27 March 2015

A conspiracy theorist writes ...

So it was the fault of the co-pilot?  The BBC website reports:
The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, named as Andreas Lubitz, appeared to want to "destroy the plane", officials said.
Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, citing information from the "black box" voice recorder, said the co-pilot was alone in the cockpit.
He intentionally started a descent while the pilot was locked out.

There is something disturbing about the way the authorities rush to blame human beings for aeroplane crashes, conveniently letting the airlines and the aeroplane manufacturers off the hook.  In this case, I have no grounds to dispute the initial findings but I am minded to suspend judgment until the investigations are concluded.

25 March 2015

Stating the bleeding obvious

Thus spake the bold Alex:
The SNP would block a minority Conservative government by voting down its Queen's Speech if it holds the post-election balance of power, its former leader Alex Salmond has said.
Mr Salmond said the move could bring down the government if Labour joined in, with David Cameron "locked out".
The Conservatives accused him of "trying to sabotage the democratic will of the British people".

In what sense would the exercise of an anti-Conservative majority in the Commons constitute “sabotage [of] the democratic will of the British people”?  If the people fail to elect a Tory government which can command a majority of the Commons, then it is entirely legitimate - and amply well-precedented - within the bounds of the UK’s first-past-the-post system for whoever can command such a majority to take power.


21 March 2015

Music of the week

Quote of the day

From The Guardian  on Mr Tony (here):
Somewhere along the line, your personal manifesto quietly slips from “Education, Education, Education” into “Grease the wheels of dictatorships, grease the wheels of dictatorships, grease the wheels of dictatorships”. I understand it, I do. It could happen to any of us! So I wasn’t all that surprised when Blair said in a speech last weekend that, though democracy in the Middle East was important, it wasn’t any more important than efficacy, or “effective government taking effective decisions”. Indeed, if you’re trying to run a country unencumbered by the views and beliefs of the entire population of that country, as many of Tony’s new business partners are, democracy really could be a bit of a spanner in the works. Blair’s speech was given in Egypt, where he praised the highly effective work of his new pal President al-Sisi, with whom he’s been having some kind of unspecified relationship. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has reported a surge in harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody since President al-Sisi came to power. 

My glass is half empty


There you go:
The FTSE 100 has soared through the 7,000 barrier for the first time in its history, with investors buoyed by the prospect of continuing low interest rates and growing hopes that a solution may finally be found to Greece’s financial crisis.
From here, the only way is down.

20 March 2015

Unravelling?

It usually takes more than a day or two for the pundits to discover the feet of clay underlying a budget.  But this week’s Osbornian effort seems to be falling apart rather more quickly.

As the OBR and the IFS have pointed out, there is a huge black hole in the form of £12 billion worth of welfare cuts.  Mr Osborne can’t or won’t explain which bits of welfare spending are to be targeted, even though the options appear to be extremely limited:

According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ latest annual accounts, the UK’s total welfare bill this year will come out at around £167.5bn. However, well over half of this of this – £93bn – is pensions and pension credit, and the chancellor has pledged that his additional £12bn of cuts won’t come from pensioners.This leaves Osborne with the task of shaving £12bn off the remaining benefit bill of £74bn, the equivalent of cutting one pound in every six in just a two-year period.

Then there is the crazy Help to Buy ISA whereby the government will subsidise housing demand, pushing house prices upwards and ultimately benefiting no-one.  Meanwhile the desperate need to increase housing supply is utterly neglected.

More amusingly, in a development reminiscent of the pasty tax, the Chancellor’s proposed tax break for orchestras has had to be swiftly amended to include brass bands.

How soon before we start using the term omni-shambles?

17 March 2015

Bring on the girls

Ann Treneman of The Times gets her teeth into the blessed Nicola (behind paywall):
I have always seen Nicola Sturgeon as a boiled sweet, so hard that bits of her chip off if she runs into something. But these days she is on a mission to soften. Industrial amounts of Downy fabric softener have been used and the result is rather impressive. Gone is the helmet hairdo, so effective that the army has asked for permission to deploy it in war zones. In TV make-up, there is a spray-on foundation that they call “airbrush”. Nicola Sturgeon yesterday had that airbrushed glow.
Is that the worst Ms Treneman can do?


