commons, notably the Conservative suggestion of a reduction in the number of members and the restoring of balance. The GMB strongly objects to any change on the grounds that it could affect the number of Labour MP’s adversely. The conclusion must be on the basis of the nature of the present Labour Party that the GMB has now abandoned any of the Principles of the Charter.

Down with democracy and the equal value of each vote. The state is a client state, and the property laden leadership and membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party must retain the reins of power. The GMB is a powerful lobby for Labour’s clients. Perhaps we should have more frequent Parliaments to curb the bribery with taxpayer’s money, to really have equal electoral districts, and maybe go the whole hog and change the voting system to more accurately reflect the vote, and accept that coalitions could be the norm.

On the other hand, I hanker for the return of Tyburn for errant MP’s, it would be a lot more fun for ordinary taxpayers.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

National Service? Squad Will Not Advance

An independent TV company, Avalon, is looking for servicemen with strong views and the ability to express them for a programme to debate the question of whether National Service should be reintroduced, an issue that has been given public attention by a suggestion made by Sir Michael Caine, born Maurice Micklewhite into a family of working Londoners. He did his National Service between 1952 and 1954 under that name in the Royal Fusiliers, firstly in Germany and then in Korea during the war there.

It follows the release of his new film “Harry Brown” in which an ex-service Old Age Pensioner falls back on his experience in the Royal Marines to act as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner to clean up his home patch where gangs have targeted the aged. In many ways he is returning to his roots and the film, although a highly dramatised account, has a germ of truth and an uncomfortable one.

So his ideas are worth attention in view of concerns over the detachment of so many young from society and into criminal gang cultures. In the country at large, policing has withdrawn from the streets, leaving all the vulnerable open to exploitation and attack, persistent, merciless, and with a degree of viciousness beyond normal understanding. The concept may seem good to have a scheme for the young to deal with the urban social problems but there are too many problems and it evades the real issue and needs of the future.

The world has changed. If we want to sort out our present young then it needs more radical thinking over a number of issues. Firstly, the problems begin at a much earlier age than the 18 of National Service. By then if they are in gangs they join and become active even at the ages of nine or ten. Also, they are not just males, there are many females involved.

Beyond the gangs problems of anti-social behaviour, addiction, truancy, and rejection of any authority exist amongst many pre-teen elements. For those who are older, if they don’t want education then how do you persuade them to work? First you need the work and then you recruit them to it. They have to believe they have a future. That is the problem, so many of our young do not see a future at all beyond the life style cultures offered by a predatory mass media and commercial interests.

For a scheme, what will it be for, where will it be, just what disciplines could be applied in an age of human rights, health and safety, and the rest, personal lifestyles, and computer access? Who will it be for? Will a number of minorities be excluded? Just how does one deal with a horde of fat, unfit, self regarding, people raised in the belief that individualism is paramount, and authority is alien? If the intention is to have those involved based at home and working in their immediate neighbourhood, I think you can forget it, because the control and monitoring will not function.

If they are to be shipped off somewhere else in the UK, much in the way that the old 18th and early 19th Century Militias were, the cost, housing, and other implications are huge. The conscription, legally enforced military service, remembered today is that imposed from 1939, named National Service in 1948, and continued until 31 December 1960. World War II had left a legacy of extensive military facilities into which later National Service was easily fitted. There is neither the infrastructure, nor the large scale old institutional management available. It would have to be created, and to a standard beyond the wildest dreams of the old National Servicemen.

The scale and nature of the bureaucracy necessary is another challenge. One thing that is certain is our existing government has botched almost every such task it has attempted in the last 10-15 years. That of the National Service of the past was poor enough; the potential mess of a modern one would beggar belief.

Also, just how good was the old one? It is now close to half a century since National Service ended. Those who served were brought up, lived and worked, and experienced as young people a life very different to that of today. In the period 1948-1960 alone, millions were called up, to add to the millions of those who had served after 1939. They served in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and all over the world. Their experiences, individually, will have been radically different from one another.

A few served out time in “cushy numbers” in home postings with frequent leaves and weekends off, others saw action in the most dangerous wars of the period. Their service was good, bad, useful or not according to the luck of the posting and who finished up where doing what. It is impossible to generalise and reduce these complexities to simple propositions.

In any case it related to the educational and employment background of those conscripted. The great majority had already worked for two to three years beforehand. Many had not had secondary education and attended only the old all age Elementary Schools leaving as soon as possible after their 15th birthday, and often disappearing before. It was as late as the 1958 White Paper that a determined attempt was made to complete the provision of secondary schools across the UK.

A small minority had been educated until the age of 18, although a few others had night school classes as part of their work. The educated types were regarded as more of a nuisance than an asset and could be a source of trouble. One with a Cambridge First in physical sciences, working as a corporal clerk, typing and filing, was ejected from the Army early after a bitter argument with an Artillery Brigadier over the implications of the use of battle field and other nuclear weapons. The Brigadier did not grasp the implications of fall out. The records now show that the Corporal was right and the Army badly wrong as we have learned more about what happened at Christmas Island and elsewhere.

Much of it was chaotic in function, designed to shore up a collapsing Imperial system, and to create a temporary obstacle to Soviet aggression. The servicemen were paid in shillings which were often lost as stoppages for clothing and kit replacement, housed and provided for at minimum levels. They could be used to break strikes, and as forced labour. They were allowed cheap cigarettes and booze in lieu of pay, creating a population of smokers to the benefit of The Treasury.

Also they did not have National Insurance credits, as an economy measure, and could lose three years if the dates were bad, and those who were longer in education lost much more. Today as old age pensioners some have less than they should because of this.

They learned how to avoid the bosses and how to skive, that is avoid unwanted activity. It created a working class distrustful of management and supervision, highly unionised, resistant to change, and who had the wrong kind of disciplines for a rapidly changing economy under stress. It helped to create a 1960’s management culture that too often aped the less desirable organisational features and expectations of the military.

As so many manual jobs in that period had higher records of fatalities and serious injury than are acceptable today, it is difficult to say whether the number of non-combat casualties was higher in the services than in civilian life. There were a good many, having teenagers and young men partial to a drink or two in charge of weaponry, heavy armaments and vehicles inevitably led to deaths and damage.

The Conqueror Tank when first deployed had a turret which in full traverse could decapitate unwary gunner loaders. The first Champ signals vehicles often turned over. New types of rifle and mortars killed a number, as did various forms of well worn old ones. Many of the vehicles were over age and prone to go off road. Quite a number, notably in the tropics contracted medical problems of one sort or another for which the facilities were very basic.

In those days there were no inquests and families did not question the “accident” or “user error” on the death certificates. As for Porton Down trialling new types of crowd control gas on unsuspecting troops in chambers, never mind the experiments with poisons on volunteers who thought they were talking about the common cold, the less said the better. One senior general held the view that Porton Down, then as now, was essentially an asylum for lunatic scientists.

It is assumed that discipline was maintained. That is not correct, as things could get out of hand quite easily, but rarely made the media of the time. Conflict between units on a quasi-tribal basis was endemic and personal violence routine. It was common for unconscious drunks to be laid out on the Guard Room terrace on a Saturday night and riots could occur. One spectacular was in a garrison cinema when the troops realised that all the steamy parts in the film “The Outlaw” had been cut out by the operators for private use. A garrison town on a Saturday night was a place to avoid at the best of times.

