Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Referendum times

Much has been made of Merkel's difficulties in financing EU bailouts, with the intervention of the German constitutional court. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been hot on the case, reporting how the court is blocking further moves to surrender fiscal powers to the EU, on the back of a judgement in early September.

However, very much in the character of a mountain meeting an immovable object, there was a whisper, mid-month that Merkel was looking to overhaul the German constitution, with a view to emasculating the powers of the constitutional court.

This story is now gathering momentum, if not substance, with a further report in Spiegel, suggesting that the court is at risk of losing its jurisdiction over European issues.

The federal government and the court, we are told, are locked in one of their biggest power struggles to date. One judge at the court has described it as a "latent constitutional crisis." The government, he says, is trying to free itself of the restraints imposed on it by the constitution, and by the court.

The president of the court, Andreas Vosskühle, has expressed it a little more cautiously. The perception of his court is at present, he said "ambivalent in parts", thus leaving open the tantalising question of how serious this challenge actually is.

The process entails transferring more sovereign rights to the EU - and it would mean amending Germany's constitution. This could either be accomplished under Article 23, requiring a two-thirds majority in Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, as well as the Bundesrat - or, as a more challenging alternative, under Article 146 of the constitution.

Article 146 is a tool that allows for the drafting of a new constitution following a national referendum, and it is this which is thought necessary to achieve the necessary changes, especially as the constitutional judges in Karlsruhe have now made it clear on a number of occasions that the constitution leaves little leeway to relinquish more power to Brussels.

At present, there is no firm idea when this article might be invoked, although some are talking of a referendum in the autumn of 2013. By that time, of course, it will be questionable as to whether there will be a euro worth saving, which is the whole purpose of the exercise.


Campbell at Leveson

Whatever you might think of Alastair Campbell, his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry is compelling stuff. Much of what he writes, in fact, has been expressed on this blog, to the extent that there is a remarkable degree of agreement at what constitutes a deterioration in the quality of the press, and the reasons for it.

Given his background and reputation, one almost wishes it was someone else writing for, in expressing his view of the press, Campbell expresses sentiments with which we could only concur.

Despite what the UK press has become, he says, I believe in a free press as a cornerstone of a healthy, vibrant democracy. Newspapers must always poke around in the affairs of the rich and powerful. They help hold authority to account. They should always be difficult, challenging, suspicious of power. They must always take risks and push hard for the truth. They must be free to criticise, mock and expose.

Of his many observations in 55 pages (double-spaced) of witness statement, he tells us that the centre of gravity in our press has moved to a bad place; the combined forces, of technological change, intense competition, an obsession with celebrity, a culture of negativity, and amorality among some of the industry's leaders and practitioners have accelerated a downmarket trend, and accelerated too the sense of desperation in the pursuit of stories.

Speed now comes ahead of accuracy, impact comes ahead of fairness, and in parts of the press anything goes to get the story first. Whilst a free press should always be fought for, he says, the impact upon our culture and our public life of what the press in Britain has become has a large debit side alongside the credit that freedom brings.

Campbell thus asserts that news values have deteriorated to the extent that whether something is true counts for less than whether it makes a good story. There is, he says, a culture of negativity in which the prominence and weight given to coverage is not proportionate to the significance or newsworthiness of the matter being reported, but whether it fits the agenda of the outlet, and particularly whether it is damaging to the target of the organisation.

Alongside all this, news and comment have fused, which makes it harder and harder for the public to establish where fact ends and comment begins. This is particularly prevalent in those newspapers - now the majority - which have an agenda, political or otherwise, and who often make their impact by relentlessly pursuing their campaigns, using news as well as comment columns to paint a wholly one-sided picture of an issue or personality.

Once again, this is not new, as anyone who worked for media moguls of the past will testify. But the acceleration of the trend has been clear, as newspapers have relied more on front page impact campaigns and manufactured news, less on hard news in the traditional sense.

There is an interesting paradox that while we have more media space than ever, complaint about the lack of healthy debate has rarely been louder. Fewer stories and issues are being addressed in real depth in a way that engages large audiences; there has been a decline in evidence-based reporting; and despite the explosion in outlets, there are very few days in which there is not a single homogenous theme or talking point dominating the vast output.

When newspapers defend themselves and their role in society, however, they tend to rely on their reputation of investigative journalism, citing great investigations like the Thalidomide scandal as the kind of story they are in business for.

But, says Campbell, the fact we still talk and hear so much of it underlines how few great investigations there have been amid the millions of stories since. The time, energy and resources available to journalists go primarily towards the instant hits and the celebrity exposes, so that real serious investigative journalism such as is represented by Watergate and Thalidomide is actually under threat. That too is the responsibility of those who now lead the industry and edit its papers.

Campbell thus does not believe Britain gets the media we deserve. The press, at a cultural level, he says, has got itself into a position where it thinks only negativity sells, and where the ferocity of competition has led to a decline in standards. The combination has been corrosive.

The principle of the freedom of the press is always worth fighting for, he says. The quality of that freedom however is questionable when the quality of so much journalism is so low, and when so few people - just a handful of men until now seemingly unaccountable to anyone but themselves and to anything but their own commercial and political interests - have so much say over the tone and nature of public discourse, and so much responsibility for the decline in standards. It is also worth fighting therefore - politicians, journalists and public alike – to change the press we have.

To sum up, in his experience of over a decade dealing with the political media, he claims that exaggeration, embellishment and pure invention are endemic, and are tolerated and indeed encouraged by some editors and senior executives

But all this comes at a price. The public, Campbell claims, are smart enough to recognise overblown nonsense and hype, and the decline of newspapers has been hastened by people's weariness and frustration at the lack of any sense of proportion or balance in what the papers offer.

So people are going elsewhere to find information they trust, he says. The rise in social networks is in part based on the concept of 'friends' - we do not believe politicians as we used to; we do not believe the media; we do not believe business and other vested interests; we believe each other, friends and family, those we know.

In the final analysis, this blog exists in its current form because of the failures of the media, about which we have been voluble. We do not believe the media – much of what it says, and spend much time and effort trying to overcome those failures.

The reason we do so is that, as Campbell asserts, a free press as a cornerstone of a healthy, vibrant democracy. And if the press no longer does its job – and it so clearly does not – then someone has to. I take pride in my work, and greater pride that there are so many other bloggers – free spirits all – who are prepared to do the same thing.

Campbell seems pessimistic about whether the press can be improved, and looks to the Leveson Inquiry to recommend changes. But like so many "above the line" figures whose main experience of blogging is Guido Fawkes, he does not understand the degree to which serious bloggers are beginning to fill the political vacuum.

Our weekly hit rate would now be quite sufficient to sustain a respectable political magazine, and our output over a week would easily fill one. Campbell may complain, therefore, and Leveson in the fullness of time, may proclaim. But we are already there, filling the gap.

What Campbell offers is too little, too late. The MSM, I believe, have gone too far down the road to be recoverable. Too many of those that inhabit it simply have not the skills, knowledge or capability to do better than they are already doing. The people have shrunk to fit the media they serve.


