Monday 28 February 2011

The Kings Speech

HM King George VI:

“What happens next?”

Bloke at end:

“If you’re lucky you get a prize.”

Sunday 27 February 2011

Libya, Another Story

While the tragedy unfolds and tens of thousands flee there are stories emerging that make you wonder. Below is something from The Times of Malta:


The "voluptuous" Ukrainian nurse US diplomats believe accompanies Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi is about to return home to Kiev, her daughter said in an interview published today.

US diplomatic cables disclosed by the WikiLeaks website suggest that the Libyan leader is reliant on a small team of Ukrainian nurses and particularly a "voluptuous blonde" identified as Galyna Kolotnytska.

The woman's daughter, Tatyana, told Ukraine's Segodnya daily that her mother has been shocked by the violence raging in Libya and is planning to return to her suburban Kiev residence.

"Mom called yesterday. She says that she is in Tripoli," Tatyana Kolotnytska told the daily.

"There is shooting, fighting and everything else they show on television. She spoke in a calm voice, asked us not to worry, and said she will be home soon."

The diplomatic cables, which were sent by diplomats in Tripoli to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, reveal that Gaddafi is almost always accompanied by Kolotnytska.

"Gaddafi relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a 'voluptuous blonde'," said one dispatch using the US State Department's standard spelling for the Libyan strongman.

"Of the rumoured staff of four Ukrainian nurses that cater to the Leader's health and well-being, XXX emphasized ... that Gaddafi cannot travel without Kolotnytska, as she alone 'knows his routine'," the dispatch said.

Kolotnytska's daughter said she did not know if her mother was currently with Gaddafi, who has offered to arm civilians to defeat a popular revolt that poses the worst threat to his four-decade rule.

She said only that her mother left for Libya nine years ago and confirmed that "there are other Ukrainian nurses" surrounding Gaddafi .

"For some reason, he does not trust the Libyan women," the daughter said.


It is difficult to think of a comment that makes sense.

Friday 25 February 2011

To The Shores Of Tripoli

Grannie always used to say that a man is judged by his friends. Quite why she used to fix her gaze on me when she said that is another issue. Just as my claims “Honest, it wasn’t me, it was my friend” used to cut little ice when people came to complain.

The Libyan crisis and all the horrors that are going on there as well as the stories emerging are causing embarrassment in a number of places and for people who would rather not have old memories awakened. The Colonel is beginning to find as I did that when a window was smashed all the so-called friends took to their heels as fast as possible.

Amongst the many and various friends made (or bought) by the regime in Libya are some interesting connections. One institution that could hardly deny it is the London School of Economics which not only educated some of the family and extended a welcome to the Colonel but took his shilling. One of the Governors and leading alumni is a Cherie Blair, remember her?

Then there are the familiar figures from the previous Government, Gordon and his grim faced bunch of hoods leading the way. What exactly were Thin Ed’ and Fat Ed’ doing in relation to all the comings and goings of the regime in Libya? Not to mention all those corporate people and financial agents enmeshed in the government and involved in contracts and the network of payments systems.

Meanwhile Cameron has decided to cut a stern and positive figure. What and who amongst the Tories there is to dig up in connection with Libya is another question and when the real row starts we might learn. It may be that the long years of Labour rule meant The Colonel did not bother much with Tories but it is unlikely that he did not hedge his bets.

The fall out from all this in the UK and maybe Ireland could be spectacular and Cameron probably is trying to cover his bets as quickly as possible. However, when he suggests that some sort of military intervention is possible it is time to worry.

As we know, when things were politically sticky Blair was always eager to send the troops off to some convenient place to distract attention and to buy favours. But Cameron needs to be careful. The Armed Forces may no longer be up to what is going to be needed there.

When Churchill took the saluting stand at Tripoli in 1943 and the 51st Highland Division marched past one of the units was singing what he took to be a patriotic song.

It was in fact the old folk ditty “Four and Twenty Virgins Came Down From Inverness.” The rest I leave to your imagination. Montgomery thought it wiser not to tell the Prime Minister in the circumstances.

The Americans have their own song about Tripoli, “From The Halls of Montezuma To The Shores of Tripoli” about freeing American’s from foreign pirates. It is the marching song of their Marines.

If there is to be any military intervention, Cameron should leave it to the US Marines and I hope the Generals tell him the truth.

Thursday 24 February 2011

The End Of Empire

Just out of interest, perhaps time to revisit this item from January 2008, all those years ago, up to a point.


An Ottoman warning for indebted America
By Niall Ferguson Published: January 1 2008
The writer is a professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford

Future historians will look back on the current decade as a turning point comparable with that of the Seventies. No, not the 1970s. This is not going to be another piece pointing out the coincidence of an unpopular Republican president, soaring oil prices, a sagging dollar and an unwinnable faraway war. I am talking about the 1870s.

At first sight, the resemblances across 130 years may not seem obvious. The 1870s were a time when conservative leaders such as Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister, were powerful and popular. It was a time of falling commodity prices, after the financial crash of 1873 and the opening up of the American plains to agriculture. And it was an era of currency stability, as one country after another followed the British lead by pegging to gold.

