Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Monday, 31 October 2011

Guido Fawked – Routine Hypocrisy (Again)

The Guido Fawkes blog, penned by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, has today been passing adverse comment on the recent behaviour of Tory MP Matthew Offord, who represents Hendon. Such comment is not exceptional, but in this case the sheer hypocrisy of Staines most certainly is.

Packs of Stella on 3 for 2 offer at Tesco? Result!

Because the reason for Offord’s appearance on the Fawkes blog is partly due to his apparently being Elephant’s Trunk and Mozart at last year’s party conference: Staines and his gofer helpfully tell that the means by which Offord became tired and emotional was Scotch. Staines, of course, knows full well that the law does not care overmuch whether it was Scotch or beer.

Today's meeting of Pot and Kettle

As many around the blogosphere are well aware, Staines’ relationship with alcohol has been a turbulent one: he notched up his fourth alcohol related conviction in 2008 when he appeared before Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court to be found guilty of drinking and driving for the second time. The three-year driving ban was routine; the 18 month supervision order and three month curfew were not.

And the drinking is not the only thing that has caused Staines to end up in court: he declared himself bankrupt some years ago after a legal battle during which he was accused of playing “fast and loose with the truth”, a characterisation that many who have read the product of the Fawkes blog will readily recognise. So for him to call out anyone for inebriation and dishonesty is pretty rich.

Staines, of course, could have fared worse in that court appearance in 2008: District Judge Timothy Stone told him “I take the view that you do have an alcohol problem ... you are fortunate not to be going to prison today”. And if Staines is caught driving a car whilst in an overtired state again, especially given he has to re-take his test and hasn’t, as far as is known, done so, he will go to prison.

And making snarky comments about minor politicians won’t carry much weight coming from someone doing a handful down the Scrubs.

Heath Was Monty’s Double

Those who do not work in and around the City of London and Canary Wharf (“and other areas of high business concentration”) don’t know what they are missing: every weekday morning, these lucky people (the target demographic earn “over £87,000 per annum”) get copies of free paper City AM thrust their way, whether they like it or not. The paper is edited by one Allister Heath.

Who he? Well, to no surprise at all – given the message that is shouted from every edition of City AM (Government too big, cuts not enough, EU source of all evil not attributable to any other kind of Government) – Heath is also chairman of the "2020 Tax Commission", another front of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA). I’ll put it more directly: Heath is a TPA stooge, and his paper is effectively a TPA mouthpiece.

So the TPA not only gets its propaganda into the national press, onto television, and into the PR world through its former staffers such as Mark Wallace and Charlotte Linacre, but also has a conduit into Government via Susie Squire, now a SpAd to Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP, and a voice in the City via Allister Heath. This last underscores once more why the TPA should be taken seriously.

Especially as the standard of TPA propaganda is equally dismal across the whole range of its outlets: those familiar with the regular outpouring of “dodgy dossiers” from the Comfortable of Tufton Street will be glad to know that City AM’s equivalent is just as easily taken apart. The difficult part is that many of those well-paid readers who should know better believe what they read.

And one who ought to know better – but never seems to get round to it – is ConservativeHome stalwart Tim Montgomerie, who today has penned a gushing tribute to Heath, with the priceless homage “How Allister writes this quality [sic] on a daily basis and edits the newspaper, I will never know”. Maybe it’s because he gets paid to do it and has a staff of over twenty.

So what pearls of wisdom does editor Heath bestow on his readers? On the USA: “the US electorate increasingly wants ultra-low taxes combined with European-style levels of public spending”. Wrong twice, unless you believe the whopper that health care reform was a “Government takeover”, and the Tea Partiers. But City AM does have a supposed exclusive on the EU and bank reform today.

Except that the “internal Treasury Document obtained by City AM” is only selectively relayed. If there was any kind of a story, it would be published. In full. Heath is no better – or independent of the TPA – on HS2: “The ... costs of the proposal ... are much greater than the benefits” he pontificates. Not with a projected BCR of 2.6 they’re not, Allister.

Same misinformation, whether from organ grinder, or monkey.

Cameras Catch Speeders Shock Horror

Those of Rupe’s troops at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun have made a miraculous discovery: there are speed cameras out there on the road network that snap cars breaking the speed limit. Bears dump in woods, Pope Catholic. But the hacks have discovered something else: when you add up all the speeding fines, it can produce a big and scary number.

Clearly, nothing gets past a Murdoch journalist, except perhaps that speed cameras are installed where they are for a reason, and that reason is because they are judged to be an effective means of changing driver behaviour – as in slowing them down at locations where there have been serious accidents in the recent past. The Sun, for some reason, does not mention accidents at all.

Instead, readers are told how Rupe’s troops have been putting in Freedom Of Information (FoI) requests to find out “Britain’s most money-grabbing speed cameras”, which “Between them ... rake in £3 million in fines in a year”. And who pays the fines? “Frustrated motorists”, declares the piece, rather than the more prosaic “motorists who significantly exceed the speed limit”.

So who is the bad guy behind all these “money-grabbing” devices? Oh look, a photo of Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne. It’s the pantomime bad guy, so it must be pantomime season. So we have to be told for the 94th time that Huhne got caught by a speed camera on the M11 (allegedly) and that someone else (allegedly) took his points (perhaps).

We even get the Sun playing both sides: readers are told that “the single most risky route for fines in Britain [if you can’t keep your speed down] was a 12-mile stretch of seafront road in Brighton ... it has 11 cameras, which caught 18,045 drivers in three years”. And if the authorities had done nothing, Rupe’s troops could play why-oh-why about all the crashes and injuries.

The lamentable standard of the piece is confirmed with a quote from the so-called Drivers’ Alliance, which is allied with our old friends at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance. The two bodies have in the past joined forces to selectively use figures to suggest that speed cameras cause more accidents, and the sham has not taken too much effort to thoroughly debunk.

If anything or anyone is to be “named and shamed”, as the Sun suggests, it should be the misleading and myth-sustaining hackery that is on display in their own rag. Papers would do well to call speeding for what it is: potentially deadly law-breaking.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Del Boy And His Fiery Trousers

[Update at end of post]

Showing his usual measured and mild-mannered approach to the subject of climate change, James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole has posted another missive in the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland titled “Lying, cheating climate scientists caught lying, cheating again”, to the approval of his adoring echo chamber (Sid and Doris Bonkers).

Del Boy is still smarting from the appearance on the scene of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project – co-funded by one of the Koch foundations – and its preliminary conclusion that global warming is happening, and that the temperature information provided thus far by NASA GISS, the NOAA, and HAD CRUT is essentially correct.

So when BEST Scientific Director Richard Muller suggested that the warming trend had not slowed down, here was an opportunity for Del Boy to bring forward evidence to the contrary – and shout “liar” again, just to emphasise his rational approach and enhance his credentials. Sadly, though, he relies on Astroturf lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) for his information.

BEST: Axes allegedly skewed

The GWPF’s David Whitehouse presents a series of data covering the first decade of the current century and declares it to be “a statistically perfect straight line of zero gradient”, without any of the statistical analysis that would prove his claim. Whitehouse, while complaining that BEST has presented the X and Y axes on their graphs other than to his satisfaction, has in fact skewed the data himself.