During the Suez Crisis many mutinous situations arose, especially where reservists were called back from their civilian lives. It may well have been the breakdowns in discipline in this period that began to convince the military that if politicians could be persuaded could rein in their willingness to commit troops, the Armed Services would be better off without the conscripts and the demands of training and control.

In those last days of Empire the conscripts were sent to police and control places where the UK government were insisting on UK type political institutions and norms in the constitutions being written up at the LSE, imposing western ideals and notions on cultures and communities that might not want them. As we have learned, it was not entirely successful in many places.

Today the notion of a UK government sending troops across the world to a hostile area to impose parliamentary government, human rights, equality of sex, religion, and ethnic origin and the rest would be regarded as utterly insane.

Monday 23 November 2009

Weather Report - Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

The debate over climate is being increasingly heated. Revelations over hanky panky with the figures relating to Global Warming by research grant seeking scientists seeking to survive in a world of contracting university spending with government money have livened up matters. The air has turned blue with critical comment.

The doubters and opponents of climate warming have taken heart and launched a Counter Reformation. Unluckily, many do not comprehend that if the world is not about to warm up catastrophically it will not stay as it is climatically. They have the happy belief of little children who think that things can always be the same, or politicians looking at the opinion polls and buying time.

Despite all this the natural contrarians, those who think we could be in for a bout of Global Cooling have been sidelined. They have been heartened by reports from one group of scientists that at the time of the Younger Dryas, the vicious goodbye of the last ice age about 12,900 years ago, the transformation from a warming world to a frozen one took but six months.

That is by next June the populations of the earth north of say 40 degrees or so and south of the same could have all departed for the equatorial regions. The world economy and monetary systems would have collapsed, as well as any effective government. Africa would be like Waterloo Station in the rush hour.

The problem is that there is so much information available about conditions in the present world and it is so complex that not only accessing it all is difficult, it challenges understanding and analysis. The one certainty is chaos. In this morass of debate, it is easy for the ordinary man, the wheeler dealers, and the trimming politicians to avoid and delay decisions. There seem to be no clear answers and no clear future.

But the past can be examined with a greater degree of insight, and that tells us the climate, and weather patterns change radically. In its life Earth has experienced many severe changes, and never stays the same. It even wobbles on its axis, and can change its magnetic field. One good big volcanic bang could do the trick without worrying about large things from outer space.

There is now enough information on this subject to convince all but the most ardent creationist. We can be certain is that the future climate in general and/or weather conditions in detail, short or long term are not going to remain as it is or how we would like it to be. Species have come and gone in the past. Some went suddenly, and others often after a painful period of decline. There have been humanoid species in the past that are no longer with us.

If it is the developed countries that are responsible for global climate change, then not only do they have to change and fast, but the undeveloped ones will have to stay as they are or contribute to any reductions, as there are a lot of them. Most of us in rich places may have had motor cars, but it is not enough on grounds of equity for us to give up ours if other nations with large populations promptly replace them.

For those over sixty, it is very tempting to say “What the hell” if that is where we think we are heading with any global warming of the future. However in the Norse myths hell was a frozen waste, and we could be heading there.

Ragnarok and Niflheim here we come.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Europe & Baroness Ashton - Blood Will Out

There have been critical remarks about the provenance of our Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland arising from her elevation in the New Europe. That she has not been elected and is a New Labour quangocrat is only to be expected. However, the old elites and their associates should not assume that as Jeeves might put it “she is distinctly of the lower orders”. Those who have trawled the wilder shores of social mobility, demographics, genealogy, and the Burke’s publications in the past know that family is not always what it seems.

Her immediate family may have had little fortune or estate, but in earlier generations it is unlikely that they will be all of one class, creed, or ethnic group and will be scattered in geographical terms. Also, as the genealogists put it, you need only one “gateway” ancestor to take you into unexpected lines of descent.

What are the possibilities for Baroness Ashton? Ashton is a place name that occurs in more than one place in Lancashire, and elsewhere, so great care is needed. In the patch of Lancashire of her birth and upbringing there is Ashton in Makerfield. If we assume that several generations back there was a good scattering of families in that general area in her ancestry, what then? One obvious name is that of the ancient Assheton’s. Sir John de Assheton of Lancashire, who died in 1428 was one of a family who left a considerable number of descendants in cadet lines, and whose marriages connected them to most of the old aristocracy.

Allied to other families with wealth from trade and industry who became Gentry a few went on to be magnates of the 18th and early 19th Century. Daughters carried their wealth into the old landed Aristocracy and enabled some to maintain a position in Society at the highest levels. One such noble family were the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, that of the late HRH, Elizabeth, Dowager Queen Mother. She was insistent that she was of good family, and this does include the Assheton (Ashton), Bagshawe, Cartwright, related families and others in Lancashire and Cheshire and area some of whom had risen from the Medieval peasantry.

What is intriguing is that Baroness Ashton chose Upholland as her title. There could be a number of reasons for this. One is that for some time it was the location of a major Roman Catholic Seminary, and Archbishop Kelly of Liverpool was educated there, but to return to the family question. We are talking major ancestry, the Holland family of Lancashire were of the highest in the land in the 14th and 15th Centuries, they married into the Plantagenet’s and are ancestors to all our present Royals and almost the whole of the ancient aristocracy by one marriage or another down the ages.

They will have spawned others than aristocrats or members of the upper middle classes. The effect of substantial downward social mobility over twenty generations will have led to large numbers of descendants in the lower classes, whether they know it or not, and whether they like it or not. Is the taking of the title of Upholland by Catharine Ashton a coy recognition of this and a statement that she too amongst many others has a claim to the throne?

Moreover, the father of the Sir John Assheton above, also Sir John Assheton, was a Lancastrian and with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in Spain in the late 1380’s in pursuit of Gaunt’s bid to become King of Castile. Then he was close to Bolingbroke, King Henry IV, so did he ride with him in the Lithuanian Crusade under the banner of The Teutonic Knights? This was a truly European Crusade; the Baroness would be heiress to a long tradition.

One reason why I would be delighted if Baroness Ashton were descended from the Sir John de Assheton who died in 1428 is that he fought at Agincourt in 1415 and is said to have commanded troops. What better recommendation could she have that in their time her family and their followers massacred most of the French elite and their mercenaries?

Friday 20 November 2009

Europe - The Return Of The Habsburgs

Well, after all that, we are now agreed that basically, taking everything into consideration, and looking at all the options the Habsburgs were right. It is now admitted by our leaders in Europe, not all of them elected, that after about six hundred years, all those wars of ideologies, wealth and empire seeking, dynastic disputes, and sundry fighting between other groups with particular agendas were a waste of time, men and money.

If only those misguided people our forebears trusted with power in the past had just let the Habsburgs, their Emperors, Princes, Dukes and the rest get on with running the show, religion, trade, and everything we could all have lived happily ever after. Perhaps Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton do not much resemble King Philip II of Spain, and Queen Mary Tudor of England who married at Winchester in July 1554 (above), but they are the best Europe can do for the time being. Tony and Cherie would have been a little too Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

I will skip the slightly complicated history of the Habsburgs, it is all there on the web and Wikipedia serves for starters. Nor do I suggest that the various descendants of Habsburg’s line scattered about the world should be elevated to high positions in Europe. They seem to be a sociable lot, but their heritage has meant exclusion from politics. They could almost claim to be an ethnic group who have suffered social and political isolation and apply for the relevant grants from Brussels.

