Thursday, 15 December 2011

Pop quiz


So you fancy complaining about bad how shit is? Better pick the right country to do it in otherwise your shit might get fucked up bad, hence this pop quiz, which I’ve designed to test your knowledge of where citizens should (and shouldn’t if they know what’s good for them) engage in non-violent demonstrations against the inequities meted out by ruling elites.

So the following is a lightly edited version of an eyewitness account of how, with the tacit sanction of a country’s political elite, the state apparatus chose to treat its citizens. The question is where did it occur?

a) Syria
b) Russia
c) The US

Now, on with the eye witness account“I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people when 1,400 heavily-armed officers in paramilitary gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat, arms interlocked. The officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted “We Are Nonviolent.”

As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of officers used knives. They forcibly removed anyone, then yanked out and destroyed any personal property inside the tents, scattering the contents across the park. They then did the same with the communal property. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of rubbish” that was “abandoned”: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

When the police finally began arresting, we were all ordered to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbour.

It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us. At least I was sufficiently terrorized. I unlinked my arms voluntarily and informed the officers that I would go peacefully and cooperatively. I stood as instructed, and then I had my arms wrenched behind my back, and an officer hyperextended my wrists into my inner arms. It was super violent, it hurt really, really bad, and he was doing it on purpose. When I involuntarily recoiled from the pain, the officer threw me face-first to the pavement. He had my hands behind my back, so I landed right on my face. The officer dropped with his knee on my back and ground my face into the pavement. It really, really hurt and my face started bleeding and I was very scared. I begged for mercy and I promised that I was honestly not resisting and would not resist.

My hands were then zipcuffed very tightly behind my back, where they turned blue. I am now suffering nerve damage in my right thumb and palm. I was put in a van with other nonviolent protestors and taken to a parking garage nearby. They forced us to kneel on the hard pavement of that parking garage for seven straight hours with our hands still tightly zipcuffed behind our backs. Some began to pass out. One man rolled to the ground and vomited for a long, long time before falling unconscious. The officers watched and did nothing.”


If you answered (a) you are clearly quite silly because there were no state sanctioned snipers present, shooting random protestors to scare the bejezuz out of any gathered throngs.

If you answered (b), then again your coming with the silly because in Russia, while the mainstream media here is bigging up the political corruption angle and oohh isn’t that Putin a bad ‘un shite, you’ve made the school boy error of confusing an oligarchical society wherein a gangster-capitalist super-elite is given free rein to rape a country’s natural resources and citizens as long as they don’t get into politics with (c) the US where instead the gangster-capitalists, sorry investment bankers, tell the politicians what to do, when and for how long and everyone else gets the big, big wahoo. This, I'm sure you'll agree, is fundamentally different to the way shit is in countries like Russia and what no.


The answer to the pop quiz BTW is (c).


P.S. This post is intended to imply the recent actions of the US state render "democracy" as practiced in that country little different to what you see in other less civilised nations, which our mainstream media typically reports on in terms of their being corrupt and repressive.

It's no an example of wanky liberal moral relativism along the lines of ooh that Bush is just as bad as Saddam so he is. It can't be for one thing as I've never been able to reconcile the absolutist nature of relativism and the fact its the product of specific Western philosophical strands of thought with its use in such a wanky manner. So I never have and that's without even taking say an Ernest Gellner and his cultural universals into account.

Less 1st year philosophy studenty are the facts - in the US if you complain about elite rule and mass economic inequality, challenging mainstream assumptions about how shit is along the way in a manner that begins to gather popular support you get beat down hard. Obviously, yer average American is richer than yer average Russian. But, is that the sole justification that's now left - America is better than Russia because proportionately more Americans can afford to buy iPads?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Read all about it


That was an interesting story today wasn’t it, you know the one about that bloke and the thing? You know, the thing. Here, before getting too specific some context might help.

So that’s a bank just been fined millions for preying on the elderly in care homes (and presumably a good few of the victims will have died before any compensation gets paid).

There’s a few banks now that’ve been done for running tax avoidance schemes for years.

PPI goes without saying (as does the credit crunch, but then there’s that bank that sold what were presented as super safe investments to things like pension funds, you know pension funds, we put our money into them and then they pay pensions to us when we’re old. Except because the investments had been built to fail, the bank was able to make even more money betting against them.

And let’s not forget the shenanigans where a bank sold products/advice that helped mask Greece’s actual debt levels so it could join the Euro, which doesn’t appear to have worked out very well.

So there’s some cheeky examples of how big banks make money preying on the vulnerable, raping the finances of ordinary punters and actively undermining fundamental aspects of civil society on an industrial scale in a heads those in charge win/tails you lose type style.

Thankfully, no one has gone to prison for any of the above and any fines were or will be paid by shareholders (pension funds again for the most part) via reduced dividends. And if any bankers who took the strategic decisions all of the above required have got the boot, reas assured they'll all have received multi-million golden goodbye cushions to comfort them cos these guys need to be able to act with impunity if they're going to "create jobs".

Oops, almost forgot - the thing was a letter bomb, the intended recipient was the Deutsche Bank CEO bloke.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A (very) modest proposal *


A fabulous person I know just got a cool new car. It’s pretty nippy, chic even and also very, practical, part of which stems from its small engine that consequently doesn’t incur as much tax compared to the one it replaced. Park that fact for a mo tho and have a look at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) updated view (see picture above), of what impact the Pre-Budget statement spending plans (and associated forecasts) will have on net incomes in 2012-13.

Now the IFS is cool cos it splits the population into 10 different income groups ranging from poor to rich. Looking at this its clear that - 9th decile and richest aside -the poorer you are the worst you’ll be affected. So we’re all in this together are we? Are we fuck.

Which brings us back to a fabulous person getting a new car. As already mentioned part of this chic mobile’s practicality stems from how in the differentiated tax regime established to influence consumption of this particular type of consumer durable, it’s a winner.

Now there’s an interesting principle especially if, like me, you enjoyed reading Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class and are mindful of the existence of Veblen (or positional) goods i.e. things that for essentially cultural reasons are more attractive the more expensive they are or at the very least have inelastic demand curves.

Putting these two things together kinda makes you wonder why, in this unprecedented age of sustained austerity when I reckon social cohesion is preferable to teaching more police how to use rubber bullets, the existence of such goods isn’t acknowledged a bit more and taken advantage of by our fiscal lords and masters. More practically why is the VAT charged on Aston Martins the same as on a Kia?

So here’s a thought, howzabout adding say 2.5% to the VAT charged on every new car sold in Britain that costs more than double the median new car price? In fact lets go further, lets step outside the Harrods food hall for a sec and do the same to everything we find on the other floors be it Louis Vuitton handbags, Rolex watches, Hermes scarves and so on and so on (this is totally rule of thumb shit, like am guessing the principle set by stamp duty of charging more the more expensive something is could apply here also).

Now as the title of this post makes clear this is a (very) modest proposal, like adding 2.5% to the VAT charged on such “Veblen” cars as Rollers and Beamers and what no would only generate an additional few million in tax revenue per annum. But, exploiting the kind of fanny willing to happily shell out a bit more to buy something he can show off with strikes me as cool cos it would mean taking more tax off the rich in a way that’s actually in keeping with the “we’re all in it together” bollocks.

And when you think of some of the bollocks bigged up in the Pre-Budget bollocks, the millions the extra raised on handbags and watches and cars and what no is serious moolah compared with the no much to be spent per year on trying to avoid creating an entire generation of unemployable NEETS.

Oh-oh have just thought of a counter argument - this will adversely affect tourism. Except no not really because the non-EU Saudi and Russian dodgy blerks it’d hit can claim back the VAT on UK purchases anyhow. Another option, obviously, would be to eat the rich, except that was one fuckova shite Motorhead song compared to Deaf Forever.


* No babies were harmed in the production of this post

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Dinna, dinna, dinna, dinna, dinna, dinna, dinna, dinna ......


Fuck Guy Fawkes, the Occupy London protest is actually more like batman; it gives you a good feeling knowing he/they’re out there fighting the good fight, just don’t think too hard about it or you’ll realise it’s a bunch of mentalists wearing their pants over their trousers.

