31 October, 2011

Just a big number

In a week when, it is supposed, the 7 billionth person is born, it may be thought that we should be thinking something other than the usual topics of the Euro, the BBC and the clocks changing.

However it seems to be we are hearing quite enough of this already, the disaster-scenario monkeys going into overtime. These are the neo-Malthusians, who can't wait to pronounce disaster for the earth by overpopulation, which can only be cured by... by what, exactly?

Thomas Malthus was born in the 18th century, when there were far, far fewer people. His thesis was that production (of food) increased on an arithmetic scale, ie 2+2+2+2=8, whereas population increased on a geometric scale ie 2x2x2x2 =16. If there had been any truth whatsoever in his allegations the human race would have been wiped out by the time of his death in the 1830s. But instead we keep finding ways of increasing production, of which genetically engineered products may be the next wave.

Let's hear no more of this nonsense. This blog welcomes the 7 billionth baby and hope it grows up in a world without politicians, artificial currencies and the clocks changing.

Render unto Caesar

I am still trying to work out what the protesters in America and London want. It seems they don't really know, either.

It would be a much more effective protest if they bore a single message and repeated it, incessantly, in front of newspapers, TV News and the rest. Some are saying we shouldn't have a capitalist system, which is silly, and some are saying the capitalists have made a bit of a mess of it, which seems to be exhorting them to further efforts.

Several, filmed the other day outside St. Paul's Cathedral, had placards saying 'What would Jesus say?'

Well, if I remember rightly, he threw out of the Temple all the people who shouldn't have been there.

30 October, 2011

Time to stop it

Mistakenly getting up a little before 5am this morning because I had forgotten the Government's absurd practice of changing the clocks twice a year, I read that there has been a bill before Parliament to change the time two hours, that is to say GMT+1 in winter, GMT+2 in Summer, as it is in Berlin.

This could only have come from a completely crazed Europhile, and apparently the culprit was Rebecca Harris MP, a Conservative. This blog will be keeping an eye on her with a view to detention under Section 4 of the Mental Health Act. Under her system parts of Scotland would still be dark at 10am, just so we can enjoy the same time as Angela Merkel.

Why would you want to do this?

Ms Harris has of course been supported by the Liberal Democrats who lost their sense of reality years ago.

Only now has Cameron said that he will not support the bill.

Sometimes I think we are all quite, quite mad.

29 October, 2011

The BBC up to its old tricks

I once told a friend of mine, who works for the BBC, that the reason I criticise it is that I feel as if I own it and care for it. There are two problems with the organisation. The first is that it is far, far too big. One or two TV channels, one or two radio channels, its excellent news service put out on multiple formats and that would be enough.

The other problem is its bias, which really must be addressed.

Two examples, taken at the same time on two separate days. There are others.

Yesterday on the Today radio programme, Evan Davis introduced a piece on Directors’ pay (in the news that day). Guess what the BBC line is on this – impartial and feeling it is a matter for the owners of the company? No, you are harking back to the days of Lord Reith. They gathered together two people who agreed it was too high and, just in case either of them differed from the BBC line, the presenter, Evan Davis framed his questions at such length that they could hardly get a word in edgeways. These were effectively short speeches to which he invited the contributors to agree.

Today, at around the same time, Jim Naughtie, who to be fair is known to have left-wing sympathies, I just don’t understand how he is allowed to present a news programme, did a piece on the protesters who forced the closure of St Paul’s Cathedral for the first time since the war. He gathered together two people who thought, extraordinarily, that the Church of England should be involved in the purely political matter of the worth of the City of London, and again pronounced the BBC line, inviting them to agree. They did, of course.

These two pieces were presented as impartial comment. They are two egregious examples, and you can see and hear them every day, of appalling, politically motivated journalism. People complain about the American Fox News being biased to the Right Wing but this is exactly the same coming from the other direction, and at least Fox doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is.

It is not the function of the taxpayer-funded broadcaster to disseminate left-wing  opinion. For years it has advertised positions only in the left-wing Guardian newspaper and we are now suffering from the results.

Another malevolent ‘line’ from the BBC is its support for, indeed almost complete lack of criticism of, the European Union. This topic is highly relevant now, in that (a) it seems to be falling apart and (b) a large number of MPs, to say nothing of a majority of the people, want us to leave the EU. What sort of debate do you think the BBC is going to offer when its Chairman and his deputy have both often mouthed their contempt for anyone who even criticises the EU?

