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.