Yet, on closer inspection, we are indeed living through a global shift in the balance of power very similar to that which occurred in the 1870s. This is the story of how an over-extended empire sought to cope with an external debt crisis by selling off revenue streams to foreign investors. The empire that suffered these setbacks in the 1870s was the Ottoman Empire. Today it is the US.
In the aftermath of the Crimean war, both the sultan in Constantinople and his Egyptian vassal, the Khedive, had begun to accumulate huge domestic and foreign debts. Between 1855 and 1875, the Ottoman debt increased by a factor of 28.

As a percentage of expenditure, interest payments and amortisation rose from 15 per cent in 1860 to 50 per cent in 1875. The Egyptian case was similar: between 1862 and 1876, the total public debt rose from E£3.3m to E£76m. The 1876 budget showed debt charges accounting for more than half of all expenditure.
The loans had been made for both military and economic reasons: to support the Ottoman military position during and after the Crimean war and to finance railway and canal construction, including the building of the Suez canal, which had opened in 1869.

But a dangerously high proportion of the proceeds had been squandered on conspicuous consumption, symbolised by Sultan Abdul Mejid’s luxurious Dolmabahçe palace and the spectacular world premiere of Aïda at the Cairo Opera House in 1871.

In the wake of the financial crisis that struck the European and American stock markets in 1873, a Middle Eastern debt crisis was inevit­able. In October 1875 the Ottoman government declared bankruptcy.

The crisis had two distinct financial consequences: the sale of the Khedive’s shares in the Suez canal to the British government (for £4m, famously ad­vanced to Disraeli by the Rothschilds) and the hypothecation of certain Ottoman tax revenues for debt service under the auspices of an international Administration of the Ottoman Public Debt, on which European bondholders were represented.

The critical point is that the debt crisis necessitated the sale or transfer of Middle Eastern revenue streams to Europeans.

The US debt crisis has taken a different form, to be sure. External liabilities have been run up by a combination of government and household dis-saving. It is not the public sector that is defaulting but subprime mortgage borrowers.

As in the 1870s, though, the upshot of this debt crisis is the sale of assets and revenue streams to foreign creditors. This time, however, creditors are buying bank shares not canal shares. And the resulting shift of power is from west to east.

Since September, Middle Eastern and east Asian sovereign wealth funds have made a succession of investments in four US banks: Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. Most commentators have been inclined to welcome this global bail-out : better to bring in foreign capital than to shrink balance sheets by reducing lending.

Yet we need to recognise that these “capital injections” represent a transfer of the revenues from the US financial services industry into the hands of foreign governments. This is happening at a time when the gap between eastern and western incomes is narrowing at an unprecedented pace.

In other words, as in the 1870s the balance of financial power is shifting. Then, the move was from the ancient oriental empires (not only the Ottoman but also the Persian and Chinese) to western Europe. Today the shift is from the US, and other western financial centres, to the autocracies of the Middle East and east Asia.

In Disraeli’s day, the debt crisis turned out to have political as well as financial implications, presaging a reduction not just in income but also in sovereignty.

In the case of Egypt, what began with asset sales continued with the creation of a foreign commission to manage the public debt, the installation of an “international” government and finally, in 1882, to British military intervention and the country’s transformation into a de facto colony. In the case of Turkey, the debt crisis was followed by the sultan’s abdication and Russian military intervention, which dealt a lethal blow to the Ottoman position in the Balkans.

It remains to be seen how quickly today’s financial shift will be followed by a comparable geopolitical shift in favour of the new export and energy empires of the east. Suffice to say that the historical analogy does not bode well for America’s quasi-imperial network of bases and allies across the Middle East and Asia.

Debtor empires sooner or later have to do more than just sell shares to satisfy their creditors.


How right or how wrong?

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Who Shot The Fox?

In the period 1956-1957 the British Army had a full Armoured Division in Libya, the 10th, tac sign a fox’s head. It had been an expansion of one of those remnant military bases we had around the world following WW2 and maintained on a just in case basis.

When the Suez Crisis arose the Division was intended to create a threat to the West of Egypt to split the Egyptian forces when the British and French attempted to assert control over the Canal on behalf of the Suez Canal Company and its owners in the City and Paris.

For those of us either in the trade or on reserve Libya was high on the list of postings we did not want. We had heard too many stories from those who had been there done that in the previous decade.

Mercifully, President Eisenhower and the USA would have no truck with any of it and the oil and currency crisis which followed ensured our early departure.

Yet, especially since the oil and gas were tapped, we have been prone to meddle and instruct to little or no purpose. This has led to a number of unhappy situations of which the Lockerbie bombing is probably the major one.

There is now an allegation that those at the top in Libya, formerly Blair and Brown’s good friends, had a lot to do with it. As if we didn’t really know.

What is going on in the countries in the Arab world was predictable. There is a scene in the film “Das Boot” where the submarine has gone to a depth where the pressures are too great and the rivets start popping, pipes give up and the vessel begins to flood. They manage to survive.

The trouble at present is that the pressures have been building up for some time and the lessons of history ought to teach us that if certain pre-conditions for trouble and chaos go critical then the ships of state in question will begin to go down.

