Saturday, 31 January 2009

Fragile and Failing Strategic States

Whatever is going on in Ukraine, it is not good to cut off the electricity to major military bases. It is not good to cut off the electricity to minor military institutions and deposits either, but that is less worrying than strategic-base cut offs. The sums owed seem trifling, all well under 5000 US dollars, so the assumption must be that the administration of a large country on the borders of the European Union and Russia is descending into a chaos from which even its defence systems are not spared.

There is a lot of war material lying about in Ukraine, despite the excellent job done by Russia after the Soviet Union break up. Should there be some consideration of the management of Ukraine's state fragility as there is of Pakistan's?


'President Yushchenko has just received reports from the Prosecutor General and the Defence Minister on the situation of electricity supplies to military facilities, according to the President`s press-office.'

The officials informed the President that at 17.30 the supply of electricity to all strategic units of the Ukrainian military has been restored.

Earlier the Defence Minister had explained 'The bills have not been paid because we don't have any money.' The weapons these people are running around with really need to be under better control than this.

The Leadership We Need

A lot more fun than Davos. And they are all into gold, just look at them. Let's hope they will be at the Munich Security Conference next week.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Selling the Powers and Influence of Our State

The laughing and rounds of applause over dinner as Peter Truscott's curriculum was read out from The Usual Source should chill the heart of any real Labour supporter.

"Upon completion of his doctorate, Truscott became a political organiser for the Labour Party'.

And he's off! we shriek. Next we reckon he should become a Councillor (as it turns out for Colchester). The Essex location is a bonus, but anywhere in England will do.

We thought to parachute him into the House after that, but although he contested Torbay in the 1992 general election ('we're alright, yer alright,' we howl) sadly he confirms his worth, and betrays our enthusiasm, by coming in a miserable third with only 9.59% of the votes cast.

What can we do for Peter? we cry in our right-on New Labour personas, seeking to fulfil the 'all shall have prizes' agenda. Of course - he can go on to the European Parliament, how about Hertfordshire? (none of these northern exiles for our boy) and, oh joy, he did, from 1994 to 1999. There he spoke for us all on foreign affairs and defence until 1999 when, once again the real cruel world slashed his worth. Peter failed to win re-election to the European Parliament.

Some diners are begining to look askance at Peter; how many times, they are asking. "Come On!' the rest of us cry. 'He couldn't grovel harder if he dug a trench'. 'Give a groveller a bone'.

So he was ennobled and need never face the hurly burly of democratic choosing and judgement again.

As Baron Truscott of St James's he can play with his apostrophes and sell his powers as a member of England's legislature to keep himself so richly undeservedly. Until we rip up this pretence of a constitution under which we suffer, and put on trial those who practice the sale of the powers with which we have entrusted them.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Cast Out

The small brother and sister to be sent for adoption outside their family when their grandparents wish to bring them up are an indictment of the false values embodied in our social services.

Grandparents, even when the grandmother is only 46, are not like parents, they are an alternate generation and act very differently from parents. However, the least we might expect a 'social' service to do is provide support to a family disrupted by the long term unavailability of the mother. Infants so disadvantaged are cared for in most societies by grandparents or parents' siblings - indeed by all of them. They are never put out of the family.

We know this, we all know this because this is really our culture too. Which raises the question of what kind of people would seek to persist in adopting these children in the face of their own family's efforts to bring them up, and determined opposition to their being removed to the care of strangers?

A better explanation than not commenting on specific instances, which could be cast in the most general terms, had better be offered soon or a great deal of damage will be done to potential adopters of all kinds and, worse, irreversible damage could be done to these two small children.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Pretty in Pink

Haute couture causes raised hackles. To confess to having even looked is to be found guilty of heartlessness, callous disregard for the straits many are in, encouragement of economic vampirism, lack of empathy, an inappropriate attitude, and greed, and worse. Which isn't fair.

Few of us will have the opportunity to wear haute couture, and even fewer of us would have the occasion or the panache, yet it reaches into all our lives at a very personal level. Like all art, it speaks of, embodies, beauty - and we all know what beauty is. Which is why it arouses such fierce responses. One of which can be 'That is ridiculous - no real person could wear that!'
Of course not. Haute couture does not necessarily present a holistic image. It may be exploring and representing any aspect of line, colour, surface, light, depth, texture, and their concerns with movement, and interaction with us.

The work is one of many hands, many craftspeople and minor artists, under the command of the maestro, the designer. Perhaps it is this that arouses the set of resentful passions, that there is a necessary hierarchy. There is no egalitarianism in art but infinite and fine ranking - which ranking we can all discern, and which confers authority and esteem in different measure. There is better and best.

The opera that is this lovely dress and wearer is as beyond the reach of Angels as playing the Goldberg Variations. But I can look, and feel, and understand the mastery of some of it.

And just as I might be able to pick out the Theme to the Air, perhaps a little rouching on a summer skirt, a halter top with tight, flowered bodice, could be found.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Would Brown Resign the Leadership After Defeat in a General Election?

Conservatives being 15 points ahead of Labour has set off another flurry of discussion on Brown's continued leadership of the Labour party. Most commenters think it is unlikely a Labour leader who is prime minister will be unseated by his party - an eminently reasonable point of view considering the only way to do it would be by persuading him to voluntarily resign. Brown? Resign off his own bat?

So the interesting questions are two:

will he attempt to avoid calling a general election in which he will be defeated? Will he resign the leadership of the Labour party after defeat?

Most commenters again believe it most unlikely that Brown will subvert what remains of the British constitution and simply go on and on. Yet precedents for going on and on do exist, particularly in times of national crisis and great external threat. The last was the Second war. Then there was a National government or, to be more specific, a Conservative government with some Labour party ministers serving under a Conservative prime minister and at his invitation.

The emphasis put upon the foreign nature of the crisis by Brown, that all the damage is arriving from outside, may not be just self-serving excuses-seeking. It establishes the scenario of 'Britain' under severe external threat. The invitations ( some of which were, to their shame, accepted by members of other parties) to serve in a Brown government caused surprise at the time but perhaps should be seen in the context of an embryo national government, a small try-out for later expansion. As should the use of appointing technical advisers to the Lords (and twice-sacked, unelectable politicians) and then to government roles that until the very recent past would have been required to be held by people elected to and answerable in the Commons. It should be remembered, too, that there is a great deal of legislation passed by New Labour to control civic protest and very little redress available within our constitution when it is not honoured in its spirit.

