Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tax collection

More than 160 German tax collectors have volunteered for possible assignments in Greece to help the struggling Mediterranean country gather tax more efficiently, says Reuters.

Meanwhile, English tax collectors have already mounted an expedition to Sunderland … with predictable results.

We bring you the first pictures.


Twisting and turning

Banks today grabbed €530 billion at the ECB's second offering of cheap three-year funds, fuelling expectations that credit will flow to businesses and borrowing costs will ease for governments hit by the euro zone crisis. This is what Reuters tells us, adding that, in the space of two months, the ECB has now injected more than a trillion euros into the financial system, banishing the threat of a credit crunch.

Ambrose has a different take. He thinks the ECB is "twisting itself in knots" by bailing out Club Med sovereigns very inefficiently through the back-door via the banks.

He offers the alternative of "engaging in transparent, plain-vanilla open-market … that is to say by purchasing bonds directly from the non-banks and injecting a blast of stimulus into the real economy", but he does acknowledge that it is a "game changer for the South", heading off the near-certain disaster that was unfolding before Mario Draghi took over the European Central Bank.

Nevertheless, Ambrose complains of "utter confusion, massive distortions of the European credit market, and a naked breach of the no-bailout clause of the Lisbon Treaty". What they [the ECB] are doing is basically illegal as well as clumsy. And all this to pretend to the Germans – and to themselves – that they are not doing QE.

It is better than doing nothing, though, Ambrose concedes, which perhaps illustrates the depth of the crisis engulfing us. ZeroHedge and spells it out, and it isn't pretty.

Crucially, though, the exercise is buying time. This is admitted by Michael Kemmer, managing director of Germany's BdB banking association. "With the ECB's supporting measures time is being won" he says. "But", he adds, "these measures can neither replace a functioning interbanking market nor solve the debt crisis".

Reuters more or less agrees, stating: "The strategy has sucked much of the heat out of the eurozone crisis and given governments time to work out sustainable budget and growth policies for affected countries on the periphery of the bloc". That latter sentiment is BS, but it may just see the "colleagues" through the summer.

So far, so good …


Green jobs

… but mostly for foreigners, as The Guardian notes. However, it would not be much different if we were building conventional power sources. Nuclear and gas plants both are largely built by foreign companies, and often using immigrant labour. Whether our energy is green or not, we seem to have abandoned this vital strategic interest to foreign firms - while our people fill supermarket shelves and don't even get paid.


Dialogue of the deaf

It doesn't matter how many times the error is pointed out - Mail journalists, it seems, are determined to parade their ignorance, confusing the Council of Europe with the EU.

Not only is the confusion sown in the headline, but we also see the caption to the picture of the ECHR in Strasbourg stating: "A leaked document says Britain should be given enhanced 'margin of appreciation' in interpreting EU rulings".

It might not be so bad if the paper could actually copy out stories properly, as this one is filched from The Guardian, which perfectly correctly refers to the Council of Europe, even in its headline. There is no mention of the EU anywhere in the report.

Apart from illustrating its unreliability though, the Mail is demonstrating that it simply doesn't listen to anything but itself. This is the archetypal top-down MSM, engaging in a one-way "conversation" with its readers. No wonder people turn to social media, which – despite the obvious deficiencies – is a two-way process.


You can't fool all of the people

In retrospect, we can now say it was never going to last, and indeed it has not. While initially The Boy was riding high on the back of his pretend veto, Reuters is telling us that the halo has slipped.

From a heady peak of a forty percent lead in December (against 34 percent for Labour), the Tories have slipped back to 35 percent, with Labour in the lead at 41 percent, with the Lib-Dims on 12 percent. Effectively, the positions have been reversed.

Compared with January, there is a three point drop, and only forty percent are now satisfied with Cameron's performance. This puts his "net satisfaction rating" at minus 11, down ten points from January, and contrasting with his 48 percent in December, then giving him a net score of plus five.

Unsurprisingly though, give the calibre of the opposition, The Boy remains the most popular of the main three party leaders.

However, what emerges clearly from the result is confirmation of the old saw: you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Capturing briefly the anti-EU sentiment of the country, very much under false pretences, Cameron and his party gained hugely in approval ratings with his pretend veto.

Now that the gilt has worn off, and The Boy has been revealed for what he really is – just another sad little europhile - both he and his party have lost ground. Nevertheless, we are still on the two-party see-saw, which means that some people still see merit in an alternative.

That would seem to confirm the other part of the saying, that you can fool some of the people all of the time.


The End-a Kenny?

Whether it is good news or bad remains to be seen, but it certainly is interesting to see Taoiseach Enda Kenny (pictured above, left, with Mario Monti in Rome last week) telling the Dáil that his government intends to put the "fiscal compact" treaty to a referendum.

From the Irish Times, we learn that Kenny told the House that the Attorney General's advice was that "on balance", a referendum was required to ratify the treaty.

Kenny says he intends to sign the treaty at the end of the week in Brussels and then, in the coming weeks, his government will finalise the arrangements and the process leading to the referendum. No date has been was given for the poll.

Inevitably, the occasion of the announcement was used to make a propaganda pitch, with Kenny saying to his MP colleagues: "I am very confident that when the importance and merit are communicated to the Irish people that they will endorse it emphatically by voting yes to continuing economic stability and recovery". Unsurprisingly, he also says that he believes "… it is in Ireland's national interest that this treaty be approved".

Even then, a "no" vote won't actually scupper the treaty. The very nature of an intergovernmental treaty is that it does not require unanimity. In this case, it can go into force after it has been ratified by twelve states.

However, the Failygraph offers the headline: "Irish EU treaty vote threatens chaos". In the circumstances, that is probably an exaggeration – even assuming a negative vote – although the effects on the Irish economy could be severe.

Last December, finance minister Michael Noonan said a vote on the treaty would effectively be a vote on Ireland's membership of the euro. If that is how it is framed, then the "no" lobby could be under considerable pressure to perform.

On the other hand, Reuters says a "no" vote would prevent Dublin from using the European Stability Mechanism and, with about €20 billion borrowing costs to cover in 2014, "most analysts believe it will need more official funding to meet some of its commitments".