Did all these states believe that you could have a large educated under class with no real prospects together with an even larger helot population for the dirty work and hope to survive once food prices rose and other shortages developed?

We have seen some leaders out of the escape hatch in a hurry with more to follow. They are all a lot better provided for than many of the defunct monarchies and aristocracies of the Empires and States of old that collapsed.

They could often be seen wandering the spa’s of Germany and Switzerland and taking tea in the hotels of London eking out allowances from our government. Some would hunt in the Shires.

The present bunch of redundant rulers will do a lot better than that. They own much of London already as well as holdings in the many companies that extract so much from us and other countries.

Meanwhile Cameron goes on a lecture tour pretending that we have some say in the matter. I hope he has read up on oil and currency crises.

One thing he hasn’t got is the ability to put in an Armoured Division and he can’t even invite the former rulers to a fox hunt any more.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Life Is Full Of Surprises

It is a filthy wet morning and I have to walk to the doctors. The appointment is in the middle of the rush hour and there is no parking anywhere near the surgery. So I stagger down there muttering curses most of the way.

When I get there, he is running late again, this time very late, there has been a patient crisis that had to be sorted fast. OK this is what doctors do, the luck of the draw so there is a wait.

The seats in the waiting room seem to have been designed by persons who like to inflict pain before interrogation so the back tells me to stand but there is nowhere to stand except the middle of the room and that would look silly.

To keep us happy they are playing music through the Tannoy. It is a very old system and the sound quality is worse than that at any railway station. As for the music it is a mix of the most mind numbing mid 20th Century ballads sung by singers who shout out of tune.

Ten minutes in and the brain is telling me it does not like it and my head begins to ache. I begin to want aliens to land and take me somewhere else, anywhere else.

Then I begin to get the hit in the lungs. The room has no ventilation and is already full. The fug of various chemicals coming off the clothing and bodies is building up. I am not the only one to be getting a hit.

Around the room the coughing and wheezing increases in intensity. At least it is better than the music.

At last my name is called. The doctor asks me about a complaint that is strictly female. I explain kindly to him that I am male. He clicks his mouse a few times and realises that something is wrong with the listings on his computer so we sort that one out.

Then he tells me he has to take my blood pressure. I already have a long list of home readings. No go, the rules say that to meet the targets he has to take it. The figures are stratospheric. He tells me he has to prescribe something. The rules say so and the targets have to be met.

I remind him that the last time we went through this rigmarole the pills he gave me had me running up and down to the local dermatology clinic to sort out the severe skin problems that resulted. He looks for pills that might avoid this without success.

After some discussion we decide that the previous prescription still being on file we skip on a new one as he can still claim to be on target.

Now in the press I gather that the NHS has realised that there might be issues with blood pressure readings in surgeries and hospitals due to White Coat Syndrome. This is something that has been known about ever since I first encountered the NHS in 1950 when I was doing the paperwork for my doctor uncle.

I gather from the financial press that pharmaceutical companies are recommended as safe bets for the future and economies are needed in the NHS.

Monday 21 February 2011

Did Anyone Mention Inflation?

During his term of office President Clinton attended a Gala Performance for charity at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C. and went backstage to meet and talk to the cast.

It was the Royal Ballet doing their signature production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. When asked what he had enjoyed about it he replied “We could do with a Lilac Fairy in The White House”.

The US media and political commentators, possibly not familiar with the plot or traditional ballet, were unsure of his meaning and there was a good deal of confusion and misinterpretation. But it was a typical blunt southern boy insight into the meaning of the work that spoke volumes.

Human affairs and especially politics are usually a chaotic and uncertain business in which things more often than not go wrong and bad decisions are made, sometimes with the best of motives, sometimes the worst.

Generations past for the most part called upon passing deities, spirits from the other world or something like fairies to help them sort out the mess. It is possible that the mindsets they developed allowed them to cope with complexity and deal better with disruptions and difficulties.

In the deep past and amongst some peoples at present there might be multiple deities sometimes little better than humans at dealing with things. Unluckily some peoples have the belief of a single God who is always right. The problem is that humans have been unable to agree on either the detail or the general purpose, so tens of millions have died in disputes.

Also, unluckily and perhaps a consequence, there is the habit of endowing political leaders and thinkers and worse still people like economists and financiers with superhuman powers that do not and will never exist. Some may be better than others and some may be luckier but when the going gets really rough all bets are off.

So if I suggest that in the current debate about inflation, deflation or stagflation all the powers that be do not really have much idea about what is going on, how, why or what they should really do may seem harsh there are some good reasons.

In the web site “Naked Capitalism”, I picked up on an item which tells us that in the money markets a key part has gone so far out of control to be a continuing cause of problems and systemic risk. If this is the case then it is really bad news.

The original abstract for the academic research is:

A commentary on it at near 3000 words is:

A few years ago the top chaps at the Bank of England realised that in the City and the major banks the balance sheets were saying there was a lot of new activity and dealings in new financial instruments that had become substantial and very big. So they arranged a lunch at which the top chaps in the banks would explain all this to them in simple terms that they might understand.