Assuming, though, that Brown does go to the country, and loses, there is no reason to believe that he will resign the leadership. There is every reason to think he will not. The crumbs of shadow office are better than nothing at all, for him and for his henchmen, and they will not want to let go their tight grip on the Labour party - their only vehicle for a return to power in four or five years. Yes, Brown has had word put out that he would serve only one full parliament, but Brown is a proven liar. And what is true of him does not bind the rest of them; they will be even more determined, if that were possible, to keep what they can hold.

Of course, electoral failure will remove many from the House of Commons, particularly Scottish Westminster MPs, but the savage rending and fighting that will break out when Brown closes his fist round the leadership of the Labour Party will put him in his element. He has proven that he cannot run a financial and economic system for toffee, but equally he has proven that the bottom-feeders' wasteland of Labour party politics is his element.

If many in the Labour party want him out, they should go for him now, by all and any means, and ensure that their defeat is limited in scope under a more acceptable leader and that they are a more electable and united Opposition with a decent chance in 2015.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Deindustrialisation of the United Kingdom

Kenneth Clarke is being laid back about the New Labour government having to go to the IMF for funding in the face of massive deficits and few takers for UK debt. The manner possibly covering a higher level of concern than he chooses to make public. But there is a far worse aspect to the incredible economic shambles Brown personally, and New Labour collectively, have led us into.

Steelmaking, car production, ship building, machine tools, aircraft production - week after week the numbers going onto short time working or into redundancy mount. These industries were already gravely weakened by an economic regime that had neither concern nor interest for their well being. Once closed they will not be re-established in our country again. Why bother when there will be excess capacity far into the future across the world.

There are many reasons why the UK is least ready to face recession but the under -defended industrial and manufacturing sectors loss will probably do the most permanent damage to our living standards, for good.

Parents and Pupils Like Grammar Schools

Taking the English education system lying down is one of the constants of life in the UK - among others are outrageously high taxes and self-serving public health provision. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled that three grammars in Rugby cannot take pupils from nearby Northamptonshire because doing so undermines comprehensives there. Apart from wondering why the comprehensives of Northamptonshire are more deserving of protection than those of Warwickshire, there is no reason for assuming that grammar schools damage comprehensive schools that is remotely acceptable.

Grammar schools offer a curriculum and classroom environment, as well as a school ethos of commitment to academic work that is prized by parents and beneficial to pupils. Why else are pupils travelling to such schools from as much as 20 miles away daily to benefit from their competence as schools? Why don't the comprehensive schools offer the same? It is not true that only middle class children attend grammar schools, or that only the cleverest are there, or that poor people are excluded. It is outrageous that these kinds of criticisms are levelled constantly at some of the most conscientious and caring schools in the country.

Nor should one group of pupils ever be used to pull other groups along, for that is what the adjudicator's ruling that the Warwickshire schools' decision to recruit across the county boundary turned some Northamptonshire schools into "de facto secondary moderns", means. Influence can go in both directions, and denying formal schooling in the interest of social caring in a school is dereliction of the duty of a school to teach, and damages children's learning. The argument that travelling to school involves social discrimination is false too. Many children live on excellent travel routes that cross county boundaries and can access a grammar school as easily as an in-county child.

The entrance tests for grammar schools are nothing more than an attempt to ensure that children entering the school have been properly taught in their primary schools; no school, comprehensive or grammar, enjoys the two year waste of time employed in remedial teaching between the ages of eleven and thirteen, so that GCSE teaching can then begin. Again the attitude that school is a substitute for family life corrupts the purpose of school and discrimates against those children happy to learn.

If the ruling is applied nationwide ' it would have a colossal impact as a lot of youngsters go to grammar schools outside their local education authority area.' the National Grammar Schools Association said. So when are the unwanted comprehensive schools going to be required to provide the education so many parents do want and stop wasting tax payers' money, while denigrating schools that are functioning as schools rather than as childcare facilities?

Thursday, 22 January 2009

New Labour Must Now Ask Us What We Want To Do In the Face of Brown's Failures

No-one wants to touch 'Brown's Britain' with a barge pole.

'Outstanding loans to UK banks by overseas institutions fell some 20 per cent in the four months to November alone, according to data from the Bank of England. Market loans and holdings of certificates of deposit have roughly halved in that time, as have deposits at UK building societies, while European bank holdings of UK bank commercial paper are off by a third. (Financial Times). It is very disturbing that 'the data show that the drop in lending has been particularly sharp from banks based in other EU member states.'

The pretence that it is within the New Labour government’s competence to increase the flow of funds to companies is shown up. The chancellor has admitted that the denial of foreign lending greatly restricts the possibility of the extension of credit to British businesses by United Kingdom banks. Worse, this confirmation of the Brown-led New Labour government's pariah status not just internationally but within the European Union, with whom we are supposed to have the closest of ties and common interest, raises the question of to whom we will be forced to turn, and the severity of the measures we will be forced to implement, eventually.

The unconscionable impropriety of refusing to go to the country and seek a mandate from the electorate, so that foreign lenders might be reassured that the UK government has the enthusiastic support of the people of this country, destroys the last claim that there is any similarity whatever between the policies of the United States and those of Brown's desperate regime. There is no resemblance to either American political conditions, or to American financial and economic circumstances; the claim that Brown's policies are leading the world, including the United States, are even more ill-founded than the widespread ridicule for them measures.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Damage New Labour is Inflicting is Increased By its Refusal to Go to the Country

Curiously the only thing that is saving the country from immediate financial and economic collapse is the belief of foreign creditors that there will be a replacement of the New Labour government at the very latest in something over a year. Or more probably much sooner than that. Sooner, because in any democratic state with a less informal constitution, a government would have fallen when Blair was overthrown and replaced with a faction promising a total break with past policies that the electorate had voted for. Even countries with fixed- term parliaments would have had to go to the polls when a replacement coalition displayed these levels of incompetent change, and the coalition broke apart; not least because most legislatures are not in such a broken-down and cowed state as ours.

