Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tough on crime ... ?

I thought the Tories were going to sythe through the bureaucracy and red tape strangling the police force and get the police out from behind the desk, and back out on the street, collaring criminals and helping little old ladies across the street.

It would appear otherwise:
Serving police officers are being taken out of frontline roles and moved to cover the "back-office" functions of civilian staff who have been made redundant, according to leaked memos which show the perverse side-effects of budget cuts.

The decision by Warwickshire police authority – one of the smaller forces in England and Wales with 1,800 officers and staff – to draft up to 150 frontline officers into civilian desk jobs is expected to be followed by other forces grappling with a 20% cut in their Whitehall funding.

Police officers are Crown-appointed warrant holders and cannot be made redundant. They can only be "compulsorily retired" through an obscure regulation after more than 30 years' service, but civilian support staff do not enjoy such job security. (1)
Were soaring crime rates, slower response times and inadequate manpower in the coalition agreement? But it gets better:
Ministers have vowed to protect frontline policing from the impact of the cuts and a report by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary to be published on Wednesday is expected to clear up the confusion over where the "frontline" can be drawn in the battle against crime.
I love, just love, the idea that the 'frontline' is actually behind a desk, filling in forms. It sounds like something out of Blackadder Goes Fourth - General 'Insanity' Melchett boldly leading his troops from the front, fifty miles behind the lines.

Even Labour at there worst were never so cynically disingenuous.
1 - "Frontline police moved into office jobs as part of cuts," by Alan Travis. Published in The Guardian, 28th of March, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/28/frontline-police-moved-into-office-jobs)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Just a reminder ...

We're told - I'm sure we've been told - that public spending under Labour (British variety, though I suspect the same holds true for NZ Labour) was out of control.

The British Labour party was, and still is, caricatured as a bunch of spendthrifts, frittering away everyone else's hard earned taxes on social engineering and cynical bribes to crowbar their loathed arses back into power. So terrible was their wantonness that we must endure record cuts and a decimation of the public service.

Not true, of course. Well, the last bit is. The public service is being decimated, but the reasons for it are total hooey.

Public spending (1) in 2009 was 44.54% of GDP. We have to go all the way back to 1982 to find a higher figure. Yup, 1982. Remind me who was in power then?

In all the New Labour years, supposedly out-of-control public spending only exceeded 40% of GDP in 2009 and 2010, when the credit crunch dragged down GDP and stimulus increased spending. So spare us the cant about New Labour profligacy.

Consider: in 1980, spending as percentage of GDP was 44.54%. In 1981, it rose to 45.29%. In 1982 it was 45.56%. In 1983, 84, 85 and 86, while falling from these giddy heights, it was still above 40%.

May I remind you, in all the New Labour years, supposedly out-of-control public spending only peaked 40% of GDP in 2009 and 2010. What is deemed a crisis and a disaster and a wildly out of control public service was pretty much par for the Thatcherite 80s. Thatcher only achieved a New Labour level of restraint in the last years of her term.
1 - All figures quoted here are courtesy of www.ukpublicspending.co.uk. The precise data on spending in relation to GDP is shown in a nice graph, and if you scroll down, you'll find the more prosaic table I pulled my figures from. (http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/downchart_ukgs.php?year=1900_2010&state=UK&view=1&expand=&units=p&fy=2010&chart=F0-total&bar=1&stack=1&size=m&color=c&title=UK%20Public%20Spending%20As%20Percent%20Of%20GDP)

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Stray thoughts on Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman rather liked the freemarket, so it's a same that he isn't around to see how it has all gone tits up in the years immediately after his demise. Of course, he would have claimed it was nothing to do with the free market and everything to do with 'distortions' caused by unwise meddling in the 'perfect' mechanism of the market. Blame rests with well meaning or cynical politicians, who attempt to control the market or protect the weak and powerless from its more deleterious effects.

Well, quite.