Yet again, unluckily, it appeared that the top bankers did not really know what was going on, but all the figures looked very good and pots of money were being made. This completely satisfied the Bank of England who went on to join with the bankers and the legions of financial consultants to advise New Labour that a new Golden Age was born and all they had to do was to let it rip, make a lot of money themselves and the world and the electorate would all be happy.

More or less, perhaps they should go to the ballet more often because just when they thought how lovely it was then it all went badly wrong. Now they are all running round like headless chickens trying to sort it out. But they do not know what is going on out there, the figures are mostly fiction and The Lilac Fairy and all her ilk have gone off in a sulk.

The inflation that is going on at the moment is not like any previous inflation because the structure of international finance, the real economies of most states and the way it all functions are now radically different. Nobody knows where much of the money is, where all the toxic debt has gone, how the money is really flowing around the world , who is handling it and worst of all the implications of who is dealing and what they are dealing in.

Is it possible that within the economy both inflation and deflation are present at the same time? What is a real threat at present is inflation caused by all the known and unknown money being thrown about whilst real economic growth just bumps along or worse declines.

This is called Stagflation. Remember, if population grows or government obligations grow then real economic growth has to be enough to cope with this. It is quite possible that there will be a continuing attrition of the economy to this effect.

“The Sleeping Beauty” is a ballet were good prevails and the couple wed with the suggestion that they will be happy ever after. That is until the kids become teenagers.

In the world today we have more or less put the teenagers in charge of the money.

Friday 18 February 2011

I Know Where I'm Going

Time for a short post.

The basic question always is what do we know?

No, I know the Donald Rumsfeld theory, so I know best to skip it. Then there is what we think. This can be a different matter.

One interesting question is why do so many very clever people foul up big time?

Especially when they go into politics.

So if you have some quality time to waste try this one.

You may or may not like it, depending on what you know or perhaps what you think you know.

I’m going for a cup of tea; that I do know.

OK, your score isn’t the end of the world. I think.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Please Can We Have Our Little Society Back?

Who wants a “Big Society”?

We have had one of these more or less for the last decade and now look at the mess we were in.

There were difficult times before but that was before big was beautiful in the shape of retailing, banking and government.

Now I want my Little Society of the past back please. It was cheaper, close at hand and a whole lot easier to deal with. Here are just a few thoughts:

Off licences that sell beer by the jug in quantities you ask for and not in expensive packaging.

Policemen who know which town or village they are in without having to consult a sat-nav or ask for guidance from Control.

Refuse collectors that remove refuse.

Meat retailers who are butchers who know one end of a cow or pig from the other.

Post Offices within walking distance that sell stamps and have collections with a parcels service that does not send everything to Coventry to be smashed up on the conveyor belts.

Banks nearby that keep your accounts accurate, pay interest on savings and get on with dealing with the customers instead of regarding them as sales targets.

Greengrocers round the corner with a choice of locally grown fruit and vegetables.

Real newsagents.

Local councils who tell you what they do, use English and not management speak like verbal diarrhoea and have people who can give answers with councillors who do not think they are the Court of Versailles.

Bakers who bake real bread.

Pubs that cater for adults and do not require you to spend up to fifty quid on microwaved packaged junk food supplied from central Poland so you can sit down and have a drink or two.

Doctors and nurses who sometimes look up from their computer when they are talking to you and work in surgeries which do not smell like a 19th Century Parisian brothel after a bad night.

Shops which sell you what you want and not what their marketing or distribution systems tells you to have.

Appliance retailers and servicing where the men do not have to come from the other end of the country and the parts ordered from East Asia.

I will leave it there and suspect that others could think of a few things more.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Emailing By Numbers

It is possible to imagine the complaints ringing the barracks of Hadrian’s Wall as the legionaries and auxiliaries debated the latest stupidities coming from the commands of Deva or Eboracum or Rome.

What was it one First War General said? There is the chaos and confusion of The War and above that the chaos and confusion of The War Office. During the Suez Crisis in 1956, following the London Great Smog of 1952 this was translated into The Fog of War and The Smog of the War Office.

The present row over dismissals by e-mail of long serving soldiers will bring a wry smile to servicemen of the past. The manner in which demobilization was carried out often left a great deal to be desired.

At least this time round the complaints have been heard and accepted.

There were many variations in the lyrics of the song below (tune “The Church’s One Foundation”) but they are best left to your imagination.

The picture above is one lot of infantry that did get to Berlin, the 9th battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, then serving in the 7th Armoured Division.

All together now:

We are Fred Karno's Army,
What bloody use are we?
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So we joined the infantry.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!"

We are Fred Karno's Army
A Jolly lot are we,
Fred Karno is our Captain,
Charlie Chaplin our O.C.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the boys of company C!"

We are Fred Karno's Army,
What bloody use are we?
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So we joined the infantry.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!"

Monday 14 February 2011

The Economics Of Extraction

Outside the supermarket have you sometimes helped that nice old lady from the retirement flats along the road with her shopping? She now could be in the hole for debts of into six figures through absolutely no fault of her own or her family.

