Monday, November 16, 2015

In sympathy with Paris we should pass the snoopers charter... apparently?

Dan Hodges thinks that is we have sympathy with the victims of the Paris bombings we should demand the snoopers charter be passed, and passed now.

He says so here, I kid you not.

The problem is that the argument does not stand up to a great deal of scrutiny.

The 7/7 bombings, the Charlie Hebdo attacks and these latest attacks all featured some people who were known one way or another to the security services. In the UK that's currently around 3,000.

Now MI5 and MI6 don't have the resource to follow all of them so they prioritise. We don't get to see the carnage that this prioritising prevents, only that which slips though. It was ever thus. If MI5 and MI6 were perfect then we wouldn't know of them or care. In fact some would probably cut their budget.

But here we are. If they (MI5 and MI6 along with GCHQ) had all the resource they needed to put surveillance on all these 3,000 they 7/7 would not have happened. So lets make that job easier by giving them 60 million innocent people to watch?

Does that really make sense to anyone? Really? Seriously?

If they (MI5 etc) want to look over every aspect of the 3,000's lives, let them get a warrant. A secret one, perhaps one that once granted can't be questioned (though must expire).

Let that warrant if it needs to extend automatically to watching contacts of the 3,000 and if evidence emerges that would lead to another warrant, then get one that does the same.

Above all, perhaps more resource.

But whatever you do, don't burden them (MI5 etc) with the job of looking through all my browsing history. It will not make anyone safe.

Corbyn would not order a shoot to kill policy!

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn would not order the security forces to shoot to kill.

See Guido here for example:

Thing is it isn't within the Prime Ministers gift to order to shoot to kill or not*.

Who shoots what and how is an operational decision that is the final responsibility of the person with the gun**. If they are faced with a hostile armed assailant (or have a reasonable belief they are armed) they can use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances. This obviously includes up to lethal force.

We do not live in a country where the Prime Minister can arbitrarily order death, or restrict self defence on a whim.

*Obviously a PM can order forms of military action highly likely to result in the use of lethal force.

**What people may not appreciate is that you don't need to be a police officer. If you are at home, cleaning your shotgun and someone breaks in, you can shoot. If they are leaving you can't. If you are walking down the street with your hunting rifle in a bag on your shoulder (does happen, not often in cities) and someone starts firing, you can fire at them to save life in self defence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Has Tsipras played a blinder in getting the deal Greece needs?

Odd question you may think, given the nature of the deal that Greece appears to have been forced to swallow, and the nature of the humiliation.

Tsipras threw a less nasty deal back in the faces of Euro negotiators the week before last, held a referendum to tell the Euro group where to get off, then went back and accepted a worse deal... or was it?

Well, they did get a third bailout and with a bit of luck will get some liquidity back in their banks. The former wasn't on offer last time and the latter wasn't actually necessary until the IMF default which caused a run on Greek banks. So what else have they got?

I suppose it depends on what your looking for. When Syriza won the election, it wanted to end austerity and deal with corruption and the client state built up over the years. Some numbers I came across (from an article in the Telegraph by a Greek barrister, Pavlos Eleftheriadis who is a fellow at Oxford university and a member of a new left of centre Greek party.

Firstly, there is virtually no welfare state or state healthcare in Greece. So 90% of the unemployed get no help except for charity. Those who do not have private medical insurance also have to rely on charity.

Makes you wonder what they spend all that money on then?

Well, the answer is, part the client state. The last right of centre government inherited a state the previous socialist one had burdened with tens or hundreds of thousands of "civil servants" who just collect a salary and do no work for the state. Its answer? Not clear them out but hire 150,000 of their own. So there may be 200,000 of them. Maybe 300,000. At say €10,000 each a year that could be anywhere from €1.5 billion to €3 billion.

You wonder why Greeks don't want to pay taxes for that? I don't.