Danger, experts at large

Created in 2010 "to provide independent and authoritative analysis of the UK's public finances", the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has supposedly been George Osborne's secret weapon, keeping him in touch with what is happening in the real world.

There is no doubt the man-child needs such a facility, with 21 percent of his less than adoring public marking him down as "out of touch". However, as The Independent helpfully points out, the OBR has problems of its own.

Its main task, supposedly, is to provide Osborne with independent estimates of growth, upon which the chancellor can base his fiscal policy. But it is here, in its short life, its performance has been somewhat lacklustre. It has now had to downgrade its growth estimates four times. The latest came with yesterday's Economic and Fiscal Outlook, published alongside Osborne's Autumn Statement.

At least though, the OBR points out its own shortcomings (chart above), where its June 2010 forecast for growth was 2.8 percent of GDP, when the outturn was actually 1.7 percent – an error of over 40 percent.

This, however, pales into insignificance against the forecast for private consumption, the OBR putting it at 0.9 percent growth as against an actual shrinkage of 0.5 percent, an error of over 150 percent.

Similarly error-strewn was the OBR's prediction for government consumption, suggesting a drop of 0.2 percent against an actual increase of 0.5 percent – a whacking 350 percent error.

Excusing its own piss poor performance, the OBR says that higher than expected inflation was the culprit. High prices reduced real incomes and dissuaded people from shopping. And businesses did not invest, according to the OBR, because the public weren't spending.

As to whether this is convincing, The Independent agrees that high inflation is unlikely to have helped the economy, but notes that the experts in the OBR didn't even consider the possibility that the Chancellor's own pledges of draconian austerity last year might have helped to undermine consumer confidence.

On the issue of government consumption, one only had to see the unabated flow of non-jobs, the rush of over-generous salaries, and the continued public sector profligacy, to realise that any idea of a reduction was pie in the sky.

But if the experts can't see these things coming, when most bloggers and even MSM sources could, one wonders why we have the OBR to waste our time and money. And if this is what Osborne is relying on, no wonder he is out of touch.


The Caesar option

"The science is solid and proves unequivocally that the world is warming," says R.D.J. Lengoasa, the WMO's deputy director, and human activity is a significant contributor. "Climate change is real, and we are already observing its manifestations in weather and climate patterns around the world," he adds.

But just one day into the Durban talks and, as expected, writes John Vidal, we are witnessing the assassination of the Kyoto protocol. Canada has let the cat out of the bag with its environment minister, Peter Kent, saying: "Kyoto is the past" and suggesting that formally pulling out of the treaty is an option.

The play reminds Vidal of the assassination of Caesar in Julius Caesar. Caesar's friends and colleagues hide their weapons before ritually stabbing him together, thus sharing the responsibility for his death. The US may be the country that has plotted the end of the treaty but Canada now has the dagger in its hand.

And such a tragic end (not) to an ignoble beast. But, also to borrow from Shakespeare, If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. Let's be done with it.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A better way

An initial offering by Wittering from Witney gives some intriguing ideas, although I have some reservations. It is not that I am totally against direct democracy – it has its place. But there are serious limitations, and the process can prove a double-edged weapon. It can do more harm than good.

Anyhow, WfW has responded, with much food for thought. He argues that, if power is to be exerted, then he would rather it "be by a majority view within the area that I live, than a majority view of a small minority of our society who have their own agenda and are totally disconnected from the people".

That raises an interesting question, as to where democracy lies, adding a requirement to consider the nature of the demos, which supposedly drives decision-making.

Certainly, the UK is characterised by being one of the most centralised, top-down systems of government in the world, with local government largely financed by central government, and acting as an agent for it, with no independent status or constitution.

Perhaps, before we go any further, we ought to consider this anew, and ask whether our democracy should be inverted, so that the power starts at local level, and is controlled from there, rather than centralised, with diktats handed down from the central authority.

One of the problems here is that, in large areas of this country, we do not have local government in any meaningful sense. My own area, Bradford, is a good example. With a population close of half a million people, it is larger than some countries in the European Union.

Any new settlement, therefore, must undo the Walker "reforms" of 1974, which created these giant, unresponsive and fundamentally undemocratic administrative units, with the focus on allowing communities to develop their own identities and top control their own destinies.

Then, as always, there is the question of money. Much is made of council tax, but that accounts for less than twenty percent of local government finance. More than sixty percent comes from central government, handed down according to arcane formulas and political prejudice.

For democracy to flourish, the flow must be reversed. In the main, tax collected locally should be more than sufficient to fund the local government functions in the area, without having to go cap-in-hand to central government.

There is talk, for instance, of a local income tax, but maybe we should be thinking outside the box, and turning income tax into a locally collected tax.

As it stands, we have a system where subsidiary agencies such as the police and local transport agencies are paid from a precept, taking from local authority taxes, but perhaps this is the way central government should be paid. We pay taxes to the local administrative unit – it takes what it needs for its own functions and pays any surplus, by way of a precept, to central government.

If this sounds revolutionary, so be it – but it is not impossible. Central government draws up its budget for the year, works out how much it will draw down from its own tax resources, and then calls off the balance of its needs from local administrations, which then decide how they are to spread the load amongst their own taxpayers.

But when that budget is subject to an annual referendum, and taxpayers are able to veto the budget, tax demands become a matter of negotiation. Governments, deprived of the power to issue peremptory demands, have to negotiate an annual settlement, staying within the bounds of consent, in order to get any money.

Thus, direct democracy needs to start at the bottom, controlling the flow of money – which should move upwards to the centre, by permission, not downwards by fiat. Government should always be made acutely aware that they spend our money, and should be required to ask for it, each year.

What is utterly intolerable is that an unrepresentative group of people, for whom I did not vote, whose values I do not share, and to whom I owe no loyalty or respect, should each year tell me how much I should pay them, and expect the money as of right.

The moment government officers, be they ministers or councillors, believe they are entitled to our money, as of right, they are not very far from owning us, body and soul. They cease to become our servants and become our masters. And, if it was Tip O'Neill who said that "all politics is local", then democracy must be locally based as well.

Whatever system we chose, it must be acknowledged that top-down government is not democracy at all, and nor is "local" rule by giant administrative units. These fundamentals must be addressed, before we even start thinking about how we tame the beast.


Fantasy land

The projected deficit for this current financial year was £122 billion, but we had little doubt that he wouldn’t make it. And sure enough, the preposterous Osborne predicts coming in at £127 billion, meaning that the national debt will increase by that amount this year. So much for "cuts", as public spending overall increases.

And, over the next four years, he anticipates borrowing £111 billion more than anticipated. In 2014-15, he expects borrowing to hit £79 billion, more than double the £37 billion previously predicted, and more even than the £74 billion predicted by Alistair Darling when he was chancellor.

But given his track record – and obvious lack of capability - there is no reason to believe that Osborne is going to be any more successful in meeting future targets than he is in meeting the current one.

Even with a fair wind, this would be difficult but, according to the Office of Budget Responsibility, such forecasts as have been made are "highly optimistic" and are based on the assumption that the eurozone crisis is satisfactorily resolved.

