10 November 2010

With central bankers like these ...

I was just listening to BBC’s Radio 4 interviewing Mervyn King, the UK’s central banker. I felt like I was listening to Pravda’s Radio Propaganda. There are three options: he was lying, he’s a moron, or he was answering a different question.

The Bank of England is predicting continued economic growth in the UK. Given the prediction of growth — King claimed that the UK has had growth of 4% in the last 2 quarters in-line with the rest of the world — and the recent recession, he said there are both strong inflationary and deflationary pressures at play, making it impossible to know which will dominate. He added that he was extremely concerned about the level of UK debt and approved the Conservatives efforts to cut the deficit.

This is the man in charge of the UK’s central bank! His analysis and implied advice in the situation is like having an alligator lunge out of the water at you and having Mervyn say, well, you should jog out of the way, but you don’t want to go too fast and tire yourself out and don’t worry, snapping turtles only run backwards.

Firstly, the UK’s economic growth has gone from -6% last year to about 3% in the 3rd quarter. It has not been 4% for the past 2 quarters. Historically, since the end of WWII, UK GDP growth has been 1.5% to 2.5% a year in line with the rest of Western Europe and North America, so 4% growth would be reason for dancing in the streets. In fact, it’s so good that deficits would mean nothing. The UK could grow its way out of the budget deficit in a few years. This is exactly what the US did to get rid of Regan’s massive deficit, growth made possible by the IT revolution.

Secondly, it appears that growth is slowing and may well start to decline again. Frankly, it is disingenuous at best and stupid at worst to predict growth when there a million job losses coming as a result of Tory policies and what should be the government-owned banks are still refusing to loan the government’s money to small and medium sized companies that could start expanding and hire some of the newly unemployed. In essence, the Tories by axing jobs and not forcing banks to operate as banks are turning the gainfully employed into the unemployable. Anecdotally, since I’m now a comedian and run a comedy club, I’ve noticed that business is down generally. People don’t seem to be going out as much as they did last year, back when, according to Mervy, they had less money. I took a look at pub trade figures and they too show a fall in sales across the country.

Thirdly, Conservative efforts to cut the deficit will have the perverse effect of slowing economic growth, which in turn lowers tax revenues. They are following the policies enacted by Ireland, which has led the Irish Republic over the precipice into the worst economic quagmire in the developed world. Someone should drum into the Conservatives collectively thick head that Ireland should be a cautionary tale, not a roadmap.

Fourthly, the only people that seem to be doing well out of the recent economic growth are banks who have taken a windfall of government money, used some of it to pay themselves and the rest to continue the risky practices that got us into this mess in the first place. As far as I can tell, if Merv isn’t lying or an idiot, he was only talking about bankers in the first place.

Finally, I’ll give Merv a little hint. There is both inflation and deflation. For the very wealthy who are in a windfall situation, there are inflationary pressures. For all of the schmucks like me that have to work for a living, there is deflation, except where government regulates, like public transport, taxes and housing. For the real economy of people making things that working people want to buy, there is deflation as working men and women have less money.

I’m guessing the question Mr King was answering was “What would be the most ridiculous lying, stupid thing for the UK’s central banker to say right now?”. Great answer Merv, great answer…

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03 January 2008

In The News

In yesterday’s news:

Republican nomination hopefuls Mitt Romney, the evolution-denying Mormon, and Mike Huckabee, the evolution-denying evangelical, are the two front runners for the US Republican Party nomination in Iowa. While both claim evolution is a fiction perpetuated by the Devil, they both refused to have last year’s flu jab this year because the influenza virus has mutated.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s economy is booming thanks to surging exports of potash, oil and uranium. That’s right folks, Saskatchewan is just letting everyone know that North America has it’s own Siberia.

In Drugs policy, Richard Brunstrom, the chief constable of North Wales, said that the drug ecstasy is safer than aspirin and should be legalised along with heroin and cocaine. Government ministers disagreed, saying that drug use should be punished in all cases except those involving Labour Party soirees or their children.

