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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mary Brings Comedy Gold

Although I’ve read a fair amount – some may say too much – of the scribbling from the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, it was only today that I noticed the name of Mary Gold. And what a rich seam of comedy gold Mary brings, albeit unintentionally.

Mary has been observing the womens’ singles at Wimbledon. And the behaviour of some players appears to have given the poor hack the vapours. It is as if yet another inhabitant of Dacreland is stuck in a half-century old time warp. “Can you remember those days of demure little dresses?” she asks, managing to miss the fact that the first woman player to wear shorts at the tournament was Helen Hull Jacobs. In 1933.

And Mary is hot on grunting. “If Maria Sharapova gets into the final, I’m not going to watch” she laments. Not only has Ms Sharapova now got into the final, Ms Gold seems to have forgotten Monica Seles, whose grunting would put Sharapova in the shade. Seles first arrived in SW19 more than twenty years ago.

Also taxing the Gold memory bank is her sudden discovery of players that make “thrust the fist gestures”. This is new? She must have forgotten Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (first appearance well over 20 years ago) and Steffi Graf (ditto). And neither player could be totally absolved from Mary’s grumble that today’s players are not exactly silent when unhappy with their play.

But then, that could equally be said of Billie Jean King (first appearance fifty years ago), as can the total focus on competing and yes, winning (which is sort of what it’s about). Perhaps Mary Gold doesn’t like that part of Wimbledon: she is particularly snarky about the Williams sisters, who have put away nine singles titles between them (because they wear jewellery on court – oh, the shame).

Or perhaps Mary Gold is a pseudonym for another hack who is writing a faux-righteous piece for a laugh. She’s actually for real? In that case, she needs to get a life.

Karl At The Crossroads

Those who look in at the Guido Fawkes blog may have seen a recent reference to “Karl Rove’s American Crossroads”. This is clearly a trusted information source for Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole – but what is American Crossroads? Well, it’s not an exactly impartial organisation – that will surprise no-one who reads the Fawkes blog – but heck, does it get through a lot of money.

American Crossroads is what is known as a “527 organisation”, that is, a tax-exempt organisation created to influence elections. How much influence? Well, they piled millions into a variety of elections in 2010, including almost $18 million in the first 21 days of October alone. One estimate reckoned that their spending for 2010 would be around $52 million.

So who stumps up all that money? Check out this video: over 90% of American Crossroads’ funds comes from billionaires – in one month, it was just three individuals who bankrolled 91% of inflows. Next year it aims to plough a whopping $120 million into efforts to defeat Barack Obama, and replace him with a rather more malleable GOP stooge.

The advertising put out by American Crossroads and its associate Crossroads GPS (a non-profit educational organisation which has no obligation to disclose the identity of its donors) reaches the length and breadth of the USA. The spending power of these groups is only approached by that of the Koch brothers, who will be looking to donate around $88 million to GOP participants in next year’s elections.

Think for a minute: those who run the Fawkes blog also run the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics, which is supposed to be about transparency and accountability. Yet they are happy to be associated with an organisation which doesn’t always practice either, while shamelessly attempting to buy elections on behalf of the super rich.

The very richest donating to influence the system in order to keep them rich, or make them even richer, may not be illegal in the USA. But it brings a new meaning to the concepts of equality and democracy.

Smearing The Strikers

[Update at end of post]

As both Government and trade unions blame one another for the lack of any meeting of minds, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have gone on strike. This includes teachers and lecturers, workers at the UK Border Agency, those at JobCentres, and others within the civil service. The bone of contention is pensions.

That much is not disputed. But the cost and amount of pension provision and entitlement is generating a considerable amount of less than well tempered debate, much of which is coming out of the right leaning part of the Fourth Estate, and is uniformly hostile. Sadly for those generating the knocking copy, though, facts do not appear to back them up.


In an exchange which has been given in full by the Guardian, cabinet office minister Francis Maude was interviewed by the terrier-like Even Davis on the Today programme, and did not put a convincing argument for his assertion that public sector pensions were “unaffordable”. Given that the Hutton Report, which he mentioned several times (.pdf), shows them likely to cost less as a share of GDP in 2060 than in 2000, this is understandable.

But this has not deterred the usual suspects from wading in with characteristic anti-union heavy handedness, although the weapon of choice varies from one paper to another. At the Daily Mail, that weapon is envy. Readers are told “Workers in private industry would need to put aside more than a third of their take home pay to match the gold plated pensions enjoyed by public sector workers”.

The figures to back this up apparently come from Hargreaves Lansdown, although for some reason the company website does not feature them. The article maintains the envy angle by also telling that the “vast majority” in the private sector have (but apparently do not “enjoy”) “much smaller and riskier pensions”. It is then underscored that public sector deals are “simply unaffordable” and a “huge burden”.

But over at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, Rupe’s Troops have no truck with namby-pamby figures. Here there is straightforward character assassination, as readers learn that “Two hate-filled women leading the teachers’ strike today are left-wing extremists who put their twisted politics ahead of kids’ education”. The name of former NUM head Arthur Scargill is invoked. Socialism is mentioned. A lot.

Gold plated?

The Sun piece manages not to address the issue that has precipitated the dispute: rather, this is all about demonising trade unions and their leaders (Bob Crow also gets a kicking). As today’s Independent points out, teachers can expect a pension of just over £10,000 after putting in 25 years’ service. Many in the NHS will get far less.

There is a grown up debate needed here. It’s a pity much of the press isn’t up to it.

[UPDATE: Cathy Newman and the Channel 4 News FactCheck team have assessed Francis Maude's claim that "The cost to the taxpayer is going up" (read the analysis HERE) and have concluded that the assertion is firmly in the "Fiction" category. That's equivalent to PolitiFact awarding it a "False" rating]

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Morbid Fiftieth Birthday Fascination

Few subjects have been of such use to the Fourth Estate after death as Diana, Princess of Wales. From the moment she passed away following a high speed car crash in Paris, the amount of coverage was on a monumental scale, with the Express even managing to earn the nickname of the Daily Diana (before it morphed into the Daily Maddie).

After the period of mourning came wall to wall funeral service coverage, then similar cortege coverage, followed by as much comment as could be shoehorned in. From that point, the lack of actual news was compensated for by conspiracy theories, ignoring the reality that Diana had put her life in the hands of Henri Paul, who at the time he took the wheel one last time was unfit so to do.

So no-one should be surprised to see the papers go into overdrive to celebrate what would have been the Princess’ fiftieth birthday. And some of the coverage has been morbid in the extreme, with the Mail reprinting large chunks of Tina Brown’s NewsweekIf she were here now” article. The piece is full of speculation and no doubt has shifted more copies, but is in reality milking the memory bank knowing that there will be no comeback.

That hasn’t stopped the Mail from linking Diana with a whole raft of slebs and asserting that she would have embraced Facebook (which, for the purposes of the article, is now A Good Thing), if only to run even more sleb and power person photos. At least Tina Brown has one thing right: Diana would have dumped Dodi Fayed, something that Mohammed “you can call me Al” Fayed would find difficult to accept.