Warning that there is a greater chance of the situation getting worse, rather than better, the OBR then suggests that "the probability of an outcome much worse than our central forecast is greater than the probability of an outcome much better than our central forecast".

And what that all amounts to is that Osborne is living in fanatasy land. Even though his forecasts are worse than he originally predicted, the likelihood is that the reality will be even worse than that, only the little chappie cannot bring himself to say it.

The most bizarre thing is that the only person he is deceiving – if at all – is himself. This is the man-child with all the economic credibility of a shopaholic given ten new store cards.

He has not the first idea of how to cut back public spending and bring the budget under control, and is thus left to blather unconvincingly about spurious targets, while playing around at the edges, in an attempt to pretend he is in control.

We did not deserve to have such a fool in charge at such a dangerous time, but then as a collective we have too long allowed our politicians the power to destroy our finances, in the belief that there would be no consequences.

Well. consequences there will be, and all the worse for having a child in charge who has neither the capability to take control nor the honesty to admit that the situation is effectively out of his control. With not a grown-up in sight, we can only fear the worst.

And the reckoning, it seems, is not far behind.


Corruption rules

One must never forget that, behind the thin veneer of respectability, virtually every public and financial institution in Greece is tainted by corruption.

That much we have known for a long while, although it is rarely said often enough, especially as it is now apparent that public money (including British contributions) is being used to bail out Greek banks brought down by multi-million frauds.

The latest such was reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on 11 November, but – unsurprisingly – has yet to be given any coverage in the British media, which is always slow to report on international corruption.

The story concerns the private Greek bank, Proton, from which has been embezzled upwards of €700 million, threatening the viability of the bank. But, despite the sums being unaccounted for, the Greek government has used the EU bailout fund recapitalise the bank to the tune of €900 million.

Covered in more detail in this site and latterly by Zero Hedge, this comes on the back of an international bribery scandal which has embroiled six directors of the Austrian National Bank, including the governor, Ewald Nowotny.

Nor is this a gentle affair between kindly bankers for, as the details of the latest fraud emerged, a bomb exploded in front of a building in Halandri, a suburb of Athens, demolishing four cars.

This, we are told, is not a coincidence: in the building lived a senior employee of the Bank of Greece, whose meticulous investigation of Proton Bank had exposed the massive criminal scheme. According to the police, the bomb was intended as a warning to those who attempt to shed light on these kinds of machinations.

The extent of fraud in the Greek banking system – underwritten by the threat of deadly violence, which inhibits local investigation and reporting – changes substantially the economic calculus in this benighted country. Already beset by political considerations which defy economic sense, the situation is muddied still further by the sheer scale of corruption, distorting the visible economy to an unknown but major extent.

We know of old, that this corruption spreads its tentacles into most countries in Europe, and involves senior commission officials, including commission president José Manuel Barroso. And when corruption, rather than sound economic principles, are the driving force, it is a fair bet that the money flowing into the Greek banking system is not being used as we would wish.

And, as always, the unwitting British taxpayer is being used subsidise this corruption, while the media silence allows the rip-off to continue unchecked. We pay and the thieves get rich.


Even our folly has its limits

This is Fintan Otoole again. We met him on 22 November with a brilliant piece. Now he's doing the sums and deciding that they don't add up. This charade has gone on long enough, he says. It is killing Ireland, but it is also killing the EU.

Rhetoric then takes over: "Do its leaders really expect us all to vote to give them more powers when they’re only interested in using them to take back what they’ve given us? We may be the stupidest mercenaries of all time, but even our folly has its limits".

Doncha just love this man.


Disaster in plain sight

You do wonder how it is that, with all the proceedings up front and visible, the government/military complex can make quite such a pig's ear of not providing us with a carrier capability.

Taken as a whole, this is a collective that you would not trust to find their own backsides with both hands and free mirrors, people who have managed to turn a £3.5bn starter cost into £6.2bn, which is likely to rise to up to £12bn – giving us a mere 200 days sea time a year.

If anyone wants to see how government accountability breaks down, it is here. No one will lose their jobs. Everyone gets their pensions, and we are expected to pay. Nay, it is regarded as our duty to pay, and any thoughts of slaughtering officials are considered to be "extreme".

The question one has to pose, therefore, is what do we do with these people. They are taking the piss, and any idea of democracy – as in accountability to the people – has been consigned to the back seat. It exists in theory only.

We could start, perhaps, by asking why it is a revolutionary – and even subversive – concept, to expect government to deliver value for money, and for us to refuse to pay when it isn't delivered.


Painful readjustments

Detlev Schlicchter of Paper Money Collapse blog is telling us that the bubble in government bonds is finally bursting. It is a myth, he says, that the government can always pay. That is a statement that has no basis in fact.

The fate of myths, we are then informed, is that they sooner or later clash with reality. Then they are exposed as myths, which requires a painful giving-up of beloved certainties, a readjustment of paradigms and an abrupt change in behaviour.

I think we knew all that, but it is equally evident that our masters don't. We hope, therefore, that their adjustment to reality is as painful as possible. That should start with the preposterous Osborne today, who is going to try (and fail) to convince us that he knows what he is talking about.


Cry me a bucket

Those watching the [climate] talks begin said it was an inauspicious start. "It is headed towards a real impasse in Durban, frankly, there is no way to gloss over it", one veteran participant said. "There are very few options left open to wring much out of the meeting unless the position of these major countries softens considerably".

But even as the scare wanes, "defence chiefs" are seeing in it an opportunity to ratchet up threat levels by claiming that climate change is "an invisible driver of turbulence". It is nice to see that they are on the ball as always, fulfilling their traditional role of preparing to fight the last war.


The reign of the expert

This is slightly old news but I have been saving it until I could do it justice. And for that, one needs a little background to be able to appreciate and savour the full enormity of the development.

As to the background, in our sister blog, we have written many times of the great white hope of the Army Brass, the £16 billion FRES programme which former CGS Sir Richard Dannatt regarded as essential to the future of his Army.

At the heart of this concept was the medium wheeled armoured personnel carrier, Dannatt's preferred type being the Piranha, the acquisition of which he regarded as so important that he was prepared to forego mine protected vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those with any memory at all will recall the near reverence with which the media treated Sir Richard, the great expert of such stature that, when he retired, the Daily Telegraph could not wait to sign him up as their expert on all things military (although we hear very little of him nowadays).

Possibly the greatest (and certainly the most consistent) source of opposition to the concept was the DOTR blog, one piece provoking an unprecedented intervention by the then procurement minister, Lord Drayson, on our blog, and a strong rejoinder that remained unanswered – largely because it was unanswerable.

Needless to say, this dramatic development was ignored by the MSM, which is wedded to prestige, and would give space to Dannatt, but not our blog. Who were we, after all, to challenge the Great General?

Well, with the programme on hold and with no sign of it being activated in the near future, we now see what surely must amount to its death knell – brought to you by the US Army.

This comes in the form of news of the US equivalent of FRES, the so-called FCS concept, based on an American version of the Piranha known as the Stryker. The US Army, in this respect, is much further advanced than the British and had an experimental Stryker Brigade deployed in Iraq in 2003.