Boom-boom time for emergency services, emergency services officials complained that they were four times busier on New Year’s Eve than they are on a normal night. They also complained that frostbite is up in winter, sunburn is up in summer and the Pope has a higher than average risk of injury from incense inhalation.

Also, Paul McCartney had angioplasty to improve blood flow to his heart, which had atrophied during his recent acrimonious divorce from Heather Mills McCartney. Mr McCartney apparently feels there is still room for a few more silly love songs.

Overseas, two British expats in Algeria were sacked for “sheep violation” of animals destined for sacrifice on the Muslim holy day of Eid. They committed the acts after being asked what they did for fun in their native Wales. “Good thing we didn’t name any of the sheep Mohamed,” said one of the men.

In today’s news:

On the corporate kindness front, UK supermarket chain Tesco was awarded the Christmas Scrooge award for sacking Alan Rowbothan from his £6/hour job for picking 20p off the floor and Nicola Fryer because her 13-year-old daughter tried to use her 10% staff discount card to buy a 20p malt loaf. Also, employees of a Brighton Tesco were being docked 80% of their Christmas bonus for wearing gloves and jumpers because the store where they work had become uncomfortably cold. Meanwhile, the top Tesco executives pocketed £26 million in Christmas bonuses, more than any other FTSE 100 company, proving that “receiving is better than giving” and that “every little helps”.

In US politics, the dash for the Republican Party nomination is heating up. John McCain is being held back because he has shown himself to be the most reasonable candidate, a major departure from his standing as a right-wing crazy in the 1990s. But McCain hasn’t changed, it’s just the rest of the Republican candidates that are in cuckoo land. Mitt Romney is basically a Mormon version of George W Bush. Rudy Giuliani is an angry man with an uncommon drive. He wants to replace Saudi oil with Midwest coal to screw the Saudis and the planet; he wants to continue to torture people to screw what’s left of the US’ reputation for human rights; he wants invade Iran to screw the Middle East, and he wants to keep health insurance unaffordable for many American to screw the poor. Mike Huckabee is basically the same, except he is a Bible thumper who doesn’t believe in evolution but does believe in invading Pakistan.

Back in the UK, more Britons are addicted to fast food than even Americans. 45% of Britons said they “like the taste of junk food too much to give it up”, topping the 44% of Americans who agreed. While London may have the Michelin stars, the average Brit is trying to look like the Michelin Man.

On the transport front, the government wants to double the number of passengers using rail by 2030. To help realise that vision, rail companies have hiked fares by as much as 14.5% to ring in the New Year. This comes on top of a 7.3% rise on 2007, an 8.8% jump in 2006, and a 7.2% gouge in 2005. By 2030, rail fares will be three times what they are today, so presumably the government expects higher rail ridership to come from the bling factor: “I is so rich I can ride the train”, or the snob appeal, which the same, only more grammatical.

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14 December 2007

The Parking Racket

Every so often there is a story in the paper that makes you go, “WHAT?! Surely not.” A man, Jamie Thomson, went to a McDonald’s near Gatwick, ordered a burger, chips, coke, doughnut and coffee and then had the temerity to sit in the parking lot to eat them over the course of an hour. That was 15 minutes beyond the time limit. For that crime he now owes £213 and has been contacted by a debt collection agency and threatened with court action. It has been fairly well covered, to read further see here.

The background to this is that a couple of years ago the government in the UK decided to give parking enforcement over to the private sector, you know, since it has worked so well for public transport.

McDonald’s gave a contract to a company, Civil Enforcement, to police 40-odd parking lots against people who park too long. McDonald’s says that they do not profit from the fine. Strictly speaking, that is true. They profit from their contract with Civil Enforcement who pays McDonald’s to go motorist hunting, sorry, I mean enforce the regulations in their lots.

