Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Unbiased Twaddle is Not The Answer

As this bizarre and depressing election campaign lumbers on towards no real conclusion, I've heard more and more people saying they wish they could get some "unbiased" information. Just the straight truth about climate change, the economy or membership of the European Union.

This yearning for unbiased information betrays a deep misunderstanding of reality. These are big, complicated questions with many variables, lots of ambiguity and no definite answers. Even on specific variables it's impossible to make any educated guess about what would happen to, say our balance of trade with the remaining EU members when we as yet have no idea what the trading arrangements will be. The effects will not be evenly distributed, and many of them anyway will be qualitative in nature and inherently subjective.

Attempting to get an unbiased view of such a complex issue is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the question. It is something on which you have to form your own judgement based on your own values, and your own estimation, as informed as you choose to make it, as to what these outcomes will be.

I blame this idiotic desire on a few different things. Firstly the inane promise of the BBC to produce unbiased news which they have never even attempted to fulfil, combined with the legislative requirement for all other broadcast media do notionally aspire to the same unobtainable goal. The very act of choosing what to report is so obviously a value judgement that the notion of unbiased news is a nonsense, which has only succeeded in producing a dull witted and naive population who unquestioningly believe what they see on television.

But I also lay a big portion of the blame with the education system which in it's absurd and politically driven bid to give everyone qualifications has had to reduce every meaningful area of discussion to bullet points, and assess the outcomes by a series of multiple choice answers. People are conditioned out of qualitative assessments and value judgements by this system, and instead believe that there exists some prior body of knowledge which can be reduced down to digestible points from which the correct answer can be known.

It doesn't work like that in the real world. Complicated questions have complicated answers, in so far as they have answers at all, and those attempting to answer them have an agenda. Taking their "unbiased" view of the matter will simply lead you to their answer. Do you own research and arrive at your own answers based on your own values.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Recycling Public Money

If you are in Salford, or in fact anywhere near Salford, there's a good chance you will have seen an orange glow emanating from Frederick Road, or one of the armada of fire engines carrying dozens of firemen to the JWS Waste facility which was blazing away.

Accidents happen and fires break out, and there's nothing especially remarkable about this one on the face of it. In fact it's especially unremarkable given that recycling centres seem to catch fire with astonishing regularity.

A thread on the site has been tracking these fires since November 2013, around 18 months ago and links to reports of major fires every few weeks. The reasons given range from stray Chinese lanterns to discarded cigarettes and even spontaneous combustion under the weight of the rubbish.

And it's not just me being cynical. There have been prosecutions and permits revoked in the more blatant cases. Yet nobody seems to question if there is something in the set up of the industry which makes recycling centres especially prone to catching fire.

The other striking feature of this phenomenon is that if you Google "recycling fires" an overwhelming proportion of the results come from the United Kingdom. Is there something about a cold, damp island which makes these fires so much more likely here than in Australia or Nevada? Then how come other businesses with large quantities of flammable materials don't catch fire with such suspicious regularity? Perhaps there is something about the way this so called industry operates here which makes these fires more likely?

In a nutshell these organisations charge customers such as tyre fitters to collect their old tyres for recycling - if you remember they started charging £1 a tyre disposal fee a few years ago. Next they hoover up the generous subsidies, grants and tax breaks the government affords this "green" industry, while storing all their recyclables in a big flammable pile, and take out insurance against it catching fire. Then some bloody fool with a Chinese lantern or a cigarette butt comes along and before you know it thousands of tonnes of "stock" are blazing away, never to be recycled and the owners have to settle for a measly insurance pay out instead of the untold millions they would have made from selling plant pots made out of old tyres or windcharms made from plastic bottles.

It is a blatant, grand scale fraud which is costing millions of pounds, endangering fire crews and any legitimate business unfortunate enough to be next door to one of these facilities and by any measure an environmental disaster. Yet we allow it to continue because somehow this is deemed to be good for "the environment." 

Many years ago if you wanted to hire a skip you could call a local company who would send a (usually) greasy man with foul language around to deliver a skip. A couple of weeks later he would come and collect it, sell anything of value and take the rest to landfill. Then they essentially killed this business with landfill tax, meaning only big companies who could show a lot of green credentials were able to offer competitive skip hire. Of course many of them were still ultimately scrap men, who despite the glossy green brochures and pictures of trees were out to make a quick buck.