I mean seriously, I had a nosey at the protests the other day and the first thing I came across was a cardboard sign claiming 9’11 was a conspiracy. Similarly, a vaguely interesting episode of the Radio 4 programme the Report (broadcast Nov 17th) described how attempts to get the Occupy London lot to support a Tobin/Robin Hood tax had failed because (a) every demand they make requires consensus and (b) as some of the protestors oppose the very existence of banks, a tax on financial transactions was irrelevant.

But, that kind of naïve/stupid/ideological purity at all costs regardless of it achieving nothing of any substance whatsoever/adolescent fucktardness isn’t the point. The actual point is to ignore pretty much anything the protestors say and focus instead on the broader cultural wave they’re riding.

To give just one example here is what a post in the Financial Times FT Alphaville blog said in advance of the Pre-Budget thingy - “The misery can be eased, and the populace comforted, if only Mr Osborne could find a way of making the fattest cats pay more. He underestimates the depth of feeling against this thin layer of full-fat atop the skimmed milk the rest of us are on at his peril. Pay rises to FTSE100 directors, bonuses for bankers at loss-making rescued banks, and rewards to departing failed executives (in both public and private sectors) all fuel the resentment. Austerity is bearable if everyone is paying. If some are seen to escape, then the likely result is something much worse than a few tents outside St Pauls.”

Just chew on that for a second – this is the Financial Times being used to warn the chancellor that he needs to do something about fat cats because of a widespread revulsion about how things are playing out. The Financial Times!

Tomorrow’s one day public sector strike similarly epitomises this broader cultural wave. So sure, sure, you can slag off public sector workers for not living in the “real” world as you make arrangements for getting your kids looked after. You could even compare and contrast “gold plated” public sector pensions with the private sector, ignoring in the process how that simply reflects the weakness of private sector trade unionism. But, again that, as with slagging off the Occupy lot as get a haircut, get a job, have a bath mentals, is to miss the point.

Rather, as at least one teacher has put it straightforwardly to me “why should I have to pay for the mess the bankers made?” It’s a fair question, one that simply isn’t getting asked with any meaning by any mainstream politicians of any significance and certainly doesn’t figure in any of their policies. It also taps into what I think (for which read hope going by the pathetic turnouts in the numerous strike votes) is a broader dissatisfaction with the way shit is wherein the legitimacy of established arrangements – we vote for a socio-economic-political elite to get more and more of everything it wants in exchange for us getting a decent pension, a job, a new telly and a future for our kids – is currently being got tae fuck in a fuck me and you, but never them kind of way.


P.S. No this isn't a plea to view things via some puerile end capitalism now vs give the job/wealth creators everything they want cos we’ll all benefit in the long run dichotomy, not least because in the long run we are all dead.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

How to win the class war


The key to successful class rule is that to its subjects it feels effortless, painless and natural. So ideally then it should be conducted by charming and charismatic people, something Stewart Lee's recent routine about him and David Cameron at Oxford University* captures beautifully. Unfortunately, every so often some upper/ruling class numpty comes along and gives the game away.

And so it was with Dr Heather McGregor. I'd never heard of her before, but if you go here you'll hear her trying to defend the thousand-thousand percent increase in executive pay as exposed by the High Pay Commission. For McGregor the argument is something like having staff sit as pension trustees equals worker representation and anyway if you wanted a workers' co-operative you should go to Cuba. So that'll be artifically imposing a false dichotomy then to distract from what most people want, which is (a) not to have the pish ripped and (b) some real linkages made between performance and reward.

If you go here though, you realise Dr McGregor is (a) upper class and (b) a fucktard whose given the game away.

"Here" refers to the speech she gave to Rodean school in 2009, Rodean being the female equivalent of the Eton school*, which she presumably attended and where and I quote - "She advised the girls, ‘Leave with this sentence tattooed on your head: “I can’t do it alone”. What is very important is to reach back and pull up the people behind you – and especially the people you were at school with’.

So that's alright then. Democracy? Meritocracy? Equality of opportunity? Fair play even? Nope, for this executive head hunter i.e. one of the people that helps identify the UK PLC CEOs that've been the getting muti-thousand percent pay rises, its old school ties and old school chums all the mutha-fuckin way. Bit of an own goal that.


* S'funny. Writing this I originally referred simply to Oxford, Rodean and Eton because those ruling class making machines are so engrained in our national pysche there's no need to state the type of institutions they "actually" are. Naturally.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Technotastic


So are we moving from democracy to an era of technocracy? No not really, but it makes for better headlines than describing shit as simply the existing form of upper class rule is acquiring a slightly different public face in selected locales. So sure sure, the Webbs, those Fabian bods who founded the London School of Economics to produce better 'administrators, whether in commerce and industry, or in the national and municipal Civil Service' are probably doing cartwheels in their graves at what’s happening in Greece and Italy where terribly well qualified men (MEN!) well-versed in the ways of multinational bureaucracies are now in charge, its just on closer inspection so what?

The 2 good criticisms I've read of this swing to technocracy flow beautifully into each other. Oh hang on there’s a third that’s actually getting more attention about how it might challenge democratic institutions so lets deal with that one quickly; no it doesn’t. There will be elections in due course. The notion of DEMOCRATICALLY elected parties appointing technocrats being a threat to democracy is a fucking childish argument that distracts from far more serious critiques and anyone making it should shut the fuck up because they are a headline spewing, analytically incontinent fucktard.

Right back to the shit that actually matters.

Critique 1 is Professor Paul Krugman’s: The technocrats being given power to save the day are actually technically incompetent (“the trouble with the alleged technocrats we’re supposed to rely on isn’t just that they’re uninspiring — it is that they have been wrong about everything, again and again.”).

Critique 2 follows on from the above and was made in Private Eye issue 1301, which notes the new boss of the European Central Bank was previously a partner in Goldman Sachs while the new boss of the European Financial Stability Fund previously worked in hedge funds.

Putting both critiques together then the main qualifications the technocratic white knights now charged with saving the day appear to have is that they were the buggers who designed, tweaked and or worked within the fundamentally flawed system that is now fucking up on a monumental scale and when they weren’t doing that they were making themselves fortunes via the private financial products and financial institutions that fucked it up by exposing its fundamental flaws in the first place. Bonza!

A side note here is Professor John Kay’s neat wee note on how investment banker influence over the polity appears to have grown as the actual number of investment banks has declined, but that aside the wee interview with Sir Howard Davies, a former head of the Financial Services Authority and self-confessed technocrat, today on radio 4’s PM highlighted a range of interesting issues.

For Sir Howard, the good thing about technocrats is that they are people able to take the right or best, all things considered, decisions. Which is lovely I guess except it completely misses the point.

Sticking with Greece and Italy the actual point is not what decisions are taken, who takes them or even the decision-making process (as the third fucktard critique might fixate on), rather its whether decisions actually get implemented once taken.

Britain has an advantage here over Italy and Greece. As Daily Mail/Telegraph critiques of UK civil servants gold plating EU legislation makes clear, the British government tends or at least is more likely to be believed when it says that it will do something. By contrast, whereas the fiscally fucked Italian and Greek governments may be voting on however many austerity packages, a general view is simply aye right and we’ll believe it when tax dodging stops being a national past time.

Now, how appointing a technocrat will resolve that kinda ingrained, institutionalised, common-sense, mindset shit is beyond me given the nature of the political process. Like when a technocrat says raise taxes 20% who gives a fuck if the tax collectors choose to take a bribe instead regardless.

And resolving THAT kind of serious shit requires a clear, grown up view of politics which is that it’s not about technical competency, rather the art of the possible is about marshalling vested interests and interest groups, using patronage and bureaucratic power and authority. Now whereas a Vladimir Putin might say that, Sir Howard politely chose not to.

Alternatively, the approach being taken here is put in place some technocratic patsies who can in turn be blamed for taking nasty decisions no one likes so they can be voted out in due course (see, see, you threat to democracy fucktards?). Except, again that doesn’t matter if the implementation is a joke. But, if that is the case, then it fails to recognise that for patronage i.e. politics, to work you need to know the patron will still be there in a coupla years to hand out the patronage gravy, otherwise why do what he says?

Anyhoo, to summarise, the technocrats now being installed appear pretty shite on technical and moral grounds, we’re getting fed shite as to what them being appointed means, its not clear that the institutionalised issues underlying specific nation state problems are actually being addressed, appointing a technocrat has no impact whatsoever in itself on the fundamental role vested interests have in politics and how cool, being a blerk, must it have been to go to a Bunga Bunga party?