The point is that the Habsburgs, Holy Roman Emperors and all that, not only ruled much of Europe and beyond, but in the parts they did not have direct rule, exercised a profound influence over what went on. Moreover, many went in for micro management to an astonishing degree, complaining that they were slaves to their peoples. We can also ignore their foibles and eccentricities, difficulties in personal relationships, and consequences of genetic inbreeding. They are minor compared to those of many of the current European and UK leaders, and as for the UK we can substitute “political” for “genetic”. The effects of that are infinitely more serious and damaging to the business of ruling than the odd twitching of the DNA.

The Europe of the Habsburgs was a sprawling regime with its many parts rarely functioning in connection with the others. It was a massive tax and wealth gathering entity which spent vast sums on prestige projects, personal palaces, and in enforcing the doctrines of which they and only they determined and defined. It was multi layered to a bewildering and complicated degree. Most of the time of its functionaries was spend in working out who they were and what they were supposed to be doing. If they found that out, then someone higher up would confound it, and it will all start again.

Public decrees would be made, laws and regulations issued, but how they came to be or why would be shrouded in deep secrecy, and only the powerful or the proximate would be party to any of it. This meant that as you went down through the levels of administration, matters became slower and slower, and more uncertain. Nobody quite knew what decisions might be made and when, unless, of course, they paid good money to find out and obtain the right result.

There was a proliferation of senior, high paying, posts to satisfy the many clients of the state, and as many of the highest gathered so many of them to themselves, then there was extensive delegation to much cheaper and junior officials whose only hope of survival was to extract as much income and as quickly as possible. The Empire had a monopoly of policing and military matters that were closely combined and under the instruction of the doctrinal and legal administrative classes, so that rebellion was prevented, and any reformers or opposition would be classed as rebellion or heresy and dealt with accordingly.

At the highest levels it was necessary to have connections and background that were absolutely correct. Without the sixteen quarterings of the right families you could neither be admitted to nor held worthy of rule. Then it was ancestral because that was held to the test of rightness or wrongness. Today there are other tests of political correctness that amount to the same thing. The are boxes that contain the right configurations of display, beliefs, and membership.

Nobody really knew where the money went, and accounting was simply an exercise in writing fiction. Who was supposed to getting the money was one thing. Who really benefited was quite another, sometimes completely random in effect, and at others going to people who had abused every office they held. There were some political jurisdictions which held out against the Habsburg system, but in the 21st Century by the more effective methods of modern communications and means of propaganda they have been suborned and defeated.

For almost a century Europe was freed of the last of the Habsburg heritage. But it has been too difficult to shake them off. They may not be back in person, but their political tradition has triumphed. Their system is back, bigger and better than ever and we are all now subject.

At least we will not have dynastic or other wars, if you forget Afghanistan. Well, not for a year or two.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Peaks, Valleys, Ups And Downs

The picture above is part of the Pennines, a haven of nature and beauty and a National Park. You might imagine it was ever thus. Well it wasn’t and the lumps and bumps ought to catch the eye. Until a few generations ago it was an important mining and industrial area with a substantial population which had a history back to the Bronze Age, and was one of the reasons why the Romans invaded Britannia. Mixed in was extensive sheep farming which gave rise to many related industrial activities, albeit home and workshop based. The Wool Trade was once the backbone of the English economy.

The old population has almost all gone driven out by poverty and climatic disruption of the past. As someone who has Highland forebears who left for Clydeside at the time of the Clearances, it brought me up short when I read that in the same period more left the uplands of Yorkshire alone, forced out by both economic conditions and clearing landowners. They had no skilled writer like John Prebble to record and popularise their experiences and were long forgotten until local historians started asking about what happened and where the people went.

This part is the Peak District, once it peaked in economic terms, and today we are talking about other peaks. George Monbiot, writing this week, describes himself as a “madman with a sandwich board.” But like most of us who are barking mad, or just mad and barking loudly, now and again he says something coherent, unlike those at Westminster. He has said that if there is Peak Oil in terms of oil supplies, then under present conditions this means Peak Agriculture.

Quite simply either there is Peak Oil or there is not. If there is, and the only way from here is down, it is not just that motoring costs will go up, along with personal synthetic fragrances that are dominating the advertising slots on TV (wow get the benzene hit for early Alzheimers), cosmetics, home heating, plastic goods and the rest to our general inconvenience, but there is something more important. It is a complex story, but to pick out one item, most farm pesticides and fertilisers are based on petrol-chemicals as is the world’s food supply and its transportation.

As the world’s population and its demands seem to be increasing at a greater rate than oil supplies, even if Peak Oil has yet to be achieved then there is a problem. If we have used the world’s soils so hard that increased farming productivity will be limited, then there is a problem. If we are at, close to, or have passed Peak Oil then we have a much bigger problem. I am told by a very reliable source that food prices in the stores have begun to rise quite sharply, although for a variety of reasons.

From the text I would guess that George has been rummaging around some of the same sources that I go to for information. There is a major debate in progress that is becoming very bitter about how much oil there is, how much might be extracted, what costs will arise, and critically what will happen to the price of oil and all the petro-chemicals critical to our needs, never mind the wants.

We know that our wise and all seeing government once decreed that food security was not a problem. But they are all in the middle of London which is one of the most plentifully supplied locations on earth with almost all and any foods that are available on the planet. However, if they took time out to spend a happy day taking in the scenery on the M20, M2, and M25 they might realise that a great deal of it is being flown in or brought in by ship and trucked around by thousands of vehicles each day. Also our politicians are almost all voted in by an urbanised electorate who cannot tell one grain crop in a field from another, and some of whom are unaware that meat comes from animals.

Already there is concern amongst some experts about the effect of rising food prices on nutritional standards in the UK. For those on pensions and benefits this is going to hit hard, because their increases are determined by indexes in which food is a minor part. It may be that some of our population is already malnourished (apart from those in hospitals) and the problem of actual hunger for an increasing minority may not be far away.

Worse still is the unholy mess that Defra, the government department for defrauding farmers, is making of English agriculture. Not only has England become more reliant on imported food, but the level of disruption and financial crisis visited on farmers is threatening to cause a catastrophic fall in production. At the same time large areas of land are being given over to biofuels. Also, the local networks of producing and distribution, still functioning not too long ago, have been almost eliminated by the concentration of food supply into a limited number of supermarket chains.

It is already a problem in the USA, where tens of millions are now short of food and struggling to feed themselves and their families. There is ample comment on this and related matters, and the shortages are beginning to spread through other nations in the America’s. There is the fear of a political collapse in Mexico. In Africa there are known with severe problems, it is not known by how much it is increasing in other places. China has begun to buy up land there and there are suggestions that another Scramble For Africa has begun that promises to be as ugly as the first.

In China and elsewhere in the East the potential for serious problems are almost everywhere you look, so much of supply and distribution seems already to be under strain. Those who have an interest in ancient history know that the surface of the earth has remains of many peoples, communities, and civilisations that ended long ago. They have been found and are still being found not only in the hills and deserts but in the waters below the seas. It was not only climate change that ruined them, but also political turbulence, as often as not to do with food supplies and wealth.