It is with great regret that I say this, but I am coming to the conclusion that unless things change dramatically in this organisation, we are going to be forced to get rid of a wonderful institution, rooted in, but no longer supporting, a superb set of ideals. But what else can we do?

We can't let it go on.

Maserati outrage

It’s an outrage, cried Ignazio la Russa, Italian Defence Minister. He was referring to the question, posed by Emanuele Fiano of the usually silent Democratic Party, as to whether it was appropriate in the economic circumstances for the staff of the defence ministry to take delivery of 19 armoured Maserati cars. In their basic form these cars cost more than £80,000 but we are talking about a fair bit more for the bullet-proofing and so on. I remember when these cars came out that the then President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, took delivery of one and said what a luxury it was. Now they are available to mere officials.
Ignazio La Russa

La Russa, in his fury at finding his absurd largesse with other people’s money criticised, pointed out that Maseratis were an Italian brand (he forgot that so were FIAT 500s and a nice range of scooters).

At the same time we learn that the French President has taken delivery of a aeroplane costing €300 million. At least the aircraft itself only cost €50 million, the rest being ‘optional extras’. If you’ll excuse me I am just going to repeat that. The aircraft cost €50m, and there were €250m of extras.

What these two examples, shocking in their own ways (the Maseratis aren’t the only government cars in Italy, there are 300,000 of those, yes, 300,000) is the liberties the political class take with our money.

Why do they do it? Two reasons. One is because they have an inflated sense of their own importance, normal with this type of person but brought down to earth by democracy (the French President has enormous unchecked powers, perhaps more than any individual in the world, but at least he can be got rid of, and indeed, may well be). None of these new Maserati class, of course, have been elected.

The second reason is that they are too often unchallenged by the press and the people.

We see the stirrings of change now in Italy. I do hope that will continue.

27 October, 2011

A deal!

Well, there's a deal, and the markets have rejoiced. I confess I didn't think they'd do it in time. Some time ago I wrote 'the only people who can't see that Greece will default are the people who matter' and now they have seen it. The 'haircut' is 50% which may not be quite as much as it should be, and may be less when the technical calculations come out, but they have recognised that there should be a haircut.

The leveraging of the EFSF, again, is not as much as people wanted, at around $1 trillion. The markets wanted a 'big bazooka' but it is at least a small one. The increase will not be underwritten by the European Central Bank, which many wanted.

Lastly, the recapitalisation of the banks is simply a recognition that Greece isn't going to pay and in the future some others might not, either. Of course banks have to write down their investments to their market value.

So where are we now? Although the Italian set of promises included a provision to make it cheaper to lay workers off, there is little or no addressing of the fundamental issue here: that Southern European economies are less efficient than northern ones. The Germans simply seem to be saying that they should live within their means. But this will not work: if we are not to have a similar crisis in a year or two they must change even their labour laws.

Again the fundamental problem is simple and well known. Many of us said when the euro was formed that a currency union would not work without a political union. Britain could never join a political union and was wise to stay out but the others have implicitly agreed to it. What will happen when, say, the Italians get a letter from a financial President (for, yes, one is envisaged) that they have to adjust their trade union legislation, we can only surmise.

But they have done fairly well. The dogs are at least staved off. For a bit.

26 October, 2011

News from the madhouse 26th October

It's Wednesday, which means it must be final summit day!

Yes, I know, that was 21st July, and then they all went on holiday and then at the beginning of October they said they had reached an agreement but they weren't going to tell us what it was for 3 weeks and then the final summit was last weekend but in the end they couldn't come to an agreement so it was going to be today, Wednesday 26th October.

Today Chancellor Merkel was due to take the complex agreement, Greece bailout, bank bailouts, contingency fund to protect Italy and Spain, to the German Parliament, get it approved then fly back to Brussels to sign off and have dinner.

But no, it looks as if it is all too much and the next final solution development will be 7th November. Speaking of final solutions, as we weren't, some wag has suggested that the German money would be put to better use financing a military coup in Greece, which would then have to leave the EU.

By November the Greek economy will be slightly worse and my guess is that Berlusconi will not have put in place the extra measures required so there may be more summits to come.

Still, no hurry; after all it's not as if there was a crisis.


25 October, 2011

The Europe dilemma

It may be said to have started when Mr Cameron came up with the wheeze of allowing petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to be voted on by Parliament; they didn't have to have a vote and if they did it wouldn't be binding on the Government but you could guess some people scented some sort of possible victory.