A wee P.S. here is provided by the Italian government’s latest debt sale. So there was me pointing out the difference between implied yields and reality in response to people going on about Italy having to pay more than 7%. Turns out they haven’t had to pay more than 7% after all. Boo, what a dull headline.

Plus, what does that say about the efficacy of markets given the above questions that can be raised about the technocrats who are otherwise being used to justify the reduction in borrowing costs? (here's a clue - that the people pricing this shit are stupid cunts for the most part who should be held at a remove from important decisions or anything that can impact government policies)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Memory loss

Ideologically, the pro-occupy argument is so much more advanced in the US than it is here. Here, the we are the 99% riff gets played to be sure, but without much gusto cos there’s too much down with all bad things everywhere vagueness plus predictable Trots and what nots in the way. Hey ho.

But, I think something that appears to be missing from even the US schtick are memories of the Dot Com bubble. Remember that? You know, the period from 1995 to 2000 when there was a seemingly new paradigm on the horizon.

The thing about the Dot Com bubble was how it once again brought the following quote from the 1920s to life: “A visitor was being shown the wonders of the New York financial district, and his guide pointed out some handsome ships in the harbour. “Look, those are the bankers’ and brokers’ yachts.” “Where are the customers’ yachts?” asked the naïve visitor”.

New paradigm or not (not) the self-same heads they win tails you lose thang was abundant during the Dot Com era. Venture capital houses raised dosh from investors then pissed it all away on utter dog companies. But, that’s all good cos the 2 + 20 of a 2% charge on all funds raised (and 20% of any eventual profit) meant it didn’t matter if the company was a flop cos the sheer act of raising a fund made those financiers mucho dosh.

Then there were the investment banks; to make the big money from a dot com thing you needed to go public i.e. sell shares to the public via an initial public offering or IPO. The investment banks made this happen, charging big fees in the process. Even better, investment bank analysts bigged up each IPO in public at the same time as telling people in private it was an utter dog to avoid. And so it was relatively average people pissed away millions investing in utter dogs.

Now d’ya see the common pattern emerging here? You invested in a venture capital fund. They make money if it’s a donkey or no.

Next, you bought shares in an IPO – and again the investment banks organising it make money if it’s an utter donkey or no.

Essentially, the Dot Com bubble was about transferring money from rubes/punters/schmucks to whoever set up the mickey mouse companies in the first place AND the financiers involved in sorting them out for an IPO, boosting their prospects and then selling them on with huge, hypocritical conflicts of interest all over the place.

For me the Dot Com bubble is another relatively recent example of how the sexier, higher paid end of the financial system tends to ass rape ordinary people while charging them a commission for the “pleasure”.

So sure, sure the assets and type of transactions were different and the fact the Dot Com bubble was about internet entrepreneurs and financiers fleecing a greedy middle class of its savings limited its economic impact. But, still a mentality was on display then that I reckon is still very much in place today to the point of being deeply institutionalised; these fuckers don’t give a fuck about consequence and will fuck you over raw to make themselves big money. As such I wonder to what extent the organisations involved should be considered an open threat to the actual economy and be treated as such as a result?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Not rocket science pt 2: Losing interest

Having spent the last wee while going thru another one of they “your job will not exist from this date onwards, but there’s these other lovely jobs you can apply for” reorganisation thingies, I've been too distracted to write anything vaguely coherent. Now I know the mortgage payments will be met for however long it is until the next reorganisation, I reckon its time to do another not rocket science thing, this time on bond yields and the Eurozone crisis.

First off the big thing here is the sheer volume of disinformation that’s going on. Like up until well the other morning really when Evan Davies on the Today show finally admitted he was confusing things, nearly all the mainstream media headlines about Italy and its cost of borrowing were a simplification of reality as distorting as they were out of context. Like seriously.

Not being a corporate financier I’ll also explain why in simplistic hypothetical terms, but hopefully ones less bollocks than those most people are using. Here goes;

Italy wants to borrow £100. It does so by issuing a five year bond for £100 that will pay whoever buys it i.e. whoever lends Italy £100, £5 or 5% a year for 5 years at the end of which the original £100 is fully repaid.

Oh oh, the original buyer of the bond sells it to someone else after a year because there’s a sovereign debt crisis going on and all of a sudden it’s not looking as likely as it once was that Italy will repay the original £100. Plus there’s only 4 more years worth of 5% payments to get as well.

So now I buy the £100 bond for less, a big chunk less, say £50. But hang on a mo this £50 has bought me an asset that yields an annual payment £5 i.e. the implied yield is 10%. Bonza! Just try getting that off a cash ISA these days.

In the meantime what do Italy care – it got the original £100 it was after, still has it for another 4 years and is still only paying 5% per annum. It was the original buyer who sold the bond for less that took the loss and felt the pain. And it’s the implied yields NOT Italy’s actual borrowing costs, that've just reached “crisis” levels.

The implied implication is that if Italy was to try and borrow more today, then it would have to pay current yield rates i.e. the 10%, except that cheeky wee word “if” highlights what’s actually going on here – the yield on existing debt doesn’t reflect Italy’s ACTUAL borrowing costs. What follows on from this is a number of things:

- The tenor of Italy’s debt is the crucial thing to be concerned about i.e. how much is maturing over the next 12 to 18 months and will need to be replaced with fresh bonds.

- The reporting of this has for the most part concentrated on generating distorted headlines, op-eds and articles that favour current English government economic policy (cut spending to save Britain’s AAA rating and so on) and the interests of bondholders.

- A fuck of a lot can happen in a week let alone 12 to 18 months.

One other wee sneaky bit that also warrants much, much more attention is the interest being taken in PIIGS government debt by speculators, hedge funds, vulture funds etc., This lot are already buying up cheap government debt because they’re taking a punt on being able to get high yields now and the thing completely repaid later (i.e. for more than they paid for it). Double whammy!

A couple of things follow on from this given the Greek example wherein billions of Eurozone taxpayer funds from other countries are already being handed over to Greece so it can repay holders of Greek government debt (i.e. its bondholders). One is that the speculators doing so are immoral cunts. The other is a nice neat straightforward demand – can a publically available record please be maintained that details:

1) Who buys any piece of government debt
2) How much they paid for it
3) When they bought it

Doing so would perform a VERY important risk management function cos it would enable anyone at any time to know who exactly was on the hook and for how much to whatever economy is in potential crisis.

Making that kind of info available would also do other sorts of mad stuff like make perfectly clear how rational (or not) markets were behaving and consequently whether crazy things like some government buying up its debt on the cheap to effectively cancel it out is an option e.g. the European Central Bank lends Italy £100 at 5%, Italy then uses this to buy 2 tranches of £100 5 year bonds currently trading at £50 each and hey presto its debt is halved.

It would also let us all know who the cunts were that were taking punts on national economies so we could pitch our tents up outside there head office. They will, in their defence refer to the “liquidity” they provide i.e. those wanting to offload Italian bonds can do so. Except so fucking what, like seriously, so fucking what. Head teachers here are about to go on strike for the first time ever because of the sacrifices they are being expected to make and some multi-millionaire cunt considers the ”liquidity” him taking a punt in the hope of making millions provides to be sufficient justification for taxpayer rape? Fuck off.

P.S. My understanding is Italian debt levels aren't really the issue here, rather its that the country is bent from the top down, which is scarey bsicuits because institutionalised bent-ness is awfy hard to remove due to all the vested interests it involves.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Labour party scum part 1


As light relief I thought I'd summarise what for me is one of the most loathsome aspect of the Labour party; its time served backwoodsmen. You can spot the sort a mile off usually because their all-expenses paid guts are bursting out over their belts and into your face.

Here are their typical characteristics;

Back in the day they might have been an apprentice in a factory, a mine or a shipyard, who, on realising manual labour is actually quite tiring, got into trade union politics and by their early 20s had started a life time obsession with doing everything they could to avoid actual work.

Nowadays they’re drawn from the public sector where they were unpromoted and unqualified mental health nurses, unpromoted and unqualified community workers, unpromoted and unqualified teachers and so on (or they might be the idiot child of a Labour party grandee too thick to make it as middle class, but with a yearning for a middle class way of life).

