29 January, 2015

The top 1%

I am grateful to Guido for pointing out that in the last quarter of 2014 Apple sold 74.5 million devices.

That is to say that in just three months, 1% of the world's population bought an iPhone.

Amazing.

And no, I didn't.

Pas du tout Charlie

This blog covered the events in Paris earlier this month with some scepticism. It is one thing to say 'Je suis Charlie', that is to say 'I support the right to publish whatever you wish', and quite another to walk the walk.

The French Government's newly announced response to this outrage is to insist that Facebook and other social media police themselves to eliminate anything which might be hateful. That is to say the Government announces what you can and can't say and the media, acting as an arm of the Government, enforce this.

This is a step exactly in the wrong direction. Just as the French Government makes it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide and just as Cameron in Britain tries to regulate the press, we are saying we love free speech so we are going to limit it.

This really needs to be thought out.

27 January, 2015

Greece

It seems one of my New Year's predictions has already come good: that Syriza would win the election in Greece but without a majority.

The question all over the papers is 'what happens now?'.

Greece should never have been let into Europe, and it appears that when it applied to join the euro, the European Commission was well aware that it had fiddled the figures. It happened because - and this will become increasingly important to bear in mind - Europe and the single currency are political, not economic, phenomena.

Greece did not have a set of responsible politicians. The same parties, indeed the same families, had run it since the era of the colonels, and they were corrupt and incompetent. They went on a spending spree. The standard of living of the average Greek increased by 36% between the start of the euro and the financial crisis.

The powers in Brussels, and indeed the Germans, knew this. But they said nothing.

Why? Because the spending spree had been financed by German banks, with help from the French (there was very little British lending to Greece). In one of the worst pieces of credit misjudgment in history they decided that all eurozone countries were an equal credit risk and since Greek debt paid more (why did it pay more? Aha!) they piled in.

Of course if you believe all eurozone risk is equal, you are assuming that countries in trouble will be bailed out. We shall have to give some thought to that in the coming weeks.

At the start of the crisis it was clear that Greece couldn't pay its debts and a chunk needed to be written off. But that would have exposed the incompetent German bankers so instead the Greeks were saddled with even more debt. Very little of this actually went into Greece - there was very little new money.

The Greeks had been shafted to save Germany.

So it isn't surprising that they voted for Mr Tsipras, who declares Greece should have the same kind of debt forgiveness Germany was given after the war.

But Europe can't do that because Italy and Spain would also want it.

What should happen is that Tsipras should take Greece out of the Euro and declare a full moratorium on its debt.

But it won't happen because the Greeks, poor ignorant souls, think the euro is a good thing: a badge of solvency.

There will be a fudge, and the Greeks will continue to suffer.

Colouring

Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor, has apologised for his language on American television. He says he is 'devastated' to have caused offence and that he was an 'idiot'.

He had referred to 'coloured' people.

I don't suppose I shall ever be interviewed on American television (particularly after they have read this) but I confess I thought 'coloured' was the polite version and that you weren't supposed to say 'black' or 'negro'.

How on edge must America's race relations be if this causes such a storm?

24 January, 2015

De mortuis...

The flags were at half mast in London yesterday and for a while no one knew whether it was for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia or for Leon Brittan, the former Home Secretary.

Abdullah ruled one of the most corrupt, terrorist-ridden countries on earth, with an appalling human rights record, and which dealt out medieval punishments to its own people. The monarchy is in thrall to a gang of religious nutcases. It is possible but unlikely that Abdullah didn't know what was going on and possible that he just didn't know any different.

Leon Brittan was the only senior Conservative politician of the 1980s that I really didn't like. He had an unpleasant, supercilious demeanour and closed down argument rather than engaging with it. Along with Heath, Heseltine, Clarke and Gummer he lied and lied to get us into the European Community as it then was, going on to collect a decent sinecure and pension as his reward.

It turned out the flags were for Abdullah. 'Go figure', as the Americans say.

PS I should add that I know nothing of the tittle-tattle surrounding Brittan. A man is innocent until proven guilty.

20 January, 2015

The NHS

Delighted to hear Nigel Farage saying the NHS will have to move to an insurance based system within ten years.