GWPF: Perish the thought!

BEST – and all other major studies of recent temperature data – have showed a warming of around 0.7 Celsius in rather more than 30 years. The GWPF chart covers just ten years, and the gradient of that line is not flat. It’s upwards – though not, given the spacing of the X and Y axes, steeply so. I reckon – and am quite prepared to be corrected – the warming shown is around 0.25 Celsius.

Which fits in with figures for the decades prior to the Millennium. And, other than the misleading GWPF graph, and Whitehouse’s assertions, the only scrap of evidence that Del Boy brings to the table is Mail hack David Rose, whose selective attempts to rubbish climate science have been so thoroughly debunked in the past couple of years.

Note how the 10 year trend from 2001 to 2010 ... shows no warming whatsoever” proclaims Delingpole, in yet another act of flagrant dishonesty. He then loudly accuses anyone and everyone not in agreement of Himself Personally Now to be dishonest. This convinces the echo chamber, which dutifully agrees, in the style of nodding donkeys.

No change there, then.

[UPDATE: the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, has copied the graphs from David Rose's Mail On Sunday piece and talked up the BEST versus GWPF "argument" into a "case of fakery". He then suggests that "the global warming racket is unravelling". The sound of ritual incantation is thus pumped into the argument in order to keep it inflated.

What also does not help Staines and Delingpole is that Prof. Judith Curry, who they both quote in support of their stance, has today stated on her blog that "this does not constitute a new scientific scandal in any way". She also suggests that David Rose was leading in his questioning]

Cynical Is As Cynical Does

Blustering Bunter of the Dacre press Simon Heffer has delivered his latest sermon on Europe. Entitled “The cynical lie that leaving the EU would destroy Britain: The majority of people now want out of this bloated dictatorship, we at least need a referendum”, it at least demonstrates a conjunction of rambling incoherence with irrational prejudice. But the cynicism goes beyond mere assertions.

Leaving aside the Hefferlump’s strawman proposition, and his amateurish attempt to tie the EU to some or all of the Third Reich, Italian Fascism, Francoism, The Regime Of The Greek Colonels, and the Estado Novo, this rant is merely another exercise in the cynicism which it pretends only lies with others. In Heffer’s case, this is the cynicism of frightening his readers to keep them buying papers.

But he is preceded by cynics in power, first and foremost one James Harold Wilson, who used the then European Economic Community as part of Labour’s election manifestos in 1974 (there were two General Elections that year), then claimed to be “renegotiating” the terms of the UK’s membership (in effect a fig-leaf), and then held a referendum on membership just to hold his party together.

Thus the cynical use of Europe was established, and has been growing recently, as both press and politicians have milked the issue for their own advantage. The Fourth Estate churns out reams of knocking copy attacking anything they dislike about the EU – and making up anything not based on fact – while using the European Project as some kind of convenient bogeyman.

Politicians are to a large degree worse: they, after all, are the ones doing the decision making and therefore guiding our future. Before last year’s General Election, Young Dave shamelessly used the EU as a way to garner votes. Then he’s talked tough on the subject while in office. He is as responsible as anyone for the bout of referendum fever.

But, as he wasn’t serious in the first place, Cameron now has to damp down referendum speculation, against a backdrop of misinformation – Heffer’s piece is typical – stoked by his own actions. Both hacks and rebellious Tories use the issue to paint Cameron as inferior to Margaret Thatcher, while managing not to notice that she never came even close to calling a referendum on the EU.

In fact, apart from Wilson, no Prime Minister has seriously offered a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. So pretending that Young Dave is soft by comparison is pure drivel. And so is the opinion poll frightener: now it’s 49% out versus 40% in. Before the 1975 poll there was a 2:1 majority for leaving. The vote revealed a 2:1 majority for staying. Go figure, assembled cynics.

Parish Notice – Comment Is Free, But ...

Zelo Street has allowed comments without moderation for more than two and a half years. That decision was made at the outset for one reason, and that was to make the blog accessible to anyone looking in, so that they could offer their feedback and have that published as soon as they had clicked Submit.

On occasion, there have been instances of trolling, but until recently these have been few and far between – and have subsided after being called out. Sadly, in the last fortnight, there has been rather more in the way of personal abuse and trolling, with no sign that those responsible have the intellectual capacity to take the hint.

So, regrettably, comment moderation has today been introduced on Zelo Street. I will try to check comments regularly and so pass them for publication. Paradoxically, this move will most likely cause the troll tendency to desist, but if moderation were to be removed, they would be back in short order.

My apologies to those – and that’s almost all – who stop by and comment, who will be inconvenienced by the change. In the meantime, on with the blogging!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Telegraph Fails Quality Test

It is the last in the line to publish in broadsheet format every day of the week, but the Telegraph long ago ceased to be a paper of record: inability to separate news and comment is part of that, as is the unrelenting drive downmarket, fuelled by bouts of cheque-book journalism, phoney “exclusives” (the St Paul’s “thermal imaging” tale, since debunked, being the latest), and sleb tat.

But on Wednesday October 26, the Telegraph hit a new low, one which even the Daily Mail might shy away from: the use of a pejorative headline in introduction to its lead front page story. So, in signposting a report on employment rights that had been submitted to 10 Downing Street, the banner text thundered “Give Firms Freedom To Sack Their Slackers”.

Now, some Telegraph readers might agree with the sentiment, but that is not the point. This is an example of giving the conclusion before the story, in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). It’s the front page lead. And the lamentably bad journalism doesn’t stop there: all that is shown of the “leaked report” behind the story is its first two pages.

So all that readers get to see is a one page introduction, and the first part of an executive summary, covering the subject of Unfair Dismissal. But, as the preface to that summary tells, “This report looks at a number of different areas of employment law and makes detailed recommendations for change in most of them”. So why not publish the whole report?

Moreover, no mention is made of whether or not this report had any significance, nor whether author Adrian Beecroft was given a formal commission to write it – rather than Young Dave being pestered about employment law and replying along the lines of “that’s interesting, write me something on the subject”. Beecroft is, it is conceded, a Tory Party donor, to the tune of more than half a million notes since 2006.

He is also a venture capitalist, which begs the question of how he manages his duties while being so knowledgeable on the public sector, where he believes that unfair dismissal rules are being abused. Perhaps Adrian Beecroft is versatile enough to be able to know the public sector as well as the private? Well, he did spend five years at ICL, and they had many public sector clients.

But that ended in 1974. And since 1984, he’s been doing venture capital work pretty solidly. The more one looks at this “report”, the more it appears that it hasn’t been written in response to a formal commission, has zero chance of being acted on, and that the Telegraph is unwilling to let us see most of its contents.

Which rounds off this piece of shamefully bad hackery from a paper constantly confirming its move downmarket. Another one for the bin.