As things moved on they attach themselves to an MP as an agent, researcher, chief arse licker or whatever, basically anything but actual work (or they might have held a post as a regional trade union organiser). At this point those with a few brain cells, if they haven't got one already, typically do a degree in industrial relations, politics, economics, economic history and what no as a mature student. Sometimes this lot even have something interesting to say, like every 5 or so years.

Thereafter a few mickey mouse jobs typically follow – a charity's strategy officer, a quango policy manager, council equal rights co-ordinator and what note, typically combined with being a councillor somewhere. Fucking bollocks the lot of them and anyhow all they’re really doing is waiting for some dead man shoes to fill and them to finally get elected into a safe seat and become an MP and latterly an MSP and get the gravy.

For the most part the whole lot of them are a useless and disgraceful shower of shite. Too thick to ever have an idea or become actual ministers, too taken with the lure of a parliamentary wage they could never earn in the real world to rock the boat when things like principles pop up. Essentially it’s all about getting the cash and doing just enough to keep the local party happy before making an expenses claim. And fingers crossed there’s a retirement package  i.e. elevation to the house of lords, waiting if they keep their noses clean long enough.

Examples would be Tommy Graham, Jim Devine, Michael Martin, Paul Martin and Ian Davidson. Like you’ve Jim and his expenses and treatment of his office manager, Michael Martin and well him being Michael Martin, Tommy Graham and the Paisley shenanigans and latterly Ian Davidson threatening to gie some SNP MP bint a doin’.

Brilliant. So that’s what Labour party machine politics looks like and has done for decades. In the meantime, global economic crisis, rising unemployment, falling real wages, a potential assault on basic employment rights? Aye well, fuck that cos see that SNP bint she needs a doin’ (1).


(1) They are so utterly loathsome because they’ve betrayed the basic principles of the Labour party and are pathetic jokes compared to its founding fathers. They are also electoral liabilities who contribute fuck all to political life.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Black is white and up is down

So hang on how does that work then - so Italy has just been downgraded, the most recent British economic growth figure was just revised down from no much to hee haw, a well chunky continental European bank (Dexia) is about to be broken up, part-nationalised and recapitalised and what no, its no looking like Greece will get the latest tranche of the bail out cash it needs to meet its immediate bills (meaning it default time bucko), big French banks appear to be selling off some of the good shit on their balance sheets on the QT to reduce their funding needs/get some cash pronto and there’s now scarey chat about Morgan Stanley, that US investment bank monster – like that’s a few of the things that appear to be happening right now and yet the FTSE 100 share price index ended today on a relative high - Whit?

Ahhh, hang on I think I’ve got it - so yeah, sure, whereas just one or two of the above occurring between 2001 and 2007 would have prompted all sorts of shit, now (a) the global (ahem, the Western) economy has been staggering from one fuck up to the next on a daily basis for years now, who gives a “shock fatigue”. Plus, (b) shit has finally got so fucked up the Euro-zone leaders will have to sort it out in a the more bad news the better type style.

Which is cool I guess and explains the uptick in share prices except for a few very obvious points:

1) Dexia passed the recent European bank stress tests e.g. there is no methodology in place at the moment for identifying in advance if a bank is a potential basket case – so by definition then, every bank could be a basket case ………aarrrrgggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!
2) EU Bureaucrats live a life of splendid isolation from reality. There is not that much pressure on them to sort shit out.
3) The Euro-zone is a big sack of cats and as such an utter nightmare to sort out. Read something today about how Malta’s approval was still needed for something and yer like Malta? Aw piss fucking off. And yet by the power of Castle Greyskull (and EU legislation), that’s exactly the kind of rigmarole that needs to be gone through before anything gets settled. And sorting it will take months as opposed to teh seconsd it can take for confidence in specific instutitions to evaporate.
4) The private sector, well actually the financial sector is essentially vaguely more positive because its now assuming the public sector is going to sort shit out – except hang on a mo, like how dat work? So we need private sector this, that and the other in the good times, but when it comes down to it, its government (well Germany really) that’s needed to sort shit out when the private sector fucks up? Hmm, there’s a cheeky wee double standard there.

The other thing of course is that the now hoped for Eurozone response is essentially that the great and the good will finally cotton on, cave in and accept that there needs to be a big, new means of putting taxpayers on the hook for life for bank debts/mistakes/fuck-ups so the financiers will stay happy. Yeah, ordinary, tax paying punters Nil, bankers 14 (at the very least).

Sorry, did I say that? What I meant to say is we can expect to see a co-ordinated round of bank recapitalisations with this strategy a sensible means of resolving the current volatility and shoring up confidence. More importantly, the instigation of a programme of targetted public sector investments in the stability and credibility of specific, national financial systems and banks will pay real dividends to taxpayers in the medium to long term.

Monday, 19 September 2011

I found it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


No really, I did. If you click here you’ll actually find some UK coverage of the #OccupyWallStreet protest, not much to be fair, but still it’s a start I guess. But, why so little?

Quick background; the Wall Street thing originated on the internet where some folks said hey lets occupy Wall Street beginning September 17th in a Tahrir Square type style and keep protesting until our demands (I think the biggie is to reduce the US financial sector’s undue influence on the democratic process in the US) are met. So yeah, twitter is involved big time and presumably Facebook, the globally famous hackers anonymous have bigged it up and so on. And yet, despite all that its being virtually ignored by the UK media. Howcome?

Like any protest where there’s even the slightest sniff of internet involvement got majorly bigged up previously, first in a positive way as with events in the Middle East and latterly, with the discovery that scum rioters love dem blackberries, as a potential bad thing.

Yet this one seems to be getting almost totally ignored. Perhaps, it’s because the trope journalists established of shoe-horning actual political and social revolutions into a banal discussion of social networking is now considered passé?

Cool I guess, except given this protest originally hoped to attract 20,000 protestors, but has so far drawn way less than that means it’s a perfect example of the internet’s limitations. So like shouldn’t it now be cited as such? Or would that be to highlight the facile nature of how events in the Middle East were originally reported?

Mebbe’s aye, mebbe’s knaw, but then there’s the media savvy nature of the protest itself. Well when I say media savvy what I mean is the pop culture references like protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks for one thing and making posters based on meme cartoons for another. But, still, isn’t that of interest, like the translation of internet geekdom into actual boots on the ground is worth some attention isn’t it?

Not really it seems because its party conference season right now so actually the important stuff is what are the personal tensions in the ConDem coalition and can Nick Clegg survive over the medium term. This will presumably be followed by Miliband eh? Howz he doing as Labour leader and will he survive until the next election (give or take some will he/won’t he support the unions strike plans angst [the answer is of course he fucking won’t]) and gawd knows what it’ll be with the Tories, though presumably any Boris Johnston speech will get bigged up along with him as a potential challenger for the leadership in a lets ignore policy and wank over personalities instead type style.

I guess the other thing of course is the self-censorship thang; bigging up the role twitter played in Egypt is all very well because (a) some half-wit has decided doing so connects with some half-witted 3G demographic and (b) involves fuzzy wuzzies so is sufficiently abstract, distant and alien to be considered “safe”. By contrast, paying attention to white people occupying a financial district is presumably a wee bitty too close to home for comfort and as such best ignored for the time being.

There again UK Uncut ain’t making the UK headlines anymore either despite the fact its still up to shit and, given the recent announcement of however many more tax inspectors being taken on to get evil on rich cunt tax dodging asses, could be considered to have influenced both the political debate and actual policy in nice actual ways.

So yeah, we really are getting screwed I guess, by financiers, politicians and media and not in nice, thoughtful, caring ways either.

An October 2nd P.S. - so the occupy Wall Street protests are finally news now that hundreds of people have been arrested, making it clear (as if this was needed) that no criminality = no mainstream media attention when it comes to public protests and all that means in terms of a tacit incentive to protestors/media value systems and selectivity.

It would be nice if the fact the protests were inspired by Tarih square was at least alluded to or there was some coverage of the senior police officer, Tony Baloney, who started attacking women like an Old Firm fan after a game. Unfortunately, that kind of even-handed approach appears out of reach for the time being.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Banker biffing


Spod Miliband’s call for bad bankers to be struck off made for a good soundbite. Back in the real world, the FSA appears unable to do even its (ineffectual) best to sweep things under the carpet with some of its famous “you accept you won’t take a senior role in a company we regulate ever again and in exchange we’ll not say you actually did anything wrong” specials. The FSA clearly wants to be seen to be claiming some scalps, but it being fucking useless, unable/unwilling to breach customer confidentiality to actually substantiate some of the shenanigans that took place and having a fundamental vested interest in not wanting its own failures exposed means it ain’t getting things its own way. But, then that’s only to be expected – hubris was a fundamental cause of the financial crisis in Britain and the FSA is currently contending with some of the living embodiments of that self-same character flaw, which is where the Independent Banking Commission’s final report comes in.