It is an astonishing situation that typifies the sheer scale of the mess in both our economy and the financial sector, allegedly its motor.

Essentially, a major part of our housing stock; that of the leasehold sector is embroiled in the financial turmoil concerning a family of financial speculators.

See the following links for the story, the first about some problems the second about the outcome of the calling in of debts by the banks:

The banks have now steeled themselves to call in the debts and take over the assets pledged as security. It seems that these are not enough to cover the debts and that the banks are likely to attempt recovery from the clients of the companies. The sums involved are huge. The OFT has identified paper of £442 million in one small part of the conglomerate alone dealing with freeholds.

What was once basic work of managing and dealing with the routine of taking care and maintaining flats and similar housing has become an arena of almost gladiatorial contest. The incomes derived from it have been used for major leverage, debt creation and speculation.

It has sparked the creation of The Campaign Against Residential Leasehold Exploitation, a voluntary unsubsidized organization attempting to defend the elderly and vulnerable, which found an astonishing amount of work to be done, see:

Carlex claims over two million searches on Google and a growing rate of hits a day on its site, now said to be 5000 a week and rising rapidly. What some of the cases are uncovering go beyond error or poor management. There are real questions about the stance and attitude some of these companies take to their clients.

Whilst politicians go on about competition and choice there are large numbers of people being denied this and are being subject to charging on a basis where all the tricks of the trade are imposed along with aggressive legal tactics.

This has come about within the last five to ten years notably in the retirement sector. It is the direct product of Government “light touch” regulation and easy going relations with some of the major financiers involved. Which politicians have been entertained on whose yachts? Which parties are being funded by the people in question?

So when taxpayer’s money and that of the Bank of England goes to the banks it has been propping up a small group of oligarchs who have been continuing to extract money without regard for the consequences. This money is not retained in the UK nor does it result in much revenue to the Exchequer.

In the case of the retirement sector this is now a critical part of the care provision for the old. If this collapses as a result of all the mayhem the government’s ideas for care in the community could face catastrophe.

While the leasehold sector descends into turmoil and the scale of the problems begin to escalate with incalculable implications for the housing economy, for the oligarchs the party goes on.

And you are paying for it and are going to pay a lot more.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Fancy A Drink?

Having looked at the Budapest Business Journal to discover that in Hungary the ongoing shambles much resembles ours, the next logical course was to check out The Royal Gazette of Bermuda business section.

For a small clump of land in the middle of The Atlantic there seems to a great deal of high level business activity but that is the way the world goes.

At one time beer was a basic home made drink. Then specialist brewers emerged and in the UK we developed a pub culture largely based at one time on local breweries. Now much of it is just another global big money machine.


Q: I have seen stories lately about Molson Coors Brewing Co. How about that as a stock investment? B.G., via the internet

A: You might not have expected Russians to be drinking Coors Light this winter, but that beer was a recent product rollout of this giant global brewer.

The company also bought a 51 percent interest in a new joint venture with China’s Si’hai Beer Co. which will produce Coors Light under a Chinese name that translates as “silver bullet”.

This Denver-based company that resulted from the merger of Adolph Coors Brewing Co. with Canada’s Molson Inc. in 2005 has cut its costs since that deal and improved efficiency through synergy. It has had a joint venture called MillerCoors with SAB Miller’s US business since 2008 as well.

Through famous name brands such as Molson, Coors, Carling, Keystone and Blue Moon, it holds about 40 percent of the beer market in Canada, about 30 percent of the US market and nearly 20 percent of the UK market.

Shares of Molson Coors (TAP) recently were down about eight percent this year, partially due to a drop in fourth-quarter earnings. Class A shares have voting rights and are 84 percent controlled by the Molson and Coors families, while class B shares have little influence on how the firm is run.

Hopes for alcohol stocks have direct ties to the restaurant industry, which is expected to show improvement as economies rise. Brewers have been able to increase the prices of products and move consumers upscale to more premium beers. Yet they always must wage a balancing act between retaining market share and increasing profits.

Consensus analyst rating of Molson Coors shares is between “buy” and “hold”, according to Thomson Reuters, consisting of two “strong buys”, five “buys” and seven “holds”.

Competition among beers is brutal. Despite its impressive size, Molson Coors must go up against giants such as AB InBev (BUD), the company that resulted from the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by Belgium-based InBev.

Because beer remains a mature, slow-growth market, some discussion about the investment potential of Molson Coors always involves whether it might be an acquisition target for another brewer, such as SAB Miller. That speculation is likely to continue for as long as the company remains independent.

Molson Coors earnings are expected to rise eight percent in 2011 compared to 19 percent for the beverage and brewer industry. The expected five-year annualised growth rate of nine percent compares to a projected 14 percent industry-wide.


And you wonder why so many pubs are closing?

Friday 11 February 2011

Time For The Toothpaste Revolution

As the USA says goodbye to its old middle class and the UK seems to be doing the same the question is asked why? One proposed answer appears in an article picked up from suggesting that global corporate bodies are now close to detaching themselves from their home nation states.

Also that those states in any case have become subject to domination by the corporations as the middle classes shrink and detach themselves from politics, leaving it to the professionals who can be bought.