As it stands, a recent poll had 40 percent supporting the treaty, 36 percent against and 24 percent undecided. With the last referendum on the Lisbon treaty delivering 67 to 33 percent for "Europe", expectations of a "no" vote cannot be high – especially as the Irish government is very adept at invoking the "fear factor".

If voters believe a "no" vote might make credit harder to get, then there will be even less incentive to rock the boat, and with Ireland's main opposition party Fianna Fail saying it will join the governing Fine Gael and Labour parties in campaigning for a "yes", the vote almost looks a done deal.

Still, it us unwise to underestimate the Irish. Unlikely though it might be, we could still see some shocks, and this time the government says it will not be looking for a second ballot if the vote goes the "wrong" way. But if that happened, it would almost certainly be the End-a Kenny.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Chapter Six has the intrepid Dellers at the Heartland Institute's Fourth Annual Conference on Climate Change in Chicago - enjoying the lavish hospitality from Big Oil, or so we are led to believe.

He is amongst principled people, he says, several of whom have become his personal heroes. And the last thing he wants to do is make them feel unwanted. Nevertheless, he goes on to attempt just that. It really doesn't matter how many brilliant papers Roy Spencer produces on cloud cover feedback, he writes:
… or how many times that Nils-Axel Mörner proves that sea levels show absolutely no sign of dangerous increase. This is a debate that no sceptic scientist can possibly win, no matter how much apparently overwhelmingly persuasive evidence they produce. That's because the debate was never about "the science" in the first place. It was, is and always will be about politics.
Latterly, this is the theme that I have been pursuing, alongside Autonomous Mind, and one to which Dellers returns in his current blog. But the  text comes from his superb book, Watermelons, which needs to find a space on the bookshelf of everybody who wants to understand how the world works.

The reason it should have such wide appeal is that, while it comes into the category of "global warming", it is in fact an intensely political book. The sub-title tells all, identifying the subject of the book, the threat that is "killing the planet, destroying the economy and stealing your children's future" – the watermellons, a "handful of political activists, green campaigners and voodoo scientists.

As you might imagine, though, Dellers does not pull punches. In his own forthright style, he writes of a green religion, where the core beliefs are "dressed up as a concern for nature and the future of mankind" and rooted in the most bitter misanthropy and direst pessimism. The advocates:
… care little for the human species' myriad achievements, preferring to see our race as a blot on the landscape, a parasite, a disease which threatens the eco-system's otherwise perfect balance and which should at best be reduced by natural means – at worst ruthlessly culled.
In scrutinising the political agenda behind greenery, this is a book that needed to be written, but it is a book that had me cursing the man for writing it so well. As one who reserves such books for bedtime reading, consuming a few pages at a time before drifting off to sleep, he kept me awake for many hours as his riveting narrative made Morpheus an unwelcome guest.

Dellers's deft touch, exhibited throughout the book, takes us through a range of topics, from the nature of scares, a remarkable analysis of the first Climategate scandal, a potted history of the climate change agenda, and the costs of the obsession, to an excellent review of how "the bastards" are getting away with "the biggest and most expensive scientific scandal in history".

If I have a favourite section, though, it is in Chapter Eight, in which Dellers welcomes us to "the New World Order". It takes someone with his writing skills to give the subject just enough gravitas to make his arguments credible, yet confer sufficient lightness to avoid bogging us down in the swamp of conspiracy theory.

He thus romps us through many serious matters, such as the Club of Rome, and its sister organisations, the Club of Budapest and the Club of Madrid, ably writing of "master plans" and the like, without invoking the knee-jerk that has other books flying into the bin.

Keeping it light and humorous is one of Dellers's great skills – and only he could have us contemplating Charlie peeing on the compost heap as an introduction to "sustainable development". Despite this, one is left in no doubt that there are important issues at stake, with the sinister-sounding "Agenda 21" and many other warmist constructs, dragged out, eviscerated and sun dried.

Predictably, after its exposure in The Daily Mail, the book soared to number one in the global warming listings on Amazon, and has remained there ever since, briefly touching double figures in the overall best-seller rankings. As a book suitable for a wide and non-specialist audience, it deserves that ranking, and should become a standard primer on the politics of climate change.


Crisis fatigue

Constitutional issues relating to the eurozone bailout have again been raised by the German constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

Reuters is reporting that the court has ruled that a nine-member parliamentary panel set up to approve urgent action on the European Financial Stability Facility was "in large part" unconstitutional, demanding that decisions of the type made by the panel should be referred to the 620-strong Bundestag or the 41-member budget committee.

Similar issues were raised in November last year, and while these rulings are going to hamper Merkel's ability to railroad changes through the system, and one can only speculate as to whether this will strengthen the administration's determination to curtail the powers of the constitutional court.

However, this particular event many only be of short-term relevance, as the EFSF is to be replaced by the European Stability Mechanism in July, and the game may then have to start all over again.

No sooner does one gets to grips with one issue, though, another and then yet another crops up, in a never-ending kaleidoscope of activity which defied understanding. Here, the crise du jour seemed earlier to be the downgrading of Greece's credit rating to "selective default", but even that has had less impact than might at first have been expected.

Averting catastrophe is the ECB, which is leaning on the national central banks to provide "emergency liquidity assistance" (ELA), until the €35 billion-worth of support from the EFSF can be mobilised.

Meanwhile, a eurogroup summit scheduled for Friday has been cancelled, apparently at the behest of Germany, which is unwilling to discuss the single agenda item – increasing the funding for the so-called "firewall" of the ESM.

The European Council, set for Thursday and Friday, is nevertheless going to go ahead, and there will doubtless be discussions in les couloirs, triggering much media speculation.

However, it seems to me, with even ZeroHedge somewhat at sea, we are back in a trench warfare situation, where nothing much is expected to happen in the foreseeable future. The time is not yet right for another major crisis – we are suffering from crisis fatigue and need a break.


Unsustainable combustion

Although the Daily Mail does the Tibury power plant fire big, the one thing it does not mention is spontaneous combustion.