Daily Star Rides The Bigot Express

Today’s Daily Star has uncovered a dastardly plot. A plot so dastardly that it involves jobs – sorry, Our Jobs – the rotten French, and trains, which the Desmond hackery doesn’t understand if their crews talk foreign. This fresh and suitably steaming pile of bullpucky has then been re-heated by the Express and even picked up by the Mail. And it’s complete and utter fantasy from start to finish.

India in the EU? Whatever, they're all foreigners

Under the by-line of Ed Riley, the Star gasps in horror “Unemployed French workers will be packed off on cut-price trains to find jobs in Britain”. The Star was so flush with cash that it had to use a stock photo showing the coast of, er, India. The Express piles in with “A French plot to send hordes of unemployed workers to snatch our jobs sparked outrage last night” (It’s always “last night” at the Express).

Big nasty garlic crunching engine coming for your jobs

At least the Express managed a stock photo of a French train. But, sadly for the Desmond press and the usual dubious array of rent-a-quote politicians – Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, the self-promoting Priti Patel, and (to his shame) Damian Green – this story is complete crap, as is the guff about “Officials in Calais were studying the plans and a consultant’s study will be published next month”.

But how can I be so sure? After all, it all looks to have been investigated and worked out: “The plan will use French regional commuter trains on the high speed Eurostar rail link between Calais and Ashford in Kent” says the Star. But have another look at that statement: Eurostar is a service running through the Channel Tunnel, not a rail link. Someone hasn’t done their research.

Eurostar (the train) at St Pancras International

I’ll go further: there hasn’t been any research done. At all. I can be sure of this, because a few minutes’ investigation would reveal that no operator can just send any train of their choosing through the Channel Tunnel in passenger carrying service. At present, the only such trains permitted at the Eurostar sets, and they must meet stringent safety criteria.

These – overseen by the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission – include the ability to split the train in case of emergency, and stipulate the train length, the latter being matched to the distance between access passages to the central service tunnel. When German operator DB wants permission to run trains through the Tunnel, it too will have to show that its offering meets the spec.

And all this is before adapting the trains to use the Tunnel’s signalling system, then getting paths through a tunnel that is already busy with vehicle shuttle traffic. Then siding and servicing space would be needed at Ashford for trains that would be too large to use the UK’s own rail network. It’s not going to happen.

Thus a story that is pure invention. Making up copy to frighten the readers? That’ll be another Benchmark Of Excellence.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Trashing The Occupation – Now It’s A Siege

[Update at end of post]

This is a truly stupid headline

Yesterday’s edition of the increasingly downmarket Evening Standard continued the press offensive against the Occupy London Stock Exchange protests, which are actually outside St Paul’s Cathedral, by prophesying “Siege Of St Paul’s To End In Court”. Thus the presence of a few dozen tents on the periphery of St Paul’s became something threatening and wicked.

So what is the reality of this “siege”? Fortunately, I’ve been able to check this out first hand, and can show just how rotten and threatening it all is – or, as it appears, is not. For starters, here’s a view looking south across the east end of St Paul’s, showing an oppressive and dastardly banner proclaiming “Grow The Real Economy”, which is only mildly subversive.

While, in the background, the Met and City Of London Police maintain a presence, although, as one City Officer admitted yesterday, “there isn’t anything we can do”. But there are indeed a lot of tents, although these do not block access to the East Door of the Cathedral.

The novelty Monopoly board – which I hadn’t seen before – is well done, and the lack of publicity underscores that many hacks who write about the protest probably haven’t visited. And the story about Starbucks and laptops appears just that: there were some folks with laptops in the Starbucks, but it looked like the few hacks present had grabbed the best seats (near the window).

This photo, of the green tent by the Monopoly board, is included especially for the most righteous of the hackery, those whose papers who like to tell their readers how Christianity is under attack from aggressive secularism, commercialism, and usually the BBC. What, indeed, would Jesus do?

And in conclusion, here is the “siege” in action, in front of the Cathedral’s East Door. Except, as can be seen, there is no siege: the Standard is just full of wind and water, as is so much of the Fourth Estate. Far better that they, the Church, the politicians, and the authorities engage with the protesters.

Because maybe they’re on to something.

[UPDATE November 1: the loathsome Toby Young has now declared that the protesters are "bullying" the Church of England, that they are merely "preening narcissists" because some have celebrated Halloween, and that leaving the scene is "the right thing to do". Young also asserts that this protest will go down as "one of the least successful ... ever staged", which is interesting, considering all the similar actions going on across Europe and particularly in the USA.

Young does not demean himself by doing any serious analysis of why this and other protests have happened, and he will not. That, after all, is not what the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland is about]

ASI On HS2 – Comedy Gold

Entering the debate on High Speed Rail has come the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), a museum of outdated economic thought which has fraudulently appropriated the name of the founder of economics. The ASI, yet another Astroturf lobby group that declines to tell who pays the bills, has produced a “report” (see it HERE [.pdf]) which is so riddled with howlers that it qualifies as comedy gold.

Much of the “report” is predictable: suggestions (unsupported) that more trains could be accommodated on the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML), assertions (also unsupported) that commuting habits will change over time (and therefore by the happiest of coincidence remove those pesky peak periods), and of course no mention at all of freight capacity.

The discussion of benefit/cost ratio (BCR) only considers the first (London to West Midlands) phase of HS2, as the figure, at 2.0 is lower. The higher 2.6 figure for the Y network is omitted. Talk of extensions into Scotland are thrown in, large and scary numbers are pitched, and adverse comment passed upon them, even though they do not form part of the business case.

High speed trains, standard gauge at Madrid Chamartin

But it is in the technical detail that the ASI’s report becomes a side-splitter. Spain is characterised as having “generally flat countryside”, which suggests that I imagined all those tunnels on the AVE between Puertollano and Cordoba, and those viaducts and tunnels between Albacete and Xátiva. And don’t start me off on Cordoba to Málaga, or that huge tunnel north of Madrid.

BR’s Advanced Passenger Train (APT) becomes APR in ASI-speak. France is held to have something called Très Grande Vitesse (TGV stands for Train À Grande Vitesse, and it runs on the LGV, or Ligne À Grande Vitesse). And the trains for HS2 will include “16 high-speed sets that will operate exclusively over the wider-gauge high-speed track”. There won’t be any “wider-gauge” track.

The cost of new trains for HS2 includes “the classic compatible fleet where extensive technical adjustments will be necessary”. Like what? They’ll all run on the same tracks – or is this an assumption from the “wider-gauge” track howler? Track gauge does seem to tax the ASI, with the AVE from Madrid to Barcelona said to have “a 5 foot 6 gauge”. It doesn’t. It’s Standard Gauge (4 foot 8.5 inches).

But this is no surprise when the ASI mangles Alta Velocidad Española into Alte Velocidad Español. It’s another instance of using the example of Spain and getting it wrong – rather like the report cover, which is from the Spanish network, but not the high speed part. And if the ASI can’t be bothered to have its output read for technical accuracy, then why should any of it be taken seriously?

Seriously, this is one more for the bin. Good laugh, mind.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Re-Trashing The Occupation

[Updates, two so far, at end of post]

The Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters – actually outside St Paul’s Cathedral – are not only still there, but show little sign of moving on in the near future. And, as October draws to a close, Remembrance Sunday is approaching. So the Fourth Estate is obediently kicking the occupiers, throwing whatever it can find at their reputation, however dubious its content.