According to Civil Enforcement, they take photos of licence plates and then track the people with the help of the DVLA because it is “less confrontational than clamping and towing”. Well, no shit. I imagine that most people would drive away if someone came up to the car with a clamp or a tow truck. Getting people to leave may have been the original goal of McDonald’s giving the hunting licence, excuse me, parking enforcement contract, to CE, but now it’s just a way of fleecing people. The phrase highway robbery comes to mind.

The government is in effect subsidising Civil Enforcement because the company depends on the publicly funded courts and the DVLA database to extort, sorry, I mean, recover their fines from people who don’t just pay right away like sheep to the slaughter, sorry, I mean like responsible citizens.

It’s a nice racket. Since the UK doesn’t have anti-racketeering laws of any real meaning, it’s a pretty safe business too.

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08 December 2007

Letter to Royal Mail

Since moving to the UK eight years ago, I am every so often reminded that the UK is somewhat of a Second-World country. The mail is a case in point. Below is me going postal.

"Dear Sirs,

"The incident dates are every time I have received a package via Royal Mail since I moved to this address in July 2006.
"The most recent incident is particularly galling because the package contained perishables. It was supposed to be delivered Friday, 7 December 2007. There were two of us at home when the 'Sorry, you were out' notice was pushed through the letter slot. I am convinced that the delivery officer never had any intention of trying to deliver the package as this is part of an ongoing problem.
"Of course the telephone number on the notice doesn't allow the caller to actually talk to anyone and refers them to the website. Luckily I do have internet access. In the past the website has been under construction. Today it was working, at last. But it didn't give the one option I needed, which was to redeliver the package on Saturday. Monday was the only option for getting a redelivery or picking up the item in person from the delivery office which is over a mile away. Either way, the perishable goods will have perished by then.
"As I mentioned, this is not a one-off, but rather part of an ongoing pattern. The delivery officer, whose name I do not know, never, ever delivers packages. She delivers 'Sorry, you were out' notices. As I work from home, I am in during the postal deliveries. I have watched the notices come through the letter box. I have asked the delivery officer about them but she claims that it couldn't have been her delivering the notice and that it must have been someone else despite the fact that I had just caught her pushing one through the letter slot. Additionally, if she had brought the packages, she could have left them with either of my neighbours, both of whom I know and are home during postal deliveries.
"The simple fact is that she does not deliver packages, ever. My guess is that she doesn't like carrying them and never gets called on it since most people are not home during delivery hours.
The result is that whenever I am sent a package I have to wait two days and then take at least an hour out of my day to go pick up the package, since the delivery office is over a mile away.
Please prove the delivery officer wrong by actually doing something. Last time I caught her putting one of the 'Sorry, you were out' notices through my letter slot, she told me, 'Go ahead and complain. They won't do anything. They never do.'


"David Mulholland"


26 October 2007

Iraq and Afghanistan to Cost US $2.4 Trillion

Wow, was I ever wrong! Back in early 2003 when I was with Jane’s Defence Weekly, I estimated that the cost of a war with Iraq would cost $200 billion-$220 billion over five years. At the time the Bush administration was saying it would cost $50 billion in total. I got a lot of grief from some Bush apparatchiks for my estimate. Turns out I low-balled the number by quite a bit. So far Afghanistan and Iraq have cost $604 billion and the non-partisan US Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total cost through 2017 to be $2.4 trillion. So the Bush administration’s initial estimate was off by a factor of 48. That's right, the Bushies' war cost estimate was 2.1% of the real estimated cost.

For that same amount of money we could have put a colony on Mars! Not only would that have had the effect of unifying people with a new frontier, but the spin-off technologies would have probably led to whole new industries and an economic boom.

The downside would have been that Halliburton wouldn’t have gone from being the number 17th largest contractor to the US Department of Defense to the 7th and Cheney’s stock options wouldn’t be worth as much.