My reading of the report is straightforward. It takes very, very seriously the moral hazard argument made repeatedly by the Governor of the Bank of England wherein its wrong to privatise profit and socialise (nationalise) losses, by making it that bit harder for banks to end up in such a state that we have to pick up the tab.

Hence, the proposals in the report like British banks should hold mucho more capital than anyone else to absorb potential losses, that lenders to banks should cough up before depositors and on top of that ring fencing off anything vaguely complicated that might suddenly pop up in times of trouble saying you owe me two squillion quid NOW! appear geared to comprehensively avoiding moral hazard in future.

As such they highlight what I think is a fundamental difference between the British approach and that of any other major economy. Like in France (as we could well find out sometime during the next few months), the approach has been to obfuscate i.e.; the government has been in cahoots with the bankers. In the US the approach was blank cheques all round with barely any strings attached cos anything else is Anti-American. In Ireland, its fuck knows, the government/bank/property developer links were so close and so dodgy you just don’t want to go there. No idea about Germany, but then if the French banks go kerphut they’ll presumably be next or almost next in line.

Anyhoo, back in Britain there’s still this same old same old about ring fencing. Like on R4 yesterday the news person trotted out the party line about fencing off risky investment/wholesale banking business from dull, but necessary retail banking stuff and again this simply can’t be reconciled with the reality, which is that nearly all the banks that failed/had to be rescued/taken over in Britain were actual or former building societies that did very little of the “risky” investment bank stuff to be ring-fenced. Rather, the Northern Rock reliance on wholesale market funding outlier aside, they did too much shite property lending. Full stop(1).

But, I think I get it despite that fact; the report isn’t about causes, rather it’s about heading off potential consequences. Do shit property lending? Don’t care you’ve masses of capital. Got a big portfolio of synthetic CDO squareds no one other than some bod with a PhD in theoretical physics understands? Don’t care, they’re ring fenced and you’ve a massive capital base. And so on and so on and ...... what does that say about financial regulation then?

Hmmmm, let me see ………… I know, that it doesn't so much render regulation irrelevant as signal the perceived limitations of regulation and regulators. Or to put it another way if the British banking system hadn’t and didn’t have supine fucktards regulating it, then there would have been no or much less need for the Independent Banking Commission to have made the recommendations that it has.

By the way this isn’t to blame the regulators for the credit crunch in Britain, that was the banks fault, rather its to highlight the regulators as they were and still are are fucking useless, hence when cunts like Spod Miliband talk up some soundbites the accompanying deep failure to appreciate the reality of the situation it implies leaves them looking like tits.

Back to the Independent Commission, you’ve got to love their longer term view on shit. Like when bank mouthpieces squealed about how the recommendations would undermine the economic growth banks facilitate, the commission neatly and rightly responded with a so we leave you to your own devices and get say 4 mebbe even 5 years of reasonably good times followed by a fuck off financial crisis that knocks the entire economy back 6 years? No thanks.

There again given the shit going down in continental Europe right now the whole exercise could prove academic.

(1) This fact also has an international dimension given it was the simpler souls that fucked up overseas as well e.g. Spanish cajas, German Landesbanks and Countrywide in the US, although am guessing some of these also had Irish based debt/capital markets teams that pished away money on US residential mortgage backed securities and related products ie.e investment banky bits.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

50% tax rate




Income is one thing, i.e. what you get paid each month, whereas wealth is another, typically what you own, which for the vast majority means that bit of a house that’s left after the mortgage. So while income is typically a flow of cash received in exchange for selling your labour, wealth is a stock of assets.

Now some forms of wealth can generate income, most obviously the dividend on stocks and shares. And wealth can also become cash depending as when you sell your house, buy a cheaper one and pocket the difference. Similarly, income can be transmogrified into wealth when you use some of it to buy shares and houses. But, still there remains a fundamental difference between wealth and income.

That’s why I got confused by the 20 terribly eminent economists who signed a letter to the Financial Times saying remove the 50% tax rate. Being a simple soul I thought the 50% income tax was simply a tax on income until these terribly, terribly eminent economists started claiming the 50% tax rate “punishes wealth creation by imposing on entrepreneurs and business people a marginal tax rate in excess of 50”%.

I guess, but income tax is a tax on income not wealth whereas wealth creation and its realisation are subject to wholly different taxes aren’t they? Like when you create wealth like a muthafuckin’ entrepreneur the big bucks don’t come from income, rather they come from dividends and selling the business to others. In fact I’m sure some private equity bods are more than happy to advise on the relevant tax efficient capital gains strokes to be played here.

So yeah, I was confused until I saw Roger Bootle was one of the terribly, terribly eminent economists who’d signed the letter. Given the quality of his analysis of well anything really I started to have serious misgivings. Then I saw Patrick the Thatcher guru Minford was also a co-signee, I realised this was simply the same old from the predictable same old.

Now sure the fact one of the signatories is called Ronald MacDonald makes it all seem a bit funny (as well as conceptually flawed at a fundamental level and essentially a statement of prejudice by people who appear to be assuming their qualifications will distract readers from the fact they’re presenting a series of assertions as opposed to a substantiated argument). But, given there’s a PR firm involved orchestrating things, its all actually rather iffy in a leaving a nasty taste in your mouth type style.

The other thing, besides the obvious conceptual failure, predictability of the prejudices being spewed and the fact that rather than argue these terribly, terribly eminent economists are simply presenting the threat of cut taxes or else all teh hedge funds will go away, is the failure to engage with the fact taxation is a matter of political economy.

Oh but they’re being pragmatic, hard-headed and common sensical you might say. I guess, but then if I was focussing solely on my cost base the last thing – given London wages, labour market fluidity and accommodation costs – I’d ever do is locate my hedge fund in London, rather it’d be Swansea all the way.

Except that’s a fucking stupid idea; I’d still set it up in London because (a) Swansea is ghastly and (b) business locational decisions take into account a much broader range of factors than the immediate cost base; there are additional medium to long-term structural things like say physical proximity to clients, access to expert labour and say the kudos of an office in Mayfair, that simply aren’t affected by temporary tax rises. In fact, given shit like that it’s us that have got the high earners over a barrel for a change.

The other thing these cheer leaders for doing away with the 50p tax cut completely fail to take into account is the tax’s broader meaning at a time when the all in this together ConDem rhetoric genuinely matters. The context here is that the UK economy was taken behind a shed for a hard, dry arse-raping into what increasingly looks like the second half of the current decade (if we’re lucky), by a small bunch of financiers who are either still in place or early retired off with big pensions the vast majority can only ever dream of; they fucked us without so much as a please or thank you then left us to mop up the slop.

Now whereas yer old skool paternalistic Tory understands pleb screwing requires some paternalistic give and take to lubricate the process if it’s to remain legitimate enough to continue, yer Minfords want the raw shit to continue in perpetuity. And fair play to them I guess except so far what’s marked out civil disobedience in Britain compared to say Spain or Greece, is that its essentially been different types of fanny acting up, be it students or latterly neds/chavs. Except, given every new economic forecast seems to be worse than the last one, if you really do want to start unpicking even token gestures of fairness, then I reckon you should at least (besides providing an accurate account of locational decisions and acknowledging the conceptual flaws of your argument) give some thought to the potential broader social and political ramifcations. If no, then you’re a fool.

Stuart Waiton is a joke


Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing and should be cherished, always. But, can someone no take Stuart Waiton aside and tell him to shut it cos his chat about the Scottish Justice Committee on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill leaves him coming across like a fool?

Following on from this example of Stu's prejudices, a fabulous person was saying she heard him on the radio the other day, which is cool I guess if you’re the University of Abertay press office, until you wonder how much damage his mince is doing to that august institution’s reputation given his chat in the Scotsman where he comes across like a Jeremy Kyle show guest by claiming "this is a snobs law, potentially".

