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Showing posts from March, 2011

Interest rate intensity

The budget that George Osbourne presented last week was not particular brave, considering the electoral cycle. Far from being the orgy of cuts that Ed "Edward" Miliband suggested, the fact is that the UK deficit will continue to rise, and the total level of indebtedness is unlikely to fall much, if at all for several years. The gap between the spending programme proposed by Labour last May and the Coalition this March is really pretty small. However this has not prevented Labour -rather foolishly- from hitching itself to a "No cuts" band wagon. The resulting juxtaposition of Ed "Edward" Miliband's speech with a serious riot by extremists was unfortunate, but sadly all too predictable. Miliband -again- demonstrated a lack of judgment that is becoming characteristic of his leadership. Labour has abandoned any sense of economic reality, if they now truly believe that there is any chance of recovering economic stability without bringing the deficit under …

Looking for Hope and not Fear

The political discourse of Britain has become gloomy of late. Rational assessments of the position of the country are being drowned in a flood of negativity and invective. Perhaps it is particularly bad at the moment, as we see the bad news from Japan and Libya filling our screens, but I don't really think so. The fact is that the Brits seem to have become more than a little Eeyore-ish in recent years. For example, despite the clear success of the construction work on the Olympic park, were are encouraged to complain that the games will crowd out London, that things won't be that good and so on. In fact London seems set to give a games that will have a lot more heart than the vainglorious Beijing Olympics, and a lot more commercial nous than the incomplete Athens Olympics. Britain is not a failing country- it is a modern and successful country, for all the various problems that we face.
Yet, of course there is the terrible word "still", as in Britain can "still&q…

The Earth Moves and the global media is hooked on Disaster Porn

I have blogged on the subject of Earthquakes a few times over the years, the last time was during the General election last year. The fact is that several major cities: San Francisco, Istanbul and of course Tokyo, stand in areas of occasionally severe seismic activity. In fact the earthquake that hit Japan was not the one that they expected: along the Kanto fault beneath the City of Tokyo itself, but rather along the plate boundary, somewhat out to sea from the Japanese archipelago. Nevertheless the 'quake when it hit was huge: probably the largest in recorded Japanese history, a possible 9.0 on the Richter scale. As I feared in May, the devastation- largely caused by the tsunami that followed the earthquake itself- has indeed dominated the news agenda. In fact the wall-to-wall coverage of dramatic footage: the quake, the tsunami, the aftermath, and now the explosions at the nuclear stations that have been wrecked by the catastrophe has formed a weird kind of disaster porn.
It is i…

Obama will pay the price if he stands still on Libya

As the Libyan despot Gadaffi murders his way across the wreckage of his country, it is beginning to look as though the rebellion stands on the brink of defeat.
While Britain and France are trying to muster support for the interim government in Benghazi, continued air raids and merciless attacks with heavy weapons are slow prizing away their grip, even on the eastern half of Libya. It is an appalling situation.
In the face of this obvious crime, President Obama seems content to pose as a neutral- seeking a no fly zone- when the time has long past where this would be successful- or other measures that might have the support of the United Nations. Yet the UN is crippled by the determined resistance of the Russian and Chinese governments to international intervention to protect human rights. After all, both Russia and China may face democratic uprisings again soon. Meanwhile the Obama administration, weary of corralling NATO in Afghanistan, does not find any other multi-lateral forum con…

Blood and oil

The murderous regime of the sinister and highly irrational Muammar Gaddafi has turned the full force of its military upon its own people. The horrific attacks on civilians have escalated the death toll into the tens of thousands. Indiscriminate brutality is the order of the day from the despot. This is a regime that has not one shred of legitimacy- it has forfited any right to govern. Yet the Libyan people apparently lack the strength to removed the hated and reviled regime.
Now Gaddafi is bombing his own oil installations, and the impact on the future of his own country is now creating a global challenge. The unrest across the Arab world is damaging the orderly market for oil and gas in a way that could undermine the prosperity not only of the Western world, but the entire world- rich and poor. If the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a chimera, the threat of Gaddafi's oil destruction is all too real.
In the name of the Libyan people and…