Opened in 1969, Tilbury previously operated as a coal-fired power station but has been converted to generate power from 100 percent sustainable biomass until its scheduled closure at the end of 2015. Now on fire, the seat was reported to be 4-6,000 tons of biomass in a wood pellet hopper high up in the power station building.

It is left to Bloomberg to raise the prospect of spontaneous combustion, as this is the most likely cause of the fire. The agency cites Claire Curry, a bioenergy analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. She says: "If biomass is stored in large volumes, with little aeration, it is very likely to catch fire as it can get very hot. Normally biomass plants will pass streams of cool air through the biomass to avoid fires happening".

So hazardous are large quantities of stored biomass that it is a reasonable proposition to argue that no large plant is likely to run through to its end of expected life without a serious fire.

Yet the UK is seeking to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, of which DECC estimates as much as half of that may be generated from biomass. And so popular is the option that burning of wood and wood waste for energy in the UK rose eight percent to 648,000 tons of oil equivalent in 2010 from 598,000 tons in 2009.

The trouble is though that, as the Tilbury fire has demonstrated, the process is anything but sustainable. It seems we have a case here of unsustainable combustion, and yet another black mark for the greenies.


Monday, February 27, 2012

No surprise then

The Bundestag has overwhelmingly endorsed the second Greek bailout, 496 to 90, despite growing pressure from voters and the media, while Merkel admits there is no guarantee that it will work. "Europe will fail if the euro fails. Europe wins if it wins the euro", she warns.

This comes as absolutely no surprise. Despite some predictions to the contrary, it is too early yet to cut Greece adrift. Wait for the fall.


Reynolds News

I spent some time at Bradford University this afternoon, reading copies of Reynolds News from 1940. This important newspaper was, at the time, owned by the Co-operative Society, and reflected a strand of left-wing thought which is rarely given much of an airing today.

One of the reasons it has been airbrushed out of history is that there are only two complete collections in the country (and, therefore, the world). One is in Hendon, and the other in Bradford, on my doorstep. Neither collection has been indexed or microfilmed, and the papers can only be viewed by appointment, under supervision.

Typically, historians rely on the newspaper of record, The Times, and then tend only to look at the headlines on the main news page. Although that newspaper didn't then have a front page as such (it was used for adverts), I call this "front-page-itis", a disease that gives a very limited, establishment view of the world. Those who then also rely on official records thus tend to write establishment histories, which present an extremely distorted account of the battle.

By contrast, Reynolds News, with the slogan, "Government of the People, by the People, for the People" is a treasure house, a superb representation of left-wing views. As such, it conveys its own distortions but is probably more representative of what the bulk of people were thinking - and hugely influential as well. Time and time again, the paper has set the agenda, invoking responses in the War Cabinet and other newspapers.

Especially for Witterings from Witney, we have an extract from a delightful opinion piece by professor A Berriedale Keith (a well-known constitutional lawyer of his time), written on 21 July 1940. This column was on the theme, "Battle for Ideas", headlined, "Let Public Opinion Have its Say".

The Prof was writing about the utility of opinion polls (then very novel), telling us that, of MPs: "... we have long outlived the idea that at an electoral contest we confer unlimited authority on the member we elect", then going on to say that: "It is the business of an MP to keep in touch with public opinion, and not humbly to obey the bidding of the whips".

This, and other such delights, I shall feed into an updated version of this blog, the detail standing to confirm and strengthen the thesis offered in the book, that the Battle of Britain was part of the People's War, and won by the fortitude of the people as a whole.

The paper defined the battle on 15 September 1940, seven days into the Blitz of London - on which anniversary we now celebrate Battle of Britain Day: "Göring's 'blitzkrieg' on London", it said, "has a dual object: first to smash communications and disorganise public services in the Capital, and second to confront the Government with the problem of a demoralised and panic-stricken population".

In this, the paper wrote, Göring failed, then declaring: "The story of the bombardment of London is the story of the people's success", adding: "What stands out is the heroism and quickness and common humanity of the ordinary people ...".

This takes nothing from the bravery of the RAF pilots, and changes nothing in history - only our perception of it. The establishment has claimed the victory for its favoured elite, but it was the people's victory as well, in a continuous battle that ended not in October 1940 but went on until the following May 1941.


Winning the battles – losing the war

The Weekly Standard - much cited elsewhere, is running a piece telling us why the climate sceptics (or "deniers") are winning. And indeed, they probably are – they have never really recovered from Climategate 1, and all the other "gates" that piled in on top of it.

It is said of the British, however, that we tend to lose all our battles except that last, thus winning the war. Climate sceptics, on the other hand, now seem to be in danger of reversing this process – winning the battles but losing the war.

This thesis is tried out in an important piece by Autonomous Mind who notes that the battle over climate science is by-and-large meaningless. The climate agenda, he says, is but one front in a much broader campaign involving the centralisation of power, the erosion of democracy and liberty and the transfer of wealth.

Thus says AM, no matter what the "science" reveals and how much it is debunked, there will always be another line of attack from the sustainability playbook to further the political – and economic corporatist – agenda. On that front is where the battle needs to be fought, not in the theatre of carbon dioxide emissions, raw and adjusted data or fractions of a degree of temperature change.

Exactly the same sentiment is reflected in a report by Dennis Ambler.

Whilst the continual scientific rebuttals of the climate reports produced by the IPCC may make many people think that this charade cannot continue much longer, behind the scenes it is quite irrelevant, he writes. The long-term process marches relentlessly on as if there had never been any challenges at all.

As the advocates throw in yet more spurious claims of the "hottest year on record", or record cold caused by CO2 emissions, they occupy the debate, and determine the daily agenda in the media, whilst those who know that the claims are spurious, are driven to waste time, effort and resources on refuting them.

Further evidence supporting this thesis comes from our continued trawl of the Hewlett Foundation grant database (above). This throws us some interesting data about the Bipartisan Policy Center, which started in 2002 under the aegis of Senators Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, George Mitchell and Howard Baker.

Having evolved from the National Commission on Energy Policy, it claims to be a bipartisan group of twenty of the nation's leading energy experts representing the highest ranks of industry, government, academia, labour, consumer and environmental protection.

