Friday, 31 January 2014

False flag?

There has been much heat, and very little light, resulting from John Key's casual suggestion it might be time for New Zealand to get a new flag.

While most political parties nodded in agreement with key, the suggestion prompted a sadly predictable response in the leftish bloglands, with comment-mongers on The Standard decrying it as a clumsy attempt to distract people from Nationals apparent electoral woes (though it's rich for a party Labouring (pun intentional) at 33% to be pointing out anyone else's polling problems).

But I think the frothing is misplaced.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  And sometimes a politician wondering about whether we should have a look at changing the flag is just that.

I honestly can't see how this could be a diversionary tactic.  I credit John Key with more intelligence than that.  After all, he's wiped the floor with us twice now.  Or are you suggesting that's so easy even an idiot who thinks the public will be completely befuddled by a ploy so obvious can do that?

I think Key has been so effective in colonising the middle ground (and some on the left so quick to abandon it in favour of a small-but-ideologically-pure corner of the debate) that he has driven many on the left quite mad.  Everything has to be part of a Grand Conspiracy (possibly featuring a Needlessly Large Weather Machine and a Secret Base inside an underwater volcano).  Which tells you a lot about how desperate he has made us.  Every action and utterance by John Key is analysed and deconstructed to find the true motive, the real dark seedy manipulative purpose because, you know, it is impossible Key might just genuinely be wondering about whether we should have a look at changing the flag.  It's got to be something else.  There has to be an ulterior motive!  And we have to be the first to spot it or at least the ones braying most loudly about it.

If Key had a motive beyond just wondering about whether we should have a look at changing the flag, I suspect it probably would be causing mischief on the left.  Because - like it or not - he's got our number.  And the paranoid ramblings and aghast wailing emanating from the blogatariat prove it.  An casual comment from Key, and the left is veritably turning itself inside out in an effort to show how caddish - and yet stupid - Key is, lobbing this debate into the middle of an election year.  An so a lot of time and energy is wasted in Exposing John Key's True Motive in wondering whether we should have a look at changing the flag.

A less demoralised and desperate left would have said, "Yeah, we've been saying that for years, welcome to the party, John."  After all, mos of us would probably support replacing the flag , or at least talking about it.  Gnashing our teeth at how duplicitous Key is just makes us look sad and hopeless.

In this case, I think he genuinely believes it is a debate worth having; and election year would be the obvious time to do it, as you'll get a better response than with a stand-alone referendum.  As most of us would largely agree with the end, and the means, I don't really see what all the fuss is about.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Osborne grinds the faces of the poor in the dirt

That's probably a metaphor, but might be an actual headline describing literal events, the way things are going.
More than 270,000 of the poorest households in England face council tax hikes of £80 a year as the government's safety net is withdrawn, a survey of local authorities has revealed.
Using freedom of information requests, research for the Joseph Rowntree Trust has found that from April another 48 local authorities are reducing protection for vulnerable residents. 
Ministers cut funding for the means-tested benefit by £500m, around 10% of the total, last April and instructed local authorities to decide how the reduced benefit should be distributed. 
However, to cushion the blow ministers offered £100m in subsidies to councils that designed schemes that would offer some protection to the poor. This scheme has not been renewed, with the result that this year will be the first that the government will no longer provide a dedicated stream of cash to take the poorest out of council tax. 
The result of this – and further cuts to local authority budgets – is that more than a quarter of a million working-age households will see bills rise by an average of £78 a year, taking the amount of yearly council tax that they will have to pay to £176.
The true nastiness of this government is becoming clear, as 'safety nets' are taken away and who will be most affected by Osborne's bloodthirst becomes clear - the poorest and most vulnerable.  Afterall, they would never vote Tory, would they?  I think the scorecard needs to be updated ... that'll teach him!!
-1 ... Local government cuts, ordered by central government, hitting the poor
-1 ... Taking 500 Syrian refugees, which acknowledges there is a catastrophe, but only doing enough to generate a positive headline in the Daily Mail.  Was even Tony Blair this disgustingly cynical?
OVERALL: -6/10 Their heartless and wrong-headed domestic agenda and their humanitarianism-as-PR gives a truly nasty edge to the coalition.