Strangely, the Express coverage is relatively low key, although the usual rule applies: there may be more tomorrow, once Des’ finest have had time to lift a story from elsewhere. But neither of these titles, nor any of the others that are continuing to use Diana to move more papers, seem to have allowed one thought to enter.

And that is that they could, and should, now let go: they’ve made a nice little earner out of Diana, through her life, at the time of her death, and trading on her memory. Now would be a good time to run one last story and leave her in peace.

Card Charges – A Hollow Victory

The outcome of the “super complaint” brought by Which? magazine over charges for credit and debit cards reached its conclusion yesterday, with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) apparently now ready to clamp down on the practice. What is known as “drip pricing” adds several pounds to prices, although it is claimed that a debit card transaction costs no more than 20p to process.

Some in the press are painting this as a great victory, something to celebrate, and the harbinger of lower prices. And they are utterly deluded in doing so: those of us who have experienced – or perhaps that should read suffered – the likes of Ryanair over the years know that the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care) have more than one chapter in their cat skinning handbook.

That should have been obvious after seeing the way that Ryanair have shamelessly baited BA and the charter boys over fuel surcharges: as I pointed out at the time, Michael O’Leary’s finest are not a charitable organisation, and the idea that they would take the hit on rising fuel costs and not recoup the money from punters is the stuff of fantasy.

So it will be on debit card charges: at present, Ryanair hits a family of four with an extra £48 for a return flight, even if they book and travel as one (£6 per sector per passenger). If they are unable to get the revenue that way, then, as with rising fuel costs, it will just be calculated into the base price. That means those paying by debit card may pay less, only for everyone to pay more.

Only where punters have the ability to shop around, as with rail travel, will there be a way to avoid card charges: some operators don’t levy a charge, even for credit cards. London Midland, which runs trains between London’s Euston terminus, the West Midlands and North West, does not charge a booking or a credit card fee.

Sadly, this does not help with those holiday flights, where punters will find that, although carriers may no longer have them over a barrel, they will have them over something that looks remarkably similar.

[Are the low-cost airlines bothered at the OFT ruling? Well, right now (1130 hours June 29), neither Ryanair nor EasyJet have anything about that ruling on their respective websites. They won’t lose sleep or even break sweat over it]

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

TPA And HS2 – Asking The Right Question

This blog has often found adversely on the succession of dubiously argued “reports” issued by the non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), so the news that they had engaged the services of YouGov to canvass public attitudes on a range of issues initially brought a little optimism to my day.

Sadly, though, on discovering the way the questions had been constructed and worded, the realisation set in that this was just another piece of TPA knocking copy dressed up in the cloak of legitimacy. And this was at its clearest on the subject of the proposed new HS2 high speed rail link. No blame, however, can be ascribed to YouGov: they are merely carrying out the analysis.

Let’s start with the overarching question put by the TPA, which is as follows: “Would you support or oppose the following cuts to public spending?

Note the use of “support” [positive term] first, followed by “oppose” [negative term]. Note also that the issues canvassed are described as “the following cuts to public spending”, as if they are happening now, so the choice appears to be over some kind of done deal, or at least something under serious consideration.

Then comes the question specific to HS2: “Cancelling plans to fund a new high speed rail line between London and Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester”.

This ties in with the TPA’s characterisation of HS2 in terms only of cost, and not of benefit. Note use of the word “fund”: it’s only about paying out, and not getting anything back. Had the question mentioned that the scheme would bring a return in benefits more than twice its cost – and maybe well over three times – then the answer would have been different.

Even so, less than half those canvassed went with the TPA’s preferred answer, which was described as “saving £30 billion”. But the TPA is supporting enhancements to existing rail routes, and that cost is not given. Nor is any analysis of what would happen in the event that nothing was done to alleviate the looming capacity problems on both road and rail networks.

Which merely underlines the flagrant dishonesty of the TPA approach. There is no simple solution on offer that gives a saving of £30 billion. It’s yet another false prospectus from an Astroturf lobby group in pursuit of demonising Government.

Littlejohn And Those Blazing Trousers

The folks at PolitiFact have a special category for claims by politicians and pundits that are so blatantly untrue as to warrant more than a mere “False” rating, and that category is “Pants On Fire”. Today, the Daily Mail’s unfunny and bigoted churnalist Richard Littlejohn has nominated himself for that award with a supremely dishonest rant-fest on the EU, one of his favourite subjects.

Fat Dick has discovered – only 15 years after the event – that there is something called the Arc Manche. He then asserts that this voluntary network of local authorities in southern England and northern France is an “administrative area”. Here’s a clue for you, Dicky boy: how can it be an “administrative area” if Dorset, Cornwall and Torbay aren’t included? Wrong.

Never mind though, Dick has another go with his telling of this supposed attempt to “amalgamate vast swathes of both countries from Normandy to Land’s End”. He says “It’s called the INTERREG programme and was signed off by Labour’s Hazel Blears”. Two minutes’ Googling tells us that INTERREG started in 1989. Hazel Blears did not become an MP until 1997. Wrong again.

But Littlejohn must be right when he quotes Eric Pickles as having “discovered” this evidence? Sadly, no: Arc Manche has not just been “discovered” by anyone. Its existence and actions are no secret. Nor are any of the initiatives it supports. Anything coming from Pickles the populist should be treated with extreme caution.

But there is an agenda to use Arc Manche to further the European project, isn’t there? After all, Fat Dick then tells that “Arc Manche is one of the 13 different districts into which Britain will be carved up if we are stupid enough to remain in the EU”. But sadly, this too is a whopper: the European regions into which the UK is divided don’t include Arc Manche, and only number 13 if you include the Irish Republic. So wrong once again.

Can the whoppers get any worse? You betcha, says Sarah: Littlejohn signs off his excursion into fantasy land by asserting that the new building for the European Council is “a £280 million ‘Arc Manche’ headquarters”. There it is in both article text and photo caption. That’s a whopper of exceptional proportions, even for Fat Dick.

Thus the “Pants On Fire” accreditation is won hands down by Richard Littlejohn, who has shown his ability to illuminate those dark foreign lands across the channel, armed only with the light from his burning trousers.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Guido Fawked – Desperation Setting In

Having noted the similarities between the Mail’s copy on the Chris Huhne speeding saga and the outpourings of Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog, I was going to move on to subjects new, except that the less than dynamic duo keep banging on about it – and are now looking desperate.

In late May, Staines was boasting in reply to a thread on Lib Dem Voice “you know you can get big money if you think Huhne is going to last until June 1”, that “My tanks are real and we have him firmly in our sights. He won’t survive”, and threateningly warned that “We ain’t finished yet”.

Cole then threw his rattle out of the pram in some style as he berated Mark Pack “You’re either delusional or knowingly denying the obvious. Why are you putting your neck on the line for a politician who in all likelihood will be out the door any minute?”, the statement coming on May 26.

