Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

Did you see...

Did you hear about the March Against Austerity yesterday?

"The what? I didn't hear about that!"

Somewhere between ten and fifty thousand people - the Metropolitan Police are refusing to provide an estimate - marched from the BBC headquarters to Parliament, where they held a speaker meeting.

That's a lot of people, enough to fill St Stephen's Green - the large square outside Parliament - and that kind of thing gets you noticed. And you didn't hear about it on the BBC, because they didn't cover it.

Given where it started, you can't say the BBC didn't notice.

At 11:00 the following day, the BBC website put up a short clip with no commentary. It's someone else's footage, and the text looks like the barebones header off the Reuters feed.

See if you can find it on without being told where to look: this isn't broadcast news.

So where can I see the news on TV..?Collapse )

We're not one of *those* countries, with censorship, mass surveillance, deaths in police stations, and 'People's' this and 'Democratic' that plastered over institutions which are nothing of the sort, and falling living standards for the masses while the people who run the place are salting money away in Switzerland.

...Are we?

Well, the BBC are making a jolly good British effort to reassure us that we're not. Or at least, showing a proper British dignified reserve.

Broadcast Britishness: it's what they're for.

But what *are* we? What is Britain?

It seems we have entered a post-democratic phase of government, governance, and politics. And I have no idea what that might actually mean.

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Saturday, May 24th, 2014

In place of puns: punditry

Some election punditry for you all, expanded from a comment I made elsewhere...

This week's local and European elections show that the Labour Party have gained from UKIP's split in the right-wing vote - and I believe that Labour will gain even more in Parliamentary constituencies next year, where splits in the opposition magnify the distortions of a first-past-the-post electoral system.
Read more...Collapse )

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Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Faraging in the dustbins of history.

Nigel Farage: what can I say about him?

The best I can say of Farage is that a certain kind of prejudiced and dim and unimaginative mediocrity could rise to senior management in a certain type of company, or succeed in business on his own, if he had the right sort of friends in the golf club; and he might eventually achieve the civic prominence that gets a knighthood in the New Years Honours if he had the right sort of friends in the local branch of the Conservative Party.

In the 1950's.

With the social and racial attitudes that come with that background.

...Not a bad person, by those standards and those times.

And that is the very, very best that I can say of him.

If I said that Farage represents the very, very best of UKIP, the political party that he leads, you might think that I am being very unflattering about UKIP, its ethos, and the quality of its members. And you would be right.

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Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The future's arriving in the wrong New Order...

If you don't mind my asking, How much of your income goes on your accommodation?

Answers will be screened, unless you ask me to unscreen them.

By 'accommodation', I mean rent, or on the mortgage plus the bills that you, the homeowner, are paying - and a landlord would be paying from his rental income just to keep the property.

I bet, for most of you, it's half your income after tax.

For the 'working poor', it's somewhere between sixty and seventy-five percent, depending on where you count housing benefit and whether they receive it: some of the undocumented Eastern Europeans chipping in for the right to sleep on a sofa-bed in a *very* shared household must be paying less: at least, in weeks when they get a full week's paid employment. It's difficult to imagine anybody paying more but, some weeks, there's people struggling to cover rent - and very little else. Or less.

I've noticed that this is a massive transfer of resources from the poorest to the richest.

It's just as well that Labour, and the various rumps of Socialism, Communism, and the Liberals are of and for the Middle Classes, and will never meet and talk to someone on an actual low income. They'd talk about housing, it's embarrassing and no-one's interested nowadays; there's no votes in it, and we know that sort of talk lowers the tone of the neighbourhood and reduces the value of our nice suburban houses.

Meanwhile, the people 'down there' spending all that money for decidedly substandard housing are astonishingly passive and accepting of this unequal economic order. In the total absence of engagement by any organised political party, they probably do not regard themselves as disenfranchised, as they have never thought about themselves, or seen themselves portrayed in the media expressing themselves, in the alien vocabulary of the politically-active.

None of them, below the age of fifty, can remember what it's like to be engaged in an effective democracy, with politicians of and among them, engaging with and talking to them, representing them, and achieving tangible improvements in their housing, their employment and their children's education.

For most of you, that has to sound like laughable idealism, or a throwback to the failures of the much-derided nineteen-seventies.

I guess the best that we can hope for is that 'they' - not 'us'! - are thoroughly ground-down, exhausted, and resigned to their place in someone else's free economy. Above all, we have to hope that this exhaustion peters out in dull resentment, instead of building up a sense of justice and of anger, and that 'they' are disinclined to violent insurrections.

Meanwhile, rents are still going up in London: is this true elsewhere? It's not the bright and shiny future we were promised, but it seems to be the future that we've got: take care that you don't get used to doing less on your diminishing disposable income, and then a little less again, and then working just a little more. And then a lot more, just to catch up on the bills and maybe on the credit cards you didn't quite pay off, and struggling to make deposit on the next move, and the next, because the rent keeps going up and everything is dearer.

Or if you can't take care, try at least to notice.