If Mr Cameron hadn't realised, I think most people could have told him what the first two petitions would be: restoring the death penalty and leaving Europe. Whilst a majority of the people are in favour of both of these, a majority of parliamentarians are against them. They are two areas in which Parliament is out of synch with the people. Parliament decided not to vote on the hanging petition but to have a vote on Europe and that took place last night, the motion being that there should be a referendum on leaving.

For myself, I became certain around 20 years ago that Britain would be better off both financially and democratically if we left the EU. Financially, in part because of the amount we pay into it. Don't be fooled by people who say we should be talking about the net amount we pay in, net of what we get back. Currently the Government would like to apply what we get back towards reducing the deficit but the EU won't allow that. When we talk about income tax we don't say the net figure is zero because we get it back in schools, hospitals etc. The amount we give them is around £12.5 billion a year. The other financial cost is the stifling regulation introduced by the EU over the years, which reduces employment and tax revenues. Most industrialists say we would be better off leaving even the single market.

Democratically, we only have to see that more than 75% of our laws come from Europe, the majority of which we have no veto over.

So I might have been in favour of the motion last night, but my problem would have been that I don't much like referendums. The best thing to be is the guy who writes the question: if it had been 'Should we stay in the EU with all the democratic and financial costs that entails, or leave for a new life of freedom and let the blighters stew in their own juice?' it would have been favourable to my own side. What it would probably be is including a third option of renegotiation, which would catch the slightly undecided.

So a referendum might be lost.

When I blogged on the petitions on 8th August (also on 2nd October) I said 

Neither of these motions has the faintest chance of success and nor have any of the others. The political class is revolted by the idea of the country being run by popular outcry. But I think Cameron may have made a mistake in raising the hopes of the British people only to dash them

The result is that the vote was lost, but more than half Cameron's backbenchers disobeyed his petulant instruction to vote against. Now he has the worst of both worlds. He will try to resolve the situation by promising to renegotiate the terms of our membership, but neither the Conservative Party nor the people will trust him to do so.

His only viable way out is to put to the EU before the next treaty change the things he wants to opt out of, and make that list public. Then when they want to amend the Treaty and need our vote, he can simply refer them to that list.

Has he got the courage and integrity for this? Personally, I don't think so. Let's hope I am wrong.

PS I know there is a movement towards the Government issuing a White Paper on renegotiation, but this is quite wrong. We send the government into these negotiations (which usually come out for more integration) without the detailed approval of Parliament, and this is no different. Also Cameron would say it tied his hands (Nye Bevan's term 'sending them naked into the conference chamber' has already been bandied about). Cameron just needs to get the Tory party onside and call the Liberals' bluff.

23 October, 2011

Tunisian Elections

Today sees the first proper elections in Tunisia since the French were in charge.

This blog wishes the Tunisians well, and I must say I envy the feeling that one is taking part in something ground breaking.

Democracy, which we take for granted, can be an exciting thing.

22 October, 2011

Climate Change

Global Warming is back on the agenda, with a team from America saying their findings confirmed those made previously, that there was a trend for average temperatures to rise. Since the 1950s temperatures have risen by a bit less than 1deg C. This doesn't really address the issue, which is whether this was caused by man, and whether there is anything we can do about it. Just to put it into perspective I have two homes less than 200km apart and the temperature difference is usually 5 deg C.

Anyway the BBC has leaped on this, so here, in the interests of even-handedness, is the reaction by Marc Morano of Climate Depot:

The scientific reality is that on virtually every claim -- from A-Z -- the scientific case for man-made climate fears has collapsed.
The Antarctic sea ice extent has been at or near record extent in the past few summers, the Arctic has rebounded in recent years since the low point in 2007, polar bears are thriving, sea level is not showing acceleration and is actually dropping, Cholera and Malaria are failing to follow global warming predictions, Mount Kilimanjaro melt fears are being made a mockery by gains in snow cover, global temperatures have been holding steady for a decade or more, deaths due to extreme weather are radically declining, global tropical cyclone activity is near historic lows, the frequency of major US hurricanes has declined, the oceans are missing their predicted heat content content, big tornadoes have dramatically declined since the 1970s, droughts are not historically unusual nor caused by mankind, there is no evidence we are currently having unusual weather, scandals continue to rock the climate fear movement, the UN IPCC has been exposed as being a hotbed of environmental activists and scientists continue to dissent at a rapid pace.

PS you can read the evidence for each of these statements here

Of Mice and Men

'Mice overrun BBC newsroom' says the Telegraph.

Don't worry. The real problem is that the boardroom is full of mice.