According to one hedge funder dealer if one American or European family goes down and four in once poor countries go up this is all to the good.

It may not be as simple as that. If the global corporations and their senior people no longer pay much tax and the middle class taxpaying capability reduces sharply a state will have to say goodbye to all those social programmes and benefits the poorer classes have become used to.

So in the once developed countries it is not just the middle class that shrinks it is the incomes and futures of many of their poor that go as well.

The article suggests that stability in the USA and Europe are the basis for allowing all this to happen and to permit the corporations to follow their own stars.

One of the markers for wealth accumulation and spending power given is toothpaste. This is described as a “basic” need. So the richer a country becomes the more people rush out to buy the toothpastes they see advertised, helpfully provided by global consumer products organisations.

There could be some slight flaws in all this. According to Inspector Gadget the life in many of our urban areas is anything but stable at the moment and things do seem to be getting rougher as the more and more of the young and old do not like what is happening.

In any case, who needs toothpaste? We haven’t used it for years. It is nasty slimy stuff that stinks, leaves a horrible taste that spoils food and drink and often contains substances used in Agent Orange and pesticides.

What is more it costs good money better spent on other things. Strangely, since stopping our teeth have needed far less attention.

So here is my way to start a revolution. Stop using toothpaste and use the cheap natural alternatives.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Looking Forward To A Dry Spell?

Watching weeping weather forecasters glumly forecasting rain seems a strange way to start thinking about drought but someone has to. One item around the press this week that caught the eye was about the study of tree ring data on ancient trees in the Americas coupled with scientific analysis of the implications.

The thesis is that over the last 2000 years or so in those areas as well as the usual variations in weather patterns over periods and climatic shifts there have been four “mega-droughts” whose effects have been catastrophic both for the environments and the populations within them.

The suggestion is that such droughts led to the collapse of the Maya societies and other changes. The Maya had built up highly complex urban based cultures with agricultural systems organised to produce surpluses to sustain them. In other places less complicated but still well organised groups have simply disappeared. The end of a number of ancient societies might have involved water problems.

In recent history there have been enough droughts of one kind or another across the world to warn us of what can happen. During The Raj in India and during the period earlier of British takeover droughts occurred which impacted on large areas of the Sub-Continent. We have seen major droughts in Africa and even in the USA in the 1930’s in the mid West there were serious problems, notably in Oklahoma

Very often, and almost inevitably in some cases the situation becomes chaotic in the real sense of the word. Governments and administrations simply cannot cope with the extent and complexity of the problems arising. Not only is there instability but society can descend into war bands intent on self interest.

For the populations affected death and disease take large numbers, those that can get out do, those that survive scrape by at the lowest levels in shattered lands. In the centuries past with substantially fewer people and much lower proportions in urbanised surroundings the effects were bad enough.

What could happen in the coming years of the 21st century if shifting weather patterns alone, irrespective of all the theories of climate change, cause major long term droughts in areas with large populations is difficult to contemplate. It is not possible to predict precisely where, how big and how complicated it could be.

What might have happened in the UK if the 1976 hot spell had gone on for several years? We were having problems after only a few dry months. Even now when some event causes disruption to water supplies it can provoke a local crisis. Is anyone taking a serious look at what could happen either within the UK or in parts of the world with large populations if the water supplies simply dried up?

In the meantime in the City of London, the dealers at the trading desks whoop and holler when a natural disaster occurs somewhere that might affect the supplies of essential commodities. The “market” system that in our modern world is no longer an efficient or reliable means of bringing supply to meet demand is distorted to deliver the financial benefits to the very few. It not longer works for the masses.

And if the taps run dry it will be the masses who will be looking for water and the money to buy it.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Finding The Future What?

Long ago when the world was young, both knees were working and I could contemplate eighty minutes of continuous activity often my place was on a muddy wet stretch of ground with posts and a cross bar usually about half way up. How many times did I smell the wind, place the ball and hope the kick was right?

Amongst the many places where this strange ritual occurred were colleges of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They were not favoured places to go to on the whole. Often the baths were cold, the food disgusting and such beer that they were allowed to consume thin, expensive and close to goat’s products and not milk.

Also, the local entertainment was not up to much and female company nowhere in sight. I and the other members of the team were very glad to be on the coach as quickly as possible to make it back to London.

On the other hand when we entertained a team from one of these colleges it was almost pathetic to see the sense of wonder they had at the delights of metropolitan living.

Which is why so many of my class and background never considered going to these colleges in the first place. However, some did and many had school examination results that were very scruffy indeed. It did help that they were very good at one sport or another and potential blues and in some cases had unusual military service.

Even then there were those at “Oxbridge” who were mindful that historically many colleges had made provision for poor scholars. In the 1970’s tutors roamed the Yorkshire mining districts trying to persuade pupils in comprehensive schools to apply without success, for more or less the same reasons that my generation did.

This is all a long time ago and in the 21st Century there are other matters that we consider important. Oxbridge does not quite fit, but then it never did. Looking back down the centuries it always seemed to be “out of sync’ ” with the wider world outside. Why this is necessarily “bad” is a mystery.