It is complete nonsense. The whole thing is a way of "recycling" public money as private profit for criminals, and so long as we keep the ridiculous system of grants, subsidies and regulations in place our fire brigades will be very busy. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

After Withdrawal

One little discussed aspect of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union is how an independent British foreign policy would view the bloc after we leave it. It is a vexed question because on the one hand the rest of the EU is by far our largest single trading partner and it would make sense to maintain strong relationships with our close neighbours. On the other hand in slamming it as an anti-democratic, inward looking organisation it would be somewhat hypocritical to then treat is as a friendly ally once we were outside. And in a very practical sense having our geographically and culturally closest neighbours subsumed into an undemocratic bloc in economic decline, and social unrest is definitely not in our interests.

Remaining in the European Free Trade Agreement as Norway or Switzerland do would give none of the advantages of free trade with the rest of the world, and would perpetuate our dependence on trading with Europe for years to come. 

The most logically consistent position seems to be to develop a completely independent trade policy with good terms, but maintain a position of open scepticism in a political sense, while encouraging other members to leave. However this would surely present major political problems with the institutions of the European Union.

However there are dangers with this - the first being that a smaller EU, minus perhaps Ireland and the Nordic countries, would push integration even farther and faster, hence accentuating the negative consequences for us. The second being that this would antagonise the institutions of the EU to the extent that they would implement damaging restrictions on trade and travel between Britain and the remaining EU countries.

As the case for withdrawal gathers pace it is a question that we need to start to answer, because our eventual policy will guide the process of extracting the country from the European project, and the groundwork should begin well before any referendum is even held.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Last Chance

Something really important is happening later this year. Politicians and bureaucrats from across the globe will fly to Paris for a climate summit, and guess what? It's our last chance to save the world from devastation. Sound familiar?

According to the New Scientist we had our last chance as far back as 1992. Copenhagen was our last last chance in 2009, despite the fact that these ghouls meet every year to dream up new scare stories.
Unfortunately for them in 2009 the wind was well and truly taken out of their mills by the release, just before the summit, of leaked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) showing how scientists were manipulating and suppressing data to find global warming when it didn't exist. Of course the academic, scientific and political establishment moved quickly to stamp on this, and to defend the "scientific consensus" (a stupid term, as science is based on objectively provable facts, not a negotiated agreement) around climate change.

Now, six years on it doesn't feel any warmer, the Maldives haven't disappeared under the sea and the memory of "climategate" is fading. So lucky us, it seems we have another last chance.

Or at least they do. Another chance to rip us off, dream up destructive regulations and impose their new religion on people who weren't seeking a new religion to start with. And they are grabbing it with both hands.

I once had the misfortune to meet a conman who floated around expat meeting points hawking dubious investments, insurance policies and savings schemes to the gullible. He wasn't really much good at it, and I figured him out quite quickly. Eventually a few months later he and his company were very publicly taken to task by "customers" and the conman had his eye blackened by one disgruntled investor. He disappeared for a few months and I thought that was that. Then I ran into him again, and bold as brass he greeted me like an old friend and proceeded to tell me what a great deal he could give me on a pension plan. He nearly had his eye blackened again. 

Mostly irrelevant to climate change, but the point is that he was able to simply block out the past where he had been taken to task for a liar and a fraud and approach me offering to "help." It's what conmen and psychopaths do. They fool themselves, or at least organise their mind in such a way that I imagine he really, sincerely believed I was an old friend who may be interested in his pension product. 

In much the same way as this conman the largely discredited climate change industry has been lying relatively low for a few years. They now appear to be coming back for another go at a major treaty committing the west to economic ruin. They glossed over and forgot about the fact that they were exposed as fraudsters, licked their wounds and come back pretending it never happened.