Well, it’s now June 27, so that’s an awfully long “any minute”. So, not surprisingly, the weekend news that Essex Police are looking for the Sunday Times to hand over their tape of a conversation between Huhne and ex-wife Vicky Pryce is being trowelled on by the Fawkes blog, with yet another item today.

And that post shows that Staines and Cole are guessing: it tells of “the taped conversation in which Huhne orders his estranged wife to partake in a cover-up, and the document she signed promising to support her allegations in court”. The conversation took place some time after the event, and what has been alleged about its contents does not include anyone ordering anyone else to partake in anything.

Moreover, the “document she signed” is more guessing, and doesn’t sound right: why would Vicky Pryce, a successful career woman in her own right, sign a document that involved an open ended commitment to appear in court and effectively guarantee to give evidence in a particular way? I can’t be sure, but suspect that this is more guesswork.

What certainly is guesswork is the assertion that “Sources have suggested that the wind has once again changed direction and doubts about Huhne’s future in Government have returned to mid-May levels”. This is complete and utter drivel, and nothing more than an increasingly distressed Henry Cole whistling to try and keep his spirits up.

Far from being “the final nail in the coffin”, it is clear that the taped conversation is the last chance for a conviction. Essex Police have gone through everything else and come up empty handed. It’s looking more and more as if the less than dynamic duo at the Fawkes blog are about to chalk up another glorious failure.

A Lesson In False Economy

Tickets for a range of events at next year’s Olympic Games have been on sale. I have not participated in the apparent rush to buy, and suspect that much of the Fourth Estate is in the same category. But that does not dampen the urge to turn the upcoming event into a generator of anti-EU knocking copy.

Because some tickets, horror of horrors, have been bought by EU nationals: yes, by people who talk foreign! Those dastardly Eurocrats – well, folks from across the Channel, anyway – have taken all our tickets. Well, actually, they haven’t: the number sold to EU citizens is just under 5% of the total on offer.

But 5% is 5%, and it’s nearly 150,000, which is a six figure number and therefore significantly scary. The Maily Telegraph, first with the frightener, was in no doubt about the significance of the event: “Thousands of foreigners snap up Olympics tickets meant for Brits” thundered the headline (Mail equivalent HERE, Express HERE).

And there was an ideal talking head to accompany the piece, Priti Patel, the self promoting Tory MP for Witham, who denounced the system for allocating tickets as “a farce”. If only she had engaged brain before mouth: more punters coming to London for the Olympics means better value for taxpayers’ money, not worse.

It’s possible that those living close to a Eurostar station could make a day trip of going to the games, but those trains will be well filled anyway, and getting seats at the times required will be difficult. Likewise those close to airports like Schiphol and Paris CDG. Far better to stay over.

And staying over means more money spent in the UK, especially in the hotel and catering trade, but also on travel, given that hotel rooms in London will already be filling up – and expensive. Many punters will look to stay in locations that are convenient for the Olympic site, and a direct train service to Stratford will be a plus.

So what kinds of locations are in the frame here? Well, out in Essex, there are a number of towns and villages close to the former Great Eastern main line with frequent services into London that call at Stratford. And one of these, an ideal railhead with four trains an hour taking just 36 minutes, is none other than Witham.

That’s the same Witham represented at Westminster by Priti Patel. As Littlejohn is so keen on telling his readers, you couldn’t make it up.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Guido Fawked – Thanks To The Eye

Today has brought the return of the story concerning climate change secretary Chris Huhne and the suggestion that he got ex-wife Vicky Pryce to take a speeding penalty for him. What the Mail website has also inadvertently confirmed is that this is yet another story on which the Dacre hackery is cooperating with Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog.

Quite apart from there being very little new news on offer, except that Essex Police want to listen to a recording of a conversation between Huhne and Pryce supposedly held by the Sunday Times, today’s revelations make clear how little other evidence is available to the authorities – and how many false claims have already been pitched.

It is now clear that Police do not know, and have no chance of knowing, the identity of the car that was “flashed” on the M11 back in 2003. The Fawkes blog has previously suggested they could turn up the photo, but it has now been made clear that no images over five years old are retained.

The Mail has previously suggested that the offence took place where the motorway narrows from three to two lanes; it now transpires that it happened elsewhere, in a section undergoing repairs. And now the previous certainty that Huhne had been on the Ryanair flight from Strasbourg that landed at Stansted at 2223 hours that evening has disappeared.

So now the pursuit of the case depends on a taped phone conversation. But what was said by Huhne and Pryce is not reported in exactly unambiguous terms: the BBC qualifies its reportage withallegedly”, the Mail tells that Pryce “apparently said”, and the Guardian also hedges withapparently”.

Those, and other media outlets, have good reason to hedge their bets, given that despite all the heat, there has been very little light shed on this affair. And here we come to the involvement of Staines and Cole: the former was fingered in issue 1271 of Private Eye as the Mail’s source for its story about Foreign Secretary William ‘Ague and aide Chris Myers, which ultimately fizzled out with ‘Ague still in place.

How can I be so sure that the less than dynamic duo have been in touch with the Mail over the Huhne story? The Mail report mentions Huhne having a free car park pass as part of its suggestion that he, and not Pryce, was driving. And in comments to a post on this blog at the end of May, Henry Cole makes ... the very same point.

Just fancy that!

The Shamelessness Of Edward Timpson

As I noted recently, preferred bidder status for a new fleet of trains to operate what is known as the Thameslink route has been awarded to Siemens, with most of those trains slated to be built at Krefeld, which is in Germany. The company not getting the nod, Bombardier, would have built the fleet at Derby, which is in the UK.

Bombardier, having inherited what was once British Rail Engineering (BREL), also has facilities elsewhere in the UK, including the works at Crewe. However, that site has not built anything of note for around twenty years, repair work ended last year, and all that is done nowadays is refurbishment of bogies and wheelsets.

This, though, has not stopped Crewe and Nantwich MP Edward Timpson from wading shamelessly into the argument over new train orders, despite Crewe Works no longer having the means to build even part of them. Thus he characterised the appointment of Hitachi as preferred bidder for new Inter-City trains as “exporting Crewe jobs to Japan”.

So it was no surprise when Timpson went off the end of the pier over the Thameslink order, with a bizarre attack on the previous Government which, he claims, “set unfair terms for this long bidding process, priced Bombardier out of the market before they had even started, and tied the hands of the Coalition Government under European law”.

And this is flagrantly dishonest: the terms under which both Bombardier and Siemens bid were the same, no price penalty was imposed on either bidder, and the idea of the Government having its hands tied ignores one significant aspect of the exercise. Having seen the difference in the bids – and my information is that it was substantial – the Government went back to Bombardier, indicated the nature of the lower bid, and gave the company the opportunity to revise their offer.