Then there are some systemic forms of tax avoidance and evasion. At the beginning of the Greek crisis a professor of computer science offered help to collect tax. He compared government databases and found some very poor (according to tax records) Greeks living in some very expensive parts of Athens driving new cars costing over €100,000. The tax inspectors union went to court to shut him down. They won, I kid you not.

Then there is the "My property is not finished yet" scam. Greeks pay a property tax, but only on completed properties. Go ask someone who has been to Greece how many places they have seen which are both lived in (or indeed fully functioning hotels) that are still not quite finished.

Many in Greece think this sort of thing is normal, and that is the way governments work in Europe, perhaps the world. They don't have other terms of reference. However many of the first Syriza cabinet have both worked and studied abroad and not only know that it isn't how other countries work but they can't do what they want to do without first clearing up the mess.

So Syriza got elected. One of the things they were going to do was clean this mess up, and why not, Greece could not afford a welfare state with that burden. In fact, Greece couldn't afford anything much. No left or right of centre government we would call sensible could operate.   The problem was that the vested interests and state clients suddenly turned to Syriza supporters so what could be done?

Alexis Tsipras could not rely on his parliament to get reforms through... so why not do what Jim Callaghan did (according to Dennis Healy)  in the 1970s and effectively call in a third party to crack the whip (In that case the Bennites in his cabinet wanted more and more public spending). And in order to do that whilst looking like a hero at home, he seems to have poked the Germans in the eye and kicked them in the shins so that they came back with some clear conditions on what Greece should do in the way of reforms.

Some of the reforms the Euro group have dumped on Greece I'm sure are unwelcome, however many must secretly please those in Syriza because they know that Greece can't afford for Syriza to do what its political predecessors have done and fill the state payroll with its own clients.

I don't have any evidence for this theory but on the other hand many involved in the negotiations are a long way from being stupid, yet they poked the rest of the Eurozone in the eye, told them to poke their deal (such as it was), held a referendum... and then went back and accepted what looks like a worse deal. Nothing else makes much sense.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Women being abused on the internet?

I have just listened to Caroline Criado-Perez again talking about internet abuse as a women's issue. Saying that women who wish to get involved in the political debate are being shut down... She even implied that Isabella Sorley had been abusive because she was probably brought up in a misogynist environment.

Well, there are a few home truths here..

Abuse happens on the internet. It isn't pleasant, clever or nice. It would be nice if it stopped, but it isn't directed at women. It is directed and men and women.

Anywhere there has been interaction in an um moderated way on the internet there is always some sad sorry individual who will happily issue all sorts of abuse, including death threats. Where such places are moderated those death threats tend to go to the moderators. I know, I've had a few as well as an on and off stalker.

So, Caroline Criado-Perez, stop trying to monopolise internet abuse as either your own personal cross, or a mostly women only cross, it's a cross we all have to bear and the police devote relatively little resource to dealing with it who ever you are.

The BBC has this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What of the Olympic legacy?

I have been thinking about this. London 2012 is of course only half over, we still have the fantastic spectacle of the Paralympics to go, but what of the venues and the fantastic infrastructure built to get people to and from them?

There has been much talk of legacy, of bits you can take down and so on.

Stop.... why? Haven't we the imagination to make use of the most fantastic stadia built?

There is just so much that could be done.

Lets start with the main stadium, well it could be the most spectacular concert venue ever! Did you see those light shows! Only shame is that ELO are no longer about, but wow!

That would provide quite a lot of the running costs, then, athletic events could be held there, even televised, and here's an idea, what about an annual or biannual British youth games?

The tickets would have to be cheap, and given to family members of competitors but what could we do with seeing the best of our youth competing?

Can you imagine a better way of inspiring the next generation?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

UK in recession? I don't believe the numbers.

I know people will think that I don't believe the numbers because I don't want to.

Well, it's not that I don't believe the UK GDP could have shrunk by 0.7%, it's just that I don't think it could have done so whilst at the same time the number of people employed could have risen by 180,000 In fact we have had 3 quarters of employment growth matched by 3 quarters of GDP contraction. It's simply not credible to believe both numbers at the same time, the maths just don't add up. Imagine if I said what happens if you take 2 from 2? How could you get 4?