21 October, 2011

News from the madhouse, 21st October

Want to know the solution to the Eurozone crisis? If I tell you, you'll keep it to yourself, not tell anyone else? Well it's this: more summits.

Or at least that's what the Eurozone leaders seem to think. The big summit is this weekend, where everything is going to be resolved and the problems made to disappear in a flash.

As I write it is Friday morning and already we have learned that nothing will be decided at the weekend but there will be another summit on Wednesday.

The intention was to solve three issues: the next bailout for Greece, the expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility and the recapitalisation of the European Banks. The three issues are connected and the French and Germans don't agree on any of them.

The markets have bought it, believing that Wednesday will certainly see a resolution of the leaders' differences. I wish I could be so sure.

A popular death

It's hard to find anyone today who is sorry about the death of Muammar Gaddafi, and with him gone it seems strange that, being so unpopular in his own country, he managed to rule it for so long. One of the great lessons that life teaches us is that you are never such a swell fellow as when you are on top, and never such a dreadful creature as when you are down.

Many are saying that his death opens up the way for the fledgling administration to bring into flower a new democratic era; it is to be hoped that in a year's time we are looking on a new member of the civilised world, co-operating with its neighbours and responsive to the needs of its people.

The other side of the coin is that Gaddafi's death removes the focus of the struggle: if Tripolitanians hated Cyrenaicans there was always someone they hated more. Until now. From today the politics of religion and the ancient tribal scores can bubble up freely. Let's hope they do so peaceably.

A word about the death. It appears that Gaddafi was captured alive, if wounded, and that at some stage someone walked up and put a bullet in his head. This blog does not approve of unnecessary or political execution but I must say if I had been a leader of the NTC I would have instructed the nearest general to do exactly that. The last thing that is going to help Libya is Gaddafi spending years preparing his defence in the bogus and ineffective International Criminal Court and having the world's media listening as he denounced the new regime. Gaddafi was a soldier and now they can say he died a soldier's death and draw a line under the matter.

18 October, 2011


What most people are saying about the Occupy Wall St / the City demonstrations (I hope to deal with the Italian ones, where there has been serious violence, later on) is that they lack focus. Some of the demonstrators don’t seem to like this policy, some don’t like that one. I think it is fairly universal that they believe that some people are doing quite well and some (a considerably larger number) are doing very badly, but that is hardly news. There seems no credible leitmotif to the protests.

Some are saying there should be another tax on bankers’ bonuses, something I disagree with, and some say there should be a Robin Hood tax (which I also disagree with), although these are viable (if wrong) positions to take. But most people have just turned up there with a grumble.

In fact I rather tend  to agree with the unfocussed majority. It is the job of governments to create the conditions where people can find work and prosper, and in that at the moment they can’t, there would seem to be an outright failure of, if not the political system, at least of the last few people in charge of it. My view is not that you personally have a right to a job, but that we have a right that there should be jobs on offer.

If I were to focus my rage, I should take into account that many countries did not feel the recession of 2008 (Australian and Canada spring to mind, but there were others) but some, by contrast, felt it a lot more than the rest. The guilty men? This has probably been done too often but I give you:

Bill Clinton, who insisted that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the mortgage reinsurance arms of the Federal Government, both symbols of the 1950s and quite unnecessary now, reinsure mortgages for anyone who wanted one: there were unemployed people in the South taking out mortgages with no hope whatsoever of repaying them, and these became part of packages which were rated Triple-A but which had no chance of being either serviced or repaid and caused the collapse. Another is Gordon Brown of the UK who, in the words of a more apt commentator than I, ‘mistook a credit bubble for his own genius.’ Perhaps we should include Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy whose indecisiveness has ensured that a large part of the 400-odd million people they lead are scarcely solvent.

In Italy, where the riots have been more serious, it has to be remembered that Berlusconi and his mates have been in power from 2001-2006 and from May 2008 until the present day. Even less has been done in Italy to address the country’s problems than in any other country (I suppose we must exclude N.Korea and Zimbabwe). This is not, however, a justification of the violence: it seems clear that a minority have used the demonstrations for an anarchistic crack at ‘The System’. Again, perhaps, it symbolises the unfocussed nature of the complaints, but violence isn’t necessary or forgivable. In fact it gives political leaders the chance to dismiss all the grievances as coming from thugs, without addressing the unviolent majority, as they should.

In a way, I should like these complaints to be focussed (not around the Tobin Tax, please, it’s just what my grandmother would have called cutting off your nose to spite your face), because the people really do have a grievance. But really, I regard it as just part of the economic cycle. A regrettable one. Let’s hope it gets better next year.