But what makes it so interesting is that it ranks amongst the beneficiaries of the Hewlett Foundation, as seeking to promote climate change policy - advising Congress, the Executive Branch, States and other policymakers regarding long-term US policy. For that, it has received $42.85 million, having in 2009 pushed strongly for climate change legislation, delivering a major report on the issue.
But now, against the same agenda, the main pitch is not "climate" but "energy security". Like any good strategists, this power grouping is capable of shifting the schwerpunkt when it encounters resistance in any one sector. And by such means, the climate sceptics end up winning the argument, only to find that the opposition has moved on and is fighting (and winning) a different battle.


Bad news

Mary Ellen Synon is giving up blogging, closing her blog with this piece. She has a message for the Scots, who need to learn from Ireland's experience how little influence a small member state has in the EU.

The good news is that ME is going to be doing more journalism – so we can still keep an eye on her sometimes penetrating and always entertaining work.


Poor little Spain

Ambrose tells us that the Spanish are revolting (as well as the Greeks), with their new prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, refusing to go down the path of austerity and halve the eight percent budget deficit this year. We are also told that there is near unanimity across the political spectrum that drastic pro-cyclical tightening at this stage is unwarranted and dangerous.

An example is quoted of Josep Borrell, ex-president of the EU parliament. He is said to be the voice of Spain's pro-European establishment, and says such debt-deflation risks pushing the banking system over the edge. "To cut the deficit almost four points in one year would be a true depressionary shock for an anaemic economy, made worse by the requirement for banks to mark their real estate losses to market prices", he avers.

As we wipe away the tears, though, one also wonders whether this is the Spain with its rapacious commercial fishing fleet, equipped with generous EU grants, known for its plundering of British and African waters?

Is this also the Spain that is so poor that it has been one of the net beneficiaries of the EU budget, hoovering up around €60 billion in EU net payments in the eleven years from 2000-2010, yet which has had enough spare cash to buy up our banks and Heathrow airport?

And now that poor little Spain is feeling badly treated, it seems we are supposed to buy into the narrative that Germany is again "the overbearing enemy". Thus does apologist Borell "warn" that "an atmosphere of hostility is building up in a Continent divided between a rich and flourishing North and a South in danger of being reduced to a protectorate". Says the man, "If we carry on like this we are going to destroy the European project".

No doubt the "iron inflexibility" – attributed to Germany and which Ambrose so deplores - is having a malign effect. But one cannot avoid pondering about the total lack of complaint from the Spanish when the good times rolled.

Germany, however, in its new-found role as the scapegoat of Europe, is putting the bailout deal to the Bunderstag today, with interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich suggesting that Greece should be "made an offer it can’t refuse" to leave the eurozone.

This coincides with almost two-thirds of Germans opposed to further assistance to Athens, according to a new poll by Emnid, a German polling firm, released on Sunday. This leads Friedrich to assert that the EU should "create incentives for an exit" by Greece.

Yet, even though an early exit is the best possible outcome for Greece, there are those who still insist on painting German as the bad man, even though – as ZeroHedge points out, the problem is the weight of sovereign debt. The cold hard fact Greece is facing is that it's now at the point where extraordinary losses need to be taken – and no one wants to take them.

Given current conditions, though, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has written to MPs warning that "this may not be the last time" they would be asked to extend Athens a financial lifeline. A third bailout may be needed to shore up the second.

Against this background, Mark Grant, managing director at Southwest Securities, comes late to the party, wondering if Europe really wants to bail Greece out or if Germany is not forcing so many conditions that they are trying to have them exit the euro on their own so the Germans are not seen as the Lord High Executioner.

By the same token, one wonders whether Schäuble is not trying to have his MPs vote down the second bailout, without being seen as responsible for the outcome of the second vote. And if that is the case, he is pushing at an open door. "At some point, you reach the end of the line because further liquidity isn't solving the problems," Rainer Brüderle, parliamentary chief for the government's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, says.

And with everyone conscious that, once (or if) the Greek issue is settled, waiting in the wings is poor little Spain, and the Germans are going to have to go through this all over again, you can see why they will want to cut their losses.

If the Germans are to be cast in the role of donning their jackboots and goose-stepping over the oppressed peoples of Europe, it might as well get its money's worth. Others, though, might be less than convinced by the "poor little Spain" meme, recalling that Franco was perhaps the only European leader to best Hitler in diplomatic negotiations.

After failing in late October 1940 to convince the Spanish dictator that he should join the war, the Führer famously confided with Mussolini that he would "rather have three or four teeth pulled" than go through another meeting with Franco. In dealing with the Spanish, nothing much may have changed. They are tough nuts.

However, nothing is going to change the fundamentals. At its root, Ambrose reminds me, the EMU crisis is a trade crisis - something Mervyn King is keen to tell us. The North has a chronic surplus and the South has a chronic deficit. You cannot close this gap simply by forcing the South to retrench.

Ambrose consistently argues that you will end up with a protracted depression, and that is exactly what they are getting. The problem is the euro itself. Germany is trying to deflect the blame onto the PIIGS rather than admit the Project is deformed. And that is why he is critical of Germany right now.

Those who defend the German narrative of this crisis, he says, are inadvertently defending the Project. I am not so sure. I remain of the view that, in the end, it will be Germany cutting loose that will bring it down.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thrown to the wolves

Peter Hitchens has a go at our extradition agreement with the USA, which I thought left the issue rather unbalanced. It is all very well talking about Christopher Tappin, and how badly he is being treated - and I would not disagree with the points made. But what about the European Arrest Warrant?

Then, just for once, the Mail does the right thing, picking up on the case of Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick who will be flown to Budapest today. There, they will be handed over to the Hungarian authorities on charges relating to a business venture that failed seven years ago.

Turner and McGoldrick have already spent four months held without charge in a notorious prison in Hungary after being handed over by the UK government in 2009. The pair were later released and allowed to return to Britain but now have to go back to face a fraud trial, over an issue which, in the UK, would usually be dealt with as a civil case.