GK Chesterton said “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the Peak”. Has anyone a spare sandwich board to lend me?

Tuesday 17 November 2009

High Speed Train Crash Due On Platform Number 10

The Government has just renationalised the old LNER East Coast Main Line, lately run by National Express, who gave up for financial reasons, and who took over from GNER whose franchise went bad, essentially for the same reasons. Not too many miles away in Earth distances is the West Coast Main Line, more or less in the hands of Virgin Rail, that allegedly turns an apparent profit, but only after huge government subsidies, hidden and otherwise.

Both just operate the trains, all the track etc. is in the hands of Network Rail, I am told a non-dividend paying setup and what is left of Railtrack after it went into a sort of you know what I mean government administration at high cost to the taxpayer. In short the existing railway lines from London to Scotland are costing us all a great deal of money even if we never travel on a train.

Amongst the flurry of prestige project proposals from the Department of Bright Ideas run from the Cabinet Office frantically trying to shore up support in their political heartlands and to outbid the enemies south and north of the Scottish Border is for a new railway from London to Scotland, that is to be built up to Birmingham and Manchester and then to fork West and East to satisfy the party faithful either side of the Pennines, and in the long divided communities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. This is to be a high speed line built to European standards. What a pity British Railways closed and tore up the old high speed line in the 1960’s at the urging of a Labour Government, just for the record I worked on this line for a time.

The cost currently mooted is a stunningly cheap £30 billion. If my memory is correct the existing Eurotunnel tunnel line, much shorter and less complicated, estimated at an affordable level, went way over budget, and landed the government with a huge problem in refinancing and other costs. Even now, with the debt waived away, it is a struggle to do well, the freight has not been forthcoming. The latest wheeze has been for the Ministry of Transport to strongarm South Eastern Railways into buying a number of Japanese trains and run a high speed service from St. Pancras to improve times to Thanet and East Kent, coincidentally where there are Labour held seats.

How well this service will do has to be seen. One way of trying to make it pay has been both to cut and slow down services along the three existing lines. The high speed times are quicker, but not that much for the money the punter has to pay, and St. Pancras is a lot less convenient as a destination for most than either London Bridge or Charing Cross.

If, at least out of a sense of humour, we allow that the new lines will be built for that £30 billion, then do the finances look like? The train sets will not be cheap, there is a lot of expensive looking hardwear there. The operating costs will also be high. Who will travel on these trains? It will not be the 25-30% of the Scots population currently on benefits, and nor is likely to be many of the other 30-40% in public sector jobs catering for the locals. The private sector has a lot of low paid labour. It means that it will depend on the limited number of high rollers in the private and public sectors currently entitled to first class travel.

There are not that many of them to sustain such a service and some may prefer to fly. If the good times were to return and many could use the high speed high cost service, then it will wipe out much of the First Class element so important to the existing franchises. All in all, is there is snowball’s chance in hell of these new lines making the one or two billion per annum above operating costs to pay the interest and financing charges on a £30 billion build cost, plus train sets and other installations? If the usual suspects that handle financing, consultancy and other costs are to be involved think of a few figures then write in the largest.

Currently Birmingham already has two lines to London, also there are two from Leeds. Although Manchester has but one, it would not take too much to reinstate one of the old ones. I could go on at length at what series of minor improvements here and there could be made to existing lines that could transform times and service. But this would not be politically “sexy” and would not shower money on the Governments favourite accomplices.

Also, I have explained before that the obsessions of the old companies as well as British Railways with the East and West Coast main lines had a seriously damaging effect on other provision. There is a great deal that could be done, both in England and Scotland. There is too much to explain again about the possibilities. They involve improvements in areas and constituencies that are not Labour held, and that would take responsible government, something that we have long forgotten.

During the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985 one of the running jokes in Yorkshire was what Arthur would come up with next. One favourite was that he would demand that to give work to unemployed miners the Channel Tunnel should start in Barnsley. If Brown is re-elected will Arthur be invited to turn the first sod on the new high speed line from Camden to Cowdenbeath?

Sunday 15 November 2009

The Age Of The Looter

One of my world weary attempts to explain things to people is that the “ism’s” they either like to believe in or fiercely oppose are not what they think they are and the reality is entirely different. “Free markets” and “capitalism” in their theoretical forms are just common examples of the many bundles of ideas or ideologies which have little or nothing to do with the way it all works in the modern world.

This is brought to mind by posts in The Burning Platform dot com, click on search, and then click on page 21. Jim Quinn asserts that oil prices are governed not by free market trading, or indeed by decisions of the OPEC cartel, but essentially by a huge racket run by a group of major firms. Gathered together in the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) which includes Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, BP, and others there has been large scale manipulation of pricing with complex movements of money that have effectively controlled the price levels. By managing them up and down, the companies involved between them have creamed off trillions of dollars. In effect this is looting the vulnerable economies, developed and undeveloped, on a large scale.

Similar techniques have been applied to other commodity markets. In short the prices of many key goods have little or nothing to do with real demand or supply for normal economic purposes, but everything to do with achieving the best margins available in the financial, trading, and speculative mechanisms. This is not pure speculation which has a function in true free markets, but controlled speculation that is not designed simply to win, but to extract as much as the market will stand. Nor is there free and full information in the sense that is regarded as essential to free market. There is secrecy both in ways and means.

Our legislators and governors are supposed to protect us from looting of this kind, and malpractices that have the same effect. But through the lobbies, cartel and protection organisations and the rest many of them have been bought. It is common in the USA for the Congressional Record to be filled with speeches essentially ghost written for the Senators and Representatives by the lobbyists. It is much the same in the UK, one way or another. Allied to this is the way such organisations have the major media largely in their control by the weight and influence of their public relations machinery, and again their buying of the system. Wherever you may go, markets in the globalised age are now governed, despite what appears to be a wealth of information.

The trouble is that these governors do not know what is going in their organisations. They are too big, impossible to control or manage other than by setting financial targets, and so complex that their very function creates risks at such a level that they court chaos and danger every day. It is a bout of chaos we have experienced recently in the credit crunch, and there is more to come. But institutionalised looting is not new in human history. The Feudal System was one form of looting by inter related magnate dynasties in Europe. The Roman Empire was another, for all the gloss of “civilisation”. It might have been “diverse” but it was dependent on slaves and rapacious political control. The trouble is we do not see so much of the past as politically and economically a variety of means of looting others. We tend to limit our ideas to the Vikings, another collection of gangs on the make. I quote from Hurstwic, a New England Viking re-enactment group.


The aspect of Norse society that most captures the modern popular imagination is the Viking raids. The historical records of Europe (written for the most part by the educated clergy who often were the victims of these raids) called the raiders "a most vile people". But the raiders themselves certainly didn't hold that opinion. To them, the raids were a normal and desirable consequence of the pressures on a growing society and of the religious beliefs of the time.

In the mind of the Norse people, raiding was very distinct from theft. Theft was abhorrent. According to the Norse mythology, theft was one of the few acts that would condemn a man to a place of torment after his death. On the other hand, raiding was an honorable challenge to a fight, with the victor retaining all of the spoils. A story from chapter 46 of Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar illustrates this distinction. While raiding a coastal farm, Egill and his men were captured by the farmer and his family, who bound all of the raiders. In the night that followed, Egill was able to slip his bonds. He and his men grabbed their captors' treasure and headed back to the ship. But along the way, Egill realized he was acting like a thief, which was shameful. So, he returned to his captors' house, set it ablaze, and killed the occupants as they tried to escape the fire. He then returned to the ship with the treasure, this time as a hero. Because he had fought and won the battle, he could justly claim the booty.