Should fears that New Labour will attempt to hold on to power, by the use of notional national governments, or the misapplication of the Civil Contingencies Act, gain any ground then the exit from the United Kingdom of all foreign capital, which is already under way, will reach warp speed.

Brown and New Labour's improper insistence on remaining in office, though without the least capacity to undo the damage they have done, is already attracting discussion in the foreign press. The precise length of time that must elapse before some semblance of competent government can be put in place by the electorate of the United Kingdom is playing its part now in the sliding confidence of the rest of the world.

Monday, 19 January 2009

New Labour at Bay

The government of the United Kingdom has now lost contact with democracy completely. An unelected prime minister, backed by a party funded by public sector trade unions, and surrounded by a cabal of advisers and appointees is indebting us all for almost a trillion pounds with no intention whatever of consulting the electorate on his repeated failures to run a sound economic policy.

The aggression displayed towards Iceland in listing it among terrorist organisations and sequestering its banks trading in the United Kingdom makes plain that the powers to act with authoritarian arbitrariness are there to be used in circumstances very different from their ostensible purpose when they were driven through our Parliament. Any attempt to protest this regime is going to be met with the same levels of aggression and vindictiveness.

Foreign policy is floating in a miasma of delusion and indecision. The main goal has been to reach the inauguration of the new American president in the unfounded belief that the United States will follow policies that will vindicate the failing policies that are destroying our country's future. When this vision of the future is dispelled as completely as every other part of Brown's vision, we will have to recognise that we live in a deindustrialised, poverty-stricken, under-developed country, whose post-democratic administration will be as an uninfluential, peripheral region of Europe. In the mean time we must go through years of depression while New Labour's madness unravels.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Leader's Lobes Revealed

Widespread discussion of the Leader's state of mind has persisted over the years, even before last year's Assumption into his Rightful Position.

Angels shows here what we are dealing with.

The two sides of the nine inch brain - one and a half times normal life size - are joined together by a zip with the cerebellum knitted in blue and spinal cord trailing off in white strands of wool

(Photo: Barcroft Media, in the Telegraph)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Sailing, We Are Sailing

New Labour will send warships to the eastern Mediterranean say headlines in the Telegraph.

It's getting pretty crowded there. Unfortunately the English navy (whatever fleet) didn't post pictures of the warships setting sail.

Pictures of the relevant Russian fleet have been posted earlier. (see: Penniless and Defenceless Under New Labour 5 January 2009).

This is a picture of the Italian aircraft carrier that dominates the Mediterranean.

Global Warming

The canals have frozen hard in Holland. As one the Dutch have slid out on to the ice, indulging their national passion for slipping through the landscape, contemplative and alone, or visiting with friends by the shortest route. Evidently it is more than a decade since the canals resumed their historic winter role.
A glance at Dutch painting shows that the way to a Dutchman's heart is via a frozen canal.

Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?

New Labour is not governing the United Kingdom any more.

Tens of thousand are put out of work each week, hundreds of thousands put onto short time or told to stay at home indefinitely. Plant lies idle. Docks and disused airfields are packed with unsold and unsaleable products intended for markets that have disappeared at home and abroad. The pound has lost a quarter of its value in the last month. There is no access to working capital loans or other credit. All United Kingdom banks are technically insolvent. The remnants of the UK force that invaded Iraq is still parked outside Basra airport where it has been since it made an agreement with Iraqi militias to withdraw there in every sense of the word; in Afghanistan troops are improperly equipped and without helicopters. Inequalities in wealth, opportunity and educational access grow. As do repossessions of houses.

Still the obscene sums in bail-outs and kick-starts roll off their propaganda networks, while bank notes roll off their printing presses, and prices of what the people must buy rise and rise despite the manipulated figures that pretend this is not happening. Our savings are rendered literally worth less, and retirements and life plans blighted.

To add insult to injury we are denied any chance to hold these self important incompetents to account. And make a start on clearing up the damage they are wreaking in our country and its industries and institutions.

At the moment the country is running by inertia, on the remnants of a once sound system, both social and economic, that is more robust than the sociopathic, obsessive fiddling to which it has been subjected for the last twelve years. But even that will give way soon.

Then what?

Friday, 16 January 2009

Looking Lively With Russia's Black Sea Fleet

The Russian General Naval Staff has just told Tass that in the next few years there will be Russian naval bases for its warships at Socotra Island (Yemen), in Tartus (Syria) and Tripoli (Libya).

“The political decision on this issue has already been taken. It is difficult to say now how much time will be needed to create bases for our Navy in these countries, but undoubtedly it will be done in the next few years. Otherwise it will be impossible to fulfil the task of maintaining a regular naval presence in remote sea areas that protect Russia’s national interests, from both economic and military-technical viewpoints,” an official of the General Naval Staff explained.

“For an efficient response to existing and potential threats to Russia’s security it is necessary to station the Russian Navy on distant approaches and in remote areas. The base on Socotra Island is needed, in particular, for warships to ensure security of navigation for Russian civilian ships in the Arabian Sea and in the Gulf of Aden; analogous facilities [are needed] in Tartus and Tripoli for controlling and promptly reacting to the situation in explosive regions of the Middle East,” the official added.

Apart from this, a couple of ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet [how many fleets has Russia got? It's like them sending the 58th army into Georgia. ed.] are on their way to the Gulf of Aden. This is one of them.

'A meeting devoted to the planned voyage of the two landing ships with marines aboard was held in Sevastopol on Thursday.' U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851 to fight piracy allows the carrying out of air strikes against pirate bases in Somalia's territory with the consent of the country's government [has Somalia actually got a government? ed.], and the conduct of operations in its territory.

The Russian navy? There's a lot of it about.

Controlling Our Own Nuclear Weapons and Their Use

Disagreeing with Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham, and General Sir Hugh Beach is unwise but essential. Their letter to the Times, stating:

Should this country ever become subject to some sort of nuclear blackmail — from a terrorist group for example — it must be asked in what way, and against whom, our nuclear weapons could be used, or even threatened, to deter or punish. Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently, or are likely to, face — particularly international terrorism; and the more you analyse them the more unusable they appear.
The much cited “seat at the top table” no longer has the resonance it once did. Political clout derives much more from economic strength. Even major-player status in the international military scene is more likely to find expression through effective, strategically mobile conventional forces, capable of taking out pinpoint targets, than through the possession of unusable nuclear weapons. Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics. Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.

sounds reasonable only under assumptions it is unwise to adopt.