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25 October 2007

Kate McCann Cries — What Do You Expect? Glee?

Kate McCann is in the paper today because she broke down in a television interview. I’m not sure I see what the news is except that she’s upset about the loss of her daughter, Madeleine. Well, of course she is. Not even the Portuguese police think she’s happy about her daughter being dead or missing.

On Monday it was headline news in one of the free London papers that Kate wants to go into childcare and quit being a GP. I think most people can agree that going into childcare is preferable to 10 years in a Portuguese jail. But I fail to see the news value. Whether her daughter was kidnapped or Kate and Gerry McCann accidentally killed their daughter, it has got to be a fairly traumatic event. My only question is would you trust her with your children? You’d have two-thirds chance of getting them back.

My big question is why is Kate in the news so much? Is it because she is a yummy mummy? Gerry, her husband, is not in the news nearly as much, despite the fact that he is an anaesthesiologist, which makes him a more likely suspect in an accidental overdosing of Madeleine, and he was the one who found Maddy missing.

This news about Kate looking to change jobs and crying seems to be a way of saying that she’s innocent of killing her kid. But it doesn’t. What probably happened was that Kate, a GP, and Gerry, an anaesthesiologist, got in the habit of dosing their kids so that they’ll sleep through the night. Probably they accidentally doubled the dose, by each of them giving Madeleine a dose, or they gave her more than usual to sleep through the night, or she reacted to the drug differently than in the past. Then, when Gerry went to check on the kids during dinner, he found Madeleine dead and panicked and hid the body. Indeed, he might even have disposed of the body and told Kate that Madeleine was missing. The point is that the focus should really be on him. But he’s just a bloke. She’s a hottie in grief. That makes better news somehow, especially in the Sun and Daily Mail.

This all raises an interesting question about what should be done if they are guilty of accidentally killing Madeleine. If they are convicted they will lose their medical licences, go to jail, and their twins will go into foster care. If they are not convicted, they will continue to practice medicine, probably much more carefully than in the past, and really cherish their twins and raise them well. I would hazard that they have learned their lesson about drugging their children and won’t do it again, so they don’t pose a threat to society.

Legally, if they are found guilty, their and their children’s lives will be ruined without preventing future crimes. It will deprive the community of their hard-learned skills and two children of their parents. On the whole, I hope they are found innocent, although I don’t think they are.

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20 October 2007

Too Early to Tell About Afghanistan

There is some pretty bad news coming out of Afghanistan. According to a report by Chatham House, an influential, non-partisan London-based think tank, Afghanistan is in a slow descent.

This comes on top of an already poor situation where Afghani President Hamid Karzai has called for talks with the Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar and been rebuffed. See AP article here. The International Herald Tribune has a nice analysis of the situation here.

Additionally, according to a journalist inside the country for the last year, the roads near the capital are becoming too dangerous to travel, see here.

Basically, we’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly six years, and the Taliban is still a potent force, still being run by Mullah Omar, and Osama bin Laden is still running around recruiting bearded nutters to blow themselves up to commit murder.

There is some good news, however. Pakistan has been fighting against the Taliban sympathisers in Waziristan, see here.

If the Taliban are actually stopped from crossing back and forth across the border, coalition forces might actually make some real progress against them. The Chatham House report notes that one of the chief problems fighting the Taliban has been their ability to hop across the border to safety where the coalition forces are not allowed to follow.

My hunch is that unless the coalition and Pakistan can crush the Taliban, really, not just as a temporary PR exercise (also known as “lying about it”), there is a disturbing chance that radical Islamists will wind up taking control of Pakistan itself. The attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto is stunning in its scope, 133 dead and at least 400 injured. If you do a Google search for “Pakistan” and “bomb” the first 350 entries (that’s all I had patience for) are all of suicide bomb attacks within Pakistan, most of which were not heard about in the West. In other words, Pakistan is struggling over its future. And remember, they have nukes.

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