Raiding was a desirable occupation for a young man, although a more mature man was expected to settle down and raise a family. This view of raiding is described by Ketill to his son, Þorsteinn, in chapter 2 of Vatnsdæla saga. Ketill was not pleased that his son had taken no initiative in rooting out a highwayman working nearby who had killed dozens of travelers. Ketill said to his son, "The behavior of young men today is not what it was when I was young."

He said that it was once the custom of powerful men to go off raiding, in order to win riches and renown for themselves. Even if sons inherited their family lands, they were unable to sustain their high status unless they put themselves and their men at risk and went into battle, winning wealth and renown for themselves. Raiding increased a man's stature in Viking society. A successful raider returned home with wealth and fame, the two most important qualities needed to climb the social ladder.


There is nothing new under the sun. Let us see these mega corporations and their political affiliates, allegedly our elected governments and international organizations, for what they really are and the tradition they truly serve. They are the looters of our time and this is the Age of The Looter. When it will end is an interesting question. If we have reached and perhaps passed Peak Oil, and peaks of other key commodities, the debate rages, and population continues to rise at its present rate then there will be another breakdown of societies, irrespective of whether Earth is warming up or about to cool down.

So a shopping list, one double headed axe, one six strand sword, double leather jerkin, shield, a Sutton Hoo type helmet, a long well found vessel ready for use, and a few other things. Anyone for the “Skylark”?

Friday 13 November 2009

Olympics Security - The Cat Has Emerged From The Bag

The story below popped up on the BBC News Online – England – London page today, apparently arising from the Radio 4 “Today” programme as an incidental comment. It did not make the national news or listings, perhaps it might have made the provincials nervous.

Resolute readers of this blog will have seen it all before, although in a much fuller explanation. Tuesday 12 May was when I posted “2012 Olympic Security Costs”. This item was written at the end of last year and I had given it some circulation although to no effect. Why is the London media so coy about this one? It is one reason why the government needs all these stringent security and control laws and regulations


'Huge challenge' of 2012 security

The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are likely to present the UK's "greatest security challenge" since World War II, Home Office minister Lord West says.

The level of terrorist threat at the London Games is expected to be severe, the second-highest level, he added. Lord West is reviewing the best way to protect built-up areas, transport systems and national infrastructures from terrorist attacks.

"We do not underestimate the scale of the Olympics challenge," he stressed. Speaking at a conference in London on Olympic security, he said it was important to ensure measures were not so heavy-handed that they frightened people away from the Games. "The Olympics and Paralympics are about sport and not security.

"We want the world to be inspired by sport in London, and our security plans have to strike a balance between visible security and the welcome that we want." Lord West went on: "There is no doubt that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games promises to be the greatest Games in history - and possibly the greatest security challenge the UK has faced since the Second World War."

'Clarity needed'

Shadow security minister Dame Pauline Neville Jones, who is attending the conference, said that the role of the armed forces during the Games must be confirmed. In January, Gen Sir David Richards - who is now head of the Army - told MPs that "the sooner we get clarity, the better" on the Olympic security process.

Dame Pauline believes the Army should have a role at the Games, but stressed this did not necessarily mean that soldiers should conduct high-profile patrols. "What I understand at the moment is that there is agreement that they should be part of it, but they haven't yet been told what they are going to be doing," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "That's one of the reasons I think General Richards wants to know. "He has to factor that in to what he's doing with his men in 2012."

A Home Office spokesman said that the armed forces were expected to provide additional specialist support and back-up to police and other security teams at the Games. Two senior staff from the Ministry of Defence have already been seconded into roles on the planning team for Olympic security, he said. He added that "a lot of work is going on" to make arrangements for the Army.


We truly live in a weird world. An irritable old man with a cheapo computer left with only his thoughts, can beat the whole panoply of State and security in realizing the blinding obvious, and without a penny of bonus.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Flight Information - The UK Is Cancelled

It is reported that British Airways and Iberia Airlines are discussing a merger. This is shorthand for yet another substantial UK company going offshore and under foreign ownership, with the money coming from certain trusts, private equity, and a raft of other international investors from here and there.

So what will they call the new airline?

Spanish Fly?

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Fiscal Problems - First The Bad News - Second The Worse News

From The Bear’s Lair – Martin Hutchinson
Prudent Bear Dot Com – 10 November 2009
Article - “Which Big Country Will Default First?”

Below are three extracts from an interesting article, dealing with the six major economies, the USA, Japan, Britain, Germany, China, and France. They do not make happy reading for the UK.

Extract One

The worst budget balance of the three deficit countries is in Britain, where the forecast budget deficit for calendar 2009 is a staggering 14.5% of GDP. Furthermore, the Bank of England has been slightly more irresponsible in its financing mechanisms than even the USA Federal Reserve, leaving interest rates above zero but funding fully one third of public spending through direct money creation. Governor Mervyn King has a reputation in the world's chancelleries as a conservative man of economic understanding.

He doesn't really deserve it, having been one of the 364 lunatic economists who signed a round-robin to Margaret Thatcher in 1981 denouncing her economic policies just as they were on the point of magnificently working, pulling Britain back from what seemed inevitable catastrophic decline. King's quiet manner may be more reassuring to skeptics than the arrogance of "Helicopter Ben" Bernanke, but the reality of his policies is little sounder and the economic situation facing him is distinctly worse.

Extract Two

Britain has two additional problems not shared by the United States and Japan. First, its economy is in distinctly worse shape. Growth was negative in the third quarter of 2009, unlike the modest positive growth in the U.S. and the sharp uptick in Japan. Moreover, whereas U.S. house prices are now at a reasonable level, in terms of incomes (albeit still perhaps 10% above their eventual bottom), Britain's house prices are still grossly inflated, possibly in London even double their appropriate level in terms of income.

The financial services business in Britain is a larger part of the overall economy than in the U.S. and the absurd exemption from tax for foreigners has brought a huge disparity between the few foreigners at the top of the City of London and the unfortunate locals toiling for mere mortal rewards. A recent story that the housing market for London homes priced above $5 million British pounds was being reflated by Goldman Sachs bonuses indicates the problem, and suggests that the further deflation needed in U.K. housing will have a major and unpleasant economic effect.

The other question to be answered for all three countries is that of political will. If as is certainly the case in Britain, deficits at the current levels will lead to default (albeit not for some years since the country's public debt is still quite low), then to avoid default tough decisions must be taken. Britain is in poor shape in this respect. Its current prime minister, Gordon Brown, is largely responsible for the underlying budget problem, having overspent during the boom years, largely on added bureaucracy rather than on anything productive or value-creating.

However, the opposition Conservatives, likely to take power next spring, are led by a center-leftist with a background in public relations and no discernable backbone or principles. Britain has a history of such leaders, which it has managed to survive – the ineffable Harold Macmillan, in particular, who wanted to abolish the Stock Exchange and contemplated nationalizing the banks when they raised interest rates, was a man of outlook and temperament very similar to David Cameron's. Macmillan was notoriously prone to soft options that postponed economic problems, firing his entire Treasury team in pursuit of soft options in 1958 and leaving behind an appalling legacy of inflationary bubble on his retirement in 1963.