And I wonder who is actually profiting from all this: 'this' being what it means, down on the ground, when the economists talk about the accelerating concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority, before they all go home to read each other's economics columns in the Guardian in their nice suburban houses.

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Friday, July 29th, 2011

The Dollar Llama

Would you believe that someone's found a way of monetising the End of the World?

Enterprising Atheists are taking money from Christian Fundamentalists,offering a pet care service for the animals left behind when their owners ascend to Heaven in The Rapture.

Which got me to thinking: how can anyone make money from the 'End of the World' scenario of a US Treasury default? Bright and dangerous minds have been exercised by this very question, on trading floors the length and breadth of London, and the answer is unanimous: "Buggered if I know. Maybe we can take advantage of buying opportunities when it all blows over..."

Clearly pet care isn't the way forward. It occurs to me that the worst-case scenario involves Republican senators ascending Heavenward with the aid of a rope and a lamp-post, and their pets will end up barbecued on piles of worthless green paper when the slack-jawed 'Red State' voters who believe Glenn Beck and Fox are forced to recognise the downside of living in a country with no money to pay for the imported oil that powers the McDonalds supply chain...

There are intermediate scenarios: the very best one is that they've already sorted it out, and the budget's gone through, and no-one needs to worry about missing any payments on the Treasuries...

Except that this 'blown over' best-case is already damned expensive: Treasury notes are no longer 'above question' and everyone, everywhere, is going to pay a risk premium on every loan and on every transaction that relies on borrowed money for materials, cash flow, investment or even for insurance.

So much for keeping taxes low. I could take a view that an economic overclass of rentiers, who benefit from lower taxes and less 'Government interference' will benefit from much of the Republican agenda - incidentally, they don't benefit from policies that would reflate the economy, promote domestic manufacturing, and rebalance the wealth distribution - but that view fails under the test "who benefits from a default?"

The billionaires don't gain from it at all. So my best guess is that they, too, are horrified by the monster they have unleashed in the form of the Tea Party. Useful idiots they may be, when campaigning for lower taxes and no labour rights, environmental regulation, or market supervision; but they have turned into dangerous and destructive idiots in damaging the US credit rating and threatening a partial or complete collapse of the economy.

Yes, they were a great bargaining tool in the budget bluster-fest: "Take our moderate Republican proposals for these welfare cuts, and more deregulation, or we'll leave the field for... THEM" but now that bargaining position has proved to be more than just a posture: there are loonies in the Tea Party who would actually do it.

So I think we can predict a much-reduced Tea Party, starting from next week, with far less funding, far less media access, and possibly less-favourable coverage from the dominant media channel of the Right.

Of course, if Fox is still supporting Teatards after Monday - or before then - you can take it as a certainty that Rupert Murdoch's found a way to profit from Apocalypse.

I mean, with all his recent troubles, he could't possibly be contemplating Götterdämmerung?

On a more serious note, we can look towards an accelerated decline in the Dollar. There isn't much that can be done to replace it - Greenbacks really are the World's currency - but what can be done, will be done. Oil will become increasingly expensive, in Dollar terms. Imports of all kinds - and that now means ALL manufactured goods - will become more expensive, for Americans; and I'm not convinced that factories in the rustbelt will reopen, even if the dollar halves in value - America has a very, very long way to go before they can compete with Chinese factories and the point of equilibrium lies at an unimaginably low subsistence level for the workers.

There is also a question of capital: can the banking system support the necessary level of investment? There definitely isn't any kind of money for the infrastructure to support a manufacturing revival - and there might never be the will in Washington to raise taxes.

Parts of the American economy will, of course, still lead the world. But high-end manufacturing and internationally-tradable services will only ever provide employment for a narrow segment of the population in a country where a narrow - and still-narrowing - segment of the population benefit from education to the necessary level. That, too, is an infrastructure issue; and it has proven intractable for both Democrats and the Republicans. .

Whatever. The best-case scenario leads to a secular decline in living standards for the vast majority of Americans, and reduced economic growth for the rest of us, with a real risk that our economy will drop below the 'stall speed' of 1-2% growth and fall into stagnation or recession.

The worst-case scenarios are apocalyptic and it's worth considering that they have already happened to Americans remaining in Detroit, subsistence-farming with hand-tools in the ruins of the factories and the vacant lots of the demolished suburbs. More of them are going there: or rather, 'there' is coming to them - and 'Hoovervilles' and shanty-towns are coming back.

Or rather, they've arrived: it's just a matter of how how many, and how hard we try not to notice, aided by compliant media who might - despite my gibes of Götterdämmerung - continue to support a party with an economic policy far worse for the economy than Herbert Hoover.

Meanwhile, how can anyone profit from it?

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Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Election Poster...

It's been an interesting day at work: non-stop coverage of Greece, images of street battles, the 'Tannoy' cutting in at intervals with major market news - Portugal, new reports from the Ratings Agencies; Italy, questions over fraudulent economic data; Greece, questions over the release of bail-out funds; failed gilt auctions and impending funding crises; the sell-off of the Euro; questions over Sterling; net disinvestment figures, unemployment figures, disappointing growth...