Nevertheless, the issue, as always, is that British judges should have first bite of the cherry. There must, of course, be provision for extradition, but only after a British judge has decided there is a case to answer, and that a foreign trial is both necessary and without a reasonable alternative.

As Turner now observes though, "We feel let down by the British government for allowing us to be extradited on such flimsy evidence … When our extradition hearing was heard at the High Court a few years ago, the judge said he was being led by Brussels".

God help them though – and us – when they are represented by Tory MP Richard Drax, who is calling on the government urgently to "reform" the "European Extradition Treaty".

Drax, rightly says that Turner has been the victim of an outrageous injustice and that the system "is a judicial mess of scandalous proportions". We can even agree with him when he says, "It is quite understandable Michael's loss of faith in this country's ability to look after her own".

But then the fool wants to reform an unreformable system. That is the ultimate betrayal.


Wither transparency?

While the warmists are successfully focusing attention on the minor-league operations of the Heartland Institute, with a total budget for all its issues, which include health care, education, and technology policy, of around $4.4 million, their own funding arrangements, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, are largely evading scrutiny.

In 2009, picking up on the trail of global warming advocacy and its funding networks, I published this piece, followed by this, where I started looking at what I termed a "vast nexus of influence" - (with Shub Niggurath then writing a piece). Amongst others in the warmist policy camp, I identified the European Climate Foundation (ECF), set up in 2008 as an organisation to transmit funding from a group of funding organisations to a huge range of climate activists.

With offices based in three European countries, there are no unified (or any) accounts and the organisation issues no annual report on its website – and nor does it give any information on how much cash it hands out. Thus, while we have Moonbat bleating about "transparency", hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into promoting warmist policy, with absolutely no transparency or accountability.

Yet, says Moonbat, "Anyone with democratic instincts should support the demand that the major funders of groups engaged in public advocacy should be made known to the public, whether those groups are leftwing NGOs, rightwing 'thinktanks' or self-declared lobbying companies".

That the ECF needs looking at is evident just from looking at its list of "funding partners", some of which we explored in the earlier pieces. Just one indication of the scale of its funding comes from the Climate Works Foundation.

This organisation had portfolio of grants amounting to $120 million in 2009 – the latest figures available (below), yet this is only one of eight hugely wealthy funds supporting the ECF, including the €3 billion Dutch National Postcode Lottery.

The Climate Works Foundation, though, is of special interest as it was in 2008, awarded $460,800,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a grant-making organisation with assets of $7.2 billion, which disbursed $353,400,000 in grants in 2011. It has made another grant to Climate Works only last week of $100 million – bringing the total grants to this organisation to just short of $600 million.

Where such huge funding is devoted to global warming advocacy, and policy development, there must indeed be a distortion of the democratic process, especially where politicians are also being paid. These organisations must come clean about the sources of their money, and provide exact details of how much is paid to which organisations, for what purposes.


Gleick House

Booker today offers what amounts to a tour de table on the state of play on "the so-called debate over global warming" (above – click to enlarge).

The point, of course, is that the warmists had their debate and lost it. Now they want a replay. But what perhaps is being underplayed is that, while this little spat is over millions of dollars, the amounts spent (and earmarked for spending) on global warming by governments and advocacy groups is in the hundreds of billions.

Not least of the sums is the $28.222 billion for so-called fast-start finance, but, says Booker, we cannot recall often enough that our Climate Change Act commits us to spending more than £700 billion between now and 2050 – far more than any other country in the world.

Thus, when the history of the decline and fall of the world's most damaging scare comes to be written, l'affaire Gleick will only be a brief footnote. But it does suggest how desperate those who wish to keep the scare alive have become.

More importantly, Booker concludes, it should focus our attention once again on the fact that we are still being presented with by far the biggest bill in history, to counter a threat that never actually existed.


Saturday, February 25, 2012


A reader attempted to place a comment on Moonbat's blog, asking if anyone knew the type of aircraft in which David Milliband flew to his job with VantagePoint CleanTech in California. The above was the result.


This is wrong

If Moonbat wants to trouble himself about undue influence, why isn't he worried about this? It cannot be right that an elected politicians – with a salary and expenses from the public purse - is so egregiously enriching himself.

But this is not any politician, but a senior Labour man - David Miliband MP. He earned, we are told, earned "a staggering £20,000 a day as an adviser for a company investing in green technology", and was paid £70,000 for just three-and-a-half days spent working for VantagePoint CleanTech in California - part of his £90,000+ annual fee.

The post with the American venture capitalists is the latest in a series of lucrative part-time positions Mr Miliband has taken up since being beaten by his brother in the Labour leadership contest.

And these are the sort of people with whom Miliband is associating – including Alan E. Salzman. That is the man who has served as Finance Chair of the World Business Summit on Climate Change. Miliband is taking his money as a "senior advisor", a smiling addition to the company website.

This is wrong … very, very wrong.


Another clue

Interestingly, despite Moonbat's desperate plea, very few of his readers seem prepared to help him answer our questions, and none have come even close. We, therefore, thought we might help him out with another clue (above).

Even though we enjoyed lavish hospitality - don't you just love the little bit of red carpet – our mission was ultimately unsuccessful. The very great irony, however, is that Moonbat would have completely approved of what we were doing, with us offering arguments very similar to his own.

One must be a little careful here though, as the truth could cause little George's head to explode. And that would be very bad for the environment.


Political sophistication

One has trouble coming to terms with the idea that some people believe that the euro is no longer legal tender in Portugal, Greece or Italy. But then, most of us will have had experience of the jaw-dropping question from people who one would have thought should know better, asking: "do you think we should join the EU?", when they actually meant the single currency.

Sadly, one is thus reminded of this.


Liberal nationalism

Remember this? Now look at this. What is happening to this country of ours? It gets to the stage where the whys and wherefores don't matter any more. This should not be happening in a country which has pretensions of being civilised.

Yet this is neither an isolated nor recent problem. So what purpose is being served by turning our nation into a third-world country, in its people, its urban poverty and its politics, making a mockery of the rule of law?