Setting the scene has been “Mad” Melanie Phillips, who may be persona non grata with Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil and Fraser Nelson at the Spectator, but still manages to get access to the bully pulpit of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre. Mel puts everyone straight at the outset: the protests have turned St Paul’s Churchyard into “a squalid eyesore and a threat to public health”.

There’s more: “we are witnessing the rise of mob rule by the spoiled children of the very society they are so determined to destroy”. Thus Mel proves that she has departed Barking and is once again en route to Upminster. But the Mail and Telegraph have something else up their sleeves to discredit the protests: they’ve been tipped the wink by the Police (allegedly).

Both papers “reveal” that thermal imaging cameras used by the Met have supposedly shown many of the tents outside St Paul’s to be unoccupied overnight. How the hacks can be so sure, given that the Police have declined to release the footage, is not known. But it allows the Mail to smear the protesters: “protesters ... return home or to hotels after dark to sleep in warm beds”.

See? They’re all minted! Littlejohn take note! But the Telegraph then sent someone with a thermal imaging camera to double check. After claiming that their footage showed “most of the dozens of tents ... were empty”, though, the piece explained “of three tents at the foot of the steps up to the cathedral, two were occupied and one was not”. This after conceding that some were standing and talking nearby.

But that’s enough to set a new narrative going, which will be pushed by both papers, followed a day late by the Express, and more than likely picked up by the Murdoch Sun. It will tie in with the line pushed by a representative of the City of London Corporation, and as Remembrance Day approaches, the “cannot commemorate the people who died for your right to protest” line will follow.

After all, they’re all “spoilt” and well off. The Mail says so: “many of the activists spent much of yesterday sitting in a Starbucks overlooking the Churchyard, several working on laptops” (no photos of that, though). It looks like the message is being put out to try and soften up opinion in advance of a move to clear the site.

[UPDATE 1 October 27: a military scientist who works on camouflaging soldiers against detection from thermal imaging technology has described the claims made by papers like the Telegraph as based on "rubbish science". He has pointed out that tent materials are typically opaque to thermal imaging, that the Telegraph's man should have manually adjusted his camera to define the tents more clearly, and that using the camera's default setting, telling if the tents were occupied would not be possible, especially if an occupant were in an insulated sleeping bag.

But, of course, the narrative has been set running, so expect this line to be parroted by pundits for some time yet, and especially if, as seems likely, some kind of legal action is taken against the protesters]

[UPDATE 2 October 28: the enterprising people at Occupy LSX have borrowed a thermal imaging camera of the kind used by the Telegraph hack Richard Alleyne, who styles himself a "senior general news reporter", which means he gets to not only go after stories, but also shout at his juniors. The video they have created is available for view on YouTube and underscores the advice given to the Guardian (see above). A tent with five occupants does not show any sign of heat until they emerge, one by one, from the flap. Alleyne has been invited to retract his steaming pile of bullpucky, but sadly, is of less than perfect courage, and has remained silent]

After The European Night Before

Having previously shown that the electorate has more pressing concerns than encouraging a fur-fight among MPs over the EU, I couldn’t resist revisiting last week’s prediction on last night’s Commons vote. Here’s what I said last Wednesday:

Even if half the Tory MPs were to rebel, most of the other half, and most Lib Dems, together with the Nationalists and some Northern Irish MPs, would more than cancel them out. Mil The Younger and the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party could take the evening off”.

So was I right, or was I right? The total number of votes for the referendum motion was 111, of which 81 were Tories. The nominal strength of the Tory Party in the Commons is just over 300. 15 more Tory MPs abstained. The vote was lost by a majority of 372.

19 of those 111 were Labour MPs, and one a Lib Dem. Had Labour, with nominally almost 260 MPs, not turned up, the rebels would have mustered just 92 votes and those opposing them would have totalled around 245. So the motion would still have been lost by a more than 2 to 1 majority.

Had a full 50% of the Parliamentary Tory Party voted for a referendum, then those supporting the motion would have got to about 145, while opponents would still have garnered around 190. So the motion would still have been lost. I was right, so, as the man said, I thank you.

Whatever some pundits have said about this vote, it has been about the Tories squabbling over Europe, the issue that finished Margaret Thatcher and hobbled “Shagger” Major. Had Mil The Younger shrugged his shoulders and given Labour MPs a free vote, it could have been yet more embarrassing.

Just three and a half years to go, Dave.

It’s Still The Economy, Stupid

An awful lot of newsprint has been expended over yesterday’s Commons vote – and it wouldn’t have even been binding – on a proposal for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Many politicians, all claiming to be in touch with their electorates and doing their bidding, voted for the motion and have prioritised Europe above all else. And that’s a remarkably stupid thing to do.

Sure, frothing over the EU gives the hacks and pundits something to do – the same might be said of far too many in the blogosphere – but outside the Westminster village and away from the dunghill that is Grubstreet, the views of the proverbial silent majority show that there are other issues of far greater concern. We know this because the Economist/Ipsos MORI issues index tells us so.

This survey, of 982 adults taken between the 7th and 13th of October, asked “What would you say is the most important issue facing Britain today?” and then “What do you see as other important issues facing Britain today?”, the top ten results – to no surprise at all – not featuring the EU. The most important issue, scoring more than twice the runner up’s percentage – is the Economy.

Also not surprising is that other issues on which politicians and pundits have been expending significant effort do not show nearly as strongly: the benefits system scores 7%, green issues 3%, terrorism 10% (and falling), and Europe down at a mere 4%. When William ‘Ague fought his “Save The Pound” campaign in 2001 – and lost heavily – that number was 20%. Go figure.

Moreover, Europe as a single issue has not broken through the 10% mark for over six years. That’s not to say that membership of the EU does not influence our lives, just that people do not see it as a priority in the same way that they see the Economy, Immigration, Law and Order, Unemployment, Healthcare and Schools. So they may not be impressed by all the effort expended on the subject.

For what do people look in leaders?” asked the economist and commentator J K Galbraith in his seminal work The Age Of Uncertainty. His conclusion was straightforward: “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.

The major anxiety of the people right now is the Economy. If there is any essence of leadership about David Cameron, he should be confronting that issue, and above all others. That also means causing the Tory Party in particular to cease its navel gazing over the EU, a subject that may be interesting within the Westminster bubble, but leaves most voters cold.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Dacre’s Little Transatlantic Helper

Mail Online’s Right Minds, a repository of reactionary and frothing punditry edited by the unfeasibly pompous Simon Heffer, has now included a blog from the USA in its list of dubiously talented contributors. It is called the Mirror Of The United States or MOTUS. So where is this new kid on the Mail’s online block coming from? Sadly, any thought that there may be useful insight here is soon dispelled.

Indeed, one might wonder what the Hefferlump was thinking when he made the decision to feature content from MOTUS. Because this is yet another source of ranting and knocking copy – that is, knocking copy and ranting that is off the scale even by the standards of the Daily Mail. Let’s start with the list of recommendations, which I suspect Heffer did not.