The true ghastliness of the NHS is reported piecemeal in the papers - such as more than 1,000 people dying unnecessarily in South Stafford alone; people going into hospital with something fairly trivial and coming out in a pine box because of a disease they caught in the hospital; inadequate medicines, equipment, staff. But no one ever questions the structure.

It is the whole system which is wrong and insurance will help but not solve the whole problem.

I shall be putting forward my views on the NHS in my manifesto, due to be published in good time for the election, on the Feast of All Fools.

18 January, 2015

Italian culture

Happy birthday to ANSA, the Press agency, which is 70 years old. It performs an excellent service, unbiased although Italian-centred. Its website ansa.it can be read in English.

Another useful Italian service, if you are fed up with Radio 3 and Classic FM: http://www.radiofd5.rai.it/dl/portali/site/page/Page-e2d8dd75-9ebf-4de9-9880-514bdad658ad.html

This is a classical music service which just plays the music with a sombre announcer who just says what it is and names the performers. No chat, no traffic reports or news. No need to speak Italian. Just music

14 January, 2015

Easing

As I write, the pound sterling has risen dramatically against the euro.

The reason is that the markets believe that the European Central Bank will commence some quantitative easing at its meeting on 22nd January.

It would do this by creating money and using it to buy government securities whose holders, principally banks, woud then have cash they could invest in their economies.

Three days later, on 25th January, is the Greek election. The likely winners, Syriza, claim they will repudiate part of the Greek government debt.

So the ECB would be buying stuff which it knows in a few days might be worthless.

Doesn't seem too honest to be.

13 January, 2015

Aux armes, citoyens!

So what was it all about, this march in Paris, repeated all over France? Some say 3.7 million people came out.

Well....according to Piers Morgan in the Daily Mail, they were marching for 'freedom'; he seemed to imply that Obama's failure to appear meant the President was against the concept.

Most of the European Press seemed to feel they were marching against terrorism.

Now it's fairly easy to find several million people in favour of freedom or indeed against terrorism. But that isn't what the march was intended to be about. It was intended to be about freedom of speech. What 'Je suis Charlie' means is that you stand with those dead cartoonists willing to risk your life to publish what you want, however offensive. However offensive. So whether it's about the holocaust, or Mohammed or Princess Diana or Stephen Fry you are allowed to publish it and will stand by the risks of doing so.

Several journalists, notably Robert Shrimsley in the FT, said they were not Charlie, because they simply didn't have the courage.

The reason the moral thrust of the march is important is that if it was about being against terrorism, resentment that French citizens had been killed, that feeling will soon turn into an anti-muslim backlash and this, in my view, would be a very bad thing, if understandable.

If, however, it was against any attack on freedom of speech, it means something very different. Western Europe has been moving in the opposite direction to free speech. I mentioned France's laws against denying the holocaust and the Turkish / Armenian massacre. In Britain the police continually monitor social media for 'offensive' posts. And you can't say anything racist without plod turning up on your doorstep. Free speech would mean dismantling that whole apparatus.

I'd love to be proved wrong, but I rather think this march doesn't mean anything at all.

11 January, 2015

Hypocrisy (2)

And I'm afraid a miasma of hypocrisy is settling over the Charlie Hebdo affair. Fran├žois Hollande, who has done more than most to cover up investigation of his own peccadilloes, has, if you please, called a sort of public demonstration (normally he sends the riot police to this sort of thing), inviting David Cameron (who wanted to regulate the press over the Millie Dowler business) and such free press stalwarts as Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

I don't know if the presidents of Russia and China are turning up to look like Charlies.

Some people I hope are not attending are the trendies of the Hacked Off Group, which includes JK Rowling and Stephen Fry, who have led a campaign to limit press freedom in England, particularly when it comes to being horrid to luvvies.

If so we shall have to hand out 'Je suis hypocrite' badges.

Hypocrisy

A good article by Catherine Bennett in the Observer today pointing out that there seems to be one law for Ched Evans and another for Roman Polanski who is allowed to pursue his trade of film director despite having committed an even worse crime, raping a 13 year old.