If Cameron is truly like Macmillan, his government's response to economic and financial disaster will be one of wriggle rather than confrontation. With neither party providing solutions to an economic crisis, the British public is likely to discover that, unlike in the crisis of 1976, no solutions will be found. Default (doubtless disguised as with Argentina as "renegotiation") would in that case inevitably follow.

Extract Three

We'd all better hope the urge for fiscal responsibility hits London, Washington and Tokyo pretty damn soon.


Does anyone know where I can get hold of some cowrie shells?

Monday 9 November 2009

Olympics 2012 - Watch The Birdie

High in the last tree in Hackney sat a large bird with a distinct scowl hovering around its beak. Vinnie the Vulture was feeling peckish. But it was raining hard and all the human heads below had hats, hoods, plastic covers, or caps. Vinnie had hoped for a nice bright shiny bald head to take a quick bite of chewy skin from. “A bald man a day keeps the doctor away!” his mother Vileda had always said to urge him to eat a healthy diet. Vinnie had never known why his mother had been given this name but suspected that her parents had thought it to be one of those upper class names that defy explanation. There are few female names that begin with a “V”, and as everybody knows, all vultures must have a name beginning with “V”.

The long arcing branch shuddered, and Vinnie was peeved when he realised another bird had taken up station beside him. It was Sue the Sparrow, and it was especially annoying to have her endless mindless chatter. After twittering on for what seemed an age about the exchanges she had had with what seemed to be every bird in London, she then asked a direct question. “Have you thought of going vegetarian?” she asked Vinnie. He nearly fell off the branch.

But clinging on for a moment he asked the obvious question “How in the stratosphere do I tell a human who eats meat from one who doesn’t?” “Well, the vegetarians sort of slouch and look aimlessly about them.” Sue said this in such a positive and knowing way that Vinnie knew she was simply retailing some gossip from Winnie the Woodpecker, the most unreliable bird in London. Winnie had developed a taste for large cannabis plants and their insect life in the belief they would make her happy, and because of a shortage of woodpecker friendly trees in the area since the Mayor of London had chopped so many down to make seats of local timber for the coming Olympic Games to save the rain forests, and to economise on street sweeping. “Anyhow,” said Sue, “I eat insects who eat only plants and they are lean and tasty enough.”

Vinnie had heard enough and it was time to eat, so he flapped off the branch making it bounce so hard that Sue was propelled in the direction of the block of flats that was infested with feral cats. “Serve her right!” thought Vinnie as he hovered over a bright new City tower for a short time, inspiring the toiling workers in the offices below. They worked seven days a week for a speculative financial fund, and a sighting of Vinnie was held to be a good omen of a business disaster that would be to their advantage and a prosperous early retirement.

It was Saturday, and there were there football matches to be played. One was at West Ham United, and a full house was promised for the game against Arsenal. A West Ham United home game always ensured a good supply of human body parts left lying around after the two teams’ supporters had discussed the legitimacy of the result. But a vulture had to be quick to grab them before the purveyors of hot dogs and sandwiches hoping to stock up for the coming week. The mortal remains of Arsenal supporters made a splendid meal for the discerning scavenger. They fed on rich food and fat meat and the expensive wines they liked to consume meant that they were always well marinated.

Normally he would head for the Palace of Westminster where a naked researcher left tied to a railing might be found as an offering to The Gods for failing to convert fanciful fictions into convincing facts. But it was one of the many very long vacations needed by the politicians to add to their pension funds and the researchers went to internet café’s to huddle together over instant messenger conversations with journalists, who unlike their employers paid good money for the information and insights they had to offer.

So Vinnie decided to head East hoping for a decent meal behind the goal at the north end. He had gone only a short way when he saw crowds of howling humans fighting for access to buses. It was Liverpool Street Station, closed again without warning, and tens of thousands of ticket holding travellers were left to find another way home.

Because the railway was expected to be in perfect order for the Olympic Games, the Mayor of London had decreed that Liverpool Street Station be kept as free as possible from the inconvenience of passengers in the meantime. Vinnie had no interest in trains, in spite of an ancestor’s affection for the steam locomotive 61672 “West Ham United” that had worked the Norwich line so many years ago and provided organic food by regularly mowing down railway labourers on the tracks.

He was looking for casualties that would be found in the mayhem below. The Railway Disturbances when all the London termini had closed for three months to be decorated with the Olympic Logo at the same time that the London Underground closed for the re-branding of lines in the sponsors names, had provided food for thought for Vinnie. It was inevitable, of course, that the conversion of the District Line to The Coca Cola Experience had become more generally known as The Coke Line

It was not long before a prime young human became available. The Armed Response Squad had arrived and had begun to put travellers out of their misery. The Mayor of London had recruited the most active gun gangs into the Squad, which at a stroke of the ballpoint brought about a major decrease in gun crime, and an increase in the numbers of crimes solved, more or less. It also helped to cull the dissenting groups and ensure that the Olympics opinion polls looked good without resort to the more obvious forms of manipulation.

The Burger Bar riots by the YOB (young obese) because of huge price rises following the shift to biofuels in agriculture had created some bad publicity. The Mayor had lobbied hard for cheap aviation and motor fuels because the Olympic Games required the wealthy spectators from far and wide able to afford the ticket prices. The propertied and political-media classes claimed that their way of living was in danger and there had been falls in the advertising revenues of the life style supplements.

There had been protests amongst others who had no hope of attending the Games. Those on social security had protested also when part of their benefits had been withheld as compulsory purchases of lottery tickets for added funding for the Games. That the money had gone on lottery tickets was not the issue, much of their benefits already were spent on tickets. It was that the prizes for the compulsory benefit entries consisted of free tickets to the early rounds of the Flatwater Canoeing, Graeco-Roman Wrestling, Trampoline and Softball events, transport not included. This “Big Idea” of the Mayor’s had been accepted too readily by the government.

There was a clatter of sound a short time after Vinnie had begun to work on his meal. It was Sue the Sparrow again. She seemed to have lost a leg and a great many feathers. “You bastard!” she shrieked. “You should have said big bastard. Bastardy is a necessary condition of vulture culture” growled Vinnie. “We don’t do anthropomorphic posturing like you lot.” He continued to rip out a liver; it was badly scarred like most of those of the younger generation humans, but had a certain exotic flavour that vultures appreciated. Sue put on her clever cheeky look which was supposed to endear her to others, “those men with guns will get you and we won’t be warbling with woe like what we did with Cock Robin!”

Vinnie closed one eye, “Birds with red breast make attractive targets, just like sparrow with one leg.” Sue ignored him and began to hop towards the Squad cheeping in friendly tones. She was met with a rain of slugs from their Uzi Automatic Weapons. The Mayor had decreed that London must shed its past in time for the Olympics. Cockney Sparrows were history or rather in Sue’s case to become clouds of particles blown away on the wind, with a little help from the Uzi’s.

Having enjoyed his canapé of liver, Vinnie took off quickly, and wondered why the Squad had left him alone. At first he flapped gently about the luxury developments and new hospitals in Stepney that the Mayor had requisitioned for homes and physiotherapy facilities for all the athletes and sports people recruited from abroad to be naturalised citizens of the UK in time for the Games. Many tasty samples were to he had. The weightlifters were slow to move and big enough to promise a successful swoop. Bulgarians were a premium source of protein, but the Ukrainians had a dangerous tendency to react very violently and very quickly.