A State armed with nuclear weapons and delivery systems is invariably to be treated differently from one that is not. Look at North Korea and the circumspection with which its real weapons of mass destruction led it to be treated and compare what happened to Iraq with no weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons prevent regime change imposition from outside. That is what they are for. And as we have seen, they work.

If the argument is that the United Kingdom does not have nuclear weapons but is merely a nuclear weapons base which is wholly under United States control then the discussion should not be carried on in terms of the ineffectiveness of nuclear deterrence. We should consider if we wish to obtain control over the weapons sited in the UK, if we wish to pay for weapons sited here that we do not control, and if the money we pay for other states' weapons-siting might be better spent equipping our own forces for the kinds of conflicts they face or are likely to face.

It is not inconceivable that other states or even non-state entities might wish to achieve regime-change in our country. There is nothing like a nuclear armed submarine or ICBM to put them off. So let's be sure we can use them when we want to, without reference to any other state. And let's choose other conflicts in which we become involved to fit our budget and our own interests a great deal more closely than has been done under New Labour.

Schools: a Waste of Their Time and Our Money

The biting comments of St Paul's boys school head teacher on the quality of GCSE examinations are deserved. Old, and sample question papers can be looked at on line. The requirements are easily met and, as importantly, outstandingly dull. Looking at papers in English and mathematics was to look at questions reflecting years of wasted school time.

'A student in your class has been suspended. Write a letter protesting or agreeing with this decision'. What kind of teaching of English gives time to such a subject? The maths papers were even worse. Reading a rail timetable correctly should not form part of a school leaving examination in mathematics. The instructions at the head of the papers not to use a calculator were even odder: first because all calculation could readily be carried out at sight, secondly, because why ever should calculators be denied to those who prefer to use them?

As Dr Stephen noted:

'Our experience of the new GCSE in science is that it is not an academic qualification - it is a social qualification. It is not preparing pupils for further study. ... it is to a terrifying extent not academic... The new science specifications are much more easily taught without a degree in science...There is a deep fear among some people that the exam content is being pitched at the level of available teaching rather than an internationally recognised standard.' He goes on to comment on what was very noticeable in the English papers I looked at - that the content is so dull.

School is the place where people have the time and facilities to learn much that in later life they will draw upon but may not have time to concentrate upon. The children who have received an entire schooling under New Labour have not been offered food for the mind, nor have they even been competently drilled in reading timetables and writing letters of complaint. More than half of them fail to obtain even a Grade C in mathematics and English after eleven years of full time education.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Give Over

What is wrong with having a look round inside United States military computers? If they can't keep casual visitors out they should be ashamed of themselves, not trying to drag an innocent Scotsman off to the US for lese majeste.

We're not supposed to think what is not permitted, we're not supposed to look at what is just lying there, we're not supposed to criticise, we're not supposed to make regimes look silly.

They need to pull their heads in.

The Limits of State Action

Wilhelm von Humboldt, born Potsdam 1767, died Tegel 1835.

Humboldt's work on the self-development of man and the role of the state argues that a state seeking to provide for more then the physical safety of its citizens will inevitably destroy the freedom and the creativity of individuals. The only source of progress in a liberal society is the free interaction of free people. In Humboldt's view human beings strive for self-cultivation within society and require a free society for their full development.

Go on. Read it. You know you should. You might even want to.

Screw the Pile Lighthouse and Dwarf Eel-Grass. Maplin Sands for London's Airport

Angels fly a lot. There is one airport above all others in the whole world, without exception, to be avoided. Heathrow.

Stansted used to be efficient and pleasant, though no longer; Gatwick has been ugly from birth but at least is easily reachable now that there are direct rail links to St Pancras; as a Midlands airport Birmingham remains forever imprinted in the mind by David Lodge's imagery (the terrified American academic puzzled both by the propellers on his plane and even more by their apparently secondary use, in a couple of runs up and down the runway, to beat away the fog).

We really do need a seriously good-looking, technically advanced, interpersonally efficient, well-connected international airport.

In opting for a third runway at Heathrow, the Secretary of State for Transport demonstrates that he is a complete hoon.

Not All Labour is Productive

Any government expenditure in wages and salaries, and pensions in the public sector, is automatically recorded as part of national income. This is an accounting convention partly justified by the need for consistency between various methods of reckoning national income as: the sum of value-added in all sectors, the value of production for final uses of consumption investment and net exports, the sum of factor incomes, ie., wages and profits.

But when employment and wages in the private sector are collapsing, the stability of public sector wages and employment gives an illusory picture of the health of the economy. Of course the classical economics of Smith, Ricardo, and Marx regarded all services as unproductive labour, not least those provided by government. The distinction between productive and unproductive labour has become increasingly relevant now that a bloated public sector including bloated public sector pensions feeds on a shrinking private sector.

There is no point in monitoring the current economic situation under the pretence, by definition, that public employees have a value equal to their salaries. A glance at the 'jobs' pages of the Guardian makes it blatantly obvious that they don't. Soldiers, judges, opera dancers, even priests are worth having - I leave the reader to fill in their own bete-noir of waste and jobsworth client state creation that is not.

Purging headline GDP figures of this ludicrous padding could and should be done in addition to the traditional presentation of measurements of economic performance.

UPDATE (See this morning's Herald)

Half of the civil servants in Whitehall could be sacked and government would still be able to operate efficiently, according to a former business leader who served as a minister for New Labour

Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham said that during his 16-month spell as trade minister he was "amazed" at the number of civil servants who deserved the sack but kept their jobs or were moved sideways. Taxpayers would get better value for money if many of them lost their jobs, he told the House of Commons Public Administration Committee yesterday.

Although Lord Jones said the civil service was "honest and stuffed full with decent people who work hard" he felt that the civil service could be more productive, more efficient and deliver a lot more value for money. "Frankly, the job could be done with half as many," said Lord Jones.