Then Stu follows this up with "We're targeting, specifically, football fans.... Not comedians, not anybody else, football fans - particularly rowdy football fans, ie rough, working-class blokes and lads who shout and sing songs for 90 minutes, and then go home to their Catholic wife and Protestant grandparents and so forth."

And presumably football fans aren’t racist either cos some of their best friends are black? Like is a professional sociologist actually arguing like Bernard Manning here?

I reckon to redeem himself Stu needs to explain why pubs the length and breadth of Scotland have signs like the one in this post's picture specifically discriminating against "rough, working-class" football fans (as opposed to fans of say rugby or lacrosse ete.) and do so without using the word presumptive. Until then he shall remain an utter, UTTER joke figure.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Bad social science and sectarianism



A huge problem with social science research is the fact the prejudices of its practitioners heavily influence both what get’s researched and the findings reached. This is further magnified by the self-selecting nature of social scientists; I mean c’mon you need to be a bit daft to do a PhD on something. Finally, some social scientists just aren't that bright.

Thankfully there are good social scientists as well as bad and so it is with the submissions to the Scottish Justice Committee on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. The good is Tom Gallagher, whose book on religious tension in Glasgow, The Uneasy Peace, remains a classic and more than justifies his submission. The bad is Stuart Waiton whose now got 15 minutes of fame for being a fool.

Now to set the scene here domestic violence in Glasgow increases when there are Old Firm games. Support for the old firm is periodically associated with ABH, GBH and worse. The old firm encourages sectarianism and bigotry. It sucks up vast police resources and time, creates public disturbances on a regular basis well away from football grounds, its supporters – as Rangers in Manchester proved - are periodically a national disgrace and so on and so on. Alongside this the mentality of many old firm supporters is such that when none of these things occur en masse they want a bag of fucking chocolate drops for not behaving like scum.

Anyhoo, back to Stu; “the civil servant defending the Government’s case argued that this was a ‘public disorder’ issue because if the police were not present then disorder would emerge. This is presumptive and denies a difference between words (however unpleasant) and violent actions carried out by football fans”.

Actually Stu you can go and fuck off. When a dozen lads walk past me in the street chanting hello, hello we are the Billy boys I’m intimidated to fuck and I, along with everyone else, avoid eye contact, look away and/or cross the road pronto because I’m pre-emptively just not taking the presumptive chance of any hassle. When there are police there I don’t feel so intimidated, rather it's like going to the zoo to stare at the animals.

This isn’t presumptive, its people actively managing the situation being inflicted on them and it'd be fucking lovely if there was no longer any need to do so. And is Stu actually suggesting that if there were no police minding the fans waiting to get into an Old Firm game there's be no violence at all?

I've no idea because Stu instead says: “Rather than specifically targeting Sectarian or discriminatory behaviour this appears to criminalise potentially any ‘aggressive’ behaviour at football”. Good. See the point above about the links between domestic violence and football games which also apply to other clubs and signals a culture of violence? D’ya see it? Good. Next.

Ah says Stu, “(i)t is undeniable that many fans are offensive at football games. But this is part of the ‘tribal’ nature of the event itself, and indeed is part of the reason why many people love football”. And this is a good or even just an acceptable thing because………………….?

Unfortunately, the next bit doesn’t explain why:“to conflate football chanting in a crowd with one-to-one personal intimidation is to see criminal activity when none exists”. Nope, there’s no conflation going on here judging by my personal experience or that of every other passenger on a train I was on a couple of weeks back who took turns doing the rictus grin, look away, change carriage (but not in an obvious way to avoid grief), avoid eye contact at all cost lambada until the football fans finally got off. Or does Stu thinks young men chanting in the street, in pubs or on trains as bystanders part like waves before them is neither assertive nor aggressive? Nah am sure he’s not that dumb.

Or mebbe he is: “regarding criminalising fans’ actions, there is constant reference in the Bill to … mail bombs and the attack on Neil Lennon. These criminal activities are seamlessly linked with wider … actions of ‘rowdy’ fans and discussed as part and parcel of the same problem. This would appear to be prejudiced in the true sense of the word where people chanting incorrect slogans in an aggressive manner are connected to mail bombers and those who assault football managers”.

No I think the point is football fuelled sectarianism creates for many (not all) a culture and mind set that can fuse seamlessly with such behaviour. Football matches provide a performative space where this can be indulged, inculcated and reinforced, and the offensive, tribal, love Stu is so taken with, magnifies the supporters feelings towards a readymade pantheon of heroes and villans. If that's a bit arty sounding, the ordinary members of the public who just did their best to let off the bloke that assaulted Neil Lennon highlights the fucking obvious fish and water - one can't survive without the other - links between ordinary punters and extreme actions (1).

I’ll give Stu one point though when he says sectarianism isn’t what it was. The thing is though if you take say labour market discrimination, that’s largely due to the law. Elsewhere, it’s because it was identified as a specific problem then actively managed via things like having Catholic and non-denominational schools in the same areas start at different times so there was less chance of the pupils meeting. Unfortunately, the statistical example Stu uses about how a tim would rather live beside a proddy than a smackhead or a poof, doesn’t exactly have me convinced about anything other than his poor judgement(see the next bit for the apparent legitimacy of such terms).

Oh eck tho cos after this Stu goes a bit weird claiming the bill as it stands is “class discrimination” and discriminates against football fans because “the focus on what could be described as crude and rude words – Fenian, Tim, Hun and so on – which are more part of everyday language amongst poorer sections of society, means that these people are again potentially criminalised for simply lacking politeness or using what is deemed to be politically incorrect language”. Then Stu ends by bigging up Voltaire “I may hate what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it’.

Cool. I guess. Except that last bit could be used to support all sorts of discriminatory, aggressive language e.g. racist, homophobic and what no, making the real challenge one of finding the balance between that and free speech. Or is the argument being made here poor people have the right to be offensive because they’re poor? I hope not because that’s deeply patronising and dumb given the reason people shout say tim is because they know damn fine well it’s a term of abuse and we wouldn’t want anyone thinking Stu was ignorant, patronising and/or had no meaningful notion of the impact his chosen subject matter actually has on other people (or non-clients as he might put it).

Personally speaking I’m not sure why discriminating against football fans is a bad thing anyway. Overall, they behave worse than any other sport fans on a consistent basis so its common sense to pick on them. Avoiding that issue by saying "class discrimination" simply comes across as using loaded language to avoid dull shit like reality. And to be sure only a minority of fans fuck things up for a majority, but so what given said majority hasn’t been able to sort shit out let alone the clubs or football authorities, which leaves this bill as a last resort.

Alongside that are bigger questions about football in society, like it being bread and circuses writ large with season tickets another tax on the poor. Then there’s the association between it and questionable masculine identities, like have I mentioned domestic abuse spikes after football games?

Whether the bill as it currently stands sorts all that or anything out is doubtful, but contrbutions like tax-payer funded Stu's don't help matters. So yeah, you get some good social scientists and then you get joke figures.


(1) That case in Liverpool where a a jury decided Steven Gerrard had actually given some blerk a right good self-defending (on camera) highlights an interesting broader issue of yer average punter and things like justice when football is involved.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Biscuits


The Shred Goodwin going off on one about pink wafer biscuits story that’s doing the rounds the now is interesting I guess, so interesting you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, etc., And as is intended it will help sell the book the juicy details are taken from, its just it’s not news. Now by that I don’t mean its not news because it refers to stuff in the past or even that I know a couple of really toe-curling stories about the man. Nope, not me, not on your life guv “ahem”. Nah, what I mean is pretty much everything getting quoted now was detailed here in a Times article dated March 2009 i.e. over 2 years ago when a former employee spoke to the Times and Vince Cable about how the Shred actually behaved.

Now this puts the book being puffed in a whole new light cos it suggest that for the authors deep research equals clicking the top twenty hits on google for Fred Goodwin. This presumably also applies to everyone whose got column inches out of it the past week unless they were even lazier and simply regurgitated whatever they were emailed by the book's publishers, which is a shame when you think about it because a CEO threatening to have people disciplined over pink biscuits actually raises all sorts of bigger issues about corporate governance and corporate life more generally, no seriously.

