Saturday, 1 October 2016

Europe's taxpayer parents to be charged just €1,500 each for 'free' €479 Interrail passes

A wizard new scam dreamt up by Herr Juncker, the EU's senior unelected official, will see each of Europe's taxpayers paying an additional €1,500 a year - in return for which all EU children will, on reaching the age of 18, be given a €479 Interrail pass. 

Explaining the discrepancy in cost, an anonymous EU spokesperson explained that taxpayers would have to pay for all non-taxpayers and the French, and that the EU administration costs of €500 per pass included a signed photograph of Herr Juncker and a signed bound guide to the Standing Committees of the European Parliament as an 18th birthday gift. "The important thing" they said "is that the Interrail pass appears to these credulous youngsters as a gift from the unelected President, rather than something for which their taxpayer parents will pay through the nose".  

Youngsters in countries having no participating rail networks will be instead given some bus tickets and an additional signed bound copy of the Official Guide to the Flag, Anthem and Motto of the EU.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The global corporates have amputated the invisible hand

I'm aware this is a topic that divides readers, and as I value each one of you I'm not deliberately trying to lose you, but I really must try to pin this down. The trigger today is a piece in the Guardian by Liam Fox which is worth reading;
According to the World Bank, in the three decades between 1981 and 2010, we witnessed the single greatest decrease in material human deprivation in history. At a time when the population of the developing world has increased by almost 60%, the number of those in extreme poverty (subsisting on less than $1.25 per day) has dropped from around 50% to around 20%.
We've also seen the largest movement in history of economic migrants from poor places to richer ones - from central and south America to the USA, from the Chinese hinterland to the coastal cities, from Africa northwards to Europe, from the poor Pacific to Australia. This is the downside of globalisation - the new unpoor, with their Chinese trainers, jeans and 2G phones, want it all within their lifespans, unwilling for a long domestic slog of gradual increases in prosperity and democracy. 

No, I'm all for global trade - and for platforms that allow me to trade my goods or skills for goods or skills from other places. I'm all for earning $1000 for Alpine fossils from US collectors and spending $600 with a Mumbai web developer. No tariffs, no restrictions, except prohibitions that operate for the good of collective national security. And I just want the web developer to stay in Mumbai. 

The other downside of the globalisation process from 1980 is the growth of the global corporates, growing not by endogenous improvements in productivity or increased sales but primarily by acquisitions and mergers that eliminate weaker competition and help create global oligopolies that restrict trade, erect barriers to entry to the market for competition and work with big government to consolidate wealth and power. And I'm afraid Liam Fox simply can't cite Adam Smith as supporting these monstrosities. 

Smith's invisible hand only operates in free markets where huge numbers of individual producers and consumers allow supply and demand to fluctuate and equilibriate. This holds true even on a global scale. In conditions of monopoly or oligopoly, the invisible hand is amputated at the wrist. Adam Smith would spin in his grave at the idea that his work was being quoted in support of such threats to freedom as Bayer-Monsanto.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

US terrified of breaching of State Immunity convention

Obama's failed veto of a bill that will make changes to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and allow legal action for non-commercial matters in US courts against the Saudi government was founded in self-interest, not from sympathetic concern with the KSA. With oil supplies no longer dependent on the KSA and gulf states, the US is no longer committed to backing the KSA - and indeed this is the root of the thaw in relations with Shia Iran.

State Immunity (wrongly termed Sovereign immunity by several papers today - Sovereign immunity refers to the immunity of the state from legal action by its own citizens) is highly complex and the subject of both UN and European conventions. The UK is a signatory with several other European states to the 1972 European Convention on State Immunity - not including Italy. Legal action by Italian citizens seeking damages from Germany for war actions was blocked by the International Court. 

The thing about State Immunity is that it protects the unofficial acts of nations and their citizens much given to meddling in the affairs of other States, and has little effect on States that keep themselves to themselves. So just as the KSA becomes legally liable in damages for the actions of its sheikhs in funding and sponsoring Sunni terrorism, so the US becomes liable for the actions of Blackwater, Air America and other quasi detached parts of the US global policeman role. Or the US imperialist warmonger role. Take your pick. It also, through the actions of the CIA and other covert State agencies, puts the US directly in the dock, for example for damages for unlawful rendition, torture, economic sabotage and so on. 

Switzerland has little to fear from the ending of State immunity conventions. The UK is somewhere between the US and Switzerland. 

All of this would be irrelevant except that at a time of global investment, a successful lawsuit gives a right to seize the assets of the defendant nation in the country of action for the actions of those deemed vicarious servants or agents. Thus Saudi assets in the US can be seized if the suit of the 9/11 plaintiffs succeeds. Or US assets in the UK can be seized if a suit by British claimants succeeds. 