Now we come to the news of the moment. A Stryker Brigade is now to be deployed to Afghanistan, as the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, but with one very notable omission. It is not deploying its Strykers, which are now in use by the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, in a somewhat safer environment.

Replacing the Strykers in Afghanistan are a mix of vehicles such as the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles and its all-terrain variety, the M-ATV.

What is especially poignant here is that these are the very vehicle types that the great military expert Dannatt was prepared to forego in order to acquire the Piranha and equip his own equivalent of the Stryker Brigade which, even in 2006 he was claiming to be the Army's key equipment priority.

Had the great expert had his way, the UK would now be saddled with a programme which even the US has abandoned, in favour of the vehicles that our experts rejected, but have now in place in Afghanistan.

All of this goes to show that, regardless of their elevated rank, and the "prestige" afforded to the brass, this does not necessarily mean that our so-called military experts know what they are talking about. And, in this case, the evidence goes to show that, fortunately, we were spared from the fruits of their expertise.

The reign of the expert, it would appear, is something we cannot always afford.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Not a problem here

The lady might have had a difficult decision, but I had no problems at all. It was me or the piggy. Actually, I know the slaughterhouse owner who provided my new valve … he is a good friend and tells me the pig was eaten long ago.

Interestingly, they harvest about 200 pigs from the normal slaughter line, to get one valve. If the valves are not used, they go in the bin, so at least my little piggy did not die in vain.

And for those that have been asking, your continued interest and concern is much appreciated. I get better and stronger by the day – walking a full half-hour each day and getting almost back to normal sleeping. I'm still maxing out on pain killers, but that tends to be when they slice you up.

With three weeks since the operation, it could not have gone more smoothly, and - of course - Mrs EU Referendum has been brilliant! The Nuffield team that did the op and after-care could not have been more professional and the abiding memory is one of skill and humour combined. Scared I was … relieved I now am. Amazed I still am that they kicked me out after a week.

A few weeks more and I'll be as fit as the little lady in The Mail story, although not quite as good looking. And I still can't play the piano.


Can we kill them now?

More than 450 council staff attended the Town Hall event in honour of Geoff Alltimes, who last month left his job as one of the highest paid local authority executives in the country with a pay-off of more than £200,000 and an annual pension thought to be in excess of £100,000.

If they do not understand why we should want to kill them, then they deserve to die. These people are putting themselves beyond the pale, beyond normal human or political discourse.

But it gets worse. In the same piece, we see this:
Meanwhile, the row over the value of Mr Alltimes' pension rumbled on last week when MP Greg Hands accused rival MP Andy Slaughter of hyposcrisy over his attacks on the controversial subject.

Documents seen by the Chronicle reveal Mr Slaughter was also generous with the public purse in his days with the council. When he was executive mayor of the then Labour-ruled authority in 1999, Mr Slaughter oversaw the appointment of Richard Harbord as CEO on a starting salary of about £110,000, the equivalent of £150,000 in todays' money. Records show that within a year Mr Harbord was given a rise to £140,000, and it is believed he was given a further hike when appointed to a second role of finance director in June 2001.

During his recent broadside, which coincided with Mr Alltimes' retirement, Mr Slaughter was also critical of his pension arrangements, which are thought to have included a 'goodbye' payment of £270,000 in addition to annual injections of £104,000 and his final basic salary of £226,000.
Let me remind you, if we refuse to pay these bastards, we go to jail. A warrant is sworn out against you, the police come and get you, breaking into your home and taking you away, by force if you resist. With that power should go responsibility. When that goes, we owe them nothing, not even their lives.

Until these people learn that this corporate looting is way beyond acceptable, they really do not deserve to live. And if they are too thick to understand that, why should we even trouble to educate them?


Christmas comes early

What more can one say? They really are stuffed.

TBF has even more and, commenting on the failure of German to sell its quota of euro bonds, The Hill blog observes: "This is all so painful to watch, mostly because it is a true indictment of the final breakup of the eurozone, but when it breaks up what are the implications for Europe, world trade and the good ol' USA? All we know is that the short-term impact of a breakup will not be good".

Longer term, it will be worth the pain, if only to see the "colleagues" meet their nemesis. After decades of their arrogance and triumphalism, is will be so nice to watch them squirm.

And already we see it. The Euribor/OIS spread or "fear gauge" is flashing red warning signals, says Ambrose. Dollar funding costs in Europe have spiked to Lehman-crisis levels, leaving lenders struggling frantically to cover their $2 trillion (£1.3 trillion) funding gap.

What we know for certain, he adds, is that Europe's current policy settings must lead ineluctably to ruin and perhaps to fascism. Nothing can be worse.


What's going on here?

Scroll right down to near the bottom. This is the poll in the Daily Mail. How come the warmists got there first?


Direct Democracy

I take the point, that in many respects direct democracy is far better than the charade that currently passes for representative democracy. And if I have understood him correctly, then that is the thrust of Wittering from Witney's thesis.

Much of this rests on the example of Switzerland, which is one of Europe's – if not the global – leading proponent of direct democracy. This amounts to rule by the people through the medium of the referendum.

But while I agree with WfW that there is much wrong with our form of government, I remain to be convinced that Swiss provide a suitable model for the English. Despite its apparent attractions, Switzerland is not a happy country to live in unless you are very rich, it is illiberal by character and governance is dominated by a mass of petty rules and restrictions that simply would not be tolerated here.

The idea of direct democracy, therefore, is to an extent simply swapping one form of oppression for another. Instead of being oppressed by the ruling élite, who believe they know what is good for us, we are ruled by the infinitely malleable masses, who impose their mores, in many respects more restrictive that a liberal élite.

What WfW might be neglecting, therefore, is that the term democracy comes in two parts, the dêmos (people) kratos (power). Direct democracy simply shifts the mechanisms by which the majority – the people – exert their power over the rest of us. It does not necessarily ensure a better use of that power.

Here, one must exercise more than a little caution. One of the reasons contemporary Germans are so reluctant to permit the routine use of referendums is that when in 1932 and onwards, Hitler sought to abolish democracy and impose an absolute dictatorship, he chose the plebiscite as the means to do it.

That, as much as anything, makes the point. Direct democracy may, under certain circumstances, be better than our form of representative democracy, but it has its dangers and pitfalls. Unless you actually know what you are trying to achieve with your governance, you could very easily have your system hijacked and end up with something you neither wanted nor anticipated.

Kindly, WfW mentions my idea of Referism, which on the face of it is an aspect of direct democracy – insofar as it has in common the referendum. But there are important differences.

Specifically, in terms of the referendum, this is a fixed point, carried out annually at the same time, with the same question asked each time, namely, do you approve the budget … yes or no. The fixed nature of the event confers predictability and familiarity, allowing people to get used to the question and to learn how to answer it. And it also places it beyond political manipulation, now allowing tactical wording or changes in timing, which can be used to advantage by one side or another.

But my thinking is that this happens alongside our current system of representative democracy, which I rather like, even if it has currently lost its way.

What perhaps needs expressing in this context is something I have not emphasised enough – that government is not a force for good. In an ideal world, we would not have one and the only reason we should tolerate it is because not having one is marginally worse.