So much for having their hands tied. In any case, Bombardier chose not to match or even approach the Siemens bid. As one industry insider put it, Siemens bid “several thousand less per vehicle”, and concluded “this was a fair contest, and the right manufacturer got the order”. Also, there would have been no extra jobs at Crewe even if Bombardier had won – as with the order for Inter-City trains.

I understand that, as a party politician, Edward Timpson is bound to cheer for his team and paint Labour, his main challenger in Crewe and Nantwich, in an unfavourable light. This, after all, is part of The Rough Game. But that does not require the shameless dishonesty he has shown over Siemens winning the Thameslink order over Bombardier.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Quentin Letts – Let’s Stop Pretending

There is, it is believed, a core of around forty MPs who are unhappy with having John Bercow in the Speaker’s chair, although this also means that there are over 600 others who are either happy with his presence, or not fussed. This is no more than a faction of unhappiness, especially as they are most unlikely to get their way on the issue.

And there is at least one intermittently tired lobby hack who also dislikes Speaker Bercow: step forward the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts, the man who suggested in one recent column that there is an English Parliament. Letts spent four years at Jesus College Cambridge, studying Medieval and Renaissance Literature, in a singularly magisterial waste of both time and money.

The boorish and unfunny Letts has a number of problems with his dislike of John Bercow: those who matter in the Commons, such as Young Dave, Mil The Younger and Corporal Clegg, together with their senior colleagues, have no problem with the current occupant of the Speaker’s chair, and have more pressing problems than obliging a whingeing clique and their pet hack.

Moreover, Bercow is moving to reform the business of the Commons, giving more time for back-benchers to question ministers, nudging the Coalition towards making its policy announcements there, and not at set piece events elsewhere, as happened rather a lot under the administrations of Tone and Pa Broon. This might not be evident to the lobby, especially if one of their number isn’t looking.

But Letts’ greatest problem is that he is getting his “inside” information from the clique who don’t like Bercow – those like (yes, it’s her again) Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire Nadine Dorries – and they are more than happy to tell the Mail’s resident lobby hack exactly what he wants to hear. Ms Dorries credibility has yet to completely recover from claiming that her blog was “70% fiction”.

What Letts needs to do – although it may come to his having to be told by his legendarily foul mouthed editor – is to accept that his information on Bercow’s imminent demise is in the “dodgy dossier” category, that nobody who matters is even remotely interested in his ramblings, and that, if he is to keep sucking on the teat of Dacre largesse, he could at least file some original copy in return.

Otherwise, it’s even more obvious that Quentin Letts is just another dinosaur waddling sadly and inevitably into the sunset.

Beware The Athenian Haircut – It’s Coming

[Update at end of post]

So the week that began with the usual suspects predicting imminent collapse of the Eurozone ended with the same suspects predicting imminent collapse of the Eurozone, although their reputations were slightly diminished, as the Eurozone had not in fact collapsed.

Moreover, a key vote in the Greek parliament, on accepting yet more austerity, had been won, but the spectre of default still hangs over Athens. So who is right? Is the Eurozone teetering on the edge? And if it’s so near to collapse, why is the currency still trading at such a high level against Pound and US Dollar?

Ah well. As long as the Germans – and to a lesser extent the French – maintain their determination to make the single currency a success, there will be no collapse of the Eurozone. However – and it’s quite a big however – that does not mean that the situation in Greece is sorted – far from it.

And if Greece defaults, it’s not only the other Eurozone countries that are on the hook. As Mark Weisbrot has explained, the European Central Bank (ECB), in taking a hard line with countries like Greece, has sent out appropriately tough signals to the money markets, and thus the Euro has held firm on the exchanges.

But this has also translated into Greece having to accept the kinds of conditions that will almost certainly mean the country is unable to repay all its loans. Getting private sector banks to “roll over” their lending will not be enough: as I’ve said on two previous occasions, someone is going to have to take a haircut.

In other words, some lenders will have to accept that they are not going to get 100 cents on the Euro from their Greek debts. Most of that debt is in France and Germany, so coming into view is a test of not just the Franco-German commitment, but of their banks’ resilience.

If that does not happen in an organised manner, then the shock will reverberate beyond the Eurozone: the UK has some exposure to Greece, as does the USA. Moreover, the latter is the senior partner in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and if Greece defaults, the US will have the biggest tab to pick up.

As Weisbrot says, with Lehman Brothers still fresh in the memory, one might think that Washington would be paying serious attention to the prospects for Greece – maybe even getting the ECB to do likewise, and prepare for an organised restructuring of all that debt. Because some kind of deal will have to come.

[UPDATE: What did I tell you? Less than two hours after publishing this post, an article appeared (read it HERE) confirming that action is under way to avoid an "unruly" default, by getting private sector investors to take a haircut. There is also the problem that banks in France and Germany took out insurance on loans to Greece via Credit Default Swaps (CDS), which in turn may involve banks and hedge funds in the UK and USA. If the CDS were triggered, this could invoke a contagion which would draw in many players who had not made loans to the Greeks. This underscores the need for discipline in handling what is now becoming inevitable. It may also provide the model for tackling similar situations in Ireland and Portugal]

Telegraph – Disgrace It Is

There are those who still wonder why the Maily Telegraph is thus characterised, and consider it a paper of record. And they will no doubt believe today’s hatchet job on the Met Office, despite much of it being easily disproved by no more than a few minutes’ Googling.

The piece, under the by-line of Heidi Blake, tells the readers what to believe in its headline. “Met Office staff awarded £1.5m bonus pot despite another year of bungled forecasts” it thunders, although immediately afterwards this is qualified to “despite another year of criticism of its forecasts”. So let’s see the damning evidence, then.

First of the three evidential pillars is “Smaller forecasters, who claim to be often more accurate than the Met Office”. They call the bonus award – a whopping £800 on average – “a disgrace”. They would be the likes of Positive Weather Solutions (PWS), who predicted “another 1976” summer last year, and it wasn’t.

Another of those “smaller forecasters” would be Piers Corbyn, darling of the climate change denial lobby, who called the December cold snap after it had started (in late November), said the winter of 2010-11 would be the coldest for a century (it wasn’t: he revised this to “coldest December”), and that the freezing weather would return in late January (it didn’t). Corbyn and PWS are in no position to judge.

But then we are told that “Last month the House of Commons transport committee censured the body for failing to warn the public of the coldest December for 100 years”. The committee’s report can be read HERE. There is no “censure” to be seen.

And the third pillar of Telegraph evidence produces another damp squib: “The forecaster also predicted rainstorms for the royal wedding, leaving thousands of spectators baking in anoraks in the warm sunshine”. This is the most spectacular drivel: the Met Office forecast for the wedding, dated a day beforehand, predicts nothing of the sort.

As can be seen, that forecast was for sunshine, with the chance of showers rising to 30% by lunchtime. Fortunately for all concerned, the showers held off. Moreover, the temperature, at a maximum of 17 Celsius, did not bring “warm sunshine”, so that’s another Telegraph invention.