The problems we've seem recently don't lie in the 'distortion' of the market. As I pointed out the other day, the 'distorted' market worked quite well for about 70 years, and blew itself to smithereens in a little over 7 years. The problem is far more fundamental than that, and an irreconcilable (to my - doubtless distorted - mind) contradiction in Freidman's thought.

Friedman almost put his finger on the problem back in 1975, in a letter to General Pinochet: "The major error [was] to believe that it is possible to do good with other people`s money." (1)

Friedman didn't expand this point any further, perhaps because he didn't like the developed implications. Because modern capitalism depends on using other people's money, not their own, through stock ownership. Hence the catastrophe of 2008, where people were happy to recklessly use other people's money into dubious schemes, leading to collapse.

This isn't my own idea, of course. Friedman would have been familiar with the works of Adam Smith, so surely he would have known Smith's opinions on 'joint stock' companies:
... being the managers of other people's money than their own, it can not well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own. (2)
Yet he seems to have made a magnificent effort to ignore this in his own economic programs.

It isn't just unwise to attempt to do good with other people's money. Even just trying to make even more money out of it is a dubious project, in the eyes of Mr Smith. Only someone who actually owns the money is likely to minister to its needs with due attention.

Hence, our recent economic history.
1 - From a letter written by Milton Friedman,to Augusto Pinochet, dated 21st of April, 1975.
2 - From
An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, Volume III, by Adam Smith.

Bad result for the BNP

So, in the interminable court battle between the British National Party (a bunch neo-Nazis and some naive hangers-on) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (a bunch of PC fools who give the aforesaid knuckle-draggers the publicity they crave) has progressed, with thwe EHRC being ordered to pay the BNP's court costs (1).

This might seem like an important victory for the BNP, given it's apparently parlous financial postion. But, if anything, it's a resutl they wouldn't have wanted to go in their favour. They hate it when the system is shown to be even-handed. They rely on being able to pretend to be victims of 'conspiracy,' 'the urban liberal elite,' who are forever foisting their secret 'multicultural agenda' on the long sufferring-but-slowly-awakening people of Great Britain. A court victory like this disperses the miasma of victimhood the BNP belches out. They'd much preferred to get to wail about how the system is always out to get them and pretend they're being martyred.

So while the money will mean they can actually pay their bills for a bit longer, it's a Pyrrhic victory (only, Pyrrhus was shifty foreigner, not a stalwart Anglo-Saxon) that they won't welcome. The more the system is shown to be impartial, the less reason for the BNP to maintain its anti-establishment hollering. And without that justification, one of the fundamental reasons for it to exist disappears.
1 - "EHRC Must Pay British National Party’s Court Costs in Full," posted on the BNP website, 22nd of March, 2011. (http://bnp.org.uk/news/ehrc-must-pay-british-national-party%E2%80%99s-court-costs-full)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Bad day for the Godly

Two egregious examples of (alleged) Christian thoughtlessness have come to my attention in the last 24 hours.

The first is an already notorious Youtube video in which a young woman thanks God for the Japanese earthquake. I'm not linking it because a) it has been pulled by Youtube, and b) I don't want to be seen as joining in the viral hate campaign against this woman.

Since she posted it, her (alleged) identity has been exposed, and her address and contact details have been posted online. It's depressing that she made the video in the first place - though I suspect it is actually a hoax - and even more so that people have responded by aiming hatred and vituperation at someone who is already a rather troubled individual. It's contemptible bullying.

As I said, I'm not even convinced as to the authenticity of the video. I wouldn't be surprised if it was some demented atheist making them, pretending to be a demented Christian, and chuckling at how clever she was being ... not realising that, all along, she is merely demented.

There's no limit to how far people will go when in the grips of some crazed obsession, either pro- or anti- religion. We like to think atheists are sane, rational, reasonable ...people, but there are plenty of fuckhead loons on our 'side' as well.

I'm even less convinced by the address or addresses?) being put up, supposedly allowing people to contact this young woman. People are assuming that they are real, but they have no way of verifying that. I wouldn't be surprised if someone had taken advantage of the furore to get some cheap revenge on a personal enemy, or simply make someone's life Hell for a while.