Thus, I am actually no more enthusiastic about government by the masses, than I am government by a ruling élite, liberal or otherwise. All forms are to be avoided as far as possible.

On that basis, the ideal system is not one that facilitates governance. Our fellow man is never so inventive as when it comes to imposing his will on others, or acquiring our money and spending it as his own. He needs no encouragement.

What we need is restraint, a system one which makes government physically difficult, keeping externally-imposed rules to the minimum, and forcing people to deal with and settle their own problems – as far as is possible – without external interference.

Dwelling on this further, what one must emphasise is that for the bulk of our daily activities, we do not need government – we do not need leadership, we do not need governors, rulers or leaders. It is one of the myths perpetrated by the ruling élites that we need them to take such an enormous part in our lives.

The first and most important requirement of any new or improved system of government, therefore, is the ability of us, the people, to reduce the amount of government. As an individual or part of a collective, I have no desire to rule my fellow man – insofar as I want power, it is the power to prevent other people telling me what to do, and then charging me for the privilege.

And that is where the money comes in. In his Short History of England, Simon Jenkins writes as follows:
Nothing curbed Norman autocracy as effectively as the king's need for taxes. From this arose the power of the City of London under Richard I, a codified rule of law under King John and a House of Commons in the parliaments of Henry III and Edward I. This bartering of power was absolute. Even the ruthless Edward I worried that people might take against him, and that "the aid and taxes which they had paid to us out of liberality and goodwill … may in future become a servile obligation". He was right.
Therein lies the root of our problem. Over time, the parliament was set up to control the king, through limiting his taxes. But parliament has now become the king. No one now controls the taxes – and they have become a "servile obligation", but the obligation is ours, to pay money to which our ruling élites believe they are entitled.

When parliament controlled the king, it did so on behalf of the people. Now, parliament as king is out of control, and we the people must re-assert control. Then, the mechanism of control was to restrict the flow of money. Today, the same mechanism is just as applicable. We must starve the beast.

That is where we need our direct democracy, and there I am at one with WfW, but only in a negative sense – one of restraint. We take control to protect ourselves from our rulers … not in an attempt to replace them.


An example

… of why local and regional newspapers are going down the tubes. Who would actually pay money for boilerplate crap that includes this sentence: "But Professor Le Quere believes they are winning the fight for the public's support in tackling climate change"?

It is actually the case that the media – and especially the local media, which is supposedly closer to its audiences – has completely lost touch. They are driving themselves into oblivion.


Real politics

Politics is about ideas – not to be confused with retailing low-grade tittle-tattle about the rather unsavoury personalities that currently occupy political office. It would do us all a favour if the MSM realised this, and had the brains to tell the difference.

Thus, while I was away eyelid testing, Witterings from Witney has written a political piece - one for which the blogosphere is superbly adapted.

In the interests of developing the debate, I should give it a fairly robust critique, which I will do starting later today, taking as long as it takes to do it justice. So this is an early warning. Real politics is about to hit town.


Gone forever

David Rose in the Mail on Sunday writes a very useful piece on the relationship between the BBC and the warmist community, spelling out how closely knit the two had become.

There is nothing ,much new to those who have been following the climaye change issue closely but, as one of our forum members puts it, the biggest-selling Sunday fingers BBC as being dishonestly, systematically, intentionally, knowingly, ruthlessly, implacably biased against global warming sceptics.

One really does wonder how much further the BBC can go, now that the tide is turning against it. To come shortly is Booker's pamphlet for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, on BBC bias, which will also get some MSM coverage, further reinforcing how untrustworthy the BBC has become.

This comes on top of Climategate II which, although not producing any fireworks, is triggering a steady flow of high quality comment, which is pointing up the warmists for what they are.

The revelations may have limited appeal, but if you compare the global warming hype of two years ago with what we are getting in the run-up to Durban, the contrast tells you everything.

We can but repeat that this is a scare that has run its course. The ersatz scientists will never again hold the global community in its thrall to the same extent, on this subject.

Nor indeed can the scientists expect rescue from the political community. That too is a devalued currency. Tellingly, a poll of sentiment on the chancellor and shadow chancellor demonstrates this amply.

Asked to describe them both using key words, 22 percent of respondents had Osborne as "smug", 22 percent put him down as "arrogant", 21 percent had him as "out of touch" and a similar proportion described him as "out of his depth".

When it came to the shadow chancellor, 20 percent chose "out of his depth", 19 percent opted for "arrogant", 17 percent as "smug" and 15 percent "out of touch".

It is unlikely that such sentiments are confined to just this pair. It is extremely unlikely, for instance, that Huhne would score any better, and many would share my personal views on Cameron. Politicians have destroyed their own authority and credibility.

In short, this is not a claque that rules with our consent or approval, nor one which has any moral authority. And the more they hitch their star to the jaded cause of global warming, the worse it will get for them.

Even now, there are some politicians out there whose limited brains permit them to understand that their surrender to the stupidity of the global warming scare has been instrumental in building the contempt with which they are near universally regarded.

Soon enough, in the interests of self-preservation, if nothing else, they too will be ditching their warmist friends. For the BBC though, there is no hope. But our contempt can reach even their lofty ivory towers. They may hold their line, but they will know that they have been called out and their authority has gone forever.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

The democratic iceberg

I may well have picked up this piece by Chris Montcrieff at the same time as Autonomous Mind, but for the moment I'm not as fast as I once was, having to do an amount of eyelid testing between blog posts.

That leaves me trailing in his wake, enabling me in part to compliment AM for a fine piece and echo his theme, that it is a shame that so few of the commentariat seem to understand what is going on with local authority finance.

We have seen how even Simon Jenkins and Philip Johnston have only a slender grasp of the intricacies of the additional charges imposed by local authorities, but at least they have some awareness of them. When it comes to Moncrieff, though, he displays no awareness of the issue at all, and thus focuses his whole commentary on the single issue of council tax.

Under discussion is the council tax freeze, announced by Massa George at the Tory conference, but as AM points out, this is smoke and mirrors. Councils which are buying into the "freeze" rhetoric are, by and large, simply increasing their direct charges and other income streams, to make up for the shortfall on the council tax account.

This year we will thus see history being made as income from sales, fees and charges, plus "other income", exceeds for the first time the income from council tax. And then, while these two categories of income are themselves substantial, they only account for less then forty percent of total income, the rest coming from government grants (last year, 64 percent).

With government grants also increasing up to press, we see a freeze only in one tiny corner of the income stream, making the rhetoric about local government "cuts" more than a bit dubious. Council tax may be frozen, but local authority income and spending is not. They are at a historic high.

Moncrieff, however, is not the only one taken in by the rhetoric, with JulianM of Orphans of Liberty also being taken in by the spurious council tax freeze, complaining of Brighton and Hove that it is refusing to take government money and is forging its own line, increasing council tax by 3.5 percent in the coming year.

We do not know this to be the case, but it is quite possible that, by increasing council tax but holding off on some charges, the council could actually be costing its taxpayers less than some supposedly virtuous local authorities, which are falling into line with Osborne's "freeze" and holding down the headline rate.