It's up to us to make sure we don't forget this brief view into the ridiculous world of climate fraud, and don't get taken in by it. Climate change policies are already doing huge damage to western economies with carbon taxes, absurd regulations, power shortages and foolish transport policies. Our last chance to avoid this idiocy has been and gone, and it's high time we started reversing it. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Grand Coalition of Folly

On the one hand it seems unthinkable that the two parties often seen as the opposing poles of British politics could form a coalition government. On the other hand it seems to make perfect sense. There is precious little difference in terms of policy, ideology or integrity. Both parties seem to govern with the notion that everything would be fine if not for the public. Both have hemorrhaged membership in recent decades as they have ceased to be organs of democratic governance and become essentially vote brokers offering a veneer of legitimacy to a sort of disorganised corporatism.

The very idea of it seems the stuff of nightmares - the two parties who have presided over a century of often farcical decline teaming up to accelerate their programme of ruin. From the Tories' misadventure in Suez to Labour's humiliating panhandling to the IMF, by way of botched nationlisations, botched privatisations, a mountain of debt and and an ill judged foray into continental politics which has been an expensive disaster, to the near break up of the United Kingdom. The two main parties have little to recommend them besides keeping the other lot out. And indeed when you speak to people intending to vote for either of the two main parties, that's the reason that seems to come up most often.

And you can see their point - a Labour government, spending and borrowing it's way to bankruptcy, would be a disaster. Even as a more natural conservative voter I have no interest in seeing Cameron win an outright majority either, which he would use to fudge and fiddle a referendum, setting the cause back decades.

Why then, would I be quietly hoping that these two parties, unable to form a government alone, form a grand coalition and share government for the next parliament?

Firstly they wouldn't be able to get anything done. Unless they were going to engage in a radical programme of spending cuts and rolling back of the state, and neither is even talking about it, then this is a very good thing. The constant infighting, squabbling and maneuvering would ensure that they couldn't do anything at all, allowing the rest of us to get on with things without further tax rises, stupid new laws or damaging vanity projects.

Secondly, it would dispel the popular myth that there is any worthwhile difference between the Conservative and Labour parties. In fact there are probably starker differences of opinion within the parties than there are between their respective leaderships, and actual important differences. The Labour party might be a bit more inclined to spend public money, and the Tories a bit more inclined towards privatisation, but both are thoroughly committed to the European Union, both have bought fully into the faith of climate change and are determined to keep pandering to the demands of this new deity. Both parties continue to stir up an irrational fear of Russia, Islamic terrorism and any other convenient bogey man to undermine civil liberties and the justice system and over play their own diminishing importance in international relations.

Thirdly though, and most importantly, they would both ruin their credibility at the same time. The bigger picture of British politics in the modern era is one where the two main parties take turns at mucking things up, while the other party capitalises on this to court the disaffected and convince the public that things would be so much better under them. After a few years this works and the other party gets it's turn at mucking stuff up while the party that was in government takes it's go at courting the disgruntled and making wild promises.

The net result has been a huge expansion of the state, economic stagnation and general national decline as the parties have sought to out bid each other during elections campaigns, by borrowing from the future. Now the future has arrived and it turns out that neither party can concoct an attractive enough package of benefits, tax breaks and spending boosts to make voting for them worthwhile to significant numbers of people. Meanwhile, in Scotland and Wales, nationalist parties have been able to offer this by blaming everything on England, and in England itself UKIP have started to call them out on this fraud. The Liberal Democrats, in their sorry desperation to get their hands on power have thoroughly shot themselves in the foot and are facing a meltdown in the forthcoming election.

So it seems to me that the best possible outcome is for a 'grand coalition' to take power, to prove once and for all that they are both as incompetent as each other, and that ultimately their supposed differences are not worth the paper they are written on. 5 years of doubly bad government, bickering and impotence might seem like a high price to pay, but if it opens the door to an election in 2020 with actual alternatives, and disabuses the public of the ridiculous notion that the fact that they have previously governed means they are fit to govern now, then it is a price that is certainly worth paying.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Sausage Roll Republic

In parts of Thailand and other Asian "democracies" it's quite common for candidates to simply buy votes. From a couple of pounds for a council seat to a bottle of £5 whisky plus cash for a parliamentary seat, straight out buying of votes is a fairly common practice. It's rightly seen as a shabby and cynical ploy which favours corrupt politicians with relatively cheap votes from rural peasants who probably wouldn't otherwise use them.