On one level, it doesn't matter if it is a genuine address or not. People should not be hounded by Hellish hate campaigns simply for sounding an opinion, no matter how dumb. On the other hand, of course, the idea of an innocent person being the target of abuse, hatred and possible violence is disgusting. The people posting the address are, too my mind, worse than the very silly girl in the video.

Far more deserving of contempt is Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the head of the Catholic church in Scotland, who condemned the British government for increasing aid to Pakistan without demanding a guarantee of religious rights for minorities:
Speaking at the launch of a report into the persecution of Christians worldwide, Cardinal O'Brien said: 'I urge (UK Foreign Secretary) William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.

'To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.

'Pressure should now be put on the Government of Pakistan - and the governments of the Arab world as well - to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.' (1)
On the surface, this seems sensible. Why send aid to these reprehensible fundamentalists that are murdering and terrorising anyone who doesn't adhere to their perverse, brutal creed?

But it is also short-sighted and naive. Pakistan has just been buggered ruthlessly by massive flooding (remember that?) and effectively washing our hands of it (religious pun intentional) will just leave more desperate, hopeless people to be recruited by the militants and hate-mongers: "Brother, your life here is over, no-one cares about you. they have left you and your family to die. Take this gone and go and wage jihad against the infidels in Afghanistan!"

And I didn't realise the good Samaritan checked up the worthiness of the people before offering succour.
1 - "Pakistan aid is 'anti-Christian': Stinging attack on Government from church leader," unattributed article. Published in The Daily Mail, 15th of March, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1366351/Pakistan-aid-anti-Christian-Stinging-attack-Government-church-leader.html#ixzz1GgoB06zA)

Monday, 7 March 2011

Idiots in glass houses should not throw empty insults

THis was submitted to the Dominion Post in response to a letter published in that paper; since I've had no response from them, I'm assuming they don't intend to publish it in either extended or condensed form submitted. Since it was fun to fulminate, I reproduce it here. Who needs a readership, anyway?

It was amusing to read Leith Gunn's letter of the 2nd of March, 2011,titled "Populist governments are to blame " on the alleged "inane diatribe" of one Greg Edwards, identified by Mr Gunn as a "naive, left-leaning statist." (1)

It is a rule that any country styling itself as "Democratic" can only be a totalitarian Hell hole; similarly, we can be sure any writer accusing another of producing an "inane diatribe" will go on to do precisely that.

Leith Gunn does not disappoint.

He points the finger - with justification - at the actions of the American government in the 90s, particularly the repeal (masterminded by the Republicans Phil Gramm, Thomas Leach and Jim Bliley in 1999) of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.

He suggests - again with justification - that the removal of restrictions on the market brought about the financial catastrophe of 2008.

But in trying to pin the blame on "populist governments," and ""Political decisions, Left and Right," he makes a complete fool of himself.

And whatever else you can say about Gram, Leach and Bliley, they were not motivated by populism. Only a small percentage of their votes came from those who benefited from their legislative irresponsibility. Only a few benefited from it, after all.

I suspect, however, a considerable percentage of their campaign funding came from these sources.

He also overlooks the fact that the the system worked for seven decades, then within seven years of the controls being removed, the 'invisible hand' of the free market lead us to disaster.

In other words, it wasn't actually the actions of any "naive, Left-leaning statist" that brought the roof down, but the actions of naive, rightwing free marketeers.

So, we really need these "statist" controls to stop markets from eating themselves alive. Mr Gunn tries to duck this issue by claiming, "Political decisions, Left and Right, are where the problem lies" and babbling about fiat money.

No, old chap, the fixes and controls put in place by the leftish politics of the New Deal era, after one free market induced disaster, kept things ticking over quiet nicely for decades. With those controls were removed, it took just nine years for the free market to go all to
Hell.