And here, we see an interesting development with the local newspaper, The Argus, launching a referendum on how much council tax residents think they should be paying. Courtesy of the newspaper, therefore, we see the makings of real democracy, although it is difficult for readers to make an informed decision as they are being asked to judge without knowing the budget for the forthcoming year.

This is where the whole system starts to unravel. With less than twenty percent of the charging actually visible, local authority income is more like an iceberg, with the bulk of it out of sight. For there to be meaningful control, there must be visibility, and then accountability.

What we have at the moment, then, is a charade. And those that go along with it and take it seriously are playing games. We need root and branch reform of the way income is gathered and presented, and expenditure reported, before the system can get even close to being democratic.


Empty vessel syndrome

We have observed before how many journalists, on picking up a long-running story, seem to have no history – and neither time, inclination (or even capability) properly to research the background. Thus, on lifting a single nugget, without understanding or context, fabricate a report which adds little or nothing to the corps of knowledge, and most often distort or confuse the issues.

So it is in the Independent on Sunday, where journalists Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen happen upon a report on "secret tests" carried out in 2005 on Snatch Land Rovers.

Amongst other things, the tests confirmed that the Snatch was "overmatched" by the then current array of IEDs ranged against it, and also "revealed" that even when soldiers wore body armour the Snatches provided little protection from IEDs.

The Independent acknowledges that official documents released to the Iraq inquiry last year revealed that ministers had been warned that Snatches needed to be replaced in 2006. That indeed was the case, but the newspaper then seeks to shift the time frame to an earlier period.

Thus it tells us, in what amounts to the single, substantive new fact of the story, in a "vehicle protection presentation" held on 16 March 2005 – the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion – the defence technology company QinetiQ reported that "Snatch performs relatively poorly but in line with expectations when attacked by projectiles".

This, on the face of it, though, does not refer to IEDs – more likely to RPGs. But, whether or not QinetiQ then reported on the failings of the Snatch, the most serious shortcomings, in respect of dealing with the explosively formed projectile (EFP), could not have been known. That weapon was not deployed in a fatal attack until 1 May 2005, when Guardsmen Anthony Wakefield and Gary Alderson were killed.

By 6 June, however, an intact EFP array had been recovered and evaluated and it was from that point that it was clear that the Snatch was no match for the weapons being used against it. And when on 16 July in al Amarah, Lt Shearer and two others were killed in a Snatch following an EFP attack, there can have been no doubt.

Contrary to the impression given by the Independent story, therefore, there is nothing new about when knowledge of the new threat emerged, but the newspaper makes a big deal about the MoD withholding reports, claiming that "disclosure of such information could prejudice the safety of the armed forces".

That, of course, is one of the genuine reasons why the MoD might withhold such information. If your equipment suffers a fatal flaw, the last thing you are going to do it admit it to the enemy.

But, a year later, despite significant additional casualties, the vulnerability of the Snatch was becoming so evident that we were to pick it up on this blog, leading in August to a review of the vehicle by then defence secretary Des Browne, and its partial replacement by the Mastiff.

Here, journalists Brady and Owen get it completely wrong, reporting that an emergency review of the Snatch vehicles was not announced until 2008 – "after a tide of protests from the families of service personnel who had been killed or suffered horrific injuries in a series of IED attacks in Afghanistan".

The review was in 2006, and carried out after the issue was raised in this blog, and then in the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, at our instigation, followed by a spirited campaign in parliament, led by Lord Astor of Hever. This, as set out in Ministry of Defeat (pp110-122) is one of those instances when everything came together,.

Brady and Owen, though, insist on rewriting history. The immediate replacement for the Snatch was the Mastiff, later augmented by the smaller Ridgeback, but this ignorant pair fail to realise this. Instead, they get confused by the later long-term contract for the Foxhound, designed from scratch as the long-term replacement, complaining that this has not yet been delivered to theatre.

The journalists thus miss the point. The crucial part of the story is not that the dangers were ignored, but why they were ignored, and long after they were known - and why the replacement was so long in coming. Here, it is not good enough simply to say that the MoD failed. There was a very specific and egregious failure, attributable not to officials but to senior officers in the Army. They not only ignored the shortcomings of the Snatch, but actively blocked replacement with better vehicles.

For those who understand the issues, the real reason was because Jackson and then Dannatt were committed to the FRES programme and feared that, if protected vehicles were bought, the money would come from the FRES budget. Thus, to protect the budget for their new toys, they were prepared to let soldiers die.

Such an assertion I have made many times, including it with great detail in my book, Ministry of Defeat. If it were not true, it would be libellous and wrongly damaging to the reputations of two of Britain's most senior generals. No one, however, has ever disputed the issues.

But now we can see in the evidence of Lord Drayson, then procurement minister, to the Iraq Inquiry, confirmation of the assertion. In his witness statement, he told the Inquiry:
The project to improve/replace SNATCH was always separate to FRES. The Generals stressed the urgent need to replace the ageing fleet of Army Fighting Vehicles as a whole when voicing their concerns over delays to FRES.

However SNATCH was a Protected Patrol Vehicle rather than an AFV, and was not an old vehicle. In terms of augmenting Protected Patrol Vehicles such as SNATCH the focus in early 2006 for the Army was on the VECTOR which in March 2006 I was told was General Dannatt’s highest priority as CinC LAND.

Progress on FRES and concerns about SNATCH Land Rovers should not have been connected in theory because the FRES project was designed to provide a different capability, i.e. AFVs not PPVs.

In reality however, I believe that the Army’s difficulty in deciding upon a replacement to SNATCH was in part caused by their concern over the likelihood of FRES budgets being cut to fund a SNATCH replacement vehicle.
Though this whole affair, therefore, we have seen the most egregious failure of the Army. But we now also see the continued failure of the media to understand and deal with the issues, missing the point again and again, always going for the cheap shots, without even beginning to understand what was involved.

Journalists have become empty vessels, to be filled on the day with plausible but inaccurate material, sufficient to fill space in a newspaper, but a travesty of the truth.


The greatest delusion of them all

Booker devotes his entire column this week to the great global warming delusion, picking up on the back of Climategate II, four separate issues which, as he says, makes climate science into science no longer worthy of the name.

As he wrote when the first Climategate emails appeared in 2009, the global warming scare is far and away the greatest scientific scandal of our generation. When we then contemplate the insanity of the measures the politicians have imposed on us in consequence, we know we are looking at a collective flight from reality which has no precedent in the history of the world.

Of that flight from reality though, there can be no more spectacular than the government's quest for the "zero carbon" house, coming at a time when Cameron and Clegg are lamenting that house-building is at its lowest level since the 1920s.

Yet, when a whole generation of would-be first-time buyers are having to reconcile themselves to decades of renting properties, the government is phasing in a new set of Building Regulations which will require that, by 2016, all new homes must be "zero carbon" in terms of energy-use and emissions.

According to official estimates in the Code for Sustainable Homes, this will increase the cost of building a house by up to £37,793 or up to 66 percent in the case of a two-bedroomed starter flat of the type favoured by first-time buyers.