His comments were branded "narrow-minded and naive" by the PCS public sector union, which said they betrayed a "complete lack of understanding of what the civil service does".

Which is pad out GDP.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A General Election Immediately is the Only Democratic Stance

Unemployment is mounting by thousands, even tens of thousands, a day in the United Kingdom. Work is the basis of a decent life. As the first article of the Italian Constitution declares:

Italy is a democratic republic, founded on work.

The United Kingdom, in the absence of a Constitution, must make do with its permanent-power seeking government's substitute, whose first declaration is:

We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

New Labour is also intent on distracting our attention from the abject failures of their economic and financial policies. While hundreds of billions of pounds have been proffered to banks to repair their balance sheets and save them from bankruptcy in the hope of preserving a payments system (surely that could have been ensured more cheaply) relatively tiny sums are promised to assuage the giant of idleness. £500 million for job creation and 'apprenticeships' and £30 billion for the lending function to firms that the richly re-sourced banks refuse to take up.

And we are all supposed to be looking at plans for future rectification of social inequalities worsened under twelve years of New Labour. We are not supposed to be looking at the effects of horrifying levels of unemployment on all and any kind of equality.

Pretending to some kind of 'constitutional' requirement that only a sitting prime minister can call a general election in a country where any constitutional vestiges have been swept away by a torrent of authoritarian legislation is a measure of the abuse of democracy under which we now suffer. The conditions under which Tony Blair was elected in 2005 are remote and irrelevant. The present regime has no democratic mandate, no economic competence claim, no political, legal or moral stance than can justify further refusal of an election.

The people want a return to full employment. The rest is secondary. They must choose the means and express their confidence in their government to achieve full employment through the vote.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Protecting Globalisation

The world economy, we are told incessantly, is becoming increasingly integrated into a fully globalised, single system. When this process is completed, sooner or later, prices of all goods and services and factors will necessarily converge towards uniform levels ( give or take small margins to account for transport costs and other minor factors).

International trade theory states forcefully the tendency towards the equalisation of factor prices – a uniform wage rate, a uniform rate of profit (the so-called Ohlin-Eckscher theorem) via three simultaneous processes:

the export of labour intensive products by labour-rich countries like China to the West, driving Chinese wages up and Western wages down

the de-localisation of production to lower wage countries through foreign direct investment

the migration of workers from lower to higher wage countries

with these movements acting in parallel on the equalisation of the rate of profit.

From this viewpoint, at present we are in a world of temporary mis-allocation of resources which will have to be changed, at considerable cost, when factor prices eventually and necessarily converge.

So why not speed up this search for a new equilibrium, and allocate, today, resources on the basis of the uniform factor prices that must prevail globally tomorrow? Levy, for instance, a countervailing tariff on imports from China equivalent to the difference between wage costs in China and wage costs in the importing country? This would simply speed up the reaching of the new global equilibrium, eliminating the costs of structural adjustment otherwise necessary to bring about full-fledged globalisation.

This would not be protectionism, as supporters of globalisation (the usual suspects) would have it, but simply a pre-emptive move towards a necessary market adjustment that otherwise would take too long to establish itself at the jurassic speed of market processes

Let's give global markets a helping hand.

Suffer the Children

Attacks on young people who have found work and are establishiong themselves in life, by the New Labour government and its ministers, are reprehensible. Dressing up nearly twelve years of failure to offer decent education and employment opportunities to ordinary people as a conspiracy by the bourgeoisie to favour its own is letting their failed social policies escape censure.

Forty percent of children leaving primary school last summer could not read and write, or undertake simple mathematics. Other lacks in their level of instruction and achievement reflect this. These children, who have entered secondary school unable to profit from the teaching offered there, were born in the year New Labour came to power. New Labour had a full parliament before they arrived in their first year of primary school. They were let down utterly. Let down by much more than just the schools they have attended. And others are following them, year after New Labour year, suffering as badly.

New Labour social policies in housing, health, child care, economic policies in industry and employment, as well as the sociocultural attitudes championed and increasingly enforced, destroyed stability in the home lives of the children born at such an unfortunate time. Let me be very clear, stability can be found in all sorts of family structures; and it is stability, not the form of the family, that enables children to grow in confidence and advance in knowledge without having to put their energies into surviving upheavals beyond their control or understanding.

Stability gives social and intellectual poise. Not wealth. And gaining such poise is helped by using social funding to provide social resources, rather than means - tested welfare for individuals contorted by the need to attract benefits. Significantly it is the children of stable families, in work, without need of welfare, who are the objects of the vicious criticisms published recently on improper influence and network advantage being the source of their well being. Such well-being so improperly attributed to wealth and nothing else.

New Labour has gone too far in much, but it is beyond the pale in blaming its failures on children.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Known Unknowns

Angels trusts you are all keeping up with Professor Buiter on Maverecon (see Links and Latest Rockets). A striking point from this morning's lesson: there is deliberate obfuscation of what is going on with qualitative easing -

"Today, central banks and Treasuries appear to be conspiring to hide from the public the magnitude of the credit risk exposure they are taking on. In the UK, for instance, the SLS (the special liquidity scheme that swaps private securities like mortgage- backed securities for Treasury bills of less than one year maturity) is, as far as I can tell, neither on the balance sheet of the Bank of England nor on that of the Treasury..".

But put aside your Sunday papers and read the whole. This will improve the grasp on known knowns, widen awareness of known unknowns, and sets the mind thinking about what unknown unknowns are out there, not least the uncovered risk taken on by the European Central Bank in its qualitative easing.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Sterling at 1.13 to the Euro

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"

Shades of the Prison House

The school leaving age could be raised for all pupils immediately. The plan was to impose obligatory schooling until 18 on those who will be aged 11 this year. So enormous are the rises in unemployment that it is to be made impossible to register as unemployed for anyone under 18.

In a further measure to hide the scale of worklessness, graduates from this year onwards are to be interned in Third Sector and other quango tax-funded make-work organisations for up to three months on less than minimum wage subsidies.

John Denham, former postman and currently Innovation, Universities and Skills minister said: “At the end, they will be more employable, and some of them will get jobs. These are the children of the baby-boomers. They will be a very big group. What do we do with them? We can’t just leave people to fend for themselves.”