Here, I’ll give some examples; the story about having an engineer at the ready to switch off the fire alarms when RBS executives fancied smoking indoors (big, fat cigars presumably) firmly equals there being one rule for the workers and another for executives. And being deeply hypocritical it undermines the credibility of those in charge.

Then there's the pink wafer disciplining story itself, which makes me wonder what in fucking christ the HR department was like. There’s this thing called employment law whereas here HR appear to be either the executive's bullying hitwomen or else supine sycophants (did I say or else, I meant both). Now this is particularly “funny” given the RBS HR director at the time was regularly feted by the HR industry as being amongst its most influential figures, which renders said industry’s judgement somewhat suspect as a result.

What else is there … the Sir Shred getting the carpets changed cos they were the wrong shade of whatever suggests someone with an obvious attention to detail, but also a dictatorial, micro-management style with no sense of proportion and potentially psychotic tendencies. So given Sir Shred was voted Forbes global businessman of the year in December 2002, can we perhaps have some management gurus and associated detritus providing a more honest assessment of what “leadership” actually entails (i.e. fucktards like the cunt discussed here)?

Finally, there’s the stories of Sir Shred's personal extravagance like getting fresh fruit flown in from Paris with the guilty culprits here being the RBS Group board. That it was fruit not pan au chocolat highlights the taste of the people we’re talking about here and it’s not good. But, parking that for a mo, the board’s CEO was clearly quite the one for pissing away shareholders cash on his own personal foibles in a where the fuck was was Sir Shred's legendary reputation for cost-cutting when all this was going on type style? So did the board turn a blind eye because they were also rather partial to a nice peach, where they at too much of a remove to know any better, did they take the view that the CEO should be allowed to do whatever he liked so long as the share price kept rising or was the board stuffed with patsies who aren't fit to sit on the board of any other company again, ever? Like what kind of fucking governance was in place here? (oops that calls into question the FSA's judgement doesn't it)

I said finally, but actually besides the obvious point that all of the above questions are generic enough to be asked of any other PLC, for me what’s potentially the real story appeared in June this year. Rather than the current huffing, puffing and titillating about old stories all the while assuming Shred’s pension is some kind of immutable injustice, its the thing about whether his conduct as a CEO broke company policy (or policies) to the extent that he should have been dismissed rather than pensioned off i.e. can the cunt’s package be taken off him, that I reckon is of greater interest. You see it was reported in June (in relation to Sir Shred’s affair with an RBS employee) that he’d “not told any friends or colleagues” whereas my naïve and imperfect understanding of company conflict of interest policies is that they usually entail telling people. Funny dat.

But, yeah, pink wafers eh? Oh how ghastly etc., etc., Thank fuck none of the executives or board members are still sat in big boardrooms scoffing peaches and smoking cigars. Ooops, turns out they are.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Edinburgh trams are a fucking tragedy


The Edinburgh trams are a disastrous fuck up of monstrous proportions. I mind it was hearing some council boy talk about how the work in Leith Walk had significantly improved that locale’s internet infrastructure or something in a thanks to the billions spent on NASA we’ve got Teflon bullshite that the magnitude of its fucked-upness became apparent. But, it now seems that its totally sorted and we’ll be getting a tram that goes all the way along Princess Street to St Andrews Square. Whoop di do.

Or perhaps not.I reckon its worth remembering the root cause of the trams being a fuck up was apparent to everyone that had to sit there, stuck in traffic trying to get to work/home of an evening; unbelievably bad management.

Travelling up Leith walk you’d see evidence of this on a daily basis - first an area would be fenced off. Sometime a few days later a hole would be dug and/or materials dumped. Time would pass. More time would pass (heck one hole even got to celebrate being dug and left for a year before anyone did anything about it). Finally, as in the picture above, 6 or so blerks would be sighted by the hole - but rarely a minute before 9 or even a second after 5. One might be having a go with a pick , two would be gawping at the man listlessly picking at the ground or else picking their noses. Of the remaining three, one would be on his moby leaving the other two to read the Sun or have a chat about something. I know this was the case, like tens of thousands of others, because it was what we saw when we looked out the window all the times we were stuck in tram work delayed traffic. And it went on for fucking years. And no it was never a farce because it killed off businesses i.e. it destroyed jobs and livelihoods.

Now, some very obvious failings were going on here. Either the management over estimated the labour required, recruited people with the wrong skills, was incapable of coordinating i.e. managing, well anything really, had no ability to phase the recruitment and allocation of resource and so on and so on in a probably every fault I‘ve just listed and plenty more applied.

Alongside that I reckon the contractual terms were such no one on the job needed to give a fuck; people worked? The contractors got paid. People didn’t work? The contractors got paid. And lets be clear the cunts responsible for doing the contracts was the council and its paid professional advisors.

But, hey that’s all in the past because now we’re getting lovely trams that go right into the heart of the city. Then you read the report just issued and think aw fer fuck sake have they no learned anything?

Wading thru it I liked the reference to the Scottish Futures Trust, the SNP’s not PFI but actually are PFI people, who were consulted about financing the trams. This is all the report says; “In order to assess other avenues of funding discussions have been held with
the Scottish Futures Trust“. Cool, so that‘ll be that wee SNP quango getting to claim its saved even more money it hasn’t.

Having gone thru the rigmarole of chewing the fat with that tax payer funded waste of space and with absolutely nothing to say as a result, the report then details what the actual advisors it commissioned, Inverleith Capital, have to say about borrowing dosh to pay for the trams. Cool, except, lets be honest Inverleith Capital may well be terribly New Town and charming, but could they ever be considered up to a job of this magnitude? Seriously? Like were the references made in the report to considering a bond issue a hastily tacked on afterthought or what?

Anyhoo, then we get the hard sell as to why we need the trams “It is worth remembering that there are significant revenues derived from the tram project that would offset the costs of the project”, which is lovely I guess, but don’t they need netting off against the loss of bus ticket revenue?

But hang on a mo cos “(t)he reputational damage to Edinburgh and to Scotland of failing to complete the project would also be significant and could harm the City’s future investment prospects“. Hmm, no, the damage has already been done and anyway what investment prospects exactly? Like does the council actually think Tesco won’t open another shop or some property developer develop more offices because the council is fucking useless?

Here though is the killer reason “(f)ailure to complete would also have significant environmental consequences”. Except that’s bollocks. Any argument that refers to the environment is pretty much spurious by definition because all the criteria used are so makey-uppy.

The other thing of course is that the environmental and other costs already incurred because of the trams have never been taken into account. Like today the potential introduction of charges for roadworks in England and Wales made the news because they’re estimated to cost the economy c.£4bn a year - now yeah, yeah, that’s another makey uppy number, but the slow down of economic activity due to tram work related congestion, the wasted fuel and general pain in the arsed-ness of travelling thru Edinburgh have cost something, just not anything the council ever factors into its sums give or take the insulting joke of rate relief or what not (takings down 60% on the year Mr Shopkeeper because of the tramworks? Never you mind, you don't need to give us as much money this year). Oh and all those cars waiting at traffic lights has also done environmental damage (the joke here being the Scottish government pissed more money away on posters put up near tram works advising motorists to watch their fuel consumption when stuck in traffic in an insult to injury type styley).

So nah, I’m not convinced in the slightest this is even the least bit sorted, partly because it’s the same old bullshit, but also because I’ve been past the work now ongoing at Haymarket a few times and it’s the same old same old mismanagement shite - men scratching their arses as opposed to doing anything and no much happenning apart from that.

Rather, if I was to try and identify some of the benefits the trams have and will deliver it’s the following; its got me cycling to work cos the delays were that bad and it’s a wonderful example of how economic externalities are defined entirely by politics. Apart from that it’s a bunch of bollocks; it should be stopped and every councillor who voted for it named and shamed, the senior council management dismissed for being grossly incompetent and all advisors/contractors informally barred from winning any government work in Britain ever again until they pay back say 80% of their fees (a type of move I've seen work in the private sector). And the TIE lot can fuck off and die.

P.S. (25/8) - so it's only going as far as Haymarket after all except when the leader of the council said not going to St Andrew's square would be "threatening this city's future financial vibrancy" what in the name of christ did she actually mean? "Vibrancy"? Eh? Whit? What does that mean exactly? Like HBOS and RBS blow themselves the fuck up, but no having a tram going along Princess Street is a threat to Edinburgh's "financial vibrancy"? Is that even a fucking word? For the love of utter christ what a stupid, ignorant cunt (I do like the Labour party bitch move though - vote for it in the first place, then vote against getting something that would provide a vaguely sensible service. Those cunts really have no shame whatsoever).