And if this is not bad enough, the government is also eliminating a special "concession" known as the "Fuel Factor", which relaxes the heating rules for new homes in places without access to the natural gas grid.

Instead of being allowed to install oil or gas cylinder-fired heating, they will have to rely biomass-fired boilers or "heat pumps" – both of dubious efficiency, adding a further cost of between £11,000 and £18,000, for a target market which is less able to afford low-end housing than their urban counterparts.

One could venture that, as so often, we have in government the classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing, as we see Cameron unveiling a £400 million plan to underwrite mortgages for first-timer buyers.

Yet, in all the guff written about this scheme, not once do we see any discussion of the government intent to increase the costs of starter homes by up to two-thirds, thus ensuring that, with or without mortgage assistance, they remain an unreachable aspiration for the majority.

And that seems to be the effect of the "great delusion" – it adds to public policy an air of unreality, destroying the sense and effectiveness of other policy initiatives, all in pursuit of a miasma which is unravelling as we speak.

How our politicians have allowed themselves to become so deluded is one of those modern mysteries, but one wonders whether the breed will ever recover any of its credibility after allowing itself to be so misled by such an obvious and expensive scare.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

A lost decade

Public indifference is probably the great killer, although some pundits put it down to a lack of ambition on the part of the negotiators. Either way, The Independent is very far from being alone in predicting deadlock at the forthcoming COP17 climate summit at Durban.

The amount of human energy being expended is terrifying, with 10,000 officials from 194 countries meeting to discuss the next moves. And although the number of hangers-on and journalists attending will not match Copenhagen levels, about 25,000 people in all are expected to attend.

However, says the Independent, "entrenched disagreements" over renewing the current climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – between China and India on the one hand and Japan, Canada and Russia on the other – look likely to produce a stalemate at best, and at worst, a collapse of the talks.

The dispute over Kyoto, essentially an argument between rich and poor countries about who does what to combat global warming, brought the 2009 Copenhagen conference to within a whisker of complete breakdown.

Crucially, the Kyoto treaty expires on 31 December 2012. Developing countries, led by China, now the world's biggest carbon emitter, and India, now number three, want Kyoto renewed because it commits them to no action of their own, while imposing binding emissions cuts on industrialised states.

Yet some of the industrialised nations increasingly see this as unfair – America, the world's second-largest carbon emitter, was the first major country to refuse to join Kyoto in 2001 – and a group of three major economies, Japan, Canada and Russia, have stated they will not sign a renewed Kyoto under any circumstances.

Thus, hope is being pinned on an initiative being pushed by Britain and the EU, where the original Kyoto treaty is abandoned in favour of "mark two" version, which would commit China and India eventually agree to take part in a parallel new climate treaty, which would involve all countries in a binding agreement to cut CO2 at different rates.

Such a deal, though, is not expected at this conference and the Huhne team is not expecting anything form until at least 2015, by which time Huhne himself may be history. But then, as Dellers points out, Huhne hasn't got a leg to stand on. As significantly, the economic climate may have deteriorated so drastically that climate activism may by then be history.

Even then, the 2015 date may be fiction, with 2020 being marked down as the more realistic date for a full-blown international agreement. In diplomatic terms, though, that sort of timescale effectively means sometime never. In nine years time, the world may have changed beyond recognition.

The New Scientist's Fred Pearce is thus talking of a "lost decade" in climate talks. And if even he is acknowledging this, it is hard to see how the momentum can ever be recovered. The climate "community" is another one of those which has run out of options and is looking down its nose at failure – trumped by a potential global economic crisis. The scare has all but run its course.


Failure is the only option

In almost a parody of himself José Manuel Barroso is telling us that "Europe" has still not found a solution to its sovereign debt crisis that would restore investor confidence. Then, from the school of "the solution is simple, something must be done", he advocates "greater integration as the way to move forward".

"The truth is", he says, "that so far there is no response to the sovereign (debt) crisis that restores confidence to investors … as long as that does not happen we will have very serious problems and debates in Europe".

Reflecting the German hang-up on the ECB, Barroso went on to say that the bank had to remain "independent", code it would appear for refusing to allow it to become the lender of last resort.

"I can say that in the commission, we always respected the independence of the European Central Bank, it is essential to have an independent central bank which is not subject to political pressure," he says.

This is a bizarre statement, not rooted in fact. The ECB was formally absorbed as an EU institution under the Lisbon treaty, subject to the aims objectives of the European Union. It can be no more independent than the commission itself, bound as it is by the same set of rules.

Nevertheless, reading the code, the commission is acknowledging that the ECB cannot take on the role of lender of last resort, as long as Germany is blocking this development. And Germany must because its own constitution does not allow this to happen.

Despite this, there is manoeuvring aplenty, as the commission tries to square the circle on its integration proposals.

Says Barroso: "We though [sic] it was the time to launch the discussion. We, in the commission, have the duty to launch and propose ideas and afterwards, obviously, it is up to member states to adopt them or not". He adds that the commission "is open to treaty revision if it is to reinforce and to give greater governance and more integration in the eurozone, and not to divide Europe".

And so the grotesque ritual is being played out by people who have run out of all other options and are staring failure in the face. Failure, it seems, is their only option, even if they have yet to come to terms with it. Yet fail they will, because fail they must. There is nothing else left.


Friday, November 25, 2011

All I want for Christmas …

A couple of years ago, this news would have been unthinkable. Now it doesn't even make the front page. Even Failygraph hacks are predicting it, eight years after we said it would happen in our book. It is getting so serious that even The Boy is noticing, although TBF is not falling over himself with admiration at the Brogan perspicacity.

Nevertheless, there are very few truly free things in this world, but saying "I told you so" is one of them, so we might as well enjoy the moment while we can. Zerohedge paints the picture of decline. It has Jim Reid of Deutche Bank asking: Should we get excited ahead of the treaty changes? The answer is that we are undoubtedly slowly moving closer to the start of a path towards fiscal union.

"However this process, even if it runs smoothly, will likely be a long, drawn-out, arduous journey," he says. "Unfortunately markets are moving at a much, much faster pace and we probably don't have the time for a slow measured path towards fiscal union."

The "colleagues" are well and truly domed.


Collapse of a policy

At the heart of the EU's attempts to reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions is its Emission Trading Scheme. And lest we forget, the idea was gradually to increase the cost to industry of emitting CO2 to atmosphere, thereby to incentivise investment in emission reduction equipment and procedures.

In theory, the price of the EU permits was supposed to increase, providing a ratchet effect, forcing a gradual reduction of emissions in line with the piece increase.

But, as is being widely reported today the carbon price crashed to a five-year low of €7.040, a drop attributed to the effect of the sovereign debt crisis on European industrial production.

The massive drop in production means that there is a massive over-supply of permits on the market – exactly the reverse of what was supposed to apply – triggering the collapse of the price and hence the collapse of a policy.

Like everything else the EU touches, therefore, this is a disaster, both in terms of intended effect and in terms of ladling extra costs on industry to absolutely no effect.