First off is Larwyn’s Linx: “RomneyCare subsidized illegal immigrants ... Scratch a Democrat, find a Dictator ... More Jew-Hatred at Obama-Endorsed #OWS Protests ... [OWS] “It’s Like Walmart For Rats” ... Idiotic AGW Headline Of The Week”. And there’s Michael Savage (formerly Wiener), once barred from entering the UK. And Thayrone X, yet another “Conservative talk show host”.

How about the rest of the blogroll? There’s Atlas Shrugs, blog of Pamela Geller, high priestess of Islamophobia. And following right along is Debbie Schlussel, yet another in the same vein (Schlussel specialises in racist tirades, as well as demonising Islam). And dear Michelle Malkin, daughter of immigrants who is hot on immigrants (as well as appearing on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse)).

So what of MOTUS itself? Well, apart from the stream of abuse hurled at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters, and the similar tone aimed at Michelle Obama, there are routinely vicious characterisations of a number of Democrat politicians and advisors, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sibelius.

This isn’t merely an opinionated blog, but one representing a nasty and extreme part of the US political scene. Something tells me that Simon Heffer either didn’t check it out before including it in Right Minds, or he took it on recommendation, sight unseen. Either way, it’s not a smart choice from the Hefferlump.

Not a wise move, Mail people.

Guido Fawked – Not Smelling His Worms

Today has brought a superb example of the atrocious standard of grammar that passes as acceptable for the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog.

Now searching for remedial English classes

It has also shown the ungrateful nature of the less that dynamic duo when they are informed of the error of their ways.

A post appeared on the Fawkes blog just before 1215 hours containing the term “pay-role”, whereas what should have been written was “payroll”.

In order to assist this latter-day Stan and Ollie, I Tweeted a correction just before 1415 hours. Then, following a trip to the station to pick up some travel tickets, the Fawkes blog was subjected to further inspection.

And, to no surprise at all, the post had been updated, but the howler remained unacknowledged, and, equally to no surprise, no word of thanks has been passed back via Twitter, or by any other medium.

So the next time the Fawkes blog upbraids someone for being ungrateful and not acknowledging its authors, there’s something to bear in mind.

Another fine mess, indeed.

Bombardier – The Penny Drops

Campaigners, among them MPs, trade unionists, councillors, business people, and the obligatory convocation of hacks, have recently rallied to the cause of those working at Bombardier Transportation’s Derby plant, the UK’s last railway rolling stock manufacturing facility. The belief is that, somehow, the process by which the company lost out on the Thameslink bid to Siemens was flawed or biased.

Moreover, the further beliefs hold that the Thameslink bid could be re-opened, and that Bombardier would love to carry on building trains in Derby, if only the Government would interpret EU competition rules the way that the French and Germans do. But I have consistently warned that Bombardier has previous when it comes to closing down and asset-stripping facilities.

Thus far, decision makers and opinion formers have failed to see the signs coming from Bombardier: the loss of interest in repair work at Crewe, followed by closure of the repair facility and equipment removal, has been largely ignored. The loss of interest in refurbishment work at Derby, a significant potential source of work in tough economic times, has likewise passed unnoticed.

And little attention has been paid to Bombardier’s record of buying up, exploiting, and then closing down production facilities in Berlin, across Switzerland, and in Portugal. But the people at Rail Business Intelligence have picked up on the company’s dwindling interest in the Derby plant, as those receiving Roger Ford’s latest Informed Sources e-Preview today have seen.

Talk that [train operator] Southern could order some more Class 377 Electrostars [multiple unit trains] from Bombardier to ease the heat over Derbygate was confirmed on 16 September” notes Roger. The order will be for 130 vehicles formed into 26 five coach sets. This would keep the Derby production line occupied for more than six months.

However, “according to Informed Sources, Bombardier has been trying to sell Southern the more expensive Greater Anglia Class 379 design, rather than manufacture what its major customer needs – some more of the simpler Class 377. Of course this will involve extra effort from Bombardier and its supply chain to switch back to the earlier build”.

But if Bombardier were serious about keeping Derby open [my emphasis], you might expect them to be accommodating, especially since Southern could be in the market for over 350 Class 377 vehicles in the longer term”. Elsewhere in the email, Roger concludes that “for the foreseeable future, the railways in the UK are unlikely to generate enough orders to support even a single factory”.

There now follows the sound of pennies dropping. I told you so.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Del Boy And A Mardy Strop

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study (BEST) is, as its website tells, aiming “to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses”. It’s going over the data, checking and re-checking, and looking at frequent criticisms such as the alleged reliance on information from sources within urban heat islands. And its preliminary findings have just been released.

These show that the BEST analysis comes to more or less the same conclusions as before, give or take a very small percentage. For the climate change denial lobby, this is the wrong answer, and as a result, BEST’s scientific director Richard Muller has been subjected to a tsunami of invective and abuse. Typical is the contribution of James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole.

Del Boy states at the outset that “I’m not a climate scientist”, thus for once setting a tone of understatement. But then he tells that “the planet did warm in the Twentieth Century. But only by 0.7 degrees C, which is hardly a major threat”. As he isn’t a climate scientist – or indeed any kind of scientist – how would he know what constitutes “a major threat”?

Likewise Delingpole’s assertion that “since the mid-19th Century, the planet has been on a warming trend – emerging, as it has been, from a widely known phenomenon known as the Little Ice Age. A period which in turn was preceded by the even better known Medieval Warm Period”. Let’s take those assertions one at a time.

The instrumented temperature record does not support the idea of a warming trend until well into the 20th Century, and even then, the rate of warming has not shown such a steep and consistent rise until the mid 1970s. Both the Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period may not have been global events, with the latter achieving less warm temperatures than, say, the 1961 to 1990 average.

This, though, does not deter Del Boy, who claims support from one Marc Morano. Who he? The man behind denialist website Climate Depot, Morano is a veteran of the “Swift Boat” smearing of John Kerry, and is otherwise known as the “drum major of the denial parade”. Kert Davies of Greenpeace has called Morano “relentless at pushing out misinformation”.

Delingpole’s rant is in turn quoted by Morano to suggest he has the Telegraph’s endorsement, as the two attempt to re-heat their story in the style of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). But the reality is that both lean heavily on name calling rather than allowing science to get a look in. And, having seen how easy it is to debunk Del Boy’s arguments, that’s not so surprising.

Christianity Under Attack – Or Is It?

Hot on the heels of manufacturing the “BBC Abandons Year Of Our Lord” story out of no facts at all, the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is back on the subject of “Christianity under attack”, with another story from a provider of social housing. This time, events have moved from Wakefield across the Pennines to the Manchester borough of Trafford.

Here, Trafford Housing Trust (THT) is in the sights of the Mail as the headline thunders “Demoted for not backing gay marriage: housing manager’s pay slashed for criticising new law on Facebook”. This presses several buttons at once: social housing providers, gay marriage and Facebook are all Very Bad Things, and far more important than factually accurate headlines.