   

Quote of the day

From a Guardian editorial on the chairman of the Conservative Party (here):
Mr Shapps is an operator. It’s what he is good at. He knew his double life was under the spotlight. He knew what was at stake when he was asked about it. Time and again he signally failed to tell the truth until he was forced to do so by the evidence. To protest against his conduct and character is not in any way, as he shamelessly alleged on Monday, to be anti-business. It is simply to be pro-truth. The truth is that Mr Shapps is a chancer in a job where credibility ought to matter, and once did. The truth is also that David Cameron has made two mistakes with Mr Shapps. The first was to appoint him chairman. The second is not to fire him. 
   

14 March 2015

Budget mysteries

The Treasury Permanent Secretary is getting his knickers in a twist.  The BBC website reports:

The top civil servant at the Treasury has warned staff he will not "hesitate to call in the police" if anyone leaks details from the Budget.
Sir Nicholas Macpherson has sent an email to officials reminding them he takes rules banning any pre-briefing of next week's Budget "very seriously".
As senior politicians and their political advisers have been leaking pre-briefing budget details for years (as will be apparent in tomorrow’s newspapers), it would seem rather pointless to crack the whip over their civil service underlings.

 

13 March 2015

Music of the week

Warriors for the dispossessed?

The Guardian reports:
The Conservatives will only win the general election if they can show the electorate that they are the “warriors for the dispossessed”, Michael Gove has said.
In a sign that Downing Street is concerned by poll findings, which consistently show the party is still a tainted brand, Gove said Tories need to show voters what is in their hearts before they can hope to engage their heads.
Speaking at the launch of the Good Right group, the Tory chief whip said: “Only if we remind people of our commitment to social justice, demonstrate our belief in equality of opportunity and affirm that we are warriors for the dispossessed will we be able to win arguments, and elections, and then be in a position genuinely to help the vulnerable and the voiceless. People need to know what’s in our hearts before they are prepared to consider our arguments in their heads.”
Sure, and Jeremy Clarkson is a caring sensitive soul who abhors publicity ...

   


04 March 2015

Small change

Laughable:
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has been fined £7,500 for breaching Scottish Football Association rules on dual ownership because of his influence on the affairs of Rangers.
According to Wikipedia, Mr Ashley is down to his last £1.5 billion.

   

02 March 2015

Nice work if you can get it

The Times reports (paywall):
Rona Fairhead, the chairwoman of the BBC Trust, was urged to give up working for HSBC yesterday after it emerged that she was paid more than £10,000 a day by the beleaguered bank.
MPs claimed that Ms Fairhead’s earnings from HSBC, whose Geneva branch has been accused of facilitating tax evasion, raised questions about her priorities because it dwarfs the £110,000 she receives for working three days a week overseeing the BBC.
Ms Fairhead was paid £513,000 last year by HSBC for about 50 days work, including £334,000 as the non-executive chairman of HSBC North America, £160,000 as the non-executive director of HSBC Holdings and £19,000 in expenses and other benefits.
The businesswoman, 53, who also earns £130,000 for working up to 25 days a year from PepsiCo, has insisted that her BBC work is her “first priority”.
Why?  Because she's worth it - probably ...

   

26 February 2015

Quote of the day

The Guardian reports on the Green leader's brain fade:
Now ask yourself: how many LBC listeners who were tempted by the Greens at the start of the week will have trusted Bennett any less, in terms of the character thing, after her rambling radio performance? The answer, I’d suggest, is precious few. While Westminster insiders were listening to a social housing policy coming apart at the seams, many voters elsewhere may have heard an honest woman decline to pretend to an irritatingly insistent man that she could remember a load of statistics that only a freak would commit to memory anyway.


      

Believe it if you like

Ah, the HSBC chief with the complicated banking arrangements.  The BBC reports:
Mr Gulliver, who has worked for HSBC for 35 years and became chief executive in 2011, told the committee that his personal holding of a Swiss bank account through a Panamanian company had "no tax purpose".
He said the arrangement only reflected a desire for privacy from his colleagues at HSBC in Hong Kong.
He said: "It was purely about privacy from colleagues in Hong Kong and Switzerland. We had a computer system back in the day that allowed everybody to inquire into staff accounts ... I was amongst the highest paid people and I wished to preserve my privacy from colleagues. Nothing more than that."
Perfectly understandable.  He went to the trouble of setting up a Panamanian holding company to control a secret Swiss bank account, purely for reasons of privacy.  Doesn't everyone?  Nothing to do with income tax, certainly.