Furthermore, the oversupply is expected to continue, by as much as 212 million tons of carbon dioxide next year, or 9.1 percent of forecast emissions, meaning that there will be no swift (or any) recovery in prices. To all intents and purposes, the effect of the policy on reducing emissions will be nil, with the eventual price expected to bottom out as low as €3, having already dropped to €5.26 for the December 2011 contract.

Bizarrely, though, the "experts" still cling to their fantasies. Janet Peace, vice president of market and business strategy at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a research group and company adviser in Arlington, Virginia, declares that the falling carbon price shows the EU market is responding to changing economic circumstances, as it was designed to do.

"It doesn't mean the programme is a failure", she says. One would love to see her idea of what does constitute failure.


Up to no good

What precisely went on we will never know, but you can be assured that when Sarkozy, Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti meet, in Strasbourg of all places, they are up to no good.

The headline outcome of the "Merkonti" meeting is that France and Germany have agreed to stop arguing in public over whether the ECB should do more to rescue the eurozone from a deepening sovereign debt crisis. They would also not seek to change its inflation-fighting mandate when they propose changes to EU treaties to strengthen economic governance. The pair also demonstrated their public backing for Monti.

With the Franco-German motor of integration now in good heart, Sarkozy said Paris and Berlin would circulate joint proposals before the 9 December European Council for treaty amendments. These will include proposals for more intrusive powers to enforce EU budget rules, including the right to take delinquent governments to the ECJ. These are now being hailed as a first step towards deeper fiscal union.

Meanwhile, Reuters has polled 20 leading economists, the majority of whom have predicted that the eurozone is unlikely to survive the crisis in its current form. A break-up is expected, with the survivors forming a "core" group that would exclude Greece.

Analysts believe that sense of crisis will in the end force dramatic action. "I think we are moving closer to a policy response probably, which could be either more aggressive ECB action or the idea of euro bonds could gain some traction," says Rainer Guntermann, strategist at Commerzbank.

Nor is the sentiment being left to the experts. Riot police clashed with workers at Greece's biggest power producer protesting against a new property tax, and Portuguese workers staged a 24-hour general strike.

Credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Portugal's rating to junk status, saying a deepening recession made it "much more challenging" for the government to cut the budget deficit, highlighting a vicious circle facing Europe's debtors.

German bonds fell to their lowest level in nearly a month after Wednesday's auction, in which the German debt agency found no buyers for half of a 6 billion euro 10-year bond offering at a record low 2.0 percent interest rate.

Outside the eurozone, a top British financial regulator said British banks should make contingency plans for a potentially disorderly break-up of the currency area, or the exit of some countries, as the sovereign debt crisis rages on.

"Good risk management means planning for unlikely but severe scenarios and this means that we must not ignore the prospect of a disorderly departure of some countries from the eurozone," Andrew Bailey, deputy head of the Prudential Business Unit at the UK's Financial Services Authority, told a conference.

And so we dig in for the long haul. Nothing fundamental changes, and it is still "when", not "if", although trench warfare seems the order of the day – even if Blitzkreig can never be ruled out.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

More skeptics

Says WUWT, Climategate 2.0 email 4894.txt shows just what Alex Kirby of BBC thinks of climate skeptics as he conveys it to Dr. Phil Jones. Clearly, there is an incestuous relationship between climate science and the BBC - of which more from Biased BBC.

Meanwhile, I've been continuing my gentle graze around the e-mails, looking at references to climate skeptics. There are no smoking guns, or earth-shattering discoveries (yet), but the impression is reinforced of a climate science community feeling itself under pressure, looking over its shoulders all the way at what the skeptics are doing.

Here is the latest sample:
0636 Mike Hulme to "fast trackers". 21 April 1999

"If you believe the economic skeptics then any climate policy will have a detrimental effect on world production …"

0697 Michael E. Mann to Keith Briffa and others. 23 September 1999

"So, if we show Keith's series in this plot, we have to comment that "something else" is responsible for the discrepancies in this case. Perhaps Keith can help us out a bit by explaining the processing that went into the series and the potential factors that might lead to it being "warmer" than the Jones et al and Mann et al series?? We would need to put in a few words in this regard. Otherwise, the skeptics have an field day casting doubt on our ability to understand the factors that influence these estimates and, thus, can undermine faith in the paleoestimates".

0716 Michael E. Mann to Tom Crowley and Phil Jones, re . Soon & Baliunas. 12 March 2003

"With their LIA being 1300-1900 and their MWP, here appears (at my quick first reading) no discussion of synchroneity of the cool/warm periods. Even with the instrumental record, the early and late 20th century warming periods are only significant locally at between 10-20% of grid boxes.

Writing this I am becoming more convinced we should do something - even if this is just to state once and for all what we mean by the LIA and MWP. I think the skeptics will use this paper to their own ends and it will set paleo back a number of years if it goes unchallenged".

0717 Phil Jones to Michael E Mann. 17 September 1998

The modelling community leaders are probably about as skeptical about our paleo-reconstructions as we are of their sulphate aerosol parameterizations, flux corrections (or more worrying, supposed lack thereof in some cases!), and handling of the oh-so-important tropical Pacific ocean-atmosphere interface ... So my personal philosophy is that more than one side here can benefit from extending the olive branch, and there are a few individuals in the modeling community who could benefit from slowing down on the stone throwing from their fragile glass tower :)

0728 Mike MacCracken to Phil Jones. 27 August 2009

There were indeed a number of Skeptics, but also a lot of people across the disciplines eager for information, and of course impressed by IPCC. Were no one like me there to keep going after the Skeptics and talking to the others in the in between times, they would, it seems to me, be more likely to think there is something serious about the opposition of the Skeptics - but the way it came off, with me going after Zichichi and his skepticism, I think was helpful to the others.

0800 Phil Jones to Chris Folland. 2 January 2008

Could add a website in the press release that appears on the Met Office site to a web site where the earlier forecasts might be accessible? This isn't essential - it is just that the skeptics won't believe your 0.07 accuracy number. If a page was mentioned it might shut them up - unlikely I know!

0900 Jonathan Overpeck to Darrell Kaufman, re your Science manuscript. 28 May 2009

This paper is going to get the attention of the skeptics and they are going to get all the data and work hard to show were we messed up. We don't want this - especially you, since it could take way more of your time than you'd like, and it'll look bad.

0914 Shaopeng Huang to Phil Jones. 3 March 2000

I'm still reminded by the potential effects of land-use changes, principally in the eastern US, which could be making your North American series too cool. I realise you've taken great care with the selection, but this is a nagging doubt and will be picked up by the few skeptics trying to divide us all about the course of change over the last millennium.

0952 David Rind to Stefan Rahmstorf. 20 July 2005

There is a quantum difference between the fundamental approaches - it is not a continuum, in which there are no real differences, everything is simply a matter of opinion, there is no such thing as truth - that's the argument that greenhouse skeptics use to try to make science go away.

1071 Ben Santer to Phil Jones. 7 September 2007

Skeptics, deniers are talking things up a lot lately - misinterpreting as usual and accepting what some papers say too readily.
The last comment is so revealing. It is the first reference to "deniers", and it is obvious that to be one is to "misinterpret". No quarter can be given, no good faith can be assumed. That is what "deniers" do.