The point to take on board, though, is that this is not a matter of race, and it is a mistake to treat it as such, although this sort of thing, brought about by this, does not exactly fuel racial harmony. However, wickedness, and police incompetence/indifference, span the racial divide - and the Devil comes in many colours.

Nevertheless, the attack on our wealth, our values (such as they are) and security, in a personal sense, comes from multiple sources - with the Romanians in many cases more trouble than they are worth. We now have train interiors fitted with CCTV, not least to protect sleeping passengers from these marauders.

And I'm still not sure what to make of this either, with 500,000 French citizens living in London alone, while keeping up political representation in their own country. If the French come here to live, should they not "integrate", in the same way that we ask of all immigrants. And if they do integrate, what do they integrate with ... the East Ham Bangladeshi community?

The bigger question, though, is why are we allowing this to happen - this cumulative assault on our national identity. What should we be doing to stop it - and what indeed should be stopped? Such questions are far from rhetorical - they need a response, and we don't seem to have sensible or convincing answers to them. Do we know even how to define the problem, much less try solving it?

Part of the answer, surely, must be to rehabilitate nationalism - rescuing it from the grip of racist thugs, and indeed the taint of racism. That, above all else, gave the multi-cults and the tranzies their rationale grip and their over policy.

Maintaining border integrity is not racist - it is common sense. The two issues must be separated: we need a form of liberal nationalism with which to retake the moral high ground. In terms of helping others, a secure, wealthy state is far better equipped to resolve others' problems than one which is dragged down to the lowest level.

Alongside referism - putting power where it belongs - we need to redefine ourselves as liberal nationalists, fulfilling that most obvious and necessary requirement for a secure base.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Moonbat strikes back

He's there, in all his glory on his blog ... the first time one of my photographs has been swiped by The Guardian. The comments are priceless.


I spoke too soon

Earlier, in customary snarl mode, I reckoned on getting very few reviews for the book, but I hadn't reckoned with the fantastically brilliant James Delingpole doing a wickedly insightful piece in The Spectator.

"What North has achieved here is admirable", he writes, leaving me purring so loudly they are ganging up to evict me from the "quiet coach" where I temporarily reside.

Dellers then continues, saying, "He has set out to reclaim for the people of Britain the credit for a glorious victory which was stolen from them by the political Establishment". He concludes the review with a quote from the end of the book:
To restore that history is to change the way we think about ourselves. We are part of a nation which, in time of peril, rallied and by collective endeavour engineered its own salvation... That makes us a different people from the passive, shadowy inhabitants of a myth — and all the more powerful. What we could do once we can do again.
Needless to say, lesser mortals cannot actually read the thing yet. Despite what the publisher says (who exists only to torture innocent authors), Amazon tells us that deliveries go out on 8 March. Late is better than never, they say.

In the meantime, of course, you could read that other brilliant book, Watermellons by ... er ... Dellers which, by a strange coincidence, is also reviewed in the Speccie. "Do not be deceived by his sometimes flippant and always highly readable prose. This is a serious and significant book", writes Matt Ridley. "He gets me EXACTLY right", says James.

And he does ... I'll post my own review soon.


The disease of incompetence

The resignation of Cynthia Bower, the head of the Care Quality Commission, says the Failygraph, would have been merited even without its exposure of the scandalous failings of the abortion system.

But only up to a point, Lord Copper. This ghastly woman came (once again) to notoriety in June last year, over the Winterbourne View residential hospital scandal. Before that, Bower - on a salary in order of £215,000, more than the prime minister – had been chief executive of Stafford NHS Trust, where she had presided over utter catastrophe.

But despite this appalling performance, in June 2009 she was given the prestige appointment as head if the Quality Care Commission, where she has proved herself to be, yet again, an egregious failure. By any measure, this woman should never have been given the job in the first place.

The worst of this, though, is that this is far from the only case where failure has been so handsomely rewarded. More recently, we see the civil servant who presided over years of chaos at the UK Border Agency promoted – to run the tax office (above).

This is Lin Homer, who was paid almost £1 million in salary and bonuses over four years as the first chief executive of the beleaguered agency, and is now rewarded for her incompetence with another highly-paid, prestige post.

One really does wonder about high public office and why it is that the system unerringly seems to go for the most incompetent people it can find, and then consistently rewards failure. Tragically, though, this disease seems to be spreading throughout the corporate world, which looks to be embarked on its own orgy of incompetence – at our expense.

Is this the disease that is going to bring down civilisation?


More error than trial

The deal eurozone leaders struck with private holders of Greek government bonds to impose deep cuts to the value of their holdings was "as voluntary as a confession to the Spanish Inquisition", the head of one of Germany’s biggest banks has said.

The comments, via the Financial Times, come from Martin Blessing, chief executive of Commerzbank, on a day that exposed the scale of the damage that Europe's sovereign debt crisis has done to banks' balance sheets.

And therein lies the hidden cost, as we learn that the state-owned RBS has made a loss of £2bn for the fourth quarter, of which losses on Greek government bonds accounted for £224m (€265m).

But executives warned that the trouble in Athens was only one part of a malaise that was forcing them to cut back their balance sheets. "We have reduced the balance sheet of RBS by over £700bn of assets", says Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS. "That is roughly twice the size of the entire national debt of Greece".

I won't begin to pretend that I know what is going on here, so can only express a rank outsider's perspective, hazarding the comment that, if a bank can write down £700 billion – and the world does not stop spinning – what is the big deal about Greece doing the same with a much smaller sum?

There will be an answer of course, but there are a lot of things about this ongoing crisis that simply do not make sense, and never will. The answer in this case is that I have read it wrongly. RBS has reduced its balance sheet by £700 Billion. It has not written down that amount. It has done this by selling off assets and netting out derivatives. The "real" balance sheet reduction was actually "about £250bn".

But when we see RBS "doubling its loss" to £2 billion as a sign of what Stephen Hester admits is "Alice in Wonderland" accounting - yet still giving its staff £785 million in bonuses" for their "success" - one perhaps can be forgiven for making the odd mistake. At least, in this case, the taxpayer doesn't have to pick up the bill.