The effect will be a fire blanket on global State investment - by sovereign wealth funds and the like. In allowing action against the KSA - well deserved, I have no doubt - Congress has opened a can of worms with which the world would rather not deal at this juncture.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The EU - An OK club for the lesser breeds beyond the Pale

I must take my hat off to Boris this morning. With the brief announcement that the UK would assist however it could in getting Turkey's EU membership agreed, he has at one stroke caused rage and apoplexy in Brussels and Berlin, has Herr Verhofstadt spitting quinoa, and raised the UK in the eyes of Turks living and working throughout the EU.

The unspoken subtext of his comment is firstly that the UK doesn't care because we will be secure behind the Channel, but mainly that the EU is an OK club for the lesser breeds beyond the Pale, but not really the thing for a great nation such as ours. 

Now go on, Boris, and suggest that Syria also be considered for membership ..  

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Poor people and cyclists killing the oceans

I love it when my instincts triumph over popular marketing. For years during which we were beseiged with margarine advertising and whorish doctors telling us to eschew butter and olive oil in favour of a factory-made ersatz wartime ration, I ignored them all. Now margarine, we're told, is the new asbestos. 

And so with clothing. Not only have I ever declined to wear anthing with anyone else's name, escutcheon or initials on the outside of the garment, I have obstinately stuck to wool, cotton, leather, silk and linen as clothing materials. The exception is polycotton 'blue collar' workwear which I import from the US firm Dickies, which is incredibly well made and long-lived. 

Again, I've been vindicated. Artificial fibres such as Nylon, Lycra, Acrylic, Polyester, Nylon, Spandex, Rayon and Terylene and other oil-based polymers release microfibres in enormous numbers into the rivers and sea every time they're washed. These indestructible microfibres accumulate in marine species, and are slowly killing many fish and marine creatures. 

However, educating people to eschew man-made fibres manufactured by the global corporate chemical oligopolies in favour of natural fibres that can be made on a domestic scale if necessary really won't have much mileage. The people who fund research want more man-made products from their huge belching factories, not fewer. 

So what's the result? 

Well, they find some gullible and credulous newspaper such as the Guardian to print an article blaming the marine pollution on washing machines that don't filter the microfibres, rather than man-made fibres themselves. The way is then open for the EU to ban washing machines that don't filter out the 700,000 harmful microfibres per synthetics wash, and for washing machine manufacturers worldwide to cash in on compulsory new, more expensive, more complex and shorter-lived next-generation washing machines. 

Sometimes you have to admire their chutzpah

Postscript - Whatever happened to the 'polluter pays' principal? Should we not be charging massive cleanup costs to BASF, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, AkzoNobel and the like? 

EU to distribute €350m of €30 a month cash cards in Turkey

The story is carried in Kronen Zeitung that the EU will be distributing €350m of pre-loaded bank cards, each with a monthly credit of €30, to all the migrants currently held in Turkey. 

I have a prediction. Within a week of month one, a quarter will have a zero balance, some 5% of card holders will hold 20% of the distributed aid and Turkish tarts will be complaining that the market has been undermined with payments by EUcard. By month two the people smugglers will carry mobile card readers and will start collecting their fees through surrendered cards; 20 cards per smuggled migrant cashed each month for a year will bring in €7,200. Then the migrants will start killing eachother for EUcards. 

Hey ho.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Willie Peter

There were several emotional comparisons between Aleppo and Dresden in yesterday's papers. Of course, if Churchill and Sir Arthur Harris had ordered the 'terror' bombing of German cities after 1949 they could have been prosecuted as war criminals, and likewise had the Germans shot 330 Italian hostages at the Adeantine caves after 1949, this, too would have been a war crime. As it is, both actions were within the terms of the Geneva convention when they happened, and thus free of criminal blame.

The use of White Phosphorus, WP or Willie Peter in US vernacular, was defended by US General Peter Pace in 2005; "(WP is) a legitimate tool of the military, used to illuminate targets and create smokescreens. It is not a chemical weapon. It is an incendiary". WP has been used by the US most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also by the KSA, Israel and by the Ukrainians. Now, it is alleged, it is being used by Assad against ISIS and the insurgent rebels in Aleppo. 

Given our biggest ally's reliance on White Phosphorus munitions, it is perhaps a little disingenuous of the UK ambassador to to the UN to condemn its use in the Syrian civil war. No doubt the FCO instructed him to bluster and whine and the poor man was just doing as instructed.   

As ever, the military of both sides are just doing what the military of the world always has to do. Those really responsible for the prolonged death and suffering are the heartless Saudi, Turkish, US and European powers who fund and arm the continued killing with their support of ISIS, Al Queda and other Sunni insurgents against the Syrian government.