Seth Avett sings 'Fish and Bird' by Tom Waits

Seth from the Avett Brothers singing a Tom Waits song, which is a combination of two very good things.


Covers of Tom Waits songs are  dangerous. It's generally a bad idea to try to imitate the great man's unique delivery; it just sound like Tom Waits diluted (Are you listening, Rod?).  But Seth Avett has a sweet melancholy voice so this one works.

 And yeah, I know, a whale isn't a fish. But 'Giant Aquatic Mammal and Bird' would just sound stupid.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Peter Oborne

... is fantastic. I've always said so. Repeatedly. You all remember me saying so, don't you? Top bloke. Wonderful. Even more wonderful than Vince "Wrong Sort Of Recovery" Cable.  And writing this sort of stuff in The Telegraph, would you believe?  Don't be surprised if we are told Mr Oborne has taken 'Stress Leave,' with immediate effect.
As someone who voted Conservative at the last election, I therefore found it profoundly shaming and offensive when George Osborne lowered the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p two years ago. 
The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project because I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency, thus taking away their human dignity. 
There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work. But to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is leading the fight inside the cabinet to strip a further £10 billion of welfare payments for the very poorest. Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000. 
... 
A Conservative Party with decent values should not reward these people. It should support hard-working, honest people. If the Chancellor understood this point, he would have taken middle earners out of the top rate of tax, not given a bonus to people who are already affluent. 
So well done Ed Balls, who has had a hard time lately. He has given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election.
Pistol Pete should say more of this sort of thing. If he learns the correct method of addressing Osborne - his name should always be prefaced with "that revolting, loathsome and repulsive imbecile" or similar - I may make him an honorary leftie.

Seriously, there is a difference between a Conservative, and the sort of neo-liberal Friedmanite loons who have colonised the right-wing parties since the 1980s.  People who think like Oborne - who are conservative for essentially moral reasons, rather than (how can I say this politely?) economic imperatives - need to make themselves more.  I won't agree with them on everything much but at least a conservative and a democratic socialist are approaching problems from the same direction.  If the British Conservatives could expunge the Freidmanite Supply Side Maniacs (tm) it would bring the Conservative Party back into alignment with the people that actually vote for it.

After all, Labour had to go through a similar process in the late 70s and 80s, to produce the attenuated, somewhat rightwing social-capitalist party of the 90s.  And at least the prospect of a Conservative government would fill all right thinking people with horror.

Of course, the Freidmanites would resist it, utterly, and Oborne will probably catch a lot of flack from their shills in the press.  Supply-siders are parasitic - economically and politically.  Their creed repels 99% of the population - look at ACT's polling for proof of this.  They can not survive on their own, so they have to inhabit the larger body of a moderately right-wing, conservative party.  In doing so, they sap its vitality and sicken it, or - and here the metaphor may be slightly stretched, if one is not familiar with Gonchongs - possess it and supplant its personality utterly, turning it into a hideous facsimile of a Conservative party, mouthing conservative shibboleths to please the increasingly perplexed and embittered voters, and scapegoating the weak and marginalised to redirect that frustration away from where it belongs.  This is particularly true of Britain, where First Past the Post forces fringe pursuits like neo-liberalism to inveigle itself into larger, more moderate parties.  Even in New Zealand, however, where MMP theoretically allows the rightwing economic 'purists' to survive in their own party, the truth is they have to infiltrate National, as described in The Hollow Men, if they are to get their hand decisively on the levers of power.

It is time for New Zealand's own Obornes to speak up and reject the swivel eyed advocates of Freidmanite madness, who still exert a toxic influence on the National Party.

Recovery?

The provisional estimates of growth for 2013 show that the Tories - after 4 years of trying, almost doing as well as Labour!

However, manufacturing output and construction are both down in the last quarter. Dunno if that is seasonal variation (can't be much fun building things in the rain) but it rather undercuts the 'rebalanced economy' claptrap Osborne is peddling. Its more unbalanced and service dependent that ever.

As for 'Plan B,' a sensible economic policy would have delivered this sort of growth years ago. We're still poorer than we were in 2007 and other economies - which weren't madly flaying themselves with austerity - have recovered more swiftly.



And it did not have to be this way.  Britain had a perfectly good recovery underway in 2010.  From that bastion of rightwing thought and freemarket ideology, the New Statesman:
In 2010, a genuine recovery was underway, with the economy growing 2.4 per cent in the 12 months to Q3 2010, but premature austerity, in the form of the VAT rise and the dramatic cut in infrastructure spending, ensured that growth was snuffed out. To meet the OBR's original 2010 forecasts, the economy would need to grow by 1.6 per cent each quarter between now and the election. But Osborne has been the beneficiary of low expectations. Before the post-2010 downturn, below-trend growth of 1.9 per cent would have been viewed as a dismal failure.
Is Osborne some sort of political genius?  Perform so poorly that the robust growth of 2010 becomes some sort of folk myth, like King Arthur and the Loch Ness monster, and thus even the most mediocre performance is hailed as the works of an economic colossus?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

RIP Pete Seeger

Died yesterday.


The Horrors of Climate change Made Clear

This is awful:
An underweight hedgehog found wandering around a garden during the daytime is a sign that the animals are being lured out of hibernation too early, says a wildlife charity. Care for the Wild, in Brighton Road, Horsham, have taken in the little hog after he was found in a Crawley garden, then taken to Harvest Vets in Maidenbower. Care for the Wild’s wildlife carer Tarnya Knight said: “This little fella is just 300 grams so he definitely wouldn’t have made it through the winter, and if a cold snap comes that would have finished him off. But we’ll feed him up and he should be okay to be released in the spring. “The mild weather we’ve had is leading to hedgehogs coming out of hibernation too early. Most of them will be the right weight, but there isn’t much natural food for them around at the moment. So if you get hedgehogs in your garden please leave out some food and water to see if they’re around. And of course, if you see one during the daytime, please either contact us or take it to the vet.”
Increasing warming, decreasing hedgehogs. Will Britain be Britain without the humble hedgepig snuffling about? One is vaguely - very vaguely - reminded of George Orwell's Some Thoughts On The Common Toad:
At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
Having failed to control the simple delights of watching little figments of nature going about their business, and not being able to tax it efficiently, the dictator and bureaucrats, it seems, have decided to drive everything endearing and untamed to extinction.

Or maybe not.  But there is a smidgeon of a serious point here - climate change is not The Day After Tommorrow dramatic nonsense.  Climate change is British hedgehogs dying out because the conditions that let them thrive no longer apply.  And if the loveable hedgehog is being challenged by climate change, what else will struggle to adapt?

 Doubtless this is one of the benefits Owen Paterson discerns in a warming world.  He has pointed out that human beings are great adaptors - failing to add that adaption is usually accompanied by significant unpleasantness (the Saxons adapted to climate change 1500 years ago by sailing to Britain and killing lots of people).  Hedgehogs, probably, are less capable of adapting to a changing world.

Odd. They seem to have plenty of money

... ... to donate to political parties.
[The Telegraph] has published a letter from 24 business leaders declaring that Labour's pledge to reintroduce the 50p tax rate is "a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain" ... Of the 24 signatories, eight have donated a total of £776,111 to the Tories. 
Here, courtesy of the Electoral Commission, are the full details of their donations. 
Richard Caring - £222,000.75 
Neil Clifford, Chief Executive, Kurt Geiger - £12,000 
Peter Cullum, Executive Chairman, Towergate - £15,000 from Towergate to the Conservative 1922 Committee 
Michael Gutman, Chief Executive, Westfield Group - £211,570 from Westfield; Gutman has attended Conservative Leader's Group dinners 
Mike Lynch, Chairman, Invoke Capital; Founder, Autonomy - £50,000 
Tim Oliver, Founder and Chairman, Hampden - £12,940 from Oliver, £54,600 from Hampden 
Paul Walsh - £10,000 
Will Wyatt, CEO, Caledonia - £188,000 from Caledonia to Conservative associations/candidates
Total: £776,110.75 
Here
Perhaps if they stopped squandering their cash on trying to buy politicians ensuring the continuance of personally favourable political trends, a slightly higher tax rate on the very toppermost bit of their already considerable incomes wouldn't seem so outrageous.

And given they have invested so much in such a worthless enterprise as the Tory party - unable to attain a majority in spite of 12 years of Labour incumbency, the Iraq invasion, economic collapse and Gordon Brown - we should stop worshipping the very rich and indeed cease listening to them at all.  Talk about a bad investment.

They clearly aren't any cleverer than the rest of us.

Giant Eagle Terrorises Yorkshire

Indeed, 'tis true!
Chris O’Donnell lost Nikita, a Steller’s sea eagle, after training in windy conditions near Brackenbottom, North Yorks, and believes the 10-year-old eagle may have been blown off course. Police today stated the bird was not dangerous to the public, but yesterday tweeted a warning to pet owners to keep small animals indoors. Nikita's trainer said yesterday: “She’s massive – like a small glider,” but reassured people the eagle was harmless. Mr O’Donnell believes the bird will be found a few miles away, adding: “It’ll be sitting in a field wishing it was back home.” Steller's sea eagles are native to eastern Russia, and migrate to Japan each winter where they are now revered.
If it is a threat to small animals, it is endangering most of the intelligent life in Yorkshire.

Fiddling while Britain drowns

The 'Greenest government ever' has slashed spending on climate change mitigation:
Figures released under freedom of information rules show annual spending falling from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14. The drop in funding follows a previous slashing of staff working on the issue from 38 to six in May 2013. The adaptation funding at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is spent on finding ways to cope with the increased floods, droughts and heatwaves expected in the UK due to global warming. It had risen by almost 20% under Paterson's predecessor, Caroline Spelman, but fell 41% after Paterson replaced her in September 2012. Some was also spent on cutting greenhouse gas emissions but the Department of Energy and Climate Change takes the lead on that issue.
The only good news here is that one does not have to blame Environment Secretary Owen Paterson for this, as cuts inevitably lead back to Gideon 'Call me George' Osborne in Number 11. So we get to Boo! and Hiss! two for the price of one. Meanwhile, Cameron - who campaigned hard on his green credentials - has just gleefully announced that the few bits of Britain not underwater will be concreted over by cut price, unregulated developers, following his 'Bonfire of the Green regulations':
Addressing the Federation of Small Businesses conference, Cameron will argue that the new rules will make it "vastly cheaper" for businesses to comply with their environmental obligations. The government also plans to scrap many building standards relating to things such as the size of windows and demands for renewable energy sources, saving builders about £500 for each new home.
The Conservatives, of course, complained about too much regulation in the financial markets, right up to the moment that they collapsed in 2008. Good to see they, in Cameron's own words, "have learned absolutely nothing" from that notable experiment in deregulation, and how it does not always work as intended. Small minded, stupid men. In charge of one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. With nuclear missiles.

Cameron - stupid, blind, or both?

From The Guardian:
"I think these people who seem to have learned absolutely nothing from what went wrong with our economy, that the problems were based on too much borrowing, too much spending, too much debt, and they're really saying: 'If you gave us the key to the car, we would drive it in exactly the same way into exactly the same wall'." 
Cameron also gave an upbeat assessment of the economy before publication of Tuesday's figures on growth. He said there was no need to be too gloomy about poor balance-of-payment figures and suggestions the upturn is fuelled by higher consumer spending.
Cameron unwittingly describes his own stupidly 'relaxed' attitude to the hints that the economy is about to stagger back into crisis. Having spent most of the recovery trash talking Britain, he's now talking the the recovery up, wilfully ignoring the warning signs. To borrow his own metaphor, having watched Labour crash the car into the wall, he's jumped into his own vehicle and is driving at it as well. Sorry, Dave, who did you say learned nothing?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Coalition scorecard

Looking back over the various credits and debits, I note I've failed to account for Michael Gove.
-1 ... Michael Gove.
-1 ... Free schools.
OVERALL: -4/10. A combination of imbecility and ideology in education drives the coalition down, down, down into the depths.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Coalition scorecard

It's been a while, largely because the coalition has settled into a sort of steady state of ongoing incompetence.
+1 ... Increase in minimum wage 
-1 ... Greenest government ever? Yeah, right.
-1 ... Continuing spinelessness over Syria.
OVERALL: -2/10. Broken promises and vacillations mount up over the parliament. This government will be looked upon as a crucial missed opportunity - to respond adequately to the recession, to the disaster of Syria, and to climate change.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

On the left

There's a bit of an argument out there between Pablo at Kiwipolitico and Chris Trotter about the current shape of the left.  I haven't been following it closely as I am heroically indolent and they use too many big words.  But the jist is that Pablo thinks the left is effectively dead and Chris thinks it isn't.


I think that the left in the sense that Pablo intended has effectively perished and we're left (pun intentional) with a zombie left which is based on a series of compromises with capitalism.  It makes me sad to here Ralph Miliband's son talking about "a more responsible capitalism" and reforming the banking system by introducing ... more banks.  It's like Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, saying that you can't win in gambling, but "There are ways to lose more slowly."  That seems to be all that's left for the the left.  Again, puns again intentional.

The Leninists used to say that while the evolution of society was historically inevitability, the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat could be at hand to "lessen the birth pangs."  Perhaps they got it the wrong way round and the only real function of the left was to administer palliative care to the dying corpse of humanity.

Unless Marx really was right all along (yeah, that pun was intentional as well) and at sun unclear point in the probably distant future the whole shoddy enterprise collapses and something new emerges.  Though human history doesn't suggest much hope for revolutionaries building utopia in the rubble.

Well, that was cheerful!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The most important news story of the year

A first class performance and five fine away goals against Alloa Athletic have pushed Dumbarton up to fourth place in the SPFL Championship.

In a pulsating first half Sons went ahead early through Mark McLaughlin, following a period of concerted pressure on the home defence.

Chris Turner's close range header added a second on the half hour, before Chris Kane's penalty gave Dumbarton a three-goal cushion just before the break.

The visitors continued to dominate in the second half, but it was the Wasps who struck next through Kevin Cawley on 70 minutes.

A second goal for Chris Kane five minutes later effectively wrapped the game up for Dumbarton.

But there was more to come, as Sons went nap on 81 minutes through an amazing volley from Jordan Kirkpatrick (pictured).

The stunning 5-1 victory puts Dumbarton into the promotion play-off places in the second tier of Scottish football — the club's highest league position for nearly 20 years.
Link

My home team, yeh ken.

Rangers, down in what might be termed the third division, may have to up their game if they are to going to share a league with the Sons next season.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Quake

Never felt anything like that! We have a railway line running by our house, and I literally thought a train had derailed into the house.


It looks like the Big Eagle at the airport was as well secured as my wife's jewellery tree, which was also upended by the quake.

Where is "Health and safety gone mad" when you actually need it?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

More (British) Polls!

Polls! More polls! I can't get enough polls!

Opinium:

CON 30%(nc)
LAB 36%(-1)
LDEM 8%(nc)
UKIP 17%(nc)

ComRes:

CON 30%(+1)
LAB 35%(-1)
LDEM 8%(nc)
UKIP 19%(+1)

Interesting that ComRes, Opinium and Survation all give the UKIP about 18% of the vote and a cocmparatively low Labour lead, while Populous. IPSOS Mori and YouGov record higher levels of Labour support and lower UKIP support.

It's like a contingent of Labour voters are somehow being recorded as UKIP supporters.  I am sure there is some entrancingly dull methodological reason for it, and ther reason is probably more to do with weighting than actual flesh and blood voters; but it seems very bizarre that it would affect parties that are seen as at opposite ends of the spectrum, rather than close together.

If polling companies were showing was the Tories suffering to the UKIP's benefit, then it would be a bit logical; as it is, it is a bit mad.

As always, nuff respek to Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report

Lord McAlpine dies

Lord McAlpine, a long term supporter of Margret Thatcher has died.  He was the man briefly - and incorrectly - implicated in child abuse allegations in 2012.  After a disgraceful trial by Twitter, it was confirmed he was innocent.

Several people - including smart people like George Monbiot - got into significant legal trouble over the accusations, but McAlpine opted to settle the cases out of court, requiring the offenders to carry out charity work or make donations to good causes.

That was profounded decent of him, and shows that he had a big soul.

David Cameron, however, decides to focus on his loyalty to the Tory Party, tweeting:

"My thoughts are with Lord McAlpine's family - he was a dedicated supporter of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party."

What a crap comment. Why not identify some of his noble qualities, rather than citing his slavish support of a mad woman and her corrupt cabal of sycophants?

Even I can think of better things to say about McAlpine that just praising his support for a political party - he demonstrated immense integrity and decency in the face of shocking and scurrilous accusations, and given the chance to exact revenge, chose not to take it.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

British Polling Bonanza

I love british politics, because even between their gargantuan elections (where processing results takes a whole day, not the couple of hours required for a count in New Zealand) they have heaps of polls.

It's been something of a Super Friday for Sad People Who Follow Opinion Polls (i.e. me) with FOUR at once.

Populus:

CON 33%
LAB 40%
LDEM 13%
UKIP 9%

Ipsos MORI’:

CON 30%(-3)
LAB 39%(+2)
LDEM 13%(+4)
UKIP 11%(+1)

YouGov:

CON 32%
LAB 39%
LDEM 10%
UKIP 12%

Survation:

CON 30%(-1%)
LAB 34%(-1%)
LDEM 12%(+1%)
UKIP 18%(+2)

The degree of consistency is startling: only Survation stands out, with a lower Labour lead and a rather ludicrously high level of support for the UKIP.  the others give Labour a lead between 7 and 9 points, rather weakening the suggestion that Labour's lead is evaporating in the face of good economic news.

MORI also asked some questions about possible coalitions in a future parliament, and the results are interesting:
-70% of Tory voters would support another coalition with the Lib Dems, only 40% would support a coalition with UKIP. 
-62% of Labour supporters would support a coalition with the Lib Dems, 63% would support a coalition with the Greens. 
-65% of Lib Dems would support another coalition with the Tories, 53% would support a coalition with Labour. 
The first suggests Conservative voters are probably less hostile to the Lib Dems than the Conservative Party in parliament is; and perhaps implies the typical Tory voter is more left wing and level headed than the frothing imbeciles he or she has to vote for.  Conservative voters probably quite like the way the coalition is working, and appreciate the way the Lib Dems have moderated the lunatic right wing of the Conservative party in parliament.  It suggests people - even Tories - are slightly less anti-Europe than they are portrayed.

The results for Labour suggest that the party should reconsider its stance of proportional representation.  Its supporters would be as comfortable to see the party working with the Greens as with the Lib Dems; but it is an irrelevant question with only one Green in parliament.  Embracing electoral reform would give them a coalition alternative, and would also strengthen their negotiating position with the Lib Dems.

The Lib Dem result suggests the Lib Dem voter is more right wing than he or she is typecast as, and undermines the myth that the Lib Dems are just an extension of the Labour Party.  They might have been once, but now they seem to be more inclined towards supporting the Conservatives.  This might be because they see the current coalition as successful, and / or because the left leaning Lib Dems stopped being Lib Dems when the coalition formed.

Hat Tip: Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report for compiling all this lovely data.