What has actually happened in the case of Adrian Smith, a practising Christian who works for THT, has to be taken from the Mail, the Christian Institute (both of whom are pushing the same line), and odd details that suggest Smith’s supposed demotion for posting comments on Facebook may have a backstory, which might inform the debate, were we permitted to see it.

For starters, Smith identified himself as a THT manager on his Facebook page. He then commented that allowing same-sex couples to marry in church was “an equality too far”, thus potentially dropping his employer in the mire. And, although it is dismissed as irrelevant, the Mail concedes that he had to undergo equality training following a complaint back in 2008.

That last enables the paper to tell its readers that the complainant was “a Muslim woman” (so Islam is partly responsible) but does not say whether Smith was warned at the time. Had he been given a written warning and it had not expired, it could be very relevant indeed. Instead, Mail readers are given formulaic snippets such as “drenched in political correctness”.

So that’ll be an upcoming broadside from Mad Mel, then. And the accompanying “Comment” looks as if more pundits are being lined up, telling “Much of our public sector is run by intolerant leftists and governed by severe speech codes based on ‘Equality and Diversity’ ... they have a special hostility towards Christians because Christianity is what they seek to supplant and replace”.

There’s more: “Will the Trafford Housing Trust now encourage its tenants to inform on each other for having incorrect views, evicting those who are insufficiently Left-wing?” it thunders. This is supremely paranoid in tone, and devoid of any factual substance. But it fits the editorial line, that Christianity is under attack from “aggressive secularism”, Islam, and rotten lefties.

No change there, then.

Waterfield’s Phoney Empire

[Update at end of post]

Today’s top story, for those who still consider the Telegraph a paper of record, tells of dastardly deeds behind the scenes at the EU: “New euro ‘empire’ plot by Brussels” it screams. But one look at the name on the by-line – yes, it’s the ever-unreliable and dishonest Bruno Waterfield – should sound a warning. Because this story is nothing more than another steaming pile of bullpucky.

Regular visitors to Zelo Street will know that Waterfield – who would not have even got his foot in the door at the Telegraph of old – has form on over-egging his particular pudding: back in March he told that proposals for a “Single European Transport Area” would mean “an end to cheap holiday flights from Britain to southern Europe”. He made that one up.

So it will come as no surprise that not only is his “empire” story substantially fictitious, but that the idea of an EU finance ministry – not “treasury”, not when there is already the ECB – is not new news, having been discussed back in August. And the proposal came from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, not van Rompuy – he was the two leaders’ preferred choice for the job.

Otherwise, the article is filled with comments from unnamed “sources”, whether “senior” or from “No. 10”, and assertions that plans have “emerged”. We even get “senior sources at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicating privately”, as if anyone in that position would trust the Telegraph’s Brussels man any further than they could chuck him.

And, other than spin the usual Telegraph line – that the Eurozone is yet again finished, and that the European project lies in ruins – along with stirring in the story of the Tories being subjected to a three-line whip for next week’s referendum debate, is all there is. Nothing supposedly “new” has a single reliable attribution, including the supposed IMF “bombshell”.

This is formulaic knocking copy, the kind of thing that used to be associated with lesser papers like the Daily Mail. It underscores yet again how far the Telegraph has fallen from its past status as a paper of record, its willingness to recycle old news along with conjecture to fit the headline, and the routine dishonesty of its hacks. It’s a lame attempt to mislead and misinform its readers, and it’s not good enough.

[UPDATE October 24: the Express has recycled this story - characteristically a day late - with the same mistake made by Waterfield repeated (asserting that the EU finance ministry proposals came from Herman van Rompuy, which they didn't) giving the game away on where they got the information. We also get "fears ... were sparked yesterday" which they weren't. But it's cheap and fills papers, eh Des?]

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For (Again)

Why won’t Dave give the British people a vote on Europe?thundered the unfeasibly pompous Simon Heffer in today’s Daily Mail, adding that the Tory Party “has never been straight with the public” on the EU, and that this is part of a “shabby tradition”. Heffer also asserts that such a vote “affects the way we govern ourselves as a country and the way we spend our money”.

So we can take it as read that the Hefferlump demands a referendum on EU membership, which by happy coincidence chimes with the view of his legendarily foul mouthed editor. He also manages to paint Cameron as a “committed pro-European”, who is somehow scared of a referendum revealing “the true depth of anti-EU feeling in the country”.

To which I would point Heffer in the direction of a YouGov poll on the subject carried out recently and quoted by Dirty Des’ finest at the Daily Express. Although the headline dishonestly claims “Three Quarters Of Britons Say Quit EU Now”, the actual figures, when respondents were given an additional choice of “renegotiation”, were just 28% for withdrawal, with 47% choosing renegotiation.

Moreover, when the question was put as a straight in/out choice, just 52% - a bare majority – chose to leave the EU, with 31% for remaining inside, and a whole 17% undecided. Were the Commons vote to confirm the move to a referendum, there would then be a campaign – and not just for the antis. The electorate would be in danger of becoming properly informed about the EU.

That might not sound such a deal breaker, until one considers the line taken at present by a variety of media outlets. Whatever accusations are levelled at it, the BBC does not (and indeed cannot) take a stance on the EU, and neither does Sky News (“first for breaking wind”). Nor do any broadcasters whose news coverage comes via ITN.

And in the print media, there is very little pro-EU coverage: papers like the Guardian and Independent attempt to be as impartial as they can. Those taking a stance – the Desmond press, Associated Newspapers (the Mail), the Telegraph, and the Murdoch press – are all opposed, for a variety of reasons. But with all those titles throwing (a lot of) mud at the EU, only a bare majority wants out.

Moreover, the continuing hyperbole from the likes of Heffer on how the EU “directly affects our lives” assumes that the statement is true, and that the electorate rank it sufficiently high on their list of priorities. William ‘Ague wrongly assumed they did in 2001, and little good it did him. Some hacks out to get out more and listen to the people on whose behalf they claim to speak.

EXCLUSIVE: Second Home Expenses Row Exported

[Update at end of post]

A Parliamentary expense row has just kicked off. It involves a minister with two homes, and an interpretation of the rules on which is his principal residence. And it is not, on this occasion, in the UK. The man in the spotlight this time is Miguel Macedo, minister for Home Affairs in the Government of Pedro Passos Coelho in Portugal, who has two homes.

A ceremonial archway in Lisbon ...

This arrangement, of course, is not unheard of in the UK. But the rules for the Lisbon Parliament are rather stricter: an allowance of €1400 a month is payable only for those living over 100km from the capital, something that would not please the likes of Eric Pickles (37 miles, the distance he quoted on the now infamous Question Time appearance, is approximately 59km).

... and another in Braga. Know the difference

Senhor Macedo represents Braga, which is well over 300km north of Lisbon. He has a house there. But he also owns another property in the Lisbon suburb of Algés, and that’s no more than 10km to the west. It’s close enough to be on the city’s tram network. So, the argument goes, he doesn’t need the allowance and should not be receiving it, especially given the current climate of austerity.