That I can debunk the Telegraph article with a little Googling should not surprise anyone, and demonstrates once more that it is no longer a paper of record, but another repository of agenda driven copy, which may – or in this case may not – coincide with reality.

A disgrace? Those smaller forecasters had one thing right – the Maily Telegraph is just that.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Desmond Promotion

Newspaper proprietors in the UK tend not to seek the limelight: those running Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail, do not feature in the gossip columns or news pages, and neither do we see much of the Barclay Brothers, who own the Maily Telegraph. The Murdochs we know, only to find that they keep their social circle close and quiet: Rupe doesn’t do showy.

This example, though, has not extended to Richard “Dirty” Desmond, owner of the joke that is the Daily Express. Given the dreadful standard of original journalism at the paper, together with all the churned press releases and day old copy lifted from other media outlets, one might think the boss would stay in the background, but not Des.

This lack of reticence, together with the Express being too tight to stump up for the kind of photos that appeared in (for instance) the Daily Mail, has meant that when the Express ran a feature on Elton John’s White Tie And Tiara Ball, held yesterday, the accompanying photo was not of Fat Reg, Fergie and her daughters, or even Liz Hurley (with or without Warnie), but of a leering Des.

And it’s not only a cheesy looking Des, but also his new squeeze Joy Canfield (holding a suitable pose), together with two young women from the cast of Coronation Street. So that’s pulling out all the sleb stops, then. Express readers do get to read about Liz’n’Warnie, including the Hurley ensemble, but as mentioned, there is no photo.

Snatching cheap and nasty from the jaws of wall to wall glamour? That’ll be another Benchmark of Excellence.

TPA And HS2 – Not Reading Before Writing (2)

Hardly had I posted on the latest attempt by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) to hijack a report on the HS2 high speed rail project for their own advantage than David Begg, who knows a few things about transport, weighted in to the debate and caused significant distress to the TPA’s head non-job holder Matthew Sinclair.

Begg was replying to Sinclair’s repeated rubbishing of HS2 in the Spectator, and his piece touched a nerve with the clearly thin skinned Sinclair, who has replied in turn on the TPA site with a torrent of pejorative language, as well as misrepresenting the Oxera report (see it HERE [.pdf]). The use of casual smears such as “retreats into fantasy land”, “series of fictions”, as well as suggesting that Begg has not “actually bothered” to consider the evidence typifies the hectoring and disrespectful tone.

And Sinclair has himself not considered the evidence – or has chosen to disregard it. His quoting of the Oxera report on “agglomeration benefits” suggests that the report rebuts the HS2 economic case. It does not. It confirms that the figures are “consistent with agglomeration benefits ... being derived primarily from additional commuter capacity rather than inter-city time savings” [Page 12].

That would be the additional commuter capacity that Atkins Rail Package 2 (RP2), which the TPA have backed, does not provide: as I’ve already pointed out, this would provide no additional capacity in the peaks, and would remove several hundred seats from the rush hour provision for Northampton commuters. And it would mean a new fleet of almost a hundred trains, involving billions of pounds of extra spending.

But Sinclair is undaunted, bringing in consultant Chris Stokes to reinforce the rubbishing of Begg. Stokes makes yet more assumptions – his full analysis would be interesting, should he get round to finishing it – and talks of “unfettered competition”. Except that there won’t be any such competition: the Department for Transport does not favour this approach for passenger rail traffic.

There is, though, yet another source that Sinclair can draw upon: Bruce Weston of the so-called HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA), so named as there is no alliance and its aim is that there should be no action. Weston notes Begg’s observation that he “cannot recognise the world lived in by Matthew Sinclair and the campaign against HS2”, and sniffily observes that “His misfortune is that it is the real world”.

That would be the “real world” of HS2AA, where Bradford is bigger than Edinburgh. I’m well up to speed on just how “real world” HS2AA is. Sinclair and his cheerleaders need to sniff less and engage more if they are to have any effect on the future of the UK’s rail system.

Paul Dacre Must ... Stop Being A Bully

The Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor, whose propensity for swearing I covered recently, rails frequently about the supposed damage being done to the freedom of the press by the legal establishment. But, as with the paper he edits, he is adept at playing both sides of the argument when it suits him.

So it was no surprise (although dispiriting) to learn that Dacre’s reassuringly expensive lawyers had leaned on Kevin Arscott of Angry Mob fame because of a blogpost he had written two years ago. Kevin was accused of posting “material which is seriously abusive and defamatory of Mr Dacre”, although no specific statement was mentioned.

And there was the rub: Kevin’s piece was opinion, and whether or not the sentiments expressed might have found universal agreement should not impinge on his freedom to express them. Dacre’s array of dubiously talented hackery don’t seem to have any problem wheeling out this line of defence, or perhaps one should say – given their obscenely overmonied status – getting someone else to wheel out this line of defence on their behalf.

So here we have another straightforward case of hypocrisy from the man otherwise known as “The Vagina Monologue”. The right to free speech, in the world of Paul Dacre, is fully available only to those who can afford to enforce it. And that, in a nutshell, is bullying, which should surprise no-one who observes goings-on in Dacreland.

Indeed, in issue 1288 of Private Eye – over which, as far as is known, no writs have yet been issued – the bullying behaviour of Paul Dacre was summarised thus: “staff there are increasingly fearful that in one of his wild rages – while yelling ‘You will not resist me!’ – Dacre will actually hit them. ‘He’s completely out of control’ says one executive”.

This report followed the revelation in Eye 1287 that “Dacre has demanded an investigation into all emails and calls from the office to see who has been filing copy direct to the Eye”. So that’s control freakery on top of the bullying. And it doesn’t appear to be having any effect.

And nor will threatening bloggers: the intervention by Dacre’s lawyers has merely highlighted his hypocrisy and unpleasantness, as many other bloggers have shone a little more light on this singularly unsavoury individual. That, of course, is my opinion, which I am entitled to express.

I know this because the Press Complaints Commission, whose Editors’ Code Committee is headed by one Paul Dacre, has said so when defending his hacks. So it must be true.

Mail Hypocrisy – The Dacre And Dick Show

The legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his papers are in the position where, unlike the politicians they routinely rubbish, they do not need to hold to a consistent line on, well, anything. This has been demonstrated this week by their inflating a non-story in order to kick the BBC, then later pretending that a big boy did it and ran away.

Racism on Wednesday ...

First came the story, which I discussed the other day, of Mail hack Paul Revoir suggesting that Chris Evans had made a racist remark during last Friday’s One Show. He hadn’t: Evans had made a comment about how difficult it was to see guests because of the studio lighting, or lack of it. It was a cheap and ineffective attempt to kick the Beeb – no change there, then.

... harmless on Friday

Then in today’s Daily Mail, Fat Dick Littlejohn plays the other side of the story, calling the remark “harmless”, then blaming it on the “Twitterati”, “usual suspects” (yes Dick, like your fellow hack), and “losers who sit in front of their TVs ... ready to take umbrage on behalf of others”, which just about sums up the Mail’s modus operandi all the way back to Sachsgate.

