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Showing posts from March, 2008

So much to do

It has been rather busy again- so blogging has been exceptionally poor. I have been sorting out a house move and a probable job move at the same time, and since this involves two countries and I also have plenty of other work to complete, it has proven very tricky to blog in any organised way. I hope normal service can be resumed shortly.

The Philadelphia Speech

The Philadelphia Speech . That is what they will call it. "Where were you, when you heard about the Philadelphia speech?" "Were you in Philadelphia, when Barack Obama made the speech?" Honest, dignified and hopeful, it puts the finger on the most painful and complicated issue in the American political reality. More to the point it demonstrates a connection and an intelligence that moves me profoundly. As the shattered failure of the Bush Presidency twitches to its ignominious conclusion, the hope that Senator Obama offers reminds me increasingly of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt is derided in the post Reagan era and yet at the time he was enormously popular- and despite the failures of Yalta, he remains one of the most important figures in the twentieth century. FDRs oratory- "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", "the great arsenal of democracy", "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own m

Breaking the Mould

The tectonic plates- as John Prescott once had it- are shifting. The instability on the global credit markets is undermining people's sense of confidence and as the avilability and terms of mortgages- if not the actual interest rates- grow more onerous, the era of cheap money, at least as far as the UK housing market is concerned, seems to have finally ended. So what now? Well, no one really knows, though i notice that the political climate is changing in the UK. The opinion polls are showing a more entrenched lead for the Conservatives. Interestingly, for the first time for several years, The Liberal Democrats have come above 21%. In the historic scheme of things, the Liberal Democrats have tended to sit around the high teens, and then gain a little further during a general election campaign. This changed in the last parliament, where the support for the Liberal Democrats firmed up strongly, as the result of a recognition that the party had taken a principled stand against the

Lib Dem v. Tory (Round 2)

The Liberal Democrats stand for a distinct political ideology. It is an ideology built around both socially and economically liberal precepts. In as far as our ruling Labour government can be said to have an ideology at all, it coincides with Liberalism only incidentally. Labour stands for pragmatism, and where it does not there is still a core of values that are collectivist and not individual. Sometimes people are prepared to claim the moral high ground for policies of social solidarity and redistribution of wealth. Liberals may argue in favour of equality of opportunity, we can not argue in favour- as Socialists do- of "and equal society". The reason is simple: Socialism does not work. If one places equality above freedom, then eventually we get tyranny. This is why, while we may argue in favour of a more equal society as being a stronger society, the tools that we may use to gain -in our view- socially desirable outcomes must rest upon freedom above all else. As PJ O'

End of the beginning of the Credit Crunch

The emergency rescue of Bear Stearns brings down one of the most original investment banks on Wall Street. The Bear Stearns culture was not the same ethos as the white shoe investment banks- of which its new owner, JP Morgan, is the classic example. Instead of connections and education, Bear preferred to focus not so much on CFAs and MBAs, but rather "PSDs"- poor, smart, but with a desperate desire to become rich. Over twenty years, the legendary chairman, Ace Greenberg wrote folksy and thoughtful "Letters from the Chairman" pointing out the virtues of thrift and discipline in the financial markets. Great Bear alumni included Henry Kravis, Jerome Kohlberg and George Roberts, the founders of the most spectacularly successful fund; KKR. In the end, it was other funds that brought down the house founded to trade equities in 1923. Bear, as the quintessential trading house, had followed the money from equities and into credit, and in particular the esoteric world of ass

Cutting the budget on the BBC

Well, another year another budget. On the other hand the BBC hit a new low. I could not believe the banality of their truly appalling coverage. Jade Goody- disgraced Reality TV star nobody - was seriously wheeled out as a commentator. This is beyond parody. I think I want the entire BBC team responsible for this turgid fiasco to quit producing -NOW. John Reith , the founding Director General of the BBC put forward three principles for the corporation to live by: to educate, inform and entertain. WTF ???? A Budget commentary team of Trisha Goddard, Jade Goody, Colin Jackson and the rest is simply absurd. What maddens me even more is that this was done at my expense, as a license and (even more heavily laden) tax payer. This is even beyond dumbing down- it is a spit in the eye of anyone with an even remotely informed view of politics and economics. Resignations should- indeed must follow

What's in a name?

Yet again the Greeks are raising the issue of the name of Macedonia . Now they refuse to allow Macedonia to join NATO because there is an area of Greece that is also called Macedonia. The Greek state has been pressurising the fragile Macedonian Republic ever since it was created. They have changed their flag to answer Greek protests, they have changed the design on their money to avoid some supposed similarity with a tower in Greece. When it comes to the name, however, the Macedonians have no other. The idea that Greece seems to have is that Macedonia (the Republic of) might want to claim Macedonia (the Greek Province of), just because they have the same name, and despite the fact that the government in Skopje explicitly rules out any such agenda. Given that the south east province of Belgium has the same name as one of its neighbours, which it also borders and with which it shares a common history, one might- under the Greek rules- expect trouble, but somehow the two Luxemburgs manage

Sterling blues

As Sterling hits further new lows against the Euro, the economic outlook for the UK seems more unstable than for some time. Currency traders seem to be latching on to the structural problems of the British economy as a reason for selling. In short these problems come under four general headings. Firstly, the UK has seen the largest increase in residential property prices over the course of the past 15 years. Average prices have more than doubled, but wages have not kept pace. The ratio of average house price to average earnings has gone from three times to more than six times. This is historically well out of line, and as inflation in food and energy prices nibbles away at spending power, the pressure on British consumers is intensifying. Meanwhile, one major strength of the UK, which has been its ability to attract labour from such countries as Poland, is now also weakening. The weakness of Sterling has meant a stronger Zloty, and as wage rates have increased in Poland, the relative w

Russia's New (Old) Era

The farcial Russian elections have now been completed and the anti-democratic Putin retains his place at the heart of the Kremlin. On the same day, Gazprom stepped up the row with Ukraine over gas supplies- giving the lie to the empty words that the incoming President Medvedev had breathed claiming that Russia could be trusted as a reliable energy partner. As Medvedev is the outgoing chairman of Gazprom, it is clear that once again energy is being used as a political lever against those who oppose the Putinistas. The sinister and authoritarian regime seems to grow ever more menacing. Yet, despite the growing litany of threats- the military exercises in the Bay of Biscay, the bellicose posturing from the Putin jugend- the violent thugs of Nashi- and a constant blare of black propaganda, there is a growing sense that Russia has not recovered, and indeed that her weakness is now frightening many. As always the heart of the matter is in the economy. Although Russia has seen a dramatic i

Whinging Poms

There is no getting around it, the British really love to moan. In fact they are famous for it, as the old Australian joke goes: -How can you tell when the plane from London has just landed in Sydney? -Because when they switch the engines off, the whining still continues. Just recently, though the political negativity has reached almost unbearable proportions. The sense of gloom, pessimism and defeat about almost any subject is practically tangible. Yet, come on! Those who live on this island enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, we are amongst the most competitive economies in the world. We need to protect our freedoms, but we are (mostly) a free country. We are respected, even admired, by our European allies and across the world. However, to listen to our political leaders, we live in a "broken" society, where things are little better than anarchy- where the majority of children are growing up illiterate and feral, and usually drug crazed or drunk. Howe