As in the UK, the legitimacy of Macedo’s arrangement has come down to interpretation of the rules: a ruling by the Attorney General’s office back in 1990 held that the office holder’s “permanent residence” – the one on which the distance is calculated – is not the same as an address in the capital, where their business interest lasts only as long as they are elected to serve.

So Macedo gets his €1400 a month, a significant amount in a country where a job paying the minimum wage yields less than €500. I’m informed that there is still a subsidised bar in the Parliament building. That’s two items which may not survive in the current economic climate (subsidies at bars in the Palace of Westminster have recently been cut back).

[UPDATE October 23: Miguel Macedo has, as my contact in Lisbon so aptly put it, begun to feel the heat, and tomorrow will formally announce that he is waiving his €1400 a month allowance. One item that has, indeed, not survived the current economic climate]

Anyone But Gypsies

This week, permission has been given for just over 1100 – yes, eleven hundred – new homes to be built in the Crewe area. This includes the 650 that I mentioned back in April, the entrance to which means demolishing the Cross Keys, a roadhouse pub at the end of Remer Street. But the real argument is not over the 1100, but the possibility of twelve pitches for Travellers.

To the right of this view is a field which, it seems, is owned by Cheshire East Council. It’s on the north side of Parkers Lane in Coppenhall, and close to where another 400 houses are to be built. Cheshire East has proposed that the field become an official site for Travellers, with an amenity block and mains power and drainage. And so all hell has broken loose.

Click for larger image

The area does have some housing – on the road behind the camera – but is not a built up area. Nevertheless, 250 people turned up last Saturday to a meeting nearby, and were overwhelmingly hostile to the proposal. Stories of threatening and abusive behaviour relating to a previous (illegal) occupation of the site have been circulating. And local MP Edward Timpson has been in attendance.

Just how much damage twelve families can do merely by moving – probably temporarily – onto a council run site is unclear. That there has been an illegal Travellers’ occupation and that it has not been welcome certainly is. I have no strong opinion on the affair, except to hope that all concerned reach their decisions through rational, calm and factual debate.

One observation I would make is this: Crewe has welcomed people of many nationalities, ethnicities and religions in recent years, yet has none of the overt problems with groups such as the EDL which has occurred in nearby Stoke-on-Trent. Huge numbers of new houses are slated to be built: although some are opposed, there is general acceptance that this is good for the town.

But as soon as someone mentions Travellers, it is as if an open wound had been scratched. That is not something I’ve yet got my head around.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Inflation? What Inflation?

The latest inflation figures have been greeted with warnings suggesting the UK may be heading for the days of the Weimar Republic. But an annual increase in the retail price index (RPI) of just over 5% is not so severe, and not so significant historically. Germany in 1923 suffered inflation so severe that prices doubled every two days, and banknotes became so worthless they were used as wallpaper.

Click for larger image - figures from ONS

So how bad is the current inflation rate? Putting it against the increase in the RPI over the 25 years from 1970 to 1994, this year’s figures (between 5% and 5.5% since January) don’t seem so bad. Inflation was at or above 5% from 1970 to 1982, and at or above 10% for around half that period. The RPI increase peaked at 26.9% in 1975, with a lesser peak of 21.9% in 1980.

Despite the promise that the remedy of monetarism would cure the system of inflation, it took some seven years after the Tories returned to power in 1979 before the rate dipped below 3%, and this interlude lasted a mere four months. Inflation got into the high single figures as the 80s came to a close, and exceeded 10% again in 1990. Interest rates as high as 15% brought a fall.

But it was not until the aftermath of Black Wednesday, and devaluation coupled with lower interest rates, that inflation fell below 2%. Given that many of the hacks and pundits reporting on the economy have lived through some – maybe all – of the period shown on the chart, one can only conclude that there are some short memories out there.

Unless, of course, it’s done just to frighten the readers and sell a few more papers.

TPA – Another Dodgy Dossier

Another week, another “report” from the dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), this time revisiting one of their favourite subjects, National Insurance (NI) contributions. As with the last missive on the subject, which I considered back in March, the latest report is authored by Rory Meakin. And it is not only poorly researched, but contradictory in its logic.

Moreover, there is a significant amount of padding and verbiage in Meakin’s latest offering, which may deter hard pressed hacks from investigating further, but should not prevent those seeking to subject the TPA’s product to serious analysis. Among the assertions made about NI is that it exacerbates unemployment. But rolling NI into Income Tax is a change only in name. So the TPA assertion is just padding.

But it is good to see that the TPA is addressing the concerns raised by this blog about pensioners and freelance workers. I’m sure that Meakin and his pals managed to figure this out without my prompting, but sadly, the analysis is flawed. In order not to increase the Income Tax burden on pensioners, the TPA proposes a lower Income Tax rate for them. Therefore the tax system becomes more complex.

But the main plank supporting this exercise is that it makes the tax system simpler: the reality is that what is given with one hand is taken away with the other. And the approach to freelances betrays the TPA’s lack of knowledge. The assumption is made that the self-employed all contract out of NI. I know that this is not the case as I am self-employed, and still pay ordinary NI, as would an employee.

Moreover, no mention is made of what would happen to those freelances who work on several contracts at once, and at present can take some of their income as bonus payments, reducing their NI burden. As no exception is shown, the assumption has to be made that this group will see their tax bill rise significantly. And the TPA has not mentioned the hated IR35.

The latter, which stopped freelance workers on single full-time contracts taking part of their income as a bonus payment, is widely believed to bring in very little net tax income, while antagonising a flexible and enterprising part of the workforce. One might have thought the TPA would be supportive of an IR35 repeal, but they do not even mention it.

As it took me little more than a read-through to see the gaping holes in the TPA’s case, it would be no surprise whatever to see the Government thank them for their contribution to the tax system debate, before quietly consigning this latest report to the bin. Must try harder, folks.

Shooting The Mail Fox

The continuing efforts to demonise the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests in New York City have taken root in the authoritarian part of the Fourth Estate, as the Daily Mail gives a platform to Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation. Darling also contributes to Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, and thus brings the flavour of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) to the Mail.

His latest piece, titled “The Occupy Wall St movement is far from mainstream American thought”, leans heavily on an (unlinked) article in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal by pollster Douglas Schoen, who by the most fortunate of coincidences is also a political analyst for Fox News, where he is portrayed as a moderate Democrat.

Sadly, Schoen’s reputation as a sell-out precedes him, and his assertion that OWS are “leftists out of step with most American voters” should be handled with caution. Azi Paybarah of Capital New York got hold of the raw survey data and concluded that the opinions recorded were “not quite as ... exciting as all that”. And Judd Legum at Think Progress has gone further.

His analysis is that Schoen “appears to have grossly misrepresented the results of his poll”. The data does not stand up Schoen’s assertion that the large majority of the OWS protesters share “opposition to free market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth”. The Think Progress article ends with a link to the Journal’s letters page, to request a correction.

Darling, though, has another source for his piece: step forward James O’Keefe, who is described as a “conservative documentary film maker”. But this does not do O’Keefe nearly sufficient justice: this is the man who produced the heavily edited ACORN “sting” videos (since debunked and discredited), and who we last encountered being arrested following an incident at a Senator’s office.