All of which shows, for those who are unaware of the shamelessness and hypocrisy of Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery, just how strong the Daily Mail is on pushing the why-oh-why button, while giving off an equally strong whiff of rank hypocrisy.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Guido Fawked – Second Hand News

The less than dynamic duo of Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog like to give the impression that they are the go-to source for news and gossip around politics and political journalism. But the timeline concerning the exit of “Mad” Melanie Phillips from the blogroll of the Spectator suggests otherwise.

This morning, the Fawkes blog posted an item on Mel’s departure from the Speccy, correctly citing her last post on June 16, telling that her blog now had “a new home”. However, when the Fawkes blog goes on to say “there is an expensive looking retraction on the front page of the Spectator’s website today, referencing a story by Phillips”, it is a day late.

Because the retraction was there yesterday, and to prove the point, Jonathan Headington of Ropes To Infinity captured the moment and posted it to TwitPic: you can see the image HERE, with the date June 22 clearly visible. That puts Staines and Cole not at the front of breaking news, but at the very back along with the likes of the Express and Daily Star.

Moreover, the moral of a story about someone putting about tales that increasingly turn off the target audience and spray your credibility up the wall is seemingly lost on Staines and Cole. Have a think about it when you have a quiet moment in the Westminster Arms, eh, lads?

BBC – Guilt By Association

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has, so it believes, caught the BBC bang to rights harbouring dangerous lefties and allowing its staff to bash Young Dave and Corporal Clegg. As with other anti-Beeb (geddit?!?) knocking copy, this appears under the by-line of Paul Revoir, and concerns the man who brought Doctor Who back to TV, Russell T Davies.

Under the routinely screaming headline “‘Cameron and Clegg are evil’: Doctor Who screenwriter in scathing attack on coalition after BBC funding cuts”, Davies is described as “one of the BBC’s top screenwriting stars”, so the attempt at guilt by association is clear, even though it has taken a day and a half for the Daily Mail to fire up its hate machine.

But, given the frothing response of those commenting on the Revoir article, the attempt to equate Davies’ personal viewpoint with the official BBC line has been successful, helped along by the increasingly hoary suggestion that, during the tenure of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, the series was part of some left-wing conspiracy against the then Thatcher Government.

This keeps getting hauled out, although it is clearly McCoy’s personal recollection and the Beeb has expressed bafflement – and the Tory Party didn’t kick off at the time, although it was always ready to lay into the BBC, which Denis Thatcher had labelled “pinko” after Mrs T’s grilling on Nationwide over the Falklands conflict.

Anyhow, why should Russell T Davies not be equated with BBC policy? He works for them, doesn’t he? Well, no he doesn’t: Davies is a freelance, and has been for over twenty years. So his opinions as voiced on Radio 4’s Front Row could only have been in a personal capacity.

So the Daily Mail has once more been selective in its journalism. But the objective has been met, and the boot has been put in on the Beeb once more, so that’s all right, then.

Revenge Of The Edited

To demonstrate that he does more serious stuff than give Sarah Palin an hour’s softball, Chris Wallace invited Daily Show host Jon Stewart to be his guest last Sunday morning on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). Stewart came away from the meeting certain that he had landed the killer blow, by getting Wallace to admit that Fox was not impartial.

The problem was that Stewart was not in charge of editing the interview, as Fox and Wallace were. Thus it was that the material broadcast was cut to favour Wallace, with Stewart seemingly having sudden mood swings, such was the heavy handedness of the splicing. But the full version of the interview was made available online (see it HERE).

Some of the to and fro can be seen in this video, which has been put together by Media Matters For America (MMFA), where Stewart rebuts the charge that he hides behind the “comedy” categorisation of the Daily Show, suggests that Wallace is on Fox mainly to give the channel some credibility, and mentions the idea that Fox hosts have “marching orders”, which doesn’t go down well with Wallace.

But on that edit job, Stewart was not going to let matters rest, and on the Tuesday night Daily Show started a segment by finding that he had got a fact wrong in the Wallace interview, on Fox viewers being misinformed. This had been pointed up by the PolitiFact site, and Stewart duly retracted his assertion and apologised, saying that this was the only right thing to do.

He then turned to Fox, and that channel’s appearances on PolitiFact. Sadly, the video is not available in the UK, but you can see HERE the annotated list put together by PolitiFact: compared to Stewart’s one “false” rating, Fox had managed a total of 21, made up of fourteen “false” ratings, five “pants on fire” howlers, and both the 2009 and 2010 “lie of the year”.

And of course Fox has not retracted even one of those, let alone apologised. As I said before, fair and balanced my arse.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Another Ed Goes West

There has been some to and fro this week on which part of the political spectrum does more in the way of hate. This was kicked off on Monday on ConHome by Matthew Barrett, in the Left Watch section. Barrett, who personifies Olbermann’s dictum (“the right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”), attempts to paint left leaning commentators as being “Blinded by hatred”, and by inference he is the unfortunate victim.

Thus was the gauntlet thrown down, to be picked up by Don Paskini at LibCon, who managed to list ten right leaning hatemongers (one more than Barrett) after ten minutes’ consideration, which probably included time to write most of his copy. The ones he managed to miss were equally notable, as they included Quentin Letts (let’s not), Philip Davies, Liz Jones, Jeremy Clarkson, Peter Hitchens, Jon Gaunt, Kelvin McKenzie, and of course MEP and occasional Tory Dan, Dan the Oratory Man.

Much of this was not overly serious, but one of the ten fingered by the LibCon piece has decided to bite: Ed “Case” West, doyen of the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland, tells that he istruly honoured” at his inclusion, which explains why he has to do his own rebuttal, and doesn’t mean he’s at all sore, oh no.

And it does not take long for West to sell the pass: he tells that “rarely do conservatives express hatred for their opponents”. Really? Maybe Ed could have a browse through the output from some of his fellow Telegraph bloggers: Nile “Chauncey” Gardiner on Barack Obama (and anyone else in the USA not of sufficiently right leaning persuasion), James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole on anyone vaguely sympathetic to the Green movement, and Cristina Odone on more or less anything.

It could be more productive than cutting and pasting four paragraphs from the New York Times, which is presumably meant to be some kind of clincher for West’s counter argument. But it’s no less wearisome than his final observation, inferring that those not of a right leaning disposition will feel “less hateful” through contact with them.

No Ed, you have it the wrong way round. The contact already happened. Contact, far from providing the solution, merely highlighted the problem. But it’s a nice try, and free from any display of victimhood. Ed must be taking on a few left leaning characteristics, after all.

Race To Play Both Sides

The obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre include in every morning’s Daily Mail copy that demonises the usual targets: the EU, anyone seen as soft on law and order, any branch of Government, anyone in receipt of benefits, immigrants, trades unions, anyone behaving in a way that falls short of the Mail’s invariably flexible standards, and of course the BBC. Plus, the Mail is not, repeat not, racist, and is in fact hot on racism – honestly.