That is "treating." One of the strategies that corrupt and powerful elites use to keep a tight hold on their power and privelage in third world countries with large populations of ill informed people. The fairly crude method they use to do this is to drive around on election day announcing their offer through a megaphone. In the worst areas there have been allegations of them actually bringing ballot papers to ensure the vote is cast "correctly" once procured.

Meanwhile in Southampton UKIP candidate Kim Rose has been asked to report to a police station to answer the charge that he was using the same tactics to buy votes in the Itchen seat he is contesting in next month's general election.

What had this corrupt monster offered his would be constituents to pervert the course of democracy? A sausage roll. On the 21st of February, over 2 months before polling day, Rose had put on a party where for £2 entry there was some snookering of some sort with Jimmy White, tea, coffee and sausage rolls.

Now 3 weeks before the election it has been decided that this grave electoral fraud needs to be investigated, and as far as I can tell before police have had so much as an informal discussion with Rose about his actions, the national media informed.

Another tactic used by powerful third world rulers to keep hold of their power while maintaining a facade of democracy is to use the police, the civil service and the media to throw damaging accusations at potential rivals to discredit them and their parties in the run up to elections.

With the caveat that I'm not a lawyer, it seems that the relevant legislation here is s114 Representation of the People Act 1983 which states that

“A person shall be guilty of treating if he corruptly, by himself or by any other person, either before, during or after an election, directly or indirectly gives or provides, or pays wholly or in part the expense of giving or providing, any meat, drink, entertainment or provision to or for any person—

(a) for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting; or

(b) on account of that person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting, or being about to vote or refrain from voting“

The person who receives the meat is also guilty of an offence, if he accepts it ‘corruptly’.

So make up your own mind whether a sausage roll at a party 10 weeks before an election is "corruptly influencing" people to vote for UKIP, or whether some quite different third world tactics are being employed to influence voters in Southampton and beyond.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

A Case Study in Spin

This story about Max Levitas on Channel 4 News almost be a case study in spin

The bald facts - a home owner in a block of ex council flats has been charged for repairs and refused to pay.

Now the spin! Firstly the headline "from fighting fascists to fighting the council" while not directly equating the local council with fascists certainly gives a hint of that. The story continues in this vain, noting that Levitas was a veteran of the Battle of Cable Street, and was now rekindling this spirit to fight again, this time a demand from the council for the repair bills.

Now as the leaseholder of a former council flat, Mr Levitas presumably took advantage of the right to buy scheme brought in by none other than Margaret Thatcher, and since he has, according to the article, lived there for nearly half a century, he would almost certainly have done so at very favourable rates in the 1980s, and being in fairly central London will have profited enormously from this.

And where abouts in central London? They do actually mention it, in a follow beneath the original article. Mr Levitas lives in Tower Hamlets - perhaps the most left wing council in the country, controlled as it is by a mob of Labour and Tower Hamlets First, a local grouping founded by former Labour man Lutfur Rahman, with a colourful history to say the least. Not that the political make up of the council is especially relevant to the story, but it seems at least as relevant as the anti fascist credentials of Levitas in 1936.

Let's spin it the other way and imagine a property developer who bought "social housing" on the cheap and then got the council to repair it for them. I wonder if Channel 4 news would be quite so gushing about his "impressively sharp mind" or the "twinkle in his penetrating blue eyes."

A quick Google search shows that Max Levitas has had a colourful life. From defacing Nelson's column in 1934, through 15 years as a Communist Party Councillor, to more recently opposing the EDL's right to march in London. And not without having a dig at "the cuts" here in 2013.

So what is my point? Certainly not a character assassination, Max Levitas has had an interesting life, and he clearly has strong principles he has held for a long time. Nor is it to say that he is self serving, shirking his responsibilities or anything else - I don't know the nature of his contract with the council. Rather I suspect Max Levitas is being manipulated here for whatever drum the author Cathy Newman wants to bang.

The amazing thing is that Channel 4 News, which claims to be impartial and serious, and Cathy Newman who is a long serving and prominent member of their team, would put their name to such clearly politically motivated tripe, and that no-one would pick up on it and ask her to tone it down. And if they can do this for a minor story about a property dispute then what hope do they have of impartiality on anything that actually matters?

They may be a bit slicker and more consistent with their coverage of major stories but you can be absolutely sure they are putting their spin on every bit as much.