The problem seems to be that the political media class of the UK looks at itself (it spends most of it’s time doing this) and decides that it is not typical and should have more of “them” or at least allow entry. But the problem there arises after University and the way that class is formed and recruited.

Oxbridge has other functions, which in the scale of human affairs may be more important. Science, medicine, engineering, astronomy and a range of other fields of study form the critical mass. The motley bunch of lawyers and political history students have always comprised the intellectual backside of Oxbridge, so what changes?

Leave mad social engineering to the former local technical colleges now styled universities and ensure their studies and degrees are good for real work in the real world and doubtless if their graduates are good enough they will go far enough.

At least they will get better beer and balanced company.

Monday 7 February 2011

Baltic Nights And Days

Not that many years ago those watching the “Last Night Of The Proms” may have noticed someone standing in the second row of the Arena waving the flag of Estonia.

He was happy to talk to us (we were in front of him) because I was the only person who had recognised the flag. By him were Japanese girls waving their flag and not away the flag of Northumbria could be seen. It all added to the occasion.

Since then things have not been going quite so well in Estonia or the Baltic States and this article tells of some of those affected:

Clearly what happens to people in Estonia during austerity or difficulty is quite different from the UK today, although my parents and previous generations would have found things much the same.

It explains why in the last three years or so there has been an influx from these new nations of the EU into the UK where a different situation exists. It is also more complicated than it might seem because some of those who have arrived are people from the Russian and other minorities in those countries.

In our own immediate district many of the cars now have Baltic and Polish number plates. A number of properties now house groups of men many of whom are of an age to be married and have families. There is every chance that they are declaring their families for child benefit and sending a fair part of their earnings home.

This will enable those families to stay in their homes and get by on a reasonable basis given prices in their countries. How many there are in this category in the UK now I do not know but my guess is that there are a lot and probably most are legal and within the EU rules.

Necessarily, they are competing with UK subjects for work, especially at the wage levels at the lowest levels and it has been interesting to see the change in the make up of the work force in some of the most menial jobs as the East Europeans increase in numbers.

In ethnic terms their DNA is much closer to those of UK long term origin than many from other places. It is arguable that not so long ago in geophysical terms some of them moved West after the Ice Age and some moved North.

So while we might feel that they are “new” they are closer cousins to us that many others. When Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV) and his entourage joined the Lithuanian Crusade they knew they were amongst kin of a sort.

As the financial crisis rolls on and austerity comes to the UK as well as other places one of the key financial issues is the level of government borrowing, notably to fund benefits and NHS and social services.

At present, it looks like we will be borrowing to fund an increasing part of the income of the poorer people of the Baltic populations.

Is anyone trying to work out the implications?

Sunday 6 February 2011

Money Makes The World Go Round

With little time today picking my way round the web found this choice item relating to Egypt and the anxieties of the USA.

The link was from Some Assembly Required to Business Insider about just how much the Mubarak family have tucked away here and there. The speculation on this matter has not featured in much of the media.

One of the comments in this item mentions that since the Tunisian upheaval there have been a number of flights of Boeing C 17 Globemaster aircraft from Egypt to Switzerland allegedly carrying construction materials.

I would if some of this construction is helping to keep London property prices up?

Friday 4 February 2011

The Arts Big Freeze Is Coming

It has been flagged sporadically in the media but has not yet emerged as a major story. Whether it will or not will depend on the other stories of the day or week, much as other things have taken second place this week because of events in Egypt.

The Arts Council is set to announce its new arrangements. All the beneficiaries of the past have had their applications called in and in the next few days will learn who is either for the chop or to have its grants substantially reduced.

There is talk of 30% overall and only hints as to who will be taking the big hits or who will go to the wall. It is not going to be a happy business.

In the meantime with middling incomes being squeezed, travel costs rocketing and other pressures there is a real risk of the market diminishing sharply in any case as well as the loss of income.

As a couple who have done a lot of attending events and shows in the past we have already had to reduce our interests. It is not as though other options are becoming more competitive in price. Turning up at some attractions and tourist places these days brings a wince to the wallet.

It looks as though the Arts sector as well as the Heritage sector are both going to have to contract sharply in the coming years. Just at the time when we have been creating so many University courses to train up large numbers.

Also, what happens to the tourist industry, much touted as the answer to many of our economic problems? Don’t’ bank on it. There is too much that can go wrong there. In any case, London is no longer a welcoming place and travel around the UK increasingly a wearing experience

So what do you ask a RADA graduate for? A Big Mac with feeling?

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Telling Tales

The picture above is from the Mail Online of Wednesday, 2 Feb. It is about sporting chaps who play away and do not want the results to appear in the media.

The Mail has an interest in this because these chaps, their lady friends and celebrity acquaintances are major copy material and critical to their sales figures. Looking at the right hand bit of their web page and the features about them loom very large.

What the Mail does not mention is that this interest does not apply only to them but others by extension.

I am reliably informed that the young lady Assistant Referee who was the subject of the rude remarks about offside decisions, seemingly correct, that started the row at Sky Sports and the ending of the contracts of Keys and Gray is not so protected.