Why not take them straight from the prison house at whatever age their term ends, and free up the universities and their funds for learning and research? At least we could stop calling people judged unable to fend for themselves graduates of an English University.

Worst Falls in Three Decades on Regents Park House Prices

Poor, old, Peter Mandelson, now known as 'Lord' doesn't seem to get the housing market right ever. After paying far more millions than might be expected by someone on his wages for a house in Primrose Hill, it may be discouraging for him to see that once again he's in the wrong place and the wrong price bracket at the wrong time.

Property values on houses worth up to £2.5 million fell 22 percent last year. The fall in values, which began in April 2008, will probably reduce prices by 30 percent by the second half of this year. Should he wish to disembarrass himself of it that would be hard too. The number of houses and apartments Knight Frank, the London property agents for the twee-er bits of London, including Regents Park, sold for at least 1 million pounds last year fell 49 percent from 2007's record to 2,746, a level likely to be repeated again this year, the company estimates. (Bloomberg).

It's is a considerable achievement for anyone in that generation to fail to make a lot of money on housing, an activity resembling falling off a log. Confidence in the ability to undertake the more complex activity of investing tax payers' money in failing UK industry is not encouraged.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Unfortunate Interruption of Russian Gas Flow Transiting Georgia

The transit of Russian gas across Georgia to Armenia was disrupted in Gardaban, Georgia, today.
"... fire broke out at the site of a pipeline rupture,...measures are [being] taken to put it out and restore the operation of the pipeline.”

Officials of the Georgian Energy Ministry and the Oil and Gas Corporation said “urgent measures will be taken to restore the transit of Russian gas to Armenia, but this can take several days. The failure will not create problems for Armenia’s gas supply as this country has its own gas storage facility that can provide gas for almost two months,” ... “the supply of gas to Georgia is almost completely ensured by means of exports from Azerbaijan.” (Tass).

Oh again.

Gaza's Offshore Gas Fields

According to

'British Gas (BG Group) and its partner, the Athens based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) owned by Lebanon's Sabbagh and Koury families, were granted oil and gas exploration rights in a 25 year agreement signed in November 1999 with the Palestinian Authority.

The rights to the offshore gas field are respectively British Gas (60 percent); Consolidated Contractors (CCC) (30 percent); and the Investment Fund of the Palestinian Authority (10 percent). (Haaretz, October 21, 2007).

The PA-BG-CCC agreement includes field development and the construction of a gas pipeline.(Middle East Economic Digest, Jan 5, 2001).

The BG licence covers the entire Gazan offshore marine area, which is contiguous to several Israeli offshore gas facilities... It should be noted that 60 percent of the gas reserves along the Gaza-Israel coastline belong to Palestine.

The BG Group drilled two wells in 2000: Gaza Marine-1 and Gaza Marine-2. Reserves are estimated by British Gas to be of the order of 1.4 trillion cubic feet, valued at approximately 4 billion dollars. These are the figures made public by British Gas. The size of Palestine's gas reserves could be much larger. '


We Are All Dead

1.5% is a joke. Tell me it's a joke. To have driven the entire United Kingdom economy into liquidity preference behaviour is keynesian all right. What a pity Keynes thought such a world a disaster. Once here monetary policy slips from our cold, dead hands.

Fiscal requires lower taxes and higher government expenditure. Unfortunately (the very word is like a bell when considering New Labour) fiscal needs ready projects. The only projects New Labour has ready are a state data base with electronic pass cards to access it that must be carried by subjects at all times on minimum pain of a month's detention without redress plus fines, and Titan gaols to keep all the people in.

Fiscal is good too when there is a low deficit and a sustainable level of public debt. It's good as well when there are potential creditors about, but at approaching zero interest rates, not to mention a depreciating currency, step forward who? exactly. We aren't going to refinance our existing debt, the auction will be deserted.

Keynes has never been here. Speaking in the keynesian spirit, the only hope is exports. Of what? Planes? Boats? Trains? Cars? Wedgwood? Viyella? Financial services?

If we want to get to Keynes, we shouldn't be starting from here. A dozen years of New Labour and the long run has arrived.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

President-Elect Stays in a Hotel for a Change

Presidents-elect,since at least three presidencies ago, have stayed in beautiful and luxurious Blair House, close to the White House, in the days before the inauguration. President Bush and family, President and Mrs Clinton, and President George W. Bush and family all stayed there.

So why is the current President-elect and his family in a hotel, while Blair house is given over to a former Australian prime minister, defeated in the last Australian elections, in Washington to receive an honour for his part in sending Australian troops to the invasion of Iraq?

President of the Czech Republic and of the European Union Tells It Like it Is

"... We... must say No to people who – by describing the current moment as... historically unique...– want only to manipulate us.

There are ...over-publicised problems. The world is in the midst of a deep financial and economic crisis. The EU has growing troubles with its increasingly visible democratic deficit and is gravely divided as regards its own institutional arrangements. The global climate is ... not changing, but global warming alarmists have succeeded in persuading politicians (and some ordinary people as well) that a doomsday is coming and on this false assumption they have tried to restrain our freedom and curtail our prosperity. The long-existing nucleus of armed conflicts accompanied by immense suffering of millions of people – in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine and some African regions – does not promise any quick solution.

The economic crisis should be regarded as an unavoidable consequence and hence a “just” price we have to pay for immodest and over-confident politicians playing with the market. Their attempts to blame the market, instead of blaming themselves, are unacceptable and should be resolutely rejected. The Czech government will... not push the world and Europe into more regulation, nationalisation, de-liberalisation and protectionism. Our historical experience gives us a very strong warning in this respect.
... we should ... strictly differentiate between fighting the fire and drafting fire protection legislation. We have to concentrate on the first task now; the second... can be done... without haste and panic. A big increase in financial regulation, as is being proposed so often these days, will only prolong the recession. Growth in the global economy is falling rapidly, the banks have ceased to grant credit and confidence is ebbing. Radically changing regulation governing financial institutions in the midst of recession is counterproductive.