 

25 February 2015

No big deal


Should we be celebrating?  CityAM reports:

The UK’s blue chip index finally pushes past a peak that it last reached during the dot com bubble in 1999.
IT’S TAKEN more than 15 years, but the FTSE 100 rose to a record high yesterday, finally beating the level that it reached during the dot com bubble.
The blue chip index ended at a new peak of 6,949.63, beating the previous record of 6,930.2 set on 30 December 1999. Earlier, the index also set a new intra-day high of 6,958.89, surpassing the previous figure of 6,950.6, also set on 30 December 1999. The index rose slowly during the day, but there was a surge in the last 90 minutes of trading, after Eurozone finance ministers approved reform proposals submitted by Greece.
Am I bovvered?  Naw, it just makes bargain buys harder to find ...


23 February 2015

Stupid, stupid, stupid

Do we get the politicians we deserve?
    


How much of a stupid politician do you have to be to be taken in by journos posing as those seeking to hire MPs for access to influence? Leaving aside the venality, were they ignorant of all the previous attempts to trap MPs into cash for access? An unknown agency comes along offering them money and they can’t resist shooting themselves in the foot? Idiots.

21 February 2015

So who won?

Sorry to reduce the Brussels financial nnegotiations to the lowest common denominator but it's what matters to peasants like me.

Peston provides half an answer:
Certainly the Germans have won on the issue of form - in that Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has in the end agreed to a four-month extension of the current bailout, which is something his government swore it would never do.
Also, the monitors and enforcers of the agreement will remain Brussels, the IMF and the European Central Bank - the so-called troika so hated by Syriza (although the statement carefully avoids using the loathed term for the three-legged stool).
And the language of the statement is all about the Greeks promising to "honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely" and adopting measures to "guarantee debt sustainability in line with the November 2012 Eurogroup statement".
But along with the language of Teutonic fiscal rectitude, Mr Varoufakis has clearly secured some important wriggle room.
The fact that the Syriza government can submit its own list of economic and financial reforms to supplant those pledged by its predecessor is a breakthrough - although of course the Germans could still veto what Syriza ends up proposing.
That said, Mr Varoufakis was very clear that his government is not required to implement pension cuts and VAT rises which it has been resisting.
From his point of view what matters most is that he believes he has been given the green light to ease up on austerity, to cut spending or raise taxes less than the last administration committed to do.
In short and, as ever, they kicked the can down the road a bit.

 

20 February 2015

Hot air

It's not such a big deal.  The Guardian suggests the end of the world is nigh:
Centrica has slashed the dividend for its 650,000 small shareholders and plans to cut costs and investment after warm weather and falling oil prices reduced annual profits at the owner of British Gas by more than a third. 
It is the first time Centrica has cut its dividend since the company was created in 1997, and leaves many individual investors with less income than they had come to expect.
Operating profit at British Gas fell 20% to £823m because of a sharp drop in demand during the warmest year on record. The average customer bill fell by about £100, and the average profit per customer fell by almost £10 to £42.
As a customer, I welcome the reduction in my gas bill.  As a shareholder, I regret the cut in the dividend but I console myself with the realisation that the 30% cut takes the dividend from over 6% annually to slightly over 4% - which is still a lot more than I would get from putting the money in a bank account.

   

Syriza delenda est

From The Guardian (here):
There is a phrase for what Germany is seeking to do to Greece: a Carthaginian peace. It dates back to the Punic wars when Rome emerged victorious in its long struggle with Carthage but refused to allow its opponent the chance of an honourable surrender. Instead, it enforced a brutal settlement, burning Carthage to the ground and enslaving those inhabitants it did not massacre.
A Carthaginian peace is what is being offered to Alexis Tsipras. On Thursday, the Greek prime minister made it clear that he was willing to see the white flag of surrender flutter over Athens. He accepted that he would have to swallow most of the conditions demanded of him by Greece’s eurozone partners but asked for a few concessions to sugar the pill.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister, immediately slapped Tsipras down. What Greece was proposing was unacceptable, Schaeuble said. Unless the Germans are bluffing, and there’s nothing to suggest that they are, it leaves Greece with a binary choice: abject surrender or going nuclear.
   