So what is actually going on?

I haven't got a clue, other than to say there is something odd going on.

The disparity is of course not completely inexplicable, as I can see some special factors that could lead to a growing economy with an oddly shrinking GDP.

Well, there is people working either short time, part time, or self employed. This could well be a large factor leading to employment being buoyant whilst the economy is slack, but we are at record employment rates at the moment.

Other things are playing a part as well. For example oil. if you look at this current graph on the BBC* you will note that in March the price of Brent crude was $125 a barrel, and fell as low as $90, over the same period the pound has risen and fallen to end at roughly the same vale, or in short if the same amount of oil and gas was produced from the North Sea, it's actual value dropped by 24% which is a huge drop. So how much is the oil and gas industry as a percentage of GDP? Well apparently from what I have googled the best  estimate I could come up with is around 6% of GDP. So in one quarter that fell by around a quarter, or 2% of GDP, but "production" in which this sector falls, fell 1.3% total, of which actually oil and gas is huge (About a half so 2% reduction in GDP would mean a fall in production of something like 15% to keep it to 1.3% means a massive growth in other parts of the sector). There must have been massive growth in the rest of production to hold the numbers up that well.

There are some other odd factors. Garden centres. Sounds lame, and this production is lost, but they haven't been busy during a very wet spring. Garden furniture and bedding plants remain unsold.

So what's the story? Personally I think there is growth, and indeed strong growth, hence the jobs numbers, but crucially, oil and gas as well as all other commodities are very volatile, and we produce a lot of oil and gas.

The next thing is construction. Well the sector is far from a boom, but one of it's problems has been the rain. There is a lot of construction that can go on rain or shine but a lot that can't be done in the rain. In short I expect construction to grow in the next quarter.

* This graph will take you to 12 months historical figures from the date you click on the link not when this article was written.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Costa Concordia Captain's lucky escape!

Apparently Francesco Schettino, Captain of the cruise liner Costa Concordia did not abandon ship, he tripped and fell into a lifeboat.

How lucky is that? I mean what are the odds?

Rumours that he tripped over 3 disabled people and a small child have been strenuously denied.*

Meanwhile Captain Schettino has hired Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf as a public relations consultant to shore up his reputation and provide credible answers.**

The BBC has this.

*I made that up.
** That too. Should I become a journalist?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cameron was wrong to use the EU veto for city interests!

We have heard allot about David Cameron wielding the veto in European negotiations for the UK's national interests as far as our financial sector was concerned. It was wrong to wield the veto for that reason.

It is true, that were they the only reason to use the veto, I would have done it, however a better reason is that the deal on the table, whether it involved us or not, was wrong for the following reasons:

  1. It does nothing to actually address the Euro's sovereign debt crisis, which was the purpose of the summit. Crucially there is no stated mechanism for the ECB to become the lender of last resort.
  2. It proposes a set of rules that Euro members promised to keep to last time, and most did not but the Euro countries promise to be really good from now on. It's not credible.
  3. The rules allow a country to run up it's debt to GDP ratio in good times as well as bad, creating an automatic structural deficit if a recession hits. (Gordon Brown would have met those rules.)
  4. It has too little flexibility in the event of an actual recession for those countries who have behaved well to borrow what they need to as a recession hits. 
So, I don't disagree with the veto being used, but it should have been used because the deal does not fix the problems of the Euro zone, it makes them worse, and punishes the UK for it.

What we could do with though, is counter proposals. The French and German governments are busy trying to look like they are doing something useful, and forcing others to back them when all they are doing is coming up with quarter measures to keep their electorates on side. This will work in the short term. Sarkozy has an election next year. The problem is last weeks summit will only work until the new year, and then only if they are lucky. The ink will never dry on the last deal to be signed in March 2012 because it will be renegotiated at least twice before then.