It is some very small comfort, therefore, that after my comment on the meaning of the word unprecedented, we see via The Guardian at the end of a convoluted chain, that Angela Merkel has acquired a new expression for her uncertainty in the euro crisis.

For a long time she has been saying that, "one drives with line-of-sight only" (auf Sicht fahren). But currently, she mostly talks about "treading on Virgin Territory" (Neuland betreten). I guess that is a more picturesque way of saying the same thing.

Perhaps of more comfort in an odd sort of a way, we learn that Merkel always stresses that one has to proceed by "trial and error" – according to the graffiti (above), she can't yet have taken flying lessons – see Google translate.

The comfort here comes from the confirmation that one's initial impressions, that our rulers don't really know what they are doing. The worrying thing, though – as The Guardian notes - is that they may be proceeding more on the basis of "error" than "trial". On this at least, we're all in the same boat.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Being kind to Moonbat

In this post, originally published in  July 2010, after the great propagandist Bob Ward had responded to the guest post by Christopher Booker, we noted that a full-time employee of an institute paid-for by a billionaire financier with interests in global warming, was complaining that Booker was biased because he had received a free flight and had had his hotel bill paid in New York, to attend a Heartlands conference as a speaker.

To add a little spice to the game, I offered a puzzle, the answer to which would give the warmists some more ammunition - since they go in for such things. This comprised a pic of myself and Booker, asking these questions: Where are we? Who owns the executive jet in which we are about to ride? Where are we going? With whom did we have dinner the following night – and who paid the (very substantial) bill?

I then added the above (another little clue).

Now, in the wake of the Gleick affair, it appears that Moonbat (or one of his agents) was sniffing round the blog, looking for information with which to challenge Booker. To make Moonbat's life a little easier (being a kind sort of chap, who doesn't believe one should be cruel to animals), I have republished the post he talked about. There you are George ... happy hunting!

UPDATE: Well … it looks as if he's swallowed the bait. He's certainly out hunting - and you don't have to work very hard to discover which side he is on.


A wee rammy

The sooner the Scots get their "independence" the better. Not only do they not speak the same language (a "rammy" being a fight or a scuffle - often of the drunken variety), the sort of people they elect as MPs leaves a lot to be desired. Late last night, we are told, one of their finest, Eric Joyce, delivered a "Glasgow kiss" – as a head-butt is sometime called – to one Stuart Andrew, another rather unwholesome piece of work.

Eric Joyce himself has always has been a rum cove although, when it suited it, the media was quite prepared to give him house room, even though he was the first MP to have claimed £1 million in expenses (as well as dodging capital gains tax). Thus, as Your Freedom and Ours points out, these people shouldn't be allowed out. But the real problem is that they were voted in.

In September 2009, when he appeared on our radar, we noted that Joyce was reputed to be extremely unpopular in his own constituency, and believed to be at risk of losing his seat at the general election. Here he is though, like the veritable bad penny. Would someone please care to remind me why we have elections? Wasn't one of the reasons that, should an MP misbehave, or displease his electorate, he could be voted out?


The killer of nations

"Greece is like an Arab oil state without oil", writes Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. "It has an overgrown and expensive state machine hard wired with webs of patronage and corruption". This is worth noting as anyone familiar with the writings of Patrick Cockburn, particularly on Iraq, will know that he far from being the worst analyst on the block, and he most definitely has a point here.

The division between Europe and Asia – and the Middle East – is often put in Turkey. Politically and socially though, Greece perhaps has more in common with the Middle East than Europe. In the Middle East, Cockburn says, the state machine is "a crude, unfair but partially effective way of distributing oil wealth and binding recipients to the state through jobs and favours". He continues:
In Greece borrowing took the place of oil. Membership of the eurozone gave the country the same triple AAA credit rating as Germany, enabling it to borrow what it wanted at cheap rates. Euro membership, like oil wealth elsewhere, was a disincentive to political, economic and social change because the money was there to pay off friends and foes … Everybody was happy until the money ran out.
So far, so good. The rest of the piece, as befits the title, "Greece has an overgrown and expensive state machine", deals with the inadequacies of the state, glossing over the patronage and corruption.

But both are a central feature of the state machine and business, to the extent that corruption is most probably one of the main drivers in the economy. And unlike Italy, where the Mafia and other crime syndicates have something of a separate existence, organised crime in Greece is very much part of the state and the major business enterprises.

What is particularly damning about Greece's entry into the EU is that it has opened up the markets and administrative systems of the European nations to a vast nexus of corruption, linking the diverse criminal enterprises, with the tentacles extending into the heart of Brussels.

The tragedy is that, when criminality prevails, the normal rules of economics and governance no longer apply. Competition is distorted, value-for-money becomes a redundant concept and justice takes the back seat to the rule of the mob.

To that extent, corruption particularly is the elephant in the room – another one. No one in polite company wants to say that Greek politicians are a bunch of corrupt thugs – or in the pay of organised crime, itself indivorcible from the business community.

But as long as we continue to pretend that Greece is a normal state obeying the same rules as everybody else, where the rule of law applies, we will continue to be taken to the cleaners. Corruption is the killer of nations. Until or unless it is rooted out of the heart of the Greek establishment, there will be no real progress.

As it stands, money pumped directly into that benighted country simply presents more opportunity for theft on an industrial scale. And, when demonstrators target some of the commercial enterprises (above), they know what they are doing. The real looters (as in Britain) are on the inside.


After the fall

What have we missed? That was the question we were putting yesterday – although it seems long ago in the distant past, so fast are events moving.

The answer now comes, embedded in a leader in Deutsche Welle, which reiterates the obvious – that Greece is bankrupt and that the bailout is going to fail. But, crucially, it then says: "This may happen by the fall, by which time Spain and Italy have hopefully restabilized".

This is a highly credible scenario. While the focus is on Greece, the real action is on the Spanish and Italian fronts (and, presumably, Portugal). The aim is to stabilise their economies and erect the famous "firewalls" to prevent "contagion". Once the protective measures are in place, the Greek economy will be allowed to crash and burn – but only then.  At the moment, it is too early.