14 October, 2011

Silvio survives

I must say I didn't expect any other result than Silvio Berlusconi surviving the vote of confidence, having lost the vote on the budget. Firstly, Berlusca is a canny operator, secondly he has obtained a surprising amount of loyalty from his colleagues and partners and lastly nobody wants an election right now.

The position remains precarious, however, and this is not good for Italy. His government rests on a knife-edge, and the smallest whim could bring it down: the dogs are sniffing defeat but still nervous to jump in for the kill.

The FT, naively, says that Italy must make reforms and that ideally this would be done by a centre-right government. Let's be blunt: they are not going to be done at all by a left-wing government. The only hope of modernisers is that a new centre-right champion emerges (and right now he would still have to be endorsed by Berlusconi).

Many people seem to think that the President can simply appoint a government of national unity. That is not the case: there would have to be a vote of no confidence lost, then elections which failed to win a majority, then the Presidential appointment for a limited term. It is too much of a gamble. Bossi has proved weak: he should have detached himself from Berlusconi at the peak of his party's influence; instead he has held on too long and looks like going down with the ship.

Italy is in a political, as well as economic, mess. Let's hope for the best, even though we don't know quite what that is. The Italians have been naive, and have avoided difficult decisions, but they deserve better than this.

13 October, 2011

The Ukraine, for better or worse

The fact that Yulia Tymoshenko looks like a member of an Abba tribute band does not make her innocent. Nor of course does it make her guilty.

The former Prime Minister of the Ukraine, and former executive in the gas industry, has been sentenced to 7 years in prison and a fine of around £120 million; which seems on the stiff side. Her crime was to exceed her powers as Prime Minister in negotiating a gas deal with the Soviet Union. Many think it was a politically motivated sentence.

Not very much will be done to help her, because the West is concerned that the Ukraine might drift politically towards Russia rather than towards us, and we can't afford to upset them. She won't serve her full sentence but for the moment will be put on the back burner.

12 October, 2011

Shooting the Fox

Andrew Werrity is a curiously Dickensian name: perhaps the honest son of a poor family who learns that he has been cheated of his inheritance from a wealthy uncle.

He is indeed cast in a drama, however it is a modern day one. He is the friend of the Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who has been so much in the news. Werrity has been on something like a third of Fox's foreign trips and has appeared in meetings with him with various foreign dignitaries even though he is not a civil servant nor a special adviser.

It is not enough, now, for Mr.Fox to say that there has been a witch hunt against him. It is quite right and proper that the press investigate what could be a security leak: the Defence Secretary doesn't just discuss the weather with foreign governments and Mr Werrity has no security clearance. Nor is it sufficient for Mr. Fox to apologise for blurring the distinction between public and private life: he is the defence secretary.

There were whispers before, and these have grown since it was reported that at the time of a burglary to his flat, there was another man staying there, that Mr. Fox might be having a homosexual relationship. Nothing wrong with that if it is in the public domain but not if he is trying to cover it up (the Tory Party first said he was alone in the flat). At first we heard that Fox and Werrity met at university, then we are told that there is 16 years' difference in their ages and when they met Fox was on a speaking engagement at the university.

But then again what sort of man makes his homosexual lover best man at his wedding (to a woman)? It is all very curious.

Fox either needs to resign and maintain the privacy an ordinary individual is entitled to, or he needs to make a full explanation, covering, but not limited to, the security implications. Nothing in between, one or the other. He owes it to his wife and family, he owes it to Mr Werrity, and above all he owes it to his country.

More trouble for the Eurozone

Slovakia has voted down the proposal to increase the size and powers of the European Financial Stability Fund. Just to recap on the history here, this increase is part of the 'agreement'  of 21st July. In this case 'agreement' means that it had been agreed by France and Germany. The other Eurozone states have since ratified it, as they were told to.

Of course the world has moved on since 21st July and no one is now pretending that the amount of the proposed increase (to €440bn) is enough: consensus is that to work it needs to be €2 or perhaps even €3 trillion. But now even the €440bn has been voted down.

This whole sorry story is illustrative of the structural problems of the Eurozone. When it was formed many of us warned that as well as being unable to weather a crisis for financial reasons, the decision making procedure was too unwieldy. As a result the Eurozone moved towards an oligarchy of People Who Matter (France and Germany with occasional references to their mates like Holland and Luxembourg), and when these two brought the tablets down from the mountain the others would be expected to toe the line.