Aggregate demand needs strengthening. [While] one traditional way to do this is to increase government expenditures, probably in public infrastructure projects, on condition these are would be much more helpful have a great reduction in all kinds of restrictions on private initiatives introduced in the last half a century during the era of the brave new world of the “social and ecological market economy”. The best thing to do now would be temporarily to weaken, if not repeal, various labour, environmental, social, health and other “standards”, because they block rational human activity more than anything else.

[On]the EU’s “constitutional” stalemate, the Czech government will...not lead Europe to an ever-closer union, to a Europe of regions (instead of states), to a centralised, supranational Europe or to an increasingly controlled and regulated Europe masterminded from above. It will keep stressing its EU presidency slogan “Europe without barriers”, which means the advocacy of further liberalisation, removing trade barriers and getting rid of protectionism.

Our historical experience gives us a clear instruction: we always need more of markets and less of government intervention. We also know that government failure is more costly than market failure.

We can also count on the fact that the Czech government will...not be the champion of global warming alarmism. The Czechs feel that freedom and prosperity are much more endangered than the climate. The uniqueness of current levels of global warming is not a proven phenomenon. The explanation of factors that are contributing to global warming is not very clear and persuasive. Moves to mitigate climate change by fighting carbon dioxide emissions are useless and, what is most important, human beings have proved themselves to be sufficiently adaptable to an incrementally changing climate. We should turn our attention to other, really daunting issues.

The world in the year 2009 will not be spared armed conflicts, international terrorism, and territorial and religious disputes which – no matter how geographically distant they may be – will have consequences for all of us. We know that peace cannot be declared unilaterally and that long-lasting solutions are usually not the ones that are imposed from abroad. The Czech government will not support external interventions into the domestic affairs of sovereign countries. We should resist being seduced by philosopher-king ambitions.

The pragmatic Czechs – with all their criticism of European decision-making mechanisms – will not attempt to initiate a pan-European “velvet revolution”...We will treat others as we expect to be treated: with respect for different views. We will be happy if a common denominator in – at least – some cases can be found. Reliance on negotiations and on the positive effect of the diversity of views is what makes Europe Europe.

The EU presidency might give us a chance to make use of some of our views to the benefit of the citizens of all EU member states. Their welfare and happiness will be maximised in a free, democratic, decentralised, open and liberalised Europe.

The full text may be found in yesterday's Financial Times. Cry your eyes out Sarkozy. This is the voice of a statesman.

Fulfilling the Plan

The sales started yesterday. That statement gives away that this is not 'somewhere in England'. Nevertheless, in the interests of the globalised economy Angels went forth to consume. And did consume.

Consumed a cashmere (80% ,the rest is magic ingredient to make the cloth hang right, not attract dirt, keep its shape when wet etc, that the textile industry can do so well now with all the investment in manufacturing industry and research) winter coat. It is cut precisely as is a man's coat for wearing in town. Not fitted exactly but skimming the shape of the ideal human form. The sleeves flare imperceptibly to reach past the wrists but stop before the knuckles. It reaches just below the knee. The androgenous overcoat to die for. Yet it buttons the right way.

"We have only this one, " the assistant warned a hopeful Angel, "This was the model". Now, having saved all that money, there is lots over for gloves and a suitably severe scarf.

See, a a helpful attitude, onside, one of us. All that's needed to save England is fill the shops with things any sane person will want to buy. Which is only a decade or so of investment in research, manufacturing, design, and supporting systems, away.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Destroying the Real World Under New Labour

Wedgwood, Viyella, ... if it goes on like this we'll have nothing to eat from, no glasses to drink from, and nothing to wear to keep out the winter cold.

Liquidity Preference With Attitude

New Labour New Poverty thinks it can borrow £146 billion this year.

'Investors shunned one of the most liquid and safest assets in the world on Wednesday as a German bond auction failed ', reports the FT. Germany is not a government pursuing crass keynesian policies, nor is it a government deeply distrusted as to its economic and financial competence, let alone probity, nor is it seeking to raise record amounts of debt.

Thus the first eurozone bond auction of the year gives an ominous signal. It is estimated that $3,000bn is expected to be issued in sovereign debt in 2009. There have been failing bond auctions in 2008 with less than a third of that being hawked. If Germany cannot do it, no-one can.

In the meantime resentment is beginning to colour at least my decision-taking. Why lend for a negative return? Why spend if consumption helps the regimes responsible for this mess to stay in power? No longer will people seek a return indifferently. We are beginning to look for investment in revenge.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Turn On the Gas and Get Rid of the President

The collapsing Ukranian economy cannot afford to pay for its gas supplies from the Russian company Gazprom. Possessed of extremely weak democratic and commercial institutions it has begun to display rogue state characteristics in failing to honour contracts, and trying to extract loans from Gazprom's clients, to whom it is contracted to deliver the gas supplied by Gazprom. Ukraine has been taking gas intended for delivery elsewhere from gas supplies it is contracted to allow to cross its territory, too.

Demand for steel, Ukraine's principal product, has collapsed. Its currency has been the object of speculation by Ukranian insiders and is already supported by loans from the European Union that were proffered to avoid misbehaviour over gas transits. The bunkered president of Ukraine and his henchmen are in the last phase of their stand off with the prime minister and government of Ukraine, who prefer an alliance with Russia rather than a disruptive and destructive realtionship with their neighbours at the behest of the Bush-Cheney administration in its last gasp. The Georgian operation failed. Now they are pushing on the Ukraine. The remarks by the United States that the European Union, Ukraine, and Russia should settle their 'differences' are impertinent at best. Imperial decline is better accepted with better grace.

In the meantime the Ukranian people might prefer to be represented by their prime minister and government in conducting relations with powerful neighbours on both sides of them, in conducting their good name in commercial and contractual relations, and in conducting other people's gas to its destination. Then we might all feel more like offering them a helping hand in their current difficult circumstances.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Penniless and Defenceless Under New Labour

This is the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, on its way, 'with a squadron of warships of the Northern Fleet of Russia', to joint exercises with the Turkish navy. There are to be 'cultural and sport programs' as well, and the crews of the Admiral Kuznetsov and the Admiral Levchenko will see the sights of the city of Marmaris, before continuing 'to fulfill their tasks in the the Mediterranean.'


Our aircraft carriers are cancelled.