19 February 2015

Keeping busy?

The Times reports (behind paywall):
A senior nationalist has warned that Holyrood’s vital committees cannot do their job properly because of the volume of legislation that the government is trying to push through.
Christine Grahame, convener of the powerful justice committee, has called on ministers to cut the number of bills they bring forward so that each can be scrutinised properly.
Speaking at the conveners’ committee, Ms Grahame said: “The level of legislation leaves no time — none whatsoever — for post-legislative scrutiny and hardly any time for a brief inquiry. When you’ve so many balls in the air, it makes scrutinising very difficult to do effectively.”
Perhaps they might do better if the parliament met on more than three days a week?

   

Does he really need the money?

Tawdry.   The Guardian reports:

Tony Blair has added Serbia to the list of countries he is paid to advise, despite his role as the chief proponent of the bombing of Belgrade in 1999.
Blair will counsel the Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, who was information minister during the war and was once such an outspoken critic of the British politician that he was listed as an editor of a book titled English Gay Fart Tony Blair.
Now Vucic and Blair find themselves on the same side, under a contract sealed by Blair’s private consultancy to set up a “delivery unit” paid for, according to Serbian official sources, by the United Arab Emirates.

Is there anything Blair will not do in order to fill his pockets?

Blair does not publish his earnings, but the Financial Times put his income for 2011 at around £20m. He is paid up to $300,000 (£195,000) a session on the lecture circuit, aides have said.
In the past he has advised countries as diverse as Rwanda, Albania, Mongolia and Kuwait.

The man has no dignity.

17 February 2015

Shades of Munich 1938

Apparently, the security establishment thinks we should  avoid provoking the Russian bear.  The Guardian reports:
Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, has warned against stepping up pressure on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, over Ukraine and said any change in power in the Kremlin “may well be for the worse”.
The west would have to learn to live with Putin, however unpalatable that may seem, Sawers told an audience of war studies students at King’s College, London. Provoking him could deepen the security crisis facing Europe, he suggested.
“The Ukraine crisis is no longer just about Ukraine,” he said. “It’s now a much bigger, more dangerous crisis, between Russia and western countries, about values and order in Europe.”
Britain’s recently retired chief spymaster said Russia had a formidable nuclear arsenal and Putin wanted these ultimate weapons in his armoury to project raw strength. Russia may have rejected European values but, Sawers said, “we deal with the Russia we have, not the Russia we’d like to have”.
The west “could take on Moscow stepping up our response. Provide weapons to Ukraine so it can defend itself. More stringent sanctions. But how would Mr Putin respond?” Sawers asked.
He added: “As long as Mr Putin sees the issue in terms of Russia’s own security he will be prepared to go further than us. So he would respond with further escalation on the ground. Perhaps cyber attacks against us. We have thousands of deaths in Ukraine. We could start to get tens of thousands. Then what?”
Does he really think that being nice to Putin will stop the latter from exerting his malign influence over Eastern Europe?  That a Western caving-in over Ukraine would put an end to Putin's territorial ambitions?  That the massive economic power of the EU compared with Russia should count for nothing?

 

13 February 2015

Learning Spanish

How not to do it?


Quote of the day


From a letter to The Guardian:
Observing the politicians’ evasions and avoidances concerning questions over tax and Swiss banks, why do I keep thinking of Captain Renault’s shock at finding gambling was going on in Casablanca?

   

12 February 2015

Music of the week

Vice

The Times reports (paywall):
The Duke of York has been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral, according to the latest Royal Navy appointments published in theLondon Gazette. The notice stated: “Her Majesty The Queen has graciously agreed that: Rear Admiral His Royal Highness The Duke of York KG GCVO ADC be promoted Vice Admiral with effect from 19 February 2015.”
Not inappropriate, in the light of recent events ...

 

Photo of the day


Who says financial high heidyins can't be trendy?  Christine is modelling a flash leather blouson, while Yanis combines an artfully casual scarf with his trademark tieless open-neck.