So the ability to kick the Beeb and call it out for racism is a dream scenario for Dacre’s finest, a veritable slam dunk of a story. Thus the elevation of a moment from last Friday’s One Show from a quip about poor studio lighting into a major complaint involving, er, 56 viewers. And there has been some Twitter reaction, demonstrating that the Mail cannot trawl deep and far enough if it scents a Beeb bashing tale.

The story, which has been the subject of such urgency that it has taken more than four days to come to the Mail’s attention, carries the by-line of Paul Revoir (crazy name, crazy guy?!?), who seems to be permanently assigned to sniff out anti-BBC copy. It concerns a remark made by Chris Evans to a guest, which Revoir has tried to link to a comment made years before by Sarah Kennedy, because she too has worked for the BBC.

But the Mail is on shaky ground when calling out anyone for racism. After all, this is the home of the obscenely overpaid and bigoted churnalist Richard Littlejohn, who has of late been on the case of Gypsies, Muslims, more Muslims, yet more Muslims, more Gypsies, asylum seekers, more asylum seekers, Afghan asylum seekers, more Afghan asylum seekers, and Albanians.

On a more general tack, the Mail is no stranger to stoking up anti-immigrant sentiment, publishes copy from hacks whose language is often indistinguishable from the bigots it claims to condemn, and inventing Muslims where they don’t actually exist, in order to indulge in yet more thinly disguised Islamophobia, although there isn’t really any of that, because Fat Dick Littlejohn says so, innit?

This is the paper quoted in Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News sending a senior reporter on a 300 mile drive to cover the murder of a woman and her two children. An hour and a half into the journey, the news desk called him and told him to drop the story and come back. The reason he was given? “They’re black”.

Davies also mentions the Mail characterisation of people who are “of the dusky hue”. As Davies says, there is “an element of pure naked racism” at work. So Paul Dacre and his dubiously talented rabble of hacks should have no problem answering the question “what colour is the pot, kettle?”.

TPA And HS2 – Not Reading Before Writing (1)

The arguments around the HS2 High Speed Rail project have flared up once more, fanned by the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, whose chief non-job holder Matthew Sinclair has pointed up a new report on the proposed new line by Oxera Consulting (available HERE [.pdf]). If only he had read it first.

What the Oxera study hardly mentions, although it is a key benefit from any provision of extra capacity within the rail network, is provision for freight traffic. One hates to bang on about this every time HS2 is discussed, but it has to be stated and restated that freight is a profitable traffic, it is a sector where there is competition between a number of providers, and it has the potential to remove a significant number of lorry movements from an already heavily used road network.

But the new report does compare HS2 with upgrades to not only the West Coast Main Line (WCML), but also the Midland Main Line (MML) and East Coast Main Line (ECML). Table 2.1 shows that upgrades to all three existing lines – and those proposed for the ECML include serious as well as disruptive works – yield a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of just 1.4, against 2.6 for the HS2 “Y Network”.

That table also shows a slightly less good BCR for Atkins Rail Package 2 (RP2) versus the first phase of HS2 (1.9 against 2.0). But as I’ve already shown, RP2 is not a serious proposition: the timetable is unworkable, there is no provision for extra capacity at peak times, and there would be a significant reduction in seats available to Northampton commuters. Plus freight provision would be squeezed.

Oxera consider the potential for cost and time overruns, both of which could impact the BCR of HS2 – or the upgrading of existing routes. But their analysis concedes that HS1, the line from the Channel Tunnel to London, was completed on time and slightly under budget. The upgrade to the WCML, concluded in 2008, overran and was significantly over budget. Moreover, the disruption faced by rail users was significant and long lasting. New build means less disruption.

And Oxera also demonstrate how initial BCR calculations can underestimate the benefits of new rail links: the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE) was estimated to have a BCR of 0.95, and thus was forecast to bring less benefits than its costs. However, despite a cost overrun of more than 50%, an assessment following opening of the JLE produced a BCR of 1.75. Moreover, London’s Docklands without the capacity of the JLE would be unthinkable.

None of this is considered by the TPA, where Sinclair is as usual dealing in soundbites and easy characterisations. Here at Zelo Street there will be more substantial discussion: I’ll consider the TPA’s latest line of attack next.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Beware The Athenian Haircut – Revisited

Last month, I looked at the worsening situation with the Greek economy and concluded that, apart from my observations on the frequently execrable press coverage of events, Greece would impose a haircut on some of those lower down the lenders’ food chain.

And after looking earlier today at what happened in California, where some state debt was written down in addition to an implicit lengthening of payment schedules, I concluded that a single currency area would not necessarily find itself in trouble, were the haircut to be imposed.

The prospect of some kind of arrangement whereby some creditors have to concede that they will get less than 100 cents on the euro, together with longer payment terms and/or rolling over of credit – however this is expressed – is imminent: Greece is more or less insolvent without some kind of agreement to extend a further line of credit.

That credit would not necessarily be lent in vain: the Greek Government needs to get its better off citizens to pay their taxes and a programme of asset sales is on the cards. Getting some time to do the reorganising and restructuring would provide an opportunity to make coherent reforms and also prevent that release of assets from becoming a fire sale.

So who is on the hook for Greek debt? The lions’ share is around 90 billion Dollars’ worth held by France and Germany. But some in the UK might be surprised to learn that we are in third place with a further 14.6 billion Dollars at stake, with the USA next in line with 7.3 billion. It is in these countries that the banks are viewing the prospect of having to take a haircut and rollover in one.

And thereby hang two further problems. First is the potential of a haircut to destabilise smaller banks, especially in Germany. Then there is the clear corollary: if Greece does it, can Ireland and Portugal be far behind? Thus the need for everything to happen in a disciplined manner: this was characterised yesterday evening by an unusually relaxed Robert Peston as “orderly reconstruction”.

As to all those screaming that the Euro is somehow finished, I would advise caution, and a look at the foreign exchanges: right now (1815 hours), one Pound Sterling buys just 1.127 Euro, rather less than the 1.15 of last November and 1.14 of late April. So the idea that this single currency is collapsing is total drivel.

But that doesn’t mean the current hiatus is over, or will be easily resolved. I’ll no doubt return to this later.

More In Sorrow Than In Anger – 2

Those wondering why Tory MP Nadine Dorries appears to believe that attacking the serially tenacious Tim Ireland in the way I noted yesterday is fine may not be aware that a number of supposed worthies within the right leaning part of the blogosphere are always ready to lend support and encouragement to her.

Always ready to spin in Dorries’ direction are the less than dynamic duo of Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole at the Guido Fawkes blog. The almost craven manner in which they reported the to and fro of argument after Dorries crossed swords with her new partner’s former wife stands in stark contrast to the uninhibited way in which they have pursued other politicians.