Again.
1 - "Populist governments are to blame," a Letter to the Editor, by Leith Gunn. Published in the Dominion Post, 2nd of March, 2011. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/4720817/Letter-Populist-governments-are-to-blame)

About face

The British chancellor, George Osborne, has realised that he's fucked things up royally, and needs to do an economic three point turn to stop Britain sliding even further into the cesspit he's been shoving the country into:
Speaking at the Welsh Conservatives' spring conference in Cardiff, he said: 'We cannot place all our bets on the City Of London. Wouldn't it be great if Britain made things again?

'What I want to see is a manufacturing revival.

'In the budget in less than three weeks' time, we will confront the forces of stagnation that stand in the way of success, bring down new barriers that stop Britain getting back on its feet.

'The Budget is going to be unashamedly pro-growth, pro-enterprise and pro-aspiration. It will look at the planning delays, the new regulations, the bureaucracy and the costs that hold business back and stop jobs being created.

'Not just in London, or the South East, but across Britain.' (1)
Fucking shite from Osbourne. Almost the first thing the coalition did was cut £2 BILLION of spending commitments, a lot of that aimed at precisely this sort of thing, including
  • £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters,
  • £620 million for the Rollout of the Future Jobs Fund,
  • £50 million for the Local Authority Business Growth Initiative,
  • £30 million for a six month recruitment subsidies package. (2)
And don't even get me started on what the shitheads did with the Building Schools for the Future programme.

These were all measures aimed at increasing growth and employment, that exceed the crumbs Osborne is offering.

Of course, Osborne prefers to do it through tax cuts, which won't work but will a) make the sort of people who vote Conservative happy and b) reduce the tax take, justifying even more 'austerity.'
1 - "'Let's get Britain making things again': George Osborne plots manufacturing revival with recreation of 'enterprise zones' and £100m business tax cuts," unattributed article. Published in The Daily Mail, 5th of March, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1363197/George-Osborne-revive-enterprise-zones-promote-investment-areas-potential-growth.html#ixzz1Fol1yBws)
2 - "Transport and health projects halted as Government backs down on £10bn commitments," by Andrew Porter. Published in the Telegraph, 17th of June, 2010. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7835519/Transport-and-health-projects-halted-as-Government-backs-down-on-10bn-commitments.html). The details of what exactly was being cut or suspended can be verified in the government press release, "Action to tackle poor value for money and unfunded spending commitments," released on the 17th of June, 2010, hyperlinked from this story.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Christian couple can not write their own job description

A Christian couple have been told they can't force Derby City Council to let them foster children. The conflict arose because the couple in question, Owen and Eunice Johns, felt their faith meant they could not say homosexual lifestyles could be good (1).

This is a good thing, and a bad thing.

It is a good thing because people who shouldn't be able to enforce their personal views on people; they are, effectively, council employees and should adhere to the council's standards. If they can't meet those standards, then they can't do the job.

One of the job requirements was that they did not disparage homosexual lifestyles. It seems they were not able to meet this requirement, went to court to have it overturned, and failed in their bid.

It is worth baring in mind that the Johns were not barred from fostering by the council. They chose to withdraw from the vetting process when how they'd deal with the issue of homosexuality was raised.

It's a bad thing because these people have acted as foster parents for over fifteen years, apparently without a hitch. Now they will not be able to do so, and it isn't like there is a wealth of foster parents.

But I don't blame the council for that. They have to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for all the children in their care; they are ultimately responsible for whatever happens to the vulnerable youngsters it places in foster care.

It's important to remember that they were applying as foster parents, not adopting. They would be dealing with a lot of children staying with them for short periods of time, so they'd be encountering adolescents with questions and troubles that would need to be addressed.

Mr Johs suggests that "Eight-year-olds we have looked after want to play, not talk about their sexuality." Fair enough. but to young people, everything is "gay." Children will ask why they were called gay at school, and if that is a bad thing. Are some people gay? Is that wrong?

My opinion is that it is a great shame they didn't wait to hear the verdict of the panel; and that they seem to have been so intransigent in their beliefs they couldn't mouth some homily about love and respect being the most important part of any lifestyle. Their refusal to do that means they won't be around to help children who need it. Render unto Ceasr, and all that ...