By following the new Olympic Way being bulldozed through the poorer districts, a motorway needed for the competitors and elite guests, Vinnie was soon wheeling above the Boleyn Stand at Upton Park, and saw that another vulture was perched there. He settled a short distance apart hoping this did not mean competition and then realised it was a female, indeed Vitriola, the Toast of Tottenham, famed for her beauty, at least amongst vultures. She preened a little and then gave Vinnie a full sighting of her reproductive parts. Vinnie realised he was no longer alone and could soon be father of his own flock. As vultures said in Essex, his homeland, this was an offer he could not refuse.

The question was where would they settle? It would have to be a suitable roost for a rapidly growing family of several generations, and therefore need to be somewhere else than West Ham United where many of the fans could hit a fast moving striker at fifty yards with a half empty water bottle. Little vultures would be easy pickings. The other sporting stadia were just as bad. Chelsea was the worst, where not only the players, but the wildlife had to endure a continuing rain of celery sticks from demented fans, sundry celebrities and senior members of the government. As for places further away, he had once met a veteran vulture, a survivor of the horrors of Twickenham who could not bear to croak about it. It wasn’t just being stuffed live that was the worst; it was what they used for the stuffing.

As her dowry Vitriola had good news for Vinnie. She had seen it in a newspaper whilst she had rested on the shoulder of a trapped commuter on Finsbury Park Station. The Mayor of London had decreed the vulture to be the symbol of the new age, and they were not just a protected species, but now were an integral part of the body disposal industry enabling large savings on cemeteries, now mostly training centres for the coming Olympics, and by displacing cremation enabling the Mayor to meet the London carbon emission targets in time for the Games. The Armed Response Squad had adopted the vulture as its symbol. Even the City of London had decided to co-operate and had declared itself to he the international home of vulture funds, with huge tax breaks for the predators of the world of business, and consequently the major, almost the only, source of lending for the Government.

Eagles and Lions were out; the Vultures and Rats were in, and the 21st Century had really arrived. Soon it would be 2012 with the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, and the disasters that would ensue would make London a land free for vultures. Vinnie and Vitriola pecked each other affectionately on the necks. There was only one way to go; they rose into the air, scattered their droppings on the Arsenal supporters, and headed for the great new stadium to the North West. As they flew towards the rays of the setting sun, the light gave a golden sheen to their talons. It would be the only gold that Britain would enjoy in the whole of the Games to come.

Friday 6 November 2009

Financial Affairs - The Return Of The Red Shadow

There have been a number of suggestions in the last few months about whether the government might abandon the pound and join the Euro zone. Up until recently, I have thought that this could be unlikely in the run up to an election, because of the obvious disadvantages to a party attempting to recover support. If Labour did retain power, then would be the time to make that move, whether or not it was in any manifesto or conflicted with electoral promises.

Those with fewer teeth and less hair will recall that during 1987 and 1988 Nigel Lawson, then Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to shadow the Deutschmark in the money markets in the attempt to prepare the UK for admission to the then European Exchange Rate Mechanism that preceded the introduction of the Euro. It has been said that Margaret Thatcher, being busy with world affairs, poll taxes, and Defence was not aware of this, and was less than happy when she found out. So the UK went into the ERM later at the wrong rate and then, inevitably, crashed out.

What has made me change my mind is what is not happening, which is often more important than what is. Things which should be happening in the markets, money, currency, finance, trade and the rest are not moving either as they should or according to most known economic principles, notably Keynesian. Which brings me to Goodhart’s Law.

To quote Wikipedia:

Although Goodhart's law has been expressed in a variety of formulations, the essence of the law is that once a social or economic indicator or other “surrogate” measure is made a target for the purpose of conducting social or economic policy, then it will lose the information content that would qualify it to play such a role. The law was named for its developer, Charles Goodhart of the LSE and formerly a Chief Adviser of the Bank of England.

The law was first stated in a 1975 paper by Goodhart and gained popularity in the context of the attempt by the UK government of Margaret Thatcher to conduct monetary policy on the basis of targets for broad and narrow money, but the idea is considerably older. It is implicit in the economic idea of rational expectations. While it originated in the context of market responses the Law has profound implications for the selection of high-level targets in organisations.

It has been asserted that the stability of the economic recovery that took place in the United Kingdom under John Major’s government from late 1992 onwards was a result of “Reverse Goodhart's Law”: that, if a government's economic credibility is sufficiently damaged, then its targets are seen as irrelevant and the economic indicators regain their reliability as a guide to policy.


What I believe is happening now is that between them the Government and the Bank of England have a policy of “Shadow The Euro” that they are not admitting to, and by managing the markets for long enough, they can persuade the major powers in Europe that the pound joins the Euro Zone at something near parity, possibly below. The time to spring this on an unsuspecting public would be perhaps at the turn of the year, with the announcement maybe during Hogmanay, unless there was a high profile disaster or death that might prove convenient.

This would happen because Gordon Brown will have given up on the chances of Labour retaining power. Entry into the Euro Zone would create an impossible situation to address in the event of a hung Parliament and would continue by default. If the Conservative Party were to win, then they really would be faced with a Scorched Earth economic situation, as well as having a divisive effect within their own party. As for the Scottish National Party, between the Lisbon Treaty and the Euro Zone, they would be hamstrung in the event of “independence” and faced with some ugly and expensive choices.

Another worry is seeing the wreckage around the whole of government arising from the incompetence and failures of this administration, it is quite possible that they will botch the whole business of shadowing the Euro, and the consequences could be severe. If they did enter the Euro, then it is almost certain that they will to do so at a level that could be catastrophic for the long term UK economy.

We have learned very recently that the senior figures in the Labour party in the early 1980’s, notably Comrades Foot and Kinnock, who has drunk deep in the wells of Brussels, are alleged to have asked the Soviet Union for support to overturn the Thatcher Government. They were encouraged by the TGWU and other unions, who were Communist infiltrated and assisted by the KGB.

These unions had key influence in a number of Constituency Labour Party organisations and could determine who would be selected as candidates for Parliament. One was Dunfermline East in 1983, and to borrow Lenin’s term, the “useful idiot” they selected was Mr. Gordon Brown. To add a touch of spice to this has been the recent suggestion from Russia that the New EU has the Soviet Union as its model.

Which rather makes Gordon “The Red Shadow” of British Politics.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Parliament, Government & The Way We Live

At the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday 3rd November, there was an interesting conjunction of events. Outside there was a group of Sex Workers, possibly GMB members, demonstrating over the recent tragic Ipswich cases and demanding more police protection and support where necessary in a trade that has it dangers.