Three problems here: one is that you could hardly pick a worse pair of ditherers than Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Second, the twin Moses figures do not have corresponding interests and rarely agree, the latest sticking point being that France wants to be bailed out by the EFSF while Germany says it is for crisis-hit nations only.

The last point is that this bullying is genuinely resented by the smaller nations. Franco Frattini, the excellent foreign minister of Italy, has recently voiced his disapproval. Smaller nations, like Slovakia, scarcely dare do that. Instead, the European ship, as it so often has, founders on the rock of democracy. The Euro-elite hate democracy but they are stuck with it, and countries like Slovakia, which only achieved democracy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are some of the keenest exponents.

The principal mover of this Slovakian démarche is Richard Sulik, head of the Freedom and Solidarity Party, and a member of the Government. Here is what he said:

'A few years back, we survived an economic crisis. With great effort and tough reforms, we put it behind us. Today, Slovakia has the lowest average salaries in the euro zone. How am I supposed to explain to people that they are going to have to pay a higher value-added tax (VAT) so that Greeks can get pensions three times as high as the ones in Slovakia?'

Seems fairly sensible. Greece is richer per capita than Slovakia, with the Slovakian average wage being roughly equivalent to the Greek minimum wage.

Sulik also pointed out that to meet their obligations under the EFSF the average German would have to work 120 hours more, whereas to meet their obligations the average Slovak would have to work another 300 hours. That's more than an extra hour per working day to help out people richer than them.

Take a step back and think what the average person would have done to mitigate such a disaster. It's insurance, no? You insure your house so that when the roof falls off the money is ready to rebuild it. The EFSF might have worked as an insurance policy, set up from the start. But they couldn't do that because it would have looked as if there was the possibility of failure.

Now, failure is upon them.

What will happen? I would guess the Slovaks will be told to vote again until they get the right answer, but it will cause delays - the government seems to have fallen - and even then it is to approve something everyone knows is insufficient to do the job it was designed to do.

It is not impossible that the incompetence and wilful blindness of the Euro-elite, its insistence on a political dream which was obviously impossible, will now bring the entire world financial system crashing down. As a monument to stubbornness, stupidity and blind obedience to the diktats of an unelected elite, the Euro will be looked on by later generations as ours looked on the memorials to the fallen in the First World War: with shuddering incomprehension.

10 October, 2011

News from the Madhouse (Oct 10th)

While Italy can't agree on who should fill the job of German Ambassador Central Bank Governor, things are warming up elsewhere.

Dexia, a bank specialising in local government finance, formed of a heady mixture of a French nationalised bank and a Belgian one, has had to be rescued for the second time in three years. The problem, as I mentioned a month ago, is it invested in Greek Government debt. Dexia passed its European Banking stress test just a while back: the stress test didn't include European Sovereign Default, even though they all knew it was likely to happen. The authorities didn't want anyone to fail, you see.

The bailout is likely to push Belgian Government debt up to Italian levels.

Meanwhile France and Germany have had another summit. they announced afterwards that they had agreed on a solution to the Eurozone crisis, to the recession, to Greece and to Angela Merkel's ingrowing toenail but..... but they aren't going to tell us what it is for 3 weeks. This means, if I may translate for you, that they haven't agreed at all. France faces such a bill for bailing out its banks because of their loans to Greece that it wants the Financial Stability fund to do it (ie Germany to help pay) whilst the Germans think it should be for emergencies only, and that the French taxpayer should cough up.

Now, next Monday's European summit will be put back for a week while they think of something to say.

Eventually the markets will get fed up with this and start shorting the euro, and the French will say that everything would have been all right if it hadn't been for the evil Anglo-Sasson speculators.

09 October, 2011

The bigger picture

It is scarcely believable, but amidst all the trouble Italy is in, amidst all the suspicion of investors that the country is out of control, the Government ineffectual, there is no agreement on the new head of the Central Bank.

Mario Draghi, the outgoing head, who takes up his position as head of the European Central Bank in less than a month, favours his former number two, Fabrizio Saccomanni, as does Berlusconi. Giulio Tremonti, the finance minister, by contrast, favours Vittorio Grilli, head of the Treasury. Berlusconi's main coalition ally, Umberto Bossi, whom we must suppose to be mad, favours Grilli, on the grounds that he is from Milan whilst Saccomanni is from Rome. Tremonti is from Pavia, also in the north.

The whole lot of them must be so insulated from reality that they cannot see what this is doing. Italy is bust, the euro is crumbling, and they, like early Christian popes arguing abstruse religions points, cannot turn their faces to the big picture. It really is lamentable. Italy doesn't deserve this crew.