P.P.S. (23/2) - That BBC Scotland documentary on the trams was pretty good, the one where they identified how the contracts were the main issue and how (lets all blame) TIE essentially lied about the implications of what'd been signed up to. The social worker councillor who queried WTF he was doing supervising it all given his professional experience was also good fun given the stupid shitfer was too dumb to realise the broader implications, ramifications and applications of his don't blame me I know nothing excuse.

Since then though I reckon one of the other main things I was waffling on about still applies cos jezuz fucking christ the actual work is being badly managed. Back when Leith Walk was being pointlessly dug up what really stood out and riled was the ratio between the number of blerks getting paid to do fuck all beside a hole and the length of time traffic was delayed and/or diverted. Now to be fair since then I've seen some examples of blerks actually working beyond 5.30pm. However, on the way to a meeting the other day I also saw a van full of blerks sat reading the paper who were still sat there when I was heading back to my office after the meeting i.e. they'd all earned whatever their hourly rate is for doing fuck all. This is at a time when Edinburgh council is cutting the amount spent on teaching materials for some subjects to something like 20p per year per pupil i.e. fuck all. This is wrong. This is clear evidence the tram works are still being very badly managed at a time when essential services are being cut back.

Thankfully, the Council appears to be destroying records so if there is any enquiry those originally involved will be able to lie through their teeth and/or plead mea culpa to the point where they can get off completely Scot free.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Confidence trick


The irony is that whereas confidence is everything right now, absoutely everything, confidence surveys are a piece of pish. Partly, this is because they’re all about ordinal data i.e. stuff that can be rank ordered, but not precisely quantified, and as such can never be much of a guide e.g. if I’m a very, very confident consumer as opposed to just a confident one does that mean I’m going to buy 3 new tellies as opposed to one (neither, I’ve got a perfectly serviceable telly already thank you)?

However, its also because they’re based on a stupid premise. How I feel and what I think today may not translate into what I do tomorrow plus how I feel today may well be influenced by specific today things like say the fact the curry in the staff canteen was actually quite passable for a change. And when you start asking people what they think they might be doing in 12 months time, well that’s just pish really.

At best what you might get out of a finely tuned confidence survey is advance warning as to the probable direction of a more significant metric e.g. a downturn in a consumer confidence survey today probably means the retail sales data published in a fortnight will also be heading down. But, then that’s no so much foresight as it is methodology - it takes longer to produce retail sales data than it does consumer confidence surveys.

Despite this all these business sponsored surveys get trotted out as if they were somehow meaningful because of how we get spoon fed economic news. The process this entails goes a little something like this:

1) Company A wants to boost its brand, present itself as a credible organisation etc.,
2) Company A makes widgets, so it pays some people to do a widget confidence survey
3) Company A issues the widget survey with its brand plastered all over it
4) Company A also makes available a spokesperson too thick to produce a widget survey, but with enough chat to talk about the significance and meaning of it
5) News Organisation B needs news. It receives a copy of Company A’s widget survey, gets in touch and gets some quotes. If the survey is considered really important it gets some rent-a-quotes from a range of widget experts in other companies.
6) Repeat on a monthly basis

Everyone involved in the above process has a vested interest in taking it all terribly, terribly seriously - Company A wants to punt its brand, News Organisation B doesn’t want to be seen printing dreck/does want to fill up some column inches quickly and the rent-a-quotes get to ride on Company A’s coat tails.

What we get as a result is distracting shite and noise instead of analysis. Actually its worse than what. The process set out above, especially the uncritical way in which things get presented, has established the survey and the specially commissioned report as a key means of justifying well absolutely fucking anything really with the public sector a big offender here. Hence we get expert reports on the economic benefits of not smoking, Edinburgh trams, high speed rail links, renewable energy and so on and so on, each and every one of them you realise, the instance you look at the assumptions in the appendix, being rotten pieces of shite.

So aye, back to confidence and how it can’t be measured. Well it can sort of, ish, like right now share prices and the cost of insuring sovereign debt against it not being repaid (i.e. the CDS spreads of say Greece compared to Germany) provide bloody good clues as to how financiers are feeling and its scary, scary biscuit time let me tell you in an oh fuck are we going to see another liquidity crisis with institutions no lending to each other again. And if that happens it will fuck shit up for everyone else.

And because we all have a clear vested interest in this I reckon the brute human aspect of what's going on should be drawn out far more than it is. Like fuck the references to high falutin’ financial models, business plans, exogenous econometric growth theories, the need for credible fiscal re-balancing vs consumer deleveraging programmes and what no, essentially, it’s a bunch of people going “fucking hell, fuck knows what’s about to happen” and in a self-fulfilling prophecy type styley holding onto all the cash they can to protect themselves in a way that destroys the circulation of cash capitalism needs to function (oh the joys of individually self-interested and rational actions leading on to a collectively irrational outcome). Probably the only saving grace right now is that it’s a Thursday i.e. there’s only tomorrow left to panic before the weekend stops trading/allows for emergency meetings by the great and the good.

The other point of course is that the same people doing the panicking are typically the same ones who move asset prices in response to waste of time confidence surveys. They do this because its easy, because everyone else does and because they‘re not as bright as they‘re presented as being and don't understand what's happenning, in fact them realising they don't is part of the problem. They and the companies they work for are also the same ones squealing about the notion of a Tobin tax and extra regulation despite the fact the only thing that’s going to sort this shit out is governments i.e. the tax funded public sector, setting out a clear plan and a clear direction.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Anticipation

Ooohh, tomorrow's going to be dead exciting - if you consider financial stuff exciting - in a what the feck will happen now America's been downgraded and the ECB is in emergency talks.

Was interesting reading the Robert Peston blog on this "Bankers and investors want to see the ECB buying Italian debt, in the way it has previously bought Irish, Portuguese and Greek debt."

I mean obviously we should all do whatever bankers and investors want when they want it. Obviously. However, buying Italian debt in itself wouldn't be enough I reckon. This has worked on a sequential basis with each of the PIIGS economies getting a turn at being baled out. Given this and the driving force here which is bankers and investors want the public sector i.e. us, to cough up so they don't lose any money (at the same time as however many millions are being made by other bankers and investors shorting entire economies), I reckon something bigger is needed e.g. the ECB will also be willing to buy Spanish and Belgium debt or a definition is constructed as to when it will intervene.

Anyhoo, interesting times. I wonder how much will be wiped off the FTSE if there isn't a big announcement about somnething?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

2:1




That being the latest score in the great American football game. Reading the S&P report on why they downgraded America the first (own) goal was the political process itself. In fact the overview emphasises, draws attention to and reiterates how the fucked up debt ceiling debate undermined their view of America:

“We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress … will remain a contentious and fitful process … The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

As the brinkmanship was driven by the Tea Party nutters, then that’s one up to the Democrats. However, that the plans were also perceived as not doing enough to cut spending is the Democrats fault, so that’s one all.

But, fiscal policy is also about raising revenues or as S&P put it “It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options”, something that the Tea Party nutters made damn sure happened, so that’s another Democrat goal I reckon.

But, yeah, this is all crazy. Like for one thing a rating agency got it right for a change. For another, how deeply, politically incompetent are the Democrats, like didn’t they learn anything from the health care debacle? And is the probable response here of having a go at S&P, mealy mouthed references to no other agency downgrading them and not saying diddly about raising taxes going to have much effect? I mean jumping jehoshaphat, they're dealing with mentals so perhaps that should be drawn out a tad more. The main quote included here makes clear it’s the decision-making process that’s the primary issue i.e. the way the Tea Party Republican mentals are fucking up the working of the polity. Despite this the Republicans will completely ignore that (along with potential tax rises) so this can all get blamed on not cutting spending enough because, as has already been said, they are fucking mentals.

So now that the previously unthinkable has once again become the actual, Monday will be interesting in share price land, volatile to say the least as the uncertainty over what happens next, aided by the resumption of mental politicking in America, shits on confidence levels. The emphasis placed by S&P on the efficacy or otherwise of the decision-making process is an interesting point with regards to the Euro-zone while here the ConDems will make major big use of the downgrade to justify their policies. Cunts.