Any sensible analysis of O’Keefe’s work can only conclude that no-one should consider his work to be in any way reliable. Nor, given Brian Darling’s recent past, should they rely on his word either. Darling, while working as an aide to Florida Senator Mel Martinez, authored the now notoriousSchiavo memo”, cited for exploiting a dying woman for potential political gain.

Darling resigned his post after the memo was traced back to Martinez’ office, but the affair shows someone prepared to use questionable means to pursue his own agenda. As such, he appears to be fitting right in among the dubiously talented array of hacks and pundits working to appease the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gaddafi My Cloud

And so, as the distinctive sounds of Spiggy Topes and The Turds fade out (Shurely “Rolling Stones”? – Ed), the curtain falls on the life and career of the brutal, wayward, unpredictable and legendarily flatulent Muammar Gaddafi. The Mad Dog of Libya went as I suggested he would in February: “Think Romania, only worse”. There was no chance he would survive discovery.

Gaddafi’s death diminishes the threat of insurgency against the new order in Libya, but still, it would help the Transitional Council if the former leader’s sons were also apprehended – although, again, given their record of casual violence against their own citizens, the chance of them being taken alive is probably zero. Some behaviour is beyond forgiveness.

So now the West, still wanting access to Libya’s oil reserves, will have to forge a relationship with the new Government, whoever forms it, while in the meantime trying to keep in the background the inconvenient fact that their leaders were more than happy to do business with Gaddafi following his decision to renounce WMD in order to secure inward investment and other aid.

How happy were we to do business with Gaddafi? Look no further than Private Eye, issue 1103, where Tone is seen being welcomed at the Mad Dog’s “tent”. Pa Broon was there too, if later on. Our leaders were happy to do business with Hosni Mubarak, too, as well as being less than totally hostile to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, now hanging on to what looks like a failing state.

International relations is, rather too often, a grubby business. Successive UK Governments have done business with the Shah of Iran (a particularly brutal dictator), the military in Greece (the last time the CIA pulled off a coup on mainland Europe), and a variety of regimes with questionable attitudes to democracy and basic human rights.

The USA, wanting access to bases on the Azores, was particularly willing to pay Premier Antonio de Oliveira Salazar handsomely for the privilege, even including Portugal in the Marshall Plan, despite the country remaining neutral during World War 2. And nobody interfered with the hold of Francisco Franco on Spain until he slowly shuffled off in 1975.

Will things be better the next time around? We do not know, and nor can we expect any guarantees. We can only hope that the end of Gaddafi will bring the state of Libya to a happier place.

Don’t Look Now, But Press Credibility Just Died

The thought that a referendum on the UK’s EU membership might not, after all, come about got the assembled hackery at the Maily Telegraph in a froth yesterday, as I noted earlier. Today, their opposite numbers labouring in the service of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre have taken their turn to go over the top and spray any residual credibility up the wall.

Hack Nigel Jones, in a piece titled “Don’t look now – but democracy just died”, has met the challenge superbly, with a high octane mix of hyperbole, demonisation, dishonesty and forthright ranting. The characterisation of the debate on Monday next (Jones wrongly asserts it will take place on Thursday) as “a tiny shaft of light in an otherwise dark night”, sets the tone.

Jones tries the idea that the UK in 1973 joined a mere free trade area and that this was transformed into the rotten EU by stealth, and of course by those who are “unelected”. Where is the first mention of “ever closer union”, Nige? When the EEC became the EC? When the EC became the EU? Wrong on both: it’s in the original 1957 Treaty Of Rome. Jones falls at the First.

Yet he remounts and continues in ever more desperate style, telling “the EU has crept up on us and taken away our ancient liberties ... something valuable and irreplaceable has been filched from us by thieves who came in the night, and ... stripped us of our birthright. And what they have taken is democracy”. So we now have less elections, being in the EU?

Well, no, we don’t. We have just as many Parliamentary contests as before, just as many local polls, and EU ones on top of those. But Jones has another trick up his sleeve: “we are the only European state to have had continuous representative Parliamentary democracy since the Middle Ages”. And to that I call bullshit. Rotten Boroughs and less than 10% of males allowed to vote doesn’t cut it.

The UK did not give all males the vote until after World War 1, with universal suffrage not following until 1930. So when Jones pontificates that “Dictatorship, not democracy, is the European norm”, he’s trying to con the Mail’s readership into believing that disenfranchisement of around 95% of the population, plus the “fix” of rotten boroughs, equals “democracy”.

The reality of democracy in the UK through the years is more complicated – and interesting – than Jones admits. Likewise the reality of the EU, and there’s the rub: the scare stories get more and more desperate for one good reason, and that is that some politicians, hacks and interest groups would rather we are kept in the dark on the subject, ignorant and frightened of a non-existent Brussels bogeyman.

Being informed on the EU means true democracy. Anything less is not good enough.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Trashing The Occupation – Revisited

[Update at end of post]

The modus operandi of the right, especially in the USA, when moving to dismiss or demonise perceived opposition, is for an accusation to be made – whatever little evidence there is to support it – and then for the pundits to pile in as one as that accusation is repeated, in order to reinforce it. The tactic has now been used against the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, and the accusation is of anti-Semitism.

That might seem a difficult one to stand up, particularly as the protest just celebrated Yom Kippur, but a group calling itself the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) has managed to find an outlier in OWS making reference to bankers as Jews, and has produced a commercial where the odd nutter has become a “mob”, which is all about “hate”. The pundits have wasted no time piling in.

The deeply unpleasant Rush Limbaugh, for whom math may not have been his strongest subject, has asserted that “the 99%” means they are against “the 1%”, with the latter being the size of the US’ Jewish population. Rushie has been joined by the increasingly wayward Glenn Beck (no longer a “star” of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse)) making accusations of anti-Semitism.

So who is behind ECI? Their website does not say, other than they want to maintain “a strong US-Israel relationship”. And, of course, the commercial is featured prominently. They are supported by Bill Kristol, who was pro-Iraq war, pro-Sarah Palin, pro-military strike against Iran, and who has wants to characterise invasion of Muslim countries as “liberation”.

Interestingly, Talking Points Memo (TPM) has asked ECI for comment, but none has been forthcoming. Accusations have been made that ECI is more about the well-off trying to discredit OWS, and that the suggestion of anti-Semitism is being used to drive the campaign. If so, it’s a truly desperate strategy, but then, much of the vitriol thrown at OWS recently smacks of desperation.

Leading the counter-attack has been the one pundit who has been on the ball with OWS more or less from the start: Keith Olbermann, the right’s favourite hate figure, has addressed what he calls “smears” from Limbaugh and Karl Rove, and dubious polling regarding the alleged propensity of OWS to violence. As so often, when it needs saying, Olbermann says it. Worth a watch.

[UPDATE October 20: Fox Business Host John Stossel visited OWS and got a reception just as hostile as that accorded Geraldo Rivera earlier. For this, Bill O'Reilly dismissed the protesters as "loons", not the first time Bill-O has used the characterisation. Stossel's reception suggests that the attacks from the right are not helpful. At all]