The reason it doesn't matter who gets the job is that he will be told what to do by Brussels and Frankfurt, who were responsible for the last budget.

I don't know if the job pays well, but I was born in Windsor, if that's any help, and can read instructions in German.

Hypocrisy (No. 5,621)

The appalling John Major, who was Prime Minister of Britain between 1990 and 1997 and ushered in the Maastricht Treaty, allowing the creation of the antidemocratic Leviathan that is the European Union and forcing Britain to be subjugated to unelected bureaucrats, has spoken on the subject of Europe. He says, now, that Britain should renegotiate its membership with the EU.

God love us.

This, coming from the man who got us into this mess, who called any realist a 'Bastard', makes me sick to my stomach. The ghastly old fool should either embrace a well deserved obscurity or apologise for the dreadful mess he got us into.

This amounts to one of the most nauseating pieces of hypocrisy I have encountered in my lifetime (amidst stiff competition). Major did more damage to Britain than Hitler even intended. He deserves public vilification, not an airing in the press which pretends he is a statesman.

06 October, 2011

Showing the world some fight

In his closing address to the Tory Party Conference the Prime Minister urged us to 'show some fight'. I suppose he was trying to sound Churchillian - most politicians do when they are in trouble.

Most people, however, will be left wondering how they are to fight. Whom are they to fight against?

This blog offers some answers.

Despite the Government agreeing with almost every commentator in the world that public spending should be reduced, it has gone up by £23 billion since Mr Cameron came to office and is scheduled to go up another £20 billion next year. Show some fight, Dave.

Most of the immigrants to Britain are from EU countries, yet despite blethering on about controlling immigration the Prime Minister makes no effort to stop it. Show some fight, Dave.

British industry is choking under levels of regulation its competitors worldwide do not have, in particular the latest ruinously expensive Part-time Workers Directive. Yet Mr Cameron did not refuse to implement it. Show some fight, Dave.

Most of the people who voted for him have been traduced by his undemocratic deal with the Liberal Democrats (the policies were made after we had voted) because he didn't have the balls either to go it alone as the largest party or to call another election. Show some fight, Dave.

Next time the Prime Minister feels like behaving like a man, much less a Churchill, this blog remains at his disposal for advice.

05 October, 2011

Graham Dilley

Sorry also to hear of the death of Graham Dilley, England fast bowler, often best known for his batting supporting Ian Botham's massive solo effort against Australia in 1981. Less known is his involvement here:

Bert Jansch RIP

I regret to record the death of Bert Jansch. Best known for his work with Pentangle in the 1970s the guitar virtuoso had an important solo career. Aged 67, he was performing until recently

Those ratings

I wrote about this a while back but as Moody's downgrades Italy by three notches I think it worthwhile revisiting the ratings and what they mean. The various levels are as below, in the format Moody's / S& P, Fitch (Standard and Poor's and Fitch use the same system) and for ease of reference I am giving just the ratings for long-term debt

Aaa / AAA

Aa1 / AA+
Aa2 / AA
Aa3 / AA-

A1   / A+
A2   / A
A3   / A-

Baa1/ BBB+
Baa2/ BBB
Baa3/ BBB-

It is easiest to see this in terms of four divisions. Prime is Aaa / AAA (Triple A). This is the level risk perceived to be almost non-existent, so, for example, companies investing your life savings would have a fair proportion (it varies) in this category. It pays the least. The USA has been downgraded from this level by S&P, but not by the other two. There are 10 European countries at this level: 3 Scandinavians, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, France, Britain.

The next three, the 'Double A' categories, are high grade investments. They include countries such as Spain and Belgium, and high grade companies.

Then the 'Single A' categories, which include Poland, Czech Republic and of course now Italy.

Anything below Baa3 / BBB- is not regarded as investment grade and is therefore seen as a speculative investment.

Moody's has downgraded Italy's long-term debt to A2, in line with S&P's downgrade last month. so it is nothing new. Also on the plus side are that there are four categories further to fall while remaining investment grade. Against that, all the agencies expect Italy's rating to fall.

So it's not a surprise, but it's really not good news. 

04 October, 2011

An American

Just who are the Americans, and, come to think of it, we, fighting? In a post on 8th April 2010 I mentioned that President Obama had sentenced an Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, to death. Mr Awlaki has not been convicted of any crime nor indeed faced any trial. I observed that if George Bush had done this there would have been outrage among the bien-pensant liberal left.

Now Mr Awlaki has been killed, as I predicted, by an unmanned Predator drone.