10 January, 2015

The Commentator

Do read The Commentator - it's free. My latest article describes Berlusconi's comeback

09 January, 2015

Ched Evans

An aide to John 'Vince' Cable, the Business Secretary, has interfered in the talk about Ched Evans, a footballer who was convicted of rape and now wants to return to football. I have no idea why but this is one of those subjects which seem to throw up more nonsense than it should.

Both sides in the argument seem to be exhibiting gross disrespect to the British Justice System. First, have no truck with people who suggest that he didn't really do it. Evans was tried and found guilty of rape. He may be able to appeal the verdict, I don't know, but unless and until that happens he is guilty.

The other side also seem not to have understood the Justice System. A convicted criminal is sentenced not by the feminist twitter feed but by a judge. That sentence was handed down, he served it and is now out. The Judge didn't say 'Four years and you shall never work again'. It was just the prison sentence.

We have a great problem with recidivism in Britain. On release prisoners are more likely to return to a life of crime than not. Here is someone who can do a job and people are trying to stop him.

Anyone who is such a halfwit as to believe that footballers are role models needs locking up for their own safety. And even if they were it doesn't alter the fact that our system has released Mr Evans. Let him get on with his life.

2015

I should have begun the year by giving you my forecasts but to be honest they're more often wrong than right.

OK, here we go.

In the Greek election this month the left-wing anti-euro Syriza party will be the largest, but they won't have enough of a majority to do what they want. As a result a fudge will be organised to keep Greece in the euro. which is the last thing the people of that benighted country need.

After the British elections in May David Cameron will be Prime Minister but only after the sort of undemocratic stitch-up he used last time. UKIP, it pains me to say, will not do as well as people think.

The oil price will firm up a bit after the end of the summer.

There will be the usual amount of hunger, disease and war. There will be more Islamic terrorist outrages and Europe will increasingly see an anti-Islamic backlash, which, it will quickly be realised, is not a healthy development.

Out on a limb here: Italy will choose a woman president and the Labour Party a woman leader.

The euro will continue to look unsustainable but will not actually collapse. 

In America the Republicans will continue to fail to find a credible candidate to oppose Hillary Clinton.

The FTSE 100 and the S & P in America will reach new highs; the European bourses will not.

People will get fed up having to carry enormous smart 'phones around with them.

08 January, 2015

Perfect!

The supremely irritating TripAdvisor - why can't they spell adviser properly? - has just sent me an email entitled 'Paris in 2015 - sounds perfect!'.

Perhaps it is some sort of political statement.

Je suis Charlie (3)

The problem now appears to be how people react, in France and elsewhere. France has around 6 million muslims, the highest of any Western European nation, and feelings have been running high for some time.

People will see that the gunmen escaped to the Banlieue, the suburbs around Paris, which are effectively a police no go area. Political tension is palpable and more than a thousand cars are torched every year.

With Marine Le Pen riding high in the polls it will be Hollande's unhappy job to calm the feelings of non-muslims. There is a clear threat of backlash.

Elsewhere, there have been anti-muslim riots in Germany, and nationalist parties are on the rise in several European countries.

These are going to be difficult times.

Je suis Charlie (2)

By the way I'm not sure I want to hear too much from the French about freedom of speech.

If Charlie Hebdo, instead of printing cartoons about Mohammed, had said that fewer than 6 million Jews died in the holocaust, the magazine could have been closed and the journalists imprisoned. Equally if it had conducted a personal campaign against the President. The penalty for saying that the Turks didn't commit genocide over the Armenians during WW1? €45,000 fine and a year in prison.

A couple of years ago a French wine writer who described Beaujolais as a vin de merde was prosecuted for criminal libel.

Free speech should mean just that.

Je suis Charlie

There is only one way, in my view, to see the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris: it was an attack on us all, from the great international publications to this humble blog, down to the ordinary person who reads them.

I have read Charlie a couple of times (Hebdo means 'weekly' in French). It was often offensive, sometimes needlessly provocative, rude. But the point to be stressed is that it has every right to be those things. If you didn't like it you didn't buy it, tout simplement.

We have all been staring down the barrel of those guns. Let us now show how we can comport ourselves when threatened.

Happy New Year

I have neglected this blog over the last year, partly through illness and partly through getting involved in other projects. It is very much a part of my plan to keep it going, however, so there should be many more posts in 2015.

If there are any Readers left I wish you a Happy New Year