Inside, in Committee Room 10 there was a meeting between Carlex, the Campaign Against Retirement Leasehold Exploitation, and Parliamentarians to discuss the serious problems arising in that field for the aged and vulnerable currently being ripped off by an oligopoly of major property and financial speculators supported by the nationalised RBS. Like everything else in life on earth it is possible to find the links. Follow either the money or the food chain.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries much was made by social reformers and others with ethical and moral interests of the fact that the major property owners were to be found prominent amongst the owners of the worst slums, and premises used for people and sex trafficking of every kind. In London, they were reckoned to be the chief purveyors, indirectly and without quite realising it, of some of the nastiest practices in personal and money terms. Also, they were often aristocrats of high standing with a major influence in the House of Lords and in government and the Church Commissioners of the Church of England

This same elite, largely The London Mediocracy and political class of its day also was amongst those most responsible for the workhouses filling with the infirm and aged; establishments which did not hesitate to exploit their labour. In the early years of 21st Century, thanks to New Labour, large areas of central urban communities are becoming new slums, in which social housing is farmed out to a range of managers and financial entities. The waves of migration have brought the return of slavery, some of it for the sex trades, to function with other sex workers, largely working out of leasehold rented properties.

With this comes burgeoning crime and violence, and the pauperisation of the lower classes to the benefit of a small group of speculators, financiers, large estate owners, some still in aristocratic hands, and inevitably, the Church Commissioners. We have a number of new Lords, ironically named Life Peers, who have done very well in property, through their personal contacts, who are party to the whole sorry business, mimicking the rapacity of the old landlords of an earlier generation.

If you follow the money and the food chain, you will find that the same oligopoly of property people have also taken control of Retirement Leasehold housing, with a wonderful armoury of means of extracting the savings and income of the very aged and vulnerable at their disposal, all legal thanks to our new Lords and masters who have been so helpful to them. There is an effective monopoly in leasehold property management services. They also own the freeholds on which rents and charges are increasing exponentially.

They own the insurers which leaseholders are compelled to use, competition laws do not apply here, (they do not actually pay out on claims, moreover by dint of financial cut and shuffle they seem to reinsure their own liabilities, which is unusual, but that is another story). They own the in house security and communications service for which leaseholders pay rather more than market price, again stuff any notions of competitive tendering, as with repairs and maintenance.

They have set income stream targets for their property management service companies which seem to have been benchmarked from their most profitable end of the commercial market, notably high turnover retailers, high density social housing, and developments which yield high returns from sex workers. There is something very New Labour and Cool Britannia about all of this typified by pictures of fat ministers mauling their female underlings. One fat minister has done well in property.

For those with a spooky turn of mind the owners of the Freeholds of the Leaseholder Retirement Developments have taken on large debts on the basis of securitised assets and income streams. According the a Channel 4 news report, which had been thoroughly gone over by their lawyers, one income stream relates to charges on the sale and transfer of properties, and in the conditions for the securitised debt, figures were given for the estimated mortality rate in Leasehold Retirement developments.

The figures, I think, based on historical calculations of expectation of life, have turned out to be too “optimistic” or “pessimistic”, depending on whether you are the one whose mortality is in question or the financier borrowing the money who has failed to meet the mortality target. Few developments are reaching their mortality targets.

So in some cases when an emergency occurs out of the development’s manager’s hours, and paramedics, ambulances, sometimes police arrive, the security and communications service, for which the leaseholders paid handsomely, flatly refused to let them in unless they had the code. They did not have the code because the service kept changing it, but did not tell the police and ambulance authorities. When asked to the service also refused to contact the ambulance and police Control Rooms to verify status.

Remember, we are dealing with the very aged, a number with serious medical issues or terminal conditions, who are not in a position to take part in the debate. When someone admits the medic’s they are then threatened that they are in breach of their leaseholds. This is not accurate, of course, anymore than many of their charges or accounts are accurate, but this is the way things are done now, again with the full support and blessing of the government.

Perhaps the sex workers and the old needing care and support should join forces, after all, they are fighting the same people who are exploiting them for the same reasons, and who do not care whether they live or die.

Monday 2 November 2009

Tony Blair - Squids In

Here is an interesting combination of items. The first needs no explanation, it is taken from The Daily Mail and shows Tony Blair and his business empire, much of which will be located in places where it is possible to maximise the tax advantages, and much to do with financial matter. The second found at The Automatic Earth relates to the housing bubble he created. Remember that the bigger the mortgages the greater the total interest payable and also the additional charges imposed by the financial entities involved.
Below is taken from the Tax Justice Network site and sets out their findings on Tax Secrecy. This is the world that Tony and Gordon have created, and for which you and all your families will be paying for generations to come. And you will not get a share of the profits.

The results of the 2009 Financial Secrecy Index .

Finally, the time has come to reveal the names of the secrecy jurisdictions that we have ranked according to both their lack of transparency and their scale of cross-border financial activity. For the first time ever, and based on far stronger criteria than those used by the OECD, we can now announce the world’s leading secrecy jurisdictions.

Nothing like this has ever been done before.
Our new index assesses each jurisdiction on an opacity rating – how secretive the jurisdiction is – combined with a weighting according to size. We put special emphasis on the opacity score. Read more here.

And here we go . . .
Counting down from number 5, we have, at number 5, the City of London in the United Kingdom, the world's largest financial centre, and the state within a state that sits like a spider at the centre of a web that includes exactly one half of all 60 secrecy jurisdictions ranked on the Index. Its satellite jurisdictions work hard to hoover up dirty money from around the world, and channel it into London. Did the sun ever really set on the British Empire? Despite ranking as the most transparent of the secrecy jurisdictions we surveyed, London operates on such a vast scale, and is so politically unaccountable, that it has the potential to do more damage than the vast majority of its competitors.

At number 4, the Cayman Islands combine a truly appalling Opacity Score of 92 per cent - meaning they were awarded a credit on only one of the twelve indicators used for our assessment - with a massive scale of operation. Cayman authorities are also among the world’s leading ‘tax haven deniers’. On the basis of our evidence, they should now stop relying on spin and get their house in order instead.

Few will be surprised to see Switzerland coming in at third position. Swiss bankers have earned themselves a dreadful reputation for furtiveness, political manoeuvring, and the blackest secrecy. Shame on them for scoring a brutal 100 per cent on their opacity assessment, and for constantly trying to wriggle out of cleaning up their act. And shame on the Swiss government, for tolerating this. They need to understand that the global zeitgeist is firmly against them.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg ranks number two on the index. While not such a big player in private banking as Switzerland, Luxembourg hosts a massive hedge fund activity which attracts investors from around the world. TJN recently visited the Grand Duchy and met various bankers. Like their counterparts in other secrecy jurisdictions, they like to portray themselves as guardians of privacy. What they do not say is that it is the privacy of rich élites that they care about – that is, élites in other countries who want to evade paying their taxes.

And now for the big winner of the competition for the world’s most important secrecy jurisdiction . . . . .
Step forward Delaware and the United States of America. Ranked alongside 59 other secrecy jurisdictions, Delaware's commitment to corporate secrecy, and resolute lack of cooperation and compliance with international norms, places it at head of the new Financial Secrecy Index.

(We are measuring something slightly more complicated than the state of Delaware in isolation. As with our closely related Mapping the Faultlines project, we refer to USA (Delaware.) Click here for more on this.)

Most ordinary people would never consider this jurisdiction alongside Bermuda, Monaco and Grand Cayman as a secrecy jurisdiction. Yet its Opacity Score is as bad as the Cayman Islands’ score, and the sheer scale of operations places it well ahead of the rest. Its status reveals a brazen contradiction at the heart of the American free market. Properly functioning markets depend on transparency and symmetric access to information, but secrecy jurisdictions like Delaware, Wyoming and Nevada purposefully set out to undermine market transparency.

So there you go, have a nice day.