But then, Staines and Tim Ireland have what might be called “previous”: Ireland was there in court when Staines received his second drink driving ban (three years’ worth), together with an eighteen month supervision order and a three month night-time curfew. Those in the Greater London area who are out and about on the roads of an evening might note that the Staines ban expired last month.

Cole has also been busy smearing Ireland, attempting to equate the number of times the Bloggerheads blog mentions Dorries with some kind of harassment. Young Henry might like to explain why I mention the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail and his variety of dubiously talented hacks as frequently as I do, while not being interested in being within a hundred miles of the SOBs.

But pride of place in the ranks of Dorries’ blogging supporters, although he’s scaled back his activity of late, is Iain Dale. The Dale blog was the first I looked over before starting Zelo Street. His contribution to the UK blogosphere has been significant and should not be denigrated. He’s worked hard, and got on both in business and in the media arena. And yet, and yet.

For someone who is as ready as the rest of the pack to dish it out, Dale is surprisingly thin skinned. He’s too ready to spin for Dorries, although she is a friend and it’s understandable. He’s another of those who drink from the well of BBC exposure while shamelessly putting the boot in to the corporation whenever the opportunity presents itself.

And Dale, like Dorries, has tried to smear Tim Ireland as a “stalker”. Thus the problem: when she sees Dale, Staines and Cole laying into Ireland, that sends a very powerful and tempting message – that this kind of action is fine. It’s enforcement of group norms by proxy, if you will. The problem for Dorries is that she is an MP, and would be best advised thinking twice before jumping into the gutter.

[I was going to mention Phil Hendren, but he wasn’t worth the trouble]

Default And A Single Currency

While some in the Fourth Estate work themselves into a panic over events in Greece, amid talk that a Eurozone country might default on its debts, very few have realised that a rather larger economy within a single currency area has already done this, and that the single currency concerned has not merely survived, but its integrity has not even been threatened.

Before the advent of the Euro, the premier single currency, and single currency area, was that of the USA. The Greenback was also acknowledged in many other countries as a reliable means of exchange. And within the USA, individual states enjoyed considerable autonomy in revenue raising powers – maybe not to the extent of nation states within the EU, but autonomy nevertheless.

Moreover, the reality of a single currency, along with a single interest rate and single source of control via the Federal Reserve was unquestioned, even though the outcomes swung from prosperity along the north-east corridor from Boston to DC, to widespread poverty close by in West Virginia. And recent years have brought other strains on this single currency area.

As the first decade of the new century came to a close, the state of California was effectively bust: the shortfall ran into tens of billions of dollars. So then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger devised a cunning plan, involving a bond issue. This raised much needed revenue and kept the state solvent. And then holders of those bonds began to think about cashing them in.

But when the bonds were traded, nobody wanted to give 100 cents on the Dollar for them, so sellers had to take whatever they could get, if they wanted to realise some cash. And here there was, effectively, a partial default, if only by proxy: California bonds making around 70 cents on the Dollar meant that securities in that single currency had been written down.

So what happened to the single currency? Well, the US Dollar went on very much as before. There was no market panic, no upheaval, no flight of capital, even though, were California a stand alone economy, it would be the world’s eighth largest. The state had effectively forced creditors to take a haircut (on top of an extended repayment schedule) without the kind of collapse that some are predicting for the Eurozone.

That’s something to think about when reading the various horror stories about Greece and what will happen if there is some kind of default. I’ll look at the potential for a haircut, and who might be affected, later.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Del Boy And The Greenpeace Man

Batteries suitably recharged following his recent sabbatical, Maily Telegraph blogger James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole is back on the case of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Del Boy has once more declared victory, as it is now claimed that a Greenpeace report has been made the basis for IPCC material.

Sadly for Del Boy, he has put his trust in sources that are just as zealously attempting to rubbish climate change science as he is, and the result is that he has ended up reading what he wants to, coming to a spurious conclusion all for the sake of not being bothered to do a little Googling.

The author whose presence has caused the ruckus is one Sven Teske, who does indeed work for Greenpeace. Teske part authored a report which was published under the joint auspices of Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, although three other organisations contributed authors to it.

It has been claimed that scenarios from this report have been included in the latest IPCC report on Climate Change Mitigation and Costs [.pdf]. Whether this is, as claimed in Del Boy’s main source, “absolute top end”, or otherwise misleading or unrepresentative, I will leave to others to decide, or whether Teske was “reviewing his own work”, a claim not backed up with anything more substantial than bluster.

What is certain is that Delingpole’s assertion that Teske was “in charge of writing” the IPCC report is plain flat wrong. And his quoting Mark Lynas as telling “Had it been an oil industry intervention ... Greenpeace ... would be screaming blue murder” demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the broad church that is the IPCC authorship.

Quite apart from Greenpeace not being the only Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) contributing (and why should NGOs, which covers bodies like the Max Planck Institute, be excluded?), the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) draws on the resources of such greenie bodies as the RAND Corporation, the World Bank, the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), McKinsey, Toyota, and Exxon Mobil.

Yes, Exxon Mobil – that would be “an oil industry intervention”, then. So when James Delingpole sneers “what kind of a bizarro, warped, intellectually challenged, cognitively dissonant eco-fascistic nutcase would you have to be to think otherwise?” the reply is inevitably “one who could be arsed to do a few minutes of his own research, rather than cutting and pasting someone else’s”.

Also, I will be waiting for the IPCC to respond to the criticism, rather than calling for the hanging jury beforehand. That’s the difference between rational discussion, and screaming denunciation. I’m sure Del Boy will understand.

A Short Cool Summer?

After all the media bluster about a “sizzling” June, the month has so far been cool and showery, a distinct anticlimax following the warmth of April and a reasonable – and mainly dry – May. Already, the climate change denial lobby is gearing up for telling anyone who will listen that this means the global climate is now cooling.

So why has the weather disappointed? First off, it hasn’t helped that many players from the Fourth Estate have bet their credibility on fringe forecasting outfit Positive Weather Solutions, mainly on the back of their calling the Royal Wedding weather correctly. That was not such a big ask, given that the chance of getting it wrong was 50% at worst.

Moreover, there has once again been a serious misfire in the Atlantic jet stream, although this may reassert itself by the end of the week. In the meantime, a long ridge of high pressure has built, all the way from Greenland southwards, and this has blocked the usual eastwards movement of weather systems – rather as happened last December, when conditions were cold and occasionally snowy.

The “blocking” high can be seen on this Met Office forecast chart: the screen shot was taken yesterday and the forecast is for Wednesday (the change with today’s forecast is not significant). As the high pressure area stubbornly blocks weather systems coming out of the eastern USA, conditions in the UK are likely to be cool and wet. The difference from December last is that rain will fall, not snow.

Even so, the highest peaks in Scotland may see a dusting of the white stuff if temperatures drop to around 10 Celsius at sea level, although it is unlikely to stick around. But it must be stressed that this, like the cold snap last December, is a transient weather system, and in itself does not prove or disprove climate change science.

Although that will not stop the usual suspects asserting otherwise.