The Curse of Blair

When Tony Blair was just setting out on his journey up the greasy pole of politics it was said that he received financial support from the wealthy Tchenguiz family. These brothers were certainly amongst the first of the ultra wealthy to give their support to the future Prime Minister.
In office, Mr Blair certainly demonstrated some loyalty to them in return: he actively lobbied the Polish government to back a bid which the brothers' energy company, Rotch Energy made for the Polish Refineria Gdanska. This was to the irritation of the government in Warsaw, who believed -with some justification it may be said- that the Rotch bid was simply a front for larger Russian interests to acquire a strategic Polish asset.
The news of the arrest of the two brothers will therefore presumably be of some concern to Mr. Blair.

Estonian Liberals take crisis in their stride

The parliamentary elections in Estonia did indeed deliver the result that I had forecast. The government coalition parties made gains, the opposition Centre Party made losses, yet neither the gains nor the losses amount to a significant breakthrough. The liberal, Reform, party can be pleased to have made gains after an economically punishing few years, although their Conservative coalition partners have slightly more to smile about. By contrast the biggest winners were probably the Social Democrats who nearly doubled their representation at the expense of the Greens and the Agrarians, who did not qualify and the Centrists who lost a couple of seats.
So where does that leave us?
In a word it leaves us "stability". In the face of pretty difficult times, the country has decided to stick with the people and the policies that it knows. On the other hand the rise of the "Sotsid" is a clear warning that there is the potential for a realignment on the left. The coalition w…

E-voting in E-stonia

The Estonian general election is coming to a climax, with the election day taking place on Sunday March 6th. Or rather the last election day is on March 6th, because for the past several days, Estonian citizens have been able to vote online. Indeed a record 27.4% of votes have been cast before today- the last possible day to vote online. These e-votes can still be changed, and should a voter change their mind, they may still go to a polling station and this will cancel the e-vote. However very few, in practice, choose to do so. Estonia has broken a new record for the number of voters who chose to participate online, its own record, but also -indeed- a world record.
In the UK, there has been a certain amount of disbelief that integrated voting systems can not be hacked. Yet, it seems strange to me that millions of people in the UK trust the ATM machines of banks to deliver cash or take deposits solely on the strength of a 4-digit PIN. Estonian ID security is much stronger than this, a…

Simon Heffer is pointless

The dead tree press seems to devote a remarkably large amount of space to the opinions of the conceited. Some proclaim their conceit with wit: Julie Birchill for example; some with noxious venom: Jan Moir; yet others are not only conceited but also ignorant and just plain dull: step forward Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph.
Today's hurricane of bombastic ignorance covers a detailed and complicated subject that Mr. Heffer knows nothing about, namely high speed rail. In Mr. Heffer's world ignorance of a subject does not preclude having the most forthright and determined opinions. So, despite having no understanding of the economics or the engineering of transport, he is able to share with his readers his clear view that a high speed line in the UK is "pointless folly".
I have no clear idea as to whether or how a high speed rail network in the UK makes sense, but I am equally sure that Mr. Heffer has the same or less knowledge of the subject as I do. I am prepared to c…

Labour looks for a long spoon

Lord Mandelson the former Labour spinmeister has proffered his advice to the son of the outgoing leader of Hell:
"I can hardly believe it" he told the Absolutely Unbiased BBC "If only he had called me for advice, as he usually does"
"I would have made it clear that threatening to torch the whole Earth and drag mortals into the pit of eternal flame might have been presented differently" he said. "The Satanic Princeling and Lord of Pain might have suggested that warming the planet and offering a bespoke punishment service was, in the end, a net positive".
"Colonel Ga-Devil should have emphasized his shared family values, and the dynamically pro-active nature of his commitment to the slaughter of all of his enemies, even unto the last bullet " he said.
Lord Mandelson, long known for being a close advisor to the Horned One, was quick to suggest that the media might have got it wrong over the unrest that has left the eternal Cacophony in its us…