Travelling to the Lost World

Angels fly lightly. All of us have seen the tourists coming off the ryanairs from outside schengen clutching their electronic chip tracers and dragging wheeled pantechnicons as if they are arriving in the Lost World. This time, though, perhaps it won't be but a step from one life into the other, carrying handbag and 5 euro cardboard identity.

Poverty strikes everyone, not just those without money, when an entire economy starts to collapse. Quality, choice, and accessibility fail with depleted stocks, closed stores, declining communication systems. Even WC1 needs decent bus services now there can be no private cars (to all intents and purposes, for everyday running about). Waiting for a 7 or even something passing the British Library has been reintroduced as a pastime, or waste of time, with the changing of the guard at City Hall.

Tights are not a big purchase like a house, tractor, ute (with or without dog), or even a winter overcoat. But get them wrong - not precisely what is wanted - and life is a misery. So stocking up in the via della Spada is worth the carry cost. No-liquids no-fly, has been met with indifference until now; but the awful smell that greets customers on the ground floor of any department store as scent-spraying, idle shop assistants are dodged on the way to buy unguents is not going to be faced at all this time. The parfumiers of borgo degli Albizi will advise, and even make up a little something for the London winter.

Flying in wellies (as essential for big city winter slush avoidance as for country mud) leads to delays at the security checks, being hard to get off while standing on one foot trying to avoid the dirty floor - and chairs not provided. But needs must and mutterings from the back of the queue will be ignored. Then a pair of indoors and a pair of heels might just be squeezed into the bag. Shoes, unlike nightgowns, do not keep from season to season so there is no hope of finding something already there in the cupboard.

Poverty starts as a disruptive irritant, the cause of extra effort to live a normal life, and ends in facing the five giants of idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor, and want that New Labour, to its utter shame, has once more opened the door.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Trade Off!

State aid to the financial sector in one country automatically puts foreign competitors at a disadvantage. By being forced to nationalise the United Kingdom banks (and then hide the horrid failure of their previous decade of economic governance under a pretence of leading the way in saving the world), and in its support of national financial institutions, New Labour cuts the United Kingdom off from both the benefits and the costs of globalisation.

Protectionism of manufacturing activities in the form of state aid to domestic producers is an even more blatant rejection of any globalist analysis or policy choices; at least the financial sector can be regarded as the social infrastructure of the economy. And if there is a net benefit in protectionism why is New Labour promoting globalisation?

Economics 101 teaches that lack of foreign competition raises the price of the products of protected activities. What we are witnessing is the defence of employment (and thus the defence of New Labour's hold on power), at the cost of inflation. A trade off which the government denies in its 'global' rhetoric.

New Labour talk global - oh boy do they spout-off about global - but in truth they are small minded, old-fashioned, nationalist and socialist economic statists.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


Banks have a number of functions. They take deposits , they lend, they finance consumption, they finance working capital, they finance long term investment which includes mortgages, and all of this is offered to both firms and households. They multiply credit. They finance foreign trade. They provide a more complicated variety of financial services involving the transformation of term structure and riskiness.

They provide a payments system.

Which of these are still going on? All of them. But most of them on a scale so small, as they try to recapitalise their balance sheets at tax-payers' expense, and reduce their exposure to potential defaulters, that the nearest image of their activity is that of the human body retracting blood supply to the heart and brain and leaving everything else to take its chances with atrophy.

In their craving for liquidity it is the payments system that finds itself in the front line. Any entity facing a credit shortage delays payments. In Russia in the early 1990s payment arrears - of government wages and pensions, of government purchases that caused suppliers in turn to fail to pay their own wages and suppliers, reached forty percent of industrial output. Barter was rampant. Companies in England, in domestic and in foreign trade can engage in barter too. Quite possibly they are.

We, householders, cannot engage in barter with suppliers of gas, electricity, communication services, water; with local authorities, tax collectors, health suppliers, etc. Banks can delay payments with impunity, including wage and pension payments. For the denied potential consumer, though, there are penalties from fines, to withdrawal of service, to loss of reputation, to imprisonment.

Of all the failures of bank activities, it is the failure of a completely reliable payments system that will cause gross, immediate, disruption of every aspect of life in a country. We have never experienced what happened in Russia in the early 1990s. Last week a lot of pay rolls were not met due to a 'technical glitch'. There are reports that next week there is to be a further 'recapitalisation' of the banks in England. Perhaps we should think about this, rather than a minor stand off about gas deliveries that reflects the unpleasant internal politics of a former Russian satellite state.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Releasing the Power of the University's True Purpose

The real economy includes the university sector and associated research institutions and science parks. Yet the university sector is entangled with some of the most inane, expensive, ill thought out, long-established social engineering culture ever.

Universities are places of learning and research. They are not providers of qualifications for jobs as council workers, office staff, personal assistants, civil servants, or any other ostensibly meritocratic state or quasi state employment. Nor are they a tax-funded extended gap period between school and work. It is so silly to have the steady, information-based teaching needed for a first degree being provided by university teaching officers with imaginations, brains, technical skills, and outstanding and expensive qualification. It is even sillier that the resources that should be devoted to learning and research are being applied to what could be integrated with school and home-based learning.

Undergraduates should start their university studies in school, with the relatively limited library and laboratory resources they need there, at any age after 16 and their GCSEs, when they demonstrate themselves capable of following a tertiary level course. They could then qualify for consideration for all sorts of jobs, or they could display the capacities that might interest a university department and its teachers in offering a post-graduate place. Then, and only then, it could well be necessary to frequent, away from home, a particular scholar, department, laboratory, or School. And those wishing to, and capable of continuing their work, could be properly supported.

We must stop draining off the funds, taken from us all, into attempts at pretending that undergraduates who have no mastery of the language of university-level discourse should waste the enormous social investment that our great universities embody. Doing so is blunting any kind of cutting edge in every discipline and creating a steady loss of our knowledge-based economic human resources to places where conditions for research and living standards reflect their rarity.

University level work is not a proper object of egalitarian social policies. It requires qualities of determination, clear-sightedness, imagination, capacities, skills, and commitment that are not involved in qualifying for a good job. The sooner we clear our ideas about the difference between qualification and open-minded research, the sooner our economy might begin to recover.