They should have thought a bit more on the 'Judge not' and 'don't cast the first stone' parts of their creed and less on the intermittent homophobia that permeates the OT and the scribblings of St Paul. Jesus, notably, didn't have anything to say about homosexuality, that I can recall.

They could easily have told any curious foster child something bland and neutral like, "Love and respect are the most important part of any lifestyle or relationship." I don't see how that would have compromised their principles, and would have allowed them to continue the good work they've done over years. Instead, they placed their vision of their faith above their Christian desire to help people.
1 - "Christian beliefs DO lose out to gay rights: Judges' ruling against devout foster couple," by Tamara Cohen. Published in The Daily Mail, 1st of March, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361469/Christian-beliefs-DO-lose-gay-rights-Judges-ruling-devout-foster-couple-lose-case.html#ixzz1FGqNRecy)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Wail watch

A couple of days ago, Guardian journalist Mark Townsend wrote a piece about a survey that revealed 48% of British people would consider voting for an anti-immigration party, if it wasn't tainted with violent and fascistic associations (1).

The next day, a very similar piece - almost word for word - appeared in the Daily Mail, under the anonymous 'Daily Mail reporter' by-line (2).

Though the Mail does cadge a lot of it's content from other sources, it is usually from local papers. It's bizarre to see the Mail regurgitate a Guardian piece like this. Perhaps we have misjudged the Mail, and they are subtly trying to turn everyone into unwitting Guardianistas.

Or maybe not, as the few changes made to the story serve to distort it.

the Mail claims (an addition to the original piece), that 48% of people "would vote for far-Right party." This is (unsurprisingly) misleading.

The survey appears to have found that about half of the electorate would consider voting for an anti-immigration party. The mail drops the crucial 'consider,' making the support sound much more solid than it is. Most people cast their vote on either more than one issue, or none at all.

A party running on an anti-immigration platform would also need other policies, and they would alienate sections of its potential support, unless immigration becomes absolutely the overwhelming issue in the minds of voters.
1 - "Searchlight poll finds huge support for far right 'if they gave up violence'," by Mark Townsend. Published in The Guardian, 26th of February, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/feb/27/support-poll-support-far-right)
2 - "Half of Britain 'would vote for far-Right parties if they gave up violence'," by Daily Mail Reporter. Published in the Daily Mail, 27th of February, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361068/Half-Britain-vote-far-Right-parties-gave-violence.html#ixzz1FANICIIM)

Fire sale II

Interesting-ish article on this by John Harris. Good to see someone (other than my own sweet self) can see David Cameron's war on the deficit for what it really is - a cynical, ideological project to strip state assets and advance the private sector. For which he has no mandate.

He forgot to mention, however, that The Shock Doctrine is the literary equivalent of toxic sludge. I hacked my way through all 550 odd pages of it. It needed to be a tenth of the length, as the essential idea of it was pretty slender. Harris sums it up pretty well in a couple of paragraphs, in fact:
The other day, I picked up a copy of Naomi Klein's underrated book The Shock Doctrine, and was reminded of a celebrated quotation from Milton Friedman: "Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."

The Klein book, published in 2007, examines how Friedman's instructions were followed, and free-market "disaster capitalism" forced on Iraq, eastern Europe, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, in the wake of wars, natural disasters and revolutions (watch out Libya and Egypt). Four years after it came out, I was struck by a simple and mind-boggling fact. Here, as the coalition sets about the benefits system, marketises the NHS, threatens to do the same to schools and now apparently plans to put the entire public sector out to tender, what crisis was it that set the stage? Answer: that of the very economic model that is being pursued as never before. (1)
There. Saved you a few dollars and several hours of your life, reading The Shock Doctrine.

Don't say I'm not good to you.
1 - "The coalition has sneaked a coup on a sleeping public," by John Harris. Published in The Guardian, 27th of February, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/27/coalition-coup-sleeping-public)