Despite her being the innocent party and who has been most reticent, I am told that a media camp set up by her house on permanent watch and tried to monitor her every move. Doors were knocked on, neighbours approached for any information. Children were stopped and quizzed in the street.

She, however, is on very modest earnings, far beyond the sums needed to hire a hotshot London Lawyer to extract a ruling from a concerned judge. It’s the rich what gets the pleasure and the poor what gets the blame, so to say.

It is a pity that The Mail, anxious to meet their sales targets could not go on to point out that as well as sporting, media, entertainment and political figures the libel laws that in effect are available only to the rich and powerful do much more serious damage elsewhere.

Academics who study certain subjects and wish to raise questions arising from their research to the effect that some kinds of product, service or procedures or the use of some substance posing dangers can be muzzled.

Not only are they faced with writs from commercial or other interests, but so are their immediate seniors in their departments and the institutions where they work.

It does not matter that they are right, or their research has been excellent or that it is an issue that deserves and needs wide discussion. Because the sums of money they would need simply to defend themselves and appear in court are ruinous.

Equally, other people concerned with matters normally of public interest that would mean inconvenience or even embarrassment for others can be similarly muzzled.

Our judges feel that personal privacy of embezzlers, drug dealers, swindlers, thieves and the rest far outweighs any public interest and any person adversely affected must not speak up or inform others for the same reasons

Why do we not hear from The Mail about these people, there are enough of them?

Cyclone Yasi UK Time Mid Day

Take a look at this one:

Also for updates:

Tuesday 1 February 2011

When Irish Eye's Aren't Smiling

The UK media takes little interest in Ireland most of the time, apart from when a crisis or crime occurs. We are encouraged to think of them as another race despite the evidence of DNA and the fact that much of the UK population can sport one or many Irish ancestors.

Still, some of their preoccupations at present chime well with those across the water, here are some letters from today’s “Irish Times”. I like the one on Politician’s Interests in particular.

On Health Services:

One of the hardest tasks facing a GP is whether or not to send an elderly sick patient to hospital knowing that they need admission. The days of straight admission to hospital are gone and everybody must go through casualty and accept everything that goes with this, despite the best care of the dedicated staff.

It is bad enough to face a possible wait on a trolley for several days, stuck in a busy, noisy area 24/7, with lights on all the time, and with aggressive drunks or drug addicts – but when you are elderly and sick, this can be a frightening, confusing experience, possibly causing deterioration of your condition.

A lot of patients have told me they would rather take their chances and stay at home than face this, and who would blame them?

Is there an answer? I have always felt that we should take the lead from some other countries and have a separate casualty for our elderly patients, as their needs are totally different from the rest of the casualty population.

While this in itself would not shorten admission time, they could be nursed initially in a quiet and restful area while waiting assessment. This financially might not be a popular decision with our paymasters, but there is not a family in the country who would disagree with me. Hospitals are supposed to mean healing, not endurance.

When would-be politicians come to the doorstep, readers can put this idea to them. – Yours, etc,

On The Environment

The dangerous fire at the closed Kerdiffstown, Co Kildare landfill site, as reported by Frank McDonald (Home News, January 28th), is a salutary call to the Minister and Department of the Environment to recognise the value of properly run, controlled high-temperature incineration of waste rather than the protracted out-of-control low temperature burning now occurring at the landfill site.

Low temperature burning of waste produces a wide range of toxic chemicals in the emitted gases and not just sulphur dioxide as we are told is being monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The complexity of the chemical composition of gaseous emissions in the current situation depends on the type of waste and the oxygen concentration.

An obvious component of the emissions from low temperature burning is the group of very toxic, carcinogenic chemicals known as the dioxins.

Incineration of waste reduces the spectrum of toxic chemicals including the dioxins to infinitesimally low levels, that is, to levels which do not cause any significant risk to health. – Yours, etc,

On Politician’s Interests

The Oireachtas Register of Members’ Interests shows that more than a third of Dáil deputies are landlords and have interests (some substantial) in houses,apartments or commercial properties that are being rented or leased, and as such may be beneficiaries of the changes made in the Finance Bill. Was it just and fair that these Dáil deputies were allowed to vote on Sections 23 changes? – I think not. – Yours, etc,

On Foreign Aid

Anyone expecting, or hoping for, changes at the top in Uganda after next month’s election is in for a rude surprise.

Admittedly, the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni, who has held a vice-like grip on power for the last quarter-century, has seen his share of the popular vote decline over recent years. He even stated publicly, in 2006, that there is widespread corruption throughout his party, the National Resistance Movement.

None of this, however, should make any difference to the result.

Security forces are disrupting planned rallies by the opposition, and campaign funding for opponents is virtually non-existent because potential funders fear government victimisation. They can’t even appeal to the electorate via the radio, as station owners fear reprisals if they allow air-time to non-government candidates.

Our government gave €49 million in aid to Uganda during 2009, most of it channelled through Museveni’s regime.

Surely not even the Irish Government could argue that this aid has helped encourage liberal democracy and a respect for human rights in Uganda? – Yours, etc,


See you in “Davy Byrne’s” for a gorgonzola sandwich and glass of burgundy.