Ironically Awlaki, unlike Schwarzenegger or Kissinger, was born in the USA and so could have stood for President. And this would have been the best thing for him: a large security detail protecting him and, let's face it, the competition isn't exactly hot, he'd probably have won.

But I would like to know: which of its citizens is the US President allowed to execute without trial and which is he not allowed to?

Can you get a fair trial in Italy?

As the whole world knows, Amanda Knox has been acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher (so was her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito but he doesn't get as much airtime). There are lessons to be learned from this and I want first to refer to the justice system in Britain, which has its faults but seems to me inherently fairer.

'Chief Superintendent X said he was unable to answer questions about the alleged crime, for fear of prejudicing an ongoing enquiry'. You've heard it hundreds of times, and in particular that word 'alleged'; newspapers are prevented from printing what they believe to be the facts in advance of the trial. The reasoning is simple: it might prejudice the minds of the jury if they read a lot of irrelevant or unsubstantiated opinion, and thus the accused would not get a fair trial.

Italy has no such qualms.

Let us take the only case(s) with an even higher profile than that of Amanda Knox: those relating to Silvio Berlusconi. His latest trial, for fraud, involved quite a bit of 'phone tapping. From this emerged all manner of details of his private life, quite irrelevant to the fraud case, which have been plastered all over the newspapers. How did they get hold of what was supposed to be court evidence? The police and prosecuting authorities sold it to the newspapers.

And this went on with the Knox / Sollecito case as well. Even before the trial began we were treated to a barrage of comments about her: that she was manipulative, that she took drugs, that she was getting the sort of sex ordinary Perugians don't get (except with the ubiquitous prostitutes). None of this was relevant except as a means to poison the minds of the jury, and it is to the credit of the 2 magistrates and 6 lay people that they eventually freed her.

There were other issues as well, of course: the knife, which had Knox and Sollecito's DNA on it (they had been using it for cooking) was claimed also to have Meredith Kercher's DNA but it turned out there was no evidence for that. When one commentator said that there was no evidence that Sollecito and Kercher were even there, and that 'someone would have to pay for this' suddenly her bra clasp appeared in the bedroom. And finally it emerged that the chief investigator had been convicted of fabricating evidence in another high profile murder case but was appealing the verdict and therefore not suspended: his employment rights were more important than Amanda Knox's liberty.

Shortly before their first conviction I heard a Perugian say that they would be found guilty at the first trial, because the good citizens wanted a quick result, preferably with a foreigner (and a manipulative, drug-taking, sex-enjoying foreigner at that!) but that she would be released on appeal because there was insufficient evidence and because the Perugians didn't want such a high profile prisoner.

And so it has turned out to be.

To paraphrase Marcellus, 'Something is rotten in the State of Italy'.

02 October, 2011

The Tories at play

The Conservative Party Conference begins tomorrow, although there has been so much discussion and leaking in advance that there scarcely seems any point in holding it.

What Conservative supporters and indeed the bulk of its MPs want is a referendum on staying in the EU. Mr Cameron disingenuously said we had already had one (in 1975) but that was of course for remaining in the European Community, which, relatively speaking, was fairly harmless.

However Mr Cameron held out the prospect of discussing it in Parliament, by inviting petitions. I discussed this on 8th August, finishing

'Neither of these motions has the faintest chance of success and nor have any of the others. The political class is revolted by the idea of the country being run by popular outcry. But I think Cameron may have made a mistake in raising the hopes of the British people only to dash them.'

(the other motion was for capital punishment)

It now seems that Mr Cameron's sop to the Eurosceptics in his party is to be in favour of the abolition of the Human Rights Act, which at least would be a short step towards Britain becoming a self-governing democracy. Let's see if he delivers: Cameron seems more and more one of the modern political class, slightly disgusted by the idea of the people running the country.

If I were a betting man, I'd put money on him cheating us out of that, too.

News from the madhouse

Greece has not submitted its 2010 budgetary figures to the EU because, according to Andreas Georgiou, head of Elstat, the National Statistics Agency, they can’t get into the building due to a strike.

According to various polls, 50% of Germans wanted the Deutsche Mark back, whilst 40% were sceptical about Germany’s EU membership.

48% of Austrians believe the Single currency has not been beneficial.

While the crisis is going on Mr Barroso wants just the Eurozone to operate a financial transaction tax, presumably to make sure there are no banks left after the crisis, and in 2012 the European Space Agency will present plans and seek funding for a moon landing. Please send your suggestions to them as to who should be chosen.