Up front, the pretence is there – that these measures are being put in place to save the Greeks. But the fact is that the bailout has nothing to do with the Greeks, per se, and everything to do with protecting the eurozone, and the banking system. Put it any way you wish – Greece is the sacrificial lamb. When its time comes, it will be slaughtered.

Significantly, this is being dealt with by DW as an economic issue, and a separate report has Hans-Werner Sinn, head of the Ifo-Institute for Economic Research, telling us that: "The plan to radically revive the Greek economy with the euro is an illusion". By way of balance, we are also told that the "troika" denies that it is buying time.

Therein lies the real illusion – the picture of the gallant "colleagues" battling away to save Greece, their struggles becoming an all-absorbing soap opera. In the real world, Greece is being positioned for a fall. The only thing not decided is the exact timing, although the autumn is pencilled in, when everybody is refreshed after the summer break. Here, the Americans describing autumn as "the fall" is rather appropriate.

Nevertheless, the plans for Greece are not as brutal as they may appear. The general view is that its economy cannot prosper without growth and, to achieve that, it must be restructured. That, it is felt, will not happen until the plug is pulled. Then, with Greece out of the euozone, the talk is of a Marshall Plan type of package that will put the country back on its feet.

So far, so good, but the economic calculus ignores the human side and the prospect of a long hot summer of riots in Athens and elsewhere. And what may be planned as a managed retrenchment by "colleagues" may be seen from the outside as a headlong, disorderly retreat.

In politics, impressions are everything. Politics themselves are an illusion – the art of managing expectations, and it is here that most damage may be done. If the Greek collapse is seen as a disaster, the knock-on effect throughout Europe may be severe, especially in terms of the European Union's credibility.

So far, the commission seems to have played a reasonably successful hand in diverting attention from itself. With Merkel in the frame, we hear little of Olli Rehn, and not a lot about van Rompuy, even though these two are also major players. And the current wave of Germanophobia, as Helen noted, also serves to keep attention off the malign role of the commission.

What we can then expect in the autumn, as Greece is finally allowed to sink under the waves, is the announcement of a grand rescue package – an EU rescue package, demonstrating the solidarity of the "colleagues" and the strength of the project.

In the meantime, the game is to keep us focused on the soap opera, and the endless guessing game. This will allow the arch manipulators to bide their time and spin the publicity to a gullible media and largely indifferent public, bored and baffled in equal measure by the ongoing drama.

After the fall, we will be presented with the images of "Europe" coming to the rescue. And as long as that image sticks, the illusion of power will be maintained. Then – the "colleagues" hope – the revolution will be deferred yet again.


Les grandes lignes

The Financial Times is now reporting on a scrap between the IMF, the US administration and – once again – Germany. There also seems to be a divergence of opinion between Germany and the Netherlands.

The German government, we are told, is set to resist increasing the size of the €500 billion European Stability Mechanism, the so-called "firewall", held as a back-up fund to shore up ailing economies in the case of a crisis, so preventing the dreaded "contagion".

Elsewhere, we see ZeroHedge reporting on "negative salaries" for some Greeks, making them worse off than "the run-of-the-mill slave". This is, we also learn, on top of another phenomenon - "negative gold".

Such detail and much more is complicating the reporting of the current crisis. Relying on market signals, though, will only take us so far. The market has its own agenda and a very narrow perspective. As Kenneth S Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard, says: "I am amazed by the short-term psychology in the market".

Getting bogged down in detail, and the baffling torrent of jargon, simply obscures les grandes lignes. It is this bigger picture that we must keep in focus, the one that is telling us, with increasing clarity, that Merkel is protecting her domestic position , fearful of a backlash "within her own centre-right coalition, and from public opinion".

The Guardian is telling us that several MPs from Merkel's conservatives and her junior partner, the Free Democrats (FDP) are planned to oppose the bailout package, when it comes in front of the Bundestag next week. On present calculations, she is unlikely to win a vote on the deal without the humiliation of relying on her socialist and green opponents .

This, of course, is not a sign of strength, but one of weakness, turning the conventional narrative on its head. As we have seen on earlier occasions, Germany is not calling the shots, the leader of a homogenous grouping comprising the so-called "troika" and the member states.

Rather, we are seeing evidence of what could only be inferred – that there are serious stresses within the different groups of players, and between the groups themselves. Merkel is having to respond to differing and conflicting international players, while squaring them with the demands from her own electorate. And, as the circle gets wider, calling in parliamentarians and cabinets from all the eurozone member states, the discord is going to get greater.

One of the most recent of the stresses to break out into the wider public sphere is the tussle with the IMF which, under pressure from Washington – the fund's biggest provider – is trying to reduce its exposure, dumping as much risk as possible in the laps of the Europeans.

Without needing to go into the details, that itself betrays another strand of nervousness, reinforcing the almost universal view that the Greek deal is going to go belly-up – not if, but when.

Yet to get its fair share of publicity is the bond deal with private bondholders taking the so-called "haircut" of 70 percent, reducing the Greek debt by €100 billion. The shenanigans over this deal, we are told, are going to poison the bond market, with untold consequences.

Such detail on economic issues, however, must not obscure the bigger picture – that Greece is going to default. This, incidentally, is now the view of Fitch Ratings, which is saying that it is "highly likely in the near term".

When that happens, it will initially be an economic event, but it will also become a major political event, which will then dominate proceedings (as do they do now, although less obviously), with huge ramifications.

Here, one wishes that our own politicians (and media) were more on the ball. The economic "contagion" is going to be matched by some pretty heavy political fallout – in Greece initially, but then spreading to Germany and rippling out from there.

Economics apart, the resultant fallout is going to redefine European politics, in a way that we can only guess at. At the end of a decade or so, we are going to see a Germany more and more detached from the EU. At the moment, against the combined might of the "colleagues", Merkel drew back from Armageddon, but that is not always going to be the case. German obedience can no longer be taken for granted.

Thus, while the economic events may for the time being dominate, puzzle and frustrate, we must never lose sight of those political grandes lignes. They, not the bean counters, decide the fates of nations.