Anyone who thinks politics doesn't matter and economic issues go away if you ignore them might do well do watch a gloomy day on a trading floor. You look up on the screens, and see a country imploding; look around, and people disinvesting in their future. Ours, too.

So what about my investment in our future, measured as a tick on paper?

Ruminations on the value of a vote in a marginal constituency...Collapse )

A final point: I am ambivalent about the fact that my most meaningful contribution to the democratic process, this time 'round, is putting the odd fifty- or a hundred quid in Lib-Dem party funds in marginal constituencies where they have a serious chance. Or, as in the case of Dr. Evan Harris, where an excellent MP could lose the seat.

If my most important contribution is my money, rather than my powers of persuasion and my vote, then I am arguably part of the problem in British politics today.

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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

'Overturn' - The Disaster Movie You'll Never See At The Cinema

No, I'm not doing NanoWriMo: I'm working too many hours, and sufficiently fed up that I'd write a novella that'd leave you whimpering under the duvet if - as is likely, given my writing skills - you didn't bin it after slogging through half a chapter.

Still, there's no shortage of story ideas out there, if you do nothing more than read the daily papers; and some of those ready-made plots would make you wonder why, apart from escapism,  our Hollywood 'disaster' movies are so implausible and so *mild* in their avoidance of the things we fear but won't admit to.

x marks the plotCollapse ) 
What have I mIssed? There's got to be a story or two in there somewhere: the danger isn't any shortage of ideas, it's the risk of putting in too much for any reasonably-readable novel. 

So, concluding with a tagline for a novel and a screenplay that I don't intend to write: it's coming to a cinema near you... And to the foyer, and the buildings nearby, far away, and everywhere. I only hope we get to eat the Climate-Change Deniers while there is sufficient fuel and water to boil the bastards alive.
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Sunday, March 15th, 2009

On prison-ships and foreign workers...

There's been a lot of comment on the 'prison ship' in use to house the foreign workers brought in at Lindsey Refinery near Grimsby.

I have two points for you to consider: one is a matter of the past, and the unseen present in plain view; the other is an unpleasant distortion of a sense of grievance among English workers that is far, far less to do with xenophobia than you might have been led to believe.

Read on...Collapse )

Am I surprising you, departing from 'the script' that is expected of an economic commentator with a banking background and an economic 'right-wing' view? Only if you label every point of view as 'right' or left', and expect opinions and analyses to come in packages conforming to a partisan portfolio. My view, here and now, is that there is no valid point of view on economics that does not consider both capital and labour; a good economist - or an amateur commentator like yours truly - should encourage better management and development of all resources: natural, financial, human and industrial. And, indeed, of 'social' resources, the goodwill and justice that arise in an equitable society, and are rapidly eroded or polluted by high-handedness, exclusion, and the creation of a low-cost migrant-labour economy.

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Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Hose Line is it Anyway...

Walking past the Bethnal Green fire station today, I couldn't help but notice that the sign saying 'LFCDA'* was looking very tired and tatty. It struck me that the Fire Brigade is falling behind the times and, in order to keep up with the forward-looking agencies of our modern free-market state, it's time for a Corporate Rebranding.

Clearly the uniforms have to go: we need something brighter, more fashion-conscious; the fire-engines need a better 'visual brand' - the old fire-engine red needs to be registered as a corporate trademark... Which will be a slightly different shade to the tired old Soviet-Era red, necessitating an expensive repaint of the entire vehicle fleet in FireEngineRed®... And there has to be a Change of Culture: the 'victim' mentality has to go, and members of the public with a house on fire will be referred to at all times as customers.

There is, of course, one critical component of any public service modernisation: a distinctive, exciting and memorable Corporate Brand Name. My best ideas so far are:

  • Ignitia;
  • Extinguisha;
  • Hydrantis.

Feel free to add suggestions of your own; and a corporate logo, too, if you're feeling particularly creative.

There remains the issue of advertising and sponsorship. I recall that Viz magazine made some efforts in this direction a few years ago:

Is your house on fire?
Call us today
The Fire Brigade

But we can go further than conventional print media and the familiar television campaigns: The Fire Agency® is almost unique among public bodies in that it already has a widely-recognised audible brand which can be played on public streets at eighty-five decibels. I do not propose doing away with the familiar siren - it performs an important safety function - but corporate sponsors in the Insurance sector will pay a premium to have their brand name and a short jingle repeated between every third 'Nee-Naw'.

Indeed, the opportunities for revenue are endless: it is entirely possible that corporate sponsorship will make The Fire Agency® entirely self-funding, obviating the need for payments from customers and their insurers, or a taxpayer-funded scheme for households in receipt of benefits.

* London Fire and Civil Defence Authority.
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Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

A writing challenge for LiveJournal, or: how a government department has a priapus for a logo

There is a story I want to write, but it is beyond my limited ability as an author.

Some background